Jessica Trent: Her Life on a Ranchñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Am I to ride in that? Oh, delightful!”
“Delightful” now seemed everything about her. Friends were close at hand and a few minutes would bring her to Ephraim. That he was injured and helpless she knew, yet could not realize; while she could and did realize to the full all the novelty about her. The swift motion of the electric car, the gay and busy streets, the palm-bordered avenues they crossed, the ever-changing scenes of the city, each richer and more wonderful than the other, in her inexperienced eyes. She would have liked to ask many questions, but her companions were now conversing in low tones and she would not interrupt. Soon, however, she saw Mr. Sharp make a slight gesture with his hand and the car stopped. “Our street,” he said, rising.
A brief walk afterward brought them to a big building, standing somewhat back from the avenue, with a green lawn and many trees about it. Above the several gateways of its iron fence were signs, indicating: “Accident Ward,” “Convalescent’s Ward,” “General Hospital,” “Nurses’ Home,” “Dispensary,” etc., all of which confused and somewhat startled the country-reared girl. The more, it may be, as, at that moment, the gong of an ambulance warned them to step off the crossing before the “accident” alley beside the main building, and the big van dashed toward an open door.
Jessica gripped Mr. Hale’s hand, nervously, and watched in a sort of fascination while white-garbed attendants lifted an injured man from the ambulance and carried him tenderly into the hospital.
“Is–is he hurt?”
“Yes, dear, I suppose so.”
“Was it like that they brought Ephraim here?”
“Oh! how dreadful! My poor, poor ‘Forty-niner.’”
“Rather, how merciful. But come; such a brave little woman as you mustn’t show the white feather at the mere sight of a hospital van. Ephraim has been well cared for, be sure; and as he has been told to expect you he’ll be disappointed if you bring him a scared, unhappy face.”
“Then I’ll–I’ll smile,” she answered, promptly, thought the effort was something of a failure.
Soon they entered the building, whose big halls were so silent in contrast with the street outside, and where the white-clad doctors and nurses seemed to Jessica like “ghosts” as they moved softly here and there. Again she clinched the lawyer’s hand and whispered:
“It’s awful. It smells queer. I’m afraid. Aren’t you?”
“Not in the least. I like it. I’ve been a patient in just such places more than once and think of them as the most blessed institutions in the world. The odor of chemicals and disinfectants is noticeable at first, but one soon gets accustomed to it and likes it. At any rate I do. But, see, we’re falling behind. Mr. Sharp evidently knows his way well and we must hurry if we’d keep him in sight.”
Indeed, the reporter was just disappearing around a turn of the broad staircase leading up into a sun-lighted corridor. He was quick and decided in all his movements, and had paused but for one instant to speak with an attendant at the door before he took his direct way to Ephraim’s room.
“Why, I supposed he was in the general ward” said Mr.
Hale, as he joined Ninian, who had to stop and wait for his more leisurely advance.
“He was, but he couldn’t stand it. So I had him put into a private room and he’s much better satisfied. He has money enough to pay for it and if he hadn’t–well, it was just pitiful to see the old man’s own distress at sight of the distress of others all about him. I’d have had to do it, even if it had taken my bottom dollar.”
“True to your class! I’ve always heard that newspaper men were the most generous in the world, and now I believe it. Well, count me in, on this transaction. But when were you here?”
“Last night and–early this morning.”
“Whew! If you put such energy as that into the rest of the business you’ll make a speedy finish of it!”
“That’s my intention. Well, child, here we are. Put your best foot forward and cheer up that forlorn old chap.”
Jessica had paused to look down a great ward, opening upon that corridor, and was staring, spellbound, at the rows upon rows of white beds, each with its occupant, and at the white-capped nurses bending over this or that sufferer. The wide, uncurtained windows, all open to the soft morning air, the snowy walls, the cleanliness and repose impressed her.
“Why–it’s nice! I thought it would be dreadful; and where is Ephraim? Can I go in? How shall I find him among so many?”
“Don’t you understand? This way, I said, Lady Jess. The sharpshooter wants to see his captain.”
She turned swiftly at that, and the smile he had hoped to rouse was on her face as she caught the reporter’s hand.
“Why–how did you know that? Who told you I was Lady Jess, or captain?”
“Who but ‘Forty-niner’ himself? Here he is,” and he gently forced her through an open doorway into a little room, which seemed a miniature of the great ward beyond. There was the same white spotlessness, another kind-faced nurse, and another prostrate patient.
“Ephraim! Ephraim! You poor, dear, precious darling!”
She was beside him, her arms about his neck, her tears and kisses raining on his wrinkled face–a face that a moment before had been full of sadness and impatience, but was now brimming with delight.
“Little Lady! Little captain! I’m a pretty sort of a guardeen, I am! But, thank God, I’m not the only man in the world, and you’ve found them that can help you more than I could, with all my smartness. Did you hear about that turn-tail, Stiffleg? Wasn’t that enough to make a man disgusted with horseflesh forever after? Ugh! I wish I had him, I’d larrup him crossing before the ‘accident’ alley beside the main well! And to think you, Cassius Trent’s daughter, spent your first night in town at a station-house! Child, I’ll never dare to go home and face the ‘boys’ again, after that. Never.”
“Don’t talk too much, sir,” cautioned the nurse, offering her patient a spoonful of some nourishment.
“No, Ephraim, I’ll talk. Oh! what wouldn’t Aunt Sally give to be here now! To think she’s lost such a chance for dosing you!”
“Forty-niner” laughed and the laughter did him good; though he soon explained: “They say I’ll have to lie here for nobody knows how long, without moving, scarcely. That pesky old leg of mine did the job up thorough, while it was at it. Thought it might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, I s’pose. Well, it was the luckiest thing ever happened–you getting lost and me getting hurt. That’s the only way to look at it. But–Atlantic! How’m I ever going to stand it? Having other folks do for you and I, that’d give my right hand to help you–useless.”
“Easily, Ephraim. If it’s a good thing, as you say, why then it can’t be a bad one. Here’s your money. You must use it to pay for anything you want. Or give it all to Mr. Hale about the business. You know.”
“Money! I don’t want that. All I had they took away from me. Put it in the hospital safe till I’m ready to go out. But you can’t live in a city without hard cash in every pocket. Oh! dear! I don’t see what is to be done! One minute it all is clear and I think what I said about my accident being lucky for you; the next–I can’t stand it. What is to become of you, little captain?”
“I’m going to stay right here with you.”
“You are? You will?” demanded the patient, eagerly. “You wouldn’t be afraid? But, maybe, you wouldn’t be allowed. Hospitals are for sick folks and old fools that don’t know enough to sit a horse steady. They’re not for a happy little girl, who can make new friends for herself anywhere. No. I guess, maybe, that Mr. Hale’ll find you a place, or get you on the cars to go home again. Oh! child, I wish you were safe back at Sobrante this minute!”
“And our work not done? Foolish ‘boy!’ As if I’d leave you alone, either, when you’re ill and–and Aunt Sally so far away.”
Ephraim groaned and Jessica looked toward the reporter, who was talking earnestly with the nurse, just outside in the corridor. She heard him say:
“If it could be arranged it would be a solution of the whole difficulty. Her board would be assured, and at the first opportunity she shall be sent to her home. For the present–”
She felt it no shame to listen intently. She knew that they were discussing herself and what was to be done with her. On that subject she had already made up her own mind; so she slipped her hand from Ephraim’s and stepped to Mr. Sharp’s side.
“I want to say right here in this hospital. I will not make anybody a bit of trouble. I will mind everything I am told. I’ll not talk or laugh or anything I should not. I’ll help take care of Ephraim and there’s nobody who knows him here but me. He’s the best man there can be, and he’s old, though he doesn’t look it. Please let me stay. Anyway until all the money is spent. There’s enough for a while, I think. Please.”
In answer to the reporter’s look, rather than Jessica’s words, the nurse replied:
“Yes, we do often have friends of the patients here. If there happen to be rooms empty and so to spare. But a child–we never had a child-boarder before. I’ll consult the head nurse and let you know at once. Or, better why not go and see her for yourself?”
“I’d much prefer,” said Ninian, who had more faith in his own persuasive powers than in hers. “And I’ll take Jessica with me.”
The result was that the little girl was allowed to “remain for the present,” and was assigned a room very near Ephraim’s. Upon her good behavior, as viewed from a hospital standpoint, depended the continuance of her stay.
“She can have her clothes sent here, but only what are necessary,” added the lady, as she dismissed them.
“My clothes! Why–I don’t know where they are.”
“Whew! What do you mean? I–I never thought about clothes,” said Ninian Sharp.
“Nor I, before, since I came. I had only a change of underwear and another flannel frock. Ephraim was to buy me more if I needed, though mother thought I should not. But what I did have were in the saddlebags on Stiffleg’s back.”
“And he marched off to glory with them, the old soldier, eh? Well, that’s soon remedied. There are lots of stores in Los Angeles and lots of girls your size. I’ll get a nurse to fix you out, when she can, and now, back to Ephraim and good-by.”
THE FINDING OF ANTONIO
For Jessica Trent there followed weeks of a quieter life than she had lived even at isolated Sobrante. “The behavior,” which was to be a test of her stay, proved so pleasing to the hospital residents that some of them wondered how they had ever gotten along without her helpful, happy presence.
Very quickly she lost her first vague fear of the place and learned to hear in the once alarming ambulance gong the signal of relief to somebody. She modulated her voice to the prevailing quietude of the house and her footfalls were as light as the nurses themselves. To many a sufferer, coming there in dread and foreboding, the sight of a child familiar and happy about the great building brought a feeling of comfort and homelikeness which nothing else could have given. She was so apt and imitative that Ephraim often declared:
“All you need, Lady Jess, is a cap and apron to make you a regular professional. Take care of me better’n any of ’em, you do; and I’ll be a prime experience for you, that’s a fact. Another of the good things come out of my fool riding, I s’pose. You’ll be able to nurse the whole parcel of us, when you get back to Sobrante. Beat Aunt Sally all hollow, ’cause you trust a bit to nature and not all to–picra.”
“But you’re not ill, Ephraim Marsh. You’re just broken. So you don’t need medicine. All you need is patience. And your nourishments, regular.”
“I get them all right; but–patience! Atlantic!”
The old man sighed. It was weary work for him, the hardest he had ever done, to lie so motionless while he was so anxious to be active. He really suffered little and he had the best of care. Still, he sighed again, and, unfortunately, Jessica echoed the sigh. Then he looked at her keenly and spoke the thought which had been in his mind for a long time:
“Captain, you must go home. There’s twenty to need bossing there and only one poor old carcass here.”
Poor Lady Jess! She tried to answer brightly as was her habit, but that day homesickness was strong upon her, and at mention of Sobrante her courage failed. She forgot that she was a “nurse”; forgot the good “behavior,” forgot everything, indeed, but her mother’s face and Ned’s mischievous affection. She dropped to her knees and buried her face in the old man’s pillow while she sobbed aloud:
“Oh, ‘Forty-niner,’ shall we ever see that home again?”
Weak and unstrung, the patient moaned in sympathy, while tears fell from his own eyes; and it was upon this dismal tableau that Mr. Hale walked in, unannounced.
“Hurrah, here! What’s amiss? Been quarreling? Just when I’ve come to bring you good news, too.”
“Quarreling, indeed! Ephraim and I could never quarrel. Never. But–but–this isn’t Sobrante, and we’re–I guess we’re awful homesick.”
“That’s a disease can be cured, you know. One of you, at least, can go home. If you wish, Jessica, I will put you on a train and arrange for one of your ‘boys’ to meet you at the railway terminus. But–”
“Hello, everybody!” called a cheery voice, and there in the doorway was Ninian Sharp, smiling, nodding, and embracing all three with one inspiring look. “What’s that I overheard about ‘home’? Been telling state secrets, Hale? My plan beats yours, altogether. We’re all going ‘home’ to Sobrante, in a bunch, one of these fine days. The Lancet never fails!”
Jessica sprang to him and caught his hand to kiss it. He had not been to see them for some days and she had missed him sadly. Far more than Mr. Hale he made her feel that the mystery surrounding “that missing New York money,” as she called it, would certainly be explained. It was he who, by questions innumerable, had recalled to her and to Ephraim the names of persons with whom Mr. Trent had ever done business. Incidents which to her seemed trifling had been of moment in his judgment. With the slight clews they had given him, as the first link in the chain, he had gone on unraveling the knots which followed with infinite patience and perseverance. He kept Mrs. Trent informed of the welfare of her daughter, and, without neglecting his legitimate business, did the thousand and one things which only the busiest of persons can have time to do. For it’s always the indolent who are overcrowded.
“Oh! Mr. Sharp! Have you found it all out?”
“Not I. Hale, here, has found out some things, himself. But he’s a lawyer, which means, a–beg pardon–a snail. If newspapers were as slow as the law–h-m-m–we might all take a nap. Look here, Miss Sunshine, you’ve been crying.”
Jessica blushed as guiltily as if she had been accused of some crime.
“I know it. I’m sorry.”
“So am I. I know why. Because you’re shut up here like a dormouse when you’ve lived like a lark. On with your little red Tam and come with me. Our work is getting on famously, famously. If I could get hold of one person that I’ve hunted this and every other city near for I’d have the matter in a nut shell and the guilty man in–a prison. I’ve found–three or four more of those links I mentioned, Hale, and every man of them is another witness to the uprightness of one, Cassius Trent, late of Sobrante. I began this job for little Jess, but I confess I’m finishing it for the sake of a man I never saw. He was a trump, that fellow. One of the great-hearted, impracticable creatures that keep my faith in humanity. If we could only find that Antonio!”
“Yes. If! But when he rode away from Sobrante that day he seems to have ridden out of the world, so far as any trace he left behind. I’m getting discouraged, for without him all the rest falls to the ground.”
“Well, discouraged? We’ll just step out and find him, won’t we, Lady Jess?”
She had hastened to ask permission to go out with her friend and had come back radiant, now, at prospect even of so brief an outing. It was quite as the reporter had judged; the close confinement of the hospital, after the out-of-door life at Sobrante, was half the cause of Jessica’s depression, and she was ready now to fall in with the gay mood of Ninian Sharp and answered, promptly:
“Oh, yes. We’ll find ‘him,’ since you wish it. But I don’t happen to know which ‘him’ you want?”
“Why, our fine Senor Bernal. Who else?”
“Then let us go to the old Spanish quarter.”
“I’ve been, many times. Sent others also. No. He’s a wise chap and if he is in this town frequents no haunt where he’ll be looked for so surely. No matter. It’s a picturesque corner of the town and maybe a sight of some old adobes would do your homesick eyes good.”
“Or harm,” suggested Mr. Hale.
But they did not stop to hear his objections and were speedily on the car which would take them nearest to the district Jessica had heard of, both from Antonio at home and now from others here. A relic of the old California, whose history she loved to hear from the lips of Pedro, Fra Mateo, or even “Forty-niner” himself.
But once arrived there she was disappointed. They were old adobes, true enough, and the people who lived in them had the same dark, Spanish cast of face which she remembered of Antonio. Yet there the resemblance ended. This was the home of squalor, of poverty that was not self-respecting enough to be clean, and of an indolence which had brought about a wretched state of affairs.
“Oh! is this it? But it can’t be. Antonio’s ‘quarter’ was a splendid place. The old grandees lived there, keeping up a sort of court and all the customs of a hundred years ago. It was ‘a picture, a romance, a dream,’ he said. Of an evening he would describe it all to us at home till I felt as if it were the one spot in the world I most wished to see. But–this!”
“Turn not up your pretty nose, for ‘this,’ my dear little unenlightened maiden, is also a dream–a nightmare. Nevertheless, the very ground your lost hero boasted and embellished with his fancy. The more I hear of this versatile Antonio the greater becomes my longing to behold him. In any case, since we’re here, we must not go away without entering some of these shops. You shall buy a trinket or two and present one of them as a keepsake to this fine senor, when you find him. Oh! that I had your familiar knowledge of his features, this absent ‘grandee,’ that if by accident I met him I might know him on the instant. See. This ‘bazaar’ is somewhat tidier than its neighbors, as well as larger, and there are some really beautiful Navajo blankets in the window. Unfortunately the pocketbook of a reporter isn’t quite equal to more than a dozen of these, at fifty dollars apiece. Something more modest, Lady Jess, and I’ll oblige you!”
She looked up to protest and saw that he was teasing, and exclaimed, with an air of mock injury:
“Those or nothing! But when shall I learn to understand your jest from earnest?”
“When you produce me your Antonio!”
“Upon the instant, then,” she retorted, gayly.
Upon the instant, indeed, there were hurrying footsteps behind them, the sound of some one breathing rapidly and of angrily muttered sentences, that were a jumble of Spanish and English, and in a voice which made Jessica Trent start and turn aside, clutching her companion’s hand.
He turned, also, throwing his arm about her shoulders, lest the rush of the man approaching should force her from the narrow sidewalk. But she darted from him, straight into the path of this wild-looking person and seized him with both hands, while she cried out:
“It’s he! It is Antonio! I’ve found him–Antonio Bernal!”
“Whew! A case of the ‘unexpected,’ indeed! The merest jest and the absolute fact. Hi! I’d rather this than–than be struck by lightning, and it’s on about the same order of things, for it is he, as she claimed. He’s more staggered than I am,” considered this lively newspaper man. Then he thought it time to step forward, and remark:
“Please present me to your friend, Miss Trent,” and lifted his hat, courteously.
Antonio bowed, after his own exaggerated fashion, and with his hand upon his heart; but though his eyes rested keenly on Ninian’s face he kept tight hold of Jessica’s hand and his torrent of words did not cease for an instant. Now and then he lifted the little hand and kissed it, whereupon Lady Jess would snatch it away and coolly wipe it on her skirt, only to have it recaptured and caressed; till, seeing he would neither give over the hateful action nor stop talking, she folded her arms behind her and interrupted with:
“That’s enough, Senor Bernal. This isn’t Sobrante, but I’m your captain here, same as there. You come tell your story to Mr. Hale and this gentleman. See Ephraim Marsh, too. He’s here in hospital with a broken leg. I’m in Los Angeles, also, as you see; and likely to find the same man you say has cheated you. That’s what he’s telling, Mr. Sharp,” she exclaimed.
Antonio hesitated. He had frowned at her tone of command, but now, to the reporter’s amazement, seemed eager to obey it.
“As the senorita will. That gentleman, who came last to Sobrante, was one lawyer, no? So the senora said. Fool! fool! that I was that I did not then and at that moment so disclose the secrets of my heart as was moved, yes. Let the senorita and the handsome friend lead on. I follow. I, Antonio.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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