Jessica Trent: Her Life on a Ranchñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Hurrah! Hurrah! Glory to the captain!”
“And old ‘Forty-niner,’” added honest John Benton.
They cheered him to the skies, and when the uproar had subsided, their small chief said:
“You are all to take the best care of Sobrante, and first–of my mother. Don’t you let her worry, nor let Ned and Luis get hurt. And you must keep Aunt Sally here till I come back.”
“Oh! that’s not right. I couldn’t go if she hadn’t come. She’ll look after everything–”
“That’s the true word!”
“And I want you all to be–be good and not tease her.”
“Hurrah! Hurrah! All in favor of minding the captain, say Ay!”
They swung her down from her perch and carried her on their shoulders everywhere about the old mission. They offered her all their possessions, including pistols and bowie knives, at peaceful Sobrante more useful for target practice and pruning vines than their original purposes. But she declined all these warlike things, saying that Ephraim would carry only his own rifle, and finally tore herself away from them to the anxious mother at the cottage, naturally jealous of each moment of her darling’s company.
“Don’t see how Eph. ever saved so much. Hasn’t had any wages since ours failed, as I know of. Mine always go fast as earned, and thought everybody’s did,” said one, when Jessica had left them.
“Some folks have all the luck! Why didn’t it happen to me to have money to give her? or to offer first to go hunt them liars? Shucks!” said Samson, in disgust. Though he had been back some time from escorting the stranger “off bounds,” that task had left him in a bad humor.
“Well, the captain’d tell me envy was wicked, and when I was hearing her say it I’d believe it. But I do envy old eighty his chance,” complained Joe. “Hello! there’s Ferd! Come to think of it I haven’t noticed him around these two days. Not since that stranger cast his ugly shadow on the ranch. Hi, there, Dwarf! Where you been?”
“Where I seen bad doings.”
“Right. Seeing you was there yourself. What doings was they?”
In ordinary the older men had little to say to Antonio’s “Left Hand,” but he afforded them diversion, just then, when they were all a little anxious and downhearted over their captain’s departure on what seemed to some of them a wild-goose chase.
Ferd went through a pantomime of theft. Furtively putting one hand into his neighbor’s pocket to instantly thrust it back into his own. He produced a buckskin bag and twisting some eucalyptus leaves into rolls, suggesting those of money, thrust these within the bag and that within his jacket. Then he glanced about with an absurdly innocent expression, threw his shoulders back, and stepped forward a few paces with so firm a step and erect a bearing that more than one instantly recognized the mimicry.
Having produced the effect he had intended, Ferd slouched back into his own natural attitude and begged:
“Something to eat.”
At that moment Ephraim had been approaching and was an indignant witness of this performance, nor was he less quick to see its significance than his mates had been.
Also, to him that buckskin bag was a familiar object. With one stride he collared Ferd and shook him like a rat.
“You imp! What do you mean by that? And how came you by Elsa Winkler’s pouch?”
Ferd broke from his captor and his face changed color beneath its filth. He was one who was perfectly satisfied to live in a country where water was scarce; but, by way of fun, another ranchman caught him as he escaped from Ephraim, and forcibly ducked his head and shoulders in the washing-trough. After that he was let go and later on was given a liberal supper at the messroom. He ate this as if he had not seen food since he had gone away two days before, but he was greedy at all times, and the present instance excited no comment.
The morning came and all was ready for the start. Every person at Sobrante gathered before the cottage door, and each with his or her word of farewell advice or good will. Aunt Sally, fluttering with patchwork strips of already “pieced blocks,” flung jauntily over either shoulder, her spectacles slipping off the point of her nose and her hands holding forth a fat fig pie, hot and dripping from the oven.
“I’ve been a-bakin’ all night, Ephy. There’s a pair of fowls, a ham, four loaves, some hard-boiled eggs, salt, pepper, sugar, tea, coffee, butter, dishes, five vials of medicine, some dish towels, some–”
“What in reason! How expect me to carry that great basket, as well as the saddlebags, and myself–on one horse? You’re old enough to have sense–but you’ll never learn it. One loaf–”
“Ephraim Marsh! Are you eighty years old or are you not? At your age would you starve the little darling daughter of the best friends you ever had? Here, Jessie. You get off that donkey. We’ll wait till we can pick out some other man that–”
“Give me the basket; I’ll carry it if I have to on my head!” interrupted “Forty-niner,” indignantly. But he added to himself: “I can chuck it into the first clump of mesquite I meet.”
Jessica was upon Scruff, whose loss the small boys were bewailing far more than that of the girl herself. Without Scruff they would be compelled to stay within walking distance of the cottage, and this was imprisonment. Without Jessica–well, there were many things one could do better with Jessica away.
Mrs. Trent’s face was pale but calm. Nobody knew what this first parting with her helpful child was to her anxious heart, but it was her part to send the travelers outward in good cheer.
“Put the saddlebags on Scruff, in front of Jessica. He’s strong enough to carry double, and they’re not so heavy. Few girls, in my days at the East, would have set out upon an indefinite journey, equipped with only one flannel frock and a single change of underclothing.”
“But the flannel frock is new and so is the pretty Tam that Elsa gave me last Christmas. What do I want more? specially when there’s this warm jacket you made me take, for a cold night’s ride. Isn’t it enough, mother, dear?”
“Quite, I think, else I should have made you delay till I could have provided more. Be sure to write me, now and then. One of the men will ride to the post every few days and fetch any letters. Good-by, and now–go quickly!”
She added no prayers, for these were too deep in her heart for outward utterance; but she felt her own courage ebbing, and that if the parting were not speedy she could not at all endure it. Until that moment she had not realized how complete was her dependence upon Jessica’s protecting tenderness; and turning, toward her home hid thus the tears she would not have her daughter see.
But neither could Lady Jess have seen them, because of the sudden mist in her own. All her eagerness for the journey was gone, and her courage was fast following it. If the start were not made at once it would never be.
“Good-by, mother. Good-by, all! Come, Ephraim! Go, go–Scruff!”
A moment later the travelers were disappearing down the sandy road, and upon those whom they had left behind had fallen an intolerable burden of foreboding and loneliness.
“Desolation of desolations! That’s what this old ranch’ll be till that there little bunch of human sunshine comes safely back to it. A crazy trip, a crazy parcel of folks to let her take it. That’s what we are,” said John Benton, savagely kicking the horseblock to vent his painful emotion.
“Oh, dear! Oh, dear! And I never remembered to put in that guava jell!” moaned a voice of woe.
“Then, mother, just trot it out to us for dinner,” said her son, “we’ll take that burden off your mind.”
“You will? Have you a heart to eat good victuals, John Benton, when that sweet child has just thrust herself into a den of lions, and lawyers, and liars, and–and–things?”
“Oh, hush! Lions! The notion!”
“Well, you can’t deny there’s bears, anyway,” she retorted, with ready dolefulness. “Ephy’s shot ’em himself in his younger days.”
“And ended the crop. Now you go in; and if I hear you downhearting the mistress the least bit I’ll make you take a dose of your own picra,” said this much-tried man.
It was a journey of something more than two hundred miles and they were almost a week on the way; riding for several hours each morning and evening; camping in some well-watered spot at midday; or, this failing, sharing the dinner of some friendly ranchman. Also, they slept at some little inn or ranch, and where their hosts would receive it, Ephraim delighted to make liberal payment for their entertainment.
Indeed, he felt a prince, with his well-filled purse, and would have forced all sorts of dainties and knickknacks upon his little charge, at each village they passed through, save that she resolutely refused them.
“You generous Ephraim, no! What money we need for the trip and after we get to Los Angeles is all right. But you mustn’t waste it. Hear! I am older than you in this thing.”
“But–I want you to have everything nice in the world, Lady Jess. Any other of the ‘boys’ traveling with you–”
“Could not have been so kind and thoughtful as you. Not one. Dearly as I love them I’d rather have you to take care of me on this long journey than any other single one. So do be good and not extravagant. And isn’t it lovely to find how almost everybody knew of my dear father? Or, if they didn’t know him for himself, they’d heard of him and of something he’d done for somebody. It makes the way seem almost short and as if I’d been over the road before.”
“He often passed this way, child; and whenever he went left pleasant memories behind him. He was a grand man, was Cassius Trent. Ugh! To think–”
“That will be all right, Ephraim. I know it. I feel it. And how I do love all the new places and things I see. I should never have cared to leave Sobrante but for this business; yet now I have left it I’m finding the world a big, splendid, lovely place.”
“H-m-m! I reckon even this old earth could show only its best side to you, little girl. However, it has been pleasant and it’s about over. Aunt Sally’s provisions didn’t have to go into the mesquite bushes, after all. What we couldn’t eat we’ve found plenty of others to take off our hands. Even the medicine didn’t go begging, and that’ll do her proud to hear. Poor wretches who have to take it!”
“But they wanted it, Ephraim. Some of the women said they hadn’t had a dose of medicine in years and seemed as pleased as if it had been sweetmeats. Now the basket is empty. What shall you do with that?”
“Leave it at the next place we stop.”
They had set out upon their ride on Tuesday morning and this was sunset, Saturday. They were descending the slope of a mountain and the guide pointed forward, eagerly.
“Do you see that hazy spot off yonder? That’s our City of the Angels! The city where we shall find justice and honor.”
“Oh, shall we be there to-night?”
“No. We might have been days ago if we’d ridden across country and struck the railway lines, but I wanted to do just as we have done. I knew you’d hear so much about your father it would do you good forever. We can go home the quicker way if we think best; and if we have good news to take will, likely, so think, I–I’m almost sorry we’re so near the end.”
“In one way so am I. Not in another. I long to begin to hunt for that money and the men who have it.”
Ephraim sighed. Now that he was thus far on his mission he began to think it, indeed, as Joe Dean had said, “A good deal of the needle and haymow style.” But he rallied at once and answered, cheerfully:
“There’s a house I know, or used to, at the foot of this slope. I planned to sleep there to-night, make an early start in the morning, and ride the fifteen miles left so as to get to the town in time for the churches. To think you’re eleven years old, Lady Jess, yet have never been inside any church except the rickety old mission.”
“Do you like churches, Ephraim?”
“Yes. I do now, child. I didn’t care so much about ’em when I lived nigh ’em. But they’re right. There’s a good many kinds of ’em and they get me a little mixed, arguing. But they’re right; and the bell–It’ll be a good beginning of this present job to go to meeting the first thing.”
“Oh! this wonderful world and the wonderful things I’m learning! What a lot I shall have to tell the folks when I get home. Seems as if I couldn’t wait.”
They found the little lodging-house, as Ephraim had hoped, though now kept by a stranger to him. However, the new landlord made them comfortable, charged them an exorbitant price–having caught sight of his guest’s fat purse–and set them early on their way. “Forty-niner” did not complain. Their next and final stop would be with an old fellow-miner who, at Ephraim’s last visit to Los Angeles, five years before, had kept a tidy little inn on one of the city’s central streets. If this old friend were still living he would give them hearty welcome, the best entertainment possible, and what was more to the purpose–practical advice as to their business.
“The bells! The bells! Oh! they are what you said, the sweetest things I ever heard!” cried Lady Jess, in delight, as over the miles of distance there floated to them on the clear air, the chimes and sonorous tollings from many church towers.
“We shall be late, after all, I guess. That means it’s time for the meetings to begin. Well, there’ll be others in the afternoon; so we may as good take it easy and go slow.”
This suited Jessica, who found more and more to surprise and interest her in every stage of their advance, and most of all as they entered the city. This was much altered and improved since the sharpshooter had himself last seen it, but even thus he could point out many of the finest buildings, name the chief avenues, and comport himself after the manner of one who knows enlightening one who does not.
But soon Jessica saw few of the things which interested him and heard him not at all. It was the first time she had ever seen a girl of her own age, and now–the streets were full of them. In their gay Sunday attire, on their homeward way now from the churches whose bells had long ceased to ring, they were here, there, and everywhere. They lined the sidewalks and glittered from the open electric cars. They smiled at one another and, a few, at her; for to them, also, this other stranger girl was a novel sight, just then and there. Besides the oddity of her dress and equipment, the eagerness and beauty of her face attracted them, and more than one pair of eyes turned to look after her, as Scruff scrambled along, unguided by his rider, and dodging one danger only to face another.
“That’s a country girl, fast enough; and if she doesn’t look out that uneasy burro will land her on the curbstone! Look out there, child!” cried one passerby, just as the animal bounded across the track of a whizzing trolley.
But this peril escaped, Ephraim grasped Scruff’s bridle and presently led the way into a quieter street or alley, and thence to the wide plaza before the inn he sought.
“Thank fortune, there’s room enough here to turn around in! And there’s the very house. Hello! Lady Jess! I say, Jessica!”
Without warning the girl had whisked the bridle from his grasp and had chirruped to the now excited beast in the manner which meant:
“Go your swiftest!”
Scruff went. Following he knew not what, and terrified afresh at every square he traversed. Somewhere a band of music was playing, and the beating of the drums seemed to his donkey brain the most horrible of noises. To escape it and the ever-increasing throng his nimble feet flew up and down like mad; he thrust his head between the arms of people and forced the crowd to part for him; he reared, backed, plunged, and shook himself; but did not in the least disturb his mistress’ firm seat, as with her own head leaning forward she kept her gaze upon some distant object and urged him to pursuit.
The crowd which made way for this eager pair was first angry, then amused. After that it began to collect into a formidable following. Poor Lady Jess became to them a “show” and Scruff’s antics but meant to exhibit her “trick” riding.
Now Stiffleg was an ancient beast, which had been a trotter in his day; but his day, like his master’s, was past. By good care and easy stages he had accomplished his long journey in fair condition; but he was a sensible animal and felt that he had earned a rest. So when Ephraim urged him forward after the vanishing burro he halted and turned his head about. If ever equine eyes protested against further effort, his did then; and at ordinary times “Forty-niner” would have been the first to perceive this appeal and grant it. He had always bragged that “Stiffleg’s more human than most folks,” but he forgot this now. He remembered only that his precious charge was fast disappearing from sight and that in another moment she would be lost in a great, strange city.
“Simpleton that I was! I never even mentioned the name of the tavern we were going to,” reflected, “else she might tell it and get shown the way.” Then came another startling thought. For fear of just such an emergency–why had he been silly enough to think of it?–he had on that very morning, as they neared their journey’s end, divided their money into two portions and make her carry the larger one. She had objected, at first; but afterward consented, and with pride in his trust. “If any scamp got hold of her he’d rob her or–maybe worse! Oh, Atlantic! Giddap, Stiff! Giddap, I tell you!”
To the crowd this appeared but another feature of “the show.” These rustics from the plains had evidently come into town to furnish entertainment for Sunday strollers, and Stiffleg’s obstinacy was to them a second of the “tricks” to be exhibited.
However, it was a case of genuine balk; and the more Ephraim urged, implored, chastised, the firmer were the horse’s forefeet planted upon the highway and the more despairing became the rider’s feeling.
“Build a fire under him,” “Thrust red pepper under his nose,” “Tie him to a trolley car.” “Blindfold him.”
Various were the suggestions offered, to none of which did the sharpshooter pay any heed. The brass band accomplished what nothing else could. Blatantly it came around the corner, keeping time to its own noisy drums, and Stiffleg pricked up his ears. In his youth he had marched to battle and, at that moment, his youth was renewed. He reared his drooping head, a thrill ran through his languid veins, and, though still without advance motion, his hoofs began to beat a swift tattoo, till the towering plumes of the drum major came alongside his own now gleaming eyes. Then, he wheeled suddenly and–forward!
“Ho! the old war-horse! That’s a pretty sight,” shouted somebody.
Alas! for Ephraim. The unexpected movement of the balking animal did for him what was rare indeed–unseated him. By the time that it was “right front” for Stiffleg his master was on the ground, feeling that an untoward fate had overtaken him and that his leg, if not his heart, was broken. Music had charms, in truth, for the rejuvenated beast, and one of the sharpshooter’s pet theories was thereby proved false. Had anybody at Sobrante told him that anything could entice his “faithful” horse away from him he would have denied the statement angrily. He would have declared, with equal conviction, that, in case of accident like this, the intelligent creature would have stayed beside and tried to tend him.
Now, lying forsaken both by Jessica and Stiffleg, he uttered his shame and misery in a prolonged howl, as he attempted to rise and could not.
“O! Ough! Oh! My leg’s broke! My leg’s broke all to smash, I tell you. Somebody pick me up and carry me–yonder–to the Yankee Blade. If Tom Jefferts keeps it still, he’ll play my friend. Oh! Ah!”
Some in the now pitying throng exchanged glances, and one man bent over the prostrate Ephraim, saying, kindly:
“Why, Tom Jefferts hasn’t been in this town these three years. He went to ’Frisco and set up there. If there’s anybody else you’d like to notify I’ll telephone–”
“He gone, too! Then let me lie. What do I care what becomes of me now? Oh! my leg!”
The bravest men are cowards before physical suffering, sometimes. Ephraim would have faced death for Jessica without flinching, but that gathering agony of pain made him indifferent, for the moment, even to her welfare. This calamity had fallen upon him like lightning from a clear sky and benumbed him, so to speak. But it had not benumbed those about him. Within five minutes the clang of an ambulance gong was heard, and the aid which some thoughtful person had summoned arrived. Ephraim was tenderly lifted and placed within the conveyance, and away it dashed again, though almost without jar, and certainly without hindrance, since everything on the street gives place to suffering.
By the time the hospital was reached the patient had recovered something of his customary fortitude, but he was still too confused and distressed to think clearly about his escaped charge and what should be done to find her. As for Stiffleg:
“I hope I’ll never see that cowardly, ungrateful beast again!” he ejaculated; then resigned himself to the surgeon’s hands.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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