Jessica Trent: Her Life on a RanchŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
Five minutes earlier, had Ninian Sharp been asked what he should do if he did find this strange person, he would have promptly answered:
ďPut him under lock and key, where he can do no harm and be handy to get at.Ē
Now he found himself as certain that the fellow needed no restraint of the law, at present. That he was dreadfully unhappy and had become as humble as he had before been arrogant. What could so have altered him? And was it thus that the Lady Jess had all her ďboysĒ in leading strings?
ďI must look out for myself or Iíll fall under a like spell,Ē he laughed, as with the air of one who knows it all, though she had been over that way but once, Jessica explained to her late manager:
ďThis car will take us straight back to the hospital. Weíve not been away long and I think Mr. Hale will still be there. Heíll be glad to see you. Very glad. He and Mr. Sharp have been looking for you. I think you can tell them something theyíre anxious to know. Ephraim is there, anyhow. He, poor fellow, canít go away, even if he wishesĖyet.Ē
Mr. Hale was still in ďForty-ninerísĒ room and recognized Antonio with such an outburst of surprise that Ephraim opened his eyes, for he had been dozing, and fixed them on the newcomer, inquiringly.
ďWhat! You, you snake! you here?Ē
ďBut certainly, yes. I, I, Antonio, at your service. Hast the broken leer? This is bad. Old bones are slow to heal. You will not shoot again at dear Sobrante, you.Ē
ďWonít? Well, I rather guess itíll take somebody stronger ín you to stop it.Ē
Antonio shrugged his shoulders in a manner deemed offensive by the patient, who struggled to rise, but was prevented by Jessicaís quick movement.
ďEphraim! Antonio! Donít quarrel, this very first minute. One of you is sick and the other half frantic with some trouble. Please, Antonio, go away now with Mr. Hale and Mr. Sharp. One must never make a noise in a hospital,Ē said this wise maiden of eleven.
ďAh! so? But it is the lawyer I want, yet. The lawyer who will make a villain return the great money I have given. Caramba! If I had him in my hands this minute!Ē
Jessica lifted a warning finger and the manager lowered his voice. He even made an attempt at soothing Ephraim, but chose an unfortunate argument.
ďTake peace to yourself, ĎForty-niner.í All must be told some day. Adios.Ē
ďAdios, you foreign serpent! Old? Old! he calls meĖmeĖold! Why, Iím a babe in arms to Pedro, or Fra Mateo, or even fat Brigida, who washes for us Ďboys.í Old! A man but just turned eighty! Snake, Iíll outlive you yet. Iíll get well, to spite you; and Iíll be on hand, when they let you out the lockup, to give you the neatest horsewhippiní you ever see. Old! Get out!Ē
Fearful of further excitement, the gentlemen hurried Antonio away, yet kept a keen watch upon his movements for, at that word ďlockup,Ē the manís dark face had turned to an ashen hue.
As they left the hospital the every-busy ambulance rolled past them toward the accident ward.
The others averted their eyes, but the Spaniard peered curiously within, and, instantly a shuddering groan burst from his lips. Inside that van lay the solution to all their difficulties; though Antonio alone had comprehended it.
The pleasantest task which fell to Jessicaís hands, during her hospital life, was the distributing of flowers and fruits, almost daily sent by the charitable for the comfort of the patients.
The nurses received and apportioned these gifts; and, carrying her big, tray-like basket, Lady Jess visited each ward and room in turn, adding to the pretty offering some bright word of her own. For she now had the freedom of the house and knew the occupant of each white bed better, even, than his or her attendant nurse. The quiet manner which she had gained here, her ready help and loving sympathy, made her coming looked for eagerly; but the happiness she thus bestowed was more than returned upon her own heart. Could her ďboysĒ have seen her they would have been proud, but not surprised, for to the appreciative words his own attendant gave his darling, Ephraim would instantly reply?
ďíCourse. What else could you expect? Didnít she have the finest man in the world for her father? and isnít her mother a lady? Isnít she, herself, the sweetest, lovingest, most unselfish child that ever lived? But itíll be meat to feed the Ďboysí with, all these stories youíre telling me. They most worship her now, and after they listen to such talk a spellĖh-m-m. The whole secret is justĖlove. Thatís what our captain is made of; pure love. íTwas a good thing for this old earth when she was born.Ē
ďBut youíll spoil her among you, I fear.Ē
ďWell, you neednít. Little Jessica Trent canít be spoiled. íCause them same Ďboysí would be the first ones to take any nonsense out of her, at the first symptoms. She couldnít stand ridicule. It would break her heart; but theyíd give her ridicule and plenty of it if she put on silly airs. You neednít be afraid for Lady Jess.Ē
On that very day, after Antonio had left the hospital with his friends, or captors, as the case might prove. Jessica went through the building with her tray of roses, and in the wing adjoining the accident ward saw a man lying in one of the hitherto empty rooms.
ďA new patient. He must have been brought in to-day. Iíve never been to the new ones till I was told, but I hate to pass him by. I wonder if it would be wrong to ask him if he wished a flower! And how still he stays. Yet his eyes are very wide open and so round! He looks like somebody Iíve seenĖwhy, little Luis Garcia! íTis Luis himself, grown old and thin. For Luisí sake, then Iíll try.Ē
A nurse was sitting silent at the patientís bedside and toward her the child turned an inquiring glance. The answer was a slight, affirmative nod. The attendantís thought was that it would please Lady Jess to give the rose and could do the patient no harm to receive it. Indeed, nothing earthly could harm him any more.
So Jessica stepped softly in and paused beside the cot. Her face was full of pity and of a growing astonishment, for the nearer she beheld it the more startling was the sick manís likeness to a childish face hundreds of miles away.
Her stare brought the patientís own vacant gaze back to a consciousness of things about him. He saw a yellow-haired girl looking curiously upon him and extending toward him a half-blown rose. A fair and unexpected vision in that place of pain, and he asked, half querulously:
ďWho are you? An angel come to upbraid me before my time?Ē
ďIím Jessica Trent, of Sobrante ranch, in Paraiso díOro valley.Ē
The nurse bent forward, but he motioned her aside.
ďSay that again.Ē
ďIím just little Jessica Trent. Thatís all.Ē
ďAll! TrentĖTrent. Ah!Ē
ďAnd you? Are you Luis Garciaís missing father?Ē
ďLuisĖLuis Garcia. Was it Luis, Ysandra called him?Ē
ďYes, yes. That was the name on the paper my father found pinned to the babyís dress. The letter told that the babyís father had gone away promising to come back, but had never come. The mother had heard of my dear fatherís goodness to all who needed help, and she was on her way to him when her strength gave out. So she died there in the canyon, and she said the babyís name was like the fatherís. I remember it all, because to us the ĎMariaí seems like a girlís name, too. Luis Maria Manuel Alessandro Garcia.Ē
The manís round eyes opened wider and wider. It seemed as if his glare pierced the childís very heart, and she drew back frightened. The nurse motioned her to go, but at her first movement toward the door the patient extended his hands imploring:
ďNo. Not yet. My time is spent. Let me hear allĖall. The child your father foundĖah! me! Your father of all men! DidĖdid it live?Ē
ďOf course it lived. He is a darling little fellow and he looksĖhe looks so like you that I knew you in a moment. He has the same wide brown eyes, the same black curls, his eyebrows slant so, like yours, he is your image. But he is the cutest little chap you ever saw. He is my own brotherís age and they have grown up together, like twins, I guess. It would break Nedís heart to have you take him away from us. You wonít now, will you?Ē
A pitiful smile spread over the pain-racked features, and the man glanced significantly toward the nurse. She smiled encouragingly upon him, but he was not misled. After a moment of silence, during which Jessica anxiously watched his drawn face, he spoke.
ďGo, child. Your mission is done. Send a lawyer, quick. Quick. The man I wrongedĖthe savior of my son! A lawyer, quick. Bring the suit caseĖthe case! Let none open it but the child. Quick. Quick!Ē
Higher authority even than her own convinced the nurse that obedience to his urgency was the only way now to allay the patientís rising excitement. The accident which had crushed the lower part of his body, so that his life was but a question of hours, had left his head clear for the present; and here, indeed, seemed a case for more than surgical treatment.
Fortunately, the needed ďlawyerĒ was close at hand, waiting with the reporter and the half-distraught Antonio whose shriek of recognition had been Luis Garciaís welcome to the hospital. Unceasingly, the manager had declared that this was the man all three of them were seeking; had insisted upon returning to the ante-room of the hospital, and avowed that he would never leave the spot until the ďvillainĒ had been apprehended.
ďHe has misled and cheated me. I, Antonio! He has all my money. He has the savings of my life, yes. He has all that I did not yet pay, of the crops so good, to the Senora Trent. More, more. That moneyĖwhich, ah, me! He told me, yes, a thousand million times, that I, and not that New York company, to me alone was the inheritance of Paraiso díOro. My money was to prove it, that inheritance, yes. To me was the power of attorney, was it not? of Cassius Trent, who was the so good man and the so poor fool at business.Ē
ďLook out, there, neighbor! Speaking of fools and business, you donít appear to have been so brilliant yourself,Ē corrected Ninian, promptly.
Antonio continued, heedless of the interruption:
ďHe was the great banker, Garcia, no? What then? Who would so safe keep the money from that far New York? With the masterís wish I gave it to that bank. And the lettersĖCaramba! So high, to oneís knees, to oneís waist I pile them, the letters! All wrote of his own hand. All say by-and-by, manana, he give me the perfect title and send back that which belongs, after all expenses, no? To them in New York.Ē
ďA pretty scheme. You donít seem to have profited by it greatly, as yet.Ē
ďI, profit? But I am now the beggar, I, poor Antonio. This day I come from resting in the houses of my friends and I findĖwhat do I find? The bank is not. The banker is not, yes. His house where he lived more plain than our adobes at Sobrante, that house is closed. His man tell me this: ĎHe has gone away. One little, little trip, a journey. Across the sea. He will come back. Have patience, Antonio.í But my money? my papers? my inheritance so all but proved? Tush. He told me not that. ĎWhen he comes back you can ask him, himself.í So. Good. He has come back. Here. I see him, sure. IĖĒ
A summons to Mr. Hale cut short this fierce harangue, which had been repeated till their ears were tired.
The banker had come back, indeed, poor creature. By the very train on which he was to depart with his plunderĖall rendered into the solid cash which would tell no tales, as he fanciedĖby this swift-moving juggernaut he was overtaken and crushed down. A moment earlier he would have been in time. But in haste and by a misstep he had ended all his earthly journeyings.
When the lawyer was called the reporter followed his friend and Antonio followed him, and when these three approached the little room in which the dying man lay, the nurse would have sent them back; but Garcia himself pleaded: ďLet them be. What matters it how many hear or see? The dress-suit case. Bring it, and bring the child.Ē
They obeyed and he bade them place the key in Jessicaís small hand.
ďOpen it, little one.Ē
But her fingers shook so that the nurse, in pity, pushed them from the lock and herself unfastened the heavily laden case. It contained no clothing, such as might have been looked for within; but rolls and packets neatly tied.
ďOpen them, child.Ē
ďOh! please! I do not want to; I am afraid!Ē
ďAfraid, Jessica Trent? Do you not yet understand? That is money, moneyĖof which your father stood accused before the world as having stolen. Afraid to prove your father what you know himĖan honest man!Ē cried Ninian in anger.
She understood him then, and in frantic haste obeyed. Roll after roll, till Mr. Hale said:
ďEnough. His strength is failing. This scene is too much for him.Ē
At that she pushed the gold away and, falling on her knees beside the bed, caught Luis Garciaís hand and covered it with kisses.
ďOh! thank you, Luisí father! God bless you, God take care of you!Ē
ďOh! the divine pity of childhood,Ē murmured Ninian, huskily. ďShe forgets that it was he who wronged her in the fact that he has now set her right.Ē
The sick manís face brightened, nor did he withdraw his hand.
ďYou forgive me?Ē
ďThe little Luis. The son I never saw. What shall you tell him of his father?Ē
ďThat he was good to me, and that he suffered.Ē
ďMore. Tell the boy this: I never knew he lived. I should have known, I should have searched. I did not. Ask him, too, to forgive me. And because of me, turn him not away.Ē
The nurse motioned all the others to go out, and they went, Ninian Sharp himself standing guard over the dress-suit case the attendant had relocked until it was once more safely deposited in the strong box of the hospital, where even Antonioís greedy eyes could see it no longer.
But Jessica knelt on, awed and silent, yet now quite unafraid. And Luis Garcia still clasped her hand and fixed his fading gaze upon her pitying face.
ďThe motherĖYsandra. Where lies she now? Little one, do you know that?Ē
ďDo I not? In the consecrated ground of the old mission itself. With all the good dead priests sleeping about her. Rose vines cover her grave and my own mother tends them herself. Little Luis is made to water it, sometimes, though, for that is a good way to keep her memory green, my mother says. Near by is where my father rests. WouldĖwould you wish to sleep there, too, beside them both, and where Luis could bring flowers to you as to her?Ē
ďI may? YouĖareĖwilling? WouldĖyour motherĖso kindĖlittle LuisĖĒ
ďMy mother pities and helps all who suffer. You suffer, poor man, and I wish that she were here to tell you Ďyesí herself.Ē
But he had closed his eyes and she could not know if he had heard her, though she was glad to see that the look of pain had almost left his features. She did not speak again but sat quite still until, at last, her hand grew numb and she turned toward the nurse, whispering:
ďCan I move it? Will it disturb him? He seems to be asleep.Ē
The nurse bent over her patient, then gently answered:
ďYes, darling. Your task is over. Nothing will ever trouble him again. He is at peaceĖasleep.Ē
Jessica went back to Ephraimís room, to tell him this wonderful ending of their once almost hopeless search, and for long they discussed the story that was at once so strange, so moving, and yet so simple.
ďMan proposes, God disposes,Ē quoted ďForty-niner,Ē with all the emphasis of an original philosophy. ďIf weíd set out to make up a fairy story we couldnít have beat this. But Iím so glad, it seems like I could get right up and dance a jig, smashed leg and all.Ē
ďGlad! Ephraim, Iím so glad, too, and the gladness is so deep, deep down that I donít want to dance. I just want to cry. And that poor man is little Luisí father. Oh! it is pitiful.Ē
ďHush, captain. Donít you go to grieving over that scamp. A man donít get good nor bad all in a minute. It was hard enough, I ílow, for a fellow to be snatched out of the world that sudden. Yet, if he could speak for himself, heíd say a thousand times better that than what the law would have given him. Let him be. His part is done. Heís passed in his checks and donít you hear that Heaven wonít pay out on all the good ones. NowĖwhat next?Ē
Both knew, yet both disliked to mention that which each felt. Till Ephraim swallowed something like a sob and remarked:
ďThe longer I lie here, like a log, the madder I get at myself and the weaker minded. Iím just about as ready to cry as a whipped baby. I know ítwas the best thing could have happened, my getting hurt, though why a plain, everyday break wouldnít have answered the purpose just as well as this Ďcompound fracture,í the doctors make such a fuss over and takes so long to heal, I donít see. Nor never shall. If it had been just ordinary bone-crackiní Iíd been lively as a hop-toad by now, and ready to start right home with you this minute. As it isĖĒ
ďOh, Ephraim! I hate to leave youĖbut I must get quickly to my mother! Donít you see I must? To smooth all those sad lines out of her dear face and make her happy again, as this news surely will. Theyíll be good to you here, and you can come the first minute theyíll let you.Ē
ďWhy not telegraph her? The boys go every day to Marion for the letters you and all send, and the postmaster is the operator, too. Why not that, and wait just a day or two. Likely Iíll be cavortiní round, supple as a lizard on a fence, by then.Ē
Jessica did not answer and Ephraim asked:
ďHow could you go, anyway, without me or some protector? Though I made a bad job of it once I wouldnít the second time.Ē
ďI donít know how, dear old fellow, and I do know how bitter disappointed you are that you canít be there to see my motherís face and get her thanks right away. ButĖĒ
Fortunately for both of these perplexed people, Ninian Sharp came along the passage just then, and one glimpse of his bright, helpful face cleared away Jessicaís anxieties.
ďYouíll know whatís best and how to do it, wonít you, dear Mr. Sharp?Ē
ďCertainly. Thatís my business. Straightening out the tangled affairs of the silly rest of the world! Fetch on your trouble!Ē
He was in the gayest of moods, elated over the successful termination of his tedious labors, though in his heart not unmindful of the tragedy which had brought his share in them to an end. What was left, the lawís dealings with Antonio and the division and disposition of the recovered funds, belonged to Mr. Hale, and he very thankfully resigned these matters to that gentlemanís capable hand.
ďI want to go home. And I donít want to leave Ephraim.Ē
ďI want to go with you. And Iím going to leave EphraimĖbecause heíd have to stay awhile, whether or not. He will be an important witness for the prosecution, providing that New York Company bothers any further after having recovered all that belongs to them, with some that doesnít. Iíve a Ďloose foot,í as Iíve heard that your ĎAunt Sallyí also has betimes, and I mean to shake it out Sobrante way. If youíd like to travel in my company I canít prevent it, as I see!Ē
ďOh! you darling man! You meanĖI know it, for itís just like all the rest of your great kindnessĖthat youíre going wholly on purpose to take me home!Ē
ďBeg pardon, but indeed, Iím not. At this present moment I have no stronger desire than to see that wonderful ranch of yours and those Ďboysí whoíve spoiled you so. Why, I couldnít stay away, after putting my finger so deeply into your family pie. I propose to start on the nine oíclock train to-morrow morning. Think you can be ready by then?Ē
ďIím ready this minute! No, I mean, as soon as I bid everybody good-by, andĖandĖĒ
ďDo a little shopping, eh? Thatís what most young ladies delay for, I believe.Ē
ďBut Iím neither a young lady nor have I any shopping to do. I couldnít have because I havenít any money, you see, even if I knew how to shop.Ē
ďWhy?Ē demanded ďForty-niner,Ē impatiently. ďNo money? I donít believe all ours is gone yet.Ē
ďWhy, I forgot that. I really did. And I would love, if Mr. Sharp thinks it would be all right to use it when there is all this hospital board for both of us to pay, to take a tiny bit of a present toĖtoĖĒ
ďEverybody you ever knew, Iíll be bound!Ē cried Ninian.
ďIĖbelieve I would. But of course I canít. So Iíd best treat all alike and take nothing but our glorious goods news.Ē
ďIím going to take that myself, part of the way. At the finish Iíll let you carry the heavy burden and deliver it yourself into your motherís hands. Now, come sit down a minute. Ephraim, put on your own thinking cap, and if she forgets anybody you let me know. We are going to take something to everybody, just as youíd like. Now, begin. The motherĖbut sheís settled, already. For her Iíve made a finished picture from a sketch I have, of a little yellow-haired girl asleep upon a piebald burroís shoulder. Ned? A train of cars. Luis, ditto. SamsonĖwhat for Samson?Ē
ďWould it cost too much to take them each, all the Ďboysí the same thing, and that would be a bright red necktie?ĒŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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