Jessica Trent: Her Life on a RanchŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
That which Lady Jess had perceived in the distance and had followed so wildly was the tall figure of a gentleman in a gray suit. He wore a gray hat and blue glasses, such as her mother had pressed upon Mr. Haleís acceptance during his brief stay at Sobrante.
ďItís he! It certainly is he! Oh! Now I can tell him how sorry both mother and I were that the Ďboysí behaved so rudely. And heís a lawyer. Heís on the same business we are, if his is the other side. I must stop himĖquick!Ē
This might have been an easy thing to do, under Scruffís present rate of speed; but, unfortunately, the tall man stepped into a hack, waiting beside the plaza for stray passengers, and giving an order was driven rapidly away.
For a long time Jessica kept that carriage in sight; then it turned a corner into an avenue, where were hundreds more just like it, it seemed to her, and she lost it among the many.
Even yet she pressed on determined. ďIn a cityĖitís just one city, even if it is a big oneĖI shall find him if I keep on. I must. Go, Scruff! The band is after you. Go! Go!Ē
The overtaxed burro had already ďgoneĒ to his fullest ability. He could do no more, although his mistress whispered ďsugar,Ē ďsweet cakeĒ and other tempting words. His excited pace dropped to the slowest of walks, his breath came hardly, and finally he leaned himself against a post and rested. When he had done so for some moments, Jessica turned him about and looked backward, expecting to see Ephraim close behind. But he was nowhere in sight; and in a flash of horror the girl realized that she was lost.
A NEW FRIEND FOR THE OLD
ďLost! Iím lost! Right here in this great city full of folks. It seemed so easy to find Mr. Hale and it was so hard. There are so many streetsĖwhich one is right? There are so many peopleĖoh! if theyíd stop going by for just one minute, till I could think.Ē
The passing crowd that had so interested now terrified her. Among all the changing faces not one she knew, not one that more than glanced her way, and was gone on, indifferent. The memory of a time in her early childhood when she had strayed into the canyon and became bewildered flashed through her mind. Was she to suffer again the misery of that dreadful day? But the day had ended in a fatherís rescuing arms, and nowĖ
ďI remember he told me then that if ever I were lost again I was to keep perfectly still for a time and think over all the things Iíd seen by the way. After awhile I might feel sure enough to go slowly back and guide myself by them. But I canít think here. Itís so noisy and thick with men and women. And Iím getting so hungry. Ephraim said we would have the best dinner his friend could give us. If heíd told me that friendís name or where he lived. Well, Iíll mind my father in one thing; Iíll keep still. Then if Ephraim should happen to come this way heíd find me sooner. ButĖhe wonít. Something has happened, or heíd never let me out of sight.
If I didnít know the bigness of a city he did and would have taken care.Ē
So she dismounted and led Scruff back beside the telegraph post, against which the weary animal calmly leaned his shoulder and went to sleep. Jessica threw her arm over the burroís neck and, standing so, scanned every passing pedestrian and peered into every whirling vehicle.
Something of her first terror left her. She was foolish to think anything harmful could have happened to ďForty-ninerĒ so quickly after she had run away from him. She wished she had called and explained to him, but she had had no time if she would catch up to that gray-coated gentleman. After all they were still in the same city and all she needed was patience.
ďThatís what I have so little of, too. Maybe this is a lesson to me. Mother says impatient people always find life harder than the quiet kind. I wonder what sheís doing now! and oh! Iím glad she canít see me. Sheíd suffer more than I do. Itís queer how that man, in a fancy coat, with so many brass buttons, keeps looking at me. Heís walked by this place on one side the street or the other ever so many times. I wonder if he owns this post. Maybe itís his and he doesnít like us to stand here, yet is too polite to say so. Come, Scruff, letís walk a little further along. Then he can see we donít mean to hurt his post.Ē
Scruff reluctantly roused and moved a pace or two, then went to sleep again. The shadow of a building that had sheltered them from the hot sunshine passed gradually and left them exposed to the full glare from the sky. Both Jessica and the burro were used to heat, however, and did not greatly suffer from it. But this motionless waiting became almost intolerable to active Lady Jess, and the sharpness of her hunger changed into faintness. The sidewalks seemed to be rising up to strike her and her head felt queer; so she pulled the hot Tam from her curls, leaned her cheek against Scruffís neck, and, to clear her dizzy vision, closed her eyes. Then for a long time knew no more.
A young man sat down to smoke his after-dinner cigar before the window of a clubhouse across the way. Idly observant of the comparatively few persons passing at that hour, his artist eye was caught by the scarlet gleam of Jessicaís cap, fallen against the curbstone.
ďHello! That child has been in that spot for two hours, I think. She was there before I went to dinner and must be dead tired. But she and the burro are picturesqueĖIíll sketch them.Ē
He whipped out notebook and pencil and by a few skillful lines reproduced the pair opposite. But as he glanced toward them, now and then, during this operation, he became convinced that something was amiss with his subject.
ďPoor little thing! If sheís waiting for anybody she keeps the baby too long. Iím going over and speak to her. If sheís hungry Iíll send her a sandwich.Ē
At his touch on her shoulder Jessica roused. Her sleep had refreshed her, though she was still somewhat confused.
ďOh! Ephraim! How long youíve been! WhyĖit isnít Ephraim!Ē
ďNo, little girl, Iím not Ephraim, but Iím a friend. Iím afraid you will be ill standing so long in the hot sun. Are you waiting for anybody?Ē
The voice was kind and Jessica was glad to speak to any one. She told her story at once in a few words. The young manís face grew grave as he listened, still he spoke encouragingly.
ďItís quite easy for strangers in a big place to get separated. Suppose, since you havenít had your dinner, as I guess, that you go with me and have some. Wait, Iíll just speak to that policeman, yonder, and ask him to have a lookout for your Ephraim, while weíre in the restaurant. Thereís a good place halfway down the block, and from its window you can watch the burro for yourself. Iíll tie him, shanít I?Ē
ďHeís very tired. I donít think heíll need any tying. Heís never tied at Sobrante.Ē
ďSobrante? Are you from Sobrante? Why, Iíve heard of that ranch, myself.Ē
ďHave you? That makes it seem as if I knew you.Ē
The stranger smiled and beckoned to the policeman, who proved to be the brass-buttoned individual that had taken so much apparent interest in Jessica, but had not spoken to her of his own accord. He came forward promptly now and the young man related to him what Lady Jess had said. Then asked:
ďWhat would I better do about it? I thought of taking her to the restaurant over there and getting her some dinner.Ē
ďNo. Sheíd better go to the station-house with me. The matroníll look after her and Iíll have the donkey put in stable. Iíll tell the officer whoís coming on this beat now to keep an eye out for a countryman with a stiff-legged horse; is it, girl?Ē
ďYes. A bay horse, with a blazed face. The horseís name is Stiffleg and the masterís, Ephraim Marsh.Ē
The officer made the entry in his book, then took hold of Scruffís bridle and led the way stationward. Jessica looked appealingly into the young manís face and he smiled, then grasped her hand.
ďDonít fear, child, that Iíll desert you till I find your old guardian. Thereís nothing frightful about a station-house, except to criminals,Ē he said, kindly.
However, Jessica knew nothing of such institutions and therefore had no fear of them. With the exception of Antonioís ďcrossnessĒ she had met with nothing but love and kindness all her life, and she looked for nothing else. She was already happy again at finding two persons ready to talk with her and help her; and her pretty face grew more and more charming to the artistís view as she skipped along beside him toward the police headquarters, as this station chanced to be.
ďYou see, little girl, that when a child is lost in a city the first thing the friends think of isĖthe station-house. All stray persons are taken and messages are sent to it from every part of the town all the time. That Ephraim will remember that, if heís ever been here before, and heíll be finding you long before night. Till then youíll be safe and cared for.Ē
Jessica did feel a momentís hesitation when she had to part with Scruff, but soon laughed at her own dismay.
ďI felt as I must take him inside this building with me, for fear heíd be lonesome, too. But, of course, I know better. Why, what a nice, big place this is!Ē
By far the largest building she had ever entered, but her new acquaintances smiled at her delight over it.
ďNot all who come here think it so fine,Ē said the young man. ďEh, officer?Ē
ďNo, no. No, indeed, sir. Now, this way, please. Iíll just enter the case at the desk and call up the matron. Sheíll tend to the girl all right. You neednít bother any more.Ē
ďOh! are you going?Ē asked Jessica, her face drooping.
ďNot yet. No law against my having a meal with this young lady, is there, officer?Ē
ďIf it isnít at the public charge, sir,Ē answered the policeman.
ďOh! Iíve money to pay for my own dinner. See?Ē cried Lady Jess, producing the fat wallet Ephraim had given her and which she pulled from within her blouse, where she had worn it, suspended by a string.
ďWhew! child! All that? Put it up, quick. Put it up, I say.Ē
Instinctively she obeyed and hid the purse again, but her face expressed her surprise, and the young man answered its unspoken question.
ďVery few little girls of your age ever have so much money as that about them. None ever should have. Itís too great a temptation to evil-minded persons, and a good many of that sort come here. Ah! the matron! Iíll ask her to show us into some less public place and Iíll order a dinner from that restaurant nearby.Ē
In response to his request the motherly woman in charge of the womenís quarters offered him her own little sitting-room; ďif theyíll say yes to it in the office,Ē she added, as a condition.
This was soon arranged, the dinner followed and a very hungry Jessica sat down to enjoy it. Her companion also pretended to eat, but encouraged her to talk and found himself interested in her every moment. He, also, promptly told her who he was; a reporter and occasional artist, on one of the leading daily papers. A man always on the lookout for ďmaterial,Ē and as such he meant to use the sketch, he had made. He showed her the sketch, and explained that he would put an item in the next issue of his paper which might meet the eye of the missing sharpshooter and notify that person where to find her, if he had not done so before.
Jessica did not know that it was an unwise thing to make a confidant of a stranger, but in this instance she was safe enough; and it pleased her to tell, as him to listen to, the whole history of Sobrante; its fortunes and misfortunes, and the object of her present visit to this far-off town.
His business instinct was aroused. He realized that here might be ďmaterial,Ē indeed. He was young and sincere enough to be enthusiastic. Times were a little dull. There was quite a lull in murders and robberies; this story suggested either a robbery or swindle of some sort, and on a big scale. His paper would appreciate his getting a ďscoopĒ on its contemporaries, and, in a word, he resolved to make Jessica Trentís cause his own, for the time being.
ďLook here, child, donít you worry. You stay right quiet in this place with Matron Wood. Iíll get out and hustle. Hereís my card, Ninian Sharp, of The Lancet. Thatís a paper has cut a good many knots and shall cut yours. Iíve heard of Cassius Trent. Everybody has, in California. Iíll find that Lawyer Hale. Iíll find old ĎForty-ninerí and Iíll be back in this room before bedtime. Now, go play with the rest of the lost childrenĖyouíre by no means the only one in Los Angeles to-day. Or take a nap would be wiser. Look out for her, Matron Wood. Any good turn done this little maid is done The Lancet. Good-by, for a time.Ē
Smiling, alert, he departed and Jessica felt as if he had taken all her anxieties with him. She followed the matron into the big room where the other estrays, whom Mr. Sharp had told her she would find, waiting to be claimed by their friends, but none was as large as she. Some were so little she wondered how they ever could have wandered anywhere away from home; but she loved all children and these reminded her of Ned and Luis.
Promptly she had them all about her, and for the rest of that day, at least, Matron Woodís cares were lightened. Yet one after another, some person called to claim this or that wanderer, with cries of rapture or harsh words of reproof, as the case might be. Jessica kissed each little one good-by, but with each departure felt herself growing more homesick and depressed. By sunset she was the only child left in the matronís care, and her loneliness so overcame her that she had trouble to keep back her tears.
ďBut Iíll not cry. I will not be so babyish. Besides crying wouldnít help bad matters and Iíve come away from Sobrante on a big mission. Even that jolly Mr. Sharp said, ĎThat's a considerable of a job,í when I told him. He was funny. Always laughing and so quick, I wish heíd come soon. It seems to take as long for him to find Ephraim as it would me. I should think anybody could have walked the whole city over by this time,Ē she thought, in her ignorance of distances. Then she asked:
ďWhen do you think theyíll come, Matron Wood?Ē
The good woman waked from a ďcat-napĒ and was tired enough to be impatient.
ďOh! donít bother. If theyíre not here by nine oíclock youíll have to go to bed. You should be thankful that there is such a place as this for just such folks as you. Like as not heíll never come. You canít tell anything about them newspaper men. But you listen to that bell, will you? I donít see what makes me so sleepy. If it rings, wake me up.Ē
The minutes sped on. In the now silent room the portly matron slumbered peacefully and Jessica tried, though vainly, to keep a faithful watch. She did not know that her weary companion was breaking rules and laying herself open to disgrace; but she was herself very tired, so, presently, her head dropped on the table and she was also asleep.
Ninian Sharp found the pair thus, and jested with the matron when he waked her in a way that sounded very much like earnest. ďHe would have her removed,Ē and so on; thereby frightening Jessica, who had been roused by their voices, and looked from one to the other in keen distress.
ďI didĖI did try to listen for the bell, but it was so still and I couldnít help it. Iím sorryĖĒ
ďPooh! child. No more could I. Itíll be all right if this gentleman knows enough to hold his tongue,Ē said the woman, anxiously.
ďI shouldnít be a gentleman if I didnítĖwhere a lady is concerned. And I judge from appearances itís about time Miss Jessica went to bed.Ē
The girlís heart sank. This meant disappointment. She understood that without further words, and turned away her face to hide the tears which would come now, in spite of all her will.
Then the reporterís hand was on her curls.
ďKeep up your courage, child. Iíve been hustling, as I said I would. Iíve found out a lot. Iíve had boys searching the hotel records all over town and I know in which one your Mr. Hale is staying. Heíll keepĖtill we need him.Ē
ďBut Ephraim? Have you heard nothing of him?Ē
ďI heard a funny yarn about a horse with a stiff leg; that the moment the sound of a drum was in his ears cooly tossed his aged rider into the gutter and marched off with the brass band, head up, eyes flashing, tail switching, a soldier with the best of them. SeeĖitís here in this eveningís Gossip.Ē
He held the sheet toward her and Jessica read the humorous account of Stifflegís desertion. But there was no account of what had further befallen Ephraim, and it seemed but a poor excuse for his non-appearance.
She tossed the paper aside, impatiently:
ďBut he had his own two good feet left. He could have followed me on them? IĖIĖhe was always so faithful before.Ē
Mr. Sharpís face sobered.
ďHe is faithful still, but his feet will serve him poorly for the next few weeks. Maybe months. Old bones are slow to heal, and the surgeon says it is a compound fracture. When he fell into the gutter, as my co-laborer so gayly puts it, he Ďbroke himself all to smash.í Heís in hospital. As a great favor from the authorities in charge Iíve seen him. Iíve told him about you. Iíve promised to befriend you and Iíll take you to see him in the morning. Iím sorry that your first night in our angelic city must be passed in a station-house, but I reckon itís the safest till I can think of some fitter shelter. Good-night. My mother used to say that the Lord never shut one door but He opened another. Ephraim laid upĖhere am I. Count on me. Good-night.Ē
A HOSPITAL REUNION
When Ninian Sharp sat down to smoke a cigar at the window of his club it was with no idea that he was then and there to begin a bit of detective work which should make him famous. For, though this is anticipating, that was the reward which the future held for him because of his yielding to a kindly impulse.
Through him, the helplessness of a little girl won for an almost hopeless cause the aid of a great newspaper, than which there is no influence more potent. It took but one hearing of Jessicaís story to rouse his interest and to convince him that here was a ďgood thing if it could be well worked up.Ē It promised a ďsensationĒ that would result in benefit to his paper, to himself, andĖfor his credit be it saidĖto the family of the dead philanthropist.
After he had bidden Lady Jess good-night, the reporter called at the hotel where Morris Hale was registered and held an interview with that gentleman. The result of this was pleasing to both men. They had one common object: the recovery of the missing money which had been entrusted to Cassius Trent. Mr. Hale wished this for the sake of his New York patrons, but now hoped, as did Ninian Sharp, that if it were accomplished it would also clear the memory of Jessicaís father from the stain resting upon it. For the present, they decided to join forces, so to speak. By agreement, they went together to the station-house on the following morning, and found Lady Jess looking out of a window with a rather dreary interest in the scene. But she instantly caught sight of them and darted to the doorway to meet them, holding out both hands toward the lawyer and entreating:
ďOh! I beg your pardon for the Ďboysí! And for us that we should ever have let it happen to any guest of Sobrante. Can you forgive it?Ē
The reporter looked curious and Mr. Haleís face flushed at the painful memory her words had revived. But he did not explain and passed the matter over, saying:
ďDonít mention it, my child. Odd, isnít it? To think you should follow me so quickly all this long way. Well, you deserve success and Iím going to help you to it, if I can. So is this new friend youíve made. Now, are you ready to see poor ĎForty-ninerí? If so, get your cap, bid the matron good-by, and weíll be off.Ē
Jessica obeyed, quickly; taking leave of Mrs. Wood with warm expressions of gratitude for her ďnice bed and breakfast,Ē assuring that rather skeptical person that these men ďwere certainly all right, because one of them had been at her own dear home and her mother had recognized him for a gentleman. The otherĖwhy, the other wrote for a newspaper. Even drew pictures for it! Think of that!Ē
ďHumph! A man might do worse. But, never mind. This is the place to come to if you get into any more trouble. Thereís the street and number it is, and hereís my name on a piece of paper. Now, itís to be put in the book about your going, who takes you, and where. After thatĖafter that I suppose thereís nothing more.Ē
Ninian Sharp watched this little by-play with much interest, and remarked to the lawyer:
ďThat child has a charm for all she meets. Even this old police matron, whose heart ought to be as tough as shoeleather, looks doleful at parting with her. I think her the most winning little creature I ever met.Ē
ďYou should see her with her Ďboys,í as she calls the workmen at Sobrante. They idolize her and obey her blindly. Sometimes, their devotion going further than obedience,Ē he added, with a return of annoyance in his expression.
As she stepped into the street, Jessica clasped a hand of each, with joyful confidence, and they smiled at one another over her head, leading her to the next corner where they hailed a car and the reporter bade her jump aboard.ŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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