Monday, November 5, 2007


THE OCTOPUS A Story of California by Frank Norris - I

A Story of California
by Frank Norris
Book 1
Just after passing Caraher's saloon, on the County Road that ran
south from Bonneville, and that divided the Broderson ranch from
that of Los Muertos, Presley was suddenly aware of the faint and
prolonged blowing of a steam whistle that he knew must come from
the railroad shops near the depot at Bonneville. In starting out
from the ranch house that morning, he had forgotten his watch,
and was now perplexed to know whether the whistle was blowing for
twelve or for one o'clock. He hoped the former. Early that
morning he had decided to make a long excursion through the
neighbouring country, partly on foot and partly on his bicycle,
and now noon was come already, and as yet he had hardly started.
As he was leaving the house after breakfast, Mrs. Derrick had
asked him to go for the mail at Bonneville, and he had not been
able to refuse.
He took a firmer hold of the cork grips of his handlebars--the
road being in a wretched condition after the recent hauling of
the crop--and quickened his pace. He told himself that, no
matter what the time was, he would not stop for luncheon at the
ranch house, but would push on to Guadalajara and have a Spanish
dinner at Solotari's, as he had originally planned.
There had not been much of a crop to haul that year. Half of the
wheat on the Broderson ranch had failed entirely, and Derrick
himself had hardly raised more than enough to supply seed for the
winter's sowing. But such little hauling as there had been had
reduced the roads thereabouts to a lamentable condition, and,
during the dry season of the past few months, the layer of dust
had deepened and thickened to such an extent that more than once
Presley was obliged to dismount and trudge along on foot, pushing
his bicycle in front of him.
It was the last half of September, the very end of the dry
season, and all Tulare County, all the vast reaches of the San
Joaquin Valley--in fact all South Central California, was bone
dry, parched, and baked and crisped after four months of
cloudless weather, when the day seemed always at noon, and the
sun blazed white hot over the valley from the Coast Range in the
west to the foothills of the Sierras in the east.
As Presley drew near to the point where what was known as the
Lower Road struck off through the Rancho de Los Muertos, leading
on to Guadalajara, he came upon one of the county watering-tanks,
a great, iron-hooped tower of wood, straddling clumsily on its
four uprights by the roadside. Since the day of its completion,
the storekeepers and retailers of Bonneville had painted their
advertisements upon it. It was a landmark. In that reach of
level fields, the white letters upon it could be read for miles.
A watering-trough stood near by, and, as he was very thirsty,
Presley resolved to stop for a moment to get a drink.
He drew abreast of the tank and halted there, leaning his bicycle
against the fence. A couple of men in white overalls were
repainting the surface of the tank, seated on swinging platforms
that hung by hooks from the roof. They were painting a sign--an
advertisement. It was all but finished and read, "S. Behrman,
Real Estate, Mortgages, Main Street, Bonneville, Opposite the
Post Office." On the horse-trough that stood in the shadow of
the tank was another freshly painted inscription: "S. Behrman Has
Something To Say To You."
As Presley straightened up after drinking from the faucet at one
end of the horse-trough, the watering-cart itself laboured into
view around the turn of the Lower Road. Two mules and two
horses, white with dust, strained leisurely in the traces, moving
at a snail's pace, their limp ears marking the time; while
perched high upon the seat, under a yellow cotton wagon umbrella,
Presley recognised Hooven, one of Derrick's tenants, a German,
whom every one called "Bismarck," an excitable little man with a
perpetual grievance and an endless flow of broken English.
"Hello, Bismarck," said Presley, as Hooven brought his team to a
standstill by the tank, preparatory to refilling.
"Yoost der men I look for, Mist'r Praicely," cried the other,
twisting the reins around the brake. "Yoost one minute, you
wait, hey? I wanta talk mit you."
Presley was impatient to be on his way again. A little more time
wasted, and the day would be lost. He had nothing to do with the
management of the ranch, and if Hooven wanted any advice from
him, it was so much breath wasted. These uncouth brutes of
farmhands and petty ranchers, grimed with the soil they worked
upon, were odious to him beyond words. Never could he feel in
sympathy with them, nor with their lives, their ways, their
marriages, deaths, bickerings, and all the monotonous round of
their sordid existence.
"Well, you must be quick about it, Bismarck," he answered
sharply. "I'm late for dinner, as it is."
"Soh, now. Two minuten, und I be mit you." He drew down the
overhanging spout of the tank to the vent in the circumference of
the cart and pulled the chain that let out the water. Then he
climbed down from the seat, jumping from the tire of the wheel,
and taking Presley by the arm led him a few steps down the road.
"Say," he began. "Say, I want to hef some converzations mit you.
Yoost der men I want to see. Say, Caraher, he tole me dis
morgen--say, he tole me Mist'r Derrick gowun to farm der whole
demn rench hisseluf der next yahr. No more tenants. Say,
Caraher, he tole me all der tenants get der sach; Mist'r Derrick
gowun to work der whole demn rench hisseluf, hey? ME, I get der
sach alzoh, hey? You hef hear about dose ting? Say, me, I hef
on der ranch been sieben yahr--seven yahr. Do I alzoh----"
"You'll have to see Derrick himself or Harran about that,
Bismarck," interrupted Presley, trying to draw away. "That's
something outside of me entirely."
But Hooven was not to be put off. No doubt he had been
meditating his speech all the morning, formulating his words,
preparing his phrases.
"Say, no, no," he continued. "Me, I wanta stay bei der place;
seven yahr I hef stay. Mist'r Derrick, he doand want dot I
should be ge-sacked. Who, den, will der ditch ge-tend? Say, you
tell 'um Bismarck hef gotta sure stay bei der place. Say, you
hef der pull mit der Governor. You speak der gut word for me."
"Harran is the man that has the pull with his father, Bismarck,"
answered Presley. "You get Harran to speak for you, and you're
all right."
"Sieben yahr I hef stay," protested Hooven, "and who will der
ditch ge-tend, und alle dem cettles drive?"
"Well, Harran's your man," answered Presley, preparing to mount
his bicycle.
"Say, you hef hear about dose ting?"
"I don't hear about anything, Bismarck. I don't know the first
thing about how the ranch is run."
"UND DER PIPE-LINE GE-MEND," Hooven burst out, suddenly
remembering a forgotten argument. He waved an arm. "Ach, der
pipe-line bei der Mission Greek, und der waater-hole for dose
cettles. Say, he doand doo ut HIMSELLUF, berhaps, I doand tink."
"Well, talk to Harran about it."
"Say, he doand farm der whole demn rench bei hisseluf. Me, I
gotta stay."
But on a sudden the water in the cart gushed over the sides from
the vent in the top with a smart sound of splashing. Hooven was
forced to turn his attention to it. Presley got his wheel under
"I hef some converzations mit Herran," Hooven called after him.
"He doand doo ut bei hisseluf, den, Mist'r Derrick; ach, no. I
stay bei der rench to drive dose cettles."
He climbed back to his seat under the wagon umbrella, and, as he
started his team again with great cracks of his long whip, turned
to the painters still at work upon the sign and declared with
some defiance:
"Sieben yahr; yais, sir, seiben yahr I hef been on dis rench.
Git oop, you mule you, hoop!"
Meanwhile Presley had turned into the Lower Road. He was now on
Derrick's land, division No. I, or, as it was called, the Home
ranch, of the great Los Muertos Rancho. The road was better
here, the dust laid after the passage of Hooven's watering-cart,
and, in a few minutes, he had come to the ranch house itself,
with its white picket fence, its few flower beds, and grove of
eucalyptus trees. On the lawn at the side of the house. he saw
Harran in the act of setting out the automatic sprinkler. In the
shade of the house, by the porch, were two or three of the
greyhounds, part of the pack that were used to hunt down jackrabbits,
and Godfrey, Harran's prize deerhound.
Presley wheeled up the driveway and met Harran by the horseblock.
Harran was Magnus Derrick's youngest son, a very welllooking
young fellow of twenty-three or twenty-five. He had the
fine carriage that marked his father, and still further resembled
him in that he had the Derrick nose--hawk-like and prominent,
such as one sees in the later portraits of the Duke of
Wellington. He was blond, and incessant exposure to the sun had,
instead of tanning him brown, merely heightened the colour of his
cheeks. His yellow hair had a tendency to curl in a forward
direction, just in front of the ears.
Beside him, Presley made the sharpest of contrasts. Presley
seemed to have come of a mixed origin; appeared to have a nature
more composite, a temperament more complex. Unlike Harran
Derrick, he seemed more of a character than a type. The sun had
browned his face till it was almost swarthy. His eyes were a
dark brown, and his forehead was the forehead of the
intellectual, wide and high, with a certain unmistakable lift
about it that argued education, not only of himself, but of his
people before him. The impression conveyed by his mouth and chin
was that of a delicate and highly sensitive nature, the lips thin
and loosely shut together, the chin small and rather receding.
One guessed that Presley's refinement had been gained only by a
certain loss of strength. One expected to find him nervous,
introspective, to discover that his mental life was not at all
the result of impressions and sensations that came to him from
without, but rather of thoughts and reflections germinating from
within. Though morbidly sensitive to changes in his physical
surroundings, he would be slow to act upon such sensations, would
not prove impulsive, not because he was sluggish, but because he
was merely irresolute. It could be foreseen that morally he was
of that sort who avoid evil through good taste, lack of decision,
and want of opportunity. His temperament was that of the poet;
when he told himself he had been thinking, he deceived himself.
He had, on such occasions, been only brooding.
Some eighteen months before this time, he had been threatened
with consumption, and, taking advantage of a standing invitation
on the part of Magnus Derrick, had come to stay in the dry, even
climate of the San Joaquin for an indefinite length of time. He
was thirty years old, and had graduated and post-graduated with
high honours from an Eastern college, where he had devoted
himself to a passionate study of literature, and, more
especially, of poetry.
It was his insatiable ambition to write verse. But up to this
time, his work had been fugitive, ephemeral, a note here and
there, heard, appreciated, and forgotten. He was in search of a
subject; something magnificent, he did not know exactly what;
some vast, tremendous theme, heroic, terrible, to be unrolled in
all the thundering progression of hexameters.
But whatever he wrote, and in whatever fashion, Presley was
determined that his poem should be of the West, that world's
frontier of Romance, where a new race, a new people--hardy,
brave, and passionate--were building an empire; where the
tumultuous life ran like fire from dawn to dark, and from dark to
dawn again, primitive, brutal, honest, and without fear.
Something (to his idea not much) had been done to catch at that
life in passing, but its poet had not yet arisen. The few
sporadic attempts, thus he told himself, had only touched the
keynote. He strove for the diapason, the great song that should
embrace in itself a whole epoch, a complete era, the voice of an
entire people, wherein all people should be included--they and
their legends, their folk lore, their fightings, their loves and
their lusts, their blunt, grim humour, their stoicism under
stress, their adventures, their treasures found in a day and
gambled in a night, their direct, crude speech, their generosity
and cruelty, their heroism and bestiality, their religion and
profanity, their self-sacrifice and obscenity--a true and
fearless setting forth of a passing phase of history, uncompromising,
sincere; each group in its proper environment; the
valley, the plain, and the mountain; the ranch, the range, and
the mine--all this, all the traits and types of every community
from the Dakotas to the Mexicos, from Winnipeg to Guadalupe,
gathered together, swept together, welded and riven together in
one single, mighty song, the Song of the West. That was what he
dreamed, while things without names--thoughts for which no man
had yet invented words, terrible formless shapes, vague figures,
colossal, monstrous, distorted-- whirled at a gallop through his
As Harran came up, Presley reached down into the pouches of the
sun-bleached shooting coat he wore and drew out and handed him
the packet of letters and papers.
"Here's the mail. I think I shall go on."
"But dinner is ready," said Harran; "we are just sitting down."
Presley shook his head. "No, I'm in a hurry. Perhaps I shall
have something to eat at Guadalajara. I shall be gone all day."
He delayed a few moments longer, tightening a loose nut on his
forward wheel, while Harran, recognising his father's handwriting
on one of the envelopes, slit it open and cast his eye rapidly
over its pages.
"The Governor is coming home," he exclaimed, "to-morrow morning
on the early train; wants me to meet him with the team at
Guadalajara; AND," he cried between his clenched teeth, as he
continued to read, "we've lost the case."
"What case? Oh, in the matter of rates?"
Harran nodded, his eyes flashing, his face growing suddenly
"Ulsteen gave his decision yesterday," he continued, reading from
his father's letter. "He holds, Ulsteen does, that 'grain rates
as low as the new figure would amount to confiscation of
property, and that, on such a basis, the railroad could not be
operated at a legitimate profit. As he is powerless to legislate
in the matter, he can only put the rates back at what they
originally were before the commissioners made the cut, and it is
so ordered.' That's our friend S. Behrman again," added Harran,
grinding his teeth. "He was up in the city the whole of the time
the new schedule was being drawn, and he and Ulsteen and the
Railroad Commission were as thick as thieves. He has been up
there all this last week, too, doing the railroad's dirty work,
and backing Ulsteen up. 'Legitimate profit, legitimate profit,'"
he broke out. "Can we raise wheat at a legitimate profit with a
tariff of four dollars a ton for moving it two hundred miles to
tide-water, with wheat at eighty-seven cents? Why not hold us up
with a gun in our faces, and say, 'hands up,' and be done with
He dug his boot-heel into the ground and turned away to the house
abruptly, cursing beneath his breath.
"By the way," Presley called after him, "Hooven wants to see you.
He asked me about this idea of the Governor's of getting along
without the tenants this year. Hooven wants to stay to tend the
ditch and look after the stock. I told him to see you."
Harran, his mind full of other things, nodded to say he
understood. Presley only waited till he had disappeared indoors,
so that he might not seem too indifferent to his trouble; then,
remounting, struck at once into a brisk pace, and, turning out
from the carriage gate, held on swiftly down the Lower Road,
going in the direction of Guadalajara. These matters, these
eternal fierce bickerings between the farmers of the San Joaquin
and the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad irritated him and
wearied him. He cared for none of these things. They did not
belong to his world. In the picture of that huge romantic West
that he saw in his imagination, these dissensions made the one
note of harsh colour that refused to enter into the great scheme
of harmony. It was material, sordid, deadly commonplace. But,
however he strove to shut his eyes to it or his ears to it, the
thing persisted and persisted. The romance seemed complete up to
that point. There it broke, there it failed, there it became
realism, grim, unlovely, unyielding. To be true--and it was the
first article of his creed to be unflinchingly true--he could not
ignore it. All the noble poetry of the ranch--the valley--seemed
in his mind to be marred and disfigured by the presence of
certain immovable facts. Just what he wanted, Presley hardly
knew. On one hand, it was his ambition to portray life as he saw
it--directly, frankly, and through no medium of personality or
temperament. But, on the other hand, as well, he wished to see
everything through a rose-coloured mist--a mist that dulled all
harsh outlines, all crude and violent colours. He told himself
that, as a part of the people, he loved the people and
sympathised with their hopes and fears, and joys and griefs; and
yet Hooven, grimy and perspiring, with his perpetual grievance
and his contracted horizon, only revolted him. He had set
himself the task of giving true, absolutely true, poetical
expression to the life of the ranch, and yet, again and again, he
brought up against the railroad, that stubborn iron barrier
against which his romance shattered itself to froth and
disintegrated, flying spume. His heart went out to the people,
and his groping hand met that of a slovenly little Dutchman, whom
it was impossible to consider seriously. He searched for the
True Romance, and, in the end, found grain rates and unjust
freight tariffs.
"But the stuff is HERE," he muttered, as he sent his wheel
rumbling across the bridge over Broderson Creek. "The romance,
the real romance, is here somewhere. I'll get hold of it yet."
He shot a glance about him as if in search of the inspiration.
By now he was not quite half way across the northern and
narrowest corner of Los Muertos, at this point some eight miles
wide. He was still on the Home ranch. A few miles to the south
he could just make out the line of wire fence that separated it
from the third division; and to the north, seen faint and blue
through the haze and shimmer of the noon sun, a long file of
telegraph poles showed the line of the railroad and marked
Derrick's northeast boundary. The road over which Presley was
travelling ran almost diametrically straight. In front of him,
but at a great distance, he could make out the giant live-oak and
the red roof of Hooven's barn that stood near it.
All about him the country was flat. In all directions he could
see for miles. The harvest was just over. Nothing but stubble
remained on the ground. With the one exception of the live-oak
by Hooven's place, there was nothing green in sight. The wheat
stubble was of a dirty yellow; the ground, parched, cracked, and
dry, of a cheerless brown. By the roadside the dust lay thick
and grey, and, on either hand, stretching on toward the horizon,
losing itself in a mere smudge in the distance, ran the
illimitable parallels of the wire fence. And that was all; that
and the burnt-out blue of the sky and the steady shimmer of the
The silence was infinite. After the harvest, small though that
harvest had been, the ranches seemed asleep. It was as though
the earth, after its period of reproduction, its pains of labour,
had been delivered of the fruit of its loins, and now slept the
sleep of exhaustion.
It was the period between seasons, when nothing was being done,
when the natural forces seemed to hang suspended. There was no
rain, there was no wind, there was no growth, no life; the very
stubble had no force even to rot. The sun alone moved.
Toward two o'clock, Presley reached Hooven's place, two or three
grimy frame buildings, infested with a swarm of dogs. A hog or
two wandered aimlessly about. Under a shed by the barn, a
broken-down seeder lay rusting to its ruin. But overhead, a
mammoth live-oak, the largest tree in all the country-side,
towered superb and magnificent. Grey bunches of mistletoe and
festoons of trailing moss hung from its bark. From its lowest
branch hung Hooven's meat-safe, a square box, faced with wire
What gave a special interest to Hooven's was the fact that here
was the intersection of the Lower Road and Derrick's main
irrigating ditch, a vast trench not yet completed, which he and
Annixter, who worked the Quien Sabe ranch, were jointly
constructing. It ran directly across the road and at right
angles to it, and lay a deep groove in the field between Hooven's
and the town of Guadalajara, some three miles farther on.
Besides this, the ditch was a natural boundary between two
divisions of the Los Muertos ranch, the first and fourth.
Presley now had the choice of two routes. His objective point
was the spring at the headwaters of Broderson Creek, in the hills
on the eastern side of the Quien Sabe ranch. The trail afforded
him a short cut thitherward. As he passed the house, Mrs. Hooven
came to the door, her little daughter Hilda, dressed in a boy's
overalls and clumsy boots, at her skirts. Minna, her oldest
daughter, a very pretty girl, whose love affairs were continually
the talk of all Los Muertos, was visible through a window of the
house, busy at the week's washing. Mrs. Hooven was a faded,
colourless woman, middle-aged and commonplace, and offering not
the least characteristic that would distinguish her from a
thousand other women of her class and kind. She nodded to
Presley, watching him with a stolid gaze from under her arm,
which she held across her forehead to shade her eyes.
But now Presley exerted himself in good earnest. His bicycle
flew. He resolved that after all he would go to Guadalajara. He
crossed the bridge over the irrigating ditch with a brusque spurt
of hollow sound, and shot forward down the last stretch of the
Lower Road that yet intervened between Hooven's and the town. He
was on the fourth division of the ranch now, the only one whereon
the wheat had been successful, no doubt because of the Little
Mission Creek that ran through it. But he no longer occupied
himself with the landscape. His only concern was to get on as
fast as possible. He had looked forward to spending nearly the
whole day on the crest of the wooded hills in the northern corner
of the Quien Sabe ranch, reading, idling, smoking his pipe. But
now he would do well if he arrived there by the middle of the
afternoon. In a few moments he had reached the line fence that
marked the limits of the ranch. Here were the railroad tracks,
and just beyond--a huddled mass of roofs, with here and there an
adobe house on its outskirts--the little town of Guadalajara.
Nearer at hand, and directly in front of Presley, were the
freight and passenger depots of the P. and S. W., painted in the
grey and white, which seemed to be the official colours of all
the buildings owned by the corporation. The station was
deserted. No trains passed at this hour. From the direction of
the ticket window, Presley heard the unsteady chittering of the
telegraph key. In the shadow of one of the baggage trucks upon
the platform, the great yellow cat that belonged to the agent
dozed complacently, her paws tucked under her body. Three flat
cars, loaded with bright-painted farming machines, were on the
siding above the station, while, on the switch below, a huge
freight engine that lacked its cow-catcher sat back upon its
monstrous driving-wheels, motionless, solid, drawing long breaths
that were punctuated by the subdued sound of its steam-pump
clicking at exact intervals.
But evidently it had been decreed that Presley should be stopped
at every point of his ride that day, for, as he was pushing his
bicycle across the tracks, he was surprised to hear his name
called. "Hello, there, Mr. Presley. What's the good word?"
Presley looked up quickly, and saw Dyke, the engineer, leaning on
his folded arms from the cab window of the freight engine. But
at the prospect of this further delay, Presley was less troubled.
Dyke and he were well acquainted and the best of friends. The
picturesqueness of the engineer's life was always attractive to
Presley, and more than once he had ridden on Dyke's engine
between Guadalajara and Bonneville. Once, even, he had made the
entire run between the latter town and San Francisco in the cab.
Dyke's home was in Guadalajara. He lived in one of the
remodelled 'dobe cottages, where his mother kept house for him.
His wife had died some five years before this time, leaving him a
little daughter, Sidney, to bring up as best he could. Dyke
himself was a heavy built, well-looking fellow, nearly twice the
weight of Presley, with great shoulders and massive, hairy arms,
and a tremendous, rumbling voice.
"Hello, old man," answered Presley, coming up to the engine.
"What are you doing about here at this time of day? I thought
you were on the night service this month."
"We've changed about a bit," answered the other. "Come up here
and sit down, and get out of the sun. They've held us here to
wait orders," he explained, as Presley, after leaning his bicycle
against the tender, climbed to the fireman's seat of worn green
leather. "They are changing the run of one of the crack
passenger engines down below, and are sending her up to Fresno.
There was a smash of some kind on the Bakersfield division, and
she's to hell and gone behind her time. I suppose when she
comes, she'll come a-humming. It will be stand clear and an open
track all the way to Fresno. They have held me here to let her
go by."
He took his pipe, an old T. D. clay, but coloured to a beautiful
shiny black, from the pocket of his jumper and filled and lit it.
"Well, I don't suppose you object to being held here," observed
Presley. "Gives you a chance to visit your mother and the little
"And precisely they choose this day to go up to Sacramento,"
answered Dyke. "Just my luck. Went up to visit my brother's
people. By the way, my brother may come down here--locate here,
I mean--and go into the hop-raising business. He's got an option
on five hundred acres just back of the town here. He says there
is going to be money in hops. I don't know; may be I'll go in
with him."
"Why, what's the matter with railroading?"
Dyke drew a couple of puffs on his pipe, and fixed Presley with a
"There's this the matter with it," he said; "I'm fired."
"Fired! You!" exclaimed Presley, turning abruptly toward him.
"That's what I'm telling you," returned Dyke grimly.
"You don't mean it. Why, what for, Dyke?"
"Now, YOU tell me what for," growled the other savagely. "Boy
and man, I've worked for the P. and S. W. for over ten years, and
never one yelp of a complaint did I ever hear from them. They
know damn well they've not got a steadier man on the road. And
more than that, more than that, I don't belong to the
Brotherhood. And when the strike came along, I stood by them--
stood by the company. You know that. And you know, and they
know, that at Sacramento that time, I ran my train according to
schedule, with a gun in each hand, never knowing when I was going
over a mined culvert, and there was talk of giving me a gold
watch at the time. To hell with their gold watches! I want
ordinary justice and fair treatment. And now, when hard times
come along, and they are cutting wages, what do they do? Do they
make any discrimination in my case? Do they remember the man
that stood by them and risked his life in their service? No.
They cut my pay down just as off-hand as they do the pay of any
dirty little wiper in the yard. Cut me along with--listen to
this--cut me along with men that they had BLACK-LISTED; strikers
that they took back because they were short of hands." He drew
fiercely on his pipe. "I went to them, yes, I did; I went to the
General Office, and ate dirt. I told them I was a family man,
and that I didn't see how I was going to get along on the new
scale, and I reminded them of my service during the strike. The
swine told me that it wouldn't be fair to discriminate in favour
of one man, and that the cut must apply to all their employees
alike. Fair!" he shouted with laughter. "Fair! Hear the P. and
S. W. talking about fairness and discrimination. That's good,
that is. Well, I got furious. I was a fool, I suppose. I told
them that, in justice to myself, I wouldn't do first-class work
for third-class pay. And they said, 'Well, Mr. Dyke, you know
what you can do.' Well, I did know. I said, 'I'll ask for my
time, if you please,' and they gave it to me just as if they were
glad to be shut of me. So there you are, Presley. That's the P.
& S. W. Railroad Company of California. I am on my last run
"Shameful," declared Presley, his sympathies all aroused, now
that the trouble concerned a friend of his. "It's shameful,
Dyke. But," he added, an idea occurring to him, "that don't shut
you out from work. There are other railroads in the State that
are not controlled by the P. and S. W."
Dyke smote his knee with his clenched fist.
Presley was silent. Dyke's challenge was unanswerable. There
was a lapse in their talk, Presley drumming on the arm of the
seat, meditating on this injustice; Dyke looking off over the
fields beyond the town, his frown lowering, his teeth rasping
upon his pipestem. The station agent came to the door of the
depot, stretching and yawning. On ahead of the engine, the empty
rails of the track, reaching out toward the horizon, threw off
visible layers of heat. The telegraph key clicked incessantly.
"So I'm going to quit," Dyke remarked after a while, his anger
somewhat subsided. "My brother and I will take up this hop
ranch. I've saved a good deal in the last ten years, and there
ought to be money in hops."
Presley went on, remounting his bicycle, wheeling silently
through the deserted streets of the decayed and dying Mexican
town. It was the hour of the siesta. Nobody was about. There
was no business in the town. It was too close to Bonneville for
that. Before the railroad came, and in the days when the raising
of cattle was the great industry of the country, it had enjoyed a
fierce and brilliant life. Now it was moribund. The drug store,
the two bar-rooms, the hotel at the corner of the old Plaza, and
the shops where Mexican "curios" were sold to those occasional
Eastern tourists who came to visit the Mission of San Juan,
sufficed for the town's activity.
At Solotari's, the restaurant on the Plaza, diagonally across
from the hotel, Presley ate his long-deferred Mexican dinner--an
omelette in Spanish-Mexican style, frijoles and tortillas, a
salad, and a glass of white wine. In a corner of the room,
during the whole course of his dinner, two young Mexicans (one of
whom was astonishingly handsome, after the melodramatic fashion
of his race) and an old fellow! the centenarian of the town,
decrepit beyond belief, sang an interminable love-song to the
accompaniment of a guitar and an accordion.
These Spanish-Mexicans, decayed, picturesque, vicious, and
romantic, never failed to interest Presley. A few of them still
remained in Guadalajara, drifting from the saloon to the
restaurant, and from the restaurant to the Plaza, relics of a
former generation, standing for a different order of things,
absolutely idle, living God knew how, happy with their cigarette,
their guitar, their glass of mescal, and their siesta. The
centenarian remembered Fremont and Governor Alvarado, and the
bandit Jesus Tejeda, and the days when Los Muertos was a Spanish
grant, a veritable principality, leagues in extent, and when
there was never a fence from Visalia to Fresno. Upon this
occasion, Presley offered the old man a drink of mescal, and
excited him to talk of the things he remembered. Their talk was
in Spanish, a language with which Presley was familiar.
"De La Cuesta held the grant of Los Muertos in those days," the
centenarian said; "a grand man. He had the power of life and
death over his people, and there was no law but his word. There
was no thought of wheat then, you may believe. It was all cattle
in those days, sheep, horses--steers, not so many--and if money
was scarce, there was always plenty to eat, and clothes enough
for all, and wine, ah, yes, by the vat, and oil too; the Mission
Fathers had that. Yes, and there was wheat as well, now that I
come to think; but a very little--in the field north of the
Mission where now it is the Seed ranch; wheat fields were there,
and also a vineyard, all on Mission grounds. Wheat, olives, and
the vine; the Fathers planted those, to provide the elements of
the Holy Sacrament--bread, oil, and wine, you understand. It was
like that, those industries began in California--from the Church;
and now," he put his chin in the air, "what would Father Ullivari
have said to such a crop as Senor Derrick plants these days? Ten
thousand acres of wheat! Nothing but wheat from the Sierra to
the Coast Range. I remember when De La Cuesta was married. He
had never seen the young lady, only her miniature portrait,
painted"--he raised a shoulder--"I do not know by whom, small, a
little thing to be held in the palm. But he fell in love with
that, and marry her he would. The affair was arranged between
him and the girl's parents. But when the time came that De La
Cuesta was to go to Monterey to meet and marry the girl, behold,
Jesus Tejeda broke in upon the small rancheros near Terrabella.
It was no time for De La Cuesta to be away, so he sent his
brother Esteban to Monterey to marry the girl by proxy for him.
I went with Esteban. We were a company, nearly a hundred men.
And De La Cuesta sent a horse for the girl to ride, white, pure
white; and the saddle was of red leather; the head-stall, the
bit, and buckles, all the metal work, of virgin silver. Well,
there was a ceremony in the Monterey Mission, and Esteban, in the
name of his brother, was married to the girl. On our way back,
De La Cuesta rode out to meet us. His company met ours at Agatha
dos Palos. Never will I forget De La Cuesta's face as his eyes
fell upon the girl. It was a look, a glance, come and gone like
THAT," he snapped his fingers. "No one but I saw it, but I was
close by. There was no mistaking that look. De La Cuesta was
"And the girl?" demanded Presley.
"She never knew. Ah, he was a grand gentleman, De La Cuesta.
Always he treated her as a queen. Never was husband more
devoted, more respectful, more chivalrous. But love?" The old
fellow put his chin in the air, shutting his eyes in a knowing
fashion. "It was not there. I could tell. They were married
over again at the Mission San Juan de Guadalajara--OUR Mission--
and for a week all the town of Guadalajara was in fete. There
were bull-fights in the Plaza--this very one--for five days, and
to each of his tenants-in-chief, De La Cuesta gave a horse, a
barrel of tallow, an ounce of silver, and half an ounce of gold
dust. Ah, those were days. That was a gay life. This"--he made
a comprehensive gesture with his left hand--"this is stupid."
"You may well say that," observed Presley moodily, discouraged by
the other's talk. All his doubts and uncertainty had returned to
him. Never would he grasp the subject of his great poem. Today,
the life was colourless. Romance was dead. He had lived
too late. To write of the past was not what he desired. Reality
was what he longed for, things that he had seen. Yet how to make
this compatible with romance. He rose, putting on his hat,
offering the old man a cigarette. The centenarian accepted with
the air of a grandee, and extended his horn snuff-box. Presley
shook his head.
"I was born too late for that," he declared, "for that, and for
many other things. Adios."
"You are travelling to-day, senor?"
"A little turn through the country, to get the kinks out of the
muscles," Presley answered. "I go up into the Quien Sabe, into
the high country beyond the Mission."
"Ah, the Quien Sabe rancho. The sheep are grazing there this
Solotari, the keeper of the restaurant, explained:
"Young Annixter sold his wheat stubble on the ground to the sheep
raisers off yonder;" he motioned eastward toward the Sierra
foothills. "Since Sunday the herd has been down. Very clever,
that young Annixter. He gets a price for his stubble, which else
he would have to burn, and also manures his land as the sheep
move from place to place. A true Yankee, that Annixter, a good
After his meal, Presley once more mounted his bicycle, and
leaving the restaurant and the Plaza behind him, held on through
the main street of the drowsing town--the street that farther on
developed into the road which turned abruptly northward and led
onward through the hop-fields and the Quien Sabe ranch toward the
Mission of San Juan.
The Home ranch of the Quien Sabe was in the little triangle
bounded on the south by the railroad, on the northwest by
Broderson Creek, and on the east by the hop fields and the
Mission lands. It was traversed in all directions, now by the
trail from Hooven's, now by the irrigating ditch--the same which
Presley had crossed earlier in the day--and again by the road
upon which Presley then found himself. In its centre were
Annixter's ranch house and barns, topped by the skeleton-like
tower of the artesian well that was to feed the irrigating ditch.
Farther on, the course of Broderson Creek was marked by a curved
line of grey-green willows, while on the low hills to the north,
as Presley advanced, the ancient Mission of San Juan de
Guadalajara, with its belfry tower and red-tiled roof, began to
show itself over the crests of the venerable pear trees that
clustered in its garden.
When Presley reached Annixter's ranch house, he found young
Annixter himself stretched in his hammock behind the mosquito-bar
on the front porch, reading "David Copperfield," and gorging
himself with dried prunes.
Annixter--after the two had exchanged greetings--complained of
terrific colics all the preceding night. His stomach was out of
whack, but you bet he knew how to take care of himself; the last
spell, he had consulted a doctor at Bonneville, a gibbering busyface
who had filled him up to the neck with a dose of some
hogwash stuff that had made him worse--a healthy lot the doctors
knew, anyhow. HIS case was peculiar. HE knew; prunes were what
he needed, and by the pound.
Annixter, who worked the Quien Sabe ranch--some four thousand
acres of rich clay and heavy loams--was a very young man, younger
even than Presley, like him a college graduate. He looked never
a year older than he was. He was smooth-shaven and lean built.
But his youthful appearance was offset by a certain male cast of
countenance, the lower lip thrust out, the chin large and deeply
cleft. His university course had hardened rather than polished
him. He still remained one of the people, rough almost to
insolence, direct in speech, intolerant in his opinions, relying
upon absolutely no one but himself; yet, with all this, of an
astonishing degree of intelligence, and possessed of an executive
ability little short of positive genius. He was a ferocious
worker, allowing himself no pleasures, and exacting the same
degree of energy from all his subordinates. He was widely hated,
and as widely trusted. Every one spoke of his crusty temper and
bullying disposition, invariably qualifying the statement with a
commendation of his resources and capabilities. The devil of a
driver, a hard man to get along with, obstinate, contrary,
cantankerous; but brains! No doubt of that; brains to his boots.
One would like to see the man who could get ahead of him on a
deal. Twice he had been shot at, once from ambush on Osterman's
ranch, and once by one of his own men whom he had kicked from the
sacking platform of his harvester for gross negligence. At
college, he had specialised on finance, political economy, and
scientific agriculture. After his graduation (he stood almost at
the very top of his class) he had returned and obtained the
degree of civil engineer. Then suddenly he had taken a notion
that a practical knowledge of law was indispensable to a modern
farmer. In eight months he did the work of three years, studying
for his bar examinations. His method of study was
characteristic. He reduced all the material of his text-books to
notes. Tearing out the leaves of these note-books, he pasted
them upon the walls of his room; then, in his shirt-sleeves, a
cheap cigar in his teeth, his hands in his pockets, he walked
around and around the room, scowling fiercely at his notes,
memorising, devouring, digesting. At intervals, he drank great
cupfuls of unsweetened, black coffee. When the bar examinations
were held, he was admitted at the very head of all the
applicants, and was complimented by the judge. Immediately
afterwards, he collapsed with nervous prostration; his stomach
"got out of whack," and he all but died in a Sacramento boardinghouse,
obstinately refusing to have anything to do with doctors,
whom he vituperated as a rabble of quacks, dosing himself with a
patent medicine and stuffing himself almost to bursting with
liver pills and dried prunes.
He had taken a trip to Europe after this sickness to put himself
completely to rights. He intended to be gone a year, but
returned at the end of six weeks, fulminating abuse of European
cooking. Nearly his entire time had been spent in Paris; but of
this sojourn he had brought back but two souvenirs, an electroplated
bill-hook and an empty bird cage which had tickled his
fancy immensely.
He was wealthy. Only a year previous to this his father--a
widower, who had amassed a fortune in land speculation--had died,
and Annixter, the only son, had come into the inheritance.
For Presley, Annixter professed a great admiration, holding in
deep respect the man who could rhyme words, deferring to him
whenever there was question of literature or works of fiction.
No doubt, there was not much use in poetry, and as for novels, to
his mind, there were only Dickens's works. Everything else was a
lot of lies. But just the same, it took brains to grind out a
poem. It wasn't every one who could rhyme "brave" and "glaive,"
and make sense out of it. Sure not.
But Presley's case was a notable exception. On no occasion was
Annixter prepared to accept another man's opinion without
reserve. In conversation with him, it was almost impossible to
make any direct statement, however trivial, that he would accept
without either modification or open contradiction. He had a
passion for violent discussion. He would argue upon every
subject in the range of human knowledge, from astronomy to the
tariff, from the doctrine of predestination to the height of a
horse. Never would he admit himself to be mistaken; when
cornered, he would intrench himself behind the remark, "Yes,
that's all very well. In some ways, it is, and then, again, in
some ways, it ISN'T."
Singularly enough, he and Presley were the best of friends. More
than once, Presley marvelled at this state of affairs, telling
himself that he and Annixter had nothing in common. In all his
circle of acquaintances, Presley was the one man with whom
Annixter had never quarrelled. The two men were diametrically
opposed in temperament. Presley was easy-going; Annixter, alert.
Presley was a confirmed dreamer, irresolute, inactive, with a
strong tendency to melancholy; the young farmer was a man of
affairs, decisive, combative, whose only reflection upon his
interior economy was a morbid concern in the vagaries of his
stomach. Yet the two never met without a mutual pleasure, taking
a genuine interest in each other's affairs, and often putting
themselves to great inconvenience to be of trifling service to
help one another.
As a last characteristic, Annixter pretended to be a woman-hater,
for no other reason than that he was a very bull-calf of
awkwardness in feminine surroundings. Feemales! Rot! There was
a fine way for a man to waste his time and his good money, lally
gagging with a lot of feemales. No, thank you; none of it in
HIS, if you please. Once only he had an affair--a timid, little
creature in a glove-cleaning establishment in Sacramento, whom he
had picked up, Heaven knew how. After his return to his ranch, a
correspondence had been maintained between the two, Annixter
taking the precaution to typewrite his letters, and never
affixing his signature, in an excess of prudence. He furthermore
made carbon copies of all his letters, filing them away in a
compartment of his safe. Ah, it would be a clever feemale who
would get him into a mess. Then, suddenly smitten with a panic
terror that he had committed himself, that he was involving
himself too deeply, he had abruptly sent the little woman about
her business. It was his only love affair. After that, he kept
himself free. No petticoats should ever have a hold on him.
Sure not.
As Presley came up to the edge of the porch, pushing his bicycle
in front of him, Annixter excused himself for not getting up,
alleging that the cramps returned the moment he was off his back.
"What are you doing up this way?" he demanded.
"Oh, just having a look around," answered Presley. "How's the
"Say," observed the other, ignoring his question, "what's this I
hear about Derrick giving his tenants the bounce, and working Los
Muertos himself--working ALL his land?"
Presley made a sharp movement of impatience with his free hand.
"I've heard nothing else myself since morning. I suppose it must
be so."
"Huh!" grunted Annixter, spitting out a prune stone. "You give
Magnus Derrick my compliments and tell him he's a fool."
"What do you mean?"
"I suppose Derrick thinks he's still running his mine, and that
the same principles will apply to getting grain out of the earth
as to getting gold. Oh, let him go on and see where he brings
up. That's right, there's your Western farmer," he exclaimed
contemptuously. "Get the guts out of your land; work it to
death; never give it a rest. Never alternate your crop, and then
when your soil is exhausted, sit down and roar about hard times."
"I suppose Magnus thinks the land has had rest enough these last
two dry seasons," observed Presley. "He has raised no crop to
speak of for two years. The land has had a good rest."
"Ah, yes, that sounds well," Annixter contradicted, unwilling to
be convinced. "In a way, the land's been rested, and then,
again, in a way, it hasn't."
But Presley, scenting an argument, refrained from answering, and
bethought himself of moving on.
"I'm going to leave my wheel here for a while, Buck," he said,
"if you don't mind. I'm going up to the spring, and the road is
rough between here and there."
"Stop in for dinner on your way back," said Annixter. "There'll
be a venison steak. One of the boys got a deer over in the
foothills last week. Out of season, but never mind that. I
can't eat it. This stomach of mine wouldn't digest sweet oil today.
Get here about six."
"Well, maybe I will, thank you," said Presley, moving off. "By
the way," he added, "I see your barn is about done."
"You bet," answered Annixter. "In about a fortnight now she'll
be all ready."
"It's a big barn," murmured Presley, glancing around the angle of
the house toward where the great structure stood.
"Guess we'll have to have a dance there before we move the stock
in," observed Annixter. "That's the custom all around here."
Presley took himself off, but at the gate Annixter called after
him, his mouth full of prunes, "Say, take a look at that herd of
sheep as you go up. They are right off here to the east of the
road, about half a mile from here. I guess that's the biggest
lot of sheep YOU ever saw. You might write a poem about 'em.
Lamb--ram; sheep graze--sunny days. Catch on?"
Beyond Broderson Creek, as Presley advanced, tramping along on
foot now, the land opened out again into the same vast spaces of
dull brown earth, sprinkled with stubble, such as had been
characteristic of Derrick's ranch. To the east the reach seemed
infinite, flat, cheerless, heat-ridden, unrolling like a gigantic
scroll toward the faint shimmer of the distant horizons, with
here and there an isolated live-oak to break the sombre monotony.
But bordering the road to the westward, the surface roughened and
raised, clambering up to the higher ground, on the crest of which
the old Mission and its surrounding pear trees were now plainly
Just beyond the Mission, the road bent abruptly eastward,
striking off across the Seed ranch. But Presley left the road at
this point, going on across the open fields. There was no longer
any trail. It was toward three o'clock. The sun still spun, a
silent, blazing disc, high in the heavens, and tramping through
the clods of uneven, broken plough was fatiguing work. The slope
of the lowest foothills begun, the surface of the country became
rolling, and, suddenly, as he topped a higher ridge, Presley came
upon the sheep.
Already he had passed the larger part of the herd--an intervening
rise of ground having hidden it from sight. Now, as he turned
half way about, looking down into the shallow hollow between him
and the curve of the creek, he saw them very plainly. The fringe
of the herd was some two hundred yards distant, but its farther
side, in that illusive shimmer of hot surface air, seemed miles
away. The sheep were spread out roughly in the shape of a figure
eight, two larger herds connected by a smaller, and were headed
to the southward, moving slowly, grazing on the wheat stubble as
they proceeded. But the number seemed incalculable. Hundreds
upon hundreds upon hundreds of grey, rounded backs, all exactly
alike, huddled, close-packed, alive, hid the earth from sight.
It was no longer an aggregate of individuals. It was a mass--a
compact, solid, slowly moving mass, huge, without form, like a
thick-pressed growth of mushrooms, spreading out in all
directions over the earth. From it there arose a vague murmur,
confused, inarticulate, like the sound of very distant surf,
while all the air in the vicinity was heavy with the warm,
ammoniacal odour of the thousands of crowding bodies.
All the colours of the scene were sombre--the brown of the earth,
the faded yellow of the dead stubble, the grey of the myriad of
undulating backs. Only on the far side of the herd, erect,
motionless--a single note of black, a speck, a dot--the shepherd
stood, leaning upon an empty water-trough, solitary, grave,
For a few moments, Presley stood, watching. Then, as he started
to move on, a curious thing occurred. At first, he thought he
had heard some one call his name. He paused, listening; there
was no sound but the vague noise of the moving sheep. Then, as
this first impression passed, it seemed to him that he had been
beckoned to. Yet nothing stirred; except for the lonely figure
beyond the herd there was no one in sight. He started on again,
and in half a dozen steps found himself looking over his
shoulder. Without knowing why, he looked toward the shepherd;
then halted and looked a second time and a third. Had the
shepherd called to him? Presley knew that he had heard no
voice. Brusquely, all his attention seemed riveted upon this
distant figure. He put one forearm over his eyes, to keep off
the sun, gazing across the intervening herd. Surely, the
shepherd had called him. But at the next instant he started,
uttering an exclamation under his breath. The far-away speck of
black became animated. Presley remarked a sweeping gesture.
Though the man had not beckoned to him before, there was no doubt
that he was beckoning now. Without any hesitation, and
singularly interested in the incident, Presley turned sharply
aside and hurried on toward the shepherd, skirting the herd,
wondering all the time that he should answer the call with so
little question, so little hesitation.
But the shepherd came forward to meet Presley, followed by one of
his dogs. As the two men approached each other, Presley, closely
studying the other, began to wonder where he had seen him before.
It must have been a very long time ago, upon one of his previous
visits to the ranch. Certainly, however, there was something
familiar in the shepherd's face and figure. When they came
closer to each other, and Presley could see him more distinctly,
this sense of a previous acquaintance was increased and
The shepherd was a man of about thirty-five. He was very lean
and spare. His brown canvas overalls were thrust into laced
boots. A cartridge belt without any cartridges encircled his
waist. A grey flannel shirt, open at the throat, showed his
breast, tanned and ruddy. He wore no hat. His hair was very
black and rather long. A pointed beard covered his chin, growing
straight and fine from the hollow cheeks. The absence of any
covering for his head was, no doubt, habitual with him, for his
face was as brown as an Indian's--a ruddy brown quite different
from Presley's dark olive. To Presley's morbidly keen
observation, the general impression of the shepherd's face was
intensely interesting. It was uncommon to an astonishing degree.
Presley's vivid imagination chose to see in it the face of an
ascetic, of a recluse, almost that of a young seer. So must have
appeared the half-inspired shepherds of the Hebraic legends, the
younger prophets of Israel, dwellers in the wilderness, beholders
of visions, having their existence in a continual dream, talkers
with God, gifted with strange powers.
Suddenly, at some twenty paces distant from the approaching
shepherd, Presley stopped short, his eyes riveted upon the other.
"Vanamee!" he exclaimed.
The shepherd smiled and came forward, holding out his hands,
saying, "I thought it was you. When I saw you come over the
hill, I called you."
"But not with your voice," returned Presley. "I knew that some
one wanted me. I felt it. I should have remembered that you
could do that kind of thing."
"I have never known it to fail. It helps with the sheep."
"With the sheep?"
"In a way. I can't tell exactly how. We don't understand these
things yet. There are times when, if I close my eyes and dig my
fists into my temples, I can hold the entire herd for perhaps a
minute. Perhaps, though, it's imagination, who knows? But it's
good to see you again. How long has it been since the last time?
Two, three, nearly five years."
It was more than that. It was six years since Presley and
Vanamee had met, and then it had been for a short time only,
during one of the shepherd's periodical brief returns to that
part of the country. During a week he and Presley had been much
together, for the two were devoted friends. Then, as abruptly,
as mysteriously as he had come, Vanamee disappeared. Presley
awoke one morning to find him gone. Thus, it had been with
Vanamee for a period of sixteen years. He lived his life in the
unknown, one could not tell where--in the desert, in the
mountains, throughout all the vast and vague South-west,
solitary, strange. Three, four, five years passed. The shepherd
would be almost forgotten. Never the most trivial scrap of
information as to his whereabouts reached Los Muertos. He had
melted off into the surface-shimmer of the desert, into the
mirage; he sank below the horizons; he was swallowed up in the
waste of sand and sage. Then, without warning, he would
reappear, coming in from the wilderness, emerging from the
unknown. No one knew him well. In all that countryside he had
but three friends, Presley, Magnus Derrick, and the priest at the
Mission of San Juan de Guadalajara, Father Sarria. He remained
always a mystery, living a life half-real, half-legendary. In
all those years he did not seem to have grown older by a single
day. At this time, Presley knew him to be thirty-six years of
age. But since the first day the two had met, the shepherd's
face and bearing had, to his eyes, remained the same. At this
moment, Presley was looking into the same face he had first seen
many, many years ago. It was a face stamped with an unspeakable
sadness, a deathless grief, the permanent imprint of a tragedy
long past, but yet a living issue. Presley told himself that it
was impossible to look long into Vanamee's eyes without knowing
that here was a man whose whole being had been at one time
shattered and riven to its lowest depths, whose life had suddenly
stopped at a certain moment of its development.
The two friends sat down upon the ledge of the watering-trough,
their eyes wandering incessantly toward the slow moving herd,
grazing on the wheat stubble, moving southward as they grazed.
"Where have you come from this time?" Presley had asked. "Where
have you kept yourself?"
The other swept the horizon to the south and east with a vague
"Off there, down to the south, very far off. So many places that
I can't remember. I went the Long Trail this time; a long, long
ways. Arizona, The Mexicos, and, then, afterwards, Utah and
Nevada, following the horizon, travelling at hazard. Into
Arizona first, going in by Monument Pass, and then on to the
south, through the country of the Navajos, down by the Aga Thia
Needle--a great blade of red rock jutting from out the desert,
like a knife thrust. Then on and on through The Mexicos, all
through the Southwest, then back again in a great circle by
Chihuahua and Aldama to Laredo, to Torreon, and Albuquerque.
From there across the Uncompahgre plateau into the Uintah
country; then at last due west through Nevada to California and
to the valley of the San Joaquin."
His voice lapsed to a monotone, his eyes becoming fixed; he
continued to speak as though half awake, his thoughts elsewhere,
seeing again in the eye of his mind the reach of desert and red
hill, the purple mountain, the level stretch of alkali, leper
white, all the savage, gorgeous desolation of the Long Trail.
He ignored Presley for the moment, but, on the other hand,
Presley himself gave him but half his attention. The return of
Vanamee had stimulated the poet's memory. He recalled the
incidents of Vanamee's life, reviewing again that terrible drama
which had uprooted his soul, which had driven him forth a
wanderer, a shunner of men, a sojourner in waste places. He was,
strangely enough, a college graduate and a man of wide reading
and great intelligence, but he had chosen to lead his own life,
which was that of a recluse.
Of a temperament similar in many ways to Presley's, there were
capabilities in Vanamee that were not ordinarily to be found in
the rank and file of men. Living close to nature, a poet by
instinct, where Presley was but a poet by training, there
developed in him a great sensitiveness to beauty and an almost
abnormal capacity for great happiness and great sorrow; he felt
things intensely, deeply. He never forgot. It was when he was
eighteen or nineteen, at the formative and most impressionable
period of his life, that he had met Angele Varian. Presley
barely remembered her as a girl of sixteen, beautiful almost
beyond expression, who lived with an aged aunt on the Seed ranch
back of the Mission. At this moment he was trying to recall how
she looked, with her hair of gold hanging in two straight plaits
on either side of her face, making three-cornered her round,
white forehead; her wonderful eyes, violet blue, heavy lidded,
with their astonishing upward slant toward the temples, the slant
that gave a strange, oriental cast to her face, perplexing,
enchanting. He remembered the Egyptian fulness of the lips, the
strange balancing movement of her head upon her slender neck, the
same movement that one sees in a snake at poise. Never had he
seen a girl more radiantly beautiful, never a beauty so strange,
so troublous, so out of all accepted standards. It was small
wonder that Vanamee had loved her, and less wonder, still, that
his love had been so intense, so passionate, so part of himself.
Angele had loved him with a love no less than his own. It was
one of those legendary passions that sometimes occur, idyllic,
untouched by civilisation, spontaneous as the growth of trees,
natural as dew-fall, strong as the firm-seated mountains.
At the time of his meeting with Angele, Vanamee was living on the
Los Muertos ranch. It was there he had chosen to spend one of
his college vacations. But he preferred to pass it in out-ofdoor
work, sometimes herding cattle, sometimes pitching hay,
sometimes working with pick and dynamite-stick on the ditches in
the fourth division of the ranch, riding the range, mending
breaks in the wire fences, making himself generally useful.
College bred though he was, the life pleased him. He was, as he
desired, close to nature, living the full measure of life, a
worker among workers, taking enjoyment in simple pleasures,
healthy in mind and body. He believed in an existence passed in
this fashion in the country, working hard, eating full, drinking
deep, sleeping dreamlessly.
But every night, after supper, he saddled his pony and rode over
to the garden of the old Mission. The 'dobe dividing wall on
that side, which once had separated the Mission garden and the
Seed ranch, had long since crumbled away, and the boundary
between the two pieces of ground was marked only by a line of
venerable pear trees. Here, under these trees, he found Angele
awaiting him, and there the two would sit through the hot, still
evening, their arms about each other, watching the moon rise over
the foothills, listening to the trickle of the water in the mossencrusted
fountain in the garden, and the steady croak of the
great frogs that lived in the damp north corner of the enclosure.
Through all one summer the enchantment of that new-found,
wonderful love, pure and untainted, filled the lives of each of
them with its sweetness. The summer passed, the harvest moon
came and went. The nights were very dark. In the deep shade of
the pear trees they could no longer see each other. When they
met at the rendezvous, Vanamee found her only with his groping
hands. They did not speak, mere words were useless between them.
Silently as his reaching hands touched her warm body, he took her
in his arms, searching for her lips with his. Then one night the
tragedy had suddenly leaped from out the shadow with the
abruptness of an explosion.
It was impossible afterwards to reconstruct the manner of its
occurrence. To Angele's mind--what there was left of it--the
matter always remained a hideous blur, a blot, a vague, terrible
confusion. No doubt they two had been watched; the plan
succeeded too well for any other supposition. One moonless
night, Angele, arriving under the black shadow of the pear trees
a little earlier than usual, found the apparently familiar figure
waiting for her. All unsuspecting she gave herself to the
embrace of a strange pair of arms, and Vanamee arriving but a
score of moments later, stumbled over her prostrate body, inert
and unconscious, in the shadow of the overspiring trees.
Who was the Other? Angele was carried to her home on the Seed
ranch, delirious, all but raving, and Vanamee, with knife and
revolver ready, ranged the country-side like a wolf. He was not
alone. The whole county rose, raging, horror-struck. Posse
after posse was formed, sent out, and returned, without so much
as a clue. Upon no one could even the shadow of suspicion be
thrown. The Other had withdrawn into an impenetrable mystery.
There he remained. He never was found; he never was so much as
heard of. A legend arose about him, this prowler of the night,
this strange, fearful figure, with an unseen face, swooping in
there from out the darkness, come and gone in an instant, but
leaving behind him a track of terror and death and rage and
undying grief. Within the year, in giving birth to the child,
Angele had died.
The little babe was taken by Angele's parents, and Angele was
buried in the Mission garden near to the aged, grey sun dial.
Vanamee stood by during the ceremony, but half conscious of what
was going forward. At the last moment he had stepped forward,
looked long into the dead face framed in its plaits of gold hair,
the hair that made three-cornered the round, white forehead;
looked again at the closed eyes, with their perplexing upward
slant toward the temples, oriental, bizarre; at the lips with
their Egyptian fulness; at the sweet, slender neck; the long,
slim hands; then abruptly turned about. The last clods were
filling the grave at a time when he was already far away, his
horse's head turned toward the desert.
For two years no syllable was heard of him. It was believed that
he had killed himself. But Vanamee had no thought of that. For
two years he wandered through Arizona, living in the desert, in
the wilderness, a recluse, a nomad, an ascetic. But, doubtless,
all his heart was in the little coffin in the Mission garden.
Once in so often he must come back thither. One day he was seen
again in the San Joaquin. The priest, Father Sarria, returning
from a visit to the sick at Bonneville, met him on the Upper
Eighteen years had passed since Angele had died, but the thread
of Vanamee's life had been snapped. Nothing remained now but the
tangled ends. He had never forgotten. The long, dull ache, the
poignant grief had now become a part of him. Presley knew this
to be so.
While Presley had been reflecting upon all this, Vanamee had
continued to speak. Presley, however, had not been wholly
inattentive. While his memory was busy reconstructing the
details of the drama of the shepherd's life, another part of his
brain had been swiftly registering picture after picture that
Vanamee's monotonous flow of words struck off, as it were, upon a
steadily moving scroll. The music of the unfamiliar names that
occurred in his recital was a stimulant to the poet's
imagination. Presley had the poet's passion for expressive,
sonorous names. As these came and went in Vanamee's monotonous
undertones, like little notes of harmony in a musical
progression, he listened, delighted with their resonance. -
Navajo, Quijotoa, Uintah, Sonora, Laredo, Uncompahgre--to him
they were so many symbols. It was his West that passed,
unrolling there before the eye of his mind: the open, heatscourged
round of desert; the mesa, like a vast altar, shimmering
purple in the royal sunset; the still, gigantic mountains,
heaving into the sky from out the canyons; the strenuous, fierce
life of isolated towns, lost and forgotten, down there, far off,
below the horizon. Abruptly his great poem, his Song of the
West, leaped up again in his imagination. For the moment, he all
but held it. It was there, close at hand. In another instant he
would grasp it.
"Yes, yes," he exclaimed, "I can see it all. The desert, the
mountains, all wild, primordial, untamed. How I should have
loved to have been with you. Then, perhaps, I should have got
hold of my idea."
"Your idea?"
"The great poem of the West. It's that which I want to write.
Oh, to put it all into hexameters; strike the great iron note;
sing the vast, terrible song; the song of the People; the
forerunners of empire!"
Vanamee understood him perfectly. He nodded gravely.
"Yes, it is there. It is Life, the primitive, simple, direct
Life, passionate, tumultuous. Yes, there is an epic there."
Presley caught at the word. It had never before occurred to him.
"Epic, yes, that's it. It is the epic I'm searching for. And
HOW I search for it. You don't know. It is sometimes almost an
agony. Often and often I can feel it right there, there, at my
finger-tips, but I never quite catch it. It always eludes me. I
was born too late. Ah, to get back to that first clear-eyed view
of things, to see as Homer saw, as Beowulf saw, as the Nibelungen
poets saw. The life is here, the same as then; the Poem is here;
my West is here; the primeval, epic life is here, here under our
hands, in the desert, in the mountain, on the ranch, all over
here, from Winnipeg to Guadalupe. It is the man who is lacking,
the poet; we have been educated away from it all. We are out of
touch. We are out of tune."
Vanamee heard him to the end, his grave, sad face thoughtful and
attentive. Then he rose.
"I am going over to the Mission," he said, "to see Father Sarria.
I have not seen him yet."
"How about the sheep?"
"The dogs will keep them in hand, and I shall not be gone long.
Besides that, I have a boy here to help. He is over yonder on
the other side of the herd. We can't see him from here."
Presley wondered at the heedlessness of leaving the sheep so
slightly guarded, but made no comment, and the two started off
across the field in the direction of the Mission church.
"Well, yes, it is there--your epic," observed Vanamee, as they
went along. "But why write? Why not LIVE in it? Steep oneself
in the heat of the desert, the glory of the sunset, the blue haze
of the mesa and the canyon."
"As you have done, for instance?"
Vanamee nodded.
"No, I could not do that," declared Presley; "I want to go back,
but not so far as you. I feel that I must compromise. I must
find expression. I could not lose myself like that in your
desert. When its vastness overwhelmed me, or its beauty dazzled
me, or its loneliness weighed down upon me, I should have to
record my impressions. Otherwise, I should suffocate."
"Each to his own life," observed Vanamee.
The Mission of San Juan, built of brown 'dobe blocks, covered
with yellow plaster, that at many points had dropped away from
the walls, stood on the crest of a low rise of the ground, facing
to the south. A covered colonnade, paved with round, worn
bricks, from whence opened the doors of the abandoned cells, once
used by the monks, adjoined it on the left. The roof was of
tiled half-cylinders, split longitudinally, and laid in alternate
rows, now concave, now convex. The main body of the church
itself was at right angles to the colonnade, and at the point of
intersection rose the belfry tower, an ancient campanile, where
swung the three cracked bells, the gift of the King of Spain.
Beyond the church was the Mission garden and the graveyard that
overlooked the Seed ranch in a little hollow beyond.
Presley and Vanamee went down the long colonnade to the last door
next the belfry tower, and Vanamee pulled the leather thong that
hung from a hole in the door, setting a little bell jangling
somewhere in the interior. The place, but for this noise, was
shrouded in a Sunday stillness, an absolute repose. Only at
intervals, one heard the trickle of the unseen fountain, and the
liquid cooing of doves in the garden.
Father Sarria opened the door. He was a small man, somewhat
stout, with a smooth and shiny face. He wore a frock coat that
was rather dirty, slippers, and an old yachting cap of blue
cloth, with a broken leather vizor. He was smoking a cheap
cigar, very fat and black.
But instantly he recognised Vanamee. His face went all alight
with pleasure and astonishment. It seemed as if he would never
have finished shaking both his hands; and, as it was, he released
but one of them, patting him affectionately on the shoulder with
the other. He was voluble in his welcome, talking partly in
Spanish, partly in English.
So he had come back again, this great fellow, tanned as an
Indian, lean as an Indian, with an Indian's long, black hair.
But he had not changed, not in the very least. His beard had not
grown an inch. Aha! The rascal, never to give warning, to drop
down, as it were, from out the sky. Such a hermit! To live in
the desert! A veritable Saint Jerome. Did a lion feed him down
there in Arizona, or was it a raven, like Elijah? The good God
had not fattened him, at any rate, and, apropos, he was just
about to dine himself. He had made a salad from his own lettuce.
The two would dine with him, eh? For this, my son, that was lost
is found again.
But Presley excused himself. Instinctively, he felt that Sarria
and Vanamee wanted to talk of things concerning which he was an
outsider. It was not at all unlikely that Vanamee would spend
half the night before the high altar in the church.
He took himself away, his mind still busy with Vanamee's
extraordinary life and character. But, as he descended the hill,
he was startled by a prolonged and raucous cry, discordant, very
harsh, thrice repeated at exact intervals, and, looking up, he
saw one of Father Sarria's peacocks balancing himself upon the
topmost wire of the fence, his long tail trailing, his neck
outstretched, filling the air with his stupid outcry, for no
reason than the desire to make a noise.
About an hour later, toward four in the afternoon, Presley
reached the spring at the head of the little canyon in the
northeast corner of the Quien Sabe ranch, the point toward which
he had been travelling since early in the forenoon. The place
was not without its charm. Innumerable live-oaks overhung the
canyon, and Broderson Creek--there a mere rivulet, running down
from the spring--gave a certain coolness to the air. It was one
of the few spots thereabouts that had survived the dry season of
the last year. Nearly all the other springs had dried
completely, while Mission Creek on Derrick's ranch was nothing
better than a dusty cutting in the ground, filled with brittle,
concave flakes of dried and sun-cracked mud.
Presley climbed to the summit of one of the hills--the highest--
that rose out of the canyon, from the crest of which he could see
for thirty, fifty, sixty miles down the valley, and, filling his
pipe, smoked lazily for upwards of an hour, his head empty of
thought, allowing himself to succumb to a pleasant, gentle
inanition, a little drowsy comfortable in his place, prone upon
the ground, warmed just enough by such sunlight as filtered
through the live-oaks, soothed by the good tobacco and the
prolonged murmur of the spring and creek. By degrees, the sense
of his own personality became blunted, the little wheels and cogs
of thought moved slower and slower; consciousness dwindled to a
point, the animal in him stretched itself, purring. A delightful
numbness invaded his mind and his body. He was not asleep, he
was not awake, stupefied merely, lapsing back to the state of the
faun, the satyr.
After a while, rousing himself a little, he shifted his position
and, drawing from the pocket of his shooting coat his little
tree-calf edition of the Odyssey, read far into the twenty-first
book, where, after the failure of all the suitors to bend
Ulysses's bow, it is finally put, with mockery, into his own
hands. Abruptly the drama of the story roused him from all his
languor. In an instant he was the poet again, his nerves
tingling, alive to every sensation, responsive to every
impression. The desire of creation, of composition, grew big
within him. Hexameters of his own clamoured, tumultuous, in his
brain. Not for a long time had he "felt his poem," as he called
this sensation, so poignantly. For an instant he told himself
that he actually held it.
It was, no doubt, Vanamee's talk that had stimulated him to this
point. The story of the Long Trail, with its desert and
mountain, its cliff-dwellers, its Aztec ruins, its colour,
movement, and romance, filled his mind with picture after
picture. The epic defiled before his vision like a pageant.
Once more, he shot a glance about him, as if in search of the
inspiration, and this time he all but found it. He rose to his
feet, looking out and off below him.
As from a pinnacle, Presley, from where he now stood, dominated
the entire country. The sun had begun to set, everything in the
range of his vision was overlaid with a sheen of gold.
First, close at hand, it was the Seed ranch, carpeting the little
hollow behind the Mission with a spread of greens, some dark,
some vivid, some pale almost to yellowness. Beyond that was the
Mission itself, its venerable campanile, in whose arches hung the
Spanish King's bells, already glowing ruddy in the sunset.
Farther on, he could make out Annixter's ranch house, marked by
the skeleton-like tower of the artesian well, and, a little
farther to the east, the huddled, tiled roofs of Guadalajara.
Far to the west and north, he saw Bonneville very plain, and the
dome of the courthouse, a purple silhouette against the glare of
the sky. Other points detached themselves, swimming in a golden
mist, projecting blue shadows far before them; the mammoth liveoak
by Hooven's, towering superb and magnificent; the line of
eucalyptus trees, behind which he knew was the Los Muertos ranch
house--his home; the watering-tank, the great iron-hooped tower
of wood that stood at the joining of the Lower Road and the
County Road; the long wind-break of poplar trees and the white
walls of Caraher's saloon on the County Road.
But all this seemed to be only foreground, a mere array of
accessories--a mass of irrelevant details. Beyond Annixter's,
beyond Guadalajara, beyond the Lower Road, beyond Broderson
Creek, on to the south and west, infinite, illimitable,
stretching out there under the sheen of the sunset forever and
forever, flat, vast, unbroken, a huge scroll, unrolling between
the horizons, spread the great stretches of the ranch of Los
Muertos, bare of crops, shaved close in the recent harvest. Near
at hand were hills, but on that far southern horizon only the
curve of the great earth itself checked the view. Adjoining Los
Muertos, and widening to the west, opened the Broderson ranch.
The Osterman ranch to the northwest carried on the great sweep of
landscape; ranch after ranch. Then, as the imagination itself
expanded under the stimulus of that measureless range of vision,
even those great ranches resolved themselves into mere
foreground, mere accessories, irrelevant details. Beyond the
fine line of the horizons, over the curve of the globe, the
shoulder of the earth, were other ranches, equally vast, and
beyond these, others, and beyond these, still others, the
immensities multiplying, lengthening out vaster and vaster. The
whole gigantic sweep of the San Joaquin expanded, Titanic, before
the eye of the mind, flagellated with heat, quivering and
shimmering under the sun's red eye. At long intervals, a faint
breath of wind out of the south passed slowly over the levels of
the baked and empty earth, accentuating the silence, marking off
the stillness. It seemed to exhale from the land itself, a
prolonged sigh as of deep fatigue. It was the season after the
harvest, and the great earth, the mother, after its period of
reproduction, its pains of labour, delivered of the fruit of its
loins, slept the sleep of exhaustion, the infinite repose of the
colossus, benignant, eternal, strong, the nourisher of nations,
the feeder of an entire world.
Ha! there it was, his epic, his inspiration, his West, his
thundering progression of hexameters. A sudden uplift, a sense
of exhilaration, of physical exaltation appeared abruptly to
sweep Presley from his feet. As from a point high above the
world, he seemed to dominate a universe, a whole order of things.
He was dizzied, stunned, stupefied, his morbid supersensitive
mind reeling, drunk with the intoxication of mere immensity.
Stupendous ideas for which there were no names drove headlong
through his brain. Terrible, formless shapes, vague figures,
gigantic, monstrous, distorted, whirled at a gallop through his
He started homeward, still in his dream, descending from the
hill, emerging from the canyon, and took the short cut straight
across the Quien Sabe ranch, leaving Guadalajara far to his left.
He tramped steadily on through the wheat stubble, walking fast,
his head in a whirl.
Never had he so nearly grasped his inspiration as at that moment
on the hilltop. Even now, though the sunset was fading, though
the wide reach of valley was shut from sight, it still kept him
company. Now the details came thronging back--the component
parts of his poem, the signs and symbols of the West. It was
there, close at hand, he had been in touch with it all day. It
was in the centenarian's vividly coloured reminiscences--De La
Cuesta, holding his grant from the Spanish crown, with his power
of life and death; the romance of his marriage; the white horse
with its pillion of red leather and silver bridle mountings; the
bull-fights in the Plaza; the gifts of gold dust, and horses and
tallow. It was in Vanamee's strange history, the tragedy of his
love; Angele Varian, with her marvellous loveliness; the Egyptian
fulness of her lips, the perplexing upward slant of her violet
eyes, bizarre, oriental; her white forehead made three cornered
by her plaits of gold hair; the mystery of the Other; her death
at the moment of her child's birth. It was in Vanamee's flight
into the wilderness; the story of the Long Trail, the sunsets
behind the altar-like mesas, the baking desolation of the
deserts; the strenuous, fierce life of forgotten towns, down
there, far off, lost below the horizons of the southwest; the
sonorous music of unfamiliar names--Quijotoa, Uintah, Sonora,
Laredo, Uncompahgre. It was in the Mission, with its cracked
bells, its decaying walls, its venerable sun dial, its fountain
and old garden, and in the Mission Fathers themselves, the
priests, the padres, planting the first wheat and oil and wine to
produce the elements of the Sacrament--a trinity of great
industries, taking their rise in a religious rite.
Abruptly, as if in confirmation, Presley heard the sound of a
bell from the direction of the Mission itself. It was the de
Profundis, a note of the Old World; of the ancient regime, an
echo from the hillsides of mediaeval Europe, sounding there in
this new land, unfamiliar and strange at this end-of-the-century
By now, however, it was dark. Presley hurried forward. He came
to the line fence of the Quien Sabe ranch. Everything was very
still. The stars were all out. There was not a sound other than
the de Profundis, still sounding from very far away. At long
intervals the great earth sighed dreamily in its sleep. All
about, the feeling of absolute peace and quiet and security and
untroubled happiness and content seemed descending from the stars
like a benediction. The beauty of his poem, its idyl, came to
him like a caress; that alone had been lacking. It was that,
perhaps, which had left it hitherto incomplete. At last he was
to grasp his song in all its entity.
But suddenly there was an interruption. Presley had climbed the
fence at the limit of the Quien Sabe ranch. Beyond was Los
Muertos, but between the two ran the railroad. He had only time
to jump back upon the embankment when, with a quivering of all
the earth, a locomotive, single, unattached, shot by him with a
roar, filling the air with the reek of hot oil, vomiting smoke
and sparks; its enormous eye, cyclopean, red, throwing a glare
far in advance, shooting by in a sudden crash of confused
thunder; filling the night with the terrific clamour of its iron
Abruptly Presley remembered. This must be the crack passenger
engine of which Dyke had told him, the one delayed by the
accident on the Bakersfield division and for whose passage the
track had been opened all the way to Fresno.
Before Presley could recover from the shock of the irruption,
while the earth was still vibrating, the rails still humming, the
engine was far away, flinging the echo of its frantic gallop over
all the valley. For a brief instant it roared with a hollow
diapason on the Long Trestle over Broderson Creek, then plunged
into a cutting farther on, the quivering glare of its fires
losing itself in the night, its thunder abruptly diminishing to a
subdued and distant humming. All at once this ceased. The
engine was gone.
But the moment the noise of the engine lapsed, Presley--about to
start forward again--was conscious of a confusion of lamentable
sounds that rose into the night from out the engine's wake.
Prolonged cries of agony, sobbing wails of infinite pain, heartrending,
The noises came from a little distance. He ran down the track,
crossing the culvert, over the irrigating ditch, and at the head
of the long reach of track--between the culvert and the Long
Trestle--paused abruptly, held immovable at the sight of the
ground and rails all about him.
In some way, the herd of sheep--Vanamee's herd--had found a
breach in the wire fence by the right of way and had wandered out
upon the tracks. A band had been crossing just at the moment of
the engine's passage. The pathos of it was beyond expression.
It was a slaughter, a massacre of innocents. The iron monster
had charged full into the midst, merciless, inexorable. To the
right and left, all the width of the right of way, the little
bodies had been flung; backs were snapped against the fence
posts; brains knocked out. Caught in the barbs of the wire,
wedged in, the bodies hung suspended. Under foot it was
terrible. The black blood, winking in the starlight, seeped down
into the clinkers between the ties with a prolonged sucking
Presley turned away, horror-struck, sick at heart, overwhelmed
with a quick burst of irresistible compassion for this brute
agony he could not relieve. The sweetness was gone from the
evening, the sense of peace, of security, and placid contentment
was stricken from the landscape. The hideous ruin in the
engine's path drove all thought of his poem from his mind. The
inspiration vanished like a mist. The de Profundis had ceased to
He hurried on across the Los Muertos ranch, almost running, even
putting his hands over his ears till he was out of hearing
distance of that all but human distress. Not until he was beyond
ear-shot did he pause, looking back, listening. The night had
shut down again. For a moment the silence was profound,
Then, faint and prolonged, across the levels of the ranch, he
heard the engine whistling for Bonneville. Again and again, at
rapid intervals in its flying course, it whistled for road
crossings, for sharp curves, for trestles; ominous notes, hoarse,
bellowing, ringing with the accents of menace and defiance; and
abruptly Presley saw again, in his imagination, the galloping
monster, the terror of steel and steam, with its single eye,
cyclopean, red, shooting from horizon to horizon; but saw it now
as the symbol of a vast power, huge, terrible, flinging the echo
of its thunder over all the reaches of the valley, leaving blood
and destruction in its path; the leviathan, with tentacles of
steel clutching into the soil, the soulless Force, the ironhearted
Power, the monster, the Colossus, the Octopus.
On the following morning, Harran Derrick was up and about by a
little after six o'clock, and a quarter of an hour later had
breakfast in the kitchen of the ranch house, preferring not to
wait until the Chinese cook laid the table in the regular diningroom.
He scented a hard day's work ahead of him, and was anxious
to be at it betimes. He was practically the manager of Los
Muertos, and, with the aid of his foreman and three division
superintendents, carried forward nearly the entire direction of
the ranch, occupying himself with the details of his father's
plans, executing his orders, signing contracts, paying bills, and
keeping the books.
For the last three weeks little had been done. The crop--such as
it was--had been harvested and sold, and there had been a general
relaxation of activity for upwards of a month. Now, however, the
fall was coming on, the dry season was about at its end; any time
after the twentieth of the month the first rains might be
expected, softening the ground, putting it into condition for the
plough. Two days before this, Harran had notified his
superintendents on Three and Four to send in such grain as they
had reserved for seed. On Two the wheat had not even shown
itself above the ground, while on One, the Home ranch, which was
under his own immediate supervision, the seed had already been
graded and selected.
It was Harran's intention to commence blue-stoning his seed that
day, a delicate and important process which prevented rust and
smut appearing in the crop when the wheat should come up. But,
furthermore, he wanted to find time to go to Guadalajara to meet
the Governor on the morning train. His day promised to be busy.
But as Harran was finishing his last cup of coffee, Phelps, the
foreman on the Home ranch, who also looked after the storage
barns where the seed was kept, presented himself, cap in hand, on
the back porch by the kitchen door.
"I thought I'd speak to you about the seed from Four, sir," he
said. "That hasn't been brought in yet."
Harran nodded.
"I'll see about it. You've got all the blue-stone you want, have
you, Phelps?" and without waiting for an answer he added, "Tell
the stableman I shall want the team about nine o'clock to go to
Guadalajara. Put them in the buggy. The bays, you understand."
When the other had gone, Harran drank off the rest of his coffee,
and, rising, passed through the dining-room and across a stonepaved
hallway with a glass roof into the office just beyond.
The office was the nerve-centre of the entire ten thousand acres
of Los Muertos, but its appearance and furnishings were not in
the least suggestive of a farm. It was divided at about its
middle by a wire railing, painted green and gold, and behind this
railing were the high desks where the books were kept, the safe,
the letter-press and letter-files, and Harran's typewriting
machine. A great map of Los Muertos with every water-course,
depression, and elevation, together with indications of the
varying depths of the clays and loams in the soil, accurately
plotted, hung against the wall between the windows, while near at
hand by the safe was the telephone.
But, no doubt, the most significant object in the office was the
ticker. This was an innovation in the San Joaquin, an idea of
shrewd, quick-witted young Annixter, which Harran and Magnus
Derrick had been quick to adopt, and after them Broderson and
Osterman, and many others of the wheat growers of the county.
The offices of the ranches were thus connected by wire with San
Francisco, and through that city with Minneapolis, Duluth,
Chicago, New York, and at last, and most important of all, with
Liverpool. Fluctuations in the price of the world's crop during
and after the harvest thrilled straight to the office of Los
Muertos, to that of the Quien Sabe, to Osterman's, and to
Broderson's. During a flurry in the Chicago wheat pits in the
August of that year, which had affected even the San Francisco
market, Harran and Magnus had sat up nearly half of one night
watching the strip of white tape jerking unsteadily from the
reel. At such moments they no longer felt their individuality.
The ranch became merely the part of an enormous whole, a unit in
the vast agglomeration of wheat land the whole world round,
feeling the effects of causes thousands of miles distant--a
drought on the prairies of Dakota, a rain on the plains of India,
a frost on the Russian steppes, a hot wind on the llanos of the
Harran crossed over to the telephone and rang six bells, the call
for the division house on Four. It was the most distant, the
most isolated point on all the ranch, situated at its far
southeastern extremity, where few people ever went, close to the
line fence, a dot, a speck, lost in the immensity of the open
country. By the road it was eleven miles distant from the
office, and by the trail to Hooven's and the Lower Road all of
"How about that seed?" demanded Harran when he had got Cutter on
the line.
The other made excuses for an unavoidable delay, and was adding
that he was on the point of starting out, when Harran cut in
"You had better go the trail. It will save a little time and I
am in a hurry. Put your sacks on the horses' backs. And,
Cutter, if you see Hooven when you go by his place, tell him I
want him, and, by the way, take a look at the end of the
irrigating ditch when you get to it. See how they are getting
along there and if Billy wants anything. Tell him we are
expecting those new scoops down to-morrow or next day and to get
along with what he has until then. . . . How's everything on
Four? . . . All right, then. Give your seed to Phelps when you
get here if I am not about. I am going to Guadalajara to meet
the Governor. He's coming down to-day. And that makes me think;
we lost the case, you know. I had a letter from the Governor
yesterday. . . . Yes, hard luck. S. Behrman did us up. Well,
good-bye, and don't lose any time with that seed. I want to
blue-stone to-day."
After telephoning Cutter, Harran put on his hat, went over to the
barns, and found Phelps. Phelps had already cleaned out the vat
which was to contain the solution of blue-stone, and was now at
work regrading the seed. Against the wall behind him ranged the
row of sacks. Harran cut the fastenings of these and examined
the contents carefully, taking handfuls of wheat from each and
allowing it to run through his fingers, or nipping the grains
between his nails, testing their hardness.
The seed was all of the white varieties of wheat and of a very
high grade, the berries hard and heavy, rigid and swollen with
"If it was all like that, sir, hey?" observed Phelps.
Harran put his chin in the air.
"Bread would be as good as cake, then," he answered, going from
sack to sack, inspecting the contents and consulting the tags
affixed to the mouths.
"Hello," he remarked, "here's a red wheat. Where did this come
"That's that red Clawson we sowed to the piece on Four, north the
Mission Creek, just to see how it would do here. We didn't get a
very good catch."
"We can't do better than to stay by White Sonora and Propo,"
remarked Harran. "We've got our best results with that, and
European millers like it to mix with the Eastern wheats that have
more gluten than ours. That is, if we have any wheat at all next
A feeling of discouragement for the moment bore down heavily upon
him. At intervals this came to him and for the moment it was
overpowering. The idea of "what's-the-use" was upon occasion a
veritable oppression. Everything seemed to combine to lower the
price of wheat. The extension of wheat areas always exceeded
increase of population; competition was growing fiercer every
year. The farmer's profits were the object of attack from a
score of different quarters. It was a flock of vultures
descending upon a common prey--the commission merchant, the
elevator combine, the mixing-house ring, the banks, the warehouse
men, the labouring man, and, above all, the railroad. Steadily
the Liverpool buyers cut and cut and cut. Everything, every
element of the world's markets, tended to force down the price to
the lowest possible figure at which it could be profitably
farmed. Now it was down to eighty-seven. It was at that figure
the crop had sold that year; and to think that the Governor had
seen wheat at two dollars and five cents in the year of the
Turko-Russian War!
He turned back to the house after giving Phelps final directions,
gloomy, disheartened, his hands deep in his pockets, wondering
what was to be the outcome. So narrow had the margin of profit
shrunk that a dry season meant bankruptcy to the smaller farmers
throughout all the valley. He knew very well how widespread had
been the distress the last two years. With their own tenants on
Los Muertos, affairs had reached the stage of desperation.
Derrick had practically been obliged to "carry" Hooven and some
of the others. The Governor himself had made almost nothing
during the last season; a third year like the last, with the
price steadily sagging, meant nothing else but ruin.
But here he checked himself. Two consecutive dry seasons in
California were almost unprecedented; a third would be beyond
belief, and the complete rest for nearly all the land was a
compensation. They had made no money, that was true; but they
had lost none. Thank God, the homestead was free of mortgage;
one good season would more than make up the difference.
He was in a better mood by the time he reached the driveway that
led up to the ranch house, and as he raised his eyes toward the
house itself, he could not but feel that the sight of his home
was cheering. The ranch house was set in a great grove of
eucalyptus, oak, and cypress, enormous trees growing from out a
lawn that was as green, as fresh, and as well-groomed as any in a
garden in the city. This lawn flanked all one side of the house,
and it was on this side that the family elected to spend most of
its time. The other side, looking out upon the Home ranch toward
Bonneville and the railroad, was but little used. A deep porch
ran the whole length of the house here, and in the lower branches
of a live-oak near the steps Harran had built a little summer
house for his mother. To the left of the ranch house itself,
toward the County Road, was the bunk-house and kitchen for some
of the hands. From the steps of the porch the view to the
southward expanded to infinity. There was not so much as a twig
to obstruct the view. In one leap the eye reached the fine,
delicate line where earth and sky met, miles away. The flat
monotony of the land, clean of fencing, was broken by one spot
only, the roof of the Division Superintendent's house on Three--a
mere speck, just darker than the ground. Cutter's house on Four
was not even in sight. That was below the horizon.
As Harran came up he saw his mother at breakfast. The table had
been set on the porch and Mrs. Derrick, stirring her coffee with
one hand, held open with the other the pages of Walter Pater's
"Marius." At her feet, Princess Nathalie, the white Angora cat,
sleek, over-fed, self-centred, sat on her haunches, industriously
licking at the white fur of her breast, while near at hand, by
the railing of the porch, Presley pottered with a new bicycle
lamp, filling it with oil, adjusting the wicks.
Harran kissed his mother and sat down in a wicker chair on the
porch, removing his hat, running his fingers through his yellow
Magnus Derrick's wife looked hardly old enough to be the mother
of two such big fellows as Harran and Lyman Derrick. She was not
far into the fifties, and her brown hair still retained much of
its brightness. She could yet be called pretty. Her eyes were
large and easily assumed a look of inquiry and innocence, such as
one might expect to see in a young girl. By disposition she was
retiring; she easily obliterated herself. She was not made for
the harshness of the world, and yet she had known these
harshnesses in her younger days. Magnus had married her when she
was twenty-one years old, at a time when she was a graduate of
some years' standing from the State Normal School and was
teaching literature, music, and penmanship in a seminary in the
town of Marysville. She overworked herself here continually,
loathing the strain of teaching, yet clinging to it with a
tenacity born of the knowledge that it was her only means of
support. Both her parents were dead; she was dependent upon
herself. Her one ambition was to see Italy and the Bay of
Naples. The "Marble Faun," Raphael's "Madonnas" and "Il
Trovatore" were her beau ideals of literature and art. She
dreamed of Italy, Rome, Naples, and the world's great "artcentres."
There was no doubt that her affair with Magnus had
been a love-match, but Annie Payne would have loved any man who
would have taken her out of the droning, heart-breaking routine
of the class and music room. She had followed his fortunes
unquestioningly. First at Sacramento, during the turmoil of his
political career, later on at Placerville in El Dorado County,
after Derrick had interested himself in the Corpus Christi group
of mines, and finally at Los Muertos, where, after selling out
his fourth interest in Corpus Christi, he had turned rancher and
had "come in" on the new tracts of wheat land just thrown open by
the railroad. She had lived here now for nearly ten years. But
never for one moment since the time her glance first lost itself
in the unbroken immensity of the ranches had she known a moment's
content. Continually there came into her pretty, wide-open eyes--
the eyes of a young doe--a look of uneasiness, of distrust, and
aversion. Los Muertos frightened her. She remembered the days
of her young girlhood passed on a farm in eastern Ohio--five
hundred acres, neatly partitioned into the water lot, the cow
pasture, the corn lot, the barley field, and wheat farm; cosey,
comfortable, home-like; where the farmers loved their land,
caressing it, coaxing it, nourishing it as though it were a thing
almost conscious; where the seed was sown by hand, and a single
two-horse plough was sufficient for the entire farm; where the
scythe sufficed to cut the harvest and the grain was thrashed
with flails.
But this new order of things--a ranch bounded only by the
horizons, where, as far as one could see, to the north, to the
east, to the south and to the west, was all one holding, a
principality ruled with iron and steam, bullied into a yield of
three hundred and fifty thousand bushels, where even when the
land was resting, unploughed, unharrowed, and unsown, the wheat
came up--troubled her, and even at times filled her with an
undefinable terror. To her mind there was something inordinate
about it all; something almost unnatural. The direct brutality
of ten thousand acres of wheat, nothing but wheat as far as the
eye could see, stunned her a little. The one-time writingteacher
of a young ladies' seminary, with her pretty deer-like
eyes and delicate fingers, shrank from it. She did not want to
look at so much wheat. There was something vaguely indecent in
the sight, this food of the people, this elemental force, this
basic energy, weltering here under the sun in all the unconscious
nakedness of a sprawling, primordial Titan.
The monotony of the ranch ate into her heart hour by hour, year
by year. And with it all, when was she to see Rome, Italy, and
the Bay of Naples? It was a different prospect truly. Magnus
had given her his promise that once the ranch was well
established, they two should travel. But continually he had been
obliged to put her off, now for one reason, now for another; the
machine would not as yet run of itself, he must still feel his
hand upon the lever; next year, perhaps, when wheat should go to
ninety, or the rains were good. She did not insist. She
obliterated herself, only allowing, from time to time, her
pretty, questioning eyes to meet his. In the meantime she
retired within herself. She surrounded herself with books. Her
taste was of the delicacy of point lace. She knew her Austin
Dobson by heart. She read poems, essays, the ideas of the
seminary at Marysville persisting in her mind. "Marius the
Epicurean," "The Essays of Elia," "Sesame and Lilies," "The
Stones of Venice," and the little toy magazines, full of the
flaccid banalities of the "Minor Poets," were continually in her
When Presley had appeared on Los Muertos, she had welcomed his
arrival with delight. Here at last was a congenial spirit. She
looked forward to long conversations with the young man on
literature, art, and ethics. But Presley had disappointed her.
That he--outside of his few chosen deities--should care little
for literature, shocked her beyond words. His indifference to
"style," to elegant English, was a positive affront. His savage
abuse and open ridicule of the neatly phrased rondeaux and
sestinas and chansonettes of the little magazines was to her mind
a wanton and uncalled-for cruelty. She found his Homer, with its
slaughters and hecatombs and barbaric feastings and headstrong
passions, violent and coarse. She could not see with him any
romance, any poetry in the life around her; she looked to Italy
for that. His "Song of the West," which only once, incoherent
and fierce, he had tried to explain to her, its swift, tumultous
life, its truth, its nobility and savagery, its heroism and
obscenity had revolted her.
"But, Presley," she had murmured, "that is not literature."
"No," he had cried between his teeth, "no, thank God, it is not."
A little later, one of the stablemen brought the buggy with the
team of bays up to the steps of the porch, and Harran, putting on
a different coat and a black hat, took himself off to
The morning was fine; there was no cloud in the sky, but as
Harran's buggy drew away from the grove of trees about the ranch
house, emerging into the open country on either side of the Lower
Road, he caught himself looking sharply at the sky and the faint
line of hills beyond the Quien Sabe ranch. There was a certain
indefinite cast to the landscape that to Harran's eye was not to
be mistaken. Rain, the first of the season, was not far off.
"That's good," he muttered, touching the bays with the whip, "we
can't get our ploughs to hand any too soon."
These ploughs Magnus Derrick had ordered from an Eastern
manufacturer some months before, since he was dissatisfied with
the results obtained from the ones he had used hitherto, which
were of local make. However, there had been exasperating and
unexpected delays in their shipment. Magnus and Harran both had
counted upon having the ploughs in their implement barns that
very week, but a tracer sent after them had only resulted in
locating them, still en route, somewhere between The Needles and
Bakersfield. Now there was likelihood of rain within the week.
Ploughing could be undertaken immediately afterward, so soon as
the ground was softened, but there was a fair chance that the
ranch would lie idle for want of proper machinery.
It was ten minutes before train time when Harran reached the
depot at Guadalajara. The San Francisco papers of the preceding
day had arrived on an earlier train. He bought a couple from the
station agent and looked them over till a distant and prolonged
whistle announced the approach of the down train.
In one of the four passengers that alighted from the train, he
recognised his father. He half rose in his seat, whistling
shrilly between his teeth, waving his hand, and Magnus Derrick,
catching sight of him, came forward quickly.
Magnus--the Governor--was all of six feet tall, and though now
well toward his sixtieth year, was as erect as an officer of
cavalry. He was broad in proportion, a fine commanding figure,
imposing an immediate respect, impressing one with a sense of
gravity, of dignity and a certain pride of race. He was smoothshaven,
thin-lipped, with a broad chin, and a prominent hawk-like
nose--the characteristic of the family--thin, with a high bridge,
such as one sees in the later portraits of the Duke of
Wellington. His hair was thick and iron-grey, and had a tendency
to curl in a forward direction just in front of his ears. He
wore a top-hat of grey, with a wide brim, and a frock coat, and
carried a cane with a yellowed ivory head.
As a young man it had been his ambition to represent his native
State--North Carolina--in the United States Senate. Calhoun was
his "great man," but in two successive campaigns he had been
defeated. His career checked in this direction, he had come to
California in the fifties. He had known and had been the
intimate friend of such men as Terry, Broderick, General Baker,
Lick, Alvarado, Emerich, Larkin, and, above all, of the
unfortunate and misunderstood Ralston. Once he had been put
forward as the Democratic candidate for governor, but failed of
election. After this Magnus had definitely abandoned politics
and had invested all his money in the Corpus Christi mines. Then
he had sold out his interest at a small profit--just in time to
miss his chance of becoming a multi-millionaire in the Comstock
boom--and was looking for reinvestments in other lines when the
news that "wheat had been discovered in California" was passed
from mouth to mouth. Practically it amounted to a discovery.
Dr. Glenn's first harvest of wheat in Colusa County, quietly
undertaken but suddenly realised with dramatic abruptness, gave a
new matter for reflection to the thinking men of the New West.
California suddenly leaped unheralded into the world's market as
a competitor in wheat production. In a few years her output of
wheat exceeded the value of her out-put of gold, and when, later
on, the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad threw open to settlers
the rich lands of Tulare County--conceded to the corporation by
the government as a bonus for the construction of the road--
Magnus had been quick to seize the opportunity and had taken up
the ten thousand acres of Los Muertos. Wherever he had gone,
Magnus had taken his family with him. Lyman had been born at
Sacramento during the turmoil and excitement of Derrick's
campaign for governor, and Harran at Shingle Springs, in El
Dorado County, six years later.
But Magnus was in every sense the "prominent man." In whatever
circle he moved he was the chief figure. Instinctively other men
looked to him as the leader. He himself was proud of this
distinction; he assumed the grand manner very easily and carried
it well. As a public speaker he was one of the last of the
followers of the old school of orators. He even carried the
diction and manner of the rostrum into private life. It was said
of him that his most colloquial conversation could be taken down
in shorthand and read off as an admirable specimen of pure, wellchosen
English. He loved to do things upon a grand scale, to
preside, to dominate. In his good humour there was something
Jovian. When angry, everybody around him trembled. But he had
not the genius for detail, was not patient. The certain
grandiose lavishness of his disposition occupied itself more with
results than with means. He was always ready to take chances, to
hazard everything on the hopes of colossal returns. In the
mining days at Placerville there was no more redoubtable poker
player in the county. He had been as lucky in his mines as in
his gambling, sinking shafts and tunnelling in violation of
expert theory and finding "pay" in every case. Without knowing
it, he allowed himself to work his ranch much as if he was still
working his mine. The old-time spirit of '49, hap-hazard,
unscientific, persisted in his mind. Everything was a gamble--
who took the greatest chances was most apt to be the greatest
winner. The idea of manuring Los Muertos, of husbanding his
great resources, he would have scouted as niggardly, Hebraic,
Magnus climbed into the buggy, helping himself with Harran's
outstretched hand which he still held. The two were immensely
fond of each other, proud of each other. They were constantly
together and Magnus kept no secrets from his favourite son.
"Well, boy."
"Well, Governor."
"I am very pleased you came yourself, Harran. I feared that you
might be too busy and send Phelps. It was thoughtful."
Harran was ahout to reply, but at that moment Magnus caught sight
of the three flat cars loaded with bright-painted farming
machines which still remained on the siding above the station.
He laid his hands on the reins and Harran checked the team.
"Harran," observed Magnus, fixing the machinery with a judicial
frown, "Harran, those look singularly like our ploughs. Drive
over, boy."
The train had by this time gone on its way and Harran brought the
team up to the siding.
"Ah, I was right," said the Governor. "'Magnus Derrick, Los
Muertos, Bonneville, from Ditson & Co., Rochester.' These are
ours, boy."
Harran breathed a sigh of relief.
"At last," he answered, "and just in time, too. We'll have rain
before the week is out. I think, now that I am here, I will
telephone Phelps to send the wagon right down for these. I
started blue-stoning to-day."
Magnus nodded a grave approval.
"That was shrewd, boy. As to the rain, I think you are well
informed; we will have an early season. The ploughs have arrived
at a happy moment."
"It means money to us, Governor," remarked Harran.
But as he turned the horses to allow his father to get into the
buggy again, the two were surprised to hear a thick, throaty
voice wishing them good-morning, and turning about were aware of
S. Behrman, who had come up while they were examining the
ploughs. Harran's eyes flashed on the instant and through his
nostrils he drew a sharp, quick breath, while a certain rigour of
carriage stiffened the set of Magnus Derrick's shoulders and
back. Magnus had not yet got into the buggy, but stood with the
team between him and S. Behrman, eyeing him calmly across the
horses' backs. S. Behrman came around to the other side of the
buggy and faced Magnus.
He was a large, fat man, with a great stomach; his cheek and the
upper part of his thick neck ran together to form a great
tremulous jowl, shaven and blue-grey in colour; a roll of fat,
sprinkled with sparse hair, moist with perspiration, protruded
over the back of his collar. He wore a heavy black moustache.
On his head was a round-topped hat of stiff brown straw, highly
varnished. A light-brown linen vest, stamped with innumerable
interlocked horseshoes, covered his protuberant stomach, upon
which a heavy watch chain of hollow links rose and fell with his
difficult breathing, clinking against the vest buttons of
imitation mother-of-pearl.
S. Behrman was the banker of Bonneville. But besides this he was
many other things. He was a real estate agent. He bought grain;
he dealt in mortgages. He was one of the local political bosses,
but more important than all this, he was the representative of
the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad in that section of Tulare
County. The railroad did little business in that part of the
country that S. Behrman did not supervise, from the consignment
of a shipment of wheat to the management of a damage suit, or
even to the repair and maintenance of the right of way. During
the time when the ranchers of the county were fighting the grainrate
case, S. Behrman had been much in evidence in and about the
San Francisco court rooms and the lobby of the legislature in
Sacramento. He had returned to Bonneville only recently, a
decision adverse to the ranchers being foreseen. The position he
occupied on the salary list of the Pacific and Southwestern could
not readily be defined, for he was neither freight agent,
passenger agent, attorney, real-estate broker, nor political
servant, though his influence in all these offices was undoubted
and enormous. But for all that, the ranchers about Bonneville
knew whom to look to as a source of trouble. There was no
denying the fact that for Osterman, Broderson, Annixter and
Derrick, S. Behrman was the railroad.
"Mr. Derrick, good-morning," he cried as he came up. "Goodmorning,
Harran. Glad to see you back, Mr. Derrick." He held
out a thick hand.
Magnus, head and shoulders above the other, tall, thin, erect,
looked down upon S. Behrman, inclining his head, failing to see
his extended hand.
"Good-morning, sir," he observed, and waited for S. Behrman's
further speech.
"Well, Mr. Derrick," continued S. Behrman, wiping the back of his
neck with his handkerchief, "I saw in the city papers yesterday
that our case had gone against you."
"I guess it wasn't any great news to YOU," commented Harran, his
face scarlet. "I guess you knew which way Ulsteen was going to
jump after your very first interview with him. You don't like to
be surprised in this sort of thing, S. Behrman."
"Now, you know better than that, Harran," remonstrated S. Behrman
blandly. "I know what you mean to imply, but I ain't going to
let it make me get mad. I wanted to say to your Governor--I
wanted to say to you, Mr. Derrick--as one man to another--letting
alone for the minute that we were on opposite sides of the case--
that I'm sorry you didn't win. Your side made a good fight, but
it was in a mistaken cause. That's the whole trouble. Why, you
could have figured out before you ever went into the case that
such rates are confiscation of property. You must allow us--must
allow the railroad--a fair interest on the investment. You don't
want us to go into the receiver's hands, do you now, Mr.
"The Board of Railroad Commissioners was bought," remarked Magnus
sharply, a keen, brisk flash glinting in his eye.
"It was part of the game," put in Harran, "for the Railroad
Commission to cut rates to a ridiculous figure, far below a
REASONABLE figure, just so that it WOULD be confiscation.
Whether Ulsteen is a tool of yours or not, he had to put the
rates back to what they were originally."
"If you enforced those rates, Mr. Harran," returned S. Behrman
calmly, "we wouldn't be able to earn sufficient money to meet
operating expenses or fixed charges, to say nothing of a surplus
left over to pay dividends----"
"Tell me when the P. and S. W. ever paid dividends."
"The lowest rates," continued S. Behrman, "that the legislature
can establish must be such as will secure us a fair interest on
our investment."
"Well, what's your standard? Come, let's hear it. Who is to say
what's a fair rate? The railroad has its own notions of fairness
"The laws of the State," returned S. Behrman, "fix the rate of
interest at seven per cent. That's a good enough standard for
us. There is no reason, Mr. Harran, why a dollar invested in a
railroad should not earn as much as a dollar represented by a
promissory note--seven per cent. By applying your schedule of
rates we would not earn a cent; we would be bankrupt."
"Interest on your investment!" cried Harran, furious. "It's fine
to talk about fair interest. I know and you know that the total
earnings of the P. and S. W.--their main, branch and leased lines
for last year--was between nineteen and twenty millions of
dollars. Do you mean to say that twenty million dollars is seven
per cent. of the original cost of the road?"
S. Behrman spread out his hands, smiling.
"That was the gross, not the net figure--and how can you tell
what was the original cost of the road?"
"Ah, that's just it," shouted Harran, emphasising each word with
a blow of his fist upon his knee, his eyes sparkling, "you take
cursed good care that we don't know anything about the original
cost of the road. But we know you are bonded for treble your
value; and we know this: that the road COULD have been built for
fifty-four thousand dollars per mile and that you SAY it cost you
eighty-seven thousand. It makes a difference, S. Behrman, on
which of these two figures you are basing your seven per cent."
"That all may show obstinacy, Harran," observed S. Behrman
vaguely, "but it don't show common sense."
"We are threshing out old straw, I believe, gentlemen," remarked
Magnus. "The question was thoroughly sifted in the courts."
"Quite right," assented S. Behrman. "The best way is that the
railroad and the farmer understand each other and get along
peaceably. We are both dependent on each other. Your ploughs, I
believe, Mr. Derrick." S. Behrman nodded toward the flat cars.
"They are consigned to me," admitted Magnus.
"It looks a trifle like rain," observed S. Behrman, easing his
neck and jowl in his limp collar. "I suppose you will want to
begin ploughing next week."
"Possibly," said Magnus.
"I'll see that your ploughs are hurried through for you then, Mr.
Derrick. We will route them by fast freight for you and it won't
cost you anything extra."
"What do you mean?" demanded Harran. "The ploughs are here. We
have nothing more to do with the railroad. I am going to have my
wagons down here this afternoon."
"I am sorry," answered S. Behrman, "but the cars are going north,
not, as you thought, coming FROM the north. They have not been
to San Francisco yet."
Magnus made a slight movement of the head as one who remembers a
fact hitherto forgotten. But Harran was as yet unenlightened.
"To San Francisco!" he answered, "we want them here--what are you
talking about?"
"Well, you know, of course, the regulations," answered
S. Behrman. "Freight of this kind coming from the Eastern points
into the State must go first to one of our common points and be
reshipped from there."
Harran did remember now, but never before had the matter so
struck home. He leaned back in his seat in dumb amazement for
the instant. Even Magnus had turned a little pale. Then,
abruptly, Harran broke out violent and raging.
"What next? My God, why don't you break into our houses at
night? Why don't you steal the watch out of my pocket, steal the
horses out of the harness, hold us up with a shot-gun; yes,
'stand and deliver; your money or your life.' Here we bring our
ploughs from the East over your lines, but you're not content
with your long-haul rate between Eastern points and Bonneville.
You want to get us under your ruinous short-haul rate between
Bonneville and San Francisco, AND RETURN. Think of it! Here's a
load of stuff for Bonneville that can't stop at Bonneville, where
it is consigned, but has got to go up to San Francisco first BY
WAY OF Bonneville, at forty cents per ton and then be reshipped
from San Francisco back to Bonneville again at FIFTY-ONE cents
per ton, the short-haul rate. And we have to pay it all or go
without. Here are the ploughs right here, in sight of the land
they have got to be used on, the season just ready for them, and
we can't touch them. Oh," he exclaimed in deep disgust, "isn't
it a pretty mess! Isn't it a farce! the whole dirty business!"
S. Behrman listened to him unmoved, his little eyes blinking
under his fat forehead, the gold chain of hollow links clicking
against the pearl buttons of his waistcoat as he breathed.
"It don't do any good to let loose like that, Harran," he said at
length. "I am willing to do what I can for you. I'll hurry the
ploughs through, but I can't change the freight regulation of the
"What's your blackmail for this?" vociferated Harran. "How much
do you want to let us go? How much have we got to pay you to be
ALLOWED to use our own ploughs--what's your figure? Come, spit
it out."
"I see you are trying to make me angry, Harran," returned S.
Behrman, "but you won't succeed. Better give up trying, my boy.
As I said, the best way is to have the railroad and the farmer
get along amicably. It is the only way we can do business.
Well, s'long, Governor, I must trot along. S'long, Harran." He
took himself off.
But before leaving Guadalajara Magnus dropped into the town's
small grocery store to purchase a box of cigars of a certain
Mexican brand, unprocurable elsewhere. Harran remained in the
While he waited, Dyke appeared at the end of the street, and,
seeing Derrick's younger son, came over to shake hands with him.
He explained his affair with the P. and S. W., and asked the
young man what he thought of the expected rise in the price of
"Hops ought to be a good thing," Harran told him. "The crop in
Germany and in New York has been a dead failure for the last
three years, and so many people have gone out of the business
that there's likely to be a shortage and a stiff advance in the
price. They ought to go to a dollar next year. Sure, hops ought
to be a good thing. How's the old lady and Sidney, Dyke?"
"Why, fairly well, thank you, Harran. They're up to Sacramento
just now to see my brother. I was thinking of going in with my
brother into this hop business. But I had a letter from him this
morning. He may not be able to meet me on this proposition.
He's got other business on hand. If he pulls out--and he
probably will--I'll have to go it alone, but I'll have to borrow.
I had thought with his money and mine we would have enough to
pull off the affair without mortgaging anything. As it is, I
guess I'll have to see S. Behrman."
"I'll be cursed if I would!" exclaimed Harran.
"Well, S. Behrman is a screw," admitted the engineer, "and he is
'railroad' to his boots; but business is business, and he would
have to stand by a contract in black and white, and this chance
in hops is too good to let slide. I guess we'll try it on,
Harran. I can get a good foreman that knows all about hops just
now, and if the deal pays--well, I want to send Sid to a seminary
up in San Francisco."
"Well, mortgage the crops, but don't mortgage the homestead,
Dyke," said Harran. "And, by the way, have you looked up the
freight rates on hops?"
"No, I haven't yet," answered Dyke, "and I had better be sure of
that, hadn't I? I hear that the rate is reasonable, though."
"You be sure to have a clear understanding with the railroad
first about the rate," Harran warned him.
When Magnus came out of the grocery store and once more seated
himself in the buggy, he said to Harran, "Boy, drive over here to
Annixter's before we start home. I want to ask him to dine with
us to-night. Osterman and Broderson are to drop in, I believe,
and I should like to have Annixter as well."
Magnus was lavishly hospitable. Los Muertos's doors invariably
stood open to all the Derricks' neighbours, and once in so often
Magnus had a few of his intimates to dinner.
As Harran and his father drove along the road toward Annixter's
ranch house, Magnus asked about what had happened during his
He inquired after his wife and the ranch, commenting upon the
work on the irrigating ditch. Harran gave him the news of the
past week, Dyke's discharge, his resolve to raise a crop of hops;
Vanamee's return, the killing of the sheep, and Hooven's petition
to remain upon the ranch as Magnus's tenant. It needed only
Harran's recommendation that the German should remain to have
Magnus consent upon the instant.
"You know more about it than I, boy," he said, "and whatever you
think is wise shall be done."
Harran touched the bays with the whip, urging them to their
briskest pace. They were not yet at Annixter's and he was
anxious to get back to the ranch house to supervise the bluestoning
of his seed.
"By the way, Governor," he demanded suddenly, "how is Lyman
getting on?"
Lyman, Magnus's eldest son, had never taken kindly toward ranch
life. He resembled his mother more than he did Magnus, and had
inherited from her a distaste for agriculture and a tendency
toward a profession. At a time when Harran was learning the
rudiments of farming, Lyman was entering the State University,
and, graduating thence, had spent three years in the study of
law. But later on, traits that were particularly his father's
developed. Politics interested him. He told himself he was a
born politician, was diplomatic, approachable, had a talent for
intrigue, a gift of making friends easily and, most indispensable
of all, a veritable genius for putting influential men under
obligations to himself. Already he had succeeded in gaining for
himself two important offices in the municipal administration of
San Francisco--where he had his home--sheriff's attorney, and,
later on, assistant district attorney. But with these small
achievements he was by no means satisfied. The largeness of his
father's character, modified in Lyman by a counter-influence of
selfishness, had produced in him an inordinate ambition. Where
his father during his political career had considered himself
only as an exponent of principles he strove to apply, Lyman saw
but the office, his own personal aggrandisement. He belonged to
the new school, wherein objects were attained not by orations
before senates and assemblies, but by sessions of committees,
caucuses, compromises and expedients. His goal was to be in fact
what Magnus was only in name--governor. Lyman, with shut teeth,
had resolved that some day he would sit in the gubernatorial
chair in Sacramento.
"Lyman is doing well," answered Magnus. "I could wish he was
more pronounced in his convictions, less willing to compromise,
but I believe him to be earnest and to have a talent for
government and civics. His ambition does him credit, and if he
occupied himself a little more with means and a little less with
ends, he would, I am sure, be the ideal servant of the people.
But I am not afraid. The time will come when the State will be
proud of him."
As Harran turned the team into the driveway that led up to
Annixter's house, Magnus remarked:
"Harran, isn't that young Annixter himself on the porch?"
Harran nodded and remarked:
"By the way, Governor, I wouldn't seem too cordial in your
invitation to Annixter. He will be glad to come, I know, but if
you seem to want him too much, it is just like his confounded
obstinacy to make objections."
"There is something in that," observed Magnus, as Harran drew up
at the porch of the house. "He is a queer, cross-grained fellow,
but in many ways sterling."
Annixter was lying in the hammock on the porch, precisely as
Presley had found him the day before, reading "David Copperfield"
and stuffing himself with dried prunes. When he recognised
Magnus, however, he got up, though careful to give evidence of
the most poignant discomfort. He explained his difficulty at
great length, protesting that his stomach was no better than a
spongebag. Would Magnus and Harran get down and have a drink?
There was whiskey somewhere about.
Magnus, however, declined. He stated his errand, asking Annixter
to come over to Los Muertos that evening for seven o'clock
dinner. Osterman and Broderson would be there.
At once Annixter, even to Harran's surprise, put his chin in the
air, making excuses, fearing to compromise himself if he accepted
too readily. No, he did not think he could get around--was sure
of it, in fact. There were certain businesses he had on hand
that evening. He had practically made an appointment with a man
at Bonneville; then, too, he was thinking of going up to San
Francisco to-morrow and needed his sleep; would go to bed early;
and besides all that, he was a very sick man; his stomach was out
of whack; if he moved about it brought the gripes back. No, they
must get along without him.
Magnus, knowing with whom he had to deal, did not urge the point,
being convinced that Annixter would argue over the affair the
rest of the morning. He re-settled himself in the buggy and
Harran gathered up the reins.
"Well," he observed, "you know your business best. Come if you
can. We dine at seven."
"I hear you are going to farm the whole of Los Muertos this
season," remarked Annixter, with a certain note of challenge in
his voice.
"We are thinking of it," replied Magnus.
Annixter grunted scornfully.
"Did you get the message I sent you by Presley?" he began.
Tactless, blunt, and direct, Annixter was quite capable of
calling even Magnus a fool to his face. But before he could
proceed, S. Behrman in his single buggy turned into the gate, and
driving leisurely up to the porch halted on the other side of
Magnus's team.
"Good-morning, gentlemen," he remarked, nodding to the two
Derricks as though he had not seen them earlier in the day. "Mr.
Annixter, how do you do?"
"What in hell do YOU want?" demanded Annixter with a stare.
S. Behrman hiccoughed slightly and passed a fat hand over his
"Why, not very much, Mr. Annixter," he replied, ignoring the
belligerency in the young ranchman's voice, "but I will have to
lodge a protest against you, Mr. Annixter, in the matter of
keeping your line fence in repair. The sheep were all over the
track last night, this side the Long Trestle, and I am afraid
they have seriously disturbed our ballast along there. We--the
railroad--can't fence along our right of way. The farmers have
the prescriptive right of that, so we have to look to you to keep
your fence in repair. I am sorry, but I shall have to protest----"
Annixter returned to the hammock and stretched himself out in it
to his full length, remarking tranquilly:
"Go to the devil!"
"It is as much to your interest as to ours that the safety of the
"You heard what I said. Go to the devil!"
"That all may show obstinacy, Mr. Annixter, but----"
Suddenly Annixter jumped up again and came to the edge of the
porch; his face flamed scarlet to the roots of his stiff yellow
hair. He thrust out his jaw aggressively, clenching his teeth.
"You," he vociferated, "I'll tell you what you are. You're a--a--
a PIP!"
To his mind it was the last insult, the most outrageous calumny.
He had no worse epithet at his command.
"----may show obstinacy," pursued S. Behrman, bent upon finishing
the phrase, "but it don't show common sense."
"I'll mend my fence, and then, again, maybe I won't mend my
fence," shouted Annixter. "I know what you mean--that wild
engine last night. Well, you've no right to run at that speed in
the town limits."
"How the town limits? The sheep were this side the Long
"Well, that's in the town limits of Guadalajara."
"Why, Mr. Annixter, the Long Trestle is a good two miles out of
Annixter squared himself, leaping to the chance of an argument.
"Two miles! It's not a mile and a quarter. No, it's not a mile.
I'll leave it to Magnus here."
"Oh, I know nothing about it," declared Magnus, refusing to be
"Yes, you do. Yes, you do, too. Any fool knows how far it is
from Guadalajara to the Long Trestle. It's about five-eighths of
a mile."
"From the depot of the town," remarked S. Behrman placidly, "to
the head of the Long Trestle is about two miles."
"That's a lie and you know it's a lie," shouted the other,
furious at S. Behrman's calmness, "and I can prove it's a lie.
I've walked that distance on the Upper Road, and I know just how
fast I walk, and if I can walk four miles in one hour"
Magnus and Harran drove on, leaving Annixter trying to draw S.
Behrman into a wrangle.
When at length S. Behrman as well took himself away, Annixter
returned to his hammock, finished the rest of his prunes and read
another chapter of "Copperfield." Then he put the book, open,
over his face and went to sleep.
An hour later, toward noon, his own terrific snoring woke him up
suddenly, and he sat up, rubbing his face and blinking at the
sunlight. There was a bad taste in his mouth from sleeping with
it wide open, and going into the dining-room of the house, he
mixed himself a drink of whiskey and soda and swallowed it in
three great gulps. He told himself that he felt not only better
but hungry, and pressed an electric button in the wall near the
sideboard three times to let the kitchen--situated in a separate
building near the ranch house--know that he was ready for his
dinner. As he did so, an idea occurred to him. He wondered if
Hilma Tree would bring up his dinner and wait on the table while
he ate it.
In connection with his ranch, Annixter ran a dairy farm on a very
small scale, making just enough butter and cheese for the
consumption of the ranch's PERSONNEL. Old man Tree, his wife, and
his daughter Hilma looked after the dairy. But there was not
always work enough to keep the three of them occupied and Hilma
at times made herself useful in other ways. As often as not she
lent a hand in the kitchen, and two or three times a week she
took her mother's place in looking after Annixter's house, making
the beds, putting his room to rights, bringing his meals up from
the kitchen. For the last summer she had been away visiting with
relatives in one of the towns on the coast. But the week
previous to this she had returned and Annixter had come upon her
suddenly one day in the dairy, making cheese, the sleeves of her
crisp blue shirt waist rolled back to her very shoulders.
Annixter had carried away with him a clear-cut recollection of
these smooth white arms of hers, bare to the shoulder, very round
and cool and fresh. He would not have believed that a girl so
young should have had arms so big and perfect. To his surprise
he found himself thinking of her after he had gone to bed that
night, and in the morning when he woke he was bothered to know
whether he had dreamed about Hilma's fine white arms over night.
Then abruptly he had lost patience with himself for being so
occupied with the subject, raging and furious with all the breed
of feemales--a fine way for a man to waste his time. He had had
his experience with the timid little creature in the glovecleaning
establishment in Sacramento. That was enough.
Feemales! Rot! None of them in HIS, thank you. HE had seen
Hilma Tree give him a look in the dairy. Aha, he saw through
her! She was trying to get a hold on him, was she? He would
show her. Wait till he saw her again. He would send her about
her business in a hurry. He resolved upon a terrible demeanour
in the presence of the dairy girl--a great show of indifference,
a fierce masculine nonchalance; and when, the next morning, she
brought him his breakfast, he had been smitten dumb as soon as
she entered the room, glueing his eyes upon his plate, his elbows
close to his side, awkward, clumsy, overwhelmed with constraint.
While true to his convictions as a woman-hater and genuinely
despising Hilma both as a girl and as an inferior, the idea of
her worried him. Most of all, he was angry with himself because
of his inane sheepishness when she was about. He at first had
told himself that he was a fool not to be able to ignore her
existence as hitherto, and then that he was a greater fool not to
take advantage of his position. Certainly he had not the
remotest idea of any affection, but Hilma was a fine looking
girl. He imagined an affair with her.
As he reflected upon the matter now, scowling abstractedly at the
button of the electric bell, turning the whole business over in
his mind, he remembered that to-day was butter-making day and
that Mrs. Tree would be occupied in the dairy. That meant that
Hilma would take her place. He turned to the mirror of the
sideboard, scrutinising his reflection with grim disfavour.
After a moment, rubbing the roughened surface of his chin the
wrong way, he muttered to his image in the glass:
That a mug! Good Lord! what a looking mug!" Then, after a
moment's silence, "Wonder if that fool feemale will be up here
He crossed over into his bedroom and peeped around the edge of
the lowered curtain. The window looked out upon the skeletonlike
tower of the artesian well and the cook-house and dairyhouse
close beside it. As he watched, he saw Hilma come out from
the cook-house and hurry across toward the kitchen. Evidently,
she was going to see about his dinner. But as she passed by the
artesian well, she met young Delaney, one of Annixter's hands,
coming up the trail by the irrigating ditch, leading his horse
toward the stables, a great coil of barbed wire in his gloved
hands and a pair of nippers thrust into his belt. No doubt, he
had been mending the break in the line fence by the Long Trestle.
Annixter saw him take off his wide-brimmed hat as he met Hilma,
and the two stood there for some moments talking together.
Annixter even heard Hilma laughing very gayly at something
Delaney was saying. She patted his horse's neck affectionately,
and Delaney, drawing the nippers from his belt, made as if to
pinch her arm with them. She caught at his wrist and pushed him
away, laughing again. To Annixter's mind the pair seemed
astonishingly intimate. Brusquely his anger flamed up.
Ah, that was it, was it? Delaney and Hilma had an understanding
between themselves. They carried on their affair right out there
in the open, under his very eyes. It was absolutely disgusting.
Had they no sense of decency, those two? Well, this ended it.
He would stop that sort of thing short off; none of that on HIS
ranch if he knew it. No, sir. He would pack that girl off
before he was a day older. He wouldn't have that kind about the
place. Not much! She'd have to get out. He would talk to old
man Tree about it this afternoon. Whatever happened, HE insisted
upon morality.
"And my dinner!" he suddenly exclaimed. "I've got to wait and go
hungry--and maybe get sick again--while they carry on their
disgusting love-making."
He turned about on the instant, and striding over to the electric
bell, rang it again with all his might.
"When that feemale gets up here," he declared, "I'll just find
out why I've got to wait like this. I'll take her down, to the
Queen's taste. I'm lenient enough, Lord knows, but I don't
propose to be imposed upon ALL the time ."
A few moments later, while Annixter was pretending to read the
county newspaper by the window in the dining-room, Hilma came in
to set the table. At the time Annixter had his feet cocked on
the window ledge and was smoking a cigar, but as soon as she
entered the room he--without premeditation--brought his feet down
to the floor and crushed out the lighted tip of his cigar under
the window ledge. Over the top of the paper he glanced at her
covertly from time to time.
Though Hilma was only nineteen years old, she was a large girl
with all the development of a much older woman. There was a
certain generous amplitude to the full, round curves of her hips
and shoulders that suggested the precocious maturity of a
healthy, vigorous animal life passed under the hot southern sun
of a half-tropical country. She was, one knew at a glance, warmblooded,
full-blooded, with an even, comfortable balance of
temperament. Her neck was thick, and sloped to her shoulders,
with full, beautiful curves, and under her chin and under her
ears the flesh was as white and smooth as floss satin, shading
exquisitely to a faint delicate brown on her nape at the roots of
her hair. Her throat rounded to meet her chin and cheek, with a
soft swell of the skin, tinted pale amber in the shadows, but
blending by barely perceptible gradations to the sweet, warm
flush of her cheek. This colour on her temples was just touched
with a certain blueness where the flesh was thin over the fine
veining underneath. Her eyes were light brown, and so wide open
that on the slightest provocation the full disc of the pupil was
disclosed; the lids--just a fraction of a shade darker than the
hue of her face--were edged with lashes that were almost black.
While these lashes were not long, they were thick and rimmed her
eyes with a fine, thin line. Her mouth was rather large, the
lips shut tight, and nothing could have been more graceful, more
charming than the outline of these full lips of hers, and her
round white chin, modulating downward with a certain delicious
roundness to her neck, her throat and the sweet feminine
amplitude of her breast. The slightest movement of her head and
shoulders sent a gentle undulation through all this beauty of
soft outlines and smooth surfaces, the delicate amber shadows
deepening or fading or losing themselves imperceptibly in the
pretty rose-colour of her cheeks, or the dark, warm-tinted shadow
of her thick brown hair.
Her hair seemed almost to have a life of its own, almost Medusalike,
thick, glossy and moist, lying in heavy, sweet-smelling
masses over her forehead, over her small ears with their pink
lobes, and far down upon her nape. Deep in between the coils and
braids it was of a bitumen brownness, but in the sunlight it
vibrated with a sheen like tarnished gold.
Like most large girls, her movements were not hurried, and this
indefinite deliberateness of gesture, this slow grace, this
certain ease of attitude, was a charm that was all her own.
But Hilma's greatest charm of all was her simplicity--a
simplicity that was not only in the calm regularity of her face,
with its statuesque evenness of contour, its broad surface of
cheek and forehead and the masses of her straight smooth hair,
but was apparent as well in the long line of her carriage, from
her foot to her waist and the single deep swell from her waist to
her shoulder. Almost unconsciously she dressed in harmony with
this note of simplicity, and on this occasion wore a skirt of
plain dark blue calico and a white shirt waist crisp from the
And yet, for all the dignity of this rigourous simplicity, there
were about Hilma small contradictory suggestions of feminine
daintiness, charming beyond words. Even Annixter could not help
noticing that her feet were narrow and slender, and that the
little steel buckles of her low shoes were polished bright, and
that her fingertips and nails were of a fine rosy pink.
He found himself wondering how it was that a girl in Hilma's
position should be able to keep herself so pretty, so trim, so
clean and feminine, but he reflected that her work was chiefly in
the dairy, and even there of the lightest order. She was on the
ranch more for the sake of being with her parents than from any
necessity of employment. Vaguely he seemed to understand that,
in that great new land of the West, in the open-air, healthy life
of the ranches, where the conditions of earning a livelihood were
of the easiest, refinement among the younger women was easily to
be found--not the refinement of education, nor culture, but the
natural, intuitive refinement of the woman, not as yet defiled
and crushed out by the sordid, strenuous life-struggle of overpopulated
districts. It was the original, intended and natural
delicacy of an elemental existence, close to nature, close to
life, close to the great, kindly earth.
As Hilma laid the table-spread, her arms opened to their widest
reach, the white cloth setting a little glisten of reflected
light underneath the chin, Annixter stirred in his place
"Oh, it's you, is it, Miss Hilma?" he remarked, for the sake of
saying something. "Good-morning. How do you do?"
"Good-morning, sir," she answered, looking up, resting for a
moment on her outspread palms. "I hope you are better."
Her voice was low in pitch and of a velvety huskiness, seeming to
come more from her chest than from her throat.
"Well, I'm some better," growled Annixter. Then suddenly he
demanded, "Where's that dog?"
A decrepit Irish setter sometimes made his appearance in and
about the ranch house, sleeping under the bed and eating when
anyone about the place thought to give him a plate of bread.
Annixter had no particular interest in the dog. For weeks at a
time he ignored its existence. It was not his dog. But to-day
it seemed as if he could not let the subject rest. For no reason
that he could explain even to himself, he recurred to it
continually. He questioned Hilma minutely all about the dog.
Who owned him? How old did she think he was? Did she imagine
the dog was sick? Where had he got to? Maybe he had crawled off
to die somewhere. He recurred to the subject all through the
meal; apparently, he could talk of nothing else, and as she
finally went away after clearing off the table, he went onto the
porch and called after her:
"Say, Miss Hilma."
"Yes, sir."
"If that dog turns up again you let me know."
"Very well, sir."
Annixter returned to the dining-room and sat down in the chair he
had just vacated.
"To hell with the dog!" he muttered, enraged, he could not tell
When at length he allowed his attention to wander from Hilma
Tree, he found that he had been staring fixedly at a thermometer
upon the wall opposite, and this made him think that it had long
been his intention to buy a fine barometer, an instrument that
could be accurately depended on. But the barometer suggested the
present condition of the weather and the likelihood of rain. In
such case, much was to be done in the way of getting the seed
ready and overhauling his ploughs and drills. He had not been
away from the house in two days. It was time to be up and doing.
He determined to put in the afternoon "taking a look around," and
have a late supper. He would not go to Los Muertos; he would
ignore Magnus Derrick's invitation. Possibly, though, it might
be well to run over and see what was up.
"If I do," he said to himself, "I'll ride the buckskin."
The buckskin was a half-broken broncho that fought like a fiend
under the saddle until the quirt and spur brought her to her
senses. But Annixter remembered that the Trees' cottage, next
the dairy-house, looked out upon the stables, and perhaps Hilma
would see him while he was mounting the horse and be impressed
with his courage.
"Huh!" grunted Annixter under his breath, "I should like to see
that fool Delaney try to bust that bronch. That's what I'D like
to see."
However, as Annixter stepped from the porch of the ranch house,
he was surprised to notice a grey haze over all the sky; the
sunlight was gone; there was a sense of coolness in the air; the
weather-vane on the barn--a fine golden trotting horse with
flamboyant mane and tail--was veering in a southwest wind.
Evidently the expected rain was close at hand.
Annixter crossed over to the stables reflecting that he could
ride the buckskin to the Trees' cottage and tell Hilma that he
would not be home to supper. The conference at Los Muertos would
be an admirable excuse for this, and upon the spot he resolved to
go over to the Derrick ranch house, after all.
As he passed the Trees' cottage, he observed with satisfaction
that Hilma was going to and fro in the front room. If he busted
the buckskin in the yard before the stable she could not help but
see. Annixter found the stableman in the back of the barn
greasing the axles of the buggy, and ordered him to put the
saddle on the buckskin.
"Why, I don't think she's here, sir," answered the stableman,
glancing into the stalls. "No, I remember now. Delaney took her
out just after dinner. His other horse went lame and he wanted
to go down by the Long Trestle to mend the fence. He started
out, but had to come back."
"Oh, Delaney got her, did he?"
"Yes, sir. He had a circus with her, but he busted her right
enough. When it comes to horse, Delaney can wipe the eye of any
cow-puncher in the county, I guess."
"He can, can he?" observed Annixter. Then after a silence,
"Well, all right, Billy; put my saddle on whatever you've got
here. I'm going over to Los Muertos this afternoon."
"Want to look out for the rain, Mr. Annixter," remarked Billy.
"Guess we'll have rain before night."
"I'll take a rubber coat," answered Annixter. "Bring the horse
up to the ranch house when you're ready."
Annixter returned to the house to look for his rubber coat in
deep disgust, not permitting himself to glance toward the dairyhouse
and the Trees' cottage. But as he reached the porch he
heard the telephone ringing his call. It was Presley, who rang
up from Los Muertos. He had heard from Harran that Annixter was,
perhaps, coming over that evening. If he came, would he mind
bringing over his--Presley's--bicycle. He had left it at the
Quien Sabe ranch the day before and had forgotten to come back
that way for it.
"Well," objected Annixter, a surly note in his voice, "I WAS
going to RIDE over."
"Oh, never mind, then," returned Presley easily. "I was to blame
for forgetting it. Don't bother about it. I'll come over some
of these days and get it myself."
Annixter hung up the transmitter with a vehement wrench and
stamped out of the room, banging the door. He found his rubber
coat hanging in the hallway and swung into it with a fierce
movement of the shoulders that all but started the seams.
Everything seemed to conspire to thwart him. It was just like
that absent-minded, crazy poet, Presley, to forget his wheel.
Well, he could come after it himself. He, Annixter, would ride
SOME horse, anyhow. When he came out upon the porch he saw the
wheel leaning against the fence where Presley had left it. If it
stayed there much longer the rain would catch it. Annixter
ripped out an oath. At every moment his ill-humour was
increasing. Yet, for all that, he went back to the stable,
pushing the bicycle before him, and countermanded his order,
directing the stableman to get the buggy ready. He himself
carefully stowed Presley's bicycle under the seat, covering it
with a couple of empty sacks and a tarpaulin carriage cover.
While he was doing this, the stableman uttered an exclamation and
paused in the act of backing the horse into the shafts, holding
up a hand, listening.
From the hollow roof of the barn and from the thick velvet-like
padding of dust over the ground outside, and from among the
leaves of the few nearby trees and plants there came a vast,
monotonous murmur that seemed to issue from all quarters of the
horizon at once, a prolonged and subdued rustling sound, steady,
even, persistent.
"There's your rain," announced the stableman. "The first of the
"And I got to be out in it," fumed Annixter, "and I suppose those
swine will quit work on the big barn now."
When the buggy was finally ready, he put on his rubber coat,
climbed in, and without waiting for the stableman to raise the
top, drove out into the rain, a new-lit cigar in his teeth. As
he passed the dairy-house, he saw Hilma standing in the doorway,
holding out her hand to the rain, her face turned upward toward
the grey sky, amused and interested at this first shower of the
wet season. She was so absorbed that she did not see Annixter,
and his clumsy nod in her direction passed unnoticed.
"She did it on purpose," Annixter told himself, chewing fiercely
on his cigar. "Cuts me now, hey? Well, this DOES settle it.
She leaves this ranch before I'm a day older."
He decided that he would put off his tour of inspection till the
next day. Travelling in the buggy as he did, he must keep to the
road which led to Derrick's, in very roundabout fashion, by way
of Guadalajara. This rain would reduce the thick dust of the
road to two feet of viscid mud. It would take him quite three
hours to reach the ranch house on Los Muertos. He thought of
Delaney and the buckskin and ground his teeth. And all this
trouble, if you please, because of a fool feemale girl. A fine
way for him to waste his time. Well, now he was done with it.
His decision was taken now. She should pack.
Steadily the rain increased. There was no wind. The thick veil
of wet descended straight from sky to earth, blurring distant
outlines, spreading a vast sheen of grey over all the landscape.
Its volume became greater, the prolonged murmuring note took on a
deeper tone. At the gate to the road which led across Dyke's
hop-fields toward Guadalajara, Annixter was obliged to descend
and raise the top of the buggy. In doing so he caught the flesh
of his hand in the joint of the iron elbow that supported the top
and pinched it cruelly. It was the last misery, the culmination
of a long train of wretchedness. On the instant he hated Hilma
Tree so fiercely that his sharply set teeth all but bit his cigar
in two.
While he was grabbing and wrenching at the buggy-top, the water
from his hat brim dripping down upon his nose, the horse, restive
under the drench of the rain, moved uneasily.
"Yah-h-h you!" he shouted, inarticulate with exasperation. "You--
you--Gor-r-r, wait till I get hold of you. WHOA, you!"
But there was an interruption. Delaney, riding the buckskin,
came around a bend in the road at a slow trot and Annixter,
getting into the buggy again, found himself face to face with
"Why, hello, Mr. Annixter," said he, pulling up. "Kind of sort
of wet, isn't it?"
Annixter, his face suddenly scarlet, sat back in his place
abruptly, exclaiming:
"Oh--oh, there you are, are you?"
"I've been down there," explained Delaney, with a motion of his
head toward the railroad, "to mend that break in the fence by the
Long Trestle and I thought while I was about it I'd follow down
along the fence toward Guadalajara to see if there were any more
breaks. But I guess it's all right."
"Oh, you guess it's all right, do you?" observed Annixter through
his teeth.
"Why--why--yes," returned the other, bewildered at the truculent
ring in Annixter's voice. "I mended that break by the Long
Trestle just now and----
"Well, why didn't you mend it a week ago?" shouted Annixter
wrathfully. "I've been looking for you all the morning, I have,
and who told you you could take that buckskin? And the sheep
were all over the right of way last night because of that break,
and here that filthy pip, S. Behrman, comes down here this
morning and wants to make trouble for me." Suddenly he cried
out, "What do I FEED you for? What do I keep you around here
for? Think it's just to fatten up your carcass, hey?"
"Why, Mr. Annixter----" began Delaney.
"And don't TALK to me," vociferated the other, exciting himself
with his own noise. "Don't you say a word to me even to
apologise. If I've spoken to you once about that break, I've
spoken fifty times."
"Why, sir," declared Delaney, beginning to get indignant, "the
sheep did it themselves last night."
"I told you not to TALK to me," clamoured Annixter.
"But, say, look here----"
"Get off the ranch. You get off the ranch. And taking that
buckskin against my express orders. I won't have your kind about
the place, not much. I'm easy-going enough, Lord knows, but I
don't propose to be imposed on ALL the time. Pack off, you
understand and do it lively. Go to the foreman and tell him I
told him to pay you off and then clear out. And, you hear me,"
he concluded, with a menacing outthrust of his lower jaw, "you
hear me, if I catch you hanging around the ranch house after
this, or if I so much as see you on Quien Sabe, I'll show you the
way off of it, my friend, at the toe of my boot. Now, then, get
out of the way and let me pass."
Angry beyond the power of retort, Delaney drove the spurs into
the buckskin and passed the buggy in a single bound. Annixter
gathered up the reins and drove on muttering to himself, and
occasionally looking back to observe the buckskin flying toward
the ranch house in a spattering shower of mud, Delaney urging her
on, his head bent down against the falling rain.
"Huh," grunted Annixter with grim satisfaction, a certain sense
of good humour at length returning to him, "that just about takes
the saleratus out of YOUR dough, my friend."
A little farther on, Annixter got out of the buggy a second time
to open another gate that let him out upon the Upper Road, not
far distant from Guadalajara. It was the road that connected
that town with Bonneville and that ran parallel with the railroad
tracks. On the other side of the track he could see the infinite
extension of the brown, bare land of Los Muertos, turning now to
a soft, moist welter of fertility under the insistent caressing
of the rain. The hard, sun-baked clods were decomposing, the
crevices between drinking the wet with an eager, sucking noise.
But the prospect was dreary; the distant horizons were blotted
under drifting mists of rain; the eternal monotony of the earth
lay open to the sombre low sky without a single adornment,
without a single variation from its melancholy flatness. Near at
hand the wires between the telegraph poles vibrated with a faint
humming under the multitudinous fingering of the myriad of
falling drops, striking among them and dripping off steadily from
one to another. The poles themselves were dark and swollen and
glistening with wet, while the little cones of glass on the
transverse bars reflected the dull grey light of the end of the
As Annixter was about to drive on, a freight train passed, coming
from Guadalajara, going northward toward Bonneville, Fresno and
San Francisco. It was a long train, moving slowly, methodically,
with a measured coughing of its locomotive and a rhythmic cadence
of its trucks over the interstices of the rails. On two or three
of the flat cars near its end, Annixter plainly saw Magnus
Derrick's ploughs, their bright coating of red and green paint
setting a single brilliant note in all this array of grey and
Annixter halted, watching the train file past, carrying Derrick's
ploughs away from his ranch, at this very time of the first rain,
when they would be most needed. He watched it, silent,
thoughtful, and without articulate comment. Even after it passed
he sat in his place a long time, watching it lose itself slowly
in the distance, its prolonged rumble diminishing to a faint
murmur. Soon he heard the engine sounding its whistle for the
Long Trestle.
But the moving train no longer carried with it that impression of
terror and destruction that had so thrilled Presley's imagination
the night before. It passed slowly on its way with a mournful
roll of wheels, like the passing of a cortege, like a file of
artillery-caissons charioting dead bodies; the engine's smoke
enveloping it in a mournful veil, leaving a sense of melancholy
in its wake, moving past there, lugubrious, lamentable,
infinitely sad under the grey sky and under the grey mist of rain
which continued to fall with a subdued, rustling sound, steady,
persistent, a vast monotonous murmur that seemed to come from all
quarters of the horizon at once.
When Annixter arrived at the Los Muertos ranch house that same
evening, he found a little group already assembled in the diningroom.
Magnus Derrick, wearing the frock coat of broadcloth that
he had put on for the occasion, stood with his back to the
fireplace. Harran sat close at hand, one leg thrown over the arm
of his chair. Presley lounged on the sofa, in corduroys and high
laced boots, smoking cigarettes. Broderson leaned on his folded
arms at one corner of the dining table, and Genslinger, editor
and proprietor of the principal newspaper of the county, the
"Bonneville Mercury," stood with his hat and driving gloves under
his arm, opposite Derrick, a half-emptied glass of whiskey and
water in his hand.
As Annixter entered he heard Genslinger observe: "I'll have a
leader in the 'Mercury' to-morrow that will interest you people.
There's some talk of your ranch lands being graded in value this
winter. I suppose you will all buy?"
In an instant the editor's words had riveted upon him the
attention of every man in the room. Annixter broke the moment's
silence that followed with the remark:
"Well, it's about time they graded these lands of theirs."
The question in issue in Genslinger's remark was of the most
vital interest to the ranchers around Bonneville and Guadalajara.
Neither Magnus Derrick, Broderson, Annixter, nor Osterman
actually owned all the ranches which they worked. As yet, the
vast majority of these wheat lands were the property of the P.
and S. W. The explanation of this condition of affairs went back
to the early history of the Pacific and Southwestern, when, as a
bonus for the construction of the road, the national government
had granted to the company the odd numbered sections of land on
either side of the proposed line of route for a distance of
twenty miles. Indisputably, these sections belonged to the P.
and S. W. The even-numbered sections being government property
could be and had been taken up by the ranchers, but the railroad
sections, or, as they were called, the "alternate sections,"
would have to be purchased direct from the railroad itself.
But this had not prevented the farmers from "coming in" upon that
part of the San Joaquin. Long before this the railroad had
thrown open these lands, and, by means of circulars, distributed
broadcast throughout the State, had expressly invited settlement
thereon. At that time patents had not been issued to the
railroad for their odd-numbered sections, but as soon as the land
was patented the railroad would grade it in value and offer it
for sale, the first occupants having the first chance of
purchase. The price of these lands was to be fixed by the price
the government put upon its own adjoining lands--about two
dollars and a half per acre.
With cultivation and improvement the ranches must inevitably
appreciate in value. There was every chance to make fortunes.
When the railroad lands about Bonneville had been thrown open,
there had been almost a rush in the matter of settlement, and
Broderson, Annixter, Derrick, and Osterman, being foremost with
their claims, had secured the pick of the country. But the land
once settled upon, the P. and S. W. seemed to be in no hurry as
to fixing exactly the value of its sections included in the
various ranches and offering them for sale. The matter dragged
along from year to year, was forgotten for months together, being
only brought to mind on such occasions as this, when the rumour
spread that the General Office was about to take definite action
in the affair.
"As soon as the railroad wants to talk business with me,"
observed Annixter, "about selling me their interest in Quien
Sabe, I'm ready. The land has more than quadrupled in value. I
ll bet I could sell it to-morrow for fifteen dollars an acre, and
if I buy of the railroad for two and a half an acre, there's
boodle in the game."
"For two and a half!" exclaimed Genslinger. "You don't suppose
the railroad will let their land go for any such figure as that,
do you? Wherever did you get that idea?"
"From the circulars and pamphlets," answered Harran, "that the
railroad issued to us when they opened these lands. They are
pledged to that. Even the P. and S. W. couldn't break such a
pledge as that. You are new in the country, Mr. Genslinger. You
don't remember the conditions upon which we took up this land."
"And our improvements," exclaimed Annixter. "Why, Magnus and I
have put about five thousand dollars between us into that
irrigating ditch already. I guess we are not improving the land
just to make it valuable for the railroad people. No matter how
much we improve the land, or how much it increases in value, they
have got to stick by their agreement on the basis of two-fifty
per acre. Here's one case where the P. and S. W. DON'T get
everything in sight."
Genslinger frowned, perplexed.
"I AM new in the country, as Harran says," he answered, "but it
seems to me that there's no fairness in that proposition. The
presence of the railroad has helped increase the value of your
ranches quite as much as your improvements. Why should you get
all the benefit of the rise in value and the railroad nothing?
The fair way would be to share it between you."
"I don't care anything about that," declared Annixter. "They
agreed to charge but two-fifty, and they've got to stick to it."
"Well," murmured Genslinger, "from what I know of the affair, I
don't believe the P. and S. W. intends to sell for two-fifty an
acre, at all. The managers of the road want the best price they
can get for everything in these hard times."
"Times aren't ever very hard for the railroad," hazards old
Broderson was the oldest man in the room. He was about sixtyfive
years of age, venerable, with a white beard, his figure bent
earthwards with hard work.
He was a narrow-minded man, painfully conscientious in his
statements lest he should be unjust to somebody; a slow thinker,
unable to let a subject drop when once he had started upon it.
He had no sooner uttered his remark about hard times than he was
moved to qualify it.
"Hard times," he repeated, a troubled, perplexed note in his
voice; "well, yes--yes. I suppose the road DOES have hard times,
maybe. Everybody does--of course. I didn't mean that exactly.
I believe in being just and fair to everybody. I mean that we've
got to use their lines and pay their charges good years AND bad
years, the P. and S. W. being the only road in the State. That
is--well, when I say the only road--no, I won't say the ONLY
road. Of course there are other roads. There's the D. P. and M.
and the San Francisco and North Pacific, that runs up to Ukiah.
I got a brother-in-law in Ukiah. That's not much of a wheat
country round Ukiah though they DO grow SOME wheat there, come to
think. But I guess it's too far north. Well, of course there
isn't MUCH. Perhaps sixty thousand acres in the whole county--if
you include barley and oats. I don't know; maybe it's nearer
forty thousand. I don't remember very well. That's a good many
years ago. I----"
But Annixter, at the end of all patience, turned to Genslinger,
cutting short the old man:
"Oh, rot! Of course the railroad will sell at two-fifty," he
cried. "We've got the contracts."
"Look to them, then, Mr. Annixter," retorted Genslinger
significantly, "look to them. Be sure that you are protected."
Soon after this Genslinger took himself away, and Derrick's
Chinaman came in to set the table.
"What do you suppose he meant?" asked Broderson, when Genslinger
was gone.
"About this land business?" said Annixter. "Oh, I don't know.
Some tom fool idea. Haven't we got their terms printed in black
and white in their circulars? There's their pledge."
"Oh, as to pledges," murmured Broderson, "the railroad is not
always TOO much hindered by those."
"Where's Osterman?" demanded Annixter, abruptly changing the
subject as if it were not worth discussion. "Isn't that goat
Osterman coming down here to-night?"
"You telephoned him, didn't you, Presley?" inquired Magnus .
Presley had taken Princess Nathalie upon his knee stroking her
long, sleek hair, and the cat, stupefied with beatitude, had
closed her eyes to two fine lines, clawing softly at the corduroy
of Presley's trousers with alternate paws.
"Yes, sir," returned Presley. "He said he would be here."
And as he spoke, young Osterman arrived.
He was a young fellow, but singularly inclined to baldness. His
ears, very red and large, stuck out at right angles from either
side of his head, and his mouth, too, was large--a great
horizontal slit beneath his nose. His cheeks were of a brownish
red, the cheek bones a little salient. His face was that of a
comic actor, a singer of songs, a man never at a loss for an
answer, continually striving to make a laugh. But he took no
great interest in ranching and left the management of his land to
his superintendents and foremen, he, himself, living in
Bonneville. He was a poser, a wearer of clothes, forever acting
a part, striving to create an impression, to draw attention to
himself. He was not without a certain energy, but he devoted it
to small ends, to perfecting himself in little accomplishments,
continually running after some new thing, incapable of persisting
long in any one course. At one moment his mania would be
fencing; the next, sleight-of-hand tricks; the next, archery.
For upwards of one month he had devoted himself to learning how
to play two banjos simultaneously, then abandoning this had
developed a sudden passion for stamped leather work and had made
a quantity of purses, tennis belts, and hat bands, which he
presented to young ladies of his acquaintance. It was his policy
never to make an enemy. He was liked far better than he was
respected. People spoke of him as "that goat Osterman," or "that
fool Osterman kid," and invited him to dinner. He was of the
sort who somehow cannot be ignored. If only because of his
clamour he made himself important. If he had one abiding trait,
it was his desire of astonishing people, and in some way, best
known to himself, managed to cause the circulation of the most
extraordinary stories wherein he, himself, was the chief actor.
He was glib, voluble, dexterous, ubiquitous, a teller of funny
stories, a cracker of jokes.
Naturally enough, he was heavily in debt, but carried the burden
of it with perfect nonchalance. The year before S. Behrman had
held mortgages for fully a third of his crop and had squeezed him
viciously for interest. But for all that, Osterman and S.
Behrman were continually seen arm-in-arm on the main street of
Bonneville. Osterman was accustomed to slap S. Behrman on his
fat back, declaring:
"You're a good fellow, old jelly-belly, after all, hey?"
As Osterman entered from the porch, after hanging his cavalry
poncho and dripping hat on the rack outside, Mrs. Derrick
appeared in the door that opened from the dining-room into the
glass-roofed hallway just beyond. Osterman saluted her with
effusive cordiality and with ingratiating blandness.
"I am not going to stay," she explained, smiling pleasantly at
the group of men, her pretty, wide-open brown eyes, with their
look of inquiry and innocence, glancing from face to face, "I
only came to see if you wanted anything and to say how do you
She began talking to old Broderson, making inquiries as to his
wife, who had been sick the last week, and Osterman turned to the
company, shaking hands all around, keeping up an incessant stream
of conversation.
"Hello, boys and girls. Hello, Governor. Sort of a gathering of
the clans to-night. Well, if here isn't that man Annixter.
Hello, Buck. What do you know? Kind of dusty out to-night."
At once Annixter began to get red in the face, retiring towards a
corner of the room, standing in an awkward position by the case
of stuffed birds, shambling and confused, while Mrs. Derrick was
present, standing rigidly on both feet, his elbows close to his
sides. But he was angry with Osterman, muttering imprecations to
himself, horribly vexed that the young fellow should call him
"Buck" before Magnus's wife. This goat Osterman! Hadn't he any
sense, that fool? Couldn't he ever learn how to behave before a
feemale? Calling him "Buck" like that while Mrs. Derrick was
there. Why a stable-boy would know better; a hired man would
have better manners.
All through the dinner that followed Annixter was out of sorts,
sulking in his place, refusing to eat by way of vindicating his
self-respect, resolving to bring Osterman up with a sharp turn if
he called him "Buck" again.
The Chinaman had made a certain kind of plum pudding for dessert,
and Annixter, who remembered other dinners at the Derrick's, had
been saving himself for this, and had meditated upon it all
through the meal. No doubt, it would restore all his good
humour, and he believed his stomach was so far recovered as to be
able to stand it.
But, unfortunately, the pudding was served with a sauce that he
abhorred--a thick, gruel-like, colourless mixture, made from
plain water and sugar. Before he could interfere, the Chinaman
had poured a quantity of it upon his plate.
"Faugh!" exclaimed Annixter. "It makes me sick. Such--such
SLOOP. Take it away. I'll have mine straight, if you don't
"That's good for your stomach, Buck," observed young Osterman;
"makes it go down kind of sort of slick; don't you see? Sloop,
hey? That's a good name."
"Look here, don't you call me Buck. You don't seem to have any
sense, and, besides, it ISN'T good for my stomach. I know
better. What do YOU know about my stomach, anyhow? Just looking
at sloop like that makes me sick."
A little while after this the Chinaman cleared away the dessert
and brought in coffee and cigars. The whiskey bottle and the
syphon of soda-water reappeared. The men eased themselves in
their places, pushing back from the table, lighting their cigars,
talking of the beginning of the rains and the prospects of a rise
in wheat. Broderson began an elaborate mental calculation,
trying to settle in his mind the exact date of his visit to
Ukiah, and Osterman did sleight-of-hand tricks with bread pills.
But Princess Nathalie, the cat, was uneasy. Annixter was
occupying her own particular chair in which she slept every
night. She could not go to sleep, but spied upon him
continually, watching his every movement with her lambent, yellow
eyes, clear as amber.
Then, at length, Magnus, who was at the head of the table, moved
in his place, assuming a certain magisterial attitude. "Well,
gentlemen," he observed, "I have lost my case against the
railroad, the grain-rate case. Ulsteen decided against me, and
now I hear rumours to the effect that rates for the hauling of
grain are to be advanced."
When Magnus had finished, there was a moment's silence, each
member of the group maintaining his attitude of attention and
interest. It was Harran who first spoke.
"S. Behrman manipulated the whole affair. There's a big deal of
some kind in the air, and if there is, we all know who is back of
it; S. Behrman, of course, but who's back of him? It's
Shelgrim! The name fell squarely in the midst of the
conversation, abrupt, grave, sombre, big with suggestion,
pregnant with huge associations. No one in the group who was not
familiar with it; no one, for that matter, in the county, the
State, the whole reach of the West, the entire Union, that did
not entertain convictions as to the man who carried it; a giant
figure in the end-of-the-century finance, a product of
circumstance, an inevitable result of conditions, characteristic,
typical, symbolic of ungovernable forces. In the New Movement,
the New Finance, the reorganisation of capital, the amalgamation
of powers, the consolidation of enormous enterprises--no one
individual was more constantly in the eye of the world; no one
was more hated, more dreaded, no one more compelling of unwilling
tribute to his commanding genius, to the colossal intellect
operating the width of an entire continent than the president and
owner of the Pacific and Southwestern.
"I don't think, however, he has moved yet," said Magnus.
"The thing for us, then," exclaimed Osterman, "is to stand from
under before he does."
"Moved yet!" snorted Annixter. "He's probably moved so long ago
that we've never noticed it."
"In any case," hazarded Magnus, "it is scarcely probable that the
deal--whatever it is to be--has been consummated. If we act
quickly, there may be a chance."
"Act quickly! How?" demanded Annixter. "Good Lord! what can
you do? We're cinched already. It all amounts to just this: YOU
CAN'T BUCK AGAINST THE RAILROAD. We've tried it and tried it,
and we are stuck every time. You, yourself, Derrick, have just
lost your grain-rate case. S. Behrman did you up. Shelgrim owns
the courts. He's got men like Ulsteen in his pocket. He's got
the Railroad Commission in his pocket. He's got the Governor of
the State in his pocket. He keeps a million-dollar lobby at
Sacramento every minute of the time the legislature is in
session; he's got his own men on the floor of the United States
Senate. He has the whole thing organised like an army corps.
What ARE you going to do? He sits in his office in San
Francisco and pulls the strings and we've got to dance."
"But--well--but," hazarded Broderson, "but there's the Interstate
Commerce Commission. At least on long-haul rates they----"
"Hoh, yes, the Interstate Commerce Commission," shouted Annixter,
scornfully, "that's great, ain't it? The greatest Punch and
Judy; show on earth. It's almost as good as the Railroad
Commission. There never was and there never will be a California
Railroad Commission not in the pay of the P. and S. W."
"It is to the Railroad Commission, nevertheless," remarked
Magnus, "that the people of the State must look for relief. That
is our only hope. Once elect Commissioners who would be loyal to
the people, and the whole system of excessive rates falls to the
"Well, why not HAVE a Railroad Commission of our own, then?"
suddenly declared young Osterman.
"Because it can't be done," retorted Annixter. "YOU CAN'T BUCK
AGAINST THE RAILROAD and if you could you can't organise the
farmers in the San Joaquin. We tried it once, and it was enough
to turn your stomach. The railroad quietly bought delegates
through S. Behrman and did us up."
"Well, that's the game to play," said Osterman decisively, "buy
"It's the only game that seems to win," admitted Harran gloomily.
"Or ever will win," exclaimed Osterman, a sudden excitement
seeming to take possession of him. His face--the face of a comic
actor, with its great slit of mouth and stiff, red ears--went
abruptly pink.
"Look here," he cried, "this thing is getting desperate. We've
fought and fought in the courts and out and we've tried agitation
and--and all the rest of it and S. Behrman sacks us every time.
Now comes the time when there's a prospect of a big crop; we've
had no rain for two years and the land has had a long rest. If
there is any rain at all this winter, we'll have a bonanza year,
and just at this very moment when we've got our chance--a chance
to pay off our mortgages and get clear of debt and make a strike--
here is Shelgrim making a deal to cinch us and put up rates.
And now here's the primaries coming off and a new Railroad
Commission going in. That's why Shelgrim chose this time to make
his deal. If we wait till Shelgrim pulls it off, we're done for,
that's flat. I tell you we're in a fix if we don't keep an eye
open. Things are getting desperate. Magnus has just said that
the key to the whole thing is the Railroad Commission. Well, why
not have a Commission of our own? Never mind how we get it,
let's get it. If it's got to be bought, let's buy it and put our
own men on it and dictate what the rates will be. Suppose it
costs a hundred thousand dollars. Well, we'll get back more than
that in cheap rates."
"Mr. Osterman," said Magnus, fixing the young man with a swift
glance, "Mr. Osterman, you are proposing a scheme of bribery,
"I am proposing," repeated Osterman, "a scheme of bribery.
Exactly so."
"And a crazy, wild-eyed scheme at that," said Annixter gruffly.
"Even supposing you bought a Railroad Commission and got your
schedule of low rates, what happens? The P. and S. W. crowd get
out an injunction and tie you up."
"They would tie themselves up, too. Hauling at low rates is
better than no hauling at all. The wheat has got to be moved."
"Oh, rot!" cried Annixter. "Aren't you ever going to learn any
sense? Don't you know that cheap transportation would benefit
the Liverpool buyers and not us? Can't it be FED into you that
you can't buck against the railroad? When you try to buy a Board
of Commissioners don't you see that you'll have to bid against
the railroad, bid against a corporation that can chuck out
millions to our thousands? Do you think you can bid against the
P. and S. W.?"
"The railroad don't need to know we are in the game against them
till we've got our men seated."
"And when you've got them seated, what's to prevent the
corporation buying them right over your head?"
"If we've got the right kind of men in they could not be bought
that way," interposed Harran. "I don't know but what there's
something in what Osterman says. We'd have the naming of the
Commission and we'd name honest men."
Annixter struck the table with his fist in exasperation.
"Honest men!" he shouted; "the kind of men you could get to go
into such a scheme would have to be DIS-honest to begin with."
Broderson, shifting uneasily in his place, fingering his beard
with a vague, uncertain gesture, spoke again:
"It would be the CHANCE of them--our Commissioners--selling out
against the certainty of Shelgrim doing us up. That is," he
hastened to add, "ALMOST a certainty; pretty near a certainty."
"Of course, it would be a chance," exclaimed Osterman. "But it's
come to the point where we've got to take chances, risk a big
stake to make a big strike, and risk is better than sure
"I can be no party to a scheme of avowed bribery and corruption,
Mr. Osterman," declared Magnus, a ring of severity in his voice.
"I am surprised, sir, that you should even broach the subject in
my hearing."
"And," cried Annixter, "it can't be done."
"I don't know," muttered Harran, "maybe it just wants a little
spark like this to fire the whole train."
Magnus glanced at his son in considerable surprise. He had not
expected this of Harran. But so great was his affection for his
son, so accustomed had he become to listening to his advice, to
respecting his opinions, that, for the moment, after the first
shock of surprise and disappointment, he was influenced to give a
certain degree of attention to this new proposition. He in no
way countenanced it. At any moment he was prepared to rise in
his place and denounce it and Osterman both. It was trickery of
the most contemptible order, a thing he believed to be unknown to
the old school of politics and statesmanship to which he was
proud to belong; but since Harran, even for one moment,
considered it, he, Magnus, who trusted Harran implicitly, would
do likewise--if it was only to oppose and defeat it in its very
And abruptly the discussion began. Gradually Osterman, by dint
of his clamour, his strident reiteration, the plausibility of his
glib, ready assertions, the ease with which he extricated himself
when apparently driven to a corner, completely won over old
Broderson to his way of thinking. Osterman bewildered him with
his volubility, the lightning rapidity with which he leaped from
one subject to another, garrulous, witty, flamboyant, terrifying
the old man with pictures of the swift approach of ruin, the
imminence of danger.
Annixter, who led the argument against him--loving argument
though he did--appeared to poor advantage, unable to present his
side effectively. He called Osterman a fool, a goat, a
senseless, crazy-headed jackass, but was unable to refute his
assertions. His debate was the clumsy heaving of brickbats,
brutal, direct. He contradicted everything Osterman said as a
matter of principle, made conflicting assertions, declarations
that were absolutely inconsistent, and when Osterman or Harran
used these against him, could only exclaim:
"Well, in a way it's so, and then again in a way it isn't."
But suddenly Osterman discovered a new argument. "If we swing
this deal," he cried, "we've got old jelly-belly Behrman right
where we want him."
"He's the man that does us every time," cried Harran. "If there
is dirty work to be done in which the railroad doesn't wish to
appear, it is S. Behrman who does it. If the freight rates are
to be 'adjusted' to squeeze us a little harder, it is S. Behrman
who regulates what we can stand. If there's a judge to be
bought, it is S. Behrman who does the bargaining. If there is a
jury to be bribed, it is S. Behrman who handles the money. If
there is an election to be jobbed, it is S. Behrman who
manipulates it. It's Behrman here and Behrman there. It is
Behrman we come against every time we make a move. It is Behrman
who has the grip of us and will never let go till he has squeezed
us bone dry. Why, when I think of it all sometimes I wonder I
keep my hands off the man."
Osterman got on his feet; leaning across the table, gesturing
wildly with his right hand, his serio-comic face, with its bald
forehead and stiff, red ears, was inflamed with excitement. He
took the floor, creating an impression, attracting all attention
to himself, playing to the gallery, gesticulating, clamourous,
full of noise.
"Well, now is your chance to get even," he vociferated. "It is
now or never. You can take it and save the situation for
yourselves and all California or you can leave it and rot on your
own ranches. Buck, I know you. I know you're not afraid of
anything that wears skin. I know you've got sand all through
you, and I know if I showed you how we could put our deal through
and seat a Commission of our own, you wouldn't hang back.
Governor, you're a brave man. You know the advantage of prompt
and fearless action. You are not the sort to shrink from taking
chances. To play for big stakes is just your game--to stake a
fortune on the turn of a card. You didn't get the reputation of
being the strongest poker player in El Dorado County for nothing.
Now, here's the biggest gamble that ever came your way. If we
stand up to it like men with guts in us, we'll win out. If we
hesitate, we're lost."
"I don't suppose you can help playing the goat, Osterman,"
remarked Annixter, "but what's your idea? What do you think we
can do? I'm not saying," he hastened to interpose, "that you've
anyways convinced me by all this cackling. I know as well as you
that we are in a hole. But I knew that before I came here tonight.
YOU'VE not done anything to make me change my mind. But
just what do you propose? Let's hear it."
"Well, I say the first thing to do is to see Disbrow. He's the
political boss of the Denver, Pueblo, and Mojave road. We will
have to get in with the machine some way and that's particularly
why I want Magnus with us. He knows politics better than any of
us and if we don't want to get sold again we will have to have
some one that's in the know to steer us."
"The only politics I understand, Mr. Osterman," answered Magnus
sternly, "are honest politics. You must look elsewhere for your
political manager. I refuse to have any part in this matter. If
the Railroad Commission can be nominated legitimately, if your
arrangements can be made without bribery, I am with you to the
last iota of my ability."
"Well, you can't get what you want without paying for it,"
contradicted Annixter.
Broderson was about to speak when Osterman kicked his foot under
the table. He, himself, held his peace. He was quick to see
that if he could involve Magnus and Annixter in an argument,
Annixter, for the mere love of contention, would oppose the
Governor and, without knowing it, would commit himself to his--
This was precisely what happened. In a few moments Annixter was
declaring at top voice his readiness to mortgage the crop of
Quien Sabe, if necessary, for the sake of "busting S. Behrman."
He could see no great obstacle in the way of controlling the
nominating convention so far as securing the naming of two
Railroad Commissioners was concerned. Two was all they needed.
Probably it WOULD cost money. You didn't get something for
nothing. It would cost them all a good deal more if they sat
like lumps on a log and played tiddledy-winks while Shelgrim sold
out from under them. Then there was this, too: the P. and S. W.
were hard up just then. The shortage on the State's wheat crop
for the last two years had affected them, too. They were
retrenching in expenditures all along the line. Hadn't they just
cut wages in all departments? There was this affair of Dyke's to
prove it. The railroad didn't always act as a unit, either.
There was always a party in it that opposed spending too much
money. He would bet that party was strong just now. He was kind
of sick himself of being kicked by S. Behrman. Hadn't that pip
turned up on his ranch that very day to bully him about his own
line fence? Next he would be telling him what kind of clothes he
ought to wear. Harran had the right idea. Somebody had got to
be busted mighty soon now and he didn't propose that it should be
"Now you are talking something like sense," observed Osterman.
"I thought you would see it like that when you got my idea."
"Your idea, YOUR idea!" cried Annixter. "Why, I've had this idea
myself for over three years."
"What about Disbrow?" asked Harran, hastening to interrupt. "Why
do we want to see Disbrow?"
"Disbrow is the political man for the Denver, Pueblo, and
Mojave," answered Osterman, "and you see it's like this: the
Mojave road don't run up into the valley at all. Their terminus
is way to the south of us, and they don't care anything about
grain rates through the San Joaquin. They don't care how antirailroad
the Commission is, because the Commission's rulings
can't affect them. But they divide traffic with the P. and S. W.
in the southern part of the State and they have a good deal of
influence with that road. I want to get the Mojave road, through
Disbrow, to recommend a Commissioner of our choosing to the P.
and S. W. and have the P. and S. W. adopt him as their own."
"Who, for instance?"
"Darrell, that Los Angeles man--remember?"
"Well, Darrell is no particular friend of Disbrow," said
Annixter. "Why should Disbrow take him up?"
"PREE-cisely," cried Osterman. "We make it worth Disbrow's while
to do it. We go to him and say, 'Mr. Disbrow, you manage the
politics for the Mojave railroad, and what you say goes with your
Board of Directors. We want you to adopt our candidate for
Railroad Commissioner for the third district. How much do you
want for doing it?' I KNOW we can buy Disbrow. That gives us one
Commissioner. We need not bother about that any more. In the
first district we don't make any move at all. We let the
political managers of the P. and S. W. nominate whoever they
like. Then we concentrate all our efforts to putting in our man
in the second district. There is where the big fight will come."
"I see perfectly well what you mean, Mr. Osterman," observed
Magnus, "but make no mistake, sir, as to my attitude in this
business. You may count me as out of it entirely."
"Well, suppose we win," put in Annixter truculently, already
acknowledging himself as involved in the proposed undertaking;
"suppose we win and get low rates for hauling grain. How about
you, then? You count yourself IN then, don't you? You get all
the benefit of lower rates without sharing any of the risks we
take to secure them. No, nor any of the expense, either. No,
you won't dirty your fingers with helping us put this deal
through, but you won't be so cursed particular when it comes to
sharing the profits, will you?"
Magnus rose abruptly to his full height, the nostrils of his
thin, hawk-like nose vibrating, his smooth-shaven face paler than
"Stop right where you are, sir," he exclaimed. "You forget
yourself, Mr. Annixter. Please understand that I tolerate such
words as you have permitted yourself to make use of from no man,
not even from my guest. I shall ask you to apologise."
In an instant he dominated the entire group, imposing a respect
that was as much fear as admiration. No one made response. For
the moment he was the Master again, the Leader. Like so many
delinquent school-boys, the others cowered before him, ashamed,
put to confusion, unable to find their tongues. In that brief
instant of silence following upon Magnus's outburst, and while he
held them subdued and over-mastered, the fabric of their scheme
of corruption and dishonesty trembled to its base. It was the
last protest of the Old School, rising up there in denunciation
of the new order of things, the statesman opposed to the
politician; honesty, rectitude, uncompromising integrity,
prevailing for the last time against the devious manoeuvring, the
evil communications, the rotten expediency of a corrupted
For a few seconds no one answered. Then, Annixter, moving
abruptly and uneasily in his place, muttered:
"I spoke upon provocation. If you like, we'll consider it
unsaid. I don't know what's going to become of us--go out of
business, I presume."
"I understand Magnus all right," put in Osterman. "He don't have
to go into this thing, if it's against his conscience. That's
all right. Magnus can stay out if he wants to, but that won't
prevent us going ahead and seeing what we can do. Only there's
this about it." He turned again to Magnus, speaking with every
degree of earnestness, every appearance of conviction. "I did
not deny, Governor, from the very start that this would mean
bribery. But you don't suppose that I like the idea either. If
there was one legitimate hope that was yet left untried, no
matter how forlorn it was, I would try it. But there's not. It
is literally and soberly true that every means of help--every
honest means--has been attempted. Shelgrim is going to cinch us.
Grain rates are increasing, while, on the other hand, the price
of wheat is sagging lower and lower all the time. If we don't do
something we are ruined."
Osterman paused for a moment, allowing precisely the right number
of seconds to elapse, then altering and lowering his voice,
"I respect the Governor's principles. I admire them. They do
him every degree of credit." Then, turning directly to Magnus,
he concluded with, "But I only want you to ask yourself, sir, if,
at such a crisis, one ought to think of oneself, to consider
purely personal motives in such a desperate situation as this?
Now, we want you with us, Governor; perhaps not openly, if you
don't wish it, but tacitly, at least. I won't ask you for an
answer to-night, but what I do ask of you is to consider this
matter seriously and think over the whole business. Will you do
Osterman ceased definitely to speak, leaning forward across the
table, his eves fixed on Magnus's face. There was a silence.
Outside, the rain fell continually with an even, monotonous
murmur. In the group of men around the table no one stirred nor
spoke. They looked steadily at Magnus, who, for the moment, kept
his glance fixed thoughtfully upon the table before him. In
another moment he raised his head and looked from face to face
around the group. After all, these were his neighbours, his
friends, men with whom he had been upon the closest terms of
association. In a way they represented what now had come to be
his world. His single swift glance took in the men, one after
another. Annixter, rugged, crude, sitting awkwardly and
uncomfortably in his chair, his unhandsome face, with its
outthrust lower lip and deeply cleft masculine chin, flushed and
eager, his yellow hair disordered, the one tuft on the crown
standing stiffly forth like the feather in an Indian's scalp
lock; Broderson, vaguely combing at his long beard with a
persistent maniacal gesture, distressed, troubled and uneasy;
Osterman, with his comedy face, the face of a music-hall singer,
his head bald and set off by his great red ears, leaning back in
his place, softly cracking the knuckle of a forefinger, and, last
of all and close to his elbow, his son, his support, his
confidant and companion, Harran, so like himself, with his own
erect, fine carriage, his thin, beak-like nose and his blond
hair, with its tendency to curl in a forward direction in front
of the ears, young, strong, courageous, full of the promise of
the future years. His blue eyes looked straight into his
father's with what Magnus could fancy a glance of appeal. Magnus
could see that expression in the faces of the others very
plainly. They looked to him as their natural leader, their chief
who was to bring them out from this abominable trouble which was
closing in upon them, and in them all he saw many types. They--
these men around his table on that night of the first rain of a
coming season--seemed to stand in his imagination for many
others--all the farmers, ranchers, and wheat growers of the great
San Joaquin. Their words were the words of a whole community;
their distress, the distress of an entire State, harried beyond
the bounds of endurance, driven to the wall, coerced, exploited,
harassed to the limits of exasperation.
"I will think of it," he said, then hastened to add, "but I can
tell you beforehand that you may expect only a refusal."
After Magnus had spoken, there was a prolonged silence. The
conference seemed of itself to have come to an end for that
evening. Presley lighted another cigarette from the butt of the
one he had been smoking, and the cat, Princess Nathalie,
disturbed by his movement and by a whiff of drifting smoke,
jumped from his knee to the floor and picking her way across the
room to Annixter, rubbed gently against his legs, her tail in the
air, her back delicately arched. No doubt she thought it time to
settle herself for the night, and as Annixter gave no indication
of vacating his chair, she chose this way of cajoling him into
ceding his place to her. But Annixter was irritated at the
Princess's attentions, misunderstanding their motive.
"Get out!" he exclaimed, lifting his feet to the rung of the
chair. "Lord love me, but I sure do hate a cat."
"By the way," observed Osterman, "I passed Genslinger by the gate
as I came in to-night. Had he been here?"
"Yes, he was here," said Harran, "and--" but Annixter took the
words out of his mouth.
"He says there's some talk of the railroad selling us their
sections this winter."
"Oh, he did, did he?" exclaimed Osterman, interested at once.
"Where did he hear that?"
"Where does a railroad paper get its news? From the General
Office, I suppose."
"I hope he didn't get it straight from headquarters that the land
was to be graded at twenty dollars an acre," murmured Broderson.
"What's that?" demanded Osterman. "Twenty dollars! Here, put me
on, somebody. What's all up? What did Genslinger say?"
"Oh, you needn't get scared," said Annixter. "Genslinger don't
know, that's all. He thinks there was no understanding that the
price of the land should not be advanced when the P. and S. W.
came to sell to us."
"Oh," muttered Osterman relieved. Magnus, who had gone out into
the office on the other side of the glass-roofed hallway,
returned with a long, yellow envelope in his hand, stuffed with
newspaper clippings and thin, closely printed pamphlets.
"Here is the circular," he remarked, drawing out one of the
pamphlets. "The conditions of settlement to which the railroad
obligated itself are very explicit."
He ran over the pages of the circular, then read aloud:
"'The Company invites settlers to go upon its lands before
patents are issued or the road is completed, and intends in such
cases to sell to them in preference to any other applicants and
at a price based upon the value of the land without
improvements,' and on the other page here," he remarked, "they
refer to this again. 'In ascertaining the value of the lands,
any improvements that a settler or any other person may have on
the lands will not be taken into consideration, neither will the
price be increased in consequence thereof.... Settlers are thus
insured that in addition to being accorded the first privilege of
purchase, at the graded price, they will also be protected in
their improvements.' And here," he commented, "in Section IX. it
reads, 'The lands are not uniform in price, but are offered at
various figures from $2.50 upward per acre. Usually land covered
with tall timber is held at $5.00 per acre, and that with pine at
$10.00. Most is for sale at $2.50 and $5.00."
"When you come to read that carefully," hazarded old Broderson,
"it--it's not so VERY REASSURING. 'MOST is for sale at two-fifty
an acre,' it says. That don't mean 'ALL,' that only means SOME.
I wish now that I had secured a more iron-clad agreement from the
P. and S. W. when I took up its sections on my ranch, and--and
Genslinger is in a position to know the intentions of the
railroad. At least, he--he--he is in TOUCH with them. All
newspaper men are. Those, I mean, who are subsidised by the
General Office. But, perhaps, Genslinger isn't subsidised, I
don't know. I--I am not sure. Maybe--perhaps"
"Oh, you don't know and you do know, and maybe and perhaps, and
you're not so sure," vociferated Annixter. "How about ignoring
the value of our improvements? Nothing hazy about THAT
statement, I guess. It says in so many words that any
improvements we make will not be considered when the land is
appraised and that's the same thing, isn't it? The unimproved
land is worth two-fifty an acre; only timber land is worth more
and there's none too much timber about here."
"Well, one thing at a time," said Harran. "The thing for us now
is to get into this primary election and the convention and see
if we can push our men for Railroad Commissioners."
"Right," declared Annixter. He rose, stretching his arms above
his head. "I've about talked all the wind out of me," he said.
"Think I'll be moving along. It's pretty near midnight."
But when Magnus's guests turned their attention to the matter of
returning to their different ranches, they abruptly realised that
the downpour had doubled and trebled in its volume since earlier
in the evening. The fields and roads were veritable seas of
viscid mud, the night absolutely black-dark; assuredly not a
night in which to venture out. Magnus insisted that the three
ranchers should put up at Los Muertos. Osterman accepted at
once, Annixter, after an interminable discussion, allowed himself
to be persuaded, in the end accepting as though granting a
favour. Broderson protested that his wife, who was not well,
would expect him to return that night and would, no doubt, fret
if he did not appear. Furthermore, he lived close by, at the
junction of the County and Lower Road. He put a sack over his
head and shoulders, persistently declining Magnus's offered
umbrella and rubber coat, and hurried away, remarking that he had
no foreman on his ranch and had to be up and about at five the
next morning to put his men to work.
"Fool!" muttered Annixter when the old man had gone. "Imagine
farming a ranch the size of his without a foreman."
Harran showed Osterman and Annixter where they were to sleep, in
adjoining rooms. Magnus soon afterward retired.
Osterman found an excuse for going to bed, but Annixter and
Harran remained in the latter's room, in a haze of blue tobacco
smoke, talking, talking. But at length, at the end of all
argument, Annixter got up, remarking:
"Well, I'm going to turn in. It's nearly two o'clock."
He went to his room, closing the door, and Harran, opening his
window to clear out the tobacco smoke, looked out for a moment
across the country toward the south.
The darkness was profound, impenetrable; the rain fell with an
uninterrupted roar. Near at hand one could hear the sound of
dripping eaves and foliage and the eager, sucking sound of the
drinking earth, and abruptly while Harran stood looking out, one
hand upon the upraised sash, a great puff of the outside air
invaded the room, odourous with the reek of the soaking earth,
redolent with fertility, pungent, heavy, tepid. He closed the
window again and sat for a few moments on the edge of the bed,
one shoe in his hand, thoughtful and absorbed, wondering if his
father would involve himself in this new scheme, wondering if,
after all, he wanted him to.
But suddenly he was aware of a commotion, issuing from the
direction of Annixter's room, and the voice of Annixter himself
upraised in expostulation and exasperation. The door of the room
to which Annixter had been assigned opened with a violent wrench
and an angry voice exclaimed to anybody who would listen:
"Oh, yes, funny, isn't it? In a way, it's funny, and then,
again, in a way it isn't."
The door banged to so that all the windows of the house rattled
in their frames.
Harran hurried out into the dining-room and there met Presley and
his father, who had been aroused as well by Annixter's clamour.
Osterman was there, too, his bald head gleaming like a bulb of
ivory in the light of the lamp that Magnus carried.
"What's all up?" demanded Osterman. "Whatever in the world is
the matter with Buck?"
Confused and terrible sounds came from behind the door of
Annixter's room. A prolonged monologue of grievance, broken by
explosions of wrath and the vague noise of some one in a furious
hurry. All at once and before Harran had a chance to knock on
the door, Annixter flung it open. His face was blazing with
anger, his outthrust lip more prominent than ever, his wiry,
yellow hair in disarray, the tuft on the crown sticking straight
into the air like the upraised hackles of an angry hound.
Evidently he had been dressing himself with the most headlong
rapidity; he had not yet put on his coat and vest, but carried
them over his arm, while with his disengaged hand he kept
hitching his suspenders over his shoulders with a persistent and
hypnotic gesture. Without a moment's pause he gave vent to his
indignation in a torrent of words.
"Ah, yes, in my bed, sloop, aha! I know the man who put it
there," he went on, glaring at Osterman, "and that man is a PIP.
Sloop! Slimy, disgusting stuff; you heard me say I didn't like
it when the Chink passed it to me at dinner--and just for that
reason you put it in my bed, and I stick my feet into it when I
turn in. Funny, isn't it? Oh, yes, too funny for any use. I'd
laugh a little louder if I was you."
"Well, Buck," protested Harran, as he noticed the hat in
Annixter's hand, "you're not going home just for----"
Annixter turned on him with a shout.
"I'll get plumb out of here," he trumpeted. "I won't stay here
another minute."
He swung into his waistcoat and coat, scrabbling at the buttons
in the violence of his emotions. "And I don't know but what it
will make me sick again to go out in a night like this. NO, I
won't stay. Some things are funny, and then, again, there are
some things that are not. Ah, yes, sloop! Well, that's all
right. I can be funny, too, when you come to that. You don't
get a cent of money out of me. You can do your dirty bribery in
your own dirty way. I won't come into this scheme at all. I
wash my hands of the whole business. It's rotten and it's wildeyed;
it's dirt from start to finish; and you'll all land in
State's prison. You can count me out."
"But, Buck, look here, you crazy fool," cried Harran, "I don't
know who put that stuff in your bed, but I'm not going; to let
you go back to Quien Sabe in a rain like this."
"I know who put it in," clamoured the other, shaking his fists,
"and don't call me Buck and I'll do as I please. I WILL go back
home. I'll get plumb out of here. Sorry I came. Sorry I ever
lent myself to such a disgusting, dishonest, dirty bribery game
as this all to-night. I won't put a dime into it, no, not a
He stormed to the door leading out upon the porch, deaf to all
reason. Harran and Presley followed him, trying to dissuade him
from going home at that time of night and in such a storm, but
Annixter was not to be placated. He stamped across to the barn
where his horse and buggy had been stabled, splashing through the
puddles under foot, going out of his way to drench himself,
refusing even to allow Presley and Harran to help him harness the
"What's the use of making a fool of yourself, Annixter?"
remonstrated Presley, as Annixter backed the horse from the
stall. "You act just like a ten-year-old boy. If Osterman wants
to play the goat, why should you help him out?"
"He's a PIP," vociferated Annixter. "You don't understand,
Presley. It runs in my family to hate anything sticky. It's--
it's--it's heredity. How would you like to get into bed at two
in the morning and jam your feet down into a slimy mess like
that? Oh, no. It's not so funny then. And you mark my words,
Mr. Harran Derrick," he continued, as he climbed into the buggy,
shaking the whip toward Harran, "this business we talked over tonight--
I'm OUT of it. It's yellow. It's too CURSED dishonest."
He cut the horse across the back with the whip and drove out into
the pelting rain. In a few seconds the sound of his buggy wheels
was lost in the muffled roar of the downpour.
Harran and Presley closed the barn and returned to the house,
sheltering themselves under a tarpaulin carriage cover. Once
inside, Harran went to remonstrate with Osterman, who was still
up. Magnus had again retired. The house had fallen quiet again.
As Presley crossed the dining-room on the way to his own
apartment in the second story of the house, he paused for a
moment, looking about him. In the dull light of the lowered
lamps, the redwood panelling of the room showed a dark crimson as
though stained with blood. On the massive slab of the dining
table the half-emptied glasses and bottles stood about in the
confusion in which they had been left, reflecting themselves deep
into the polished wood; the glass doors of the case of stuffed
birds was a subdued shimmer; the many-coloured Navajo blanket
over the couch seemed a mere patch of brown.
Around the table the chairs in which the men had sat throughout
the evening still ranged themselves in a semi-circle, vaguely
suggestive of the conference of the past few hours, with all its
possibilities of good and evil, its significance of a future big
with portent. The room was still. Only on the cushions of the
chair that Annixter had occupied, the cat, Princess Nathalie, at
last comfortably settled in her accustomed place, dozed
complacently, her paws tucked under her breast, filling the
deserted room with the subdued murmur of her contented purr.
On the Quien Sabe ranch, in one of its western divisions, near
the line fence that divided it from the Osterman holding, Vanamee
was harnessing the horses to the plough to which he had been
assigned two days before, a stable-boy from the division barn
helping him.
Promptly discharged from the employ of the sheep-raisers after
the lamentable accident near the Long Trestle, Vanamee had
presented himself to Harran, asking for employment. The season
was beginning; on all the ranches work was being resumed. The
rain had put the ground into admirable condition for ploughing,
and Annixter, Broderson, and Osterman all had their gangs at
work. Thus, Vanamee was vastly surprised to find Los Muertos
idle, the horses still in the barns, the men gathering in the
shade of the bunk-house and eating-house, smoking, dozing, or
going aimlessly about, their arms dangling. The ploughs for
which Magnus and Harran were waiting in a fury of impatience had
not yet arrived, and since the management of Los Muertos had
counted upon having these in hand long before this time, no
provision had been made for keeping the old stock in repair; many
of these old ploughs were useless, broken, and out of order; some
had been sold. It could not be said definitely when the new
ploughs would arrive. Harran had decided to wait one week
longer, and then, in case of their non-appearance, to buy a
consignment of the old style of plough from the dealers in
Bonneville. He could afford to lose the money better than he
could afford to lose the season.
Failing of work on Los Muertos, Vanamee had gone to Quien Sabe.
Annixter, whom he had spoken to first, had sent him across the
ranch to one of his division superintendents, and this latter,
after assuring himself of Vanamee's familiarity with horses and
his previous experience--even though somewhat remote--on Los
Muertos, had taken him on as a driver of one of the gang ploughs,
then at work on his division.
The evening before, when the foreman had blown his whistle at six
o'clock, the long line of ploughs had halted upon the instant,
and the drivers, unharnessing their teams, had taken them back to
the division barns--leaving the ploughs as they were in the
furrows. But an hour after daylight the next morning the work
was resumed. After breakfast, Vanamee, riding one horse and
leading the others, had returned to the line of ploughs together
with the other drivers. Now he was busy harnessing the team. At
the division blacksmith shop--temporarily put up--he had been
obliged to wait while one of his lead horses was shod, and he had
thus been delayed quite five minutes. Nearly all the other teams
were harnessed, the drivers on their seats, waiting for the
foreman's signal.
"All ready here?" inquired the foreman, driving up to Vanamee's
team in his buggy.
"All ready, sir," answered Vanamee, buckling the last strap.
He climbed to his seat, shaking out the reins, and turning about,
looked back along the line, then all around him at the landscape
inundated with the brilliant glow of the early morning.
The day was fine. Since the first rain of the season, there had
been no other. Now the sky was without a cloud, pale blue,
delicate, luminous, scintillating with morning. The great brown
earth turned a huge flank to it, exhaling the moisture of the
early dew. The atmosphere, washed clean of dust and mist, was
translucent as crystal. Far off to the east, the hills on the
other side of Broderson Creek stood out against the pallid
saffron of the horizon as flat and as sharply outlined as if
pasted on the sky. The campanile of the ancient Mission of San
Juan seemed as fine as frost work. All about between the
horizons, the carpet of the land unrolled itself to infinity.
But now it was no longer parched with heat, cracked and warped by
a merciless sun, powdered with dust. The rain had done its work;
not a clod that was not swollen with fertility, not a fissure
that did not exhale the sense of fecundity. One could not take a
dozen steps upon the ranches without the brusque sensation that
underfoot the land was alive; roused at last from its sleep,
palpitating with the desire of reproduction. Deep down there in
the recesses of the soil, the great heart throbbed once more,
thrilling with passion, vibrating with desire, offering itself to
the caress of the plough, insistent, eager, imperious. Dimly one
felt the deep-seated trouble of the earth, the uneasy agitation
of its members, the hidden tumult of its womb, demanding to be
made fruitful, to reproduce, to disengage the eternal renascent
germ of Life that stirred and struggled in its loins.
The ploughs, thirty-five in number, each drawn by its team of
ten, stretched in an interminable line, nearly a quarter of a
mile in length, behind and ahead of Vanamee. They were arranged,
as it were, en echelon, not in file--not one directly behind the
other, but each succeeding plough its own width farther in the
field than the one in front of it. Each of these ploughs held
five shears, so that when the entire company was in motion, one
hundred and seventy-five furrows were made at the same instant.
At a distance, the ploughs resembled a great column of field
artillery. Each driver was in his place, his glance alternating
between his horses and the foreman nearest at hand. Other
foremen, in their buggies or buckboards, were at intervals along
the line, like battery lieutenants. Annixter himself, on
horseback, in boots and campaign hat, a cigar in his teeth,
overlooked the scene.
The division superintendent, on the opposite side of the line,
galloped past to a position at the head. For a long moment there
was a silence. A sense of preparedness ran from end to end of
the column. All things were ready, each man in his place. The
day's work was about to begin.
Suddenly, from a distance at the head of the line came the shrill
trilling of a whistle. At once the foreman nearest Vanamee
repeated it, at the same time turning down the line, and waving
one arm. The signal was repeated, whistle answering whistle,
till the sounds lost themselves in the distance. At once the
line of ploughs lost its immobility, moving forward, getting
slowly under way, the horses straining in the traces. A
prolonged movement rippled from team to team, disengaging in its
passage a multitude of sounds---the click of buckles, the creak
of straining leather, the subdued clash of machinery, the
cracking of whips, the deep breathing of nearly four hundred
horses, the abrupt commands and cries of the drivers, and, last
of all, the prolonged, soothing murmur of the thick brown earth
turning steadily from the multitude of advancing shears.
The ploughing thus commenced, continued. The sun rose higher.
Steadily the hundred iron hands kneaded and furrowed and stroked
the brown, humid earth, the hundred iron teeth bit deep into the
Titan's flesh. Perched on his seat, the moist living reins
slipping and tugging in his hands, Vanamee, in the midst of this
steady confusion of constantly varying sensation, sight
interrupted by sound, sound mingling with sight, on this swaying,
vibrating seat, quivering with the prolonged thrill of the earth,
lapsed to a sort of pleasing numbness, in a sense, hypnotised by
the weaving maze of things in which he found himself involved.
To keep his team at an even, regular gait, maintaining the
precise interval, to run his furrows as closely as possible to
those already made by the plough in front--this for the moment
was the entire sum of his duties. But while one part of his
brain, alert and watchful, took cognisance of these matters, all
the greater part was lulled and stupefied with the long monotony
of the affair.
The ploughing, now in full swing, enveloped him in a vague, slowmoving
whirl of things. Underneath him was the jarring, jolting,
trembling machine; not a clod was turned, not an obstacle
encountered, that he did not receive the swift impression of it
through all his body, the very friction of the damp soil, sliding
incessantly from the shiny surface of the shears, seemed to
reproduce itself in his finger-tips and along the back of his
head. He heard the horse-hoofs by the myriads crushing down
easily, deeply, into the loam, the prolonged clinking of tracechains,
the working of the smooth brown flanks in the harness,
the clatter of wooden hames, the champing of bits, the click of
iron shoes against pebbles, the brittle stubble of the surface
ground crackling and snapping as the furrows turned, the
sonorous, steady breaths wrenched from the deep, labouring
chests, strap-bound, shining with sweat, and all along the line
the voices of the men talking to the horses. Everywhere there
were visions of glossy brown backs, straining, heaving, swollen
with muscle; harness streaked with specks of froth, broad, cupshaped
hoofs, heavy with brown loam, men's faces red with tan,
blue overalls spotted with axle-grease; muscled hands, the
knuckles whitened in their grip on the reins, and through it all
the ammoniacal smell of the horses, the bitter reek of
perspiration of beasts and men, the aroma of warm leather, the
scent of dead stubble--and stronger and more penetrating than
everything else, the heavy, enervating odour of the upturned,
living earth.
At intervals, from the tops of one of the rare, low swells of the
land, Vanamee overlooked a wider horizon. On the other divisions
of Quien Sabe the same work was in progress. Occasionally he
could see another column of ploughs in the adjoining division--
sometimes so close at hand that the subdued murmur of its
movements reached his ear; sometimes so distant that it resolved
itself into a long, brown streak upon the grey of the ground.
Farther off to the west on the Osterman ranch other columns came
and went, and, once, from the crest of the highest swell on his
division, Vanamee caught a distant glimpse of the Broderson
ranch. There, too, moving specks indicated that the ploughing
was under way. And farther away still, far off there beyond the
fine line of the horizons, over the curve of the globe, the
shoulder of the earth, he knew were other ranches, and beyond
these others, and beyond these still others, the immensities
multiplying to infinity.
Everywhere throughout the great San Joaquin, unseen and unheard,
a thousand ploughs up-stirred the land, tens of thousands of
shears clutched deep into the warm, moist soil.
It was the long stroking caress, vigorous, male, powerful, for
which the Earth seemed panting. The heroic embrace of a
multitude of iron hands, gripping deep into the brown, warm flesh
of the land that quivered responsive and passionate under this
rude advance, so robust as to be almost an assault, so violent as
to be veritably brutal. There, under the sun and under the
speckless sheen of the sky, the wooing of the Titan began, the
vast primal passion, the two world-forces, the elemental Male and
Female, locked in a colossal embrace, at grapples in the throes
of an infinite desire, at once terrible and divine, knowing no
law, untamed, savage, natural, sublime.
From time to time the gang in which Vanamee worked halted on the
signal from foreman or overseer. The horses came to a
standstill, the vague clamour of the work lapsed away. Then the
minutes passed. The whole work hung suspended. All up and down
the line one demanded what had happened. The division
superintendent galloped past, perplexed and anxious. For the
moment, one of the ploughs was out of order, a bolt had slipped,
a lever refused to work, or a machine had become immobilised in
heavy ground, or a horse had lamed himself. Once, even, toward
noon, an entire plough was taken out of the line, so out of gear
that a messenger had to be sent to the division forge to summon
the machinist.
Annixter had disappeared. He had ridden farther on to the other
divisions of his ranch, to watch the work in progress there. At
twelve o'clock, according to his orders, all the division
superintendents put themselves in communication with him by means
of the telephone wires that connected each of the division
houses, reporting the condition of the work, the number of acres
covered, the prospects of each plough traversing its daily
average of twenty miles.
At half-past twelve, Vanamee and the rest of the drivers ate
their lunch in the field, the tin buckets having been distributed
to them that morning after breakfast. But in the evening, the
routine of the previous day was repeated, and Vanamee,
unharnessing his team, riding one horse and leading the others,
returned to the division barns and bunk-house.
It was between six and seven o'clock. The half hundred men of
the gang threw themselves upon the supper the Chinese cooks had
set out in the shed of the eating-house, long as a bowling alley,
unpainted, crude, the seats benches, the table covered with oil
cloth. Overhead a half-dozen kerosene lamps flared and smoked.
The table was taken as if by assault; the clatter of iron knives
upon the tin plates was as the reverberation of hail upon a metal
roof. The ploughmen rinsed their throats with great draughts of
wine, and, their elbows wide, their foreheads flushed, resumed
the attack upon the beef and bread, eating as though they would
never have enough. All up and down the long table, where the
kerosene lamps reflected themselves deep in the oil-cloth cover,
one heard the incessant sounds of mastication, and saw the
uninterrupted movement of great jaws. At every moment one or
another of the men demanded a fresh portion of beef, another pint
of wine, another half-loaf of bread. For upwards of an hour the
gang ate. It was no longer a supper. It was a veritable
barbecue, a crude and primitive feasting, barbaric, homeric.
But in all this scene Vanamee saw nothing repulsive. Presley
would have abhorred it--this feeding of the People, this gorging
of the human animal, eager for its meat. Vanamee, simple,
uncomplicated, living so close to nature and the rudimentary
life, understood its significance. He knew very well that within
a short half-hour after this meal the men would throw themselves
down in their bunks to sleep without moving, inert and stupefied
with fatigue, till the morning. Work, food, and sleep, all life
reduced to its bare essentials, uncomplex, honest, healthy. They
were strong, these men, with the strength of the soil they
worked, in touch with the essential things, back again to the
starting point of civilisation, coarse, vital, real, and sane.
For a brief moment immediately after the meal, pipes were lit,
and the air grew thick with fragrant tobacco smoke. On a corner
of the dining-room table, a game of poker was begun. One of the
drivers, a Swede, produced an accordion; a group on the steps of
the bunk-house listened, with alternate gravity and shouts of
laughter, to the acknowledged story-teller of the gang. But soon
the men began to turn in, stretching themselves at full length on
the horse blankets in the racklike bunks. The sounds of heavy
breathing increased steadily, lights were put out, and before the
afterglow had faded from the sky, the gang was asleep.
Vanamee, however, remained awake. The night was fine, warm; the
sky silver-grey with starlight. By and by there would be a moon.
In the first watch after the twilight, a faint puff of breeze
came up out of the south. From all around, the heavy penetrating
smell of the new-turned earth exhaled steadily into the darkness.
After a while, when the moon came up, he could see the vast brown
breast of the earth turn toward it. Far off, distant objects
came into view: The giant oak tree at Hooven's ranch house near
the irrigating ditch on Los Muertos, the skeleton-like tower of
the windmill on Annixter's Home ranch, the clump of willows along
Broderson Creek close to the Long Trestle, and, last of all, the
venerable tower of the Mission of San Juan on the high ground
beyond the creek.
Thitherward, like homing pigeons, Vanamee's thoughts turned
irresistibly. Near to that tower, just beyond, in the little
hollow, hidden now from his sight, was the Seed ranch where
Angele Varian had lived. Straining his eyes, peering across the
intervening levels, Vanamee fancied he could almost see the line
of venerable pear trees in whose shadow she had been accustomed
to wait for him. On many such a night as this he had crossed the
ranches to find her there. His mind went back to that wonderful
time of his life sixteen years before this, when Angele was
alive, when they two were involved in the sweet intricacies of a
love so fine, so pure, so marvellous that it seemed to them a
miracle, a manifestation, a thing veritably divine, put into the
life of them and the hearts of them by God Himself. To that they
had been born. For this love's sake they had come into the
world, and the mingling of their lives was to be the Perfect
Life, the intended, ordained union of the soul of man with the
soul of woman, indissoluble, harmonious as music, beautiful
beyond all thought, a foretaste of Heaven, a hostage of
No, he, Vanamee, could never, never forget, never was the edge of
his grief to lose its sharpness, never would the lapse of time
blunt the tooth of his pain. Once more, as he sat there, looking
off across the ranches, his eyes fixed on the ancient campanile
of the Mission church, the anguish that would not die leaped at
his throat, tearing at his heart, shaking him and rending him
with a violence as fierce and as profound as if it all had been
but yesterday. The ache returned to his heart a physical keen
pain; his hands gripped tight together, twisting, interlocked,
his eyes filled with tears, his whole body shaken and riven from
head to heel.
He had lost her. God had not meant it, after all. The whole
matter had been a mistake. That vast, wonderful love that had
come upon them had been only the flimsiest mockery. Abruptly
Vanamee rose. He knew the night that was before him. At
intervals throughout the course of his prolonged wanderings, in
the desert, on the mesa, deep in the canon, lost and forgotten on
the flanks of unnamed mountains, alone under the stars and under
the moon's white eye, these hours came to him, his grief
recoiling upon him like the recoil of a vast and terrible engine.
Then he must fight out the night, wrestling with his sorrow,
praying sometimes, incoherent, hardly conscious, asking "Why" of
the night and of the stars.
Such another night had come to him now. Until dawn he knew he
must struggle with his grief, torn with memories, his imagination
assaulted with visions of a vanished happiness. If this paroxysm
of sorrow was to assail him again that night, there was but one
place for him to be. He would go to the Mission--he would see
Father Sarria; he would pass the night in the deep shadow of the
aged pear trees in the Mission garden.
He struck out across Quien Sabe, his face, the face of an
ascetic, lean, brown, infinitely sad, set toward the Mission
church. In about an hour he reached and crossed the road that
led northward from Guadalajara toward the Seed ranch, and, a
little farther on, forded Broderson Creek where it ran through
one corner of the Mission land. He climbed the hill and halted,
out of breath from his brisk wall, at the end of the colonnade of
the Mission itself.
Until this moment Vanamee had not trusted himself to see the
Mission at night. On the occasion of his first daytime visit
with Presley, he had hurried away even before the twilight had
set in, not daring for the moment to face the crowding phantoms
that in his imagination filled the Mission garden after dark. In
the daylight, the place had seemed strange to him. None of his
associations with the old building and its surroundings were
those of sunlight and brightness. Whenever, during his long
sojourns in the wilderness of the Southwest, he had called up the
picture in the eye of his mind, it had always appeared to him in
the dim mystery of moonless nights, the venerable pear trees
black with shadow, the fountain a thing to be heard rather than
But as yet he had not entered the garden. That lay on the other
side of the Mission. Vanamee passed down the colonnade, with its
uneven pavement of worn red bricks, to the last door by the
belfry tower, and rang the little bell by pulling the leather
thong that hung from a hole in the door above the knob.
But the maid-servant, who, after a long interval opened the door,
blinking and confused at being roused from her sleep, told
Vanamee that Sarria was not in his room. Vanamee, however, was
known to her as the priest's protege and great friend, and she
allowed him to enter, telling him that, no doubt, he would find
Sarria in the church itself. The servant led the way down the
cool adobe passage to a larger room that occupied the entire
width of the bottom of the belfry tower, and whence a flight of
aged steps led upward into the dark. At the foot of the stairs
was a door opening into the church. The servant admitted
Vanamee, closing the door behind her.
The interior of the Mission, a great oblong of white-washed adobe
with a flat ceiling, was lighted dimly by the sanctuary lamp that
hung from three long chains just over the chancel rail at the far
end of the church, and by two or three cheap kerosene lamps in
brackets of imitation bronze. All around the walls was the
inevitable series of pictures representing the Stations of the
Cross. They were of a hideous crudity of design and composition,
yet were wrought out with an innocent, unquestioning sincerity
that was not without its charm. Each picture framed alike in
gilt, bore its suitable inscription in staring black letters.
"Simon, The Cyrenean, Helps Jesus to Carry His Cross." "Saint
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus." "Jesus Falls for the Fourth
Time," and so on. Half-way up the length of the church the pews
began, coffin-like boxes of blackened oak, shining from years of
friction, each with its door; while over them, and built out from
the wall, was the pulpit, with its tarnished gilt sounding-board
above it, like the raised cover of a great hat-box. Between the
pews, in the aisle, the violent vermilion of a strip of ingrain
carpet assaulted the eye. Farther on were the steps to the
altar, the chancel rail of worm-riddled oak, the high altar, with
its napery from the bargain counters of a San Francisco store,
the massive silver candlesticks, each as much as one man could
lift, the gift of a dead Spanish queen, and, last, the pictures
of the chancel, the Virgin in a glory, a Christ in agony on the
cross, and St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of the Mission,
the San Juan Bautista, of the early days, a gaunt grey figure, in
skins, two fingers upraised in the gesture of benediction.
The air of the place was cool and damp, and heavy with the flat,
sweet scent of stale incense smoke. It was of a vault-like
stillness, and the closing of the door behind Vanamee reechoed
from corner to corner with a prolonged reverberation of thunder.
However, Father Sarria was not in the church. Vanamee took a
couple of turns the length of the aisle, looking about into the
chapels on either side of the chancel. But the building was
deserted. The priest had been there recently, nevertheless, for
the altar furniture was in disarray, as though he had been
rearranging it but a moment before. On both sides of the church
and half-way up their length, the walls were pierced by low
archways, in which were massive wooden doors, clamped with iron
bolts. One of these doors, on the pulpit side of the church,
stood ajar, and stepping to it and pushing it wide open, Vanamee
looked diagonally across a little patch of vegetables--beets,
radishes, and lettuce--to the rear of the building that had once
contained the cloisters, and through an open window saw Father
Sarria diligently polishing the silver crucifix that usually
stood on the high altar. Vanamee did not call to the priest.
Putting a finger to either temple, he fixed his eyes steadily
upon him for a moment as he moved about at his work. In a few
seconds he closed his eyes, but only part way. The pupils
contracted; his forehead lowered to an expression of poignant
intensity. Soon afterward he saw the priest pause abruptly in
the act of drawing the cover over the crucifix, looking about him
from side to side. He turned again to his work, and again came
to a stop, perplexed, curious. With uncertain steps, and
evidently wondering why he did so, he came to the door of the
room and opened it, looking out into the night. Vanamee, hidden
in the deep shadow of the archway, did not move, but his eyes
closed, and the intense expression deepened on his face. The
priest hesitated, moved forward a step, turned back, paused
again, then came straight across the garden patch, brusquely
colliding with Vanamee, still motionless in the recess of the
Sarria gave a great start, catching his breath.
"Oh--oh, it's you. Was it you I heard calling? No, I could not
have heard--I remember now. What a strange power! I am not sure
that it is right to do this thing, Vanamee. I--I HAD to come. I
do not know why. It is a great force--a power--I don't like it.
Vanamee, sometimes it frightens me."
Vanamee put his chin in the air.
"If I had wanted to, sir, I could have made you come to me from
back there in the Quien Sabe ranch."
The priest shook his head.
"It troubles me," he said, "to think that my own will can count
for so little. Just now I could not resist. If a deep river had
been between us, I must have crossed it. Suppose I had been
asleep now?"
"It would have been all the easier," answered Vanamee. "I
understand as little of these things as you. But I think if you
had been asleep, your power of resistance would have been so much
the more weakened."
"Perhaps I should not have waked. Perhaps I should have come to
you in my sleep."
Sarria crossed himself. "It is occult," he hazarded. "No; I do
not like it. Dear fellow," he put his hand on Vanamee's
shoulder, "don't--call me that way again; promise. See," he held
out his hand, "I am all of a tremble. There, we won't speak of
it further. Wait for me a moment. I have only to put the cross
in its place, and a fresh altar cloth, and then I am done. Tomorrow
is the feast of The Holy Cross, and I am preparing against
it. The night is fine. We will smoke a cigar in the cloister
A few moments later the two passed out of the door on the other
side of the church, opposite the pulpit, Sarria adjusting a silk
skull cap on his tonsured head. He wore his cassock now, and was
far more the churchman in appearance than when Vanamee and
Presley had seen him on a former occasion.
They were now in the cloister garden. The place was charming.
Everywhere grew clumps of palms and magnolia trees. A grapevine,
over a century old, occupied a trellis in one angle of the walls
which surrounded the garden on two sides. Along the third side
was the church itself, while the fourth was open, the wall having
crumbled away, its site marked only by a line of eight great pear
trees, older even than the grapevine, gnarled, twisted, bearing
no fruit. Directly opposite the pear trees, in the south wall of
the garden, was a round, arched portal, whose gate giving upon
the esplanade in front of the Mission was always closed. Small
gravelled walks, well kept, bordered with mignonette, twisted
about among the flower beds, and underneath the magnolia trees.
In the centre was a little fountain in a stone basin green with
moss, while just beyond, between the fountain and the pear trees,
stood what was left of a sun dial, the bronze gnomon, green with
the beatings of the weather, the figures on the half-circle of
the dial worn away, illegible.
But on the other side of the fountain, and directly opposite the
door of the Mission, ranged against the wall, were nine graves--
three with headstones, the rest with slabs. Two of Sarria's
predecessors were buried here; three of the graves were those of
Mission Indians. One was thought to contain a former alcalde of
Guadalajara; two more held the bodies of De La Cuesta and his
young wife (taking with her to the grave the illusion of her
husband's love), and the last one, the ninth, at the end of the
line, nearest the pear trees, was marked by a little headstone,
the smallest of any, on which, together with the proper dates--
only sixteen years apart--was cut the name "Angele Varian."
But the quiet, the repose, the isolation of the little cloister
garden was infinitely delicious. It was a tiny corner of the
great valley that stretched in all directions around it--shut
off, discreet, romantic, a garden of dreams, of enchantments, of
illusions. Outside there, far off, the great grim world went
clashing through its grooves, but in here never an echo of the
grinding of its wheels entered to jar upon the subdued modulation
of the fountain's uninterrupted murmur.
Sarria and Vanamee found their way to a stone bench against the
side wall of the Mission, near the door from which they had just
issued, and sat down, Sarria lighting a cigar, Vanamee rolling
and smoking cigarettes in Mexican fashion.
All about them widened the vast calm night. All the stars were
out. The moon was coming up. There was no wind, no sound. The
insistent flowing of the fountain seemed only as the symbol of
the passing of time, a thing that was understood rather than
heard, inevitable, prolonged. At long intervals, a faint breeze,
hardly more than a breath, found its way into the garden over the
enclosing walls, and passed overhead, spreading everywhere the
delicious, mingled perfume of magnolia blossoms, of mignonette,
of moss, of grass, and all the calm green life silently teeming
within the enclosure of the walls.
From where he sat, Vanamee, turning his head, could look out
underneath the pear trees to the north. Close at hand, a little
valley lay between the high ground on which the Mission was
built, and the line of low hills just beyond Broderson Creek on
the Quien Sabe. In here was the Seed ranch, which Angele's
people had cultivated, a unique and beautiful stretch of five
hundred acres, planted thick with roses, violets, lilies, tulips,
iris, carnations, tube-roses, poppies, heliotrope--all manner and
description of flowers, five hundred acres of them, solid, thick,
exuberant; blooming and fading, and leaving their seed or slips
to be marketed broadcast all over the United States. This had
been the vocation of Angele's parents--raising flowers for their
seeds. All over the country the Seed ranch was known. Now it
was arid, almost dry, but when in full flower, toward the middle
of summer, the sight of these half-thousand acres royal with
colour--vermilion, azure, flaming yellow--was a marvel. When an
east wind blew, men on the streets of Bonneville, nearly twelve
miles away, could catch the scent of this valley of flowers, this
chaos of perfume.
And into this life of flowers, this world of colour, this
atmosphere oppressive and clogged and cloyed and thickened with
sweet odour, Angele had been born. There she had lived her
sixteen years. There she had died. It was not surprising that
Vanamee, with his intense, delicate sensitiveness to beauty, his
almost abnormal capacity for great happiness, had been drawn to
her, had loved her so deeply.
She came to him from out of the flowers, the smell of the roses
in her hair of gold, that hung in two straight plaits on either
side of her face; the reflection of the violets in the profound
dark blue of her eyes, perplexing, heavy-lidded, almond-shaped,
oriental; the aroma and the imperial red of the carnations in her
lips, with their almost Egyptian fulness; the whiteness of the
lilies, the perfume of the lilies, and the lilies' slender
balancing grace in her neck. Her hands disengaged the odour of
the heliotropes. The folds of her dress gave off the enervating
scent of poppies. Her feet were redolent of hyacinths.
For a long time after sitting down upon the bench, neither the
priest nor Vanamee spoke. But after a while Sarria took his
cigar from his lips, saying:
"How still it is! This is a beautiful old garden, peaceful, very
quiet. Some day I shall be buried here. I like to remember
that; and you, too, Vanamee."
"Quien sabe?"
"Yes, you, too. Where else? No, it is better here, yonder, by
the side of the little girl."
"I am not able to look forward yet, sir. The things that are to
be are somehow nothing to me at all. For me they amount to
"They amount to everything, my boy."
"Yes, to one part of me, but not to the part of me that belonged
to Angele--the best part. Oh, you don't know," he exclaimed with
a sudden movement, "no one can understand. What is it to me when
you tell me that sometime after I shall die too, somewhere, in a
vague place you call Heaven, I shall see her again? Do you think
that the idea of that ever made any one's sorrow easier to bear?
Ever took the edge from any one's grief?"
"But you believe that----"
"Oh, believe, believe!" echoed the other. "What do I believe?
I don't know. I believe, or I don't believe. I can remember
what she WAS, but I cannot hope what she will be. Hope, after
all, is only memory seen reversed. When I try to see her in
another life--whatever you call it--in Heaven--beyond the grave--
this vague place of yours; when I try to see her there, she comes
to my imagination only as what she was, material, earthly, as I
loved her. Imperfect, you say; but that is as I saw her, and as
I saw her, I loved her; and as she WAS, material, earthly,
imperfect, she loved me. It's that, that I want," he exclaimed.
"I don't want her changed. I don't want her spiritualised,
exalted, glorified, celestial. I want HER. I think it is only
this feeling that has kept me from killing myself. I would
rather be unhappy in the memory of what she actually was, than be
happy in the realisation of her transformed, changed, made
celestial. I am only human. Her soul! That was beautiful, no
doubt. But, again, it was something very vague, intangible,
hardly more than a phrase. But the touch of her hand was real,
the sound of her voice was real, the clasp of her arms about my
neck was real. Oh," he cried, shaken with a sudden wrench of
passion, "give those back to me. Tell your God to give those
back to me--the sound of her voice, the touch of her hand, the
clasp of her dear arms, REAL, REAL, and then you may talk to me
of Heaven."
Sarria shook his head. "But when you meet her again," he
observed, "in Heaven, you, too, will be changed. You will see
her spiritualised, with spiritual eyes. As she is now, she does
not appeal to you. I understand that. It is because, as you
say, you are only human, while she is divine. But when you come
to be like her, as she is now, you will know her as she really
is, not as she seemed to be, because her voice was sweet, because
her hair was pretty, because her hand was warm in yours.
Vanamee, your talk is that of a foolish child. You are like one
of the Corinthians to whom Paul wrote. Do you remember? Listen
now. I can recall the words, and such words, beautiful and
terrible at the same time, such a majesty. They march like
soldiers with trumpets. 'But some man will say'--as you have
said just now--'How are the dead raised up? And with what body
do they come? Thou fool! That which thou sowest is not
quickened except it die, and that which thou sowest, thou sowest
not that body that shall be, but bare grain. It may chance of
wheat, or of some other grain. But God giveth it a body as it
hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.... It is sown a
natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.' It is because you
are a natural body that you cannot understand her, nor wish for
her as a spiritual body, but when you are both spiritual, then
you shall know each other as you are--know as you never knew
before. Your grain of wheat is your symbol of immortality. You
bury it in the earth. It dies, and rises again a thousand times
more beautiful. Vanamee, your dear girl was only a grain of
humanity that we have buried here, and the end is not yet. But
all this is so old, so old. The world learned it a thousand
years ago, and yet each man that has ever stood by the open grave
of any one he loved must learn it all over again from the
Vanamee was silent for a moment, looking off with unseeing eyes
between the trunks of the pear trees, over the little valley.
"That may all be as you say," he answered after a while. "I have
not learned it yet, in any case. Now, I only know that I love
her--oh, as if it all were yesterday--and that I am suffering,
suffering, always."
He leaned forward, his head supported on his clenched fists, the
infinite sadness of his face deepening like a shadow, the tears
brimming in his deep-set eyes. A question that he must ask,
which involved the thing that was scarcely to be thought of,
occurred to him at this moment. After hesitating for a long
moment, he said:
"I have been away a long time, and I have had no news of this
place since I left. Is there anything to tell, Father? Has any
discovery been made, any suspicion developed, as to--the Other?"
The priest shook his head.
"Not a word, not a whisper. It is a mystery. It always will
Vanamee clasped his head between his clenched fists, rocking
himself to and fro.
"Oh, the terror of it," he murmured. "The horror of it. And
she--think of it, Sarria, only sixteen, a little girl; so
innocent, that she never knew what wrong meant, pure as a little
child is pure, who believed that all things were good; mature
only in her love. And to be struck down like that, while your
God looked down from Heaven and would not take her part." All at
once he seemed to lose control of himself. One of those furies
of impotent grief and wrath that assailed him from time to time,
blind, insensate, incoherent, suddenly took possession of him. A
torrent of words issued from his lips, and he flung out an arm,
the fist clenched, in a fierce, quick gesture, partly of despair,
partly of defiance, partly of supplication.
"No, your God would not take her part. Where was God's mercy in
that? Where was Heaven's protection in that? Where was the
loving kindness you preach about? Why did God give her life if
it was to be stamped out? Why did God give her the power of love
if it was to come to nothing? Sarria, listen to me. Why did God
make her so divinely pure if He permitted that abomination? Ha!"
he exclaimed bitterly, "your God! Why, an Apache buck would have
been more merciful. Your God! There is no God. There is only
the Devil. The Heaven you pray to is only a joke, a wretched
trick, a delusion. It is only Hell that is real."
Sarria caught him by the arm.
"You are a fool and a child," he exclaimed, "and it is blasphemy
that you are saying. I forbid it. You understand? I forbid
Vanamee turned on him with a sudden cry.
"Then, tell your God to give her back to me!"
Sarria started away from him, his eyes widening in astonishment,
surprised out of all composure by the other's outburst.
Vanamee's swarthy face was pale, the sunken cheeks and deep-set
eyes were marked with great black shadows. The priest no longer
recognised him. The face, that face of the ascetic, lean, framed
in its long black hair and pointed beard, was quivering with the
excitement of hallucination. It was the face of the inspired
shepherds of the Hebraic legends, living close to nature, the
younger prophets of Israel, dwellers in the wilderness, solitary,
imaginative, believing in the Vision, having strange delusions,
gifted with strange powers. In a brief second of thought, Sarria
understood. Out into the wilderness, the vast arid desert of the
Southwest, Vanamee had carried his grief. For days, for weeks,
months even, he had been alone, a solitary speck lost in the
immensity of the horizons; continually he was brooding, haunted
with his sorrow, thinking, thinking, often hard put to it for
food. The body was ill-nourished, and the mind, concentrated
forever upon one subject, had recoiled upon itself, had preyed
upon the naturally nervous temperament, till the imagination had
become exalted, morbidly active, diseased, beset with
hallucinations, forever in search of the manifestation, of the
miracle. It was small wonder that, bringing a fancy so distorted
back to the scene of a vanished happiness, Vanamee should be
racked with the most violent illusions, beset in the throes of a
veritable hysteria.
"Tell your God to give her back to me," he repeated with fierce
It was the pitch of mysticism, the imagination harassed and
goaded beyond the normal round, suddenly flipping from the
circumference, spinning off at a tangent, out into the void,
where all things seemed possible, hurtling through the dark
there, groping for the supernatural, clamouring for the miracle.
And it was also the human, natural protest against the
inevitable, the irrevocable; the spasm of revolt under the sting
of death, the rebellion of the soul at the victory of the grave.
"He can give her back to me if He only will," Vanamee cried.
"Sarria, you must help me. I tell you--I warn you, sir, I can't
last much longer under it. My head is all wrong with it--I've no
more hold on my mind. Something must happen or I shall lose my
senses. I am breaking down under it all, my body and my mind
alike. Bring her to me; make God show her to me. If all tales
are true, it would not be the first time. If I cannot have her,
at least let me see her as she was, real, earthly, not her
spirit, her ghost. I want her real self, undefiled again. If
this is dementia, then let me be demented. But help me, you and
your God; create the delusion, do the miracle."
"Stop!" cried the priest again, shaking him roughly by the
shoulder. "Stop. Be yourself. This is dementia; but I shall
NOT let you be demented. Think of what you are saying. Bring
her back to you! Is that the way of God? I thought you were a
man; this is the talk of a weak-minded girl."
Vanamee stirred abruptly in his place, drawing a long breath and
looking about him vaguely, as if he came to himself.
"You are right," he muttered. "I hardly know what I am saying at
times. But there are moments when my whole mind and soul seem to
rise up in rebellion against what has happened; when it seems to
me that I am stronger than death, and that if I only knew how to
use the strength of my will, concentrate my power of thought--
volition--that I could--I don't know--not call her back--but--
"A diseased and distorted mind is capable of hallucinations, if
that is what you mean," observed Sarria.
"Perhaps that is what I mean. Perhaps I want only the delusion,
after all."
Sarria did not reply, and there was a long silence. In the damp
south corners of the walls a frog began to croak at exact
intervals. The little fountain rippled monotonously, and a
magnolia flower dropped from one of the trees, falling straight
as a plummet through the motionless air, and settling upon the
gravelled walk with a faint rustling sound. Otherwise the
stillness was profound.
A little later, the priest's cigar, long since out, slipped from
his fingers to the ground. He began to nod gently. Vanamee
touched his arm.
"Asleep, sir?"
The other started, rubbing his eyes.
"Upon my word, I believe I was."
"Better go to bed, sir. I am not tired. I think I shall sit out
here a little longer."
"Well, perhaps I would be better off in bed. YOUR bed is always
ready for you here whenever you want to use it."
"No--I shall go back to Quien Sabe--later. Good-night, sir."
"Good-night, my boy."
Vanamee was left alone. For a long time he sat motionless in his
place, his elbows on his knees, his chin propped in his hands.
The minutes passed--then the hours. The moon climbed steadily
higher among the stars. Vanamee rolled and smoked cigarette
after cigarette, the blue haze of smoke hanging motionless above
his head, or drifting in slowly weaving filaments across the open
spaces of the garden.
But the influence of the old enclosure, this corner of romance
and mystery, this isolated garden of dreams, savouring of the
past, with its legends, its graves, its crumbling sun dial, its
fountain with its rime of moss, was not to be resisted. Now that
the priest had left him, the same exaltation of spirit that had
seized upon Vanamee earlier in the evening, by degrees grew big
again in his mind and imagination. His sorrow assaulted him like
the flagellations of a fine whiplash, and his love for Angele
rose again in his heart, it seemed to him never so deep, so
tender, so infinitely strong. No doubt, it was his familiarity
with the Mission garden, his clear-cut remembrance of it, as it
was in the days when he had met Angele there, tallying now so
exactly with the reality there under his eyes, that brought her
to his imagination so vividly. As yet he dared not trust himself
near her grave, but, for the moment, he rose and, his hands
clasped behind him, walked slowly from point to point amid the
tiny gravelled walks, recalling the incidents of eighteen years
ago. On the bench he had quitted he and Angele had often sat.
Here by the crumbling sun dial, he recalled the night when he had
kissed her for the first time. Here, again, by the rim of the
fountain, with its fringe of green, she once had paused, and,
baring her arm to the shoulder, had thrust it deep into the
water, and then withdrawing it, had given it to him to kiss, all
wet and cool; and here, at last, under the shadow of the pear
trees they had sat, evening after evening, looking off over the
little valley below them, watching the night build itself, domelike,
from horizon to zenith.
Brusquely Vanamee turned away from the prospect. The Seed ranch
was dark at this time of the year, and flowerless. Far off
toward its centre, he had caught a brief glimpse of the house
where Angele had lived, and a faint light burning in its window.
But he turned from it sharply. The deep-seated travail of his
grief abruptly reached the paroxysm. With long strides he
crossed the garden and reentered the Mission church itself,
plunging into the coolness of its atmosphere as into a bath.
What he searched for he did not know, or, rather, did not define.
He knew only that he was suffering, that a longing for Angele,
for some object around which his great love could enfold itself,
was tearing at his heart with iron teeth. He was ready to be
deluded; craved the hallucination; begged pitifully for the
illusion; anything rather than the empty, tenantless night, the
voiceless silence, the vast loneliness of the overspanning arc of
the heavens.
Before the chancel rail of the altar, under the sanctuary lamp,
Vanamee sank upon his knees, his arms folded upon the rail, his
head bowed down upon them. He prayed, with what words he could
not say for what he did not understand--for help, merely, for
relief, for an Answer to his cry.
It was upon that, at length, that his disordered mind
concentrated itself, an Answer--he demanded, he implored an
Answer. Not a vague visitation of Grace, not a formless sense of
Peace; but an Answer, something real, even if the reality were
fancied, a voice out of the night, responding to his, a hand in
the dark clasping his groping fingers, a breath, human, warm,
fragrant, familiar, like a soft, sweet caress on his shrunken
cheeks. Alone there in the dim half-light of the decaying
Mission, with its crumbling plaster, its naive crudity of
ornament and picture, he wrestled fiercely with his desires--
words, fragments of sentences, inarticulate, incoherent, wrenched
from his tight-shut teeth.
But the Answer was not in the church. Above him, over the high
altar, the Virgin in a glory, with downcast eyes and folded
hands, grew vague and indistinct in the shadow, the colours
fading, tarnished by centuries of incense smoke. The Christ in
agony on the Cross was but a lamentable vision of tormented
anatomy, grey flesh, spotted with crimson. The St. John, the San
Juan Bautista, patron saint of the Mission, the gaunt figure in
skins, two fingers upraised in the gesture of benediction, gazed
stolidly out into the half-gloom under the ceiling, ignoring the
human distress that beat itself in vain against the altar rail
below, and Angele remained as before--only a memory, far distant,
intangible, lost.
Vanamee rose, turning his back upon the altar with a vague
gesture of despair. He crossed the church, and issuing from the
low-arched door opposite the pulpit, once more stepped out into
the garden. Here, at least, was reality. The warm, still air
descended upon him like a cloak, grateful, comforting, dispelling
the chill that lurked in the damp mould of plaster and crumbling
But now he found his way across the garden on the other side of
the fountain, where, ranged against the eastern wall, were nine
graves. Here Angele was buried, in the smallest grave of them
all, marked by the little headstone, with its two dates, only
sixteen years apart. To this spot, at last, he had returned,
after the years spent in the desert, the wilderness--after all
the wanderings of the Long Trail. Here, if ever, he must have a
sense of her nearness. Close at hand, a short four feet under
that mound of grass, was the form he had so often held in the
embrace of his arms; the face, the very face he had kissed, that
face with the hair of gold making three-cornered the round white
forehead, the violet-blue eyes, heavy-lidded, with their strange
oriental slant upward toward the temples; the sweet full lips,
almost Egyptian in their fulness--all that strange, perplexing,
wonderful beauty, so troublous, so enchanting, so out of all
accepted standards.
He bent down, dropping upon one knee, a hand upon the headstone,
and read again the inscription. Then instinctively his hand left
the stone and rested upon the low mound of turf, touching it with
the softness of a caress; and then, before he was aware of it, he
was stretched at full length upon the earth, beside the grave,
his arms about the low mound, his lips pressed against the grass
with which it was covered. The pent-up grief of nearly twenty
years rose again within his heart, and overflowed, irresistible,
violent, passionate. There was no one to see, no one to hear.
Vanamee had no thought of restraint. He no longer wrestled with
his pain--strove against it. There was even a sense of relief in
permitting himself to be overcome. But the reaction from this
outburst was equally violent. His revolt against the inevitable,
his protest against the grave, shook him from head to foot,
goaded him beyond all bounds of reason, hounded him on and into
the domain of hysteria, dementia. Vanamee was no longer master
of himself--no longer knew what he was doing.
At first, he had been content with merely a wild, unreasoned cry
to Heaven that Angele should be restored to him, but the vast
egotism that seems to run through all forms of disordered
intelligence gave his fancy another turn. He forgot God. He no
longer reckoned with Heaven. He arrogated their powers to
himself--struggled to be, of his own unaided might, stronger than
death, more powerful than the grave. He had demanded of Sarria
that God should restore Angele to him, but now he appealed
directly to Angele herself. As he lay there, his arms clasped
about her grave, she seemed so near to him that he fancied she
MUST hear. And suddenly, at this moment, his recollection of his
strange compelling power--the same power by which he had called
Presley to him half-way across the Quien Sabe ranch, the same
power which had brought Sarria to his side that very evening--
recurred to him. Concentrating his mind upon the one object with
which it had so long been filled, Vanamee, his eyes closed, his
face buried in his arms, exclaimed:
"Come to me--Angele--don't you hear? Come to me."
But the Answer was not in the Grave. Below him the voiceless
Earth lay silent, moveless, withholding the secret, jealous of
that which it held so close in its grip, refusing to give up that
which had been confided to its keeping, untouched by the human
anguish that above there, on its surface, clutched with
despairing hands at a grave long made. The Earth that only that
morning had been so eager, so responsive to the lightest summons,
so vibrant with Life, now at night, holding death within its
embrace, guarding inviolate the secret of the Grave, was deaf to
all entreaty, refused the Answer, and Angele remained as before,
only a memory, far distant, intangible, lost.
Vanamee lifted his head, looking about him with unseeing eyes,
trembling with the exertion of his vain effort. But he could not
as yet allow himself to despair. Never before had that curious
power of attraction failed him. He felt himself to be so strong
in this respect that he was persuaded if he exerted himself to
the limit of his capacity, something--he could not say what--must
come of it. If it was only a self-delusion, an hallucination, he
told himself that he would be content.
Almost of its own accord, his distorted mind concentrated itself
again, every thought, all the power of his will riveting
themselves upon Angele. As if she were alive, he summoned her to
him. His eyes, fixed upon the name cut into the headstone,
contracted, the pupils growing small, his fists shut tight, his
nerves braced rigid.
For a few seconds he stood thus, breathless, expectant, awaiting
the manifestation, the Miracle. Then, without knowing why,
hardly conscious of what was transpiring, he found that his
glance was leaving the headstone, was turning from the grave.
Not only this, but his whole body was following the direction of
his eyes. Before he knew it, he was standing with his back to
Angele's grave, was facing the north, facing the line of pear
trees and the little valley where the Seed ranch lay. At first,
he thought this was because he had allowed his will to weaken,
the concentrated power of his mind to grow slack. And once more
turning toward the grave, he banded all his thoughts together in
a consummate effort, his teeth grinding together, his hands
pressed to his forehead. He forced himself to the notion that
Angele was alive, and to this creature of his imagination he
addressed himself:
"Angele!" he cried in a low voice; "Angele, I am calling you--do
you hear? Come to me--come to me now, now."
Instead of the Answer he demanded, that inexplicable counterinfluence
cut across the current of his thought. Strive as he
would against it, he must veer to the north, toward the pear
trees. Obeying it, he turned, and, still wondering, took a step
in that direction, then another and another. The next moment he
came abruptly to himself, in the black shadow of the pear trees
themselves, and, opening his eyes, found himself looking off over
the Seed ranch, toward the little house in the centre where
Angele had once lived.
Perplexed, he returned to the grave, once more calling upon the
resources of his will, and abruptly, so soon as these reached a
certain point, the same cross-current set in. He could no longer
keep his eyes upon the headstone, could no longer think of the
grave and what it held. He must face the north; he must be drawn
toward the pear trees, and there left standing in their shadow,
looking out aimlessly over the Seed ranch, wondering, bewildered.
Farther than this the influence never drew him, but up to this
point--the line of pear trees--it was not to be resisted.
For a time the peculiarity of the affair was of more interest to
Vanamee than even his own distress of spirit, and once or twice
he repeated the attempt, almost experimentally, and invariably
with the same result: so soon as he seemed to hold Angele in the
grip of his mind, he was moved to turn about toward the north,
and hurry toward the pear trees on the crest of the hill that
over-looked the little valley.
But Vanamee's unhappiness was too keen this night for him to
dwell long upon the vagaries of his mind. Submitting at length,
and abandoning the grave, he flung himself down in the black
shade of the pear trees, his chin in his hands, and resigned
himself finally and definitely to the inrush of recollection and
the exquisite grief of an infinite regret.
To his fancy, she came to him again. He put himself back many
years. He remembered the warm nights of July and August,
profoundly still, the sky encrusted with stars, the little
Mission garden exhaling the mingled perfumes that all through the
scorching day had been distilled under the steady blaze of a
summer's sun. He saw himself as another person, arriving at
this, their rendezvous. All day long she had been in his mind.
All day long he had looked forward to this quiet hour that
belonged to her. It was dark. He could see nothing, but, by and
by, he heard a step, a gentle rustle of the grass on the slope of
the hill pressed under an advancing foot. Then he saw the faint
gleam of pallid gold of her hair, a barely visible glow in the
starlight, and heard the murmur of her breath in the lapse of the
over-passing breeze. And then, in the midst of the gentle
perfumes of the garden, the perfumes of the magnolia flowers, of
the mignonette borders, of the crumbling walls, there expanded a
new odour, or the faint mingling of many odours, the smell of the
roses that lingered in her hair, of the lilies that exhaled from
her neck, of the heliotrope that disengaged itself from her hands
and arms, and of the hyacinths with which her little feet were
redolent, And then, suddenly, it was herself--her eyes, heavylidded,
violet blue, full of the love of him; her sweet full lips
speaking his name; her hands clasping his hands, his shoulders,
his neck--her whole dear body giving itself into his embrace; her
lips against his; her hands holding his head, drawing his face
down to hers.
Vanamee, as he remembered all this, flung out an arm with a cry
of pain, his eyes searching the gloom, all his mind in strenuous
mutiny against the triumph of Death. His glance shot swiftly out
across the night, unconsciously following the direction from
which Angele used to come to him.
"Come to me now," he exclaimed under his breath, tense and rigid
with the vast futile effort of his will. "Come to me now, now.
Don't you hear me, Angele? You must, you must come."
Suddenly Vanamee returned to himself with the abruptness of a
blow. His eyes opened. He half raised himself from the ground.
Swiftly his scattered wits readjusted themselves. Never more
sane, never more himself, he rose to his feet and stood looking
off into the night across the Seed ranch.
"What was it?" he murmured, bewildered.
He looked around him from side to side, as if to get in touch
with reality once more. He looked at his hands, at the rough
bark of the pear tree next which he stood, at the streaked and
rain-eroded walls of the Mission and garden. The exaltation of
his mind calmed itself; the unnatural strain under which he
laboured slackened. He became thoroughly master of himself
again, matter-of-fact, practical, keen.
But just so sure as his hands were his own, just so sure as the
bark of the pear tree was rough, the mouldering adobe of the
Mission walls damp--just so sure had Something occurred. It was
vague, intangible, appealing only to some strange, nameless sixth
sense, but none the less perceptible. His mind, his imagination,
sent out from him across the night, across the little valley
below him, speeding hither and thither through the dark, lost,
confused, had suddenly paused, hovering, had found Something. It
had not returned to him empty-handed. It had come back, but now
there was a change--mysterious, illusive. There were no words
for this that had transpired. But for the moment, one thing only
was certain. The night was no longer voiceless, the dark was no
longer empty. Far off there, beyond the reach of vision,
unlocalised, strange, a ripple had formed on the still black pool
of the night, had formed, flashed one instant to the stars, then
swiftly faded again. The night shut down once more. There was
no sound--nothing stirred.
For the moment, Vanamee stood transfixed, struck rigid in his
place, stupefied, his eyes staring, breathless with utter
amazement. Then, step by step, he shrank back into the deeper
shadow, treading with the infinite precaution of a prowling
leopard. A qualm of something very much like fear seized upon
him. But immediately on the heels of this first impression came
the doubt of his own senses. Whatever had happened had been so
ephemeral, so faint, so intangible, that now he wondered if he
had not deceived himself, after all. But the reaction followed.
Surely, there had been Something. And from that moment began for
him the most poignant uncertainty of mind. Gradually he drew
back into the garden, holding his breath, listening to every
faintest sound, walking upon tiptoe. He reached the fountain,
and wetting his hands, passed them across his forehead and eyes.
Once more he stood listening. The silence was profound.
Troubled, disturbed, Vanamee went away, passing out of the
garden, descending the hill. He forded Broderson Creek where it
intersected the road to Guadalajara, and went on across Quien
Sabe, walking slowly, his head bent down, his hands clasped
behind his back, thoughtful, perplexed.
At seven o'clock, in the bedroom of his ranch house, in the
white-painted iron bedstead with its blue-grey army blankets and
red counterpane, Annixter was still asleep, his face red, his
mouth open, his stiff yellow hair in wild disorder. On the
wooden chair at the bed-head, stood the kerosene lamp, by the
light of which he had been reading the previous evening. Beside
it was a paper bag of dried prunes, and the limp volume of
"Copperfield," the place marked by a slip of paper torn from the
edge of the bag.
Annixter slept soundly, making great work of the business, unable
to take even his rest gracefully. His eyes were shut so tight
that the skin at their angles was drawn into puckers. Under his
pillow, his two hands were doubled up into fists. At intervals,
he gritted his teeth ferociously, while, from time to time, the
abrupt sound of his snoring dominated the brisk ticking of the
alarm clock that hung from the brass knob of the bed-post, within
six inches of his ear.
But immediately after seven, this clock sprung its alarm with the
abruptness of an explosion, and within the second, Annixter had
hurled the bed-clothes from him and flung himself up to a sitting
posture on the edge of the bed, panting and gasping, blinking at
the light, rubbing his head, dazed and bewildered, stupefied at
the hideous suddenness with which he had been wrenched from his
His first act was to take down the alarm clock and stifle its
prolonged whirring under the pillows and blankets. But when this
had been done, he continued to sit stupidly on the edge of the
bed, curling his toes away from the cold of the floor; his halfshut
eyes, heavy with sleep, fixed and vacant, closing and
opening by turns. For upwards of three minutes he alternately
dozed and woke, his head and the whole upper half of his body
sagging abruptly sideways from moment to moment. But at length,
coming more to himself, he straightened up, ran his fingers
through his hair, and with a prodigious yawn, murmured vaguely:
"Oh, Lord! Oh-h, LORD!"
He stretched three or four times, twisting about in his place,
curling and uncurling his toes, muttering from time to time
between two yawns:
"Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!"
He stared about the room, collecting his thoughts, readjusting
himself for the day's work.
The room was barren, the walls of tongue-and-groove sheathing--
alternate brown and yellow boards--like the walls of a stable,
were adorned with two or three unframed lithographs, the
Christmas "souvenirs" of weekly periodicals, fastened with great
wire nails; a bunch of herbs or flowers, lamentably withered and
grey with dust, was affixed to the mirror over the black walnut
washstand by the window, and a yellowed photograph of Annixter's
combined harvester--himself and his men in a group before it--
hung close at hand. On the floor, at the bedside and before the
bureau, were two oval rag-carpet rugs. In the corners of the
room were muddy boots, a McClellan saddle, a surveyor's transit,
an empty coal-hod and a box of iron bolts and nuts. On the wall
over the bed, in a gilt frame, was Annixter's college diploma,
while on the bureau, amid a litter of hair-brushes, dirty
collars, driving gloves, cigars and the like, stood a broken
machine for loading shells.
It was essentially a man's room, rugged, uncouth, virile, full of
the odours of tobacco, of leather, of rusty iron; the bare floor
hollowed by the grind of hob-nailed boots, the walls marred by
the friction of heavy things of metal. Strangely enough,
Annixter's clothes were disposed of on the single chair with the
precision of an old maid. Thus he had placed them the night
before; the boots set carefully side by side, the trousers, with
the overalls still upon them, neatly folded upon the seat of the
chair, the coat hanging from its back.
The Quien Sabe ranch house was a six-room affair, all on one
floor. By no excess of charity could it have been called a home.
Annixter was a wealthy man; he could have furnished his dwelling
with quite as much elegance as that of Magnus Derrick. As it
was, however, he considered his house merely as a place to eat,
to sleep, to change his clothes in; as a shelter from the rain,
an office where business was transacted--nothing more.
When he was sufficiently awake, Annixter thrust his feet into a
pair of wicker slippers, and shuffled across the office adjoining
his bedroom, to the bathroom just beyond, and stood under the icy
shower a few minutes, his teeth chattering, fulminating oaths at
the coldness of the water. Still shivering, he hurried into his
clothes, and, having pushed the button of the electric bell to
announce that he was ready for breakfast, immediately plunged
into the business of the day. While he was thus occupied, the
butcher's cart from Bonneville drove into the yard with the day's
supply of meat. This cart also brought the Bonneville paper and
the mail of the previous night. In the bundle of correspondence
that the butcher handed to Annixter that morning, was a telegram
from Osterman, at that time on his second trip to Los Angeles.
It read:
"Flotation of company in this district assured. Have secured
services of desirable party. Am now in position to sell you your
share stock, as per original plan."
Annixter grunted as he tore the despatch into strips.
"Well," he muttered, "that part is settled, then."
He made a little pile of the torn strips on the top of the
unlighted stove, and burned them carefully, scowling down into
the flicker of fire, thoughtful and preoccupied.
He knew very well what Osterman referred to by "Flotation of
company," and also who was the "desirable party" he spoke of.
Under protest, as he was particular to declare, and after
interminable argument, Annixter had allowed himself to be
reconciled with Osterman, and to be persuaded to reenter the
proposed political "deal." A committee had been formed to
finance the affair--Osterman, old Broderson, Annixter himself,
and, with reservations, hardly more than a looker-on, Harran
Derrick. Of this committee, Osterman was considered chairman.
Magnus Derrick had formally and definitely refused his adherence
to the scheme. He was trying to steer a middle course. His
position was difficult, anomalous. If freight rates were cut
through the efforts of the members of the committee, he could not
very well avoid taking advantage of the new schedule. He would
be the gainer, though sharing neither the risk nor the expense.
But, meanwhile, the days were passing; the primary elections were
drawing nearer. The committee could not afford to wait, and by
way of a beginning, Osterman had gone to Los Angeles, fortified
by a large sum of money--a purse to which Annixter, Broderson and
himself had contributed. He had put himself in touch with
Disbrow, the political man of the Denver, Pueblo and Mojave road,
and had had two interviews with him. The telegram that Annixter
received that morning was to say that Disbrow had been bought
over, and would adopt Parrell as the D., P. and M. candidate for
Railroad Commissioner from the third district.
One of the cooks brought up Annixter's breakfast that morning,
and he went through it hastily, reading his mail at the same time
and glancing over the pages of the "Mercury," Genslinger's paper.
The "Mercury," Annixter was persuaded, received a subsidy from
the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad, and was hardly better than
the mouthpiece by which Shelgrim and the General Office spoke to
ranchers about Bonneville.
An editorial in that morning's issue said:
"It would not be surprising to the well-informed, if the longdeferred
re-grade of the value of the railroad sections included
in the Los Muertos, Quien Sabe, Osterman and Broderson properties
was made before the first of the year. Naturally, the tenants of
these lands feel an interest in the price which the railroad will
put upon its holdings, and it is rumoured they expect the land
will be offered to them for two dollars and fifty cents per acre.
It needs no seventh daughter of a seventh daughter to foresee
that these gentlemen will be disappointed."
"Rot!" vociferated Annixter to himself as he finished. He rolled
the paper into a wad and hurled it from him.
"Rot! rot! What does Genslinger know about it? I stand on my
agreement with the P. and S. W.--from two fifty to five dollars
an acre--there it is in black and white. The road IS obligated.
And my improvements! I made the land valuable by improving it,
irrigating it, draining it, and cultivating it. Talk to ME. I
know better."
The most abiding impression that Genslinger's editorial made upon
him was, that possibly the "Mercury" was not subsidised by the
corporation after all. If it was; Genslinger would not have been
led into making his mistake as to the value of the land. He
would have known that the railroad was under contract to sell at
two dollars and a half an acre, and not only this, but that when
the land was put upon the market, it was to be offered to the
present holders first of all. Annixter called to mind the
explicit terms of the agreement between himself and the railroad,
and dismissed the matter from his mind. He lit a cigar, put on
his hat and went out.
The morning was fine, the air nimble, brisk. On the summit of
the skeleton-like tower of the artesian well, the windmill was
turning steadily in a breeze from the southwest. The water in
the irrigating ditch was well up. There was no cloud in the sky.
Far off to the east and west, the bulwarks of the valley, the
Coast Range and the foothills of the Sierras stood out, pale
amethyst against the delicate pink and white sheen of the
horizon. The sunlight was a veritable flood, crystal, limpid,
sparkling, setting a feeling of gayety in the air, stirring up an
effervescence in the blood, a tumult of exuberance in the veins.
But on his way to the barns, Annixter was obliged to pass by the
open door of the dairy-house. Hilma Tree was inside, singing at
her work; her voice of a velvety huskiness, more of the chest
than of the throat, mingling with the liquid dashing of the milk
in the vats and churns, and the clear, sonorous clinking of the
cans and pans. Annixter turned into the dairy-house, pausing on
the threshold, looking about him. Hilma stood bathed from head
to foot in the torrent of sunlight that poured in upon her from
the three wide-open windows. She was charming, delicious,
radiant of youth, of health, of well-being. Into her eyes, wide
open, brown, rimmed with their fine, thin line of intense black
lashes, the sun set a diamond flash; the same golden light glowed
all around her thick, moist hair, lambent, beautiful, a sheen of
almost metallic lustre, and reflected itself upon her wet lips,
moving with the words of her singing. The whiteness of her skin
under the caress of this hale, vigorous morning light was
dazzling, pure, of a fineness beyond words. Beneath the sweet
modulation of her chin, the reflected light from the burnished
copper vessel she was carrying set a vibration of pale gold.
Overlaying the flush of rose in her cheeks, seen only when she
stood against the sunlight, was a faint sheen of down, a lustrous
floss, delicate as the pollen of a flower, or the impalpable
powder of a moth's wing. She was moving to and fro about her
work, alert, joyous, robust; and from all the fine, full
amplitude of her figure, from her thick white neck, sloping
downward to her shoulders, from the deep, feminine swell of her
breast, the vigorous maturity of her hips, there was disengaged a
vibrant note of gayety, of exuberant animal life, sane, honest,
strong. She wore a skirt of plain blue calico and a shirtwaist
of pink linen, clean, trim; while her sleeves turned back to her
shoulders, showed her large, white arms, wet with milk, redolent
and fragrant with milk, glowing and resplendent in the early
morning light.
On the threshold, Annixter took off his hat.
"Good morning, Miss Hilma."
Hilma, who had set down the copper can on top of the vat, turned
about quickly.
"Oh, GOOD morning, sir;" and, unconsciously, she made a little
gesture of salutation with her hand, raising it part way toward
her head, as a man would have done.
"Well," began Annixter vaguely, "how are you getting along down
"Oh, very fine. To-day, there is not so much to do. We drew the
whey hours ago, and now we are just done putting the curd to
press. I have been cleaning. See my pans. Wouldn't they do for
mirrors, sir? And the copper things. I have scrubbed and
scrubbed. Oh, you can look into the tiniest corners, everywhere,
you won't find so much as the littlest speck of dirt or grease.
I love CLEAN things, and this room is my own particular place.
Here I can do just as I please, and that is, to keep the cement
floor, and the vats, and the churns and the separators, and
especially the cans and coppers, clean; clean, and to see that
the milk is pure, oh, so that a little baby could drink it; and
to have the air always sweet, and the sun--oh, lots and lots of
sun, morning, noon and afternoon, so that everything shines. You
know, I never see the sun set that it don't make me a little sad;
yes, always, just a little. Isn't it funny? I should want it to
be day all the time. And when the day is gloomy and dark, I am
just as sad as if a very good friend of mine had left me. Would
you believe it? Just until within a few years, when I was a big
girl, sixteen and over, mamma had to sit by my bed every night
before I could go to sleep. I was afraid in the dark. Sometimes
I am now. Just imagine, and now I am nineteen--a young lady."
"You were, hey?" observed Annixter, for the sake of saying
something. "Afraid in the dark? What of--ghosts?"
"N-no; I don't know what. I wanted the light, I wanted----" She
drew a deep breath, turning towards the window and spreading her
pink finger-tips to the light. "Oh, the SUN. I love the sun.
See, put your hand there--here on the top of the vat--like that.
Isn't it warm? Isn't it fine? And don't you love to see it
coming in like that through the windows, floods of it; and all
the little dust in it shining? Where there is lots of sunlight,
I think the people must be very good. It's only wicked people
that love the dark. And the wicked things are always done and
planned in the dark, I think. Perhaps, too, that's why I hate
things that are mysterious--things that I can't see, that happen
in the dark." She wrinkled her nose with a little expression of
aversion. "I hate a mystery. Maybe that's why I am afraid in
the dark--or was. I shouldn't like to think that anything could
happen around me that I couldn't see or understand or explain."
She ran on from subject to subject, positively garrulous, talking
in her low-pitched voice of velvety huskiness for the mere
enjoyment of putting her ideas into speech, innocently assuming
that they were quite as interesting to others as to herself. She
was yet a great child, ignoring the fact that she had ever grown
up, taking a child's interest in her immediate surroundings,
direct, straightforward, plain. While speaking, she continued
about her work, rinsing out the cans with a mixture of hot water
and soda, scouring them bright, and piling them in the sunlight
on top of the vat.
Obliquely, and from between his narrowed lids, Annixter
scrutinised her from time to time, more and more won over by her
adorable freshness, her clean, fine youth. The clumsiness that
he usually experienced in the presence of women was wearing off.
Hilma Tree's direct simplicity put him at his ease. He began to
wonder if he dared to kiss Hilma, and if he did dare, how she
would take it. A spark of suspicion flickered up in his mind.
Did not her manner imply, vaguely, an invitation? One never
could tell with feemales. That was why she was talking so much,
no doubt, holding him there, affording the opportunity. Aha!
She had best look out, or he would take her at her word.
"Oh, I had forgotten," suddenly exclaimed Hilma, "the very thing
I wanted to show you--the new press. You remember I asked for
one last month? This is it. See, this is how it works. Here is
where the curds go; look. And this cover is screwed down like
this, and then you work the lever this way." She grasped the
lever in both hands, throwing her weight upon it, her smooth,
bare arm swelling round and firm with the effort, one slim foot,
in its low shoe set off with the bright, steel buckle, braced
against the wall.
"My, but that takes strength," she panted, looking up at him and
smiling. "But isn't it a fine press? Just what we needed."
"And," Annixter cleared his throat, "and where do you keep the
cheeses and the butter?" He thought it very likely that these
were in the cellar of the dairy.
"In the cellar," answered Hilma. "Down here, see?" She raised
the flap of the cellar door at the end of the room. "Would you
like to see? Come down; I'll show you."
She went before him down into the cool obscurity underneath,
redolent of new cheese and fresh butter. Annixter followed, a
certain excitement beginning to gain upon him. He was almost
sure now that Hilma wanted him to kiss her. At all events, one
could but try. But, as yet, he was not absolutely sure. Suppose
he had been mistaken in her; suppose she should consider herself
insulted and freeze him with an icy stare. Annixter winced at
the very thought of it. Better let the whole business go, and
get to work. He was wasting half the morning. Yet, if she DID
want to give him the opportunity of kissing her, and he failed to
take advantage of it, what a ninny she would think him; she would
despise him for being afraid. He afraid! He, Annixter, afraid
of a fool, feemale girl. Why, he owed it to himself as a man to
go as far as he could. He told himself that that goat Osterman
would have kissed Hilma Tree weeks ago. To test his state of
mind, he imagined himself as having decided to kiss her, after
all, and at once was surprised to experience a poignant qualm of
excitement, his heart beating heavily, his breath coming short.
At the same time, his courage remained with him. He was not
afraid to try. He felt a greater respect for himself because of
this. His self-assurance hardened within him, and as Hilma
turned to him, asking him to taste a cut from one of the ripe
cheeses, he suddenly stepped close to her, throwing an arm about
her shoulders, advancing his head.
But at the last second, he bungled, hesitated; Hilma shrank from
him, supple as a young reed; Annixter clutched harshly at her
arm, and trod his full weight upon one of her slender feet, his
cheek and chin barely touching the delicate pink lobe of one of
her ears, his lips brushing merely a fold of her shirt waist
between neck and shoulder. The thing was a failure, and at once
he realised that nothing had been further from Hilma's mind than
the idea of his kissing her.
She started back from him abruptly, her hands nervously clasped
against her breast, drawing in her breath sharply and holding it
with a little, tremulous catch of the throat that sent a
quivering vibration the length of her smooth, white neck. Her
eyes opened wide with a childlike look, more of astonishment than
anger. She was surprised, out of all measure, discountenanced,
taken all aback, and when she found her breath, gave voice to a
great "Oh" of dismay and distress.
For an instant, Annixter stood awkwardly in his place,
ridiculous, clumsy, murmuring over and over again:
"Well--well--that's all right--who's going to hurt you? You
needn't be afraid--who's going to hurt you--that's all right."
Then, suddenly, with a quick, indefinite gesture of one arm, he
"Good-bye, I--I'm sorry."
He turned away, striding up the stairs, crossing the dairy-room,
and regained the open air, raging and furious. He turned toward
the barns, clapping his hat upon his head, muttering the while
under his breath:
"Oh, you goat! You beastly fool PIP. Good LORD, what an ass
you've made of yourself now!"
Suddenly he resolved to put Hilma Tree out of his thoughts. The
matter was interfering with his work. This kind of thing was
sure not earning any money. He shook himself as though freeing
his shoulders of an irksome burden, and turned his entire
attention to the work nearest at hand.
The prolonged rattle of the shinglers' hammers upon the roof of
the big barn attracted him, and, crossing over between the ranch
house and the artesian well, he stood for some time absorbed in
the contemplation of the vast building, amused and interested
with the confusion of sounds--the clatter of hammers, the
cadenced scrape of saws, and the rhythmic shuffle of planes--that
issued from the gang of carpenters who were at that moment
putting the finishing touches upon the roof and rows of stalls.
A boy and two men were busy hanging the great sliding door at the
south end, while the painters--come down from Bonneville early
that morning--were engaged in adjusting the spray and force
engine, by means of which Annixter had insisted upon painting the
vast surfaces of the barn, condemning the use of brushes and pots
for such work as old-fashioned and out-of-date.
He called to one of the foremen, to ask when the barn would be
entirely finished, and was told that at the end of the week the
hay and stock could be installed.
"And a precious long time you've been at it, too," Annixter
"Well, you know the rain----"
"Oh, rot the rain! I work in the rain. You and your unions make
me sick."
"But, Mr. Annixter, we couldn't have begun painting in the rain.
The job would have been spoiled."
"Hoh, yes, spoiled. That's all very well. Maybe it would, and
then, again, maybe it wouldn't."
But when the foreman had left him, Annixter could not forbear a
growl of satisfaction. It could not be denied that the barn was
superb, monumental even. Almost any one of the other barns in
the county could be swung, bird-cage fashion, inside of it, with
room to spare. In every sense, the barn was precisely what
Annixter had hoped of it. In his pleasure over the success of
his idea, even Hilma for the moment was forgotten.
"And, now," murmured Annixter, "I'll give that dance in it. I'll
make 'em sit up."
It occurred to him that he had better set about sending out the
invitations for the affair. He was puzzled to decide just how
the thing should be managed, and resolved that it might be as
well to consult Magnus and Mrs. Derrick.
"I want to talk of this telegram of the goat's with Magnus,
anyhow," he said to himself reflectively, "and there's things I
got to do in Bonneville before the first of the month."
He turned about on his heel with a last look at the barn, and set
off toward the stable. He had decided to have his horse saddled
and ride over to Bonneville by way of Los Muertos. He would make
a day of it, would see Magnus, Harran, old Broderson and some of
the business men of Bonneville.
A few moments later, he rode out of the barn and the stable-yard,
a fresh cigar between his teeth, his hat slanted over his face
against the rays of the sun, as yet low in the east. He crossed
the irrigating ditch and gained the trail--the short cut over
into Los Muertos, by way of Hooven's. It led south and west into
the low ground overgrown by grey-green willows by Broderson
Creek, at this time of the rainy season a stream of considerable
volume, farther on dipping sharply to pass underneath the Long
Trestle of the railroad. On the other side of the right of way,
Annixter was obliged to open the gate in Derrick's line fence.
He managed this without dismounting, swearing at the horse the
while, and spurring him continually. But once inside the gate he
cantered forward briskly.
This part of Los Muertos was Hooven's holding, some five hundred
acres enclosed between the irrigating ditch and Broderson Creek,
and half the way across, Annixter came up with Hooven himself,
busily at work replacing a broken washer in his seeder. Upon one
of the horses hitched to the machine, her hands gripped tightly
upon the harness of the collar, Hilda, his little daughter, with
her small, hob-nailed boots and boy's canvas overalls, sat,
exalted and petrified with ecstasy and excitement, her eyes wide
opened, her hair in a tangle.
"Hello, Bismarck," said Annixter, drawing up beside him. "What
are YOU doing here? I thought the Governor was going to manage
without his tenants this year."
"Ach, Meest'r Ennixter," cried the other, straightening up.
"Ach, dat's you, eh? Ach, you bedt he doand menege mitout me.
Me, I gotta stay. I talk der straighd talk mit der Governor. I
fix 'em. Ach, you bedt. Sieben yahr I hef bei der rench gestopped;
yais, sir. Efery oder sohn-of-a-guhn bei der plaice ged
der sach bud me. Eh? Wat you tink von dose ting?"
"I think that's a crazy-looking monkey-wrench you've got there,"
observed Annixter, glancing at the instrument in Hooven's hand.
"Ach, dot wrainch," returned Hooven. "Soh! Wail, I tell you
dose ting now whair I got 'em. Say, you see dot wrainch. Dat's
not Emericen wrainch at alle. I got 'em at Gravelotte der day we
licked der stuffun oudt der Frainch, ach, you bedt. Me, I pelong
to der Wurtemberg redgimend, dot dey use to suppord der batterie
von der Brince von Hohenlohe. Alle der day we lay down bei der
stomach in der feildt behindt der batterie, und der schells von
der Frainch cennon hef eggsblode--ach, donnerwetter!--I tink
efery schell eggsblode bei der beckside my neck. Und dat go on
der whole day, noddun else, noddun aber der Frainch schell, b-rr,
b-r-r b-r-r, b-r-AM, und der smoag, und unzer batterie, dat go
off slow, steady, yoost like der glock, eins, zwei, boom! eins,
zwei, boom! yoost like der glock, ofer und ofer again, alle der
day. Den vhen der night come dey say we hev der great victorie
made. I doand know. Vhat do I see von der bettle? Noddun. Den
we gedt oop und maerch und maerch alle night, und in der morgen
we hear dose cennon egain, hell oaf der way, far-off, I doand
know vhair. Budt, nef'r mindt. Bretty qnick, ach, Gott--" his
face flamed scarlet, "Ach, du lieber Gott! Bretty zoon, dere
wass der Kaiser, glose bei, und Fritz, Unzer Fritz. Bei Gott,
den I go grazy, und yell, ach, you bedt, der whole redgimend:
'Hoch der Kaiser! Hoch der Vaterland!' Und der dears come to der
eyes, I doand know because vhy, und der mens gry und shaike der
hend, und der whole redgimend maerch off like dat, fairy broudt,
bei Gott, der head oop high, und sing 'Die Wacht am Rhein.' Dot
wass Gravelotte."
"And the monkey-wrench?"
"Ach, I pick 'um oop vhen der batterie go. Der cennoniers hef
forgedt und leaf 'um. I carry 'um in der sack. I tink I use 'um
vhen I gedt home in der business. I was maker von vagons in
Carlsruhe, und I nef'r gedt home again. Vhen der war hef godt
over, I go beck to Ulm und gedt marriet, und den I gedt demn sick
von der armie. Vhen I gedt der release, I clair oudt, you bedt.
I come to Emerica. First, New Yor-ruk; den Milwaukee; den
Sbringfieldt-Illinoy; den Galifornie, und heir I stay."
"And the Fatherland? Ever want to go back?"
"Wail, I tell you dose ting, Meest'r Ennixter. Alle-ways, I tink
a lot oaf Shairmany, und der Kaiser, und nef'r I forgedt
Gravelotte. Budt, say, I tell you dose ting. Vhair der wife is,
und der kinder--der leedle girl Hilda--DERE IS DER VATERLAND.
Eh? Emerica, dat's my gountry now, und dere," he pointed behind
him to the house under the mammoth oak tree on the Lower Road,
"dat's my home. Dat's goot enough Vaterland for me."
Annixter gathered up the reins, about to go on.
"So you like America, do you, Bismarck?" he said. "Who do you
vote for?"
"Emerica? I doand know," returned the other, insistently.
"Dat's my home yonder. Dat's my Vaterland. Alle von we
Shairmens yoost like dot. Shairmany, dot's hell oaf some fine
plaice, sure. Budt der Vaterland iss vhair der home und der wife
und kinder iss. Eh? Yes? Voad? Ach, no. Me, I nef'r voad.
I doand bodder der haid mit dose ting. I maig der wheat grow,
und ged der braid fur der wife und Hilda, dot's all. Dot's me;
dot's Bismarck."
"Good-bye," commented Annixter, moving off.
Hooven, the washer replaced, turned to his work again, starting
up the horses. The seeder advanced, whirring.
"Ach, Hilda, leedle girl," he cried, "hold tight bei der shdrap
on. Hey MULE! Hoop! Gedt oop, you."
Annixter cantered on. In a few moments, he had crossed Broderson
Creek and had entered upon the Home ranch of Los Muertos. Ahead
of him, but so far off that the greater portion of its bulk was
below the horizon, he could see the Derricks' home, a roof or two
between the dull green of cypress and eucalyptus. Nothing else
was in sight. The brown earth, smooth, unbroken, was as a
limitless, mud-coloured ocean. The silence was profound.
Then, at length, Annixter's searching eye made out a blur on the
horizon to the northward; the blur concentrated itself to a
speck; the speck grew by steady degrees to a spot, slowly moving,
a note of dull colour, barely darker than the land, but an inky
black silhouette as it topped a low rise of ground and stood for
a moment outlined against the pale blue of the sky. Annixter
turned his horse from the road and rode across the ranch land to
meet this new object of interest. As the spot grew larger, it
resolved itself into constituents, a collection of units; its
shape grew irregular, fragmentary. A disintegrated, nebulous
confusion advanced toward Annixter, preceded, as he discovered on
nearer approach, by a medley of faint sounds. Now it was no
longer a spot, but a column, a column that moved, accompanied by
spots. As Annixter lessened the distance, these spots resolved
themselves into buggies or men on horseback that kept pace with
the advancing column. There were horses in the column itself.
At first glance, it appeared as if there were nothing else, a
riderless squadron tramping steadily over the upturned plough
land of the ranch. But it drew nearer. The horses were in
lines, six abreast, harnessed to machines. The noise increased,
defined itself. There was a shout or two; occasionally a horse
blew through his nostrils with a prolonged, vibrating snort. The
click and clink of metal work was incessant, the machines
throwing off a continual rattle of wheels and cogs and clashing
springs. The column approached nearer; was close at hand. The
noises mingled to a subdued uproar, a bewildering confusion; the
impact of innumerable hoofs was a veritable rumble. Machine
after machine appeared; and Annixter, drawing to one side,
remained for nearly ten minutes watching and interested, while,
like an array of chariots--clattering, jostling, creaking,
clashing, an interminable procession, machine succeeding machine,
six-horse team succeeding six-horse team--bustling, hurried--
Magnus Derrick's thirty-three grain drills, each with its eight
hoes, went clamouring past, like an advance of military, seeding
the ten thousand acres of the great ranch; fecundating the living
soil; implanting deep in the dark womb of the Earth the germ of
life, the sustenance of a whole world, the food of an entire
When the drills had passed, Annixter turned and rode back to the
Lower Road, over the land now thick with seed. He did not wonder
that the seeding on Los Muertos seemed to be hastily conducted.
Magnus and Harran Derrick had not yet been able to make up the
time lost at the beginning of the season, when they had waited so
long for the ploughs to arrive. They had been behindhand all the
time. On Annixter's ranch, the land had not only been harrowed,
as well as seeded, but in some cases, cross-harrowed as well.
The labour of putting in the vast crop was over. Now there was
nothing to do but wait, while the seed silently germinated;
nothing to do but watch for the wheat to come up.
When Annixter reached the ranch house of Los Muertos, under the
shade of the cypress and eucalyptus trees, he found Mrs. Derrick
on the porch, seated in a long wicker chair. She had been
washing her hair, and the light brown locks that yet retained so
much of their brightness, were carefully spread in the sun over
the back of her chair. Annixter could not but remark that,
spite of her more than fifty years, Annie Derrick was yet rather
pretty. Her eyes were still those of a young girl, just touched
with an uncertain expression of innocence and inquiry, but as her
glance fell upon him, he found that that expression changed to
one of uneasiness, of distrust, almost of aversion.
The night before this, after Magnus and his wife had gone to bed,
they had lain awake for hours, staring up into the dark, talking,
talking. Magnus had not long been able to keep from his wife the
news of the coalition that was forming against the railroad, nor
the fact that this coalition was determined to gain its ends by
any means at its command. He had told her of Osterman's scheme
of a fraudulent election to seat a Board of Railroad
Commissioners, who should be nominees of the farming interests.
Magnus and his wife had talked this matter over and over again;
and the same discussion, begun immediately after supper the
evening before, had lasted till far into the night.
At once, Annie Derrick had been seized with a sudden terror lest
Magnus, after all, should allow himself to be persuaded; should
yield to the pressure that was every day growing stronger. None
better than she knew the iron integrity of her husband's
character. None better than she remembered how his dearest
ambition, that of political preferment, had been thwarted by his
refusal to truckle, to connive, to compromise with his ideas of
right. Now, at last, there seemed to be a change. Long
continued oppression, petty tyranny, injustice and extortion had
driven him to exasperation. S. Behrman's insults still rankled.
He seemed nearly ready to countenance Osterman's scheme. The
very fact that he was willing to talk of it to her so often and
at such great length, was proof positive that it occupied his
mind. The pity of it, the tragedy of it! He, Magnus, the
"Governor," who had been so staunch, so rigidly upright, so loyal
to his convictions, so bitter in his denunciation of the New
Politics, so scathing in his attacks on bribery and corruption in
high places; was it possible that now, at last, he could be
brought to withhold his condemnation of the devious intrigues of
the unscrupulous, going on there under his very eyes? That
Magnus should not command Harran to refrain from all intercourse
with the conspirators, had been a matter of vast surprise to Mrs.
Derrick. Time was when Magnus would have forbidden his son to so
much as recognise a dishonourable man.
But besides all this, Derrick's wife trembled at the thought of
her husband and son engaging in so desperate a grapple with the
railroad--that great monster, iron-hearted, relentless,
infinitely powerful. Always it had issued triumphant from the
fight; always S. Behrman, the Corporation's champion, remained
upon the field as victor, placid, unperturbed, unassailable. But
now a more terrible struggle than any hitherto loomed menacing
over the rim of the future; money was to be spent like water;
personal reputations were to be hazarded in the issue; failure
meant ruin in all directions, financial ruin, moral ruin, ruin of
prestige, ruin of character. Success, to her mind, was almost
impossible. Annie Derrick feared the railroad. At night, when
everything else was still, the distant roar of passing trains
echoed across Los Muertos, from Guadalajara, from Bonneville, or
from the Long Trestle, straight into her heart. At such moments
she saw very plainly the galloping terror of steam and steel,
with its single eye, cyclopean, red, shooting from horizon to
horizon, symbol of a vast power, huge and terrible; the leviathan
with tentacles of steel, to oppose which meant to be ground to
instant destruction beneath the clashing wheels. No, it was
better to submit, to resign oneself to the inevitable. She
obliterated herself, shrinking from the harshness of the world,
striving, with vain hands, to draw her husband back with her.
Just before Annixter's arrival, she had been sitting, thoughtful,
in her long chair, an open volume of poems turned down upon her
lap, her glance losing itself in the immensity of Los Muertos
that, from the edge of the lawn close by, unrolled itself,
gigantic, toward the far, southern horizon, wrinkled and serrated
after the season's ploughing. The earth, hitherto grey with
dust, was now upturned and brown. As far as the eye could reach,
it was empty of all life, bare, mournful, absolutely still; and,
as she looked, there seemed to her morbid imagination--diseased
and disturbed with long brooding, sick with the monotony of
repeated sensation--to be disengaged from all this immensity, a
sense of a vast oppression, formless, disquieting. The terror of
sheer bigness grew slowly in her mind; loneliness beyond words
gradually enveloped her. She was lost in all these limitless
reaches of space. Had she been abandoned in mid-ocean, in an
open boat, her terror could hardly have been greater. She felt
vividly that certain uncongeniality which, when all is said,
forever remains between humanity and the earth which supports it.
She recognised the colossal indifference of nature, not hostile,
even kindly and friendly, so long as the human ant-swarm was
submissive, working with it, hurrying along at its side in the
mysterious march of the centuries. Let, however, the insect
rebel, strive to make head against the power of this nature, and
at once it became relentless, a gigantic engine, a vast power,
huge, terrible; a leviathan with a heart of steel, knowing no
compunction, no forgiveness, no tolerance; crushing out the human
atom with sound less calm, the agony of destruction sending never
a jar, never the faintest tremour through all that prodigious
mechanism of wheels and cogs.
Such thoughts as these did not take shape distinctly in her mind.
She could not have told herself exactly what it was that
disquieted her. She only received the vague sensation of these
things, as it were a breath of wind upon her face, confused,
troublous, an indefinite sense of hostility in the air.
The sound of hoofs grinding upon the gravel of the driveway
brought her to herself again, and, withdrawing her gaze from the
empty plain of Los Muertos, she saw young Annixter stopping his
horse by the carriage steps. But the sight of him only diverted
her mind to the other trouble. She could not but regard him with
aversion. He was one of the conspirators, was one of the leaders
in the battle that impended; no doubt, he had come to make a
fresh attempt to win over Magnus to the unholy alliance.
However, there was little trace of enmity in her greeting. Her
hair was still spread, like a broad patch of back, and she made
that her excuse for not getting up. In answer to Annixter's
embarrassed inquiry after Magnus, she sent the Chinese cook to
call him from the office; and Annixter, after tying his horse to
the ring driven into the trunk of one of the eucalyptus trees,
came up to the porch, and, taking off his hat, sat down upon the
"Is Harran anywhere about?" he asked. "I'd like to see Harran,
"No," said Mrs. Derrick, "Harran went to Bonneville early this
She glanced toward Annixter nervously, without turning her head,
lest she should disturb her outspread hair.
"What is it you want to see Mr. Derrick about?" she inquired
hastily. "Is it about this plan to elect a Railroad Commission?
Magnus does not approve of it," she declared with energy. "He
told me so last night."
Annixter moved about awkwardly where he sat, smoothing down with
his hand the one stiff lock of yellow hair that persistently
stood up from his crown like an Indian's scalp-lock. At once his
suspicions were all aroused. Ah! this feemale woman was trying
to get a hold on him, trying to involve him in a petticoat mess,
trying to cajole him. Upon the instant, he became very crafty;
an excess of prudence promptly congealed his natural impulses.
In an actual spasm of caution, he scarcely trusted himself to
speak, terrified lest he should commit himself to something. He
glanced about apprehensively, praying that Magnus might join them
speedily, relieving the tension.
"I came to see about giving a dance in my new barn," he answered,
scowling into the depths of his hat, as though reading from notes
he had concealed there. "I wanted to ask how I should send out
the invites. I thought of just putting an ad. in the 'Mercury.'"
But as he spoke, Presley had come up behind Annixter in time to
get the drift of the conversation, and now observed:
"That's nonsense, Buck. You're not giving a public ball. You
MUST send out invitations."
"Hello, Presley, you there?" exclaimed Annixter, turning round.
The two shook hands.
"Send out invitations?" repeated Annixter uneasily. "Why must
"Because that's the only way to do."
"It is, is it?" answered Annixter, perplexed and troubled. No
other man of his acquaintance could have so contradicted Annixter
without provoking a quarrel upon the instant. Why the young
rancher, irascible, obstinate, belligerent, should invariably
defer to the poet, was an inconsistency never to be explained.
It was with great surprise that Mrs. Derrick heard him continue:
"Well, I suppose you know what you're talking about, Pres. Must
have written invites, hey?"
"Of course."
"Why, what an ass you are, Buck," observed Presley calmly.
"Before you get through with it, you will probably insult threefourths
of the people you intend to invite, and have about a
hundred quarrels on your hands, and a lawsuit or two."
However, before Annixter could reply, Magnus came out on the
porch, erect, grave, freshly shaven. Without realising what he
was doing, Annixter instinctively rose to his feet. It was as
though Magnus was a commander-in-chief of an unseen army, and he
a subaltern. There was some little conversation as to the
proposed dance, and then Annixter found an excuse for drawing the
Governor aside. Mrs. Derrick watched the two with eyes full of
poignant anxiety, as they slowly paced the length of the gravel
driveway to the road gate, and stood there, leaning upon it,
talking earnestly; Magnus tall, thin-lipped, impassive, one hand
in the breast of his frock coat, his head bare, his keen, blue
eyes fixed upon Annixter's face. Annixter came at once to the
main point.
"I got a wire from Osterman this morning, Governor, and, well--
we've got Disbrow. That means that the Denver, Pueblo and Mojave
is back of us. There's half the fight won, first off."
"Osterman bribed him, I suppose," observed Magnus.
Annixter raised a shoulder vexatiously.
"You've got to pay for what you get," he returned. "You don't
get something for nothing, I guess. Governor," he went on, "I
don't see how you can stay out of this business much longer. You
see how it will be. We're going to win, and I don't see how you
can feel that it's right of you to let us do all the work and
stand all the expense. There's never been a movement of any
importance that went on around you that you weren't the leader in
it. All Tulare County, all the San Joaquin, for that matter,
knows you. They want a leader, and they are looking to you. I
know how you feel about politics nowadays. But, Governor,
standards have changed since your time; everybody plays the game
now as we are playing it--the most honourable men. You can't
play it any other way, and, pshaw! if the right wins out in the
end, that's the main thing. We want you in this thing, and we
want you bad. You've been chewing on this affair now a long
time. Have you made up your mind? Do you come in? I tell you
what, you've got to look at these things in a large way. You've
got to judge by results. Well, now, what do you think? Do you
come in?"
Magnus's glance left Annixter's face, and for an instant sought
the ground. His frown lowered, but now it was in perplexity,
rather than in anger. His mind was troubled, harassed with a
thousand dissensions.
But one of Magnus's strongest instincts, one of his keenest
desires, was to be, if only for a short time, the master. To
control men had ever been his ambition; submission of any kind,
his greatest horror. His energy stirred within him, goaded by
the lash of his anger, his sense of indignity, of insult. Oh for
one moment to be able to strike back, to crush his enemy, to
defeat the railroad, hold the Corporation in the grip of his
fist, put down S. Behrman, rehabilitate himself, regain his selfrespect.
To be once more powerful, to command, to dominate. His
thin lips pressed themselves together; the nostrils of his
prominent hawk-like nose dilated, his erect, commanding figure
stiffened unconsciously. For a moment, he saw himself
controlling the situation, the foremost figure in his State,
feared, respected, thousands of men beneath him, his ambition at
length gratified; his career, once apparently brought to naught,
completed; success a palpable achievement. What if this were his
chance, after all, come at last after all these years. His
chance! The instincts of the old-time gambler, the most
redoubtable poker player of El Dorado County, stirred at the
word. Chance! To know it when it came, to recognise it as it
passed fleet as a wind-flurry, grip at it, catch at it, blind,
reckless, staking all upon the hazard of the issue, that was
genius. Was this his Chance? All of a sudden, it seemed to him
that it was. But his honour! His cherished, lifelong integrity,
the unstained purity of his principles? At this late date, were
they to be sacrificed? Could he now go counter to all the firm
built fabric of his character? How, afterward, could he bear to
look Harran and Lyman in the face? And, yet--and, yet--back
swung the pendulum--to neglect his Chance meant failure; a life
begun in promise, and ended in obscurity, perhaps in financial
ruin, poverty even. To seize it meant achievement, fame,
influence, prestige, possibly great wealth.
"I am so sorry to interrupt," said Mrs. Derrick, as she came up.
"I hope Mr. Annixter will excuse me, but I want Magnus to open
the safe for me. I have lost the combination, and I must have
some money. Phelps is going into town, and I want him to pay
some bills for me. Can't you come right away, Magnus? Phelps is
ready and waiting."
Annixter struck his heel into the ground with a suppressed oath.
Always these fool feemale women came between him and his plans,
mixing themselves up in his affairs. Magnus had been on the very
point of saying something, perhaps committing himself to some
course of action, and, at precisely the wrong moment, his wife
had cut in. The opportunity was lost. The three returned toward
the ranch house; but before saying good-bye, Annixter had secured
from Magnus a promise to the effect that, before coming to a
definite decision in the matter under discussion, he would talk
further with him.
Presley met him at the porch. He was going into town with
Phelps, and proposed to Annixter that he should accompany them.
"I want to go over and see old Broderson," Annixter objected.
But Presley informed him that Broderson had gone to Bonneville
earlier in the morning. He had seen him go past in his
buckboard. The three men set off, Phelps and Annixter on
horseback, Presley on his bicycle.
When they had gone, Mrs. Derrick sought out her husband in the
office of the ranch house. She was at her prettiest that
morning, her cheeks flushed with excitement, her innocent, wideopen
eyes almost girlish. She had fastened her hair, still
moist, with a black ribbon tied at the back of her head, and the
soft mass of light brown reached to below her waist, making her
look very young.
"What was it he was saying to you just now," she exclaimed, as
she came through the gate in the green-painted wire railing of
the office. "What was Mr. Annixter saying? I know. He was
trying to get you to join him, trying to persuade you to be
dishonest, wasn't that it? Tell me, Magnus, wasn't that it?"
Magnus nodded.
His wife drew close to him, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"But you won't, will you? You won't listen to him again; you
won't so much as allow him--anybody--to even suppose you would
lend yourself to bribery? Oh, Magnus, I don't know what has come
over you these last few weeks. Why, before this, you would have
been insulted if any one thought you would even consider anything
like dishonesty. Magnus, it would break my heart if you joined
Mr. Annixter and Mr. Osterman. Why, you couldn't be the same man
to me afterward; you, who have kept yourself so clean till now.
And the boys; what would Lyman say, and Harran, and every one who
knows you and respects you, if you lowered yourself to be just a
political adventurer!"
For a moment, Derrick leaned his head upon his hand, avoiding her
gaze. At length, he said, drawing a deep breath: "I am troubled,
Annie. These are the evil days. I have much upon my mind."
"Evil days or not," she insisted, "promise me this one thing,
that you will not join Mr. Annixter's scheme."
She had taken his hand in both of hers and was looking into his
face, her pretty eyes full of pleading.
"Promise me," she repeated; "give me your word. Whatever
happens, let me always be able to be proud of you, as I always
have been. Give me your word. I know you never seriously
thought of joining Mr. Annixter, but I am so nervous and
frightened sometimes. Just to relieve my mind, Magnus, give me
your word."
"Why--you are right," he answered. "No, I never thought
seriously of it. Only for a moment, I was ambitious to be--I
don't know what--what I had hoped to be once--well, that is over
now. Annie, your husband is a disappointed man."
"Give me your word," she insisted. "We can talk about other
things afterward."
Again Magnus wavered, about to yield to his better instincts and
to the entreaties of his wife. He began to see how perilously
far he had gone in this business. He was drifting closer to it
every hour. Already he was entangled, already his foot was
caught in the mesh that was being spun. Sharply he recoiled.
Again all his instincts of honesty revolted. No, whatever
happened, he would preserve his integrity. His wife was right.
Always she had influenced his better side. At that moment,
Magnus's repugnance of the proposed political campaign was at its
pitch of intensity. He wondered how he had ever allowed himself
to so much as entertain the idea of joining with the others.
Now, he would wrench free, would, in a single instant of power,
clear himself of all compromising relations. He turned to his
wife. Upon his lips trembled the promise she implored. But
suddenly there came to his mind the recollection of his new-made
pledge to Annixter. He had given his word that before arriving
at a decision he would have a last interview with him. To
Magnus, his given word was sacred. Though now he wanted to, he
could not as yet draw back, could not promise his wife that he
would decide to do right. The matter must be delayed a few days
Lamely, he explained this to her. Annie Derrick made but little
response when he had done. She kissed his forehead and went out
of the room, uneasy, depressed, her mind thronging with vague
fears, leaving Magnus before his office desk, his head in his
hands, thoughtful, gloomy, assaulted by forebodings.
Meanwhile, Annixter, Phelps, and Presley continued on their way
toward Bonneville. In a short time they had turned into the
County Road by the great watering-tank, and proceeded onward in
the shade of the interminable line of poplar trees, the windbreak
that stretched along the roadside bordering the Broderson
ranch. But as they drew near to Caraher's saloon and grocery,
about half a mile outside of Bonneville, they recognised Harran's
horse tied to the railing in front of it. Annixter left the
others and went in to see Harran.
"Harran," he said, when the two had sat down on either side of
one of the small tables, "you've got to make up your mind one way
or another pretty soon. What are you going to do? Are you going
to stand by and see the rest of the Committee spending money by
the bucketful in this thing and keep your hands in your pockets?
If we win, you'll benefit just as much as the rest of us. I
suppose you've got some money of your own--you have, haven't you?
You are your father's manager, aren't you?"
Disconcerted at Annixter's directness, Harran stammered an
affirmative, adding:
"It's hard to know just what to do. It's a mean position for me,
Buck. I want to help you others, but I do want to play fair. I
don't know how to play any other way. I should like to have a
line from the Governor as to how to act, but there's no getting a
word out of him these days. He seems to want to let me decide
for myself ."
"Well, look here," put in Annixter. "Suppose you keep out of the
thing till it's all over, and then share and share alike with the
Committee on campaign expenses."
Harran fell thoughtful, his hands in his pockets, frowning
moodily at the toe of his boot. There was a silence. Then:
"I don't like to go it blind," he hazarded. "I'm sort of sharing
the responsibility of what you do, then. I'm a silent partner.
And, then--I don't want to have any difficulties with the
Governor. We've always got along well together. He wouldn't
like it, you know, if I did anything like that."
"Say," exclaimed Annixter abruptly, "if the Governor says he will
keep his hands off, and that you can do as you please, will you
come in? For God's sake, let us ranchers act together for once.
Let's stand in with each other in ONE fight."
Without knowing it, Annixter had touched the right spring.
"I don't know but what you're right," Harran murmured vaguely.
His sense of discouragement, that feeling of what's-the-use, was
never more oppressive. All fair means had been tried. The wheat
grower was at last with his back to the wall. If he chose his
own means of fighting, the responsibility must rest upon his
enemies, not on himself.
"It's the only way to accomplish anything," he continued,
"standing in with each other . . . well, . . . go ahead and see
what you can do. If the Governor is willing, I'll come in for my
share of the campaign fund."
"That's some sense," exclaimed Annixter, shaking him by the hand.
"Half the fight is over already. We've got Disbrow you know; and
the next thing is to get hold of some of those rotten San
Francisco bosses. Osterman will----" But Harran interrupted him,
making a quick gesture with his hand.
"Don't tell me about it," he said. "I don't want to know what
you and Osterman are going to do. If I did, I shouldn't come
Yet, for all this, before they said good-bye Annixter had
obtained Harran's promise that he would attend the next meeting
of the Committee, when Osterman should return from Los Angeles
and make his report. Harran went on toward Los Muertos.
Annixter mounted and rode into Bonneville.
Bonneville was very lively at all times. It was a little city of
some twenty or thirty thousand inhabitants, where, as yet, the
city hall, the high school building, and the opera house were
objects of civic pride. It was well governed, beautifully clean,
full of the energy and strenuous young life of a new city. An
air of the briskest activity pervaded its streets and sidewalks.
The business portion of the town, centring about Main Street, was
always crowded. Annixter, arriving at the Post Office, found
himself involved in a scene of swiftly shifting sights and
sounds. Saddle horses, farm wagons--the inevitable Studebakers--
buggies grey with the dust of country roads, buckboards with
squashes and grocery packages stowed under the seat, two-wheeled
sulkies and training carts, were hitched to the gnawed railings
and zinc-sheathed telegraph poles along the curb. Here and
there, on the edge of the sidewalk, were bicycles, wedged into
bicycle racks painted with cigar advertisements. Upon the
asphalt sidewalk itself, soft and sticky with the morning's heat,
was a continuous movement. Men with large stomachs, wearing
linen coats but no vests, laboured ponderously up and down.
Girls in lawn skirts, shirt waists, and garden hats, went to and
fro, invariably in couples, coming in and out of the drug store,
the grocery store, and haberdasher's, or lingering in front of
the Post Office, which was on a corner under the I.O.O.F. hall.
Young men, in shirt sleeves, with brown, wicker cuff-protectors
over their forearms, and pencils behind their ears, bustled in
front of the grocery store, anxious and preoccupied. A very old
man, a Mexican, in ragged white trousers and bare feet, sat on a
horse-block in front of the barber shop, holding a horse by a
rope around its neck. A Chinaman went by, teetering under the
weight of his market baskets slung on a pole across his
shoulders. In the neighbourhood of the hotel, the Yosemite
House, travelling salesmen, drummers for jewelry firms of San
Francisco, commercial agents, insurance men, well- dressed,
metropolitan, debonair, stood about cracking jokes, or hurried in
and out of the flapping white doors of the Yosemite barroom. The
Yosemite 'bus and City 'bus passed up the street, on the way from
the morning train, each with its two or three passengers. A very
narrow wagon, belonging to the Cole & Colemore Harvester Works,
went by, loaded with long strips of iron that made a horrible din
as they jarred over the unevenness of the pavement. The electric
car line, the city's boast, did a brisk business, its cars
whirring from end to end of the street, with a jangling of bells
and a moaning plaint of gearing. On the stone bulkheads of the
grass plat around the new City Hall, the usual loafers sat,
chewing tobacco, swapping stories. In the park were the
inevitable array of nursemaids, skylarking couples, and ragged
little boys. A single policeman, in grey coat and helmet, friend
and acquaintance of every man and woman in the town, stood by the
park entrance, leaning an elbow on the fence post, twirling his
But in the centre of the best business block of the street was a
three-story building of rough brown stone, set off with plate
glass windows and gold-lettered signs. One of these latter read,
"Pacific and Southwestern Railroad, Freight and Passenger
Office," while another much smaller, beneath the windows of the
second story bore the inscription, "P. and S. W. Land Office."
Annixter hitched his horse to the iron post in front of this
building, and tramped up to the second floor, letting himself
into an office where a couple of clerks and bookkeepers sat at
work behind a high wire screen. One of these latter recognised
him and came forward.
"Hello," said Annixter abruptly, scowling the while. "Is your
boss in? Is Ruggles in?"
The bookkeeper led Annixter to the private office in an adjoining
room, ushering him through a door, on the frosted glass of which
was painted the name, "Cyrus Blakelee Ruggles." Inside, a man in
a frock coat, shoestring necktie, and Stetson hat, sat writing at
a roller-top desk. Over this desk was a vast map of the railroad
holdings in the country about Bonneville and Guadalajara, the
alternate sections belonging to the Corporation accurately
Ruggles was cordial in his welcome of Annixter. He had a way of
fiddling with his pencil continually while he talked, scribbling
vague lines and fragments of words and names on stray bits of
paper, and no sooner had Annixter sat down than he had begun to
write, in full-bellied script, ANN ANN all over his blotting pad.
"I want to see about those lands of mine--I mean of yours--of the
railroad's," Annixter commenced at once. "I want to know when I
can buy. I'm sick of fooling along like this."
"Well, Mr. Annixter," observed Ruggles, writing a great L before
the ANN, and finishing it off with a flourishing D. "The lands"--
he crossed out one of the N's and noted the effect with a hasty
glance--"the lands are practically yours. You have an option on
them indefinitely, and, as it is, you don't have to pay the
"Rot your option! I want to own them," Annixter declared. "What
have you people got to gain by putting off selling them to us.
Here this thing has dragged along for over eight years. When I
came in on Quien Sabe, the understanding was that the lands--your
alternate sections--were to be conveyed to me within a few
"The land had not been patented to us then," answered Ruggles.
"Well, it has been now, I guess," retorted Annixter.
"I'm sure I couldn't tell you, Mr. Annixter."
Annixter crossed his legs weariedly.
"Oh, what's the good of lying, Ruggles? You know better than to
talk that way to me."
Ruggles's face flushed on the instant, but he checked his answer
and laughed instead.
"Oh, if you know so much about it--" he observed.
"Well, when are you going to sell to me?"
"I'm only acting for the General Office, Mr. Annixter," returned
Ruggles. "Whenever the Directors are ready to take that matter
up, I'll be only too glad to put it through for you."
"As if you didn't know. Look here, you're not talking to old
Broderson. Wake up, Ruggles. What's all this talk in
Genslinger's rag about the grading of the value of our lands this
winter and an advance in the price?"
Ruggles spread out his hands with a deprecatory gesture.
"I don't own the 'Mercury,'" he said.
"Well, your company does."
"If it does, I don't know anything about it."
"Oh, rot! As if you and Genslinger and S. Behrman didn't run the
whole show down here. Come on, let's have it, Ruggles. What
does S. Behrman pay Genslinger for inserting that three-inch ad.
of the P. and S. W. in his paper? Ten thousand a year, hey?"
"Oh, why not a hundred thousand and be done with it?" returned
the other, willing to take it as a joke.
Instead of replying, Annixter drew his check-book from his inside
"Let me take that fountain pen of yours," he said. Holding the
book on his knee he wrote out a check, tore it carefully from the
stub, and laid it on the desk in front of Ruggles.
"What's this?" asked Ruggles.
"Three-fourths payment for the sections of railroad land included
in my ranch, based on a valuation of two dollars and a half per
acre. You can have the balance in sixty-day notes."
Ruggles shook his head, drawing hastily back from the check as
though it carried contamination.
"I can't touch it," he declared. "I've no authority to sell to
you yet."
"I don't understand you people," exclaimed Annixter. "I offered
to buy of you the same way four years ago and you sang the same
song. Why, it isn't business. You lose the interest on your
money. Seven per cent. of that capital for four years--you can
figure it out. It's big money."
"Well, then, I don't see why you're so keen on parting with it.
You can get seven per cent. the same as us."
"I want to own my own land," returned Annixter. "I want to feel
that every lump of dirt inside my fence is my personal property.
Why, the very house I live in now--the ranch house--stands on
railroad ground."
"But, you've an option"
"I tell you I don't want your cursed option. I want ownership;
and it's the same with Magnus Derrick and old Broderson and
Osterman and all the ranchers of the county. We want to own our
land, want to feel we can do as we blame please with it. Suppose
I should want to sell Quien Sabe. I can't sell it as a whole
till I've bought of you. I can't give anybody a clear title.
The land has doubled in value ten times over again since I came
in on it and improved it. It's worth easily twenty an acre now.
But I can't take advantage of that rise in value so long as you
won't sell, so long as I don't own it. You're blocking me."
"But, according to you, the railroad can't take advantage of the
rise in any case. According to you, you can sell for twenty
dollars, but we can only get two and a half."
"Who made it worth twenty?" cried Annixter. "I've improved it up
to that figure. Genslinger seems to have that idea in his nut,
too. Do you people think you can hold that land, untaxed, for
speculative purposes until it goes up to thirty dollars and then
sell out to some one else--sell it over our heads? You and
Genslinger weren't in office when those contracts were drawn.
You ask your boss, you ask S. Behrman, he knows. The General
Office is pledged to sell to us in preference to any one else,
for two and a half."
"Well," observed Ruggles decidedly, tapping the end of his pencil
on his desk and leaning forward to emphasise his words, "we're
not selling NOW. That's said and signed, Mr. Annixter."
"Why not? Come, spit it out. What's the bunco game this time?"
"Because we're not ready. Here's your check."
"You won't take it?"
"I'll make it a cash payment, money down--the whole of it--
payable to Cyrus Blakelee Ruggles, for the P. and S. W."
"Third and last time."
"Oh, go to the devil!"
"I don't like your tone, Mr. Annixter," returned Ruggles,
flushing angrily. "I don't give a curse whether you like it or
not," retorted Annixter, rising and thrusting the check into his
pocket, "but never you mind, Mr. Ruggles, you and S. Behrman and
Genslinger and Shelgrim and the whole gang of thieves of you--
you'll wake this State of California up some of these days by
going just one little bit too far, and there'll be an election of
Railroad Commissioners of, by, and for the people, that'll get a
twist of you, my bunco-steering friend--you and your backers and
cappers and swindlers and thimble-riggers, and smash you, lock,
stock, and barrel. That's my tip to you and be damned to you,
Mr. Cyrus Blackleg Ruggles."
Annixter stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him,
and Ruggles, trembling with anger, turned to his desk and to the
blotting pad written all over with the words LANDS, TWENTY
DOLLARS, TWO AND A HALF, OPTION, and, over and over again, with
great swelling curves and flourishes, RAILROAD, RAILROAD,
But as Annixter passed into the outside office, on the other side
of the wire partition he noted the figure of a man at the counter
in conversation with one of the clerks. There was something
familiar to Annixter's eye about the man's heavy built frame, his
great shoulders and massive back, and as he spoke to the clerk in
a tremendous, rumbling voice, Annixter promptly recognised Dyke.
There was a meeting. Annixter liked Dyke, as did every one else
in and about Bonneville. He paused now to shake hands with the
discharged engineer and to ask about his little daughter, Sidney,
to whom he knew Dyke was devotedly attached.
"Smartest little tad in Tulare County," asserted Dyke. "She's
getting prettier every day, Mr. Annixter. THERE'S a little tad
that was just born to be a lady. Can recite the whole of 'Snow
Bound' without ever stopping. You don't believe that, maybe,
hey? Well, it's true. She'll be just old enough to enter the
Seminary up at Marysville next winter, and if my hop business
pays two per cent. on the investment, there's where she's going
to go."
"How's it coming on?" inquired Annixter.
"The hop ranch? Prime. I've about got the land in shape, and
I've engaged a foreman who knows all about hops. I've been in
luck. Everybody will go into the business next year when they
see hops go to a dollar, and they'll overstock the market and
bust the price. But I'm going to get the cream of it now. I say
two per cent. Why, Lord love you, it will pay a good deal more
than that. It's got to. It's cost more than I figured to start
the thing, so, perhaps, I may have to borrow somewheres; but then
on such a sure game as this--and I do want to make something out
of that little tad of mine."
"Through here?" inquired Annixter, making ready to move off.
"In just a minute," answered Dyke. "Wait for me and I'll walk
down the street with you."
Annixter grumbled that he was in a hurry, but waited,
nevertheless, while Dyke again approached the clerk.
"I shall want some empty cars of you people this fall," he
explained. "I'm a hop-raiser now, and I just want to make sure
what your rates on hops are. I've been told, but I want to make
sure. Savvy?" There was a long delay while the clerk consulted
the tariff schedules, and Annixter fretted impatiently. Dyke,
growing uneasy, leaned heavily on his elbows, watching the clerk
anxiously. If the tariff was exorbitant, he saw his plans
brought to naught, his money jeopardised, the little tad, Sidney,
deprived of her education. He began to blame himself that he had
not long before determined definitely what the railroad would
charge for moving his hops. He told himself he was not much of a
business man; that he managed carelessly.
"Two cents," suddenly announced the clerk with a certain surly
"Two cents a pound?"
"Yes, two cents a pound--that's in car-load lots, of course. I
won't give you that rate on smaller consignments."
"Yes, car-load lots, of course . . . two cents. Well, all
He turned away with a great sigh of relief.
"He sure did have me scared for a minute," he said to Annixter,
as the two went down to the street, "fiddling and fussing so
long. Two cents is all right, though. Seems fair to me. That
fiddling of his was all put on. I know 'em, these railroad
heelers. He knew I was a discharged employee first off, and he
played the game just to make me seem small because I had to ask
favours of him. I don't suppose the General Office tips its
slavees off to act like swine, but there's the feeling through
the whole herd of them. 'Ye got to come to us. We let ye live
only so long as we choose, and what are ye going to do about it?
If ye don't like it, git out.'"
Annixter and the engineer descended to the street and had a drink
at the Yosemite bar, and Annixter went into the General Store
while Dyke bought a little pair of red slippers for Sidney.
Before the salesman had wrapped them up, Dyke slipped a dime into
the toe of each with a wink at Annixter.
"Let the little tad find 'em there," he said behind his hand in a
hoarse whisper. "That'll be one on Sid."
"Where to now?" demanded Annixter as they regained the street.
"I'm going down to the Post Office and then pull out for the
ranch. Going my way?"
Dyke hesitated in some confusion, tugging at the ends of his fine
blonde beard.
"No, no. I guess I'll leave you here. I've got--got other
things to do up the street. So long."
The two separated, and Annixter hurried through the crowd to the
Post Office, but the mail that had come in on that morning's
train was unusually heavy. It was nearly half an hour before it
was distributed. Naturally enough, Annixter placed all the blame
of the delay upon the railroad, and delivered himself of some
pointed remarks in the midst of the waiting crowd. He was
irritated to the last degree when he finally emerged upon the
sidewalk again, cramming his mail into his pockets. One cause of
his bad temper was the fact that in the bundle of Quien Sabe
letters was one to Hilma Tree in a man's handwriting.
"Huh!" Annixter had growled to himself, "that pip Delaney. Seems
now that I'm to act as go-between for 'em. Well, maybe that
feemale girl gets this letter, and then, again, maybe she don't."
But suddenly his attention was diverted. Directly opposite the
Post Office, upon the corner of the street, stood quite the best
business building of which Bonneville could boast. It was built
of Colusa granite, very solid, ornate, imposing. Upon the heavy
plate of the window of its main floor, in gold and red letters,
one read the words: "Loan and Savings Bank of Tulare County." It
was of this bank that S. Behrman was president. At the street
entrance of the building was a curved sign of polished brass,
fixed upon the angle of the masonry; this sign bore the name, "S.
Behrman," and under it in smaller letters were the words, "Real
Estate, Mortgages."
As Annixter's glance fell upon this building, he was surprised to
see Dyke standing upon the curb in front of it, apparently
reading from a newspaper that he held in his hand. But Annixter
promptly discovered that he was not reading at all. From time to
time the former engineer shot a swift glance out of the corner of
his eye up and down the street. Annixter jumped at a conclusion.
An idea suddenly occurred to him. Dyke was watching to see if he
was observed--was waiting an opportunity when no one who knew him
should be in sight. Annixter stepped back a little, getting a
telegraph pole somewhat between him and the other. Very
interested, he watched what was going on. Pretty soon Dyke
thrust the paper into his pocket and sauntered slowly to the
windows of a stationery store, next the street entrance of S.
Behrman's offices. For a few seconds he stood there, his back
turned, seemingly absorbed in the display, but eyeing the street
narrowly nevertheless; then he turned around, gave a last look
about and stepped swiftly into the doorway by the great brass
sign. He disappeared. Annixter came from behind the telegraph
pole with a flush of actual shame upon his face. There had been
something so slinking, so mean, in the movements and manner of
this great, burly honest fellow of an engineer, that he could not
help but feel ashamed for him. Circumstances were such that a
simple business transaction was to Dyke almost culpable, a
degradation, a thing to be concealed.
"Borrowing money of S. Behrman," commented Annixter, "mortgaging
your little homestead to the railroad, putting your neck in the
halter. Poor fool! The pity of it. Good Lord, your hops must
pay you big, now, old man."
Annixter lunched at the Yosemite Hotel, and then later on, toward
the middle of the afternoon, rode out of the town at a canter by
the way of the Upper Road that paralleled the railroad tracks and
that ran diametrically straight between Bonneville and
Guadalajara. About half-way between the two places he overtook
Father Sarria trudging back to San Juan, his long cassock
powdered with dust. He had a wicker crate in one hand, and in
the other, in a small square valise, the materials for the Holy
Sacrament. Since early morning the priest had covered nearly
fifteen miles on foot, in order to administer Extreme Unction to
a moribund good-for-nothing, a greaser, half Indian, half
Portuguese, who lived in a remote corner of Osterman's stock
range, at the head of a canon there. But he had returned by way
of Bonneville to get a crate that had come for him from San
Diego. He had been notified of its arrival the day before.
Annixter pulled up and passed the time of day with the priest.
"I don't often get up your way," he said, slowing down his horse
to accommodate Sarria's deliberate plodding. Sarria wiped the
perspiration from his smooth, shiny face .
"You? Well, with you it is different," he answered. "But there
are a great many Catholics in the county--some on your ranch.
And so few come to the Mission. At High Mass on Sundays, there
are a few--Mexicans and Spaniards from Guadalajara mostly; but
weekdays, for matins, vespers, and the like, I often say the
offices to an empty church--'the voice of one crying in the
wilderness.' You Americans are not good churchmen. Sundays you
sleep--you read the newspapers."
"Well, there's Vanamee," observed Annixter. "I suppose he's
there early and late."
Sarria made a sharp movement of interest.
"Ah, Vanamee--a strange lad; a wonderful character, for all that.
If there were only more like him. I am troubled about him. You
know I am a very owl at night. I come and go about the Mission
at all hours. Within the week, three times I have seen Vanamee
in the little garden by the Mission, and at the dead of night.
He had come without asking for me. He did not see me. It was
strange. Once, when I had got up at dawn to ring for early
matins, I saw him stealing away out of the garden. He must have
been there all the night. He is acting queerly. He is pale; his
cheeks are more sunken than ever. There is something wrong with
him. I can't make it out. It is a mystery. Suppose you ask
"Not I. I've enough to bother myself about. Vanamee is crazy in
the head. Some morning he will turn up missing again, and drop
out of sight for another three years. Best let him alone,
Sarria. He's a crank. How is that greaser of yours up on
Osterman's stock range?"
"Ah, the poor fellow--the poor fellow," returned the other, the
tears coming to his eyes. "He died this morning--as you might
say, in my arms, painfully, but in the faith, in the faith. A
good fellow."
"A lazy, cattle-stealing, knife-in-his-boot Dago."
"You misjudge him. A really good fellow on better acquaintance."
Annixter grunted scornfully. Sarria's kindness and good-will
toward the most outrageous reprobates of the ranches was
proverbial. He practically supported some half-dozen families
that lived in forgotten cabins, lost and all but inaccessible, in
the far corners of stock range and canyon. This particular
greaser was the laziest, the dirtiest, the most worthless of the
lot. But in Sarria's mind, the lout was an object of affection,
sincere, unquestioning. Thrice a week the priest, with a basket
of provisions--cold ham, a bottle of wine, olives, loaves of
bread, even a chicken or two--toiled over the interminable
stretch of country between the Mission and his cabin. Of late,
during the rascal's sickness, these visits had been almost daily.
Hardly once did the priest leave the bedside that he did not slip
a half-dollar into the palm of his wife or oldest daughter. And
this was but one case out of many.
His kindliness toward animals was the same. A horde of mangecorroded
curs lived off his bounty, wolfish, ungrateful, often
marking him with their teeth, yet never knowing the meaning of a
harsh word. A burro, over-fed, lazy, incorrigible, browsed on
the hill back of the Mission, obstinately refusing to be
harnessed to Sarria's little cart, squealing and biting whenever
the attempt was made; and the priest suffered him, submitting to
his humour, inventing excuses for him, alleging that the burro
was foundered, or was in need of shoes, or was feeble from
extreme age. The two peacocks, magnificent, proud, cold-hearted,
resenting all familiarity, he served with the timorous,
apologetic affection of a queen's lady-in-waiting, resigned to
their disdain, happy if only they condescended to enjoy the grain
he spread for them.
At the Long Trestle, Annixter and the priest left the road and
took the trail that crossed Broderson Creek by the clumps of
grey-green willows and led across Quien Sabe to the ranch house,
and to the Mission farther on. They were obliged to proceed in
single file here, and Annixter, who had allowed the priest to go
in front, promptly took notice of the wicker basket he carried.
Upon his inquiry, Sarria became confused. "It was a basket that
he had had sent down to him from the city."
"Well, I know--but what's in it?"
"Why--I'm sure--ah, poultry--a chicken or two."
"Fancy breed?"
"Yes, yes, that's it, a fancy breed." At the ranch house, where
they arrived toward five o'clock, Annixter insisted that the
priest should stop long enough for a glass of sherry. Sarria
left the basket and his small black valise at the foot of the
porch steps, and sat down in a rocker on the porch itself,
fanning himself with his broad-brimmed hat, and shaking the dust
from his cassock. Annixter brought out the decanter of sherry
and glasses, and the two drank to each other's health.
But as the priest set down his glass, wiping his lips with a
murmur of satisfaction, the decrepit Irish setter that had
attached himself to Annixter's house came out from underneath the
porch, and nosed vigorously about the wicker basket. He upset
it. The little peg holding down the cover slipped, the basket
fell sideways, opening as it fell, and a cock, his head enclosed
in a little chamois bag such as are used for gold watches,
struggled blindly out into the open air. A second, similarly
hooded, followed. The pair, stupefied in their headgear, stood
rigid and bewildered in their tracks, clucking uneasily. Their
tails were closely sheared. Their legs, thickly muscled, and
extraordinarily long, were furnished with enormous cruel-looking
spurs. The breed was unmistakable. Annixter looked once at the
pair, then shouted with laughter.
"'Poultry'--'a chicken or two'--'fancy breed'--ho! yes, I should
think so. Game cocks! Fighting cocks! Oh, you old rat! You'll
be a dry nurse to a burro, and keep a hospital for infirm
puppies, but you will fight game cocks. Oh, Lord! Why, Sarria,
this is as good a grind as I ever heard. There's the Spanish
cropping out, after all."
Speechless with chagrin, the priest bundled the cocks into the
basket and catching up the valise, took himself abruptly away,
almost running till he had put himself out of hearing of
Annixter's raillery. And even ten minutes later, when Annixter,
still chuckling, stood upon the porch steps, he saw the priest,
far in the distance, climbing the slope of the high ground, in
the direction of the Mission, still hurrying on at a great pace,
his cassock flapping behind him, his head bent; to Annixter's
notion the very picture of discomfiture and confusion.
As Annixter turned about to reenter the house, he found himself
almost face to face with Hilma Tree. She was just going in at
the doorway, and a great flame of the sunset, shooting in under
the eaves of the porch, enveloped her from her head, with its
thick, moist hair that hung low over her neck, to her slim feet,
setting a golden flash in the little steel buckles of her low
shoes. She had come to set the table for Annixter's supper.
Taken all aback by the suddenness of the encounter, Annixter
ejaculated an abrupt and senseless, "Excuse me." But Hilma,
without raising her eyes, passed on unmoved into the dining-room,
leaving Annixter trying to find his breath, and fumbling with the
brim of his hat, that he was surprised to find he had taken from
his head. Resolutely, and taking a quick advantage of his
opportunity, he followed her into the dining-room.
"I see that dog has turned up," he announced with brisk
cheerfulness. "That Irish setter I was asking about."
Hilma, a swift, pink flush deepening the delicate rose of her
cheeks, did not reply, except by nodding her head. She flung the
table-cloth out from under her arms across the table, spreading
it smooth, with quick little caresses of her hands. There was a
moment's silence. Then Annixter said:
"Here's a letter for you." He laid it down on the table near
her, and Hilma picked it up. "And see here, Miss Hilma,"
Annixter continued, "about that--this morning--I suppose you
think I am a first-class mucker. If it will do any good to
apologise, why, I will. I want to be friends with you. I made a
bad mistake, and started in the wrong way. I don't know much
about women people. I want you to forget about that--this
morning, and not think I am a galoot and a mucker. Will you do
it? Will you be friends with me?"
Hilma set the plate and coffee cup by Annixter's place before
answering, and Annixter repeated his question. Then she drew a
deep, quick breath, the flush in her cheeks returning.
"I think it was--it was so wrong of you," she murmured. "Oh!
you don't know how it hurt me. I cried--oh, for an hour."
"Well, that's just it," returned Annixter vaguely, moving his
head uneasily. "I didn't know what kind of a girl you were--I
mean, I made a mistake. I thought it didn't make much
difference. I thought all feemales were about alike."
"I hope you know now," murmured Hilma ruefully. "I've paid
enough to have you find out. I cried--you don't know. Why, it
hurt me worse than anything I can remember. I hope you know
"Well, I do know now," he exclaimed.
"It wasn't so much that you tried to do--what you did," answered
Hilma, the single deep swell from her waist to her throat rising
and falling in her emotion. "It was that you thought that you
could--that anybody could that wanted to--that I held myself so
cheap. Oh!" she cried, with a sudden sobbing catch in her
throat, "I never can forget it, and you don't know what it means
to a girl."
"Well, that's just what I do want," he repeated. "I want you to
forget it and have us be good friends."
In his embarrassment, Annixter could think of no other words. He
kept reiterating again and again during the pauses of the
"I want you to forget it. Will you? Will you forget it--that--
this morning, and have us be good friends?"
He could see that her trouble was keen. He was astonished that
the matter should be so grave in her estimation. After all, what
was it that a girl should be kissed? But he wanted to regain his
lost ground.
"Will you forget it, Miss Hilma? I want you to like me."
She took a clean napkin from the sideboard drawer and laid it
down by the plate.
"I--I do want you to like me," persisted Annixter. "I want you
to forget all about this business and like me."
Hilma was silent. Annixter saw the tears in her eyes.
"How about that? Will you forget it? Will you--will--will you
LIKE me?"
She shook her head.
"No," she said.
"No what? You won't like me? Is that it?"
Hilma, blinking at the napkin through her tears, nodded to say,
Yes, that was it. Annixter hesitated a moment, frowning,
harassed and perplexed.
"You don't like me at all, hey?"
At length Hilma found her speech. In her low voice, lower and
more velvety than ever, she said:
"No--I don't like you at all."
Then, as the tears suddenly overpowered her, she dashed a hand
across her eyes, and ran from the room and out of doors.
Annixter stood for a moment thoughtful, his protruding lower lip
thrust out, his hands in his pocket.
"I suppose she'll quit now," he muttered. "Suppose she'll leave
the ranch--if she hates me like that. Well, she can go--that's
all--she can go. Fool feemale girl," he muttered between his
teeth, "petticoat mess."
He was about to sit down to his supper when his eye fell upon the
Irish setter, on his haunches in the doorway. There was an
expectant, ingratiating look on the dog's face. No doubt, he
suspected it was time for eating.
"Get out--YOU!" roared Annixter in a tempest of wrath.
The dog slunk back, his tail shut down close, his ears drooping,
but instead of running away, he lay down and rolled supinely upon
his back, the very image of submission, tame, abject, disgusting.
It was the one thing to drive Annixter to a fury. He kicked the
dog off the porch in a rolling explosion of oaths, and flung
himself down to his seat before the table, fuming and panting.
"Damn the dog and the girl and the whole rotten business--and
now," he exclaimed, as a sudden fancied qualm arose in his
stomach, "now, it's all made me sick. Might have known it. Oh,
it only lacked that to wind up the whole day. Let her go, I
don't care, and the sooner the better."
He countermanded the supper and went to bed before it was dark,
lighting his lamp, on the chair near the head of the bed, and
opening his "Copperfield" at the place marked by the strip of
paper torn from the bag of prunes. For upward of an hour he read
the novel, methodically swallowing one prune every time he
reached the bottom of a page. About nine o'clock he blew out the
lamp and, punching up his pillow, settled himself for the night.
Then, as his mind relaxed in that strange, hypnotic condition
that comes just before sleep, a series of pictures of the day's
doings passed before his imagination like the roll of a
First, it was Hilma Tree, as he had seen her in the dairy-house--
charming, delicious, radiant of youth, her thick, white neck with
its pale amber shadows under the chin; her wide, open eyes rimmed
with fine, black lashes; the deep swell of her breast and hips,
the delicate, lustrous floss on her cheek, impalpable as the
pollen of a flower. He saw her standing there in the
scintillating light of the morning, her smooth arms wet with
milk, redolent and fragrant of milk, her whole, desirable figure
moving in the golden glory of the sun, steeped in a lambent
flame, saturated with it, glowing with it, joyous as the dawn
Then it was Los Muertos and Hooven, the sordid little Dutchman,
grimed with the soil he worked in, yet vividly remembering a
period of military glory, exciting himself with recollections of
Gravelotte and the Kaiser, but contented now in the country of
his adoption, defining the Fatherland as the place where wife and
children lived. Then came the ranch house of Los Muertos, under
the grove of cypress and eucalyptus, with its smooth, gravelled
driveway and well-groomed lawns; Mrs. Derrick with her wideopened
eyes, that so easily took on a look of uneasiness, of
innocence, of anxious inquiry, her face still pretty, her brown
hair that still retained so much of its brightness spread over
her chair back, drying in the sun; Magnus, erect as an officer of
cavalry, smooth-shaven, grey, thin-lipped, imposing, with his
hawk-like nose and forward-curling grey hair; Presley with his
dark face, delicate mouth and sensitive, loose lips, in corduroys
and laced boots, smoking cigarettes--an interesting figure,
suggestive of a mixed origin, morbid, excitable, melancholy,
brooding upon things that had no names. Then it was Bonneville,
with the gayety and confusion of Main Street, the whirring
electric cars, the zinc-sheathed telegraph poles, the buckboards
with squashes stowed under the seats; Ruggles in frock coat,
Stetson hat and shoe-string necktie, writing abstractedly upon
his blotting pad; Dyke, the engineer, big-boned. Powerful, deepvoiced,
good-natured, with his fine blonde beard and massive
arms, rehearsing the praises of his little daughter Sidney,
guided only by the one ambition that she should be educated at a
seminary, slipping a dime into the toe of her diminutive slipper,
then, later, overwhelmed with shame, slinking into S. Behrman's
office to mortgage his homestead to the heeler of the corporation
that had discharged him. By suggestion, Annixter saw S. Behrman,
too, fat, with a vast stomach, the check and neck meeting to form
a great, tremulous jowl, the roll of fat over his collar,
sprinkled with sparse, stiff hairs; saw his brown, round-topped
hat of varnished straw, the linen vest stamped with innumerable
interlocked horseshoes, the heavy watch chain, clinking against
the pearl vest buttons; invariably placid, unruffled, never
losing his temper, serene, unassailable, enthroned.
Then, at the end of all, it was the ranch again, seen in a last
brief glance before he had gone to bed; the fecundated earth,
calm at last, nursing the emplanted germ of life, ruddy with the
sunset, the horizons purple, the small clamour of the day lapsing
into quiet, the great, still twilight, building itself, domelike,
toward the zenith. The barn fowls were roosting in the
trees near the stable, the horses crunching their fodder in the
stalls, the day's work ceasing by slow degrees; and the priest,
the Spanish churchman, Father Sarria, relic of a departed regime,
kindly, benign, believing in all goodness, a lover of his fellows
and of dumb animals, yet, for all that, hurrying away in
confusion and discomfiture, carrying in one hand the vessels of
the Holy Communion and in the other a basket of game cocks.
It was high noon, and the rays of the sun, that hung poised
directly overhead in an intolerable white glory, fell straight as
plummets upon the roofs and streets of Guadalajara. The adobe
walls and sparse brick sidewalks of the drowsing town radiated
the heat in an oily, quivering shimmer. The leaves of the
eucalyptus trees around the Plaza drooped motionless, limp and
relaxed under the scorching, searching blaze. The shadows of
these trees had shrunk to their smallest circumference,
contracting close about the trunks. The shade had dwindled to
the breadth of a mere line. The sun was everywhere. The heat
exhaling from brick and plaster and metal met the heat that
steadily descended blanketwise and smothering, from the pale,
scorched sky. Only the lizards--they lived in chinks of the
crumbling adobe and in interstices of the sidewalk--remained
without, motionless, as if stuffed, their eyes closed to mere
slits, basking, stupefied with heat. At long intervals the
prolonged drone of an insect developed out of the silence,
vibrated a moment in a soothing, somnolent, long note, then
trailed slowly into the quiet again. Somewhere in the interior
of one of the 'dobe houses a guitar snored and hummed sleepily.
On the roof of the hotel a group of pigeons cooed incessantly
with subdued, liquid murmurs, very plaintive; a cat, perfectly
white, with a pink nose and thin, pink lips, dozed complacently
on a fence rail, full in the sun. In a corner of the Plaza three
hens wallowed in the baking hot dust their wings fluttering,
clucking comfortably.
And this was all. A Sunday repose prevailed the whole moribund
town, peaceful, profound. A certain pleasing numbness, a sense
of grateful enervation exhaled from the scorching plaster. There
was no movement, no sound of human business. The faint hum of
the insect, the intermittent murmur of the guitar, the mellow
complainings of the pigeons, the prolonged purr of the white cat,
the contented clucking of the hens--all these noises mingled
together to form a faint, drowsy bourdon, prolonged, stupefying,
suggestive of an infinite quiet, of a calm, complacent life,
centuries old, lapsing gradually to its end under the gorgeous
loneliness of a cloudless, pale blue sky and the steady fire of
an interminable sun.
In Solotari's Spanish-Mexican restaurant, Vanamee and Presley sat
opposite each other at one of the tables near the door, a bottle
of white wine, tortillas, and an earthen pot of frijoles between
them. They were the sole occupants of the place. It was the day
that Annixter had chosen for his barn-dance and, in consequence,
Quien Sabe was in fete and work suspended. Presley and Vanamee
had arranged to spend the day in each other's company, lunching
at Solotari's and taking a long tramp in the afternoon. For the
moment they sat back in their chairs, their meal all but
finished. Solotari brought black coffee and a small carafe of
mescal, and retiring to a corner of the room, went to sleep.
All through the meal Presley had been wondering over a certain
change he observed in his friend. He looked at him again.
Vanamee's lean, spare face was of an olive pallor. His long,
black hair, such as one sees in the saints and evangelists of the
pre-Raphaelite artists, hung over his ears. Presley again
remarked his pointed beard, black and fine, growing from the
hollow cheeks. He looked at his face, a face like that of a
young seer, like a half-inspired shepherd of the Hebraic legends,
a dweller in the wilderness, gifted with strange powers. He was
dressed as when Presley had first met him, herding his sheep, in
brown canvas overalls, thrust into top boots; grey flannel shirt,
open at the throat, showing the breast ruddy with tan; the waist
encircled with a cartridge belt, empty of cartridges.
But now, as Presley took more careful note of him, he was
surprised to observe a certain new look in Vanamee's deep-set
eyes. He remembered now that all through the morning Vanamee had
been singularly reserved. He was continually drifting into
reveries, abstracted, distrait. Indubitably, something of moment
had happened.
At length Vanamee spoke. Leaning back in his chair, his thumbs
in his belt, his bearded chin upon his breast, his voice was the
even monotone of one speaking in his sleep.
He told Presley in a few words what had happened during the first
night he had spent in the garden of the old Mission, of the
Answer, half-fancied, half-real, that had come to him.
"To no other person but you would I speak of this," he said, "but
you, I think, will understand--will be sympathetic, at least, and
I feel the need of unburdening myself of it to some one. At
first I would not trust my own senses. I was sure I had deceived
myself, but on a second night it happened again. Then I was
afraid--or no, not afraid, but disturbed--oh, shaken to my very
heart's core. I resolved to go no further in the matter, never
again to put it to test. For a long time I stayed away from the
Mission, occupying myself with my work, keeping it out of my
mind. But the temptation was too strong. One night I found
myself there again, under the black shadow of the pear trees
calling for Angele, summoning her from out the dark, from out the
night. This time the Answer was prompt, unmistakable. I cannot
explain to you what it was, nor how it came to me, for there was
no sound. I saw absolutely nothing but the empty night. There
was no moon. But somewhere off there over the little valley, far
off, the darkness was troubled; that ME that went out upon my
thought--out from the Mission garden, out over the valley,
calling for her, searching for her, found, I don't know what, but
found a resting place--a companion. Three times since then I
have gone to the Mission garden at night. Last night was the
third time."
He paused, his eyes shining with excitement. Presley leaned
forward toward him, motionless with intense absorption.
"Well--and last night," he prompted.
Vanamee stirred in his seat, his glance fell, he drummed an
instant upon the table.
"Last night," he answered, "there was--there was a change. The
Answer was--" he drew a deep breath--"nearer."
"You are sure?"
The other smiled with absolute certainty.
"It was not that I found the Answer sooner, easier. I could not
be mistaken. No, that which has troubled the darkness, that
which has entered into the empty night--is coming nearer to me--
physically nearer, actually nearer."
His voice sank again. His face like the face of younger
prophets, the seers, took on a half-inspired expression. He
looked vaguely before him with unseeing eyes.
"Suppose," he murmured, "suppose I stand there under the pear
trees at night and call her again and again, and each time the
Answer comes nearer and nearer and I wait until at last one
night, the supreme night of all, she--she----"
Suddenly the tension broke. With a sharp cry and a violent
uncertain gesture of the hand Vanamee came to himself.
"Oh," he exclaimed, "what is it? Do I dare? What does it mean?
There are times when it appals me and there are times when it
thrills me with a sweetness and a happiness that I have not known
since she died. The vagueness of it! How can I explain it to
you, this that happens when I call to her across the night--that
faint, far-off, unseen tremble in the darkness, that intangible,
scarcely perceptible stir. Something neither heard nor seen,
appealing to a sixth sense only. Listen, it is something like
this: On Quien Sabe, all last week, we have been seeding the
earth. The grain is there now under the earth buried in the
dark, in the black stillness, under the clods. Can you imagine
the first--the very first little quiver of life that the grain of
wheat must feel after it is sown, when it answers to the call of
the sun, down there in the dark of the earth, blind, deaf; the
very first stir from the inert, long, long before any physical
change has occurred,--long before the microscope could discover
the slightest change,--when the shell first tightens with the
first faint premonition of life? Well, it is something as
illusive as that." He paused again, dreaming, lost in a reverie,
then, just above a whisper, murmured:
"'That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die,' . . .
and she, Angele . . . died."
"You could not have been mistaken?" said Presley. "You were sure
that there was something? Imagination can do so much and the
influence of the surroundings was strong. How impossible it
would be that anything SHOULD happen. And you say you heard
nothing, saw nothing."
"I believe," answered Vanamee, "in a sixth sense, or, rather, a
whole system of other unnamed senses beyond the reach of our
understanding. People who live much alone and close to nature
experience the sensation of it. Perhaps it is something
fundamental that we share with plants and animals. The same
thing that sends the birds south long before the first colds, the
same thing that makes the grain of wheat struggle up to meet the
sun. And this sense never deceives. You may see wrong, hear
wrong, but once touch this sixth sense and it acts with absolute
fidelity, you are certain. No, I hear nothing in the Mission
garden. I see nothing, nothing touches me, but I am CERTAIN for
all that."
Presley hesitated for a moment, then he asked:
"Shall you go back to the garden again? Make the test again?"
"I don't know."
"Strange enough," commented Presley, wondering.
Vanamee sank back in his chair, his eyes growing vacant again:
"Strange enough," he murmured.
There was a long silence. Neither spoke nor moved. There, in
that moribund, ancient town, wrapped in its siesta, flagellated
with heat, deserted, ignored, baking in a noon-day silence, these
two strange men, the one a poet by nature, the other by training,
both out of tune with their world, dreamers, introspective,
morbid, lost and unfamiliar at that end-of-the-century time,
searching for a sign, groping and baffled amidst the perplexing
obscurity of the Delusion, sat over empty wine glasses, silent
with the pervading silence that surrounded them, hearing only the
cooing of doves and the drone of bees, the quiet so profound,
that at length they could plainly distinguish at intervals the
puffing and coughing of a locomotive switching cars in the
station yard of Bonneville.
It was, no doubt, this jarring sound that at length roused
Presley from his lethargy. The two friends rose; Solotari very
sleepily came forward; they paid for the luncheon, and stepping
out into the heat and glare of the streets of the town, passed on
through it and took the road that led northward across a corner
of Dyke's hop fields. They were bound for the hills in the
northeastern corner of Quien Sabe. It was the same walk which
Presley had taken on the previous occasion when he had first met
Vanamee herding the sheep. This encompassing detour around the
whole country-side was a favorite pastime of his and he was
anxious that Vanamee should share his pleasure in it.
But soon after leaving Guadalajara, they found themselves upon
the land that Dyke had bought and upon which he was to raise his
famous crop of hops. Dyke's house was close at hand, a very
pleasant little cottage, painted white, with green blinds and
deep porches, while near it and yet in process of construction,
were two great storehouses and a drying and curing house, where
the hops were to be stored and treated. All about were evidences
that the former engineer had already been hard at work. The
ground had been put in readiness to receive the crop and a
bewildering, innumerable multitude of poles, connected with a
maze of wire and twine, had been set out. Farther on at a turn
of the road, they came upon Dyke himself, driving a farm wagon
loaded with more poles. He was in his shirt sleeves, his
massive, hairy arms bare to the elbow, glistening with sweat, red
with heat. In his bell-like, rumbling voice, he was calling to
his foreman and a boy at work in stringing the poles together.
At sight of Presley and Vanamee he hailed them jovially,
addressing them as "boys," and insisting that they should get
into the wagon with him and drive to the house for a glass of
beer. His mother had only the day before returned from
Marysville, where she had been looking up a seminary for the
little tad. She would be delighted to see the two boys; besides,
Vanamee must see how the little tad had grown since he last set
eyes on her; wouldn't know her for the same little girl; and the
beer had been on ice since morning. Presley and Vanamee could
not well refuse.
They climbed into the wagon and jolted over the uneven ground
through the bare forest of hop-poles to the house. Inside they
found Mrs. Dyke, an old lady with a very gentle face, who wore a
cap and a very old-fashioned gown with hoop skirts, dusting the
what-not in a corner of the parlor. The two men were presented
and the beer was had from off the ice.
"Mother," said Dyke, as he wiped the froth from his great blond
beard, "ain't Sid anywheres about? I want Mr. Vanamee to see how
she has grown. Smartest little tad in Tulare County, boys. Can
recite the whole of 'Snow Bound,' end to end, without skipping or
looking at the book. Maybe you don't believe that. Mother,
ain't I right--without skipping a line, hey?"
Mrs. Dyke nodded to say that it was so, but explained that Sidney
was in Guadalajara. In putting on her new slippers for the first
time the morning before, she had found a dime in the toe of one
of them and had had the whole house by the ears ever since till
she could spend it.
"Was it for licorice to make her licorice water?" inquired Dyke
"Yes," said Mrs. Dyke. "I made her tell me what she was going
to get before she went, and it was licorice."
Dyke, though his mother protested that he was foolish and that
Presley and Vanamee had no great interest in "young ones,"
insisted upon showing the visitors Sidney's copy-books. They
were monuments of laborious, elaborate neatness, the trite
moralities and ready-made aphorisms of the philanthropists and
publicists, repeated from page to page with wearying insistence.
"I, too, am an American Citizen. S. D.," "As the Twig is Bent
the Tree is Inclined," "Truth Crushed to Earth Will Rise Again,"
"As for Me, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," and last of all, a
strange intrusion amongst the mild, well-worn phrases, two
legends. "My motto--Public Control of Public Franchises," and "
The P. and S. W. is an Enemy of the State."
"I see," commented Presley, "you mean the little tad to
understand 'the situation' early."
"I told him he was foolish to give that to Sid to copy," said
Mrs. Dyke, with indulgent remonstrance. "What can she understand
of public franchises?"
"Never mind," observed Dyke, "she'll remember it when she grows
up and when the seminary people have rubbed her up a bit, and
then she'll begin to ask questions and understand. And don't you
make any mistake, mother," he went on, "about the little tad not
knowing who her dad's enemies are. What do you think, boys?
Listen, here. Precious little I've ever told her of the railroad
or how I was turned off, but the other day I was working down by
the fence next the railroad tracks and Sid was there. She'd
brought her doll rags down and she was playing house behind a
pile of hop poles. Well, along comes a through freight--mixed
train from Missouri points and a string of empties from New
Orleans,--and when it had passed, what do you suppose the tad
did? SHE didn't know I was watching her. She goes to the fence
and spits a little spit after the caboose and puts out her little
head and, if you'll believe me, HISSES at the train; and mother
says she does that same every time she sees a train go by, and
never crosses the tracks that she don't spit her little spit on
'em. What do you THINK of THAT?"
"But I correct her every time," protested Mrs. Dyke seriously.
"Where she picked up the trick of hissing I don't know. No, it's
not funny. It seems dreadful to see a little girl who's as sweet
and gentle as can be in every other way, so venomous. She says
the other little girls at school and the boys, too, are all the
same way. Oh, dear," she sighed, "why will the General Office be
so unkind and unjust? Why, I couldn't be happy, with all the
money in the world, if I thought that even one little child hated
me--hated me so that it would spit and hiss at me. And it's not
one child, it's all of them, so Sidney says; and think of all the
grown people who hate the road, women and men, the whole county,
the whole State, thousands and thousands of people. Don't the
managers and the directors of the road ever think of that? Don't
they ever think of all the hate that surrounds them, everywhere,
everywhere, and the good people that just grit their teeth when
the name of the road is mentioned? Why do they want to make the
people hate them? No," she murmured, the tears starting to her
eyes, "No, I tell you, Mr. Presley, the men who own the railroad
are wicked, bad-hearted men who don't care how much the poor
people suffer, so long as the road makes its eighteen million a
year. They don't care whether the people hate them or love them,
just so long as they are afraid of them. It's not right and God
will punish them sooner or later."
A little after this the two young men took themselves away, Dyke
obligingly carrying them in the wagon as far as the gate that
opened into the Quien Sabe ranch. On the way, Presley referred
to what Mrs. Dyke had said and led Dyke, himself, to speak of the
P. and S. W.
"Well," Dyke said, "it's like this, Mr. Presley. I, personally,
haven't got the right to kick. With you wheat-growing people I
guess it's different, but hops, you see, don't count for much in
the State. It's such a little business that the road don't want
to bother themselves to tax it. It's the wheat growers that the
road cinches. The rates on hops ARE FAIR. I've got to admit
that; I was in to Bonneville a while ago to find out. It's two
cents a pound, and Lord love you, that's reasonable enough to
suit any man. No," he concluded, "I'm on the way to make money
now. The road sacking me as they did was, maybe, a good thing
for me, after all. It came just at the right time. I had a bit
of money put by and here was the chance to go into hops with the
certainty that hops would quadruple and quintuple in price inside
the year. No, it was my chance, and though they didn't mean it
by a long chalk, the railroad people did me a good turn when they
gave me my time--and the tad'll enter the seminary next fall."
About a quarter of an hour after they had said goodbye to the
one-time engineer, Presley and Vanamee, tramping briskly along
the road that led northward through Quien Sabe, arrived at
Annixter's ranch house. At once they were aware of a vast and
unwonted bustle that revolved about the place. They stopped a
few moments looking on, amused and interested in what was going
The colossal barn was finished. Its freshly white-washed sides
glared intolerably in the sun, but its interior was as yet
innocent of paint and through the yawning vent of the sliding
doors came a delicious odour of new, fresh wood and shavings. A
crowd of men--Annixter's farm hands--were swarming all about it.
Some were balanced on the topmost rounds of ladders, hanging
festoons of Japanese lanterns from tree to tree, and all across
the front of the barn itself. Mrs. Tree, her daughter Hilma and
another woman were inside the barn cutting into long strips bolt
after bolt of red, white and blue cambric and directing how these
strips should be draped from the ceiling and on the walls;
everywhere resounded the tapping of tack hammers. A farm wagon
drove up loaded to overflowing with evergreens and with great
bundles of palm leaves, and these were immediately seized upon
and affixed as supplementary decorations to the tri-coloured
cambric upon the inside walls of the barn. Two of the larger
evergreen trees were placed on either side the barn door and
their tops bent over to form an arch. In the middle of this arch
it was proposed to hang a mammoth pasteboard escutcheon with gold
letters, spelling the word WELCOME. Piles of chairs, rented from
I.O.O.F. hall in Bonneville, heaped themselves in an apparently
hopeless entanglement on the ground; while at the far extremity
of the barn a couple of carpenters clattered about the impromptu
staging which was to accommodate the band.
There was a strenuous gayety in the air; everybody was in the
best of spirits. Notes of laughter continually interrupted the
conversation on every hand. At every moment a group of men
involved themselves in uproarious horse-play. They passed
oblique jokes behind their hands to each other--grossly veiled
double-meanings meant for the women--and bellowed with laughter
thereat, stamping on the ground. The relations between the sexes
grew more intimate, the women and girls pushing the young fellows
away from their sides with vigorous thrusts of their elbows. It
was passed from group to group that Adela Vacca, a division
superintendent's wife, had lost her garter; the daughter of the
foreman of the Home ranch was kissed behind the door of the
Annixter, in execrable temper, appeared from time to time,
hatless, his stiff yellow hair in wild disorder. He hurried
between the barn and the ranch house, carrying now a wickered
demijohn, now a case of wine, now a basket of lemons and
pineapples. Besides general supervision, he had elected to
assume the responsibility of composing the punch--something
stiff, by jingo, a punch that would raise you right out of your
boots; a regular hairlifter.
The harness room of the barn he had set apart for: himself and
intimates. He had brought a long table down from the house and
upon it had set out boxes of cigars, bottles of whiskey and of
beer and the great china bowls for the punch. It would be no
fault of his, he declared, if half the number of his men friends
were not uproarious before they left. His barn dance would be
the talk of all Tulare County for years to come. For this one
day he had resolved to put all thoughts of business out of his
head. For the matter of that, things were going well enough.
Osterman was back from Los Angeles with a favourable report as to
his affair with Disbrow and Darrell. There had been another
meeting of the committee. Harran Derrick had attended. Though
he had taken no part in the discussion, Annixter was satisfied.
The Governor had consented to allow Harran to "come in," if he so
desired, and Harran had pledged himself to share one-sixth of the
campaign expenses, providing these did not exceed a certain
As Annixter came to the door of the barn to shout abuse at the
distraught Chinese cook who was cutting up lemons in the kitchen,
he caught sight of Presley and Vanamee and hailed them.
"Hello, Pres," he called. "Come over here and see how she
looks;" he indicated the barn with a movement of his head.
"Well, we're getting ready for you tonight," he went on as the
two friends came up. "But how we are going to get straightened
out by eight o'clock I don't know. Would you believe that pip
Caraher is short of lemons--at this last minute and I told him
I'd want three cases of 'em as much as a month ago, and here,
just when I want a good lively saddle horse to get around on,
somebody hikes the buckskin out the corral. STOLE her, by jingo.
I'll have the law on that thief if it breaks me--and a sixtydollar
saddle 'n' head-stall gone with her; and only about half
the number of Jap lanterns that I ordered have shown up and not
candles enough for those. It's enough to make a dog sick.
There's nothing done that you don't do yourself, unless you stand
over these loafers with a club. I'm sick of the whole business--
and I've lost my hat; wish to God I'd never dreamed of givin'
this rotten fool dance. Clutter the whole place up with a lot of
feemales. I sure did lose my presence of mind when I got THAT
Then, ignoring the fact that it was he, himself, who had called
the young men to him, he added:
"Well, this is my busy day. Sorry I can't stop and talk to you
He shouted a last imprecation at the Chinaman and turned back
into the barn. Presley and Vanamee went on, but Annixter, as he
crossed the floor of the barn, all but collided with Hilma Tree,
who came out from one of the stalls, a box of candles in her
Gasping out an apology, Annixter reentered the harness room,
closing the door behind him, and forgetting all the
responsibility of the moment, lit a cigar and sat down in one of
the hired chairs, his hands in his pockets, his feet on the
table, frowning thoughtfully through the blue smoke.
Annixter was at last driven to confess to himself that he could
not get the thought of Hilma Tree out of his mind. Finally she
had "got a hold on him." The thing that of all others he most
dreaded had happened. A feemale girl had got a hold on him, and
now there was no longer for him any such thing as peace of mind.
The idea of the young woman was with him continually. He went to
bed with it; he got up with it. At every moment of the day he
was pestered with it. It interfered with his work, got mixed up
in his business. What a miserable confession for a man to make;
a fine way to waste his time. Was it possible that only the
other day he had stood in front of the music store in Bonneville
and seriously considered making Hilma a present of a music-box?
Even now, the very thought of it made him flush with shame, and
this after she had told him plainly that she did not like him.
He was running after her--he, Annixter! He ripped out a furious
oath, striking the table with his boot heel. Again and again he
had resolved to put the whole affair from out his mind. Once he
had been able to do so, but of late it was becoming harder and
harder with every successive day. He had only to close his eyes
to see her as plain as if she stood before him; he saw her in a
glory of sunlight that set a fine tinted lustre of pale carnation
and gold on the silken sheen of her white skin, her hair sparkled
with it, her thick, strong neck, sloping to her shoulders with
beautiful, full curves, seemed to radiate the light; her eyes,
brown, wide, innocent in expression, disclosing the full disc of
the pupil upon the slightest provocation, flashed in this
sunlight like diamonds.
Annixter was all bewildered. With the exception of the timid
little creature in the glove-cleaning establishment in
Sacramento, he had had no acquaintance with any woman. His world
was harsh, crude, a world of men only--men who were to be
combatted, opposed--his hand was against nearly every one of
them. Women he distrusted with the instinctive distrust of the
overgrown schoolboy. Now, at length, a young woman had come into
his life. Promptly he was struck with discomfiture, annoyed
almost beyond endurance, harassed, bedevilled, excited, made
angry and exasperated. He was suspicious of the woman, yet
desired her, totally ignorant of how to approach her, hating the
sex, yet drawn to the individual, confusing the two emotions,
sometimes even hating Hilma as a result of this confusion, but at
all times disturbed, vexed, irritated beyond power of expression.
At length, Annixter cast his cigar from him and plunged again
into the work of the day. The afternoon wore to evening, to the
accompaniment of wearying and clamorous endeavour. In some
unexplained fashion, the labour of putting the great barn in
readiness for the dance was accomplished; the last bolt of
cambric was hung in place from the rafters. The last evergreen
tree was nailed to the joists of the walls; the last lantern
hung, the last nail driven into the musicians' platform. The sun
set. There was a great scurry to have supper and dress.
Annixter, last of all the other workers, left the barn in the
dusk of twilight. He was alone; he had a saw under one arm, a
bag of tools was in his hand. He was in his shirt sleeves and
carried his coat over his shoulder; a hammer was thrust into one
of his hip pockets. He was in execrable temper. The day's work
had fagged him out. He had not been able to find his hat.
"And the buckskin with sixty dollars' worth of saddle gone, too,"
he groaned. "Oh, ain't it sweet?"
At his house, Mrs. Tree had set out a cold supper for him, the
inevitable dish of prunes serving as dessert. After supper
Annixter bathed and dressed. He decided at the last moment to
wear his usual town-going suit, a sack suit of black, made by a
Bonneville tailor. But his hat was gone. There were other hats
he might have worn, but because this particular one was lost he
fretted about it all through his dressing and then decided to
have one more look around the barn for it.
For over a quarter of an hour he pottered about the barn, going
from stall to stall, rummaging the harness room and feed room,
all to no purpose. At last he came out again upon the main
floor, definitely giving up the search, looking about him to see
if everything was in order.
The festoons of Japanese lanterns in and around the, barn were
not yet lighted, but some half-dozen lamps, with great, tin
reflectors, that hung against the walls, were burning low. A
dull half light pervaded the vast interior, hollow, echoing,
leaving the corners and roof thick with impenetrable black
shadows. The barn faced the west and through the open sliding
doors was streaming a single bright bar from the after-glow,
incongruous and out of all harmony with the dull flare of the
kerosene lamps.
As Annixter glanced about him, he saw a figure step briskly out
of the shadows of one corner of the building, pause for the
fraction of one instant in the bar of light, then, at sight of
him, dart back again. There was a sound of hurried footsteps.
Annixter, with recollections of the stolen buckskin in his mind,
cried out sharply:
"Who's there?"
There was no answer. In a second his pistol was in his hand.
"Who's there? Quick, speak up or I'll shoot."
"No, no, no, don't shoot," cried an answering voice. "Oh, be
careful. It's I--Hilma Tree."
Annixter slid the pistol into his pocket with a great qualm of
apprehension. He came forward and met Hilma in the doorway.
"Good Lord," he murmured, "that sure did give me a start. If I
HAD shot----"
Hilma stood abashed and confused before him. She was dressed in
a white organdie frock of the most rigorous simplicity and wore
neither flower nor ornament. The severity of her dress made her
look even larger than usual, and even as it was her eyes were on
a level with Annixter's. There was a certain fascination in the
contradiction of stature and character of Hilma--a great girl,
half-child as yet, but tall as a man for all that.
There was a moment's awkward silence, then Hilma explained:
"I--I came back to look for my hat. I thought I left it here
this afternoon."
"And I was looking for my hat," cried Annixter. "Funny enough,
They laughed at this as heartily as children might have done.
The constraint of the situation was a little relaxed and
Annixter, with sudden directness, glanced sharply at the young
woman and demanded:
"Well, Miss Hilma, hate me as much as ever?"
"Oh, no, sir," she answered, "I never said I hated you."
"Well,--dislike me, then; I know you said that."
"I--I disliked what you did--TRIED to do. It made me angry and
it hurt me. I shouldn't have said what I did that time, but it
was your fault."
"You mean you shouldn't have said you didn't like me?" asked
Annixter. "Why?"
"Well, well,--I don't--I don't DISlike anybody," admitted Hilma.
"Then I can take it that you don't dislike ME? Is that it?"
"I don't dislike anybody," persisted Hilma.
"Well, I asked you more than that, didn't I?" queried Annixter
uneasily. "I asked you to like me, remember, the other day. I'm
asking you that again, now. I want you to like me."
Hilma lifted her eyes inquiringly to his. In her words was an
unmistakable ring of absolute sincerity. Innocently she
Annixter was struck speechless. In the face of such candour,
such perfect ingenuousness, he was at a loss for any words.
"Well--well," he stammered, "well--I don't know," he suddenly
burst out. "That is," he went on, groping for his wits, "I can't
quite say why." The idea of a colossal lie occurred to him, a
thing actually royal.
"I like to have the people who are around me like me," he
declared. "I--I like to be popular, understand? Yes, that's
it," he continued, more reassured. "I don't like the idea of any
one disliking me. That's the way I am. It's my nature."
"Oh, then," returned Hilma, "you needn't bother. No, I don't
dislike you."
"Well, that's good," declared Annixter judicially. "That's good.
But hold on," he interrupted, "I'm forgetting. It's not enough
to not dislike me. I want you to like me. How about THAT?"
Hilma paused for a moment, glancing vaguely out of the doorway
toward the lighted window of the dairy-house, her head tilted.
"I don't know that I ever thought about that," she said.
"Well, think about it now," insisted Annixter.
"But I never thought about liking anybody particularly," she
observed. "It's because I like everybody, don't you see?"
"Well, you've got to like some people more than other people,"
hazarded Annixter, "and I want to be one of those 'some people,'
savvy? Good Lord, I don't know how to say these fool things. I
talk like a galoot when I get talking to feemale girls and I
can't lay my tongue to anything that sounds right. It isn't my
nature. And look here, I lied when I said I liked to have people
like me--to be popular. Rot! I don't care a curse about
people's opinions of me. But there's a few people that are more
to me than most others--that chap Presley, for instance--and
those people I DO want to have like me. What they think counts.
Pshaw! I know I've got enemies; piles of them. I could name you
half a dozen men right now that are naturally itching to take a
shot at me. How about this ranch? Don't I know, can't I hear
the men growling oaths under their breath after I've gone by?
And in business ways, too," he went on, speaking half to himself,
"in Bonneville and all over the county there's not a man of them
wouldn't howl for joy if they got a chance to down Buck Annixter.
Think I care? Why, I LIKE it. I run my ranch to suit myself
and I play my game my own way. I'm a 'driver,' I know it, and a
'bully,' too. Oh, I know what they call me--'a brute beast, with
a twist in my temper that would rile up a new-born lamb,' and I'm
'crusty' and 'pig-headed' and 'obstinate.' They say all that, but
they've got to say, too, that I'm cleverer than any man-jack in
the running. There's nobody can get ahead of me." His eyes
snapped. "Let 'em grind their teeth. They can't 'down' me.
When I shut my fist there's not one of them can open it. No, not
with a CHISEL." He turned to Hilma again. "Well, when a man's
hated as much as that, it stands to reason, don't it, Miss Hilma,
that the few friends he has got he wants to keep? I'm not such
an entire swine to the people that know me best--that jackass,
Presley, for instance. I'd put my hand in the fire to do him a
real service. Sometimes I get kind of lonesome; wonder if you
would understand? It's my fault, but there's not a horse about
the place that don't lay his ears back when I get on him; there's
not a dog don't put his tail between his legs as soon as I come
near him. The cayuse isn't foaled yet here on Quien Sabe that
can throw me, nor the dog whelped that would dare show his teeth
at me. I kick that Irish setter every time I see him--but wonder
what I'd do, though, if he didn't slink so much, if he wagged his
tail and was glad to see me? So it all comes to this: I'd like
to have you--well, sort of feel that I was a good friend of yours
and like me because of it."
The flame in the lamp on the wall in front of Hilma stretched
upward tall and thin and began to smoke. She went over to where
the lamp hung and, standing on tip-toe, lowered the wick. As she
reached her hand up, Annixter noted how the sombre, lurid red of
the lamp made a warm reflection on her smooth, round arm.
"Do you understand?" he queried.
"Yes, why, yes," she answered, turning around. "It's very good
of you to want to be a friend of mine. I didn't think so,
though, when you tried to kiss me. But maybe it's all right
since you've explained things. You see I'm different from you.
I like everybody to like me and I like to like everybody. It
makes one so much happier. You wouldn't believe it, but you
ought to try it, sir, just to see. It's so good to be good to
people and to have people good to you. And everybody has always
been so good to me. Mamma and papa, of course, and Billy, the
stableman, and Montalegre, the Portugee foreman, and the Chinese
cook, even, and Mr. Delaney--only he went away--and Mrs. Vacca
and her little----"
"Delaney, hey?" demanded Annixter abruptly. "You and he were
pretty good friends, were you?"
"Oh, yes," she answered. "He was just as GOOD to me. Every day
in the summer time he used to ride over to the Seed ranch back of
the Mission and bring me a great armful of flowers, the prettiest
things, and I used to pretend to pay him for them with dollars
made of cheese that I cut out of the cheese with a biscuit
cutter. It was such fun. We were the best of friends."
"There's another lamp smoking," growled Annixter. "Turn it down,
will you?--and see that somebody sweeps this floor here. It's
all littered up with pine needles. I've got a lot to do. Goodbye."
"Good-bye, sir."
Annixter returned to the ranch house, his teeth clenched,
enraged, his face flushed.
"Ah," he muttered, "Delaney, hey? Throwing it up to me that I
fired him." His teeth gripped together more fiercely than ever.
"The best of friends, hey? By God, I'll have that girl yet.
I'll show that cow-puncher. Ain't I her employer, her boss?
I'll show her--and Delaney, too. It would be easy enough--and
then Delaney can have her--if he wants her--after me."
An evil light flashing from under his scowl, spread over his
face. The male instincts of possession, unreasoned, treacherous,
oblique, came twisting to the surface. All the lower nature of
the man, ignorant of women, racked at one and the same time with
enmity and desire, roused itself like a hideous and abominable
beast. And at the same moment, Hilma returned to her house,
humming to herself as she walked, her white dress glowing with a
shimmer of faint saffron light in the last ray of the after-glow.
A little after half-past seven, the first carry-all, bearing the
druggist of Bonneville and his women-folk, arrived in front of
the new barn. Immediately afterward an express wagon loaded down
with a swarming family of Spanish-Mexicans, gorgeous in red and
yellow colours, followed. Billy, the stableman, and his
assistant took charge of the teams, unchecking the horses and
hitching them to a fence back of the barn. Then Caraher, the
saloon-keeper, in "derby" hat, "Prince Albert" coat, pointed
yellow shoes and inevitable red necktie, drove into the yard on
his buckboard, the delayed box of lemons under the seat. It
looked as if the whole array of invited guests was to arrive in
one unbroken procession, but for a long half-hour nobody else
appeared. Annixter and Caraher withdrew to the harness room and
promptly involved themselves in a wrangle as to the make-up of
the famous punch. From time to time their voices could be heard
uplifted in clamorous argument.
"Two quarts and a half and a cupful of chartreuse."
"Rot, rot, I know better. Champagne straight and a dash of
The druggist's wife and sister retired to the feed room, where a
bureau with a swinging mirror had been placed for the convenience
of the women. The druggist stood awkwardly outside the door of
the feed room, his coat collar turned up against the draughts
that drifted through the barn, his face troubled, debating
anxiously as to the propriety of putting on his gloves. The
Spanish-Mexican family, a father, mother and five children and
sister-in-law, sat rigid on the edges of the hired chairs,
silent, constrained, their eyes lowered, their elbows in at their
sides, glancing furtively from under their eyebrows at the
decorations or watching with intense absorption young Vacca, son
of one of the division superintendents, who wore a checked coat
and white thread gloves and who paced up and down the length of
the barn, frowning, very important, whittling a wax candle over
the floor to make it slippery for dancing.
The musicians arrived, the City Band of Bonneville--Annixter
having managed to offend the leader of the "Dirigo" Club
orchestra, at the very last moment, to such a point that he had
refused his services. These members of the City Band repaired at
once to their platform in the corner. At every instant they
laughed uproariously among themselves, joshing one of their
number, a Frenchman, whom they called "Skeezicks." Their
hilarity reverberated in a hollow, metallic roll among the
rafters overhead. The druggist observed to young Vacca as he
passed by that he thought them pretty fresh, just the same.
"I'm busy, I'm very busy," returned the young man, continuing on
his way, still frowning and paring the stump of candle.
"Two quarts 'n' a half. Two quarts 'n' a half."
"Ah, yes, in a way, that's so; and then, again, in a way, it
ISN'T. I know better."
All along one side of the barn were a row of stalls, fourteen of
them, clean as yet, redolent of new cut wood, the sawdust still
in the cracks of the flooring. Deliberately the druggist went
from one to the other, pausing contemplatively before each. He
returned down the line and again took up his position by the door
of the feed room, nodding his head judicially, as if satisfied.
He decided to put on his gloves.
By now it was quite dark. Outside, between the barn and the
ranch houses one could see a group of men on step-ladders
lighting the festoons of Japanese lanterns. In the darkness,
only their faces appeared here and there, high above the ground,
seen in a haze of red, strange, grotesque. Gradually as the
multitude of lanterns were lit, the light spread. The grass
underfoot looked like green excelsior. Another group of men
invaded the barn itself, lighting the lamps and lanterns there.
Soon the whole place was gleaming with points of light. Young
Vacca, who had disappeared, returned with his pockets full of wax
candles. He resumed his whittling, refusing to answer any
questions, vociferating that he was busy.
Outside there was a sound of hoofs and voices. More guests had
arrived. The druggist, seized with confusion, terrified lest he
had put on his gloves too soon, thrust his hands into his
pockets. It was Cutter, Magnus Derrick's division
superintendent, who came, bringing his wife and her two girl
cousins. They had come fifteen miles by the trail from the far
distant division house on "Four" of Los Muertos and had ridden on
horseback instead of driving. Mrs. Cutter could be heard
declaring that she was nearly dead and felt more like going to
bed than dancing. The two girl cousins, in dresses of dotted
Swiss over blue sateen, were doing their utmost to pacify her.
She could be heard protesting from moment to moment. One
distinguished the phrases "straight to my bed," "back nearly
broken in two," "never wanted to come in the first place." The
druggist, observing Cutter take a pair of gloves from Mrs.
Cutter's reticule, drew his hands from his pockets.
But abruptly there was an interruption. In the musicians' corner
a scuffle broke out. A chair was overturned. There was a noise
of imprecations mingled with shouts of derision. Skeezicks, the
Frenchman, had turned upon the joshers.
"Ah, no," he was heard to exclaim, "at the end of the end it is
too much. Kind of a bad canary--we will go to see about that.
Aha, let him close up his face before I demolish it with a good
stroke of the fist."
The men who were lighting the lanterns were obliged to intervene
before he could be placated.
Hooven and his wife and daughters arrived. Minna was carrying
little Hilda, already asleep, in her arms. Minna looked very
pretty, striking even, with her black hair, pale face, very red
lips and greenish-blue eyes. She was dressed in what had been
Mrs. Hooven's wedding gown, a cheap affair of "farmer's satin."
Mrs. Hooven had pendent earrings of imitation jet in her ears.
Hooven was wearing an old frock coat of Magnus Derrick's, the
sleeves too long, the shoulders absurdly too wide. He and Cutter
at once entered into an excited conversation as to the ownership
of a certain steer.
"Why, the brand----"
"Ach, Gott, der brendt," Hooven clasped his head, "ach, der
brendt, dot maks me laugh some laughs. Dot's goot--der brendt--
doand I see um--shoor der boole mit der bleck star bei der vorehead
in der middle oaf. Any someones you esk tell you dot is
mein boole. You esk any someones. Der brendt? To hell mit der
brendt. You aindt got some memorie aboudt does ting I guess
"Please step aside, gentlemen," said young Vacca, who was still
making the rounds of the floor.
Hooven whirled about. "Eh? What den," he exclaimed, still
excited, willing to be angry at any one for the moment. "Doand
you push soh, you. I tink berhapz you doand OWN dose barn, hey?"
"I'm busy, I'm very busy." The young man pushed by with grave
"Two quarts 'n' a half. Two quarts 'n' a half."
"I know better. That's all rot."
But the barn was filling up rapidly. At every moment there was a
rattle of a newly arrived vehicle from outside. Guest after
guest appeared in the doorway, singly or in couples, or in
families, or in garrulous parties of five and six. Now it was
Phelps and his mother from Los Muertos, now a foreman from
Broderson's with his family, now a gayly apparelled clerk from a
Bonneville store, solitary and bewildered, looking for a place to
put his hat, now a couple of Spanish-Mexican girls from
Guadalajara with coquettish effects of black and yellow about
their dress, now a group of Osterman's tenants, Portuguese,
swarthy, with plastered hair and curled mustaches, redolent of
cheap perfumes. Sarria arrived, his smooth, shiny face
glistening with perspiration. He wore a new cassock and carried
his broad-brimmed hat under his arm. His appearance made quite a
stir. He passed from group to group, urbane, affable, shaking
hands right and left; he assumed a set smile of amiability which
never left his face the whole evening.
But abruptly there was a veritable sensation. From out the
little crowd that persistently huddled about the doorway came
Osterman. He wore a dress-suit with a white waistcoat and patent
leather pumps--what a wonder! A little qualm of excitement
spread around the barn. One exchanged nudges of the elbow with
one's neighbour, whispering earnestly behind the hand. What
astonishing clothes! Catch on to the coat-tails! It was a
masquerade costume, maybe; that goat Osterman was such a josher,
one never could tell what he would do next.
The musicians began to tune up. From their corner came a medley
of mellow sounds, the subdued chirps of the violins, the dull
bourdon of the bass viol, the liquid gurgling of the flageolet
and the deep-toned snarl of the big horn, with now and then a
rasping stridulating of the snare drum. A sense of gayety began
to spread throughout the assembly. At every moment the crowd
increased. The aroma of new-sawn timber and sawdust began to be
mingled with the feminine odour of sachet and flowers. There was
a babel of talk in the air--male baritone and soprano chatter--
varied by an occasional note of laughter and the swish of stiffly
starched petticoats. On the row of chairs that went around three
sides of the wall groups began to settle themselves. For a long
time the guests huddled close to the doorway; the lower end of
the floor was crowded! the upper end deserted; but by degrees
the lines of white muslin and pink and blue sateen extended,
dotted with the darker figures of men in black suits. The
conversation grew louder as the timidity of the early moments
wore off. Groups at a distance called back and forth;
conversations were carried on at top voice. Once, even a whole
party hurried across the floor from one side of the barn to the
Annixter emerged from the harness room, his face red with
wrangling. He took a position to the right of the door, shaking
hands with newcomers, inviting them over and over again to cut
loose and whoop it along. Into the ears of his more intimate
male acquaintances he dropped a word as to punch and cigars in
the harness room later on, winking with vast intelligence.
Ranchers from remoter parts of the country appeared: Garnett,
from the Ruby rancho, Keast, from the ranch of the same name,
Gethings, of the San Pablo, Chattern, of the Bonanza, and others
and still others, a score of them--elderly men, for the most
part, bearded, slow of speech, deliberate, dressed in broadcloth.
Old Broderson, who entered with his wife on his arm, fell in with
this type, and with them came a certain Dabney, of whom nothing
but his name was known, a silent old man, who made no friends,
whom nobody knew or spoke to, who was seen only upon such
occasions as this, coming from no one knew where, going, no one
cared to inquire whither.
Between eight and half-past, Magnus Derrick and his family were
seen. Magnus's entry caused no little impression. Some said:
"There's the Governor," and called their companions' attention to
the thin, erect figure, commanding, imposing, dominating all in
his immediate neighbourhood. Harran came with him, wearing a
cut-away suit of black. He was undeniably handsome, young and
fresh looking, his cheeks highly coloured, quite the finest
looking of all the younger men; blond, strong, with that certain
courtliness of manner that had always made him liked. He took
his mother upon his arm and conducted her to a seat by the side
of Mrs. Broderson.
Annie Derrick was very pretty that evening. She was dressed in a
grey silk gown with a collar of pink velvet. Her light brown
hair that yet retained so much of its brightness was transfixed
by a high, shell comb, very Spanish. But the look of uneasiness
in her large eyes--the eyes of a young girl--was deepening every
day. The expression of innocence and inquiry which they so
easily assumed, was disturbed by a faint suggestion of aversion,
almost of terror. She settled herself in her place, in the
corner of the hall, in the rear rank of chairs, a little
frightened by the glare of lights, the hum of talk and the
shifting crowd, glad to be out of the way, to attract no
attention, willing to obliterate herself.
All at once Annixter, who had just shaken hands with Dyke, his
mother and the little tad, moved abruptly in his place, drawing
in his breath sharply. The crowd around the great, wide-open
main door of the barn had somewhat thinned out and in the few
groups that still remained there he had suddenly recognised Mr.
and Mrs. Tree and Hilma, making their way towards some empty
seats near the entrance of the feed room.
In the dusky light of the barn earlier in the evening, Annixter
had not been able to see Hilma plainly. Now, however, as she
passed before his eyes in the glittering radiance of the lamps
and lanterns, he caught his breath in astonishment. Never had
she appeared more beautiful in his eyes. It did not seem
possible that this was the same girl whom he saw every day in and
around the ranch house and dairy, the girl of simple calico
frocks and plain shirt waists, who brought him his dinner, who
made up his bed. Now he could not take his eyes from her.
Hilma, for the first time, was wearing her hair done high upon
her head. The thick, sweet-smelling masses, bitumen brown in the
shadows, corruscated like golden filaments in the light. Her
organdie frock was long, longer than any she had yet worn. It
left a little of her neck and breast bare and all of her arm.
Annixter muttered an exclamation. Such arms! How did she manage
to keep them hid on ordinary occasions. Big at the shoulder,
tapering with delicious modulations to the elbow and wrist,
overlaid with a delicate, gleaming lustre. As often as she
turned her head the movement sent a slow undulation over her neck
and shoulders, the pale amber-tinted shadows under her chin,
coming and going over the creamy whiteness of the skin like the
changing moire of silk. The pretty rose colour of her cheek had
deepened to a pale carnation. Annixter, his hands clasped behind
him, stood watching.
In a few moments Hilma was surrounded by a group of young men,
clamouring for dances. They came from all corners of the barn,
leaving the other girls precipitately, almost rudely. There
could be little doubt as to who was to be the belle of the
occasion. Hilma's little triumph was immediate, complete.
Annixter could hear her voice from time to time, its usual
velvety huskiness vibrating to a note of exuberant gayety.
All at once the orchestra swung off into a march--the Grand
March. There was a great rush to secure "partners." Young
Vacca, still going the rounds, was pushed to one side. The gayly
apparelled clerk from the Bonneville store lost his head in the
confusion. He could not find his "partner." He roamed wildly
about the barn, bewildered, his eyes rolling. He resolved to
prepare an elaborate programme card on the back of an old
envelope. Rapidly the line was formed, Hilma and Harran Derrick
in the lead, Annixter having obstinately refused to engage in
either march, set or dance the whole evening. Soon the confused
shuffling of feet settled to a measured cadence; the orchestra
blared and wailed, the snare drum, rolling at exact intervals,
the cornet marking the time. It was half-past eight o'clock.
Annixter drew a long breath:
"Good," he muttered, "the thing is under way at last."
Singularly enough, Osterman also refused to dance. The week
before he had returned from Los Angeles, bursting with the
importance of his mission. He had been successful. He had
Disbrow "in his pocket." He was impatient to pose before the
others of the committee as a skilful political agent, a
manipulator. He forgot his attitude of the early part of the
evening when he had drawn attention to himself with his wonderful
clothes. Now his comic actor's face, with its brownish-red
cheeks, protuberant ears and horizontal slit of a mouth, was
overcast with gravity. His bald forehead was seamed with the
wrinkles of responsibility. He drew Annixter into one of the
empty stalls and began an elaborate explanation, glib, voluble,
interminable, going over again in detail what he had reported to
the committee in outline.
"I managed--I schemed--I kept dark--I lay low----"
But Annixter refused to listen.
"Oh, rot your schemes. There's a punch in the harness room that
will make the hair grow on the top of your head in the place
where the hair ought to grow. Come on, we'll round up some of
the boys and walk into it."
They edged their way around the hall outside "The Grand March,"
toward the harness room, picking up on their way Caraher, Dyke,
Hooven and old Broderson. Once in the harness room, Annixter
shot the bolt.
"That affair outside," he observed, "will take care of itself,
but here's a little orphan child that gets lonesome without
Annixter began ladling the punch, filling the glasses.
Osterman proposed a toast to Quien Sabe and the Biggest Barn.
Their elbows crooked in silence. Old Broderson set down his
glass, wiping his long beard and remarking:
"That--that certainly is very--very agreeable. I remember a
punch I drank on Christmas day in '83, or no, it was '84--anyhow,
that punch--it was in Ukiah--'TWAS '83--" He wandered on
aimlessly, unable to stop his flow of speech, losing himself in
details, involving his talk in a hopeless maze of trivialities to
which nobody paid any attention.
"I don't drink myself," observed Dyke, "but just a taste of that
with a lot of water wouldn't be bad for the little tad. She'd
think it was lemonade." He was about to mix a glass for Sidney,
but thought better of it at the last moment.
"It's the chartreuse that's lacking," commented Caraher, lowering
at Annixter. The other flared up on the instant.
"Rot, rot. I know better. In some punches it goes; and then,
again, in others it don't."
But it was left to Hooven to launch the successful phrase:
"Gesundheit," he exclaimed, holding out his second glass. After
drinking, he replaced it on the table with a long breath. "Ach
Gott!" he cried, "dat poonsch, say I tink dot poonsch mek some
demn goot vertilizer, hey?"
Fertiliser! The others roared with laughter.
"Good eye, Bismarck," commented Annixter. The name had a great
success. Thereafter throughout the evening the punch was
invariably spoken of as the "Fertiliser." Osterman, having spilt
the bottom of a glassful on the floor, pretended that he saw
shoots of grain coming up on the spot. Suddenly he turned upon
old Broderson.
"I'm bald, ain't I? Want to know how I lost my hair? Promise
you won't ask a single other question and I'll tell you. Promise
your word of honour."
"Eh? What--wh--I--I don't understand. Your hair? Yes, I'll
promise. How did you lose it?"
"It was bit off."
The other gazed at him stupefied; his jaw dropped. The company
shouted, and old Broderson, believing he had somehow accomplished
a witticism, chuckled in his beard, wagging his head. But
suddenly he fell grave, struck with an idea. He demanded:
"Yes--I know--but--but what bit it off?"
"Ah," vociferated Osterman, "that's JUST what you promised not to
The company doubled up with hilarity. Caraher leaned against the
door, holding his sides, but Hooven, all abroad, unable to
follow, gazed from face to face with a vacant grin, thinking it
was still a question of his famous phrase.
"Vertilizer, hey? Dots some fine joke, hey? You bedt."
What with the noise of their talk and laughter, it was some time
before Dyke, first of all, heard a persistent knocking on the
bolted door. He called Annixter's attention to the sound.
Cursing the intruder, Annixter unbolted and opened the door. But
at once his manner changed.
"Hello. It's Presley. Come in, come in, Pres."
There was a shout of welcome from the others. A spirit of
effusive cordiality had begun to dominate the gathering.
Annixter caught sight of Vanamee back of Presley, and waiving for
the moment the distinction of employer and employee, insisted
that both the friends should come in.
"Any friend of Pres is my friend," he declared.
But when the two had entered and had exchanged greetings, Presley
drew Annixter aside.
"Vanamee and I have just come from Bonneville," he explained.
"We saw Delaney there. He's got the buckskin, and he's full of
bad whiskey and dago-red. You should see him; he's wearing all
his cow-punching outfit, hair trousers, sombrero, spurs and all
the rest of it, and he has strapped himself to a big revolver.
He says he wasn't invited to your barn dance but that he's coming
over to shoot up the place. He says you promised to show him off
Quien Sabe at the toe of your boot and that he's going to give
you the chance to-night!"
"Ah," commented Annixter, nodding his head, "he is, is he?"
Presley was disappointed. Knowing Annixter's irascibility, he
had expected to produce a more dramatic effect. He began to
explain the danger of the business. Delaney had once knifed a
greaser in the Panamint country. He was known as a "bad" man.
But Annixter refused to be drawn.
"All right," he said, "that's all right. Don't tell anybody
else. You might scare the girls off. Get in and drink."
Outside the dancing was by this time in full swing. The
orchestra was playing a polka. Young Vacca, now at his fiftieth
wax candle, had brought the floor to the slippery surface of
glass. The druggist was dancing with one of the Spanish-Mexican
girls with the solemnity of an automaton, turning about and
about, always in the same direction, his eyes glassy, his teeth
set. Hilma Tree was dancing for the second time with Harran
Derrick. She danced with infinite grace. Her cheeks were bright
red, her eyes half-closed, and through her parted lips she drew
from time to time a long, tremulous breath of pure delight. The
music, the weaving colours, the heat of the air, by now a little
oppressive, the monotony of repeated sensation, even the pain of
physical fatigue had exalted all her senses. She was in a dreamy
lethargy of happiness. It was her "first ball." She could have
danced without stopping until morning. Minna Hooven and Cutter
were "promenading." Mrs. Hooven, with little Hilda already
asleep on her knees, never took her eyes from her daughter's
gown. As often as Minna passed near her she vented an energetic
"pst! pst!" The metal tip of a white draw string was showing
from underneath the waist of Minna's dress. Mrs. Hooven was on
the point of tears.
The solitary gayly apparelled clerk from Bonneville was in a
fever of agitation. He had lost his elaborate programme card.
Bewildered, beside himself with trepidation, he hurried about the
room, jostled by the dancing couples, tripping over the feet of
those who were seated; he peered distressfully under the chairs
and about the floor, asking anxious questions.
Magnus Derrick, the centre of a listening circle of ranchers--
Garnett from the Ruby rancho, Keast from the ranch of the same
name, Gethings and Chattern of the San Pablo and Bonanza--stood
near the great open doorway of the barn, discussing the
possibility of a shortage in the world's wheat crop for the next
Abruptly the orchestra ceased playing with a roll of the snare
drum, a flourish of the cornet and a prolonged growl of the bass
viol. The dance broke up, the couples hurrying to their seats,
leaving the gayly apparelled clerk suddenly isolated in the
middle of the floor, rolling his eyes. The druggist released the
Spanish-Mexican girl with mechanical precision out amidst the
crowd of dancers. He bowed, dropping his chin upon his cravat;
throughout the dance neither had hazarded a word. The girl found
her way alone to a chair, but the druggist, sick from continually
revolving in the same direction, walked unsteadily toward the
wall. All at once the barn reeled around him; he fell down.
There was a great laugh, but he scrambled to his feet and
disappeared abruptly out into the night through the doorway of
the barn, deathly pale, his hand upon his stomach.
Dabney, the old man whom nobody knew, approached the group of
ranchers around Magnus Derrick and stood, a little removed,
listening gravely to what the governor was saying, his chin sunk
in his collar, silent, offering no opinions.
But the leader of the orchestra, with a great gesture of his
violin bow, cried out:
"All take partners for the lancers and promenade around the
However, there was a delay. A little crowd formed around the
musicians' platform; voices were raised; there was a commotion.
Skeezicks, who played the big horn, accused the cornet and the
snare-drum of stealing his cold lunch. At intervals he could be
heard expostulating:
"Ah, no! at the end of the end! Render me the sausages, you, or
less I break your throat! Aha! I know you. You are going to
play me there a bad farce. My sausages and the pork sandwich,
else I go away from this place!"
He made an exaggerated show of replacing his big horn in its
case, but the by-standers raised a great protest. The sandwiches
and one sausage were produced; the other had disappeared. In the
end Skeezichs allowed himself to be appeased. The dance was
Half an hour later the gathering in the harness room was
considerably reinforced. It was the corner of the barn toward
which the male guests naturally gravitated. Harran Derrick, who
only cared to dance with Hilma Tree, was admitted. Garnett from
the Ruby rancho and Gethings from the San Pablo, came in a little
afterwards. A fourth bowl of punch was mixed, Annixter and
Caraher clamouring into each other's face as to its ingredients.
Cigars were lighted. Soon the air of the room became blue with
an acrid haze of smoke. It was very warm. Ranged in their
chairs around the side of the room, the guests emptied glass
after glass.
Vanamee alone refused to drink. He sat a little to one side,
disassociating himself from what was going forward, watching the
others calmly, a little contemptuously, a cigarette in his
Hooven, after drinking his third glass, however, was afflicted
with a great sadness; his breast heaved with immense sighs. He
asserted that he was "obbressed;" Cutter had taken his steer. He
retired to a corner and seated himself in a heap on his chair,
his heels on the rungs, wiping the tears from his eyes, refusing
to be comforted.
Old Broderson startled Annixter, who sat next to him, out of all
measure by suddenly winking at him with infinite craftiness.
"When I was a lad in Ukiah," he whispered hoarsely, "I was a
devil of a fellow with the girls; but Lordy!" he nudged him
slyly, "I wouldn't have it known!"
Of those who were drinking, Annixter alone retained all his wits.
Though keeping pace with the others, glass for glass, the punch
left him solid upon his feet, clear-headed. The tough, crossgrained
fibre of him seemed proof against alcohol. Never in his
life had he been drunk. He prided himself upon his power of
resistance. It was his nature.
"Say!" exclaimed old Broderson, gravely addressing the company,
pulling at his beard uneasily--"say! I--I--listen! I'm a devil
of a fellow with the girls." He wagged his head doggedly,
shutting his eyes in a knowing fashion. "Yes, sir, I am. There
was a young lady in Ukiah--that was when I was a lad of
seventeen. We used to meet in the cemetery in the afternoons. I
was to go away to school at Sacramento, and the afternoon I left
we met in the cemetery and we stayed so long I almost missed the
train. Her name was Celestine."
There was a pause. The others waited for the rest of the story.
"And afterwards?" prompted Annixter.
"Afterwards? Nothing afterwards. I never saw her again. Her
name was Celestine."
The company raised a chorus of derision, and Osterman cried
"Say! THAT'S a pretty good one! Tell us another."
The old man laughed with the rest, believing he had made another
hit. He called Osterman to him, whispering in his ear:
"Sh! Look here! Some night you and I will go up to San
Francisco--hey? We'll go skylarking. We'll be gay. Oh, I'm a--
a--a rare old BUCK, I am! I ain't too old. You'll see."
Annixter gave over the making of the fifth bowl of punch to
Osterman, who affirmed that he had a recipe for a "fertiliser"
from Solotari that would take the plating off the ladle. He left
him wrangling with Caraher, who still persisted in adding
chartreuse, and stepped out into the dance to see how things were
getting on.
It was the interval between two dances. In and around a stall at
the farther end of the floor, where lemonade was being served,
was a great throng of young men. Others hurried across the floor
singly or by twos and threes, gingerly carrying overflowing
glasses to their "partners," sitting in long rows of white and
blue and pink against the opposite wall, their mothers and older
sisters in a second dark-clothed rank behind them. A babel of
talk was in the air, mingled with gusts of laughter. Everybody
seemed having a good time. In the increasing heat the
decorations of evergreen trees and festoons threw off a pungent
aroma that suggested a Sunday-school Christmas festival. In the
other stalls, lower down the barn, the young men had brought
chairs, and in these deep recesses the most desperate love-making
was in progress, the young man, his hair neatly parted, leaning
with great solicitation over the girl, his "partner" for the
moment, fanning her conscientiously, his arm carefully laid along
the back of her chair.
By the doorway, Annixter met Sarria, who had stepped out to smoke
a fat, black cigar. The set smile of amiability was still fixed
on the priest's smooth, shiny face; the cigar ashes had left grey
streaks on the front of his cassock. He avoided Annixter,
fearing, no doubt, an allusion to his game cocks, and took up his
position back of the second rank of chairs by the musicians'
stand, beaming encouragingly upon every one who caught his eye.
Annixter was saluted right and left as he slowly went the round
of the floor. At every moment he had to pause to shake hands and
to listen to congratulations upon the size of his barn and the
success of his dance. But he was distrait, his thoughts
elsewhere; he did not attempt to hide his impatience when some of
the young men tried to engage him in conversation, asking him to
be introduced to their sisters, or their friends' sisters. He
sent them about their business harshly, abominably rude, leaving
a wake of angry disturbance behind him, sowing the seeds of
future quarrels and renewed unpopularity. He was looking for
Hilma Tree.
When at last he came unexpectedly upon her, standing near where
Mrs. Tree was seated, some half-dozen young men hovering uneasily
in her neighbourhood, all his audacity was suddenly stricken from
him; his gruffness, his overbearing insolence vanished with an
abruptness that left him cold. His old-time confusion and
embarrassment returned to him. Instead of speaking to her as he
intended, he affected not to see her, but passed by, his head in
the air, pretending a sudden interest in a Japanese lantern that
was about to catch fire.
But he had had a single distinct glimpse of her, definite,
precise, and this glimpse was enough. Hilma had changed. The
change was subtle, evanescent, hard to define, but not the less
unmistakable. The excitement, the enchanting delight, the
delicious disturbance of "the first ball," had produced its
result. Perhaps there had only been this lacking. It was hard
to say, but for that brief instant of time Annixter was looking
at Hilma, the woman. She was no longer the young girl upon whom
he might look down, to whom he might condescend, whose little,
infantile graces were to be considered with amused toleration.
When Annixter returned to the harness room, he let himself into a
clamour of masculine hilarity. Osterman had, indeed, made a
marvellous "fertiliser," whiskey for the most part, diluted with
champagne and lemon juice. The first round of this drink had
been welcomed with a salvo of cheers. Hooven, recovering his
spirits under its violent stimulation, spoke of "heving ut oudt
mit Cudder, bei Gott," while Osterman, standing on a chair at the
end of the room, shouted for a "few moments quiet, gentlemen," so
that he might tell a certain story he knew.
But, abruptly, Annixter discovered that the liquors--the
champagne, whiskey, brandy, and the like--were running low. This
would never do. He felt that he would stand disgraced if it
could be said afterward that he had not provided sufficient drink
at his entertainment. He slipped out, unobserved, and, finding
two of his ranch hands near the doorway, sent them down to the
ranch house to bring up all the cases of "stuff" they found
However, when this matter had been attended to, Annixter did not
immediately return to the harness room. On the floor of the barn
a square dance was under way, the leader of the City Band calling
the figures. Young Vacca indefatigably continued the rounds of
the barn, paring candle after candle, possessed with this single
idea of duty, pushing the dancers out of his way, refusing to
admit that the floor was yet sufficiently slippery. The druggist
had returned indoors, and leaned dejected and melancholy against
the wall near the doorway, unable to dance, his evening's
enjoyment spoiled. The gayly apparelled clerk from Bonneville
had just involved himself in a deplorable incident. In a search
for his handkerchief, which he had lost while trying to find his
programme card, he had inadvertently wandered into the feed room,
set apart as the ladies' dressing room, at the moment when Mrs.
Hooven, having removed the waist of Minna's dress, was relacing
her corsets. There was a tremendous scene. The clerk was
ejected forcibly, Mrs. Hooven filling all the neighbourhood with
shrill expostulation. A young man, Minna's "partner," who stood
near the feed room door, waiting for her to come out, had invited
the clerk, with elaborate sarcasm, to step outside for a moment;
and the clerk, breathless, stupefied, hustled from hand to hand,
remained petrified, with staring eyes, turning about and about,
looking wildly from face to face, speechless, witless, wondering
what had happened.
But the square dance was over. The City Band was just beginning
to play a waltz. Annixter assuring himself that everything was
going all right, was picking his way across the floor, when he
came upon Hilma Tree quite alone, and looking anxiously among the
crowd of dancers.
"Having a good time, Miss Hilma?" he demanded, pausing for a
"Oh, am I, JUST!" she exclaimed. "The best time--but I don't
know what has become of my partner. See! I'm left all alone--
the only time this whole evening," she added proudly. "Have you
seen him--my partner, sir? I forget his name. I only met him
this evening, and I've met SO many I can't begin to remember half
of them. He was a young man from Bonneville--a clerk, I think,
because I remember seeing him in a store there, and he wore the
prettiest clothes!"
"I guess he got lost in the shuffle," observed Annixter.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him. He took his resolution in both
hands. He clenched his teeth.
"Say! look here, Miss Hilma. What's the matter with you and I
stealing this one for ourselves? I don't mean to dance. I don't
propose to make a jumping-jack of myself for some galoot to give
me the laugh, but we'll walk around. Will you? What do you
Hilma consented.
"I'm not so VERY sorry I missed my dance with that--that--little
clerk," she said guiltily. "I suppose that's very bad of me,
isn't it?"
Annixter fulminated a vigorous protest.
"I AM so warm!" murmured Hilma, fanning herself with her
handkerchief; "and, oh! SUCH a good time as I have had! I was
so afraid that I would be a wall-flower and sit up by mamma and
papa the whole evening; and as it is, I have had every single
dance, and even some dances I had to split. Oh-h!" she breathed,
glancing lovingly around the barn, noting again the festoons of
tri-coloured cambric, the Japanese lanterns, flaring lamps, and
"decorations" of evergreen; "oh-h! it's all so lovely, just like
a fairy story; and to think that it can't last but for one little
evening, and that to-morrow morning one must wake up to the
every-day things again!"
"Well," observed Annixter doggedly, unwilling that she should
forget whom she ought to thank, "I did my best, and my best is as
good as another man's, I guess."
Hilma overwhelmed him with a burst of gratitude which he gruffly
pretended to deprecate. Oh, that was all right. It hadn't cost
him much. He liked to see people having a good time himself, and
the crowd did seem to be enjoying themselves. What did SHE
think? Did things look lively enough? And how about herself--
was she enjoying it?
Stupidly Annixter drove the question home again, at his wits' end
as to how to make conversation. Hilma protested volubly she
would never forget this night, adding:
"Dance! Oh, you don't know how I love it! I didn't know myself.
I could dance all night and never stop once!"
Annixter was smitten with uneasiness. No doubt this
"promenading" was not at all to her taste. Wondering what kind
of a spectacle he was about to make of himself, he exclaimed:
"Want to dance now?"
"Oh, yes!" she returned.
They paused in their walk, and Hilma, facing him, gave herself
into his arms. Annixter shut his teeth, the perspiration
starting from his forehead. For five years he had abandoned
dancing. Never in his best days had it been one of his
They hesitated a moment, waiting to catch the time from the
musicians. Another couple bore down upon them at precisely the
wrong moment, jostling them out of step. Annixter swore under
his breath. His arm still about the young woman, he pulled her
over to one corner.
"Now," he muttered, "we'll try again."
A second time, listening to the one-two-three, one-two-three
cadence of the musicians, they endeavoured to get under way.
Annixter waited the fraction of a second too long and stepped on
Hilma's foot. On the third attempt, having worked out of the
corner, a pair of dancers bumped into them once more, and as they
were recovering themselves another couple caromed violently
against Annixter so that he all but lost his footing. He was in
a rage. Hilma, very embarrassed, was trying not to laugh, and
thus they found themselves, out in the middle of the floor,
continually jostled from their position, holding clumsily to each
other, stammering excuses into one another's faces, when Delaney
He came with the suddenness of an explosion. There was a
commotion by the doorway, a rolling burst of oaths, a furious
stamping of hoofs, a wild scramble of the dancers to either side
of the room, and there he was. He had ridden the buckskin at a
gallop straight through the doorway and out into the middle of
the floor of the barn.
Once well inside, Delaney hauled up on the cruel spade-bit, at
the same time driving home the spurs, and the buckskin, without
halting in her gait, rose into the air upon her hind feet, and
coming down again with a thunder of iron hoofs upon the hollow
floor, lashed out with both heels simultaneously, her back
arched, her head between her knees. It was the running buck, and
had not Delaney been the hardest buster in the county, would have
flung him headlong like a sack of sand. But he eased off the
bit, gripping the mare's flanks with his knees, and the buckskin,
having long since known her master, came to hand quivering, the
bloody spume dripping from the bit upon the slippery floor.
Delaney had arrayed himself with painful elaboration, determined
to look the part, bent upon creating the impression, resolved
that his appearance at least should justify his reputation of
being "bad." Nothing was lacking--neither the campaign hat with
upturned brim, nor the dotted blue handkerchief knotted behind
the neck, nor the heavy gauntlets stitched with red, nor--this
above all--the bear-skin "chaparejos," the hair trousers of the
mountain cowboy, the pistol holster low on the thigh. But for
the moment this holster was empty, and in his right hand, the
hammer at full cock, the chamber loaded, the puncher flourished
his teaser, an army Colt's, the lamplight dully reflected in the
dark blue steel.
In a second of time the dance was a bedlam. The musicians
stopped with a discord, and the middle of the crowded floor bared
itself instantly. It was like sand blown from off a rock; the
throng of guests, carried by an impulse that was not to be
resisted, bore back against the sides of the barn, overturning
chairs, tripping upon each other, falling down, scrambling to
their feet again, stepping over one another, getting behind each
other, diving under chairs, flattening themselves against the
wall--a wild, clamouring pell-mell, blind, deaf, panic-stricken;
a confused tangle of waving arms, torn muslin, crushed flowers,
pale faces, tangled legs, that swept in all directions back from
the centre of the floor, leaving Annixter and Hilma, alone,
deserted, their arms about each other, face to face with Delaney,
mad with alcohol, bursting with remembered insult, bent on evil,
reckless of results.
After the first scramble for safety, the crowd fell quiet for the
fraction of an instant, glued to the walls, afraid to stir,
struck dumb and motionless with surprise and terror, and in the
instant's silence that followed Annixter, his eyes on Delaney,
muttered rapidly to Hilma:
"Get back, get away to one side. The fool MIGHT shoot."
There was a second's respite afforded while Delaney occupied
himself in quieting the buckskin, and in that second of time, at
this moment of crisis, the wonderful thing occurred. Hilma,
turning from Delaney, her hands clasped on Annixter's arm, her
eyes meeting his, exclaimed:
"You, too!"
And that was all; but to Annixter it was a revelation. Never
more alive to his surroundings, never more observant, he suddenly
understood. For the briefest lapse of time he and Hilma looked
deep into each other's eyes, and from that moment on, Annixter
knew that Hilma cared.
The whole matter was brief as the snapping of a finger. Two
words and a glance and all was done. But as though nothing had
occurred, Annixter pushed Hilma from him, repeating harshly:
"Get back, I tell you. Don't you see he's got a gun? Haven't I
enough on my hands without you?"
He loosed her clasp and his eyes once more on Delaney, moved
diagonally backwards toward the side of the barn, pushing Hilma
from him. In the end he thrust her away so sharply that she gave
back with a long stagger; somebody caught her arm and drew her
in, leaving Annixter alone once more in the middle of the floor,
his hands in his coat pockets, watchful, alert, facing his enemy.
But the cow-puncher was not ready to come to grapples yet.
Fearless, his wits gambolling under the lash of the alcohol, he
wished to make the most of the occasion, maintaining the
suspense, playing for the gallery. By touches of the hand and
knee he kept the buckskin in continual, nervous movement, her
hoofs clattering, snorting, tossing her head, while he, himself,
addressing himself to Annixter, poured out a torrent of
"Well, strike me blind if it ain't old Buck Annixter! He was
going to show me off Quien Sabe at the toe of his boot, was he?
Well, here's your chance,--with the ladies to see you do it.
Gives a dance, does he, high-falutin' hoe-down in his barn and
forgets to invite his old broncho-bustin' friend. But his friend
don't forget him; no, he don't. He remembers little things, does
his broncho-bustin' friend. Likes to see a dance hisself on
occasion, his friend does. Comes anyhow, trustin' his welcome
will be hearty; just to see old Buck Annixter dance, just to show
Buck Annixter's friends how Buck can dance--dance all by hisself,
a little hen-on-a-hot-plate dance when his broncho-bustin' friend
asks him so polite. A little dance for the ladies, Buck. This
feature of the entertainment is alone worth the price of
admission. Tune up, Buck. Attention now! I'll give you the
He "fanned" his revolver, spinning it about his index finger by
the trigger-guard with incredible swiftness, the twirling weapon
a mere blur of blue steel in his hand. Suddenly and without any
apparent cessation of the movement, he fired, and a little
splinter of wood flipped into the air at Annixter's feet.
"Time!" he shouted, while the buckskin reared to the report.
"Hold on--wait a minute. This place is too light to suit. That
big light yonder is in my eyes. Look out, I'm going to throw
A second shot put out the lamp over the musicians' stand. The
assembled guests shrieked, a frantic, shrinking quiver ran
through the crowd like the huddling of frightened rabbits in
their pen.
Annixter hardly moved. He stood some thirty paces from the
buster, his hands still in his coat pockets, his eyes glistening,
Excitable and turbulent in trifling matters, when actual bodily
danger threatened he was of an abnormal quiet.
"I'm watching you," cried the other. "Don't make any mistake
about that. Keep your hands in your COAT pockets, if you'd like
to live a little longer, understand? And don't let me see you
make a move toward your hip or your friends will be asked to
identify you at the morgue to-morrow morning. When I'm bad, I'm
called the Undertaker's Friend, so I am, and I'm that bad tonight
that I'm scared of myself. They'll have to revise the
census returns before I'm done with this place. Come on, now,
I'm getting tired waiting. I come to see a dance."
"Hand over that horse, Delaney," said Annixter, without raising
his voice, "and clear out."
The other affected to be overwhelmed with infinite astonishment,
his eyes staring. He peered down from the saddle.
"Wh-a-a-t!" he exclaimed; "wh-a-a-t did you say? Why, I guess
you must be looking for trouble; that's what I guess."
"There's where you're wrong, m'son," muttered Annixter, partly to
Delaney, partly to himself. "If I was looking for trouble there
wouldn't be any guess-work about it."
With the words he began firing. Delaney had hardly entered the
barn before Annixter's plan had been formed. Long since his
revolver was in the pocket of his coat, and he fired now through
the coat itself, without withdrawing his hands.
Until that moment Annixter had not been sure of himself. There
was no doubt that for the first few moments of the affair he
would have welcomed with joy any reasonable excuse for getting
out of the situation. But the sound of his own revolver gave him
confidence. He whipped it from his pocket and fired again.
Abruptly the duel began, report following report, spurts of pale
blue smoke jetting like the darts of short spears between the two
men, expanding to a haze and drifting overhead in wavering
strata. It was quite probable that no thought of killing each
other suggested itself to either Annixter or Delaney. Both fired
without aiming very deliberately. To empty their revolvers and
avoid being hit was the desire common to both. They no longer
vituperated each other. The revolvers spoke for them.
Long after, Annixter could recall this moment. For years he
could with but little effort reconstruct the scene--the densely
packed crowd flattened against the sides of the barn, the
festoons of lanterns, the mingled smell of evergreens, new wood,
sachets, and powder smoke; the vague clamour of distress and
terror that rose from the throng of guests, the squealing of the
buckskin, the uneven explosions of the revolvers, the
reverberation of trampling hoofs, a brief glimpse of Harran
Derrick's excited face at the door of the harness room, and in
the open space in the centre of the floor, himself and Delaney,
manoeuvring swiftly in a cloud of smoke.
Annixter's revolver contained but six cartridges. Already it
seemed to him as if he had fired twenty times. Without doubt the
next shot was his last. Then what? He peered through the blue
haze that with every discharge thickened between him and the
buster. For his own safety he must "place" at least one shot.
Delaney's chest and shoulders rose suddenly above the smoke close
upon him as the distraught buckskin reared again. Annixter, for
the first time during the fight, took definite aim, but before he
could draw the trigger there was a great shout and he was aware
of the buckskin, the bridle trailing, the saddle empty, plunging
headlong across the floor, crashing into the line of chairs.
Delaney was scrambling off the floor. There was blood on the
buster's wrist and he no longer carried his revolver. Suddenly
he turned and ran. The crowd parted right and left before him as
he made toward the doorway. He disappeared.
Twenty men promptly sprang to the buckskin's head, but she broke
away, and wild with terror, bewildered, blind, insensate, charged
into the corner of the barn by the musicians' stand. She brought
up against the wall with cruel force and with impact of a sack of
stones; her head was cut. She turned and charged again, bulllike,
the blood streaming from her forehead. The crowd,
shrieking, melted before her rush. An old man was thrown down
and trampled. The buckskin trod upon the dragging bridle,
somersaulted into a confusion of chairs in one corner, and came
down with a terrific clatter in a wild disorder of kicking hoofs
and splintered wood. But a crowd of men fell upon her, tugging
at the bit, sitting on her head, shouting, gesticulating. For
five minutes she struggled and fought; then, by degrees, she
recovered herself, drawing great sobbing breaths at long
intervals that all but burst the girths, rolling her eyes in
bewildered, supplicating fashion, trembling in every muscle, and
starting and shrinking now and then like a young girl in
hysterics. At last she lay quiet. The men allowed her to
struggle to her feet. The saddle was removed and she was led to
one of the empty stalls, where she remained the rest of the
evening, her head low, her pasterns quivering, turning her head
apprehensively from time to time, showing the white of one eye
and at long intervals heaving a single prolonged sigh.
And an hour later the dance was progressing as evenly as though
nothing in the least extraordinary had occurred. The incident
was closed--that abrupt swoop of terror and impending death
dropping down there from out the darkness, cutting abruptly
athwart the gayety of the moment, come and gone with the
swiftness of a thunderclap. Many of the women had gone home,
taking their men with them; but the great bulk of the crowd still
remained, seeing no reason why the episode should interfere with
the evening's enjoyment, resolved to hold the ground for mere
bravado, if for nothing else. Delaney would not come back, of
that everybody was persuaded, and in case he should, there was
not found wanting fully half a hundred young men who would give
him a dressing down, by jingo! They had been too surprised to
act when Delaney had first appeared, and before they knew where
they were at, the buster had cleared out. In another minute,
just another second, they would have shown him--yes, sir, by
jingo!--ah, you bet!
On all sides the reminiscences began to circulate. At least one
man in every three had been involved in a gun fight at some time
of his life. "Ah, you ought to have seen in Yuba County one
time--" "Why, in Butte County in the early days--" "Pshaw! this
to-night wasn't anything! Why, once in a saloon in Arizona when
I was there--" and so on, over and over again. Osterman solemnly
asserted that he had seen a greaser sawn in two in a Nevada
sawmill. Old Broderson had witnessed a Vigilante lynching in '55
on California Street in San Francisco. Dyke recalled how once in
his engineering days he had run over a drunk at a street
crossing. Gethings of the San Pablo had taken a shot at a
highwayman. Hooven had bayonetted a French Chasseur at Sedan.
An old Spanish-Mexican, a centenarian from Guadalajara,
remembered Fremont's stand on a mountain top in San Benito
County. The druggist had fired at a burglar trying to break into
his store one New Year's eve. Young Vacca had seen a dog shot in
Guadalajara. Father Sarria had more than once administered the
sacraments to Portuguese desperadoes dying of gunshot wounds.
Even the women recalled terrible scenes. Mrs. Cutter recounted
to an interested group how she had seen a claim jumped in Placer
County in 1851, when three men were shot, falling in a fusillade
of rifle shots, and expiring later upon the floor of her kitchen
while she looked on. Mrs. Dyke had been in a stage hold-up, when
the shotgun messenger was murdered. Stories by the hundreds went
the round of the company. The air was surcharged with blood,
dying groans, the reek of powder smoke, the crack of rifles. All
the legends of '49, the violent, wild life of the early days,
were recalled to view, defiling before them there in an endless
procession under the glare of paper lanterns and kerosene lamps.
But the affair had aroused a combative spirit amongst the men of
the assembly. Instantly a spirit of aggression, of truculence,
swelled up underneath waistcoats and starched shirt bosoms. More
than one offender was promptly asked to "step outside." It was
like young bucks excited by an encounter of stags, lowering their
horns upon the slightest provocation, showing off before the does
and fawns. Old quarrels were remembered. One sought laboriously
for slights and insults, veiled in ordinary conversation. The
sense of personal honour became refined to a delicate, fine
point. Upon the slightest pretext there was a haughty drawing up
of the figure, a twisting of the lips into a smile of scorn.
Caraher spoke of shooting S. Behrman on sight before the end of
the week. Twice it became necessary to separate Hooven and
Cutter, renewing their quarrel as to the ownership of the steer.
All at once Minna Hooven's "partner" fell upon the gayly
apparelled clerk from Bonneville, pummelling him with his fists,
hustling him out of the hall, vociferating that Miss Hooven had
been grossly insulted. It took three men to extricate the clerk
from his clutches, dazed, gasping, his collar unfastened and
sticking up into his face, his eyes staring wildly into the faces
of the crowd.
But Annixter, bursting with pride, his chest thrown out, his chin
in the air, reigned enthroned in a circle of adulation. He was
the Hero. To shake him by the hand was an honour to be struggled
for. One clapped him on the back with solemn nods of approval.
"There's the BOY for you;" "There was nerve for you;" "What's the
matter with Annixter?" "How about THAT for sand, and how was THAT
for a SHOT?" "Why, Apache Kid couldn't have bettered that."
"Cool enough." "Took a steady eye and a sure hand to make a shot
like that." "There was a shot that would be told about in Tulare
County fifty years to come."
Annixter had refrained from replying, all ears to this
conversation, wondering just what had happened. He knew only
that Delaney had run, leaving his revolver and a spatter of blood
behind him. By degrees, however, he ascertained that his last
shot but one had struck Delaney's pistol hand, shattering it and
knocking the revolver from his grip. He was overwhelmed with
astonishment. Why, after the shooting began he had not so much
as seen Delaney with any degree of plainness. The whole affair
was a whirl.
"Well, where did YOU learn to shoot THAT way?" some one in the
crowd demanded. Annixter moved his shoulders with a gesture of
vast unconcern.
"Oh," he observed carelessly, "it's not my SHOOTING that ever
worried ME, m'son."
The crowd gaped with delight. There was a great wagging of
"Well, I guess not."
"No, sir, not much."
"Ah, no, you bet not."
When the women pressed around him, shaking his hands, declaring
that he had saved their daughters' lives, Annixter assumed a pose
of superb deprecation, the modest self-obliteration of the
chevalier. He delivered himself of a remembered phrase, very
elegant, refined. It was Lancelot after the tournament, Bayard
receiving felicitations after the battle.
"Oh, don't say anything about it," he murmured. "I only did what
any man would have done in my place."
To restore completely the equanimity of the company, he announced
supper. This he had calculated as a tremendous surprise. It was
to have been served at mid-night, but the irruption of Delaney
had dislocated the order of events, and the tables were brought
in an hour ahead of time. They were arranged around three sides
of the barn and were loaded down with cold roasts of beef, cold
chickens and cold ducks, mountains of sandwiches, pitchers of
milk and lemonade, entire cheeses, bowls of olives, plates of
oranges and nuts. The advent of this supper was received with a
volley of applause. The musicians played a quick step. The
company threw themselves upon the food with a great scraping of
chairs and a vast rustle of muslins, tarletans, and organdies;
soon the clatter of dishes was a veritable uproar. The tables
were taken by assault. One ate whatever was nearest at hand,
some even beginning with oranges and nuts and ending with beef
and chicken. At the end the paper caps were brought on, together
with the ice cream. All up and down the tables the pulled
"crackers" snapped continually like the discharge of innumerable
tiny rifles.
The caps of tissue paper were put on--"Phrygian Bonnets,"
"Magicians' Caps," "Liberty Caps;" the young girls looked across
the table at their vis-a-vis with bursts of laughter and vigorous
clapping of the hands.
The harness room crowd had a table to themselves, at the head of
which sat Annixter and at the foot Harran. The gun fight had
sobered Presley thoroughly. He sat by the side of Vanamee, who
ate but little, preferring rather to watch the scene with calm
observation, a little contemptuous when the uproar around the
table was too boisterous, savouring of intoxication. Osterman
rolled bullets of bread and shot them with astonishing force up
and down the table, but the others--Dyke, old Broderson, Caraher,
Harran Derrick, Hooven, Cutter, Garnett of the Ruby rancho, Keast
from the ranch of the same name, Gethings of the San Pablo, and
Chattern of the Bonanza--occupied themselves with eating as much
as they could before the supper gave out. At a corner of the
table, speechless, unobserved, ignored, sat Dabney, of whom
nothing was known but his name, the silent old man who made no
friends. He ate and drank quietly, dipping his sandwich in his
Osterman ate all the olives he could lay his hands on, a score of
them, fifty of them, a hundred of them. He touched no crumb of
anything else. Old Broderson stared at him, his jaw fallen.
Osterman declared he had once eaten a thousand on a bet. The men
called each others' attention to him. Delighted to create a
sensation, Osterman persevered. The contents of an entire bowl
disappeared in his huge, reptilian slit of a mouth. His cheeks
of brownish red were extended, his bald forehead glistened.
Colics seized upon him. His stomach revolted. It was all one
with him. He was satisfied, contented. He was astonishing the
"Once I swallowed a tree toad." he told old Broderson, "by
mistake. I was eating grapes, and the beggar lived in me three
weeks. In rainy weather he would sing. You don't believe that,"
he vociferated. "Haven't I got the toad at home now in a bottle
of alcohol."
And the old man, never doubting, his eyes starting, wagged his
head in amazement.
"Oh, yes," cried Caraher, the length of the table, "that's a
pretty good one. Tell us another."
"That reminds me of a story," hazarded old Broderson uncertainly;
"once when I was a lad in Ukiah, fifty years"
"Oh, yes," cried half a dozen voices, "THAT'S a pretty good one.
Tell us another."
"Eh--wh--what?" murmured Broderson, looking about him. "I--I
don't know. It was Ukiah. You--you--you mix me all up."
As soon as supper was over, the floor was cleared again. The
guests clamoured for a Virginia reel. The last quarter of the
evening, the time of the most riotous fun, was beginning. The
young men caught the girls who sat next to them. The orchestra
dashed off into a rollicking movement. The two lines were
formed. In a second of time the dance was under way again; the
guests still wearing the Phrygian bonnets and liberty caps of
pink and blue tissue paper.
But the group of men once more adjourned to the harness room.
Fresh boxes of cigars were opened; the seventh bowl of fertiliser
was mixed. Osterman poured the dregs of a glass of it upon his
bald head, declaring that he could feel the hair beginning to
But suddenly old Broderson rose to his feet.
"Aha," he cackled, "I'M going to have a dance, I am. Think I'm
too old? I'll show you young fellows. I'm a regular old ROOSTER
when I get started."
He marched out into the barn, the others following, holding their
sides. He found an aged Mexican woman by the door and hustled
her, all confused and giggling, into the Virginia reel, then at
its height. Every one crowded around to see. Old Broderson
stepped off with the alacrity of a colt, snapping his fingers,
slapping his thigh, his mouth widening in an excited grin. The
entire company of the guests shouted. The City Band redoubled
their efforts; and the old man, losing his head, breathless,
gasping, dislocated his stiff joints in his efforts. He became
possessed, bowing, scraping, advancing, retreating, wagging his
beard, cutting pigeons' wings, distraught with the music, the
clamour, the applause, the effects of the fertiliser.
Annixter shouted:
"Nice eye, Santa Claus."
But Annixter's attention wandered. He searched for Hilma Tree,
having still in mind the look in her eyes at that swift moment of
danger. He had not seen her since then. At last he caught sight
of her. She was not dancing, but, instead, was sitting with her
"partner" at the end of the barn near her father and mother, her
eyes wide, a serious expression on her face, her thoughts, no
doubt, elsewhere. Annixter was about to go to her when he was
interrupted by a cry.
Old Broderson, in the midst of a double shuffle, had clapped his
hand to his side with a gasp, which he followed by a whoop of
anguish. He had got a stitch or had started a twinge somewhere.
With a gesture of resignation, he drew himself laboriously out of
the dance, limping abominably, one leg dragging. He was heard
asking for his wife. Old Mrs. Broderson took him in charge. She
jawed him for making an exhibition of himself, scolding as though
he were a ten-year-old.
"Well, I want to know!" she exclaimed, as he hobbled off,
dejected and melancholy, leaning upon her arm, "thought he had to
dance, indeed! What next? A gay old grandpa, this. He'd
better be thinking of his coffin."
It was almost midnight. The dance drew towards its close in a
storm of jubilation. The perspiring musicians toiled like galley
slaves; the guests singing as they danced.
The group of men reassembled in the harness room. Even Magnus
Derrick condescended to enter and drink a toast. Presley and
Vanamee, still holding themselves aloof, looked on, Vanamee more
and more disgusted. Dabney, standing to one side, overlooked and
forgotten, continued to sip steadily at his glass, solemn,
reserved. Garnett of the Ruby rancho, Keast from the ranch of
the same name, Gethings of the San Pablo, and Chattern of the
Bonanza, leaned back in their chairs, their waist-coats
unbuttoned, their legs spread wide, laughing--they could not tell
why. Other ranchers, men whom Annixter had never seen, appeared
in the room, wheat growers from places as far distant as Goshen
and Pixley; young men and old, proprietors of veritable
principalities, hundreds of thousands of acres of wheat lands, a
dozen of them, a score of them; men who were strangers to each
other, but who made it a point to shake hands with Magnus
Derrick, the "prominent man" of the valley. Old Broderson, whom
every one had believed had gone home, returned, though much
sobered, and took his place, refusing, however, to drink another
Soon the entire number of Annixter's guests found themselves in
two companies, the dancers on the floor of the barn, frolicking
through the last figures of the Virginia reel and the boisterous
gathering of men in the harness room, downing the last quarts of
fertiliser. Both assemblies had been increased. Even the older
people had joined in the dance, while nearly every one of the men
who did not dance had found their way into the harness room. The
two groups rivalled each other in their noise. Out on the floor
of the barn was a very whirlwind of gayety, a tempest of
laughter, hand-clapping and cries of amusement. In the harness
room the confused shouting and singing, the stamping of heavy
feet, set a quivering reverberation in the oil of the kerosene
lamps, the flame of the candles in the Japanese lanterns flaring
and swaying in the gusts of hilarity. At intervals, between the
two, one heard the music, the wailing of the violins, the
vigorous snarling of the cornet, and the harsh, incessant rasping
of the snare drum.
And at times all these various sounds mingled in a single vague
note, huge, clamorous, that rose up into the night from the
colossal, reverberating compass of the barn and sent its echoes
far off across the unbroken levels of the surrounding ranches,
stretching out to infinity under the clouded sky, calm,
mysterious, still.
Annixter, the punch bowl clasped in his arms, was pouring out the
last spoonful of liquor into Caraher's glass when he was aware
that some one was pulling at the sleeve of his coat. He set down
the punch bowl.
"Well, where did YOU come from?" he demanded.
It was a messenger from Bonneville, the uniformed boy that the
telephone company employed to carry messages. He had just
arrived from town on his bicycle, out of breath and panting.
"Message for you, sir. Will you sign?"
He held the book to Annixter, who signed the receipt, wondering.
The boy departed, leaving a thick envelope of yellow paper in
Annixter's hands, the address typewritten, the word "Urgent"
written in blue pencil in one corner.
Annixter tore it open. The envelope contained other sealed
envelopes, some eight or ten of them, addressed to Magnus
Derrick, Osterman, Broderson, Garnett, Keast, Gethings, Chattern,
Dabney, and to Annixter himself.
Still puzzled, Annixter distributed the envelopes, muttering to
"What's up now?"
The incident had attracted attention. A comparative quiet
followed, the guests following the letters with their eyes as
they were passed around the table. They fancied that Annixter
had arranged a surprise.
Magnus Derrick, who sat next to Annixter, was the first to
receive his letter. With a word of excuse he opened it.
"Read it, read it, Governor," shouted a half-dozen voices. "No
secrets, you know. Everything above board here to-night."
Magnus cast a glance at the contents of the letter, then rose to
his feet and read:
Magnus Derrick,
Bonneville, Tulare Co., Cal.
Dear Sir:
By regrade of October 1st, the value of the railroad land you
occupy, included in your ranch of Los Muertos, has been fixed at
$27.00 per acre. The land is now for sale at that price to any
Yours, etc.,
Land Agent, P. and S. W. R. R.
Local Agent, P. and S. W. R. R.
In the midst of the profound silence that followed, Osterman was
heard to exclaim grimly:
"THAT'S a pretty good one. Tell us another."
But for a long moment this was the only remark.
The silence widened, broken only by the sound of torn paper as
Annixter, Osterman, old Broderson, Garnett, Keast, Gethings,
Chattern, and Dabney opened and read their letters. They were
all to the same effect, almost word for word like the Governor's.
Only the figures and the proper names varied. In some cases the
price per acre was twenty-two dollars. In Annixter's case it was
"And--and the company promised to sell to me, to--to all of us,"
gasped old Broderson, "at TWO DOLLARS AND A HALF an acre."
It was not alone the ranchers immediately around Bonneville who
would be plundered by this move on the part of the Railroad. The
"alternate section" system applied throughout all the San
Joaquin. By striking at the Bonneville ranchers a terrible
precedent was established. Of the crowd of guests in the harness
room alone, nearly every man was affected, every man menaced with
ruin. All of a million acres was suddenly involved.
Then suddenly the tempest burst. A dozen men were on their feet
in an instant, their teeth set, their fists clenched, their faces
purple with rage. Oaths, curses, maledictions exploded like the
firing of successive mines. Voices quivered with wrath, hands
flung upward, the fingers hooked, prehensile, trembled with
anger. The sense of wrongs, the injustices, the oppression,
extortion, and pillage of twenty years suddenly culminated and
found voice in a raucous howl of execration. For a second there
was nothing articulate in that cry of savage exasperation,
nothing even intelligent. It was the human animal hounded to its
corner, exploited, harried to its last stand, at bay, ferocious,
terrible, turning at last with bared teeth and upraised claws to
meet the death grapple. It was the hideous squealing of the
tormented brute, its back to the wall, defending its lair, its
mate and its whelps, ready to bite, to rend, to trample, to
batter out the life of The Enemy in a primeval, bestial welter of
blood and fury.
The roar subsided to intermittent clamour, in the pauses of which
the sounds of music and dancing made themselves audible once
"S. Behrman again," vociferated Harran Derrick.
"Chose his moment well," muttered Annixter. "Hits his hardest
when we're all rounded up having a good time."
"Gentlemen, this is ruin."
"What's to be done now?"
"FIGHT! My God! do you think we are going to stand this? Do
you think we CAN?"
The uproar swelled again. The clearer the assembly of ranchers
understood the significance of this move on the part of the
Railroad, the more terrible it appeared, the more flagrant, the
more intolerable. Was it possible, was it within the bounds of
imagination that this tyranny should be contemplated? But they
knew--past years had driven home the lesson--the implacable, iron
monster with whom they had to deal, and again and again the sense
of outrage and oppression lashed them to their feet, their mouths
wide with curses, their fists clenched tight, their throats
hoarse with shouting.
"Fight! How fight? What ARE you going to do?"
"If there's a law in this land"
"If there is, it is in Shelgrim's pocket. Who owns the courts in
California? Ain't it Shelgrim?"
"God damn him."
"Well, how long are you going to stand it? How long before
you'll settle up accounts with six inches of plugged gas-pipe?"
"And our contracts, the solemn pledges of the corporation to sell
to us first of all----"
"And now the land is for sale to anybody."
"Why, it is a question of my home. Am I to be turned out? Why,
I have put eight thousand dollars into improving this land."
"And I six thousand, and now that I have, the Railroad grabs it."
"And the system of irrigating ditches that Derrick and I have
been laying out. There's thousands of dollars in that!"
"I'll fight this out till I've spent every cent of my money."
"Where? In the courts that the company owns?"
"Think I am going to give in to this? Think I am to get off my
land? By God, gentlemen, law or no law, railroad or no
railroad, I--WILL--NOT."
"Nor I."
"Nor I."
"Nor I."
"This is the last. Legal means first; if those fail--the
"They can kill me. They can shoot me down, but I'll die--die
fighting for my home--before I'll give in to this."
At length Annixter made himself heard:
"All out of the room but the ranch owners," he shouted. "Hooven,
Caraher, Dyke, you'll have to clear out. This is a family
affair. Presley, you and your friend can remain."
Reluctantly the others filed through the door. There remained in
the harness room--besides Vanamee and Presley--Magnus Derrick,
Annixter, old Broderson Harran, Garnett from the Ruby rancho,
Keast from the ranch of the same name, Gethings of the San Pablo,
Chattern of the Bonanza, about a score of others, ranchers from
various parts of the county, and, last of all, Dabney, ignored,
silent, to whom nobody spoke and who, as yet, had not uttered a
But the men who had been asked to leave the harness room spread
the news throughout the barn. It was repeated from lip to lip.
One by one the guests dropped out of the dance. Groups were
formed. By swift degrees the gayety lapsed away. The Virginia
reel broke up. The musicians ceased playing, and in the place of
the noisy, effervescent revelry of the previous half hour, a
subdued murmur filled all the barn, a mingling of whispers,
lowered voices, the coming and going of light footsteps, the
uneasy shifting of positions, while from behind the closed doors
of the harness room came a prolonged, sullen hum of anger and
strenuous debate. The dance came to an abrupt end. The guests,
unwilling to go as yet, stunned, distressed, stood clumsily
about, their eyes vague, their hands swinging at their sides,
looking stupidly into each others' faces. A sense of impending
calamity, oppressive, foreboding, gloomy, passed through the air
overhead in the night, a long shiver of anguish and of terror,
mysterious, despairing.
In the harness room, however, the excitement continued unchecked.
One rancher after another delivered himself of a torrent of
furious words. There was no order, merely the frenzied outcry of
blind fury. One spirit alone was common to all--resistance at
whatever cost and to whatever lengths.
Suddenly Osterman leaped to his feet, his bald head gleaming in
the lamp-light, his red ears distended, a flood of words filling
his great, horizontal slit of a mouth, his comic actor's face
flaming. Like the hero of a melodrama, he took stage with a
great sweeping gesture.
"ORGANISATION," he shouted, "that must be our watch-word. The
curse of the ranchers is that they fritter away their strength.
Now, we must stand together, now, NOW. Here's the crisis, here's
the moment. Shall we meet it? I CALL FOR THE LEAGUE. Not next
week, not to-morrow, not in the morning, but now, now, now, this
very moment, before we go out of that door. Every one of us here
to join it, to form the beginnings of a vast organisation, banded
together to death, if needs be, for the protection of our rights
and homes. Are you ready? Is it now or never? I call for the
Instantly there was a shout. With an actor's instinct, Osterman
had spoken at the precise psychological moment. He carried the
others off their feet, glib, dexterous, voluble. Just what was
meant by the League the others did not know, but it was
something, a vague engine, a machine with which to fight.
Osterman had not done speaking before the room rang with
outcries, the crowd of men shouting, for what they did not know.
"The League! The League!"
"Now, to-night, this moment; sign our names before we leave."
"He's right. Organisation! The League!"
"We have a committee at work already," Osterman vociferated. "I
am a member, and also Mr. Broderson, Mr. Annixter, and Mr. Harran
Derrick. What our aims are we will explain to you later. Let
this committee be the nucleus of the League--temporarily, at
least. Trust us. We are working for you and with you. Let this
committee be merged into the larger committee of the League, and
for President of the League"--he paused the fraction of a second--
"for President there can be but one name mentioned, one man to
whom we all must look as leader--Magnus Derrick."
The Governor's name was received with a storm of cheers. The
harness room reechoed with shouts of:
"Derrick! Derrick!"
"Magnus for President!"
"Derrick, our natural leader."
"Derrick, Derrick, Derrick for President."
Magnus rose to his feet. He made no gesture. Erect as a cavalry
officer, tall, thin, commanding, he dominated the crowd in an
instant. There was a moment's hush.
"Gentlemen," he said, "if organisation is a good word, moderation
is a better one. The matter is too grave for haste. I would
suggest that we each and severally return to our respective homes
for the night, sleep over what has happened, and convene again
to-morrow, when we are calmer and can approach this affair in a
more judicious mood. As for the honour with which you would
inform me, I must affirm that that, too, is a matter for grave
deliberation. This League is but a name as yet. To accept
control of an organisation whose principles are not yet fixed is
a heavy responsibility. I shrink from it--"
But he was allowed to proceed no farther. A storm of protest
developed. There were shouts of:
"No, no. The League to-night and Derrick for President."
"We have been moderate too long."
"The League first, principles afterward."
"We can't wait," declared Osterman. "Many of us cannot attend a
meeting to-morrow. Our business affairs would prevent it. Now
we are all together. I propose a temporary chairman and
secretary be named and a ballot be taken. But first the League.
Let us draw up a set of resolutions to stand together, for the
defence of our homes, to death, if needs be, and each man present
affix his signature thereto."
He subsided amidst vigorous applause. The next quarter of an
hour was a vague confusion, every one talking at once,
conversations going on in low tones in various corners of the
room. Ink, pens, and a sheaf of foolscap were brought from the
ranch house. A set of resolutions was draughted, having the
force of a pledge, organising the League of Defence. Annixter
was the first to sign. Others followed, only a few holding back,
refusing to join till they had thought the matter over. The roll
grew; the paper circulated about the table; each signature was
welcomed by a salvo of cheers. At length, it reached Harran
Derrick, who signed amid tremendous uproar. He released the pen
only to shake a score of hands.
"Now, Magnus Derrick."
"Gentlemen," began the Governor, once more rising, "I beg of you
to allow me further consideration. Gentlemen"
He was interrupted by renewed shouting.
"No, no, now or never. Sign, join the League."
"Don't leave us. We look to you to help."
But presently the excited throng that turned their faces towards
the Governor were aware of a new face at his elbow. The door of
the harness room had been left unbolted and Mrs. Derrick, unable
to endure the heart-breaking suspense of waiting outside, had
gathered up all her courage and had come into the room.
Trembling, she clung to Magnus's arm, her pretty light-brown hair
in disarray, her large young girl's eyes wide with terror and
distrust. What was about to happen she did not understand, but
these men were clamouring for Magnus to pledge himself to
something, to some terrible course of action, some ruthless,
unscrupulous battle to the death with the iron-hearted monster of
steel and steam. Nerved with a coward's intrepidity, she, who so
easily obliterated herself, had found her way into the midst of
this frantic crowd, into this hot, close room, reeking of alcohol
and tobacco smoke, into this atmosphere surcharged with hatred
and curses. She seized her husband's arm imploring, distraught
with terror.
"No, no," she murmured; "no, don't sign."
She was the feather caught in the whirlwind. En masse, the crowd
surged toward the erect figure of the Governor, the pen in one
hand, his wife's fingers in the other, the roll of signatures
before him. The clamour was deafening; the excitement culminated
brusquely. Half a hundred hands stretched toward him; thirty
voices, at top pitch, implored, expostulated, urged, almost
commanded. The reverberation of the shouting was as the plunge
of a cataract.
It was the uprising of The People; the thunder of the outbreak of
revolt; the mob demanding to be led, aroused at last, imperious,
resistless, overwhelming. It was the blind fury of insurrection,
the brute, many-tongued, red-eyed, bellowing for guidance, baring
its teeth, unsheathing its claws, imposing its will with the
abrupt, resistless pressure of the relaxed piston, inexorable,
knowing no pity.
"No, no," implored Annie Derrick. "No, Magnus, don't sign."
"He must," declared Harran, shouting in her ear to make himself
heard, "he must. Don't you understand?"
Again the crowd surged forward, roaring. Mrs. Derrick was swept
back, pushed to one side. Her husband no longer belonged to her.
She paid the penalty for being the wife of a great man. The
world, like a colossal iron wedge, crushed itself between. She
was thrust to the wall. The throng of men, stamping, surrounded
Magnus; she could no longer see him, but, terror-struck, she
listened. There was a moment's lull, then a vast thunder of
savage jubilation. Magnus had signed.
Harran found his mother leaning against the wall, her hands shut
over her ears; her eyes, dilated with fear, brimming with tears.
He led her from the harness room to the outer room, where Mrs.
Tree and Hilma took charge of her, and then, impatient, refusing
to answer the hundreds of anxious questions that assailed him,
hurried back to the harness room.
Already the balloting was in progress, Osterman acting as
temporary chairman on the very first ballot he was made secretary
of the League pro tem., and Magnus unanimously chosen for its
President. An executive committee was formed, which was to meet
the next day at the Los Muertos ranch house.
It was half-past one o'clock. In the barn outside the greater
number of the guests had departed. Long since the musicians had
disappeared. There only remained the families of the ranch
owners involved in the meeting in the harness room. These
huddled in isolated groups in corners of the garish, echoing
barn, the women in their wraps, the young men with their coat
collars turned up against the draughts that once more made
themselves felt.
For a long half hour the loud hum of eager conversation continued
to issue from behind the door of the harness room. Then, at
length, there was a prolonged scraping of chairs. The session
was over. The men came out in groups, searching for their
At once the homeward movement began. Every one was worn out.
Some of the ranchers' daughters had gone to sleep against their
mothers' shoulders.
Billy, the stableman, and his assistant were awakened, and the
teams were hitched up. The stable yard was full of a maze of
swinging lanterns and buggy lamps. The horses fretted, champing
the bits; the carry-alls creaked with the straining of leather
and springs as they received their loads. At every instant one
heard the rattle of wheels. as vehicle after vehicle disappeared
in the night.
A fine, drizzling rain was falling, and the lamps began to show
dim in a vague haze of orange light.
Magnus Derrick was the last to go. At the doorway of the barn he
found Annixter, the roll of names--which it had been decided he
was to keep in his safe for the moment--under his arm. Silently
the two shook hands. Magnus departed. The grind of the wheels
of his carry-all grated sharply on the gravel of the driveway in
front of the ranch house, then, with a hollow roll across a
little plank bridge, gained the roadway. For a moment the beat
of the horses' hoofs made itself heard on the roadway. It
ceased. Suddenly there was a great silence.
Annixter, in the doorway of the great barn, stood looking about
him for a moment, alone, thoughtful. The barn was empty. That
astonishing evening had come to an end. The whirl of things and
people, the crowd of dancers, Delaney, the gun fight, Hilma Tree,
her eyes fixed on him in mute confession, the rabble in the
harness room, the news of the regrade, the fierce outburst of
wrath, the hasty organising of the League, all went spinning
confusedly through his recollection. But he was exhausted. Time
enough in the morning to think it all over. By now it was
raining sharply. He put the roll of names into his inside
pocket, threw a sack over his head and shoulders, and went down
to the ranch house.
But in the harness room, lighted by the glittering lanterns and
flaring lamps, in the midst of overturned chairs, spilled liquor,
cigar stumps, and broken glasses, Vanamee and Presley still
remained talking, talking. At length, they rose, and came out
upon the floor of the barn and stood for a moment looking about
Billy, the stableman, was going the rounds of the walls, putting
out light after light. By degrees, the vast interior was growing
dim. Upon the roof overhead the rain drummed incessantly, the
eaves dripping. The floor was littered with pine needles, bits
of orange peel, ends and fragments of torn organdies and muslins
and bits of tissue paper from the "Phrygian Bonnets" and "Liberty
Caps." The buckskin mare in the stall, dozing on three legs,
changed position with a long sigh. The sweat stiffening the hair
upon her back and loins, as it dried, gave off a penetrating,
ammoniacal odour that mingled with the stale perfume of sachet
and wilted flowers.
Presley and Vanamee stood looking at the deserted barn. There
was a long silence. Then Presley said:
"Well ... what do you think of it all?"
"I think," answered Vanamee slowly, "I think that there was a
dance in Brussels the night before Waterloo."
In his office at San Francisco, seated before a massive desk of
polished redwood, very ornate, Lyman Derrick sat dictating
letters to his typewriter, on a certain morning early in the
spring of the year. The subdued monotone of his voice proceeded
evenly from sentence to sentence, regular, precise, businesslike.
"I have the honour to acknowledge herewith your favour of the
14th instant, and in reply would state----"
"Please find enclosed draft upon New Orleans to be applied as per
our understanding----"
"In answer to your favour No. 1107, referring to the case of the
City and County of San Francisco against Excelsior Warehouse &
Storage Co., I would say----"
His voice continued, expressionless, measured, distinct. While
he spoke, he swung slowly back and forth in his leather swivel
chair, his elbows resting on the arms, his pop eyes fixed vaguely
upon the calendar on the opposite wall, winking at intervals when
he paused, searching for a word.
"That's all for the present," he said at length.
Without reply, the typewriter rose and withdrew, thrusting her
pencil into the coil of her hair, closing the door behind her,
softly, discreetly.
When she had gone, Lyman rose, stretching himself putting up
three fingers to hide his yawn. To further loosen his muscles,
he took a couple of turns the length of he room, noting with
satisfaction its fine appointments, the padded red carpet, the
dull olive green tint of the walls, the few choice engravings--
portraits of Marshall, Taney, Field, and a coloured lithograph--
excellently done--of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado--the deepseated
leather chairs, the large and crowded bookcase (topped
with a bust of James Lick, and a huge greenish globe), the waste
basket of woven coloured grass, made by Navajo Indians, the
massive silver inkstand on the desk, the elaborate filing
cabinet, complete in every particular, and the shelves of tin
boxes, padlocked, impressive, grave, bearing the names of
clients, cases and estates.
He was between thirty-one and thirty-five years of age. Unlike
Harran, he resembled his mother, but he was much darker than
Annie Derrick and his eyes were much fuller, the eyeball
protruding, giving him a pop-eyed, foreign expression, quite
unusual and unexpected. His hair was black, and he wore a small,
tight, pointed mustache, which he was in the habit of pushing
delicately upward from the corners of his lips with the ball of
his thumb, the little finger extended. As often as he made this
gesture, he prefaced it with a little twisting gesture of the
forearm in order to bring his cuff into view, and, in fact, this
movement by itself was habitual.
He was dressed carefully, his trousers creased, a pink rose in
his lapel. His shoes were of patent leather, his cutaway coat
was of very rough black cheviot, his double-breasted waistcoat of
tan covered cloth with buttons of smoked pearl. An Ascot scarf--
a great puff of heavy black silk--was at his neck, the knot
transfixed by a tiny golden pin set off with an opal and four
small diamonds.
At one end of the room were two great windows of plate glass, and
pausing at length before one of these, Lyman selected a cigarette
from his curved box of oxydized silver, lit it and stood looking
down and out, willing to be idle for a moment, amused and
interested in the view.
His office was on the tenth floor of the EXCHANGE BUILDING, a
beautiful, tower-like affair of white stone, that stood on the
corner of Market Street near its intersection with Kearney, the
most imposing office building of the city.
Below him the city swarmed tumultuous through its grooves, the
cable-cars starting and stopping with a gay jangling of bells and
a strident whirring of jostled glass windows. Drays and carts
clattered over the cobbles, and an incessant shuffling of
thousands of feet rose from the pavement. Around Lotta's
fountain the baskets of the flower sellers, crammed with
chrysanthemums, violets, pinks, roses, lilies, hyacinths, set a
brisk note of colour in the grey of the street.
But to Lyman's notion the general impression of this centre of
the city's life was not one of strenuous business activity. It
was a continuous interest in small things, a people ever willing
to be amused at trifles, refusing to consider serious matters--
good-natured, allowing themselves to be imposed upon, taking life
easily--generous, companionable, enthusiastic; living, as it
were, from day to day, in a place where the luxuries of life were
had without effort; in a city that offered to consideration the
restlessness of a New York, without its earnestness; the serenity
of a Naples, without its languor; the romance of a Seville,
without its picturesqueness.
As Lyman turned from the window, about to resume his work, the
office boy appeared at the door.
"The man from the lithograph company, sir," announced the boy.
"Well, what does he want?" demanded Lyman, adding, however, upon
the instant: " Show him in."
A young man entered, carrying a great bundle, which he deposited
on a chair, with a gasp of relief, exclaiming, all out of breath:
"From the Standard Lithograph Company."
"What is?"
"Don't know," replied the other. "Maps, I guess."
"I don't want any maps. Who sent them? I guess you're
Lyman tore the cover from the top of the package, drawing out one
of a great many huge sheets of white paper, folded eight times.
Suddenly, he uttered an exclamation:
"Ah, I see. They ARE maps. But these should not have come here.
They are to go to the regular office for distribution." He wrote
a new direction on the label of the package: "Take them to that
address," he went on. "I'll keep this one here. The others go
to that address. If you see Mr. Darrell, tell him that Mr.
Derrick--you get the name--Mr. Derrick may not be able to get
around this afternoon, but to go ahead with any business just the
The young man departed with the package and Lyman, spreading out
the map upon the table, remained for some time studying it
It was a commissioner's official railway map of the State of
California, completed to March 30th of that year. Upon it the
different railways of the State were accurately plotted in
various colours, blue, green, yellow. However, the blue, the
yellow, and the green were but brief traceries, very short,
isolated, unimportant. At a little distance these could hardly
be seen. The whole map was gridironed by a vast, complicated
network of red lines marked P. and S. W. R. R. These
centralised at San Francisco and thence ramified and spread
north, east, and south, to every quarter of the State. From
Coles, in the topmost corner of the map, to Yuma in the lowest,
from Reno on one side to San Francisco on the other, ran the
plexus of red, a veritable system of blood circulation,
complicated, dividing, and reuniting, branching, splitting,
extending, throwing out feelers, off-shoots, tap roots, feeders--
diminutive little blood suckers that shot out from the main
jugular and went twisting up into some remote county, laying hold
upon some forgotten village or town, involving it in one of a
myriad branching coils, one of a hundred tentacles, drawing it,
as it were, toward that centre from which all this system sprang.
The map was white, and it seemed as if all the colour which
should have gone to vivify the various counties, towns, and
cities marked upon it had been absorbed by that huge, sprawling
organism, with its ruddy arteries converging to a central point.
It was as though the State had been sucked white and colourless,
and against this pallid background the red arteries of the
monster stood out, swollen with life-blood, reaching out to
infinity, gorged to bursting; an excrescence, a gigantic parasite
fattening upon the life-blood of an entire commonwealth.
However, in an upper corner of the map appeared the names of the
three new commissioners: Jones McNish for the first district,
Lyman Derrick for the second, and James Darrell for the third.
Nominated in the Democratic State convention in the fall of the
preceding year, Lyman, backed by the coteries of San Francisco
bosses in the pay of his father's political committee of
ranchers, had been elected together with Darrell, the candidate
of the Pueblo and Mojave road, and McNish, the avowed candidate
of the Pacific and Southwestern. Darrell was rabidly against the
P. and S. W., McNish rabidly for it. Lyman was supposed to be
the conservative member of the board, the ranchers' candidate, it
was true, and faithful to their interests, but a calm man,
deliberative, swayed by no such violent emotions as his
Osterman's dexterity had at last succeeded in entangling Magnus
inextricably in the new politics. The famous League, organised
in the heat of passion the night of Annixter's barn dance, had
been consolidated all through the winter months. Its executive
committee, of which Magnus was chairman, had been, through
Osterman's manipulation, merged into the old committee composed
of Broderson, Annixter, and himself. Promptly thereat he had
resigned the chairmanship of this committee, thus leaving Magnus
at its head. Precisely as Osterman had planned, Magnus was now
one of them. The new committee accordingly had two objects in
view: to resist the attempted grabbing of their lands by the
Railroad, and to push forward their own secret scheme of electing
a board of railroad commissioners who should regulate wheat rates
so as to favour the ranchers of the San Joaquin. The land cases
were promptly taken to the courts and the new grading--fixing the
price of the lands at twenty and thirty dollars an acre instead
of two--bitterly and stubbornly fought. But delays occurred, the
process of the law was interminable, and in the intervals the
committee addressed itself to the work of seating the "Ranchers'
Commission," as the projected Board of Commissioners came to be
It was Harran who first suggested that his brother, Lyman, be put
forward as the candidate for this district. At once the
proposition had a great success. Lyman seemed made for the
place. While allied by every tie of blood to the ranching
interests, he had never been identified with them. He was citybred.
The Railroad would not be over-suspicious of him. He was
a good lawyer, a good business man, keen, clear-headed, farsighted,
had already some practical knowledge of politics, having
served a term as assistant district attorney, and even at the
present moment occupying the position of sheriff's attorney.
More than all, he was the son of Magnus Derrick; he could be
relied upon, could be trusted implicitly to remain loyal to the
ranchers' cause.
The campaign for Railroad Commissioner had been very interesting.
At the very outset Magnus's committee found itself involved in
corrupt politics. The primaries had to be captured at all costs
and by any means, and when the convention assembled it was found
necessary to buy outright the votes of certain delegates. The
campaign fund raised by contributions from Magnus, Annixter,
Broderson, and Osterman was drawn upon to the extent of five
thousand dollars.
Only the committee knew of this corruption. The League, ignoring
ways and means, supposed as a matter of course that the campaign
was honorably conducted.
For a whole week after the consummation of this part of the deal,
Magnus had kept to his house, refusing to be seen, alleging that
he was ill, which was not far from the truth. The shame of the
business, the loathing of what he had done, were to him things
unspeakable. He could no longer look Harran in the face. He
began a course of deception with his wife. More than once, he
had resolved to break with the whole affair, resigning his
position, allowing the others to proceed without him. But now it
was too late. He was pledged. He had joined the League. He was
its chief, and his defection might mean its disintegration at the
very time when it needed all its strength to fight the land
cases. More than a mere deal in bad politics was involved.
There was the land grab. His withdrawal from an unholy cause
would mean the weakening, perhaps the collapse, of another cause
that he believed to be righteous as truth itself. He was
hopelessly caught in the mesh. Wrong seemed indissolubly knitted
into the texture of Right. He was blinded, dizzied, overwhelmed,
caught in the current of events, and hurried along he knew not
where. He resigned himself.
In the end, and after much ostentatious opposition on the part of
the railroad heelers, Lyman was nominated and subsequently
When this consummation was reached Magnus, Osterman, Broderson,
and Annixter stared at each other. Their wildest hopes had not
dared to fix themselves upon so easy a victory as this. It was
not believable that the corporation would allow itself to be
fooled so easily, would rush open-eyed into the trap. How had it
Osterman, however, threw his hat into the air with wild whoops of
delight. Old Broderson permitted himself a feeble cheer. Even
Magnus beamed satisfaction. The other members of the League,
present at the time, shook hands all around and spoke of opening
a few bottles on the strength of the occasion. Annixter alone
was recalcitrant.
"It's too easy," he declared. "No, I'm not satisfied. Where's
Shelgrim in all this? Why don't he show his hand, damn his
soul? The thing is yellow, I tell you. There's a big fish in
these waters somewheres. I don't know his name, and I don't know
his game, but he's moving round off and on, just out of sight.
If you think you've netted him, I DON'T, that's all I've got to
But he was jeered down as a croaker. There was the Commission.
He couldn't get around that, could he? There was Darrell and
Lyman Derrick, both pledged to the ranches. Good Lord, he was
never satisfied. He'd be obstinate till the very last gun was
fired. Why, if he got drowned in a river he'd float upstream
just to be contrary.
In the course of time, the new board was seated. For the first
few months of its term, it was occupied in clearing up the
business left over by the old board and in the completion of the
railway map. But now, the decks were cleared. It was about to
address itself to the consideration of a revision of the tariff
for the carriage of grain between the San Joaquin Valley and
Both Lyman and Darrell were pledged to an average ten per cent.
cut of the grain rates throughout the entire State.
The typewriter returned with the letters for Lyman to sign, and
he put away the map and took up his morning's routine of
business, wondering, the while, what would become of his practice
during the time he was involved in the business of the Ranchers'
Railroad Commission.
But towards noon, at the moment when Lyman was drawing off a
glass of mineral water from the siphon that stood at his elbow,
there was an interruption. Some one rapped vigorously upon the
door, which was immediately after opened, and Magnus and Harran
came in, followed by Presley.
"Hello, hello!" cried Lyman, jumping up, extending his hands,
"why, here's a surprise. I didn't expect you all till to-night.
Come in, come in and sit down. Have a glass of sizz-water,
The others explained that they had come up from Bonneville the
night before, as the Executive Committee of the League had
received a despatch from the lawyers it had retained to fight the
Railroad, that the judge of the court in San Francisco, where the
test cases were being tried, might be expected to hand down his
decision the next day.
Very soon after the announcement of the new grading of the
ranchers' lands, the corporation had offered, through S. Behrman,
to lease the disputed lands to the ranchers at a nominal figure.
The offer had been angrily rejected, and the Railroad had put up
the lands for sale at Ruggles's office in Bonneville. At the
exorbitant price named, buyers promptly appeared--dummy buyers,
beyond shadow of doubt, acting either for the Railroad or for S.
Behrman--men hitherto unknown in the county, men without
property, without money, adventurers, heelers. Prominent among
them, and bidding for the railroad's holdings included on
Annixter's ranch, was Delaney.
The farce of deeding the corporation's sections to these
fictitious purchasers was solemnly gone through with at Ruggles's
office, the Railroad guaranteeing them possession. The League
refused to allow the supposed buyers to come upon the land, and
the Railroad, faithful to its pledge in the matter of
guaranteeing its dummies possession, at once began suits in
ejectment in the district court in Visalia, the county seat.
It was the preliminary skirmish, the reconnaisance in force, the
combatants feeling each other's strength, willing to proceed with
caution, postponing the actual death-grip for a while till each
had strengthened its position and organised its forces.
During the time the cases were on trial at Visalia, S. Behrman
was much in evidence in and about the courts. The trial itself,
after tedious preliminaries, was brief. The ranchers lost. The
test cases were immediately carried up to the United States
Circuit Court in San Francisco. At the moment the decision of
this court was pending.
"Why, this is news," exclaimed Lyman, in response to the
Governor's announcement; "I did not expect them to be so prompt.
I was in court only last week and there seemed to be no end of
business ahead. I suppose you are very anxious?"
Magnus nodded. He had seated himself in one of Lyman's deep
chairs, his grey top-hat, with its wide brim, on the floor beside
him. His coat of black broad-cloth that had been tightly packed
in his valise, was yet wrinkled and creased; his trousers were
strapped under his high boots. As he spoke, he stroked the
bridge of his hawklike nose with his bent forefinger.
Leaning-back in his chair, he watched his two sons with secret
delight. To his eye, both were perfect specimens of their class,
intelligent, well-looking, resourceful. He was intensely proud
of them. He was never happier, never more nearly jovial, never
more erect, more military, more alert, and buoyant than when in
the company of his two sons. He honestly believed that no finer
examples of young manhood existed throughout the entire nation.
"I think we should win in this court," Harran observed, watching
the bubbles break in his glass. "The investigation has been much
more complete than in the Visalia trial. Our case this time is
too good. It has made too much talk. The court would not dare
render a decision for the Railroad. Why, there's the agreement
in black and white--and the circulars the Railroad issued. How
CAN one get around those?"
"Well, well, we shall know in a few hours now," remarked Magnus.
"Oh," exclaimed Lyman, surprised, "it is for this morning, then.
Why aren't you at the court?"
"It seemed undignified, boy," answered the Governor. "We shall
know soon enough."
"Good God!" exclaimed Harran abruptly, "when I think of what is
involved. Why, Lyman, it's our home, the ranch house itself,
nearly all Los Muertos, practically our whole fortune, and just
now when there is promise of an enormous crop of wheat. And it
is not only us.
There are over half a million acres of the San Joaquin involved.
In some cases of the smaller ranches, it is the confiscation of
the whole of the rancher's land. If this thing goes through, it
will absolutely beggar nearly a hundred men. Broderson wouldn't
have a thousand acres to his name. Why, it's monstrous."
"But the corporations offered to lease these lands," remarked
Lyman. "Are any of the ranchers taking up that offer--or are any
of them buying outright?"
"Buying! At the new figure!" exclaimed Harran, "at twenty and
thirty an acre! Why, there's not one in ten that CAN. They are
land-poor. And as for leasing--leasing land they virtually own--
no, there's precious few are doing that, thank God! That would
be acknowledging the railroad's ownership right away--forfeiting
their rights for good. None of the LEAGUERS are doing it, I
know. That would be the rankest treachery."
He paused for a moment, drinking the rest of the mineral water,
then interrupting Lyman, who was about to speak to Presley,
drawing him into the conversation through politeness, said:
"Matters are just romping right along to a crisis these days.
It's a make or break for the wheat growers of the State now, no
mistake. Here are the land cases and the new grain tariff
drawing to a head at about the same time. If we win our land
cases, there's your new freight rates to be applied, and then all
is beer and skittles. Won't the San Joaquin go wild if we pull
it off, and I believe we will."
"How we wheat growers are exploited and trapped and deceived at
every turn," observed Magnus sadly. "The courts, the
capitalists, the railroads, each of them in turn hoodwinks us
into some new and wonderful scheme, only to betray us in the end.
Well," he added, turning to Lyman, "one thing at least we can
depend on. We will cut their grain rates for them, eh, Lyman?"
Lyman crossed his legs and settled himself in his office chair.
"I have wanted to have a talk with you about that, sir," he said.
"Yes, we will cut the rates--an average 10 per cent. cut
throughout the State, as we are pledged. But I am going to warn
you, Governor, and you, Harran; don't expect too much at first.
The man who, even after twenty years' training in the operation
of railroads, can draw an equitable, smoothly working schedule of
freight rates between shipping point and common point, is capable
of governing the United States. What with main lines, and leased
lines, and points of transfer, and the laws governing common
carriers, and the rulings of the Inter-State Commerce Commission,
the whole matter has become so confused that Vanderbilt himself
couldn't straighten it out. And how can it be expected that
railroad commissions who are chosen--well, let's be frank--as
ours was, for instance, from out a number of men who don't know
the difference between a switching charge and a differential
rate, are going to regulate the whole business in six months'
time? Cut rates; yes, any fool can do that; any fool can write
one dollar instead of two, but if you cut too low by a fraction
of one per cent. and if the railroad can get out an injunction,
tie you up and show that your new rate prevents the road being
operated at a profit, how are you any better off?"
"Your conscientiousness does you credit, Lyman," said the
Governor. "I respect you for it, my son. I know you will be
fair to the railroad. That is all we want. Fairness to the
corporation is fairness to the farmer, and we won't expect you to
readjust the whole matter out of hand. Take your time. We can
afford to wait."
"And suppose the next commission is a railroad board, and
reverses all our figures?"
The one-time mining king, the most redoubtable poker player of
Calaveras County, permitted himself a momentary twinkle of his
"By then it will be too late. We will, all of us, have made our
fortunes by then."
The remark left Presley astonished out of all measure He never
could accustom himself to these strange lapses in the Governor's
character. Magnus was by nature a public man, judicious,
deliberate, standing firm for principle, yet upon rare occasion,
by some such remark as this, he would betray the presence of a
sub-nature of recklessness, inconsistent, all at variance with
his creeds and tenets.
At the very bottom, when all was said and done, Magnus remained
the Forty-niner. Deep down in his heart the spirit of the
Adventurer yet persisted. "We will all of us have made fortunes
by then." That was it precisely. "After us the deluge." For
all his public spirit, for all his championship of justice and
truth, his respect for law, Magnus remained the gambler, willing
to play for colossal stakes, to hazard a fortune on the chance of
winning a million. It was the true California spirit that found
expression through him, the spirit of the West, unwilling to
occupy itself with details, refusing to wait, to be patient, to
achieve by legitimate plodding; the miner's instinct of wealth
acquired in a single night prevailed, in spite of all. It was in
this frame of mind that Magnus and the multitude of other
ranchers of whom he was a type, farmed their ranches. They had
no love for their land. They were not attached to the soil.
They worked their ranches as a quarter of a century before they
had worked their mines. To husband the resources of their
marvellous San Joaquin, they considered niggardly, petty,
Hebraic. To get all there was out of the land, to squeeze it
dry, to exhaust it, seemed their policy. When, at last, the land
worn out, would refuse to yield, they would invest their money in
something else; by then, they would all have made fortunes. They
did not care. "After us the deluge."
Lyman, however, was obviously uneasy, willing to change the
subject. He rose to his feet, pulling down his cuffs.
"By the way," he observed, "I want you three to lunch with me today
at my club. It is close by. You can wait there for news of
the court's decision as well as anywhere else, and I should like
to show you the place. I have just joined."
At the club, when the four men were seated at a small table in
the round window of the main room, Lyman's popularity with all
classes was very apparent. Hardly a man entered that did not
call out a salutation to him, some even coming over to shake his
hand. He seemed to be every man's friend, and to all he seemed
equally genial. His affability, even to those whom he disliked,
was unfailing.
"See that fellow yonder," he said to Magnus, indicating a certain
middle-aged man, flamboyantly dressed, who wore his hair long,
who was afflicted with sore eyes, and the collar of whose velvet
coat was sprinkled with dandruff, "that's Hartrath, the artist, a
man absolutely devoid of even the commonest decency. How he got
in here is a mystery to me."
Yet, when this Hartrath came across to say "How do you do" to
Lyman, Lyman was as eager in his cordiality as his warmest friend
could have expected.
"Why the devil are you so chummy with him, then?" observed Harran
when Hartrath had gone away.
Lyman's explanation was vague. The truth of the matter was, that
Magnus's oldest son was consumed by inordinate ambition.
Political preferment was his dream, and to the realisation of
this dream popularity was an essential. Every man who could
vote, blackguard or gentleman, was to be conciliated, if
possible. He made it his study to become known throughout the
entire community--to put influential men under obligations to
himself. He never forgot a name or a face. With everybody he
was the hail-fellow-well-met. His ambition was not trivial. In
his disregard for small things, he resembled his father.
Municipal office had no attraction for him. His goal was higher.
He had planned his life twenty years ahead. Already Sheriff's
Attorney, Assistant District Attorney and Railroad Commissioner,
he could, if he desired, attain the office of District Attorney
itself. Just now, it was a question with him whether or not it
would be politic to fill this office. Would it advance or
sidetrack him in the career he had outlined for himself? Lyman
wanted to be something better than District Attorney, better than
Mayor, than State Senator, or even than member of the United
States Congress. He wanted to be, in fact, what his father was
only in name--to succeed where Magnus had failed. He wanted to
be governor of the State. He had put his teeth together, and,
deaf to all other considerations, blind to all other issues, he
worked with the infinite slowness, the unshakable tenacity of the
coral insect to this one end.
After luncheon was over, Lyman ordered cigars and liqueurs, and
with the three others returned to the main room of the club.
However, their former place in the round window was occupied. A
middle-aged man, with iron grey hair and moustache, who wore a
frock coat and a white waistcoat, and in some indefinable manner
suggested a retired naval officer, was sitting at their table
smoking a long, thin cigar. At sight of him, Presley became
animated. He uttered a mild exclamation:
"Why, isn't that Mr. Cedarquist?"
"Cedarquist?" repeated Lyman Derrick. "I know him well. Yes, of
course, it is," he continued. "Governor, you must know him. He
is one of our representative men. You would enjoy talking to
him. He was the head of the big Atlas Iron Works. They have
shut down recently, you know. Not failed exactly, but just
ceased to be a paying investment, and Cedarquist closed them out.
He has other interests, though. He's a rich man--a capitalist."
Lyman brought the group up to the gentleman in question and
introduced them.
"Mr. Magnus Derrick, of course," observed Cedarquist, as he took
the Governor's hand. "I've known you by repute for some time,
sir. This is a great pleasure, I assure you." Then, turning to
Presley, he added: "Hello, Pres, my boy. How is the great, the
very great Poem getting on?"
"It's not getting on at all, sir," answered Presley, in some
embarrassment, as they all sat down. "In fact, I've about given
up the idea. There's so much interest in what you might call
'living issues' down at Los Muertos now, that I'm getting further
and further from it every day."
"I should say as much," remarked the manufacturer, turning
towards Magnus. "I'm watching your fight with Shelgrim, Mr.
Derrick, with every degree of interest." He raised his drink of
whiskey and soda. "Here's success to you."
As he replaced his glass, the artist Hartrath joined the group
uninvited. As a pretext, he engaged Lyman in conversation.
Lyman, he believed, was a man with a "pull" at the City Hall. In
connection with a projected Million-Dollar Fair and Flower
Festival, which at that moment was the talk of the city, certain
statues were to be erected, and Hartrath bespoke Lyman's
influence to further the pretensions of a sculptor friend of his,
who wished to be Art Director of the affair. In the matter of
this Fair and Flower Festival, Hartrath was not lacking in
enthusiasm. He addressed the others with extravagant gestures,
blinking his inflamed eyelids.
"A million dollars," he exclaimed. "Hey! think of that. Why,
do you know that we have five hundred thousand practically
pledged already? Talk about public spirit, gentlemen, this is
the most public-spirited city on the continent. And the money is
not thrown away. We will have Eastern visitors here by the
thousands--capitalists--men with money to invest. The million we
spend on our fair will be money in our pockets. Ah, you should
see how the women of this city are taking hold of the matter.
They are giving all kinds of little entertainments, teas, 'Olde
Tyme Singing Skules,' amateur theatricals, gingerbread fetes, all
for the benefit of the fund, and the business men, too--pouring
out their money like water. It is splendid, splendid, to see a
community so patriotic."
The manufacturer, Cedarquist, fixed the artist with a glance of
melancholy interest.
"And how much," he remarked, "will they contribute--your
gingerbread women and public-spirited capitalists, towards the
blowing up of the ruins of the Atlas Iron Works?"
"Blowing up? I don't understand," murmured the artist,
"When you get your Eastern capitalists out here with your
Million-Dollar Fair," continued Cedarquist, "you don't propose,
do you, to let them see a Million-Dollar Iron Foundry standing
idle, because of the indifference of San Francisco business men?
They might ask pertinent questions, your capitalists, and we
should have to answer that our business men preferred to invest
their money in corner lots and government bonds, rather than to
back up a legitimate, industrial enterprise. We don't want
fairs. We want active furnaces. We don't want public statues,
and fountains, and park extensions and gingerbread fetes. We
want business enterprise. Isn't it like us? Isn't it like us?"
he exclaimed sadly. "What a melancholy comment! San Francisco!
It is not a city--it is a Midway Plaisance. California likes to
be fooled. Do you suppose Shelgrim could convert the whole San
Joaquin Valley into his back yard otherwise? Indifference to
public affairs--absolute indifference, it stamps us all. Our
State is the very paradise of fakirs. You and your Million-
Dollar Fair!" He turned to Hartrath with a quiet smile. "It is
just such men as you, Mr. Hartrath, that are the ruin of us. You
organise a sham of tinsel and pasteboard, put on fool's cap and
bells, beat a gong at a street corner, and the crowd cheers you
and drops nickels into your hat. Your ginger-bread fete; yes, I
saw it in full blast the other night on the grounds of one of
your women's places on Sutter Street. I was on my way home from
the last board meeting of the Atlas Company. A gingerbread fete,
my God! and the Atlas plant shutting down for want of financial
backing. A million dollars spent to attract the Eastern
investor, in order to show him an abandoned rolling mill, wherein
the only activity is the sale of remnant material and scrap
Lyman, however, interfered. The situation was becoming strained.
He tried to conciliate the three men--the artist, the
manufacturer, and the farmer, the warring elements. But
Hartrath, unwilling to face the enmity that he felt accumulating
against him, took himself away. A picture of his--"A Study of
the Contra Costa Foot-hills"--was to be raffled in the club rooms
for the benefit of the Fair. He, himself, was in charge of the
matter. He disappeared.
Cedarquist looked after him with contemplative interest. Then,
turning to Magnus, excused himself for the acridity of his words.
"He's no worse than many others, and the people of this State and
city are, after all, only a little more addle-headed than other
Americans." It was his favourite topic. Sure of the interest of
his hearers, he unburdened himself.
"If I were to name the one crying evil of American life, Mr.
Derrick," he continued, "it would be the indifference of the
better people to public affairs. It is so in all our great
centres. There are other great trusts, God knows, in the United
States besides our own dear P. and S. W. Railroad. Every State
has its own grievance. If it is not a railroad trust, it is a
sugar trust, or an oil trust, or an industrial trust, that
exploits the People, BECAUSE THE PEOPLE ALLOW IT. The
indifference of the People is the opportunity of the despot. It
is as true as that the whole is greater than the part, and the
maxim is so old that it is trite--it is laughable. It is
neglected and disused for the sake of some new ingenious and
complicated theory, some wonderful scheme of reorganisation, but
the fact remains, nevertheless, simple, fundamental, everlasting.
The People have but to say 'No,' and not the strongest tyranny,
political, religious, or financial, that was ever organised,
could survive one week."
The others, absorbed, attentive, approved, nodding their heads in
silence as the manufacturer finished.
"That's one reason, Mr. Derrick," the other resumed after a
moment, "why I have been so glad to meet you. You and your League
are trying to say 'No' to the trust. I hope you will succeed.
If your example will rally the People to your cause, you will.
Otherwise--" he shook his head.
"One stage of the fight is to be passed this very day," observed
Magnus. "My sons and myself are expecting hourly news from the
City Hall, a decision in our case is pending."
"We are both of us fighters, it seems, Mr. Derrick," said
Cedarquist. "Each with his particular enemy. We are well met,
indeed, the farmer and the manufacturer, both in the same grist
between the two millstones of the lethargy of the Public and the
aggression of the Trust, the two great evils of modern America.
Pres, my boy, there is your epic poem ready to hand."
But Cedarquist was full of another idea. Rarely did so
favourable an opportunity present itself for explaining his
theories, his ambitions. Addressing himself to Magnus, he
"Fortunately for myself, the Atlas Company was not my only
investment. I have other interests. The building of ships--
steel sailing ships--has been an ambition of mine,--for this
purpose, Mr. Derrick, to carry American wheat. For years, I have
studied this question of American wheat, and at last, I have
arrived at a theory. Let me explain. At present, all our
California wheat goes to Liverpool, and from that port is
distributed over the world. But a change is coming. I am sure
of it. You young men," he turned to Presley, Lyman, and Harran,
"will live to see it. Our century is about done. The great word
of this nineteenth century has been Production. The great word
of the twentieth century will be--listen to me, you youngsters--
Markets. As a market for our Production--or let me take a
concrete example--as a market for our WHEAT, Europe is played
out. Population in Europe is not increasing fast enough to keep
up with the rapidity of our production. In some cases, as in
France, the population is stationary. WE, however, have gone on
producing wheat at a tremendous rate.
The result is over-production. We supply more than Europe can
eat, and down go the prices. The remedy is NOT in the curtailing
of our wheat areas, but in this, we MUST HAVE NEW MARKETS,
GREATER MARKETS. For years we have been sending our wheat from
East to West, from California to Europe. But the time will come
when we must send it from West to East. We must march with the
course of empire, not against it. I mean, we must look to China.
Rice in China is losing its nutritive quality. The Asiatics,
though, must be fed; if not on rice, then on wheat. Why, Mr.
Derrick, if only one-half the population of China ate a half
ounce of flour per man per day all the wheat areas in California
could not feed them. Ah, if I could only hammer that into the
brains of every rancher of the San Joaquin, yes, and of every
owner of every bonanza farm in Dakota and Minnesota. Send your
wheat to China; handle it yourselves; do away with the middleman;
break up the Chicago wheat pits and elevator rings and mixing
houses. When in feeding China you have decreased the European
shipments, the effect is instantaneous. Prices go up in Europe
without having the least effect upon the prices in China. We
hold the key, we have the wheat,--infinitely more than we
ourselves can eat. Asia and Europe must look to America to be
fed. What fatuous neglect of opportunity to continue to deluge
Europe with our surplus food when the East trembles upon the
verge of starvation!"
The two men, Cedarquist and Magnus, continued the conversation a
little further. The manufacturer's idea was new to the Governor.
He was greatly interested. He withdrew from the conversation.
Thoughtful, he leaned back in his place, stroking the bridge of
his beak-like nose with a crooked forefinger.
Cedarquist turned to Harran and began asking details as to the
conditions of the wheat growers of the San Joaquin. Lyman still
maintained an attitude of polite aloofness, yawning occasionally
behind three fingers, and Presley was left to the company of his
own thoughts.
There had been a day when the affairs and grievances of the
farmers of his acquaintance--Magnus, Annixter, Osterman, and old
Broderson--had filled him only with disgust. His mind full of a
great, vague epic poem of the West, he had kept himself apart,
disdainful of what he chose to consider their petty squabbles.
But the scene in Annixter's harness room had thrilled and
uplifted him. He was palpitating with excitement all through the
succeeding months. He abandoned the idea of an epic poem. In
six months he had not written a single verse. Day after day he
trembled with excitement as the relations between the Trust and
League became more and more strained. He saw the matter in its
true light. It was typical. It was the world-old war between
Freedom and Tyranny, and at times his hatred of the railroad
shook him like a crisp and withered reed, while the languid
indifference of the people of the State to the quarrel filled him
with a blind exasperation.
But, as he had once explained to Vanamee, he must find
expression. He felt that he would suffocate otherwise. He had
begun to keep a journal. As the inclination spurred him, he
wrote down his thoughts and ideas in this, sometimes every day,
sometimes only three or four times a month. Also he flung aside
his books of poems--Milton, Tennyson, Browning, even Homer--and
addressed himself to Mill, Malthus, Young, Poushkin, Henry
George, Schopenhauer. He attacked the subject of Social
Inequality with unbounded enthusiasm. He devoured, rather than
read, and emerged from the affair, his mind a confused jumble of
conflicting notions, sick with over-effort, raging against
injustice and oppression, and with not one sane suggestion as to
remedy or redress.
The butt of his cigarette scorched his fingers and roused him
from his brooding. In the act of lighting another, he glanced
across the room and was surprised to see two very prettily
dressed young women in the company of an older gentleman, in a
long frock coat, standing before Hartrath's painting, examining
it, their heads upon one side.
Presley uttered a murmur of surprise. He, himself, was a member
of the club, and the presence of women within its doors, except
on special occasions, was not tolerated. He turned to Lyman
Derrick for an explanation, but this other had also seen the
women and abruptly exclaimed:
"I declare, I had forgotten about it. Why, this is Ladies' Day,
of course."
"Why, yes," interposed Cedarquist, glancing at the women over his
shoulder. "Didn't you know? They let 'em in twice a year, you
remember, and this is a double occasion. They are going to
raffle Hartrath's picture,--for the benefit of the Gingerbread
Fair. Why, you are not up to date, Lyman. This is a sacred and
religious rite,--an important public event."
"Of course, of course," murmured Lyman. He found means to survey
Harran and Magnus. Certainly, neither his father nor his brother
were dressed for the function that impended. He had been stupid.
Magnus invariably attracted attention, and now with his trousers
strapped under his boots, his wrinkled frock coat--Lyman twisted
his cuffs into sight with an impatient, nervous movement of his
wrists, glancing a second time at his brother's pink face,
forward curling, yellow hair and clothes of a country cut. But
there was no help for it. He wondered what were the club
regulations in the matter of bringing in visitors on Ladies' Day.
"Sure enough, Ladies' Day," he remarked, "I am very glad you
struck it, Governor. We can sit right where we are. I guess
this is as good a place as any to see the crowd. It's a good
chance to see all the big guns of the city. Do you expect your
people here, Mr. Cedarquist?"
"My wife may come, and my daughters," said the manufacturer.
"Ah," murmured Presley, "so much the better. I was going to give
myself the pleasure of calling upon your daughters, Mr.
Cedarquist, this afternoon."
"You can save your carfare, Pres," said Cedarquist, "you will see
them here."
No doubt, the invitations for the occasion had appointed one
o'clock as the time, for between that hour and two, the guests
arrived in an almost unbroken stream. From their point of
vantage in the round window of the main room, Magnus, his two
sons, and Presley looked on very interested. Cedarquist had
excused himself, affirming that he must look out for his women
Of every ten of the arrivals, seven, at least, were ladies. They
entered the room--this unfamiliar masculine haunt, where their
husbands, brothers, and sons spent so much of their time--with a
certain show of hesitancy and little, nervous, oblique glances,
moving their heads from side to side like a file of hens
venturing into a strange barn. They came in groups, ushered by a
single member of the club, doing the honours with effusive bows
and polite gestures, indicating the various objects of interest,
pictures, busts, and the like, that decorated the room.
Fresh from his recollections of Bonneville, Guadalajara, and the
dance in Annixter's barn, Presley was astonished at the beauty of
these women and the elegance of their toilettes. The crowd
thickened rapidly. A murmur of conversation arose, subdued,
gracious, mingled with the soft rustle of silk, grenadines,
velvet. The scent of delicate perfumes spread in the air, Violet
de Parme, Peau d'Espagne. Colours of the most harmonious blends
appeared and disappeared at intervals in the slowly moving press,
touches of lavender-tinted velvets, pale violet crepes and creamcoloured
appliqued laces.
There seemed to be no need of introductions. Everybody appeared
to be acquainted. There was no awkwardness, no constraint. The
assembly disengaged an impression of refined pleasure. On every
hand, innumerable dialogues seemed to go forward easily and
naturally, without break or interruption, witty, engaging, the
couple never at a loss for repartee. A third party was
gracefully included, then a fourth. Little groups were formed,--
groups that divided themselves, or melted into other groups, or
disintegrated again into isolated pairs, or lost themselves in
the background of the mass,--all without friction, without
embarrassment,--the whole affair going forward of itself,
decorous, tactful, well-bred.
At a distance, and not too loud, a stringed orchestra sent up a
pleasing hum. Waiters, with brass buttons on their full dress
coats, went from group to group, silent, unobtrusive, serving
salads and ices.
But the focus of the assembly was the little space before
Hartrath's painting. It was called "A Study of the Contra Costa
Foothills," and was set in a frame of natural redwood, the bark
still adhering. It was conspicuously displayed on an easel at
the right of the entrance to the main room of the club, and was
very large. In the foreground, and to the left, under the shade
of a live-oak, stood a couple of reddish cows, knee-deep in a
patch of yellow poppies, while in the right-hand corner, to
balance the composition, was placed a girl in a pink dress and
white sunbonnet, in which the shadows were indicated by broad
dashes of pale blue paint. The ladies and young girls examined
the production with little murmurs of admiration, hazarding
remembered phrases, searching for the exact balance between
generous praise and critical discrimination, expressing their
opinions in the mild technicalities of the Art Books and painting
classes. They spoke of atmospheric effects, of middle distance,
of "chiaro-oscuro," of fore-shortening, of the decomposition of
light, of the subordination of individuality to fidelity of
One tall girl, with hair almost white in its blondness, having
observed that the handling of the masses reminded her strongly of
Corot, her companion, who carried a gold lorgnette by a chain
around her neck, answered:
"Ah! Millet, perhaps, but not Corot."
This verdict had an immediate success. It was passed from group
to group. It seemed to imply a delicate distinction that carried
conviction at once. It was decided formally that the reddish
brown cows in the picture were reminiscent of Daubigny, and that
the handling of the masses was altogether Millet, but that the
general effect was not quite Corot.
Presley, curious to see the painting that was the subject of so
much discussion, had left the group in the round window, and
stood close by Hartrath, craning his head over the shoulders of
the crowd, trying to catch a glimpse of the reddish cows, the
milk-maid and the blue painted foothills. He was suddenly aware
of Cedarquist's voice in his ear, and, turning about, found
himself face to face with the manufacturer, his wife and his two
There was a meeting. Salutations were exchanged, Presley shaking
hands all around, expressing his delight at seeing his old
friends once more, for he had known the family from his boyhood,
Mrs. Cedarquist being his aunt. Mrs. Cedarquist and her two
daughters declared that the air of Los Muertos must certainly
have done him a world of good. He was stouter, there could be no
doubt of it. A little pale, perhaps. He was fatiguing himself
with his writing, no doubt. Ah, he must take care. Health was
everything, after all. Had he been writing any more verse? Every
month they scanned the magazines, looking for his name.
Mrs. Cedarquist was a fashionable woman, the president or
chairman of a score of clubs. She was forever running after
fads, appearing continually in the society wherein she moved with
new and astounding proteges--fakirs whom she unearthed no one
knew where, discovering them long in advance of her companions.
Now it was a Russian Countess, with dirty finger nails, who
travelled throughout America and borrowed money; now an Aesthete
who possessed a wonderful collection of topaz gems, who submitted
decorative schemes for the interior arrangement of houses and who
"received" in Mrs. Cedarquist's drawing-rooms dressed in a white
velvet cassock; now a widow of some Mohammedan of Bengal or
Rajputana, who had a blue spot in the middle of her forehead and
who solicited contributions for her sisters in affliction; now a
certain bearded poet, recently back from the Klondike; now a
decayed musician who had been ejected from a young ladies'
musical conservatory of Europe because of certain surprising
pamphlets on free love, and who had come to San Francisco to
introduce the community to the music of Brahms; now a Japanese
youth who wore spectacles and a grey flannel shirt and who, at
intervals, delivered himself of the most astonishing poems,
vague, unrhymed, unmetrical lucubrations, incoherent, bizarre;
now a Christian Scientist, a lean, grey woman, whose creed was
neither Christian nor scientific; now a university professor,
with the bristling beard of an anarchist chief-of-section, and a
roaring, guttural voice, whose intenseness left him gasping and
apoplectic; now a civilised Cherokee with a mission; now a female
elocutionist, whose forte was Byron's Songs of Greece; now a high
caste Chinaman; now a miniature painter; now a tenor, a pianiste,
a mandolin player, a missionary, a drawing master, a virtuoso, a
collector, an Armenian, a botanist with a new flower, a critic
with a new theory, a doctor with a new treatment.
And all these people had a veritable mania for declamation and
fancy dress. The Russian Countess gave talks on the prisons of
Siberia, wearing the headdress and pinchbeck ornaments of a Slav
bride; the Aesthete, in his white cassock, gave readings on
obscure questions of art and ethics. The widow of India, in the
costume of her caste, described the social life of her people at
home. The bearded poet, perspiring in furs and boots of reindeer
skin, declaimed verses of his own composition about the wild life
of the Alaskan mining camps. The Japanese youth, in the silk
robes of the Samurai two-sworded nobles, read from his own works--
"The flat-bordered earth, nailed down at night, rusting under
the darkness," "The brave, upright rains that came down like
errands from iron-bodied yore-time." The Christian Scientist, in
funereal, impressive black, discussed the contra-will and panpsychic
hylozoism. The university professor put on a full dress
suit and lisle thread gloves at three in the afternoon and before
literary clubs and circles bellowed extracts from Goethe and
Schiler in the German, shaking his fists, purple with vehemence.
The Cherokee, arrayed in fringed buckskin and blue beads, rented
from a costumer, intoned folk songs of his people in the
vernacular. The elocutionist in cheese-cloth toga and tin
bracelets, rendered "The Isles of Greece, where burning Sappho
loved and sung." The Chinaman, in the robes of a mandarin,
lectured on Confucius. The Armenian, in fez and baggy trousers,
spoke of the Unspeakable Turk. The mandolin player, dressed like
a bull fighter, held musical conversaziones, interpreting the
peasant songs of Andalusia.
It was the Fake, the eternal, irrepressible Sham; glib, nimble,
ubiquitous, tricked out in all the paraphernalia of imposture, an
endless defile of charlatans that passed interminably before the
gaze of the city, marshalled by "lady presidents," exploited by
clubs of women, by literary societies, reading circles, and
culture organisations. The attention the Fake received, the time
devoted to it, the money which it absorbed, were incredible. It
was all one that impostor after impostor was exposed; it was all
one that the clubs, the circles, the societies were proved beyond
doubt to have been swindled. The more the Philistine press of
the city railed and guyed, the more the women rallied to the
defence of their protege of the hour. That their favourite was
persecuted, was to them a veritable rapture. Promptly they
invested the apostle of culture with the glamour of a martyr.
The fakirs worked the community as shell-game tricksters work a
county fair, departing with bursting pocket-books, passing on the
word to the next in line, assured that the place was not worked
out, knowing well that there was enough for all.
More frequently the public of the city, unable to think of more
than one thing at one time, prostrated itself at the feet of a
single apostle, but at other moments, such as the present, when a
Flower Festival or a Million-Dollar Fair aroused enthusiasm in
all quarters, the occasion was one of gala for the entire Fake.
The decayed professors, virtuosi, litterateurs, and artists
thronged to the place en masse. Their clamour filled all the air.
On every hand one heard the scraping of violins, the tinkling of
mandolins, the suave accents of "art talks," the incoherencies of
poets, the declamation of elocutionists, the inarticulate
wanderings of the Japanese, the confused mutterings of the
Cherokee, the guttural bellowing of the German university
professor, all in the name of the Million-Dollar Fair. Money to
the extent of hundreds of thousands was set in motion.
Mrs. Cedarquist was busy from morning until night. One after
another, she was introduced to newly arrived fakirs. To each
poet, to each litterateur, to each professor she addressed the
same question:
"How long have you known you had this power?"
She spent her days in one quiver of excitement and jubilation.
She was "in the movement." The people of the city were awakening
to a Realisation of the Beautiful, to a sense of the higher needs
of life. This was Art, this was Literature, this was Culture and
Refinement. The Renaissance had appeared in the West.
She was a short, rather stout, red-faced, very much over-dressed
little woman of some fifty years. She was rich in her own name,
even before her marriage, being a relative of Shelgrim himself
and on familiar terms with the great financier and his family.
Her husband, while deploring the policy of the railroad, saw no
good reason for quarrelling with Shelgrim, and on more than one
occasion had dined at his house.
On this occasion, delighted that she had come upon a "minor
poet," she insisted upon presenting him to Hartrath.
"You two should have so much in common," she explained.
Presley shook the flaccid hand of the artist, murmuring
conventionalities, while Mrs. Cedarquist hastened to say:
"I am sure you know Mr. Presley's verse, Mr. Hartrath. You
should, believe me. You two have much in common. I can see so
much that is alike in your modes of interpreting nature. In Mr.
Presley's sonnet, 'The Better Part,' there is the same note as in
your picture, the same sincerity of tone, the same subtlety of
touch, the same nuances,--ah."
"Oh, my dear Madame," murmured the artist, interrupting Presley's
impatient retort; "I am a mere bungler. You don't mean quite
that, I am sure. I am too sensitive. It is my cross. Beauty,"
he closed his sore eyes with a little expression of pain, "beauty
unmans me."
But Mrs. Cedarquist was not listening. Her eyes were fixed on
the artist's luxuriant hair, a thick and glossy mane, that all
but covered his coat collar.
"Leonine!" she murmured--" leonine! Like Samson of old."
However, abruptly bestirring herself, she exclaimed a second
"But I must run away. I am selling tickets for you this
afternoon, Mr. Hartrath. I am having such success. Twenty-five
already. Mr. Presley, you will take two chances, I am sure, and,
oh, by the way, I have such good news. You know I am one of the
lady members of the subscription committee for our Fair, and you
know we approached Mr. Shelgrim for a donation to help along.
Oh, such a liberal patron, a real Lorenzo di' Medici. In the
name of the Pacific and Southwestern he has subscribed, think of
it, five thousand dollars; and yet they will talk of the meanness
of the railroad."
"Possibly it is to his interest," murmured Presley. "The fairs
and festivals bring people to the city over his railroad."
But the others turned on him, expostulating.
"Ah, you Philistine," declared Mrs. Cedarquist. "And this from
YOU!, Presley; to attribute such base motives----"
"If the poets become materialised, Mr. Presley," declared
Hartrath, "what can we say to the people?"
"And Shelgrim encourages your million-dollar fairs and fetes,"
said a voice at Presley's elbow, "because it is throwing dust in
the people's eyes."
The group turned about and saw Cedarquist, who had come up
unobserved in time to catch the drift of the talk. But he spoke
without bitterness; there was even a good-humoured twinkle in his
"Yes," he continued, smiling, "our dear Shelgrim promotes your
fairs, not only as Pres says, because it is money in his pocket,
but because it amuses the people, distracts their attention from
the doings of his railroad. When Beatrice was a baby and had
little colics, I used to jingle my keys in front of her nose, and
it took her attention from the pain in her tummy; so Shelgrim."
The others laughed good-humouredly, protesting, nevertheless, and
Mrs. Cedarquist shook her finger in warning at the artist and
"The Philistines be upon thee, Samson!"
"By the way," observed Hartrath, willing to change the subject,
"I hear you are on the Famine Relief Committee. Does your work
"Oh, most famously, I assure you," she said. "Such a movement as
we have started. Those poor creatures. The photographs of them
are simply dreadful. I had the committee to luncheon the other
day and we passed them around. We are getting subscriptions from
all over the State, and Mr. Cedarquist is to arrange for the
The Relief Committee in question was one of a great number that
had been formed in California--and all over the Union, for the
matter of that--to provide relief for the victims of a great
famine in Central India. The whole world had been struck with
horror at the reports of suffering and mortality in the affected
districts, and had hastened to send aid. Certain women of San
Francisco, with Mrs. Cedarquist at their head, had organised a
number of committees, but the manufacturer's wife turned the
meetings of these committees into social affairs--luncheons,
teas, where one discussed the ways and means of assisting the
starving Asiatics over teacups and plates of salad.
Shortly afterward a mild commotion spread throughout the
assemblage of the club's guests. The drawing of the numbers in
the raffle was about to be made. Hartrath, in a flurry of
agitation, excused himself. Cedarquist took Presley by the arm.
"Pres, let's get out of this," he said. "Come into the wine room
and I will shake you for a glass of sherry."
They had some difficulty in extricating themselves. The main
room where the drawing was to take place suddenly became densely
thronged. All the guests pressed eagerly about the table near
the picture, upon which one of the hall boys had just placed a
ballot box containing the numbers. The ladies, holding their
tickets in their hands, pushed forward. A staccato chatter of
excited murmurs arose.
"What became of Harran and Lyman and the Governor?" inquired
Lyman had disappeared, alleging a business engagement, but Magnus
and his younger son had retired to the library of the club on the
floor above. It was almost deserted. They were deep in earnest
"Harran," said the Governor, with decision, "there is a deal,
there, in what Cedarquist says. Our wheat to China, hey, boy?"
"It is certainly worth thinking of, sir."
"It appeals to me, boy; it appeals to me. It's big and there's a
fortune in it. Big chances mean big returns; and I know--your
old father isn't a back number yet, Harran--I may not have so
wide an outlook as our friend Cedarquist, but I am quick to see
my chance. Boy, the whole East is opening, disintegrating before
the Anglo-Saxon. It is time that bread stuffs, as well, should
make markets for themselves in the Orient. Just at this moment,
too, when Lyman will scale down freight rates so we can haul to
tidewater at little cost."
Magnus paused again, his frown beetling, and in the silence the
excited murmur from the main room of the club, the soprano
chatter of a multitude of women, found its way to the deserted
"I believe it's worth looking into, Governor," asserted Harran.
Magnus rose, and, his hands behind him, paced the floor of the
library a couple of times, his imagination all stimulated and
vivid. The great gambler perceived his Chance, the kaleidoscopic
shifting of circumstances that made a Situation. It had come
silently, unexpectedly. He had not seen its approach. Abruptly
he woke one morning to see the combination realised. But also he
saw a vision. A sudden and abrupt revolution in the Wheat. A
new world of markets discovered, the matter as important as the
discovery of America. The torrent of wheat was to be diverted,
flowing back upon itself in a sudden, colossal eddy, stranding
the middleman, the ENTRE-PRENEUR, the elevator-and mixing-house
men dry and despairing, their occupation gone. He saw the farmer
suddenly emancipated, the world's food no longer at the mercy of
the speculator, thousands upon thousands of men set free of the
grip of Trust and ring and monopoly acting for themselves,
selling their own wheat, organising into one gigantic trust,
themselves, sending their agents to all the entry ports of China.
Himself, Annixter, Broderson and Osterman would pool their
issues. He would convince them of the magnificence of the new
movement. They would be its pioneers. Harran would be sent to
Hong Kong to represent the four. They would charter--probably
buy--a ship, perhaps one of Cedarquist's, American built, the
nation's flag at the peak, and the sailing of that ship, gorged
with the crops from Broderson's and Osterman's ranches, from
Quien Sabe and Los Muertos, would be like the sailing of the
caravels from Palos. It would mark a new era; it would make an
With this vision still expanding before the eye of his mind,
Magnus, with Harran at his elbow, prepared to depart.
They descended to the lower floor and involved themselves for a
moment in the throng of fashionables that blocked the hallway and
the entrance to the main room, where the numbers of the raffle
were being drawn. Near the head of the stairs they encountered
Presley and Cedarquist, who had just come out of the wine room.
Magnus, still on fire with the new idea, pressed a few questions
upon the manufacturer before bidding him good-bye. He wished to
talk further upon the great subject, interested as to details,
but Cedarquist was vague in his replies. He was no farmer, he
hardly knew wheat when he saw it, only he knew the trend of the
world's affairs; he felt them to be setting inevitably eastward.
However, his very vagueness was a further inspiration to the
Governor. He swept details aside. He saw only the grand coup,
the huge results, the East conquered, the march of empire rolling
westward, finally arriving at its starting point, the vague,
mysterious Orient.
He saw his wheat, like the crest of an advancing billow, crossing
the Pacific, bursting upon Asia, flooding the Orient in a golden
torrent. It was the new era. He had lived to see the death of
the old and the birth of the new; first the mine, now the ranch;
first gold, now wheat. Once again he became the pioneer, hardy,
brilliant, taking colossal chances, blazing the way, grasping a
fortune--a million in a single day. All the bigness of his
nature leaped up again within him. At the magnitude of the
inspiration he felt young again, indomitable, the leader at last,
king of his fellows, wresting from fortune at this eleventh hour,
before his old age, the place of high command which so long had
been denied him. At last he could achieve.
Abruptly Magnus was aware that some one had spoken his name. He
looked about and saw behind him, at a little distance, two
gentlemen, strangers to him. They had withdrawn from the crowd
into a little recess. Evidently having no women to look after,
they had lost interest in the afternoon's affair. Magnus
realised that they had not seen him. One of them was reading
aloud to his companion from an evening edition of that day's
newspaper. It was in the course of this reading that Magnus
caught the sound of his name. He paused, listening, and Presley,
Harran and Cedarquist followed his example. Soon they all
understood. They were listening to the report of the judge's
decision, for which Magnus was waiting--the decision in the case
of the League vs. the Railroad. For the moment, the polite
clamour of the raffle hushed itself--the winning number was being
drawn. The guests held their breath, and in the ensuing silence
Magnus and the others heard these words distinctly:
". . . . It follows that the title to the lands in question is in
the plaintiff--the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad, and the
defendants have no title, and their possession is wrongful.
There must be findings and judgment for the plaintiff, and it is
so ordered."
In spite of himself, Magnus paled. Harran shut his teeth with an
oath. Their exaltation of the previous moment collapsed like a
pyramid of cards. The vision of the new movement of the wheat,
the conquest of the East, the invasion of the Orient, seemed only
the flimsiest mockery. With a brusque wrench, they were snatched
back to reality. Between them and the vision, between the fecund
San Joaquin, reeking with fruitfulness, and the millions of Asia
crowding toward the verge of starvation, lay the iron-hearted
monster of steel and steam, implacable, insatiable, huge--its
entrails gorged with the life blood that it sucked from an entire
commonwealth, its ever hungry maw glutted with the harvests that
should have fed the famished bellies of the whole world of the
But abruptly, while the four men stood there, gazing into each
other's faces, a vigorous hand-clapping broke out. The raffle of
Hartrath's picture was over, and as Presley turned about he saw
Mrs. Cedarquist and her two daughters signalling eagerly to the
manufacturer, unable to reach him because of the intervening
crowd. Then Mrs. Cedarquist raised her voice and cried:
"I've won. I've won."
Unnoticed, and with but a brief word to Cedarquist, Magnus and
Harran went down the marble steps leading to the street door,
silent, Harran's arm tight around his father's shoulder.
At once the orchestra struck into a lively air. A renewed murmur
of conversation broke out, and Cedarquist, as he said good-bye to
Presley, looked first at the retreating figures of the ranchers,
then at the gayly dressed throng of beautiful women and debonair
young men, and indicating the whole scene with a single gesture,
said, smiling sadly as he spoke:
"Not a city, Presley, not a city, but a Midway Plaisance."
Underneath the Long Trestle where Broderson Creek cut the line of
the railroad and the Upper Road, the ground was low and covered
with a second growth of grey green willows. Along the borders of
the creek were occasional marshy spots, and now and then Hilma
Tree came here to gather water-cresses, which she made into
The place was picturesque, secluded, an oasis of green shade in
all the limitless, flat monotony of the surrounding wheat lands.
The creek had eroded deep into the little gully, and no matter
how hot it was on the baking, shimmering levels of the ranches
above, down here one always found one's self enveloped in an
odorous, moist coolness. From time to time, the incessant murmur
of the creek, pouring over and around the larger stones, was
interrupted by the thunder of trains roaring out upon the trestle
overhead, passing on with the furious gallop of their hundreds of
iron wheels, leaving in the air a taint of hot oil, acrid smoke,
and reek of escaping steam.
On a certain afternoon, in the spring of the year, Hilma was
returning to Quien Sabe from Hooven's by the trail that led from
Los Muertos to Annixter's ranch houses, under the trestle. She
had spent the afternoon with Minna Hooven, who, for the time
being, was kept indoors because of a wrenched ankle. As Hilma
descended into the gravel flats and thickets of willows
underneath the trestle, she decided that she would gather some
cresses for her supper that night. She found a spot around the
base of one of the supports of the trestle where the cresses grew
thickest, and plucked a couple of handfuls, washing them in the
creek and pinning them up in her handkerchief. It made a little,
round, cold bundle, and Hilma, warm from her walk, found a
delicious enjoyment in pressing the damp ball of it to her cheeks
and neck.
For all the change that Annixter had noted in her upon the
occasion of the barn dance, Hilma remained in many things a young
child. She was never at loss for enjoyment, and could always
amuse herself when left alone. Just now, she chose to drink from
the creek, lying prone on the ground, her face half-buried in the
water, and this, not because she was thirsty, but because it was
a new way to drink. She imagined herself a belated traveller, a
poor girl, an outcast, quenching her thirst at the wayside brook,
her little packet of cresses doing duty for a bundle of clothes.
Night was coming on. Perhaps it would storm. She had nowhere to
go. She would apply at a hut for shelter.
Abruptly, the temptation to dabble her feet in the creek
presented itself to her. Always she had liked to play in the
water. What a delight now to take off her shoes and stockings
and wade out into the shallows near the bank! She had worn low
shoes that afternoon, and the dust of the trail had filtered in
above the edges. At times, she felt the grit and grey sand on
the soles of her feet, and the sensation had set her teeth on
edge. What a delicious alternative the cold, clean water
suggested, and how easy it would be to do as she pleased just
then, if only she were a little girl. In the end, it was stupid
to be grown up.
Sitting upon the bank, one finger tucked into the heel of her
shoe, Hilma hesitated. Suppose a train should come! She fancied
she could see the engineer leaning from the cab with a great grin
on his face, or the brakeman shouting gibes at her from the
platform. Abruptly she blushed scarlet. The blood throbbed in
her temples. Her heart beat.
Since the famous evening of the barn dance, Annixter had spoken
to her but twice. Hilma no longer looked after the ranch house
these days. The thought of setting foot within Annixter's
dining-room and bed-room terrified her, and in the end her mother
had taken over that part of her work. Of the two meetings with
the master of Quien Sabe, one had been a mere exchange of good
mornings as the two happened to meet over by the artesian well;
the other, more complicated, had occurred in the dairy-house
again, Annixter, pretending to look over the new cheese press,
asking about details of her work. When this had happened on that
previous occasion, ending with Annixter's attempt to kiss her,
Hilma had been talkative enough, chattering on from one subject
to another, never at a loss for a theme. But this last time was
a veritable ordeal. No sooner had Annixter appeared than her
heart leaped and quivered like that of the hound-harried doe.
Her speech failed her. Throughout the whole brief interview she
had been miserably tongue-tied, stammering monosyllables,
confused, horribly awkward, and when Annixter had gone away, she
had fled to her little room, and bolting the door, had flung
herself face downward on the bed and wept as though her heart
were breaking, she did not know why.
That Annixter had been overwhelmed with business all through the
winter was an inexpressible relief to Hilma. His affairs took
him away from the ranch continually. He was absent sometimes for
weeks, making trips to San Francisco, or to Sacramento, or to
Bonneville. Perhaps he was forgetting her, overlooking her; and
while, at first, she told herself that she asked nothing better,
the idea of it began to occupy her mind. She began to wonder if
it was really so.
She knew his trouble. Everybody did. The news of the sudden
forward movement of the Railroad's forces, inaugurating the
campaign, had flared white-hot and blazing all over the country
side. To Hilma's notion, Annixter's attitude was heroic beyond
all expression. His courage in facing the Railroad, as he had
faced Delaney in the barn, seemed to her the pitch of sublimity.
She refused to see any auxiliaries aiding him in his fight. To
her imagination, the great League, which all the ranchers were
joining, was a mere form. Single-handed, Annixter fronted the
monster. But for him the corporation would gobble Quien Sabe, as
a whale would a minnow. He was a hero who stood between them all
and destruction. He was a protector of her family. He was her
champion. She began to mention him in her prayers every night,
adding a further petition to the effect that he would become a
good man, and that he should not swear so much, and that he
should never meet Delaney again.
However, as Hilma still debated the idea of bathing her feet in
the creek, a train did actually thunder past overhead--the
regular evening Overland,--the through express, that never
stopped between Bakersfield and Fresno. It stormed by with a
deafening clamour, and a swirl of smoke, in a long succession of
way-coaches, and chocolate coloured Pullmans, grimy with the dust
of the great deserts of the Southwest. The quivering of the
trestle's supports set a tremble in the ground underfoot. The
thunder of wheels drowned all sound of the flowing of the creek,
and also the noise of the buckskin mare's hoofs descending from
the trail upon the gravel about the creek, so that Hilma, turning
about after the passage of the train, saw Annixter close at hand,
with the abruptness of a vision.
He was looking at her, smiling as he rarely did, the firm line of
his out-thrust lower lip relaxed good-humouredly. He had taken
off his campaign hat to her, and though his stiff, yellow hair
was twisted into a bristling mop, the little persistent tuft on
the crown, usually defiantly erect as an Apache's scalp-lock, was
nowhere in sight.
"Hello, it's you, is it, Miss Hilma?" he exclaimed, getting down
from the buckskin, and allowing her to drink.
Hilma nodded, scrambling to her feet, dusting her skirt with
nervous pats of both hands.
Annixter sat down on a great rock close by and, the loop of the
bridle over his arm, lit a cigar, and began to talk. He
complained of the heat of the day, the bad condition of the Lower
Road, over which he had come on his way from a committee meeting
of the League at Los Muertos; of the slowness of the work on the
irrigating ditch, and, as a matter of course, of the general hard
"Miss Hilma," he said abruptly, "never you marry a ranchman.
He's never out of trouble."
Hilma gasped, her eyes widening till the full round of the pupil
was disclosed. Instantly, a certain, inexplicable guiltiness
overpowered her with incredible confusion. Her hands trembled as
she pressed the bundle of cresses into a hard ball between her
Annixter continued to talk. He was disturbed and excited himself
at this unexpected meeting. Never through all the past winter
months of strenuous activity, the fever of political campaigns,
the harrowing delays and ultimate defeat in one law court after
another, had he forgotten the look in Hilma's face as he stood
with one arm around her on the floor of his barn, in peril of his
life from the buster's revolver. That dumb confession of Hilma's
wide-open eyes had been enough for him. Yet, somehow, he never
had had a chance to act upon it. During the short period when he
could be on his ranch Hilma had always managed to avoid him.
Once, even, she had spent a month, about Christmas time, with her
mother's father, who kept a hotel in San Francisco.
Now, to-day, however, he had her all to himself. He would put an
end to the situation that troubled him, and vexed him, day after
day, month after month. Beyond question, the moment had come for
something definite, he could not say precisely what. Readjusting
his cigar between his teeth, he resumed his speech. It suited
his humour to take the girl into his confidence, following an
instinct which warned him that this would bring about a certain
closeness of their relations, a certain intimacy.
"What do you think of this row, anyways, Miss Hilma,--this
railroad fuss in general? Think Shelgrim and his rushers are
going to jump Quien Sabe--are going to run us off the ranch?"
"Oh, no, sir," protested Hilma, still breathless. "Oh, no,
indeed not."
"Well, what then?"
Hilma made a little uncertain movement of ignorance.
"I don't know what."
"Well, the League agreed to-day that if the test cases were lost
in the Supreme Court--you know we've appealed to the Supreme
Court, at Washington--we'd fight."
"Yes, fight."
"Fight like--like you and Mr. Delaney that time with--oh, dear--
with guns?"
"I don't know," grumbled Annixter vaguely. "What do YOU think?"
Hilma's low-pitched, almost husky voice trembled a little as she
replied, "Fighting--with guns--that's so terrible. Oh, those
revolvers in the barn! I can hear them yet. Every shot seemed
like the explosion of tons of powder."
"Shall we clear out, then? Shall we let Delaney have possession,
and S. Behrman, and all that lot? Shall we give in to them?"
"Never, never," she exclaimed, her great eyes flashing.
"YOU wouldn't like to be turned out of your home, would you, Miss
Hilma, because Quien Sabe is your home isn't it? You've lived
here ever since you were as big as a minute. You wouldn't like
to have S. Behrman and the rest of 'em turn you out?"
"N-no," she murmured. "No, I shouldn't like that. There's mamma
"Well, do you think for one second I'm going to let 'em?" cried
Annixter, his teeth tightening on his cigar. "You stay right
where you are. I'll take care of you, right enough. Look here,"
he demanded abruptly, "you've no use for that roaring lush,
Delaney, have you?"
"I think he is a wicked man," she declared. "I know the Railroad
has pretended to sell him part of the ranch, and he lets Mr. S.
Behrman and Mr. Ruggles just use him."
"Right. I thought you wouldn't be keen on him."
There was a long pause. The buckskin began blowing among the
pebbles, nosing for grass, and Annixter shifted his cigar to the
other corner of his mouth.
"Pretty place," he muttered, looking around him. Then he added:
"Miss Hilma, see here, I want to have a kind of talk with you, if
you don't mind. I don't know just how to say these sort of
things, and if I get all balled up as I go along, you just set it
down to the fact that I've never had any experience in dealing
with feemale girls; understand? You see, ever since the barn
dance--yes, and long before then--I've been thinking a lot about
you. Straight, I have, and I guess you know it. You're about the
only girl that I ever knew well, and I guess," he declared
deliberately, "you're about the only one I want to know. It's my
nature. You didn't say anything that time when we stood there
together and Delaney was playing the fool, but, somehow, I got
the idea that you didn't want Delaney to do for me one little
bit; that if he'd got me then you would have been sorrier than if
he'd got any one else. Well, I felt just that way about you. I
would rather have had him shoot any other girl in the room than
you; yes, or in the whole State. Why, if anything should happen
to you, Miss Hilma--well, I wouldn't care to go on with anything.
S. Behrman could jump Quien Sabe, and welcome. And Delaney could
shoot me full of holes whenever he got good and ready. I'd quit.
I'd lay right down. I wouldn't care a whoop about anything any
more. You are the only girl for me in the whole world. I didn't
think so at first. I didn't want to. But seeing you around
every day, and seeing how pretty you were, and how clever, and
hearing your voice and all, why, it just got all inside of me
somehow, and now I can't think of anything else. I hate to go to
San Francisco, or Sacramento, or Visalia, or even Bonneville, for
only a day, just because you aren't there, in any of those
places, and I just rush what I've got to do so as I can get back
here. While you were away that Christmas time, why, I was as
lonesome as--oh, you don't know anything about it. I just
scratched off the days on the calendar every night, one by one,
till you got back. And it just comes to this, I want you with me
all the time. I want you should have a home that's my home, too.
I want to take care of you, and have you all for myself, you
understand. What do you say?"
Hilma, standing up before him, retied a knot in her handkerchief
bundle with elaborate precaution, blinking at it through her
"What do you say, Miss Hilma?" Annixter repeated. "How about
that? What do you say?"
Just above a whisper, Hilma murmured:
"I--I don't know."
"Don't know what? Don't you think we could hit it off together?"
"I don't know."
"I know we could, Hilma. I don't mean to scare you. What are
you crying for?"
"I don't know."
Annixter got up, cast away his cigar, and dropping the buckskin's
bridle, came and stood beside her, putting a hand on her
shoulder. Hilma did not move, and he felt her trembling. She
still plucked at the knot of the handkerchief. "I can't do
without you, little girl," Annixter continued, "and I want you.
I want you bad. I don't get much fun out of life ever. It,
sure, isn't my nature, I guess. I'm a hard man. Everybody is
trying to down me, and now I'm up against the Railroad. I'm
fighting 'em all, Hilma, night and day, lock, stock, and barrel,
and I'm fighting now for my home, my land, everything I have in
the world. If I win out, I want somebody to be glad with me. If
I don't--I want somebody to be sorry for me, sorry with me,--and
that somebody is you. I am dog-tired of going it alone. I want
some one to back me up. I want to feel you alongside of me, to
give me a touch of the shoulder now and then. I'm tired of
fighting for THINGS--land, property, money. I want to fight for
some PERSON--somebody beside myself. Understand? want to feel
that it isn't all selfishness--that there are other interests
than mine in the game--that there's some one dependent on me, and
that's thinking of me as I'm thinking of them--some one I can
come home to at night and put my arm around--like this, and have
her put her two arms around me--like--" He paused a second, and
once again, as it had been in that moment of imminent peril, when
he stood with his arm around her, their eyes met,--"put her two
arms around me," prompted Annixter, half smiling, "like--like
what, Hilma?"
"I don't know."
"Like what, Hilma?" he insisted.
"Like--like this?" she questioned. With a movement of infinite
tenderness and affection she slid her arms around his neck, still
crying a little.
The sensation of her warm body in his embrace, the feeling of her
smooth, round arm, through the thinness of her sleeve, pressing
against his cheek, thrilled Annixter with a delight such as he
had never known. He bent his head and kissed her upon the nape
of her neck, where the delicate amber tint melted into the thick,
sweet smelling mass of her dark brown hair. She shivered a
little, holding him closer, ashamed as yet to look up. Without
speech, they stood there for a long minute, holding each other
close. Then Hilma pulled away from him, mopping her tear-stained
cheeks with the little moist ball of her handkerchief.
"What do you say? Is it a go?" demanded Annixter jovially.
"I thought I hated you all the time," she said, and the velvety
huskiness of her voice never sounded so sweet to him.
"And I thought it was that crockery smashing goat of a lout of a
"Delaney? The idea! Oh, dear! I think it must always have been
"Since when, Hilma?" he asked, putting his arm around her. "Ah,
but it is good to have you, my girl," he exclaimed, delighted
beyond words that she permitted this freedom. "Since when? Tell
us all about it."
"Oh, since always. It was ever so long before I came to think of
you--to, well, to think about--I mean to remember--oh, you know
what I mean. But when I did, oh, THEN!"
"Then what?"
"I don't know--I haven't thought--that way long enough to know."
"But you said you thought it must have been me always."
"I know; but that was different--oh, I'm all mixed up. I'm so
nervous and trembly now. Oh," she cried suddenly, her face
overcast with a look of earnestness and great seriousness, both
her hands catching at his wrist, "Oh, you WILL be good to me,
now, won't you? I'm only a little, little child in so many ways,
and I've given myself to you, all in a minute, and I can't go
back of it now, and it's for always. I don't know how it
happened or why. Sometimes I think I didn't wish it, but now
it's done, and I am glad and happy. But NOW if you weren't good
to me--oh, think of how it would be with me. You are strong, and
big, and rich, and I am only a servant of yours, a little nobody,
but I've given all I had to you--myself--and you must be so good
to me now. Always remember that. Be good to me and be gentle
and kind to me in LITTLE things,--in everything, or you will
break my heart."
Annixter took her in his arms. He was speechless. No words that
he had at his command seemed adequate. All he could say was:
"That's all right, little girl. Don't you be frightened. I'll
take care of you. That's all right, that's all right."
For a long time they sat there under the shade of the great
trestle, their arms about each other, speaking only at intervals.
An hour passed. The buckskin, finding no feed to her taste, took
the trail stablewards, the bridle dragging. Annixter let her go.
Rather than to take his arm from around Hilma's waist he would
have lost his whole stable. At last, however, he bestirred
himself and began to talk. He thought it time to formulate some
plan of action.
"Well, now, Hilma, what are we going to do?"
"Do?" she repeated. "Why, must we do anything? Oh, isn't this
"There's better ahead," he went on. "I want to fix you up
somewhere where you can have a bit of a home all to yourself.
Let's see; Bonneville wouldn't do. There's always a lot of yaps
about there that know us, and they would begin to cackle first
off. How about San Francisco. We might go up next week and have
a look around. I would find rooms you could take somewheres, and
we would fix 'em up as lovely as how-do-you-do."
"Oh, but why go away from Quien Sabe?" she protested. "And,
then, so soon, too. Why must we have a wedding trip, now that you
are so busy? Wouldn't it be better--oh, I tell you, we could go
to Monterey after we were married, for a little week, where
mamma's people live, and then come back here to the ranch house
and settle right down where we are and let me keep house for you.
I wouldn't even want a single servant."
Annixter heard and his face grew troubled.
"Hum," he said, "I see."
He gathered up a handful of pebbles and began snapping them
carefully into the creek. He fell thoughtful. Here was a phase
of the affair he had not planned in the least. He had supposed
all the time that Hilma took his meaning. His old suspicion that
she was trying to get a hold on him stirred again for a moment.
There was no good of such talk as that. Always these feemale
girls seemed crazy to get married, bent on complicating the
"Isn't that best?" said Hilma, glancing at him.
"I don't know," he muttered gloomily.
"Well, then, let's not. Let's come right back to Quien Sabe
without going to Monterey. Anything that you want I want."
"I hadn't thought of it in just that way," he observed.
"In what way, then?"
"Can't we--can't we wait about this marrying business?"
"That's just it," she said gayly. "I said it was too soon.
There would be so much to do between whiles. Why not say at the
end of the summer?"
"Say what?"
"Our marriage, I mean."
"Why get married, then? What's the good of all that fuss about
it? I don't go anything upon a minister puddling round in my
affairs. What's the difference, anyhow? We understand each
other. Isn't that enough? Pshaw, Hilma, I'M no marrying man."
She looked at him a moment, bewildered, then slowly she took his
meaning. She rose to her feet, her eyes wide, her face paling
with terror. He did not look at her, but he could hear the catch
in her throat.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, with a long, deep breath, and again "Oh!"
the back of her hand against her lips.
It was a quick gasp of a veritable physical anguish. Her eyes
brimmed over. Annixter rose, looking at her.
"Well?" he said, awkwardly, "Well?"
Hilma leaped back from him with an instinctive recoil of her
whole being, throwing out her hands in a gesture of defence,
fearing she knew not what. There was as yet no sense of insult
in her mind, no outraged modesty. She was only terrified. It
was as though searching for wild flowers she had come suddenly
upon a snake.
She stood for an instant, spellbound, her eyes wide, her bosom
swelling; then, all at once, turned and fled, darting across the
plank that served for a foot bridge over the creek, gaining the
opposite bank and disappearing with a brisk rustle of underbrush,
such as might have been made by the flight of a frightened fawn.
Abruptly Annixter found himself alone. For a moment he did not
move, then he picked up his campaign hat, carefully creased its
limp crown and put it on his head and stood for a moment, looking
vaguely at the ground on both sides of him. He went away without
uttering a word, without change of countenance, his hands in his
pockets, his feet taking great strides along the trail in the
direction of the ranch house.
He had no sight of Hilma again that evening, and the next morning
he was up early and did not breakfast at the ranch house.
Business of the League called him to Bonneville to confer with
Magnus and the firm of lawyers retained by the League to fight
the land-grabbing cases. An appeal was to be taken to the
Supreme Court at Washington, and it was to be settled that day
which of the cases involved should be considered as test cases.
Instead of driving or riding into Bonneville, as he usually did,
Annixter took an early morning train, the Bakersfield-Fresno
local at Guadalajara, and went to Bonneville by rail, arriving
there at twenty minutes after seven and breakfasting by
appointment with Magnus Derrick and Osterman at the Yosemite
House, on Main Street .
The conference of the committee with the lawyers took place in a
front room of the Yosemite, one of the latter bringing with him
his clerk, who made a stenographic report of the proceedings and
took carbon copies of all letters written. The conference was
long and complicated, the business transacted of the utmost
moment, and it was not until two o'clock that Annixter found
himself at liberty.
However, as he and Magnus descended into the lobby of the hotel,
they were aware of an excited and interested group collected
about the swing doors that opened from the lobby of the Yosemite
into the bar of the same name. Dyke was there--even at a
distance they could hear the reverberation of his deep-toned
voice, uplifted in wrath and furious expostulation. Magnus and
Annixter joined the group wondering, and all at once fell full
upon the first scene of a drama.
That same morning Dyke's mother had awakened him according to his
instructions at daybreak. A consignment of his hop poles from
the north had arrived at the freight office of the P. and S. W.
in Bonneville, and he was to drive in on his farm wagon and bring
them out. He would have a busy day.
"Hello, hello," he said, as his mother pulled his ear to arouse
him; "morning, mamma."
"It's time," she said, "after five already. Your breakfast is on
the stove."
He took her hand and kissed it with great affection. He loved
his mother devotedly, quite as much as he did the little tad. In
their little cottage, in the forest of green hops that surrounded
them on every hand, the three led a joyous and secluded life,
contented, industrious, happy, asking nothing better. Dyke,
himself, was a big-hearted, jovial man who spread an atmosphere
of good-humour wherever he went. In the evenings he played with
Sidney like a big boy, an older brother, lying on the bed, or the
sofa, taking her in his arms. Between them they had invented a
great game. The ex-engineer, his boots removed, his huge legs in
the air, hoisted the little tad on the soles of his stockinged
feet like a circus acrobat, dandling her there, pretending he was
about to let her fall. Sidney, choking with delight, held on
nervously, with little screams and chirps of excitement, while he
shifted her gingerly from one foot to another, and thence, the
final act, the great gallery play, to the palm of one great hand.
At this point Mrs. Dyke was called in, both father and daughter,
children both, crying out that she was to come in and look, look.
She arrived out of breath from the kitchen, the potato masher in
her hand.
"Such children," she murmured, shaking her head at them, amused
for all that, tucking the potato masher under her arm and
clapping her hands.
In the end, it was part of the game that Sidney should tumble
down upon Dyke, whereat he invariably vented a great bellow as if
in pain, declaring that his ribs were broken. Gasping, his eyes
shut, he pretended to be in the extreme of dissolution--perhaps
he was dying. Sidney, always a little uncertain, amused but
distressed, shook him nervously, tugging at his beard, pushing
open his eyelid with one finger, imploring him not to frighten
her, to wake up and be good.
On this occasion, while yet he was half-dressed, Dyke tiptoed
into his mother's room to look at Sidney fast asleep in her
little iron cot, her arm under her head, her lips parted. With
infinite precaution he kissed her twice, and then finding one
little stocking, hung with its mate very neatly over the back of
a chair, dropped into it a dime, rolled up in a wad of paper. He
winked all to himself and went out again, closing the door with
exaggerated carefulness.
He breakfasted alone, Mrs. Dyke pouring his coffee and handing
him his plate of ham and eggs, and half an hour later took
himself off in his springless, skeleton wagon, humming a tune
behind his beard and cracking the whip over the backs of his
staid and solid farm horses.
The morning was fine, the sun just coming up. He left
Guadalajara, sleeping and lifeless, on his left, and going across
lots, over an angle of Quien Sabe, came out upon the Upper Road,
a mile below the Long Trestle. He was in great spirits, looking
about him over the brown fields, ruddy with the dawn. Almost
directly in front of him, but far off, the gilded dome of the
court-house at Bonneville was glinting radiant in the first rays
of the sun, while a few miles distant, toward the north, the
venerable campanile of the Mission San Juan stood silhouetted in
purplish black against the flaming east. As he proceeded, the
great farm horses jogging forward, placid, deliberate, the
country side waked to another day. Crossing the irrigating ditch
further on, he met a gang of Portuguese, with picks and shovels
over their shoulders, just going to work. Hooven, already
abroad, shouted him a "Goot mornun" from behind the fence of Los
Muertos. Far off, toward the southwest, in the bare expanse of
the open fields, where a clump of eucalyptus and cypress trees
set a dark green note, a thin stream of smoke rose straight into
the air from the kitchen of Derrick's ranch houses.
But a mile or so beyond the Long Trestle he was surprised to see
Magnus Derrick's protege, the one-time shepherd, Vanamee, coming
across Quien Sabe, by a trail from one of Annixter's division
houses. Without knowing exactly why, Dyke received the
impression that the young man had not been in bed all of that
As the two approached each other, Dyke eyed the young fellow. He
was distrustful of Vanamee, having the country-bred suspicion of
any person he could not understand. Vanamee was, beyond doubt,
no part of the life of ranch and country town. He was an alien,
a vagabond, a strange fellow who came and went in mysterious
fashion, making no friends, keeping to himself. Why did he never
wear a hat, why indulge in a fine, black, pointed beard, when
either a round beard or a mustache was the invariable custom?
Why did he not cut his hair? Above all, why did he prowl about
so much at night? As the two passed each other, Dyke, for all
his good-nature, was a little blunt in his greeting and looked
back at the ex-shepherd over his shoulder.
Dyke was right in his suspicion. Vanamee's bed had not been
disturbed for three nights. On the Monday of that week he had
passed the entire night in the garden of the Mission, overlooking
the Seed ranch, in the little valley. Tuesday evening had found
him miles away from that spot, in a deep arroyo in the Sierra
foothills to the eastward, while Wednesday he had slept in an
abandoned 'dobe on Osterman's stock range, twenty miles from his
resting place of the night before.
The fact of the matter was that the old restlessness had once
more seized upon Vanamee. Something began tugging at him; the
spur of some unseen rider touched his flank. The instinct of the
wanderer woke and moved. For some time now he had been a part of
the Los Muertos staff. On Quien Sabe, as on the other ranches,
the slack season was at hand. While waiting for the wheat to
come up no one was doing much of anything. Vanamee had come over
to Los Muertos and spent most of his days on horseback, riding
the range, rounding up and watching the cattle in the fourth
division of the ranch. But if the vagabond instinct now roused
itself in the strange fellow's nature, a counter influence had
also set in. More and more Vanamee frequented the Mission garden
after nightfall, sometimes remaining there till the dawn began to
whiten, lying prone on the ground, his chin on his folded arms,
his eyes searching the darkness over the little valley of the
Seed ranch, watching, watching. As the days went by, he became
more reticent than ever. Presley often came to find him on the
stock range, a lonely figure in the great wilderness of bare,
green hillsides, but Vanamee no longer took him into his
confidence. Father Sarria alone heard his strange stories.
Dyke drove on toward Bonneville, thinking over the whole matter.
He knew, as every one did in that part of the country, the legend
of Vanamee and Angele, the romance of the Mission garden, the
mystery of the Other, Vanamee's flight to the deserts of the
southwest, his periodic returns, his strange, reticent, solitary
character, but, like many another of the country people, he
accounted for Vanamee by a short and easy method. No doubt, the
fellow's wits were turned. That was the long and short of it.
The ex-engineer reached the Post Office in Bonneville towards
eleven o'clock, but he did not at once present his notice of the
arrival of his consignment at Ruggles's office. It entertained
him to indulge in an hour's lounging about the streets. It was
seldom he got into town, and when he did he permitted himself the
luxury of enjoying his evident popularity. He met friends
everywhere, in the Post Office, in the drug store, in the barber
shop and around the court-house. With each one he held a
moment's conversation; almost invariably this ended in the same
"Come on 'n have a drink."
"Well, I don't care if I do."
And the friends proceeded to the Yosemite bar, pledging each
other with punctilious ceremony. Dyke, however, was a strictly
temperate man. His life on the engine had trained him well.
Alcohol he never touched, drinking instead ginger ale,
sarsaparilla-and-iron--soft drinks.
At the drug store, which also kept a stock of miscellaneous
stationery, his eye was caught by a "transparent slate," a
child's toy, where upon a little pane of frosted glass one could
trace with considerable elaboration outline figures of cows,
ploughs, bunches of fruit and even rural water mills that were
printed on slips of paper underneath.
"Now, there's an idea, Jim," he observed to the boy behind the
soda-water fountain; "I know a little tad that would just about
jump out of her skin for that. Think I'll have to take it with
"How's Sidney getting along?" the other asked, while wrapping up
the package.
Dyke's enthusiasm had made of his little girl a celebrity
throughout Bonneville.
The ex-engineer promptly became voluble, assertive, doggedly
"Smartest little tad in all Tulare County, and more fun! A
regular whole show in herself."
"And the hops?" inquired the other.
"Bully," declared Dyke, with the good-natured man's readiness to
talk of his private affairs to any one who would listen. "Bully.
I'm dead sure of a bonanza crop by now. The rain came JUST
right. I actually don't know as I can store the crop in those
barns I built, it's going to be so big. That foreman of mine was
a daisy. Jim, I'm going to make money in that deal. After I've
paid off the mortgage--you know I had to mortgage, yes, crop and
homestead both, but I can pay it off and all the interest to
boot, lovely,--well, and as I was saying, after all expenses are
paid off I'll clear big money, m' son. Yes, sir. I KNEW there
was boodle in hops. You know the crop is contracted for already.
Sure, the foreman managed that. He's a daisy. Chap in San
Francisco will take it all and at the advanced price. I wanted
to hang on, to see if it wouldn't go to six cents, but the
foreman said, 'No, that's good enough.' So I signed. Ain't it
bully, hey?"
"Then what'll you do?"
"Well, I don't know. I'll have a lay-off for a month or so and
take the little tad and mother up and show 'em the city--'Frisco--
until it's time for the schools to open, and then we'll put Sid
in the seminary at Marysville. Catch on?"
"I suppose you'll stay right by hops now?"
"Right you are, m'son. I know a good thing when I see it.
There's plenty others going into hops next season. I set 'em the
example. Wouldn't be surprised if it came to be a regular
industry hereabouts. I'm planning ahead for next year already.
I can let the foreman go, now that I've learned the game myself,
and I think I'll buy a piece of land off Quien Sabe and get a
bigger crop, and build a couple more barns, and, by George, in
about five years time I'll have things humming. I'm going to
make MONEY, Jim."
He emerged once more into the street and went up the block
leisurely, planting his feet squarely. He fancied that he could
feel he was considered of more importance nowadays. He was no
longer a subordinate, an employee. He was his own man, a
proprietor, an owner of land, furthering a successful enterprise.
No one had helped him; he had followed no one's lead. He had
struck out unaided for himself, and his success was due solely to
his own intelligence, industry, and foresight. He squared his
great shoulders till the blue gingham of his jumper all but
cracked. Of late, his great blond beard had grown and the work
in the sun had made his face very red. Under the visor of his
cap--relic of his engineering days--his blue eyes twinkled with
vast good-nature. He felt that he made a fine figure as he went
by a group of young girls in lawns and muslins and garden hats on
their way to the Post Office. He wondered if they looked after
him, wondered if they had heard that he was in a fair way to
become a rich man.
But the chronometer in the window of the jewelry store warned him
that time was passing. He turned about, and, crossing the
street, took his way to Ruggles's office, which was the freight
as well as the land office of the P. and S. W. Railroad.
As he stood for a moment at the counter in front of the wire
partition, waiting for the clerk to make out the order for the
freight agent at the depot, Dyke was surprised to see a familiar
figure in conference with Ruggles himself, by a desk inside the
The figure was that of a middle-aged man, fat, with a great
stomach, which he stroked from time to time. As he turned about,
addressing a remark to the clerk, Dyke recognised S. Behrman.
The banker, railroad agent, and political manipulator seemed to
the ex-engineer's eyes to be more gross than ever. His smoothshaven
jowl stood out big and tremulous on either side of his
face; the roll of fat on the nape of his neck, sprinkled with
sparse, stiff hairs, bulged out with greater prominence. His
great stomach, covered with a light brown linen vest, stamped
with innumerable interlocked horseshoes, protruded far in
advance, enormous, aggressive. He wore his inevitable roundtopped
hat of stiff brown straw, varnished so bright that it
reflected the light of the office windows like a helmet, and even
from where he stood Dyke could hear his loud breathing and the
clink of the hollow links of his watch chain upon the vest
buttons of imitation pearl, as his stomach rose and fell.
Dyke looked at him with attention. There was the enemy, the
representative of the Trust with which Derrick's League was
locking horns. The great struggle had begun to invest the
combatants with interest. Daily, almost hourly, Dyke was in
touch with the ranchers, the wheat-growers. He heard their
denunciations, their growls of exasperation and defiance. Here
was the other side--this placid, fat man, with a stiff straw hat
and linen vest, who never lost his temper, who smiled affably
upon his enemies, giving them good advice, commiserating with
them in one defeat after another, never ruffled, never excited,
sure of his power, conscious that back of him was the Machine,
the colossal force, the inexhaustible coffers of a mighty
organisation, vomiting millions to the League's thousands.
The League was clamorous, ubiquitous, its objects known to every
urchin on the streets, but the Trust was silent, its ways
inscrutable, the public saw only results. It worked on in the
dark, calm, disciplined, irresistible. Abruptly Dyke received
the impression of the multitudinous ramifications of the
colossus. Under his feet the ground seemed mined; down there
below him in the dark the huge tentacles went silently twisting
and advancing, spreading out in every direction, sapping the
strength of all opposition, quiet, gradual, biding the time to
reach up and out and grip with a sudden unleashing of gigantic
"I'll be wanting some cars of you people before the summer is
out," observed Dyke to the clerk as he folded up and put away the
order that the other had handed him. He remembered perfectly
well that he had arranged the matter of transporting his crop
some months before, but his role of proprietor amused him and he
liked to busy himself again and again with the details of his
"I suppose," he added, "you'll be able to give 'em to me.
There'll be a big wheat crop to move this year and I don't want
to be caught in any car famine."
"Oh, you'll get your cars," murmured the other.
"I'll be the means of bringing business your way," Dyke went on;
"I've done so well with my hops that there are a lot of others
going into the business next season. Suppose," he continued,
struck with an idea, "suppose we went into some sort of pool, a
sort of shippers' organisation, could you give us special rates,
cheaper rates--say a cent and a half?"
The other looked up.
"A cent and a half! Say FOUR cents and a half and maybe I'll
talk business with you."
"Four cents and a half," returned Dyke, "I don't see it. Why,
the regular rate is only two cents."
"No, it isn't," answered the clerk, looking him gravely in the
eye, "it's five cents."
"Well, there's where you are wrong, m'son," Dyke retorted,
genially. "You look it up. You'll find the freight on hops from
Bonneville to 'Frisco is two cents a pound for car load lots.
You told me that yourself last fall."
"That was last fall," observed the clerk. There was a silence.
Dyke shot a glance of suspicion at the other. Then, reassured,
he remarked:
"You look it up. You'll see I'm right."
S. Behrman came forward and shook hands politely with the exengineer.
"Anything I can do for you, Mr. Dyke?"
Dyke explained. When he had done speaking, the clerk turned to
S. Behrman and observed, respectfully:
"Our regular rate on hops is five cents."
"Yes," answered S. Behrman, pausing to reflect; "yes, Mr. Dyke,
that's right--five cents."
The clerk brought forward a folder of yellow paper and handed it
to Dyke. It was inscribed at the top "Tariff Schedule No. 8,"
and underneath these words, in brackets, was a smaller
inscription, "SUPERSEDES NO. 7 OF AUG. 1"
"See for yourself," said S. Behrman. He indicated an item under
the head of "Miscellany."
"The following rates for carriage of hops in car load lots," read
Dyke, "take effect June 1, and will remain in force until
superseded by a later tariff. Those quoted beyond Stockton are
subject to changes in traffic arrangements with carriers by water
from that point."
In the list that was printed below, Dyke saw that the rate for
hops between Bonneville or Guadalajara and San Francisco was five
For a moment Dyke was confused. Then swiftly the matter became
clear in his mind. The Railroad had raised the freight on hops
from two cents to five.
All his calculations as to a profit on his little investment he
had based on a freight rate of two cents a pound. He was under
contract to deliver his crop. He could not draw back. The new
rate ate up every cent of his gains. He stood there ruined.
"Why, what do you mean?" he burst out. "You promised me a rate
of two cents and I went ahead with my business with that
understanding. What do you mean?"
S. Behrman and the clerk watched him from the other side of the
"The rate is five cents," declared the clerk doggedly.
"Well, that ruins me," shouted Dyke. "Do you understand? I
won't make fifty cents. MAKE! Why, I will OWE,--I'll be--be--
That ruins me, do you understand?"
The other, raised a shoulder.
"We don't force you to ship. You can do as you like. The rate
is five cents."
"Well--but--damn you, I'm under contract to deliver. What am I
going to do? Why, you told me--you promised me a two-cent rate."
"I don't remember it," said the clerk. "I don't know anything
about that. But I know this; I know that hops have gone up. I
know the German crop was a failure and that the crop in New York
wasn't worth the hauling. Hops have gone up to nearly a dollar.
You don't suppose we don't know that, do you, Mr. Dyke?"
"What's the price of hops got to do with you?"
"It's got THIS to do with us," returned the other with a sudden
aggressiveness, "that the freight rate has gone up to meet the
price. We're not doing business for our health. My orders are
to raise your rate to five cents, and I think you are getting off
Dyke stared in blank astonishment. For the moment, the audacity
of the affair was what most appealed to him. He forgot its
personal application.
"Good Lord," he murmured, "good Lord! What will you people do
next? Look here. What's your basis of applying freight rates,
anyhow?" he suddenly vociferated with furious sarcasm. "What's
your rule? What are you guided by?"
But at the words, S. Behrman, who had kept silent during the heat
of the discussion, leaned abruptly forward. For the only time in
his knowledge, Dyke saw his face inflamed with anger and with the
enmity and contempt of all this farming element with whom he was
"Yes, what's your rule? What's your basis?" demanded Dyke,
turning swiftly to him.
S. Behrman emphasised each word of his reply with a tap of one
forefinger on the counter before him:
The ex-engineer stepped back a pace, his fingers on the ledge of
the counter, to steady himself. He felt himself grow pale, his
heart became a mere leaden weight in his chest, inert, refusing
to beat.
In a second the whole affair, in all its bearings, went speeding
before the eye of his imagination like the rapid unrolling of a
panorama. Every cent of his earnings was sunk in this hop
business of his. More than that, he had borrowed money to carry
it on, certain of success--borrowed of S. Behrman, offering his
crop and his little home as security. Once he failed to meet his
obligations, S. Behrman would foreclose. Not only would the
Railroad devour every morsel of his profits, but also it would
take from him his home; at a blow he would be left penniless and
without a home. What would then become of his mother--and what
would become of the little tad? She, whom he had been planning
to educate like a veritable lady. For all that year he had
talked of his ambition for his little daughter to every one he
met. All Bonneville knew of it. What a mark for gibes he had
made of himself. The workingman turned farmer! What a target
for jeers--he who had fancied he could elude the Railroad! He
remembered he had once said the great Trust had overlooked his
little enterprise, disdaining to plunder such small fry. He
should have known better than that. How had he ever imagined the
Road would permit him to make any money?
Anger was not in him yet; no rousing of the blind, white-hot
wrath that leaps to the attack with prehensile fingers, moved
him. The blow merely crushed, staggered, confused.
He stepped aside to give place to a coatless man in a pink shirt,
who entered, carrying in his hands an automatic door-closing
"Where does this go?" inquired the man.
Dyke sat down for a moment on a seat that had been removed from a
worn-out railway car to do duty in Ruggles's office. On the back
of a yellow envelope he made some vague figures with a stump of
blue pencil, multiplying, subtracting, perplexing himself with
many errors.
S. Behrman, the clerk, and the man with the door-closing
apparatus involved themselves in a long argument, gazing intently
at the top panel of the door. The man who had come to fix the
apparatus was unwilling to guarantee it, unless a sign was put on
the outside of the door, warning incomers that the door was selfclosing.
This sign would cost fifteen cents extra.
"But you didn't say anything about this when the thing was
ordered," declared S. Behrman. "No, I won't pay it, my friend.
It's an overcharge."
"You needn't think," observed the clerk, "that just because you
are dealing with the Railroad you are going to work us."
Genslinger came in, accompanied by Delaney. S. Behrman and the
clerk, abruptly dismissing the man with the door-closing machine,
put themselves behind the counter and engaged in conversation
with these two. Genslinger introduced Delaney. The buster had a
string of horses he was shipping southward. No doubt he had come
to make arrangements with the Railroad in the matter of stock
cars. The conference of the four men was amicable in the
Dyke, studying the figures on the back of the envelope, came
forward again. Absorbed only in his own distress, he ignored the
editor and the cow-puncher.
"Say," he hazarded, "how about this? I make out----
"We've told you what our rates are, Mr. Dyke," exclaimed the
clerk angrily. "That's all the arrangement we will make. Take
it or leave it." He turned again to Genslinger, giving the exengineer
his back.
Dyke moved away and stood for a moment in the centre of the room,
staring at the figures on the envelope.
"I don't see," he muttered, "just what I'm going to do. No, I
don't see what I'm going to do at all."
Ruggles came in, bringing with him two other men in whom Dyke
recognised dummy buyers of the Los Muertos and Osterman ranchos.
They brushed by him, jostling his elbow, and as he went out of
the door he heard them exchange jovial greetings with Delaney,
Genslinger, and S. Behrman.
Dyke went down the stairs to the street and proceeded onward
aimlessly in the direction of the Yosemite House, fingering the
yellow envelope and looking vacantly at the sidewalk.
There was a stoop to his massive shoulders. His great arms
dangled loosely at his sides, the palms of his hands open.
As he went along, a certain feeling of shame touched him. Surely
his predicament must be apparent to every passer-by. No doubt,
every one recognised the unsuccessful man in the very way he
slouched along. The young girls in lawns, muslins, and garden
hats, returning from the Post Office, their hands full of
letters, must surely see in him the type of the failure, the
Then brusquely his tardy rage flamed up. By God, NO, it was not
his fault; he had made no mistake. His energy, industry, and
foresight had been sound. He had been merely the object of a
colossal trick, a sordid injustice, a victim of the insatiate
greed of the monster, caught and choked by one of those millions
of tentacles suddenly reaching up from below, from out the dark
beneath his feet, coiling around his throat, throttling him,
strangling him, sucking his blood. For a moment he thought of
the courts, but instantly laughed at the idea. What court was
immune from the power of the monster? Ah, the rage of
helplessness, the fury of impotence! No help, no hope,--ruined
in a brief instant--he a veritable giant, built of great sinews,
powerful, in the full tide of his manhood, having all his health,
all his wits. How could he now face his home? How could he tell
his mother of this catastrophe? And Sidney--the little tad; how
could he explain to her this wretchedness--how soften her
disappointment? How keep the tears from out her eyes--how keep
alive her confidence in him--her faith in his resources?
Bitter, fierce, ominous, his wrath loomed up in his heart. His
fists gripped tight together, his teeth clenched. Oh, for a
moment to have his hand upon the throat of S. Behrman, wringing
the breath from him, wrenching out the red life of him--staining
the street with the blood sucked from the veins of the People!
To the first friend that he met, Dyke told the tale of the
tragedy, and to the next, and to the next. The affair went from
mouth to mouth, spreading with electrical swiftness, overpassing
and running ahead of Dyke himself, so that by the time he reached
the lobby of the Yosemite House, he found his story awaiting him.
A group formed about him. In his immediate vicinity business for
the instant was suspended. The group swelled. One after another
of his friends added themselves to it. Magnus Derrick joined it,
and Annixter. Again and again, Dyke recounted the matter,
beginning with the time when he was discharged from the same
corporation's service for refusing to accept an unfair wage. His
voice quivered with exasperation; his heavy frame shook with
rage; his eyes were injected, bloodshot; his face flamed
vermilion, while his deep bass rumbled throughout the running
comments of his auditors like the thunderous reverberation of
From all points of view, the story was discussed by those who
listened to him, now in the heat of excitement, now calmly,
judicially. One verdict, however, prevailed. It was voiced by
Annixter: "You're stuck. You can roar till you're black in the
face, but you can't buck against the Railroad. There's nothing
to be done."
"You can shoot the ruffian, you can shoot S. Behrman," clamoured
one of the group. "Yes, sir; by the Lord, you can shoot him."
"Poor fool," commented Annixter, turning away.
Nothing to be done. No, there was nothing to be done--not one
thing. Dyke, at last alone and driving his team out of the town,
turned the business confusedly over in his mind from end to end.
Advice, suggestion, even offers of financial aid had been
showered upon him from all directions. Friends were not wanting
who heatedly presented to his consideration all manner of
ingenious plans, wonderful devices. They were worthless. The
tentacle held fast. He was stuck.
By degrees, as his wagon carried him farther out into the
country, and open empty fields, his anger lapsed, and the
numbness of bewilderment returned. He could not look one hour
ahead into the future; could formulate no plans even for the next
day. He did not know what to do. He was stuck.
With the limpness and inertia of a sack of sand, the reins
slipping loosely in his dangling fingers, his eyes fixed, staring
between the horses' heads, he allowed himself to be carried
aimlessly along. He resigned himself. What did he care? What
was the use of going on? He was stuck.
The team he was driving had once belonged to the Los Muertos
stables and unguided as the horses were, they took the county
road towards Derrick's ranch house. Dyke, all abroad, was
unaware of the fact till, drawn by the smell of water, the horses
halted by the trough in front of Caraher's saloon.
The ex-engineer dismounted, looking about him, realising where he
was. So much the worse; it did not matter. Now that he had come
so far it was as short to go home by this route as to return on
his tracks. Slowly he unchecked the horses and stood at their
heads, watching them drink.
"I don't see," he muttered, "just what I am going to do."
Caraher appeared at the door of his place, his red face, red
beard, and flaming cravat standing sharply out from the shadow of
the doorway. He called a welcome to Dyke.
"Hello, Captain."
Dyke looked up, nodding his head listlessly.
"Hello, Caraher," he answered.
"Well," continued the saloonkeeper, coming forward a step,
"what's the news in town?"
Dyke told him. Caraher's red face suddenly took on a darker
colour. The red glint in his eyes shot from under his eyebrows.
Furious, he vented a rolling explosion of oaths.
"And now it's your turn," he vociferated. "They ain't after only
the big wheat-growers, the rich men. By God, they'll even pick
the poor man's pocket. Oh, they'll get their bellies full some
day. It can't last forever. They'll wake up the wrong kind of
man some morning, the man that's got guts in him, that will hit
back when he's kicked and that will talk to 'em with a torch in
one hand and a stick of dynamite in the other." He raised his
clenched fists in the air. "So help me, God," he cried, "when I
think it all over I go crazy, I see red. Oh, if the people only
knew their strength. Oh, if I could wake 'em up. There's not
only Shelgrim, but there's others. All the magnates, all the
butchers, all the blood-suckers, by the thousands. Their day
will come, by God, it will."
By now, the ex-engineer and the bar-keeper had retired to the
saloon back of the grocery to talk over the details of this new
outrage. Dyke, still a little dazed, sat down by one of the
tables, preoccupied, saying but little, and Caraher as a matter
of course set the whiskey bottle at his elbow.
It happened that at this same moment, Presley, returning to Los
Muertos from Bonneville, his pockets full of mail, stopped in at
the grocery to buy some black lead for his bicycle. In the
saloon, on the other side of the narrow partition, he overheard
the conversation between Dyke and Caraher. The door was open.
He caught every word distinctly.
"Tell us all about it, Dyke," urged Caraher.
For the fiftieth time Dyke told the story. Already it had
crystallised into a certain form. He used the same phrases with
each repetition, the same sentences, the same words. In his mind
it became set. Thus he would tell it to any one who would listen
from now on, week after week, year after year, all the rest of
his life--"And I based my calculations on a two-cent rate. So
soon as they saw I was to make money they doubled the tariff--all
the traffic would bear--and I mortgaged to S. Behrman--ruined me
with a turn of the hand--stuck, cinched, and not one thing to be
As he talked, he drank glass after glass of whiskey, and the
honest rage, the open, above-board fury of his mind coagulated,
thickened, and sunk to a dull, evil hatred, a wicked, oblique
malevolence. Caraher, sure now of winning a disciple,
replenished his glass.
"Do you blame us now," he cried, "us others, the Reds? Ah, yes,
it's all very well for your middle class to preach moderation. I
could do it, too. You could do it, too, if your belly was fed,
if your property was safe, if your wife had not been murdered if
your children were not starving. Easy enough then to preach lawabiding
methods, legal redress, and all such rot. But how about
US?" he vociferated. "Ah, yes, I'm a loud-mouthed rum-seller,
ain't I? I'm a wild-eyed striker, ain't I? I'm a blood-thirsty
anarchist, ain't I? Wait till you've seen your wife brought home
to you with the face you used to kiss smashed in by a horse's
hoof--killed by the Trust, as it happened to me. Then talk about
moderation! And you, Dyke, black-listed engineer, discharged
employee, ruined agriculturist, wait till you see your little tad
and your mother turned out of doors when S. Behrman forecloses.
Wait till you see 'em getting thin and white, and till you hear
your little girl ask you why you all don't eat a little more and
that she wants her dinner and you can't give it to her. Wait
till you see--at the same time that your family is dying for lack
of bread--a hundred thousand acres of wheat--millions of bushels
of food--grabbed and gobbled by the Railroad Trust, and then talk
of moderation. That talk is just what the Trust wants to hear.
It ain't frightened of that. There's one thing only it does
listen to, one thing it is frightened of--the people with
dynamite in their hands,--six inches of plugged gaspipe. THAT
Dyke did not reply. He filled another pony of whiskey and drank
it in two gulps. His frown had lowered to a scowl, his face was
a dark red, his head had sunk, bull-like, between his massive
shoulders; without winking he gazed long and with troubled eyes
at his knotted, muscular hands, lying open on the table before
him, idle, their occupation gone.
Presley forgot his black lead. He listened to Caraher. Through
the open door he caught a glimpse of Dyke's back, broad, muscled,
bowed down, the great shoulders stooping.
The whole drama of the doubled freight rate leaped salient and
distinct in the eye of his mind. And this was but one instance,
an isolated case. Because he was near at hand he happened to see
it. How many others were there, the length and breadth of the
State? Constantly this sort of thing must occur--little
industries choked out in their very beginnings, the air full of
the death rattles of little enterprises, expiring unobserved in
far-off counties, up in canyons and arroyos of the foothills,
forgotten by every one but the monster who was daunted by the
magnitude of no business, however great, who overlooked no
opportunity of plunder, however petty, who with one tentacle
grabbed a hundred thousand acres of wheat, and with another
pilfered a pocketful of growing hops.
He went away without a word, his head bent, his hands clutched
tightly on the cork grips of the handle bars of his bicycle. His
lips were white. In his heart a blind demon of revolt raged
tumultuous, shrieking blasphemies.
At Los Muertos, Presley overtook Annixter. As he guided his
wheel up the driveway to Derrick's ranch house, he saw the master
of Quien Sabe and Harran in conversation on the steps of the
porch. Magnus stood in the doorway, talking to his wife.
Occupied with the press of business and involved in the final
conference with the League's lawyers on the eve of the latter's
departure for Washington, Annixter had missed the train that was
to take him back to Guadalajara and Quien Sabe. Accordingly, he
had accepted the Governor's invitation to return with him on his
buck-board to Los Muertos, and before leaving Bonneville had
telephoned to his ranch to have young Vacca bring the buckskin,
by way of the Lower Road, to meet him at Los Muertos. He found
her waiting there for him, but before going on, delayed a few
moments to tell Harran of Dyke's affair.
"I wonder what he will do now?" observed Harran when his first
outburst of indignation had subsided.
"Nothing," declared Annixter. "He's stuck."
"That eats up every cent of Dyke's earnings," Harran went on.
"He has been ten years saving them. Oh, I told him to make sure
of the Railroad when he first spoke to me about growing hops."
"I've just seen him," said Presley, as he joined the others. "He
was at Caraher's. I only saw his back. He was drinking at a
table and his back was towards me. But the man looked broken--
absolutely crushed. It is terrible, terrible."
"He was at Caraher's, was he?" demanded Annixter.
"Drinking, hey?"
"I think so. Yes, I saw a bottle."
"Drinking at Caraher's," exclaimed Annixter, rancorously; "I can
see HIS finish."
There was a silence. It seemed as if nothing more was to be
said. They paused, looking thoughtfully on the ground.
In silence, grim, bitter, infinitely sad, the three men as if at
that moment actually standing in the bar-room of Caraher's
roadside saloon, contemplated the slow sinking, the inevitable
collapse and submerging of one of their companions, the wreck of
a career, the ruin of an individual; an honest man, strong,
fearless, upright, struck down by a colossal power, perverted by
an evil influence, go reeling to his ruin.
"I see his finish," repeated Annixter. "Exit Dyke, and score
another tally for S. Behrman, Shelgrim and Co."
He moved away impatiently, loosening the tie-rope with which the
buckskin was fastened. He swung himself up.
"God for us all," he declared as he rode away, "and the devil
take the hindmost. Good-bye, I'm going home. I still have one a
little longer."
He galloped away along the Lower Road, in the direction of Quien
Sabe, emerging from the grove of cypress and eucalyptus about the
ranch house, and coming out upon the bare brown plain of the
wheat land, stretching away from him in apparent barrenness on
either hand.
It was late in the day, already his shadow was long upon the
padded dust of the road in front of him. On ahead, a long ways
off, and a little to the north, the venerable campanile of the
Mission San Juan was glinting radiant in the last rays of the
sun, while behind him, towards the north and west, the gilded
dome of the courthouse at Bonneville stood silhouetted in
purplish black against the flaming west. Annixter spurred the
buck-skin forward. He feared he might be late to his supper. He
wondered if it would be brought to him by Hilma.
Hilma! The name struck across in his brain with a pleasant,
glowing tremour. All through that day of activity, of strenuous
business, the minute and cautious planning of the final campaign
in the great war of the League and the Trust, the idea of her and
the recollection of her had been the undercurrent of his
thoughts. At last he was alone. He could put all other things
behind him and occupy himself solely with her.
In that glory of the day's end, in that chaos of sunshine, he saw
her again. Unimaginative, crude, direct, his fancy,
nevertheless, placed her before him, steeped in sunshine,
saturated with glorious light, brilliant, radiant, alluring. He
saw the sweet simplicity of her carriage, the statuesque evenness
of the contours of her figure, the single, deep swell of her
bosom, the solid masses of her hair. He remembered the small
contradictory suggestions of feminine daintiness he had so often
remarked about her, her slim, narrow feet, the little steel
buckles of her low shoes, the knot of black ribbon she had begun
to wear of late on the back of her head, and he heard her voice,
low-pitched, velvety, a sweet, murmuring huskiness that seemed to
come more from her chest than from her throat.
The buckskin's hoofs clattered upon the gravelly flats of
Broderson's Creek underneath the Long Trestle. Annixter's mind
went back to the scene of the previous evening, when he had come
upon her at this place. He set his teeth with anger and
disappointment. Why had she not been able to understand? What
was the matter with these women, always set upon this marrying
notion? Was it not enough that he wanted her more than any other
girl he knew and that she wanted him? She had said as much. Did
she think she was going to be mistress of Quien Sabe? Ah, that
was it. She was after his property, was for marrying him because
of his money. His unconquerable suspicion of the woman, his
innate distrust of the feminine element would not be done away
with. What fathomless duplicity was hers, that she could appear
so innocent. It was almost unbelievable; in fact, was it
For the first time doubt assailed him. Suppose Hilma was indeed
all that she appeared to be. Suppose it was not with her a
question of his property, after all; it was a poor time to think
of marrying him for his property when all Quien Sabe hung in the
issue of the next few months. Suppose she had been sincere. But
he caught himself up. Was he to be fooled by a feemale girl at
this late date? He, Buck Annixter, crafty, hard-headed, a man of
affairs? Not much. Whatever transpired he would remain the
He reached Quien Sabe in this frame of mind. But at this hour,
Annixter, for all his resolutions, could no longer control his
thoughts. As he stripped the saddle from the buckskin and led
her to the watering trough by the stable corral, his heart was
beating thick at the very notion of being near Hilma again. It
was growing dark, but covertly he glanced here and there out of
the corners of his eyes to see if she was anywhere about.
Annixter--how, he could not tell--had become possessed of the
idea that Hilma would not inform her parents of what had passed
between them the previous evening under the Long Trestle. He had
no idea that matters were at an end between himself and the young
woman. He must apologise, he saw that clearly enough, must eat
crow, as he told himself. Well, he would eat crow. He was not
afraid of her any longer, now that she had made her confession to
him. He would see her as soon as possible and get this business
straightened out, and begin again from a new starting point.
What he wanted with Hilma, Annixter did not define clearly in his
mind. At one time he had known perfectly well what he wanted.
Now, the goal of his desires had become vague. He could not say
exactly what it was. He preferred that things should go forward
without much idea of consequences; if consequences came, they
would do so naturally enough, and of themselves; all that he
positively knew was that Hilma occupied his thoughts morning,
noon, and night; that he was happy when he was with her, and
miserable when away from her.
The Chinese cook served his supper in silence. Annixter ate and
drank and lighted a cigar, and after his meal sat on the porch of
his house, smoking and enjoying the twilight. The evening was
beautiful, warm, the sky one powder of stars. From the direction
of the stables he heard one of the Portuguese hands picking a
But he wanted to see Hilma. The idea of going to bed without at
least a glimpse of her became distasteful to him. Annixter got
up and descending from the porch began to walk aimlessly about
between the ranch buildings, with eye and ear alert. Possibly he
might meet her somewheres.
The Trees' little house, toward which inevitably Annixter
directed his steps, was dark. Had they all gone to bed so soon?
He made a wide circuit about it, listening, but heard no sound.
The door of the dairy-house stood ajar. He pushed it open, and
stepped into the odorous darkness of its interior. The pans and
deep cans of polished metal glowed faintly from the corners and
from the walls. The smell of new cheese was pungent in his
nostrils. Everything was quiet. There was nobody there. He
went out again, closing the door, and stood for a moment in the
space between the dairy-house and the new barn, uncertain as to
what he should do next.
As he waited there, his foreman came out of the men's bunk house,
on the other side of the kitchens, and crossed over toward the
barn. "Hello, Billy," muttered Annixter as he passed.
"Oh, good evening, Mr. Annixter," said the other, pausing in
front of him. "I didn't know you were back. By the way," he
added, speaking as though the matter was already known to
Annixter, "I see old man Tree and his family have left us. Are
they going to be gone long? Have they left for good?"
"What's that?" Annixter exclaimed. "When did they go? Did all
of them go, all three?"
"Why, I thought you knew. Sure, they all left on the afternoon
train for San Francisco. Cleared out in a hurry--took all their
trunks. Yes, all three went--the young lady, too. They gave me
notice early this morning. They ain't ought to have done that.
I don't know who I'm to get to run the dairy on such short
notice. Do you know any one, Mr. Annixter?"
"Well, why in hell did you let them go?" vociferated Annixter.
"Why didn't you keep them here till I got back? Why didn't you
find out if they were going for good? I can't be everywhere.
What do I feed you for if it ain't to look after things I can't
attend to?"
He turned on his heel and strode away straight before him, not
caring where he was going. He tramped out from the group of
ranch buildings; holding on over the open reach of his ranch, his
teeth set, his heels digging furiously into the ground. The
minutes passed. He walked on swiftly, muttering to himself from
time to time.
"Gone, by the Lord. Gone, by the Lord. By the Lord Harry, she's
cleared out."
As yet his head was empty of all thought. He could not steady
his wits to consider this new turn of affairs. He did not even
"Gone, by the Lord," he exclaimed. "By the Lord, she's cleared
He found the irrigating ditch, and the beaten path made by the
ditch tenders that bordered it, and followed it some five
minutes; then struck off at right angles over the rugged surface
of the ranch land, to where a great white stone jutted from the
ground. There he sat down, and leaning forward, rested his
elbows on his knees, and looked out vaguely into the night, his
thoughts swiftly readjusting themselves.
He was alone. The silence of the night, the infinite repose of
the flat, bare earth--two immensities--widened around and above
him like illimitable seas. A grey half-light, mysterious, grave,
flooded downward from the stars.
Annixter was in torment. Now, there could be no longer any
doubt--now it was Hilma or nothing. Once out of his reach, once
lost to him, and the recollection of her assailed him with
unconquerable vehemence. Much as she had occupied his mind, he
had never realised till now how vast had been the place she had
filled in his life. He had told her as much, but even then he
did not believe it.
Suddenly, a bitter rage against himself overwhelmed him as he
thought of the hurt he had given her the previous evening. He
should have managed differently. How, he did not know, but the
sense of the outrage he had put upon her abruptly recoiled
against him with cruel force. Now, he was sorry for it,
infinitely sorry, passionately sorry. He had hurt her. He had
brought the tears to her eyes. He had so flagrantly insulted her
that she could no longer bear to breathe the same air with him.
She had told her parents all. She had left Quien Sabe--had left
him for good, at the very moment when he believed he had won her.
Brute, beast that he was, he had driven her away.
An hour went by; then two, then four, then six. Annixter still
sat in his place, groping and battling in a confusion of spirit,
the like of which he had never felt before. He did not know what
was the matter with him. He could not find his way out of the
dark and out of the turmoil that wheeled around him. He had had
no experience with women. There was no precedent to guide him.
How was he to get out of this? What was the clew that would set
everything straight again?
That he would give Hilma up, never once entered his head. Have
her he would. She had given herself to him. Everything should
have been easy after that, and instead, here he was alone in the
night, wrestling with himself, in deeper trouble than ever, and
Hilma farther than ever away from him.
It was true, he might have Hilma, even now, if he was willing to
marry her. But marriage, to his mind, had been always a vague,
most remote possibility, almost as vague and as remote as his
death,--a thing that happened to some men, but that would surely
never occur to him, or, if it did, it would be after long years
had passed, when he was older, more settled, more mature--an
event that belonged to the period of his middle life, distant as
He had never faced the question of his marriage. He had kept it
at an immense distance from him. It had never been a part of his
order of things. He was not a marrying man.
But Hilma was an ever-present reality, as near to him as his
right hand. Marriage was a formless, far distant abstraction.
Hilma a tangible, imminent fact. Before he could think of the
two as one; before he could consider the idea of marriage, side
by side with the idea of Hilma, measureless distances had to be
traversed, things as disassociated in his mind as fire and water,
had to be fused together; and between the two he was torn as if
upon a rack.
Slowly, by imperceptible degrees, the imagination, unused,
unwilling machine, began to work. The brain's activity lapsed
proportionately. He began to think less, and feel more. In that
rugged composition, confused, dark, harsh, a furrow had been
driven deep, a little seed planted, a little seed at first weak,
forgotten, lost in the lower dark places of his character.
But as the intellect moved slower, its functions growing numb,
the idea of self dwindled. Annixter no longer considered
himself; no longer considered the notion of marriage from the
point of view of his own comfort, his own wishes, his own
advantage. He realised that in his newfound desire to make her
happy, he was sincere. There was something in that idea, after
all. To make some one happy--how about that now? It was worth
thinking of.
Far away, low down in the east, a dim belt, a grey light began to
whiten over the horizon. The tower of the Mission stood black
against it. The dawn was coming. The baffling obscurity of the
night was passing. Hidden things were coming into view.
Annixter, his eyes half-closed, his chin upon his fist, allowed
his imagination full play. How would it be if he should take
Hilma into his life, this beautiful young girl, pure as he now
knew her to be; innocent, noble with the inborn nobility of
dawning womanhood? An overwhelming sense of his own unworthiness
suddenly bore down upon him with crushing force, as he thought of
this. He had gone about the whole affair wrongly. He had been
mistaken from the very first. She was infinitely above him. He
did not want--he should not desire to be the master. It was she,
his servant, poor, simple, lowly even, who should condescend to
Abruptly there was presented to his mind's eye a picture of the
years to come, if he now should follow his best, his highest, his
most unselfish impulse. He saw Hilma, his own, for better or for
worse, for richer or for poorer, all barriers down between them,
he giving himself to her as freely, as nobly, as she had given
herself to him. By a supreme effort, not of the will, but of the
emotion, he fought his way across that vast gulf that for a time
had gaped between Hilma and the idea of his marriage. Instantly,
like the swift blending of beautiful colours, like the harmony of
beautiful chords of music, the two ideas melted into one, and in
that moment into his harsh, unlovely world a new idea was born.
Annixter stood suddenly upright, a mighty tenderness, a
gentleness of spirit, such as he had never conceived of, in his
heart strained, swelled, and in a moment seemed to burst. Out of
the dark furrows of his soul, up from the deep rugged recesses of
his being, something rose, expanding. He opened his arms wide.
An immense happiness overpowered him. Actual tears came to his
eyes. Without knowing why, he was not ashamed of it. This poor,
crude fellow, harsh, hard, narrow, with his unlovely nature, his
fierce truculency, his selfishness, his obstinacy, abruptly knew
that all the sweetness of life, all the great vivifying eternal
force of humanity had burst into life within him.
The little seed, long since planted, gathering strength quietly,
had at last germinated.
Then as the realisation of this hardened into certainty, in the
growing light of the new day that had just dawned for him,
Annixter uttered a cry. Now at length, he knew the meaning of it
"Why--I--I, I LOVE her," he cried. Never until then had it
occurred to him. Never until then, in all his thoughts of Hilma,
had that great word passed his lips.
It was a Memnonian cry, the greeting of the hard, harsh image of
man, rough-hewn, flinty, granitic, uttering a note of joy,
acclaiming the new risen sun.
By now it was almost day. The east glowed opalescent. All about
him Annixter saw the land inundated with light. But there was a
change. Overnight something had occurred. In his perturbation
the change seemed to him, at first, elusive, almost fanciful,
unreal. But now as the light spread, he looked again at the
gigantic scroll of ranch lands unrolled before him from edge to
edge of the horizon. The change was not fanciful. The change
was real. The earth was no longer bare. The land was no longer
barren,--no longer empty, no longer dull brown. All at once
Annixter shouted aloud.
There it was, the Wheat, the Wheat! The little seed long
planted, germinating in the deep, dark furrows of the soil,
straining, swelling, suddenly in one night had burst upward to
the light. The wheat had come up. It was there before him,
around him, everywhere, illimitable, immeasurable. The winter
brownness of the ground was overlaid with a little shimmer of
green. The promise of the sowing was being fulfilled. The
earth, the loyal mother, who never failed, who never
disappointed, was keeping her faith again. Once more the
strength of nations was renewed. Once more the force of the
world was revivified. Once more the Titan, benignant, calm,
stirred and woke, and the morning abruptly blazed into glory upon
the spectacle of a man whose heart leaped exuberant with the love
of a woman, and an exulting earth gleaming transcendent with the
radiant magnificence of an inviolable pledge.
Presley's room in the ranch house of Los Muertos was in the
second story of the building. It was a corner room; one of its
windows facing the south, the other the east. Its appointments
were of the simplest. In one angle was the small white painted
iron bed, covered with a white counterpane. The walls were hung
with a white paper figured with knots of pale green leaves, very
gay and bright. There was a straw matting on the floor. White
muslin half-curtains hung in the windows, upon the sills of which
certain plants bearing pink waxen flowers of which Presley did
not know the name, grew in oblong green boxes. The walls were
unadorned, save by two pictures, one a reproduction of the
"Reading from Homer," the other a charcoal drawing of the Mission
of San Juan de Guadalajara, which Presley had made himself. By
the east window stood the plainest of deal tables, innocent of
any cloth or covering, such as might have been used in a kitchen.
It was Presley's work table, and was invariably littered with
papers, half-finished manuscripts, drafts of poems, notebooks,
pens, half-smoked cigarettes, and the like. Near at hand, upon a
shelf, were his books. There were but two chairs in the room--
the straight backed wooden chair, that stood in front of the
table, angular, upright, and in which it was impossible to take
one's ease, and the long comfortable wicker steamer chair,
stretching its length in front of the south window. Presley was
immensely fond of this room. It amused and interested him to
maintain its air of rigorous simplicity and freshness. He
abhorred cluttered bric-a-brac and meaningless objets d'art.
Once in so often he submitted his room to a vigorous inspection;
setting it to rights, removing everything but the essentials, the
few ornaments which, in a way, were part of his life.
His writing had by this time undergone a complete change. The
notes for his great Song of the West, the epic poem he once had
hoped to write he had flung aside, together with all the abortive
attempts at its beginning. Also he had torn up a great quantity
of "fugitive" verses, preserving only a certain half-finished
poem, that he called "The Toilers." This poem was a comment upon
the social fabric, and had been inspired by the sight of a
painting he had seen in Cedarquist's art gallery. He had written
all but the last verse.
On the day that he had overheard the conversation between Dyke
and Caraher, in the latter's saloon, which had acquainted him
with the monstrous injustice of the increased tariff, Presley had
returned to Los Muertos, white and trembling, roused to a pitch
of exaltation, the like of which he had never known in all his
life. His wrath was little short of even Caraher's. He too "saw
red"; a mighty spirit of revolt heaved tumultuous within him. It
did not seem possible that this outrage could go on much longer.
The oppression was incredible; the plain story of it set down in
truthful statement of fact would not be believed by the outside
He went up to his little room and paced the floor with clenched
fists and burning face, till at last, the repression of his
contending thoughts all but suffocated him, and he flung himself
before his table and began to write. For a time, his pen seemed
to travel of itself; words came to him without searching, shaping
themselves into phrases,--the phrases building themselves up to
great, forcible sentences, full of eloquence, of fire, of
passion. As his prose grew more exalted, it passed easily into
the domain of poetry. Soon the cadence of his paragraphs settled
to an ordered beat and rhythm, and in the end Presley had thrust
aside his journal and was once more writing verse.
He picked up his incomplete poem of "The Toilers," read it
hastily a couple of times to catch its swing, then the Idea of
the last verse--the Idea for which he so long had sought in vain--
abruptly springing to his brain, wrote it off without so much as
replenishing his pen with ink. He added still another verse,
bringing the poem to a definite close, resuming its entire
conception, and ending with a single majestic thought, simple,
noble, dignified, absolutely convincing.
Presley laid down his pen and leaned back in his chair, with the
certainty that for one moment he had touched untrod heights. His
hands were cold, his head on fire, his heart leaping tumultuous
in his breast.
Now at last, he had achieved. He saw why he had never grasped
the inspiration for his vast, vague, IMPERSONAL Song of the West.
At the time when he sought for it, his convictions had not been
aroused; he had not then cared for the People. His sympathies
had not been touched. Small wonder that he had missed it. Now
he was of the People; he had been stirred to his lowest depths.
His earnestness was almost a frenzy. He BELIEVED, and so to him
all things were possible at once .
Then the artist in him reasserted itself. He became more
interested in his poem, as such, than in the cause that had
inspired it. He went over it again, retouching it carefully,
changing a word here and there, and improving its rhythm. For
the moment, he forgot the People, forgot his rage, his agitation
of the previous hour, he remembered only that he had written a
great poem.
Then doubt intruded. After all, was it so great? Did not its
sublimity overpass a little the bounds of the ridiculous? Had he
seen true? Had he failed again? He re-read the poem carefully;
and it seemed all at once to lose force.
By now, Presley could not tell whether what he had written was
true poetry or doggerel. He distrusted profoundly his own
judgment. He must have the opinion of some one else, some one
competent to judge. He could not wait; to-morrow would not do.
He must know to a certainty before he could rest that night.
He made a careful copy of what he had written, and putting on his
hat and laced boots, went down stairs and out upon the lawn,
crossing over to the stables. He found Phelps there, washing
down the buckboard.
"Do you know where Vanamee is to-day?" he asked the latter.
Phelps put his chin in the air.
"Ask me something easy," he responded. "He might be at
Guadalajara, or he might be up at Osterman's, or he might be a
hundred miles away from either place. I know where he ought to
be, Mr. Presley, but that ain't saying where the crazy gesabe is.
He OUGHT to be range-riding over east of Four, at the head waters
of Mission Creek."
"I'll try for him there, at all events," answered Presley. "If
you see Harran when he comes in, tell him I may not be back in
time for supper."
Presley found the pony in the corral, cinched the saddle upon
him, and went off over the Lower Road, going eastward at a brisk
At Hooven's he called a "How do you do" to Minna, whom he saw
lying in a slat hammock under the mammoth live oak, her foot in
bandages; and then galloped on over the bridge across the
irrigating ditch, wondering vaguely what would become of such a
pretty girl as Minna, and if in the end she would marry the
Portuguese foreman in charge of the ditching-gang. He told
himself that he hoped she would, and that speedily. There was no
lack of comment as to Minna Hooven about the ranches. Certainly
she was a good girl, but she was seen at all hours here and there
about Bonneville and Guadalajara, skylarking with the Portuguese
farm hands of Quien Sabe and Los Muertos. She was very pretty;
the men made fools of themselves over her. Presley hoped they
would not end by making a fool of her.
Just beyond the irrigating ditch, Presley left the Lower Road,
and following a trail that branched off southeasterly from this
point, held on across the Fourth Division of the ranch, keeping
the Mission Creek on his left. A few miles farther on, he went
through a gate in a barbed wire fence, and at once engaged
himself in a system of little arroyos and low rolling hills, that
steadily lifted and increased in size as he proceeded. This
higher ground was the advance guard of the Sierra foothills, and
served as the stock range for Los Muertos. The hills were huge
rolling hummocks of bare ground, covered only by wild oats. At
long intervals, were isolated live oaks. In the canyons and
arroyos, the chaparral and manzanita grew in dark olive-green
thickets. The ground was honey-combed with gopher-holes, and the
gophers themselves were everywhere. Occasionally a jack rabbit
bounded across the open, from one growth of chaparral to another,
taking long leaps, his ears erect. High overhead, a hawk or two
swung at anchor, and once, with a startling rush of wings, a
covey of quail flushed from the brush at the side of the trail.
On the hillsides, in thinly scattered groups were the cattle,
grazing deliberately, working slowly toward the water-holes for
their evening drink, the horses keeping to themselves, the colts
nuzzling at their mothers' bellies, whisking their tails,
stamping their unshod feet. But once in a remoter field,
solitary, magnificent, enormous, the short hair curling tight
upon his forehead, his small red eyes twinkling, his vast neck
heavy with muscles, Presley came upon the monarch, the king, the
great Durham bull, maintaining his lonely state, unapproachable,
Presley found the one-time shepherd by a water-hole, in a far
distant corner of the range. He had made his simple camp for the
night. His blue-grey army blanket lay spread under a live oak,
his horse grazed near at hand. He himself sat on his heels
before a little fire of dead manzanita roots, cooking his coffee
and bacon. Never had Presley conceived so keen an impression of
loneliness as his crouching figure presented. The bald, bare
landscape widened about him to infinity. Vanamee was a spot in
it all, a tiny dot, a single atom of human organisation, floating
endlessly on the ocean of an illimitable nature.
The two friends ate together, and Vanamee, having snared a brace
of quails, dressed and then roasted them on a sharpened stick.
After eating, they drank great refreshing draughts from the
water-hole. Then, at length, Presley having lit his cigarette,
and Vanamee his pipe, the former said:
"Vanamee, I have been writing again."
Vanamee turned his lean ascetic face toward him, his black eyes
fixed attentively.
"I know," he said, "your journal."
"No, this is a poem. You remember, I told you about it once.
'The Toilers,' I called it."
"Oh, verse! Well, I am glad you have gone back to it. It is
your natural vehicle."
"You remember the poem?" asked Presley. "It was unfinished."
"Yes, I remember it. There was better promise in it than
anything you ever wrote. Now, I suppose, you have finished it."
Without reply, Presley brought it from out the breast pocket of
his shooting coat. The moment seemed propitious. The stillness
of the vast, bare hills was profound. The sun was setting in a
cloudless brazier of red light; a golden dust pervaded all the
landscape. Presley read his poem aloud. When he had finished,
his friend looked at him.
"What have you been doing lately?" he demanded. Presley,
wondering, told of his various comings and goings.
"I don't mean that," returned the other. "Something has happened
to you, something has aroused you. I am right, am I not? Yes,
I thought so. In this poem of yours, you have not been trying to
make a sounding piece of literature. You wrote it under
tremendous stress. Its very imperfections show that. It is
better than a mere rhyme. It is an Utterance--a Message. It is
Truth. You have come back to the primal heart of things, and you
have seen clearly. Yes, it is a great poem."
"Thank you," exclaimed Presley fervidly. "I had begun to
mistrust myself."
"Now," observed Vanamee, "I presume you will rush it into print.
To have formulated a great thought, simply to have accomplished,
is not enough."
"I think I am sincere," objected Presley. "If it is good it will
do good to others. You said yourself it was a Message. If it
has any value, I do not think it would be right to keep it back
from even a very small and most indifferent public."
"Don't publish it in the magazines at all events," Vanamee
answered. "Your inspiration has come FROM the People. Then let
it go straight TO the People--not the literary readers of the
monthly periodicals, the rich, who would only be indirectly
interested. If you must publish it, let it be in the daily
press. Don't interrupt. I know what you will say. It will be
that the daily press is common, is vulgar, is undignified; and I
tell you that such a poem as this of yours, called as it is, 'The
Toilers,' must be read BY the Toilers. It MUST BE common; it
must be vulgarised. You must not stand upon your dignity with
the People, if you are to reach them."
"That is true, I suppose," Presley admitted, "but I can't get rid
of the idea that it would be throwing my poem away. The great
magazine gives me such--a--background; gives me such weight."
"Gives YOU such weight, gives you such background. Is it
YOURSELF you think of? You helper of the helpless. Is that your
sincerity? You must sink yourself; must forget yourself and your
own desire of fame, of admitted success. It is your POEM, your
MESSAGE, that must prevail,--not YOU, who wrote it. You preach a
doctrine of abnegation, of self-obliteration, and you sign your
name to your words as high on the tablets as you can reach, so
that all the world may see, not the poem, but the poet. Presley,
there are many like you. The social reformer writes a book on
the iniquity of the possession of land, and out of the proceeds,
buys a corner lot. The economist who laments the hardships of
the poor, allows himself to grow rich upon the sale of his book."
But Presley would hear no further.
"No," he cried, "I know I am sincere, and to prove it to you, I
will publish my poem, as you say, in the daily press, and I will
accept no money for it."
They talked on for about an hour, while the evening wore away.
Presley very soon noticed that Vanamee was again preoccupied.
More than ever of late, his silence, his brooding had increased.
By and by he rose abruptly, turning his head to the north, in the
direction of the Mission church of San Juan.
"I think," he said to Presley, "that I must be going."
"Going? Where to at this time of night?"
"Off there." Vanamee made an uncertain gesture toward the north.
"Good-bye," and without another word he disappeared in the grey
of the twilight. Presley was left alone wondering. He found his
horse, and, tightening the girths, mounted and rode home under
the sheen of the stars, thoughtful, his head bowed. Before he
went to bed that night he sent "The Toilers" to the Sunday Editor
of a daily newspaper in San Francisco.
Upon leaving Presley, Vanamee, his thumbs hooked into his empty
cartridge belt, strode swiftly down from the hills of the Los
Muertos stock-range and on through the silent town of
Guadalajara. His lean, swarthy face, with its hollow cheeks,
fine, black, pointed beard, and sad eyes, was set to the
northward. As was his custom, he was bareheaded, and the
rapidity of his stride made a breeze in his long, black hair. He
knew where he was going. He knew what he must live through that
Again, the deathless grief that never slept leaped out of the
shadows, and fastened upon his shoulders. It was scourging him
back to that scene of a vanished happiness, a dead romance, a
perished idyl,--the Mission garden in the shade of the venerable
pear trees.
But, besides this, other influences tugged at his heart. There
was a mystery in the garden. In that spot the night was not
always empty, the darkness not always silent. Something far off
stirred and listened to his cry, at times drawing nearer to him.
At first this presence had been a matter for terror; but of late,
as he felt it gradually drawing nearer, the terror had at long
intervals given place to a feeling of an almost ineffable
sweetness. But distrusting his own senses, unwilling to submit
himself to such torturing, uncertain happiness, averse to the
terrible confusion of spirit that followed upon a night spent in
the garden, Vanamee had tried to keep away from the place.
However, when the sorrow of his life reassailed him, and the
thoughts and recollections of Angele brought the ache into his
heart, and the tears to his eyes, the temptation to return to the
garden invariably gripped him close. There were times when he
could not resist. Of themselves, his footsteps turned in that
direction. It was almost as if he himself had been called.
Guadalajara was silent, dark. Not even in Solotari's was there a
light. The town was asleep. Only the inevitable guitar hummed
from an unseen 'dobe. Vanamee pushed on. The smell of the
fields and open country, and a distant scent of flowers that he
knew well, came to his nostrils, as he emerged from the town by
way of the road that led on towards the Mission through Quien
Sabe. On either side of him lay the brown earth, silently
nurturing the implanted seed. Two days before it had rained
copiously, and the soil, still moist, disengaged a pungent aroma
of fecundity.
Vanamee, following the road, passed through the collection of
buildings of Annixter's home ranch. Everything slept. At
intervals, the aer-motor on the artesian well creaked audibly, as
it turned in a languid breeze from the northeast. A cat, hunting
field-mice, crept from the shadow of the gigantic barn and paused
uncertainly in the open, the tip of her tail twitching. From
within the barn itself came the sound of the friction of a heavy
body and a stir of hoofs, as one of the dozing cows lay down with
a long breath.
Vanamee left the ranch house behind him and proceeded on his way.
Beyond him, to the right of the road, he could make out the
higher ground in the Mission enclosure, and the watching tower of
the Mission itself. The minutes passed. He went steadily
forward. Then abruptly he paused, his head in the air, eye and
ear alert. To that strange sixth sense of his, responsive as the
leaves of the sensitive plant, had suddenly come the impression
of a human being near at hand. He had neither seen nor heard,
but for all that he stopped an instant in his tracks; then, the
sensation confirmed, went on again with slow steps, advancing
At last, his swiftly roving eyes lighted upon an object, just
darker than the grey-brown of the night-ridden land. It was at
some distance from the roadside. Vanamee approached it
cautiously, leaving the road, treading carefully upon the moist
clods of earth underfoot. Twenty paces distant, he halted.
Annixter was there, seated upon a round, white rock, his back
towards him. He was leaning forward, his elbows on his knees,
his chin in his hands. He did not move. Silent, motionless, he
gazed out upon the flat, sombre land.
It was the night wherein the master of Quien Sabe wrought out his
salvation, struggling with Self from dusk to dawn. At the moment
when Vanamee came upon him, the turmoil within him had only
begun. The heart of the man had not yet wakened. The night was
young, the dawn far distant, and all around him the fields of
upturned clods lay bare and brown, empty of all life, unbroken by
a single green shoot.
For a moment, the life-circles of these two men, of so widely
differing characters, touched each other, there in the silence of
the night under the stars. Then silently Vanamee withdrew, going
on his way, wondering at the trouble that, like himself, drove
this hardheaded man of affairs, untroubled by dreams, out into
the night to brood over an empty land.
Then speedily he forgot all else. The material world drew off
from him. Reality dwindled to a point and vanished like the
vanishing of a star at moonrise. Earthly things dissolved and
disappeared, as a strange, unnamed essence flowed in upon him. A
new atmosphere for him pervaded his surroundings. He entered the
world of the Vision, of the Legend, of the Miracle, where all
things were possible. He stood at the gate of the Mission
Above him rose the ancient tower of the Mission church. Through
the arches at its summit, where swung the Spanish queen's bells,
he saw the slow-burning stars. The silent bats, with flickering
wings, threw their dancing shadows on the pallid surface of the
venerable facade.
Not the faintest chirring of a cricket broke the silence. The
bees were asleep. In the grasses, in the trees, deep in the
calix of punka flower and magnolia bloom, the gnats, the
caterpillars, the beetles, all the microscopic, multitudinous
life of the daytime drowsed and dozed. Not even the minute
scuffling of a lizard over the warm, worn pavement of the
colonnade disturbed the infinite repose, the profound stillness.
Only within the garden, the intermittent trickling of the
fountain made itself heard, flowing steadily, marking off the
lapse of seconds, the progress of hours, the cycle of years, the
inevitable march of centuries.
At one time, the doorway before which Vanamee now stood had been
hermetically closed. But he, himself, had long since changed
that. He stood before it for a moment, steeping himself in the
mystery and romance of the place, then raising he latch, pushed
open the gate, entered, and closed it softly behind him. He was
in the cloister garden.
The stars were out, strewn thick and close in the deep blue of
the sky, the milky way glowing like a silver veil. Ursa Major
wheeled gigantic in the north. The great nebula in Orion was a
whorl of shimmering star dust. Venus flamed a lambent disk of
pale saffron, low over the horizon. From edge to edge of the
world marched the constellations, like the progress of emperors,
and from the innumerable glory of their courses a mysterious
sheen of diaphanous light disengaged itself, expanding over all
the earth, serene, infinite, majestic.
The little garden revealed itself but dimly beneath the brooding
light, only half emerging from the shadow. The polished surfaces
of the leaves of the pear trees winked faintly back the reflected
light as the trees just stirred in the uncertain breeze. A
blurred shield of silver marked the ripples of the fountain.
Under the flood of dull blue lustre, the gravelled walks lay
vague amid the grasses, like webs of white satin on the bed of a
lake. Against the eastern wall the headstones of the graves, an
indistinct procession of grey cowls ranged themselves.
Vanamee crossed the garden, pausing to kiss the turf upon
Angele's grave. Then he approached the line of pear trees, and
laid himself down in their shadow, his chin propped upon his
hands, his eyes wandering over the expanse of the little valley
that stretched away from the foot of the hill upon which the
Mission was built.
Once again he summoned the Vision. Once again he conjured up the
Illusion. Once again, tortured with doubt, racked with a
deathless grief, he craved an Answer of the night. Once again,
mystic that he was, he sent his mind out from him across the
enchanted sea of the Supernatural. Hope, of what he did not
know, roused up within him. Surely, on such a night as this, the
hallucination must define itself. Surely, the Manifestation must
be vouchsafed.
His eyes closed, his will girding itself to a supreme effort, his
senses exalted to a state of pleasing numbness, he called upon
Angele to come to him, his voiceless cry penetrating far out into
that sea of faint, ephemeral light that floated tideless over the
little valley beneath him. Then motionless, prone upon the
ground, he waited.
Months had passed since that first night when, at length, an
Answer had come to Vanamee. At first, startled out of all
composure, troubled and stirred to his lowest depths, because of
the very thing for which he sought, he resolved never again to
put his strange powers to the test. But for all that, he had
come a second night to the garden, and a third, and a fourth. At
last, his visits were habitual. Night after night he was there,
surrendering himself to the influences of the place, gradually
convinced that something did actually answer when he called. His
faith increased as the winter grew into spring. As the spring
advanced and the nights became shorter, it crystallised into
certainty. Would he have her again, his love, long dead? Would
she come to him once more out of the grave, out of the night? He
could not tell; he could only hope. All that he knew was that
his cry found an answer, that his outstretched hands, groping in
the darkness, met the touch of other fingers. Patiently he
waited. The nights became warmer as the spring drew on. The
stars shone clearer. The nights seemed brighter. For nearly a
month after the occasion of his first answer nothing new
occurred. Some nights it failed him entirely; upon others it was
faint, illusive.
Then, at last, the most subtle, the barest of perceptible changes
began. His groping mind far-off there, wandering like a lost
bird over the valley, touched upon some thing again. touched and
held it and this time drew it a single step closer to him. His
heart beating, the blood surging in his temples, he watched with
the eyes of his imagination, this gradual approach. What was
coming to him? Who was coming to him? Shrouded in the obscurity
of the night, whose was the face now turned towards his? Whose
the footsteps that with such infinite slowness drew nearer to
where he waited? He did not dare to say.
His mind went back many years to that time before the tragedy of
Angele's death, before the mystery of the Other. He waited then
as he waited now. But then he had not waited in vain. Then, as
now, he had seemed to feel her approach, seemed to feel her
drawing nearer and nearer to their rendezvous. Now, what would
happen? He did not know. He waited. He waited, hoping all
things. He waited, believing all things. He waited, enduring
all things. He trusted in the Vision.
Meanwhile, as spring advanced, the flowers in the Seed ranch
began to come to life. Over the five hundred acres whereon the
flowers were planted, the widening growth of vines and bushes
spread like the waves of a green sea. Then, timidly, colours of
the faintest tints began to appear. Under the moonlight, Vanamee
saw them expanding, delicate pink, faint blue, tenderest
variations of lavender and yellow, white shimmering with
reflections of gold, all subdued and pallid in the moonlight.
By degrees, the night became impregnated with the perfume of the
flowers. Illusive at first, evanescent as filaments of gossamer;
then as the buds opened, emphasising itself, breathing deeper,
stronger. An exquisite mingling of many odours passed
continually over the Mission, from the garden of the Seed ranch,
meeting and blending with the aroma of its magnolia buds and
punka blossoms.
As the colours of the flowers of the Seed ranch deepened, and as
their odours penetrated deeper and more distinctly, as the
starlight of each succeeding night grew brighter and the air
became warmer, the illusion defined itself. By imperceptible
degrees, as Vanamee waited under the shadows of the pear trees,
the Answer grew nearer and nearer. He saw nothing but the
distant glimmer of the flowers. He heard nothing but the drip of
the fountain. Nothing moved about him but the invisible, slowpassing
breaths of perfume; yet he felt the approach of the
It came first to about the middle of the Seed ranch itself, some
half a mile away, where the violets grew; shrinking, timid
flowers, hiding close to the ground. Then it passed forward
beyond the violets, and drew nearer and stood amid the
mignonette, hardier blooms that dared look heavenward from out
the leaves. A few nights later it left the mignonette behind,
and advanced into the beds of white iris that pushed more boldly
forth from the earth, their waxen petals claiming the attention.
It advanced then a long step into the proud, challenging beauty
of the carnations and roses; and at last, after many nights,
Vanamee felt that it paused, as if trembling at its hardihood,
full in the superb glory of the royal lilies themselves, that
grew on the extreme border of the Seed ranch nearest to him.
After this, there was a certain long wait. Then, upon a dark
midnight, it advanced again. Vanamee could scarcely repress a
cry. Now, the illusion emerged from the flowers. It stood, not
distant, but unseen, almost at the base of the hill upon whose
crest he waited, in a depression of the ground where the shadows
lay thickest. It was nearly within earshot.
The nights passed. The spring grew warmer. In the daytime
intermittent rains freshened all the earth. The flowers of the
Seed ranch grew rapidly. Bud after bud burst forth, while those
already opened expanded to full maturity. The colour of the Seed
ranch deepened.
One night, after hours of waiting, Vanamee felt upon his cheek
the touch of a prolonged puff of warm wind, breathing across the
little valley from out the east. It reached the Mission garden
and stirred the branches of the pear trees. It seemed veritably
to be compounded of the very essence of the flowers. Never had
the aroma been so sweet, so pervasive. It passed and faded,
leaving in its wake an absolute silence. Then, at length, the
silence of the night, that silence to which Vanamee had so long
appealed, was broken by a tiny sound. Alert, half-risen from the
ground, he listened; for now, at length, he heard something. The
sound repeated itself. It came from near at hand, from the thick
shadow at the foot of the hill. What it was, he could not tell,
but it did not belong to a single one of the infinite similar
noises of the place with which he was so familiar. It was
neither the rustle of a leaf, the snap of a parted twig, the
drone of an insect, the dropping of a magnolia blossom. It was a
vibration merely, faint, elusive, impossible of definition; a
minute notch in the fine, keen edge of stillness.
Again the nights passed. The summer stars became brighter. The
warmth increased. The flowers of the Seed ranch grew still more.
The five hundred acres of the ranch were carpeted with them.
At length, upon a certain midnight, a new light began to spread
in the sky. The thin scimitar of the moon rose, veiled and dim
behind the earth-mists. The light increased. Distant objects,
until now hidden, came into view, and as the radiance brightened,
Vanamee, looking down upon the little valley, saw a spectacle of
incomparable beauty. All the buds of the Seed ranch had opened.
The faint tints of the flowers had deepened, had asserted
themselves. They challenged the eye. Pink became a royal red.
Blue rose into purple. Yellow flamed into orange. Orange glowed
golden and brilliant. The earth disappeared under great bands
and fields of resplendent colour. Then, at length, the moon
abruptly soared zenithward from out the veiling mist, passing
from one filmy haze to another. For a moment there was a gleam
of a golden light, and Vanamee, his eyes searching the shade at
the foot of the hill, felt his heart suddenly leap, and then hang
poised, refusing to beat. In that instant of passing light,
something had caught his eye. Something that moved, down there,
half in and half out of the shadow, at the hill's foot. It had
come and gone in an instant. The haze once more screened the
moonlight. The shade again engulfed the vision. What was it he
had seen? He did not know. So brief had been that movement, the
drowsy brain had not been quick enough to interpret the cipher
message of the eye. Now it was gone. But something had been
there. He had seen it. Was it the lifting of a strand of hair,
the wave of a white hand, the flutter of a garment's edge? He
could not tell, but it did not belong to any of those sights
which he had seen so often in that place. It was neither the
glancing of a moth's wing, the nodding of a wind-touched blossom,
nor the noiseless flitting of a bat. It was a gleam merely,
faint, elusive, impossible of definition, an intangible
agitation, in the vast, dim blur of the darkness.
And that was all. Until now no single real thing had occurred,
nothing that Vanamee could reduce to terms of actuality, nothing
he could put into words. The manifestation, when not
recognisable to that strange sixth sense of his, appealed only to
the most refined, the most delicate perception of eye and ear.
It was all ephemeral, filmy, dreamy, the mystic forming of the
Vision--the invisible developing a concrete nucleus, the
starlight coagulating, the radiance of the flowers thickening to
something actual; perfume, the most delicious fragrance, becoming
a tangible presence.
But into that garden the serpent intruded. Though cradled in the
slow rhythm of the dream, lulled by this beauty of a summer's
night, heavy with the scent of flowers, the silence broken only
by a rippling fountain, the darkness illuminated by a world of
radiant blossoms, Vanamee could not forget the tragedy of the
Other; that terror of many years ago,--that prowler of the night,
that strange, fearful figure with the unseen face, swooping in
there from out the darkness, gone in an instant, yet leaving
behind the trail and trace of death and of pollution.
Never had Vanamee seen this more clearly than when leaving
Presley on the stock range of Los Muertos, he had come across to
the Mission garden by way of the Quien Sabe ranch.
It was the same night in which Annixter out-watched the stars,
coming, at last, to himself.
As the hours passed, the two men, far apart, ignoring each other,
waited for the Manifestation,--Annixter on the ranch, Vanamee in
the garden.
Prone upon his face, under the pear trees, his forehead buried in
the hollow of his arm, Vanamee lay motionless. For the last
time, raising his head, he sent his voiceless cry out into the
night across the multi-coloured levels of the little valley,
calling upon the miracle, summoning the darkness to give Angele
back to him, resigning himself to the hallucination. He bowed
his head upon his arm again and waited. The minutes passed. The
fountain dripped steadily. Over the hills a haze of saffron
light foretold the rising of the full moon. Nothing stirred.
The silence was profound.
Then, abruptly, Vanamee's right hand shut tight upon his wrist.
There--there it was. It began again, his invocation was
answered. Far off there, the ripple formed again upon the still,
black pool of the night. No sound, no sight; vibration merely,
appreciable by some sublimated faculty of the mind as yet
unnamed. Rigid, his nerves taut, motionless, prone on the
ground, he waited.
It advanced with infinite slowness. Now it passed through the
beds of violets, now through the mignonette. A moment later, and
he knew it stood among the white iris. Then it left those
behind. It was in the splendour of the red roses and carnations.
It passed like a moving star into the superb abundance, the
imperial opulence of the royal lilies. It was advancing slowly,
but there was no pause. He held his breath, not daring to raise
his head. It passed beyond the limits of the Seed ranch, and
entered the shade at the foot of the hill below him. Would it
come farther than this? Here it had always stopped hitherto,
stopped for a moment, and then, in spite of his efforts, had
slipped from his grasp and faded back into the night. But now he
wondered if he had been willing to put forth his utmost strength,
after all. Had there not always been an element of dread in the
thought of beholding the mystery face to face? Had he not even
allowed the Vision to dissolve, the Answer to recede into the
obscurity whence it came?
But never a night had been so beautiful as this. It was the full
period of the spring. The air was a veritable caress. The
infinite repose of the little garden, sleeping under the night,
was delicious beyond expression. It was a tiny corner of the
world, shut off, discreet, distilling romance, a garden of
dreams, of enchantments.
Below, in the little valley, the resplendent colourations of the
million flowers, roses, lilies, hyacinths, carnations, violets,
glowed like incandescence in the golden light of the rising moon.
The air was thick with the perfume, heavy with it, clogged with
it. The sweetness filled the very mouth. The throat choked with
it. Overhead wheeled the illimitable procession of the
constellations. Underfoot, the earth was asleep. The very
flowers were dreaming. A cathedral hush overlay all the land,
and a sense of benediction brooded low,--a divine kindliness
manifesting itself in beauty, in peace, in absolute repose.
It was a time for visions. It was the hour when dreams come
true, and lying deep in the grasses beneath the pear trees,
Vanamee, dizzied with mysticism, reaching up and out toward the
supernatural, felt, as it were, his mind begin to rise upward
from out his body. He passed into a state of being the like of
which he had not known before. He felt that his imagination was
reshaping itself, preparing to receive an impression never
experienced until now. His body felt light to him, then it
dwindled, vanished. He saw with new eyes, heard with new ears,
felt with a new heart.
"Come to me," he murmured.
Then slowly he felt the advance of the Vision. It was
approaching. Every instant it drew gradually nearer. At last,
he was to see. It had left the shadow at the base of the hill;
it was on the hill itself. Slowly, steadily, it ascended the
slope; just below him there, he heard a faint stirring. The
grasses rustled under the touch of a foot. The leaves of the
bushes murmured, as a hand brushed against them; a slender twig
creaked. The sounds of approach were more distinct. They came
nearer. They reached the top of the hill. They were within
whispering distance.
Vanamee, trembling, kept his head buried in his arm. The sounds,
at length, paused definitely. The Vision could come no nearer.
He raised his head and looked.
The moon had risen. Its great shield of gold stood over the
eastern horizon. Within six feet of Vanamee, clear and distinct,
against the disk of the moon, stood the figure of a young girl.
She was dressed in a gown of scarlet silk, with flowing sleeves,
such as Japanese wear, embroidered with flowers and figures of
birds worked in gold threads. On either side of her face, making
three-cornered her round, white forehead, hung the soft masses of
her hair of gold. Her hands hung limply at her sides. But from
between her parted lips--lips of almost an Egyptian fulness--her

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