Jessica Trent: Her Life on a Ranchñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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. Hale’s acceptance during his brief stay at Sobrante.
“It’s he! It certainly is he! Oh! Now I can tell him how sorry both mother and I were that the ‘boys’ behaved so rudely. And he’s a lawyer. He’s on the same business we are, if his is the other side. I must stop him–quick!”
This might have been an easy thing to do, under Scruff’s 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. “In a city–it’s just one city, even if it is a big one–I shall find him if I keep on. I must. Go, Scruff! The band is after you. Go! Go!”
The overtaxed burro had already “gone” to his fullest ability. He could do no more, although his mistress whispered “sugar,” “sweet cake” 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
“Lost! I’m 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 streets–which one is right? There are so many people–oh! if they’d stop going by for just one minute, till I could think.”
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 father’s rescuing arms, and now–
“I 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 I’d seen by the way. After awhile I might feel sure enough to go slowly back and guide myself by them. But I can’t think here. It’s so noisy and thick with men and women. And I’m getting so hungry. Ephraim said we would have the best dinner his friend could give us. If he’d told me that friend’s name or where he lived. Well, I’ll mind my father in one thing; I’ll keep still. Then if Ephraim should happen to come this way he’d find me sooner. But–he won’t. Something has happened, or he’d never let me out of sight.
If I didn’t know the bigness of a city he did and would have taken care.”
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 burro’s 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 “Forty-niner” 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.
“That’s 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 she’s doing now! and oh! I’m glad she can’t see me. She’d suffer more than I do. It’s queer how that man, in a fancy coat, with so many brass buttons, keeps looking at me. He’s walked by this place on one side the street or the other ever so many times. I wonder if he owns this post. Maybe it’s his and he doesn’t like us to stand here, yet is too polite to say so. Come, Scruff, let’s walk a little further along. Then he can see we don’t mean to hurt his post.”
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 Scruff’s 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 Jessica’s cap, fallen against the curbstone.
“Hello! 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 picturesque–I’ll sketch them.”
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.
“Poor little thing! If she’s waiting for anybody she keeps the baby too long. I’m going over and speak to her. If she’s hungry I’ll send her a sandwich.”
At his touch on her shoulder Jessica roused. Her sleep had refreshed her, though she was still somewhat confused.
“Oh! Ephraim! How long you’ve been! Why–it isn’t Ephraim!”
“No, little girl, I’m not Ephraim, but I’m a friend. I’m afraid you will be ill standing so long in the hot sun. Are you waiting for anybody?”
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 man’s face grew grave as he listened, still he spoke encouragingly.
“It’s quite easy for strangers in a big place to get separated. Suppose, since you haven’t had your dinner, as I guess, that you go with me and have some. Wait, I’ll just speak to that policeman, yonder, and ask him to have a lookout for your Ephraim, while we’re in the restaurant. There’s a good place halfway down the block, and from its window you can watch the burro for yourself. I’ll tie him, shan’t I?”
“He’s very tired. I don’t think he’ll need any tying. He’s never tied at Sobrante.”
“Sobrante? Are you from Sobrante? Why, I’ve heard of that ranch, myself.”
“Have you? That makes it seem as if I knew you.”
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:
“What would I better do about it? I thought of taking her to the restaurant over there and getting her some dinner.”
“No. She’d better go to the station-house with me. The matron’ll look after her and I’ll have the donkey put in stable. I’ll tell the officer who’s coming on this beat now to keep an eye out for a countryman with a stiff-legged horse; is it, girl?”
“Yes. A bay horse, with a blazed face. The horse’s name is Stiffleg and the master’s, Ephraim Marsh.”
The officer made the entry in his book, then took hold of Scruff’s bridle and led the way stationward. Jessica looked appealingly into the young man’s face and he smiled, then grasped her hand.
“Don’t fear, child, that I’ll desert you till I find your old guardian. There’s nothing frightful about a station-house, except to criminals,” he said, kindly.
However, Jessica knew nothing of such institutions and therefore had no fear of them. With the exception of Antonio’s “crossness” 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 artist’s view as she skipped along beside him toward the police headquarters, as this station chanced to be.
“You see, little girl, that when a child is lost in a city the first thing the friends think of is–the 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 he’s ever been here before, and he’ll be finding you long before night. Till then you’ll be safe and cared for.”
Jessica did feel a moment’s hesitation when she had to part with Scruff, but soon laughed at her own dismay.
“I felt as I must take him inside this building with me, for fear he’d be lonesome, too. But, of course, I know better. Why, what a nice, big place this is!”
By far the largest building she had ever entered, but her new acquaintances smiled at her delight over it.
“Not all who come here think it so fine,” said the young man. “Eh, officer?”
“No, no. No, indeed, sir. Now, this way, please. I’ll just enter the case at the desk and call up the matron. She’ll tend to the girl all right. You needn’t bother any more.”
“Oh! are you going?” asked Jessica, her face drooping.
“Not yet. No law against my having a meal with this young lady, is there, officer?”
“If it isn’t at the public charge, sir,” answered the policeman.
“Oh! I’ve money to pay for my own dinner. See?” 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.
“Whew! child! All that? Put it up, quick. Put it up, I say.”
Instinctively she obeyed and hid the purse again, but her face expressed her surprise, and the young man answered its unspoken question.
“Very few little girls of your age ever have so much money as that about them. None ever should have. It’s too great a temptation to evil-minded persons, and a good many of that sort come here. Ah! the matron! I’ll ask her to show us into some less public place and I’ll order a dinner from that restaurant nearby.”
In response to his request the motherly woman in charge of the women’s quarters offered him her own little sitting-room; “if they’ll say yes to it in the office,” 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 “material,” 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 “material,” 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 “scoop” on its contemporaries, and, in a word, he resolved to make Jessica Trent’s cause his own, for the time being.
“Look here, child, don’t you worry. You stay right quiet in this place with Matron Wood. I’ll get out and hustle. Here’s my card, Ninian Sharp, of The Lancet. That’s a paper has cut a good many knots and shall cut yours. I’ve heard of Cassius Trent. Everybody has, in California. I’ll find that Lawyer Hale. I’ll find old ‘Forty-niner’ and I’ll be back in this room before bedtime. Now, go play with the rest of the lost children–you’re 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.”
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 Wood’s 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 matron’s care, and her loneliness so overcame her that she had trouble to keep back her tears.
“But I’ll not cry. I will not be so babyish. Besides crying wouldn’t help bad matters and I’ve come away from Sobrante on a big mission. Even that jolly Mr. Sharp said, ‘That's a considerable of a job,’ when I told him. He was funny. Always laughing and so quick, I wish he’d 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,” she thought, in her ignorance of distances. Then she asked:
“When do you think they’ll come, Matron Wood?”
The good woman waked from a “cat-nap” and was tired enough to be impatient.
“Oh! don’t bother. If they’re not here by nine o’clock you’ll 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 he’ll never come. You can’t tell anything about them newspaper men. But you listen to that bell, will you? I don’t see what makes me so sleepy. If it rings, wake me up.”
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. “He would have her removed,” and so on; thereby frightening Jessica, who had been roused by their voices, and looked from one to the other in keen distress.
“I did–I did try to listen for the bell, but it was so still and I couldn’t help it. I’m sorry–”
“Pooh! child. No more could I. It’ll be all right if this gentleman knows enough to hold his tongue,” said the woman, anxiously.
“I shouldn’t be a gentleman if I didn’t–where a lady is concerned. And I judge from appearances it’s about time Miss Jessica went to bed.”
The girl’s 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 reporter’s hand was on her curls.
“Keep up your courage, child. I’ve been hustling, as I said I would. I’ve found out a lot. I’ve had boys searching the hotel records all over town and I know in which one your Mr. Hale is staying. He’ll keep–till we need him.”
“But Ephraim? Have you heard nothing of him?”
“I 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. See–it’s here in this evening’s Gossip.”
He held the sheet toward her and Jessica read the humorous account of Stiffleg’s 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:
“But he had his own two good feet left. He could have followed me on them? I–I–he was always so faithful before.”
Mr. Sharp’s face sobered.
“He 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 ‘broke himself all to smash.’ He’s in hospital. As a great favor from the authorities in charge I’ve seen him. I’ve told him about you. I’ve promised to befriend you and I’ll take you to see him in the morning. I’m sorry that your first night in our angelic city must be passed in a station-house, but I reckon it’s 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 up–here am I. Count on me. Good-night.”
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 Jessica’s story to rouse his interest and to convince him that here was a “good thing if it could be well worked up.” It promised a “sensation” that would result in benefit to his paper, to himself, and–for his credit be it said–to 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 Jessica’s 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:
“Oh! I beg your pardon for the ‘boys’! And for us that we should ever have let it happen to any guest of Sobrante. Can you forgive it?”
The reporter looked curious and Mr. Hale’s face flushed at the painful memory her words had revived. But he did not explain and passed the matter over, saying:
“Don’t mention it, my child. Odd, isn’t it? To think you should follow me so quickly all this long way. Well, you deserve success and I’m going to help you to it, if I can. So is this new friend you’ve made. Now, are you ready to see poor ‘Forty-niner’? If so, get your cap, bid the matron good-by, and we’ll be off.”
Jessica obeyed, quickly; taking leave of Mrs. Wood with warm expressions of gratitude for her “nice bed and breakfast,” assuring that rather skeptical person that these men “were certainly all right, because one of them had been at her own dear home and her mother had recognized him for a gentleman. The other–why, the other wrote for a newspaper. Even drew pictures for it! Think of that!”
“Humph! A man might do worse. But, never mind. This is the place to come to if you get into any more trouble. There’s the street and number it is, and here’s my name on a piece of paper. Now, it’s to be put in the book about your going, who takes you, and where. After that–after that I suppose there’s nothing more.”
Ninian Sharp watched this little by-play with much interest, and remarked to the lawyer:
“That 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.”
“You should see her with her ‘boys,’ as she calls the workmen at Sobrante. They idolize her and obey her blindly. Sometimes, their devotion going further than obedience,” 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.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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