Jessica Trent: Her Life on a RanchŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
ďCost not a bit too much and be a deal easier than thinking of separate things for so many. Next? Aunt Sally?Ē
ďOh! sheís no trouble. A few bits of new calico Ďprintí for her patchwork would make her very happy.Ē
They forgot nobody, not even Ferd whom Jessica so disliked; and at the end of the list she rather timidly suggested: ďAntonio.Ē
To that, however, both her friends cried a vehement ďNo!Ē Not a cent of their money should ever go to please such a man as the Senor Bernal.
ďBut, that reminds me. This Antonio himself wishes to have an interview with you before you leave Los Angeles. I want you, though, to feel at liberty to refuse this request if you so desire. He deserves no kindness at your hands.Ē
ďNo. Donít you go near him, captain. Heís a snake and snakes are unpleasant critters even after their fangs are drawn. Leave Antonio to me. When I get well Iíll have a little score to settle with him on my own behalf,Ē urged Ephraim.
ďWhy doesnít he come to me, himself? Instead of sending for me to him. Then I shouldnít have to trouble you to take me.Ē
Mr. Sharp looked at Ephraim and smiled, significantly.
ďI suppose because he cannot. Else so polished a gentleman would surely do so.Ē
ďWhy cannot he? Is he ill, too?Ē
ďRather ill in his mind, but not in body. Simply, he isnít allowed.Ē
ďWonít the hospital folks have him?Ē
ďNot at present.Ē
ďI believe you are teasing me. Where is Antonio?Ē
ďAt police headquarters.Ē
ďOh! with Matron Wood?Ē
ďNot with that good woman, I fear.Ē
ďMr. Sharp, please, donít tease me any more. What do you mean?Ē
ďAntonio is under restraint of the law. He is a prisoner, for the present. Detained until Mr. Hale can consult with his New York people and find out their disposition toward the fellow. He has done criminal things without, apparently, any benefit to himself. He says there is something on his mind that he must tell you. Weíll call to see him on our way to the shopping district and get him over and done with. Iíve no desire to continue his acquaintance, myself.Ē
Jessicaís face grew serious.
ďOh! poor Antonio!Ē
ďQuit that!Ē commanded ďForty-niner,Ē with more sharpness than he often used toward his beloved lady.
ďBut, it is so terrible to be aĖprisoner. That means that one can never go out into the fields or climb the mountains, or ride, or hunt, or anything one likes. He has done dreadful wrongs, and I never used to like him as well as I ought, but now Iím sorry for him. I canít help it, Ephraim, even if it does displease you.Ē
ďH-m-m. He brought his own misfortunes upon himself. But first he had brought worse ones on his truest friends and innocent persons whom he never saw.Ē
ďMaybe he didnít know any better. MaybeĖĒ
ďChild, you are incorrigible. Youíd pityĖanybody. Yet, perhaps, you are right in a measure. Antonio strikes me as more fool that knave.Ē
ďWell, Iíll be glad to say good-by to him, anyway.Ē
It was a greatly altered Antonio they found.
All his haughtiness was gone and his depression, his fear, was so abject that while Lady Jess pitied him even more than before, the reporter felt only contempt. It was he who cut short the managerís wordy explanations and commanded:
ďNow, if youíve got anything special to say to Miss Trent, out with it and have done. We must be off.Ē
ďThen leave her alone with me for five minutes, yes.Ē
ďNo. What you can say to her must be said in my presence.Ē
But Jessica petitioned for the favor, and Ninian stepped into an adjoining room, leaving the door ajar.
As soon as he was out of sight, Senor Bernal leaned forward, clasping his hands.
ďIt is the good turn I do. Well, then, it is the good turn you will answer, no.Ē
ďOf course. Iíd do you any Ďgood turní which was right for me.Ē
ďThen plead for me, my liberty. It is you, senorita, who have the so great, the strange power to move many hearts to your will. Si. You will plead, then, if I tell youĖsomethingĖa little storyĖmaybe?Ē
ďIím in no mood for stories, and youíre talking in riddles as youíve always been fond of doing. Say what you mean at once, Antonio, for Iím going home to-morrow. Home! going home!Ē
ďAh! me! And? But yes. I will. I will force myself. I will ask it. ThatĖthatĖtitle? Know you of that?Ē
ďHow should I know?Ē
ďEphraim. Was not Ephraim at the safe one midnight? Is not Ephraim a little strangeĖhere?Ē touching his own forehead.
Jessica turned away, indignant.
ďNo, but you are. The queerest, crookedest man I ever saw. If youíve anything to tell me, just be quick, I am going. As for Ephraim, I wish, unhappy man, that you had half the goodness and honesty in your whole body that dear old fellow has in his littlest finger. He couldnít do a mean thing nor even think one, and if you sent for me to abuse him to me you might have spared yourself the trouble.Ē
ďWell, then. It is known, is it not? That when I shook the dust of Sobrante rancho from my feet I took away with me all the papers that appertained to the so great business of the place? Why not? Was I not to go back the master, and for the settlement of all affairs which I had with the Dona Gabriella?Ē
ďYou will please never call my mother by her first name again, Antonio Bernal. She is an American gentlewoman, and her title is Mrs. Trent. Understand? She is not afraid of you, nor am I, though she was patient and, for her childrenís sakes, would not quarrel nor resent your insolence. All that is changed. You can do us no further harm. My fatherís name is freed from all the shadow that your wickedness cast over it, and as for titles to propertyĖpoor! None of the Trents, big or little, care anything for property since we have regained honor! Besides, Sobrante isnít the only home in the world. They are everywhere, waiting for those who will take them. If we lose Sobrante, as I suppose we may, IĖjust I, Jessica Trent, a child, will make a home for my mother and my brotherĖsomewhere. I am strong. I can work. I am not at all afraid.Ē
Despite his meanness and cupidity, Antonio was moved. The girl was radiant in her courage and enthusiasm, and her disdain of what he could make her suffer was infinite.
ďGood, senorita. When you speak and look like that I can no longer keep silence, I. The papers! It is possible, no? That among them, in my so great haste at leaving Sobrante, that little, yes, it mightĖit might be among those other papers appertaining to the so great business. Si. If I point the way, if I tell the secret retiring place of me, I, Antonio Bernal, you will plead and set me free? It is a contract, a bargainĖyes?Ē
Jessica pondered. The temptation was strong to say ďyesĒ without delay; but she had now learned to distrust the late manager of her motherís business, and answered, cautiously:
ďIíll do what I can, Antonio, but if my mother forbids me to Ďplead,í I shall not disobey her. You did what you pleased, and my friends say you will have to suffer the consequences.Ē
ďAh! but it is the so old head on the so small shoulders. That wisdom was not of your own, senorita. But, I forgive the suspicion. Yes, I am magnanimous. I am generous, I, Senor Bernal, heirĖrightful heirĖto Sobrante rancho and all of Paraiso díOro. See! Behold! Did the Lady Jessica never hear of El Desierto, no?Ē
ďThe Deserted Ranch? Where Pedro says the spirits of dead people walk? Of course. Everybody has heard of that. Why?Ē
ďSometimes the Ďspiritsí keep hidden treasures safe. Yes. Si. Does the senorita know the trail thither, to that haunted place?Ē
ďNo. Nor wish to. Good-by, Antonio. I can wait for no more of your nonsense.Ē
ďThe paper. The pencil, which the Lady Jess holds in her hand. One moment, that to me, if the senorita pleases.Ē
ďI brought these for my little shopping trip, which Iím to take with Mr. Sharp. I canít give them to you, but Iíll lend, for a moment. Here they are. Be quick.Ē
Antonio seized the pencil and rapidly sketched upon the pad a few dots and lines, suggesting a zigzag road and stations upon it. At the starting point he wrote ďMarion,Ē and at the end ďSobrante.Ē Midway, and well to the north, where a curving course indicated an arroyo he marked ďEl Desierto.Ē
Then he looked up, and Jessica reached forward to take back her possessions.
But with what he considered great chaft and cunning he thrust them behind him and smiled grimly:
ďThe promise, senorita. First the promise; ĎI will plead for the liberty of Senor Antonio Bernal, so help meĖíĒ
Unperceived by the artful manager, Ninian Sharp had entered the room from a rear door. He was tired of waiting for the interview to end and had overheard most of it from the outer room. He now quietly stretched out his own hand and possessed himself of the rude map, and then as quietly and instantly withdrew with it, calling as he did so:
ďCome on, Lady Jess. Timeís up. So is Antonioís little game; yet, thanks, senor, for playing it so openly, Good-day. Adios. Farewell. Et cetera. Au revoir and all the rest. Weíll show you that title deedĖif we find it!Ē
A RAILWAY JOURNEY
The morning of departure had come and, trembling with both fear and eagerness, Jessica stood beside the reporter upon the station, waiting for the great train to move outward.
ďStep aboard, Lady Jess. Homeward bound!Ē
ďOh! it looks so big and somehow dreadful. I can ride any kind of a horse, or an ostrich, and burros, of course, butĖĒ
ďBut you donít know yet how to ride a railway carriage. Then let me tell you youíll find it so delightful youíll not want to get out when the journeyís done.Ē
ďDonít you believe that, Mr. Sharp. The end of the journey, this part, at least, means, Marion, and thatís but a bit of a way from my mother. Is everything ready? Scruff? Is he here?Ē
ďCome and see the sorrowful chap in his moving stable if you wish. Though it hasnít moved as yet. Heíll probably rebel against the state of affairs, at first; then be just as unwilling to leave the car as he was to enter it. Itís a fine place for sleeping, and sleeping is Scruffís chief aim in life.Ē
ďHeís had to make up for lost time, for heíd never too much sleep at home, where Ned and Luis were. Oh! to think! To-morrow, to-morrowĖthis very next day thatís comingĖI shall have my arms around those childrenís precious necks and feel my motherís kisses on my lips. I canít wait. I canít.Ē
ďHumph! I shall begin to think you can wait and very contentedly if you donít step into this car pretty soon.Ē
Jessica had never traveled by rail and the shock of the accident which had befallen Luisí father made her more timid than she had ever been before. She had pleaded to make the return trip by saddle, as she had come, but Mr. Sharp would not consent.
ďTime. Time. We must make time, Lady Jess. A newspaper man never uses a week where a day will do. If he didĖwell, no knowing if we should ever get out a single issue of The Lancet. Come on. If there were any danger do you think I would make you face it?Ē
Thus shamed and by the friend who had proved so true to her interests, the little girl shut her eyes, held out her hands and was lightly swung upon the rear platform of the luxurious coach in which they were to make the first half of their trip. Later, they would have to leave the main line for a branch road, terminating at Marion, their postal station. From Marion, the thirty miles of saddle work, with the added detour on account of El Desierto, would be all the reporter fancied he should care for.
ďSome day Iíll come back to Sobrante, if Iím invited, and get that famous rider, Samson, to teach me the trick of Ďbroncho bustingí or some other caper. But now, the engine canít travel fast enough to suit my impatience.Ē
Nor Jessica, neither, after the first few moments of the journey. She forgot her fear in watching the swiftly moving landscape, and found it hard to believe that the landscape itself was still and she who was carried past it. This time there was none of Aunt Sallyís bountiful luncheon but what seemed to Lady Jess something far finerĖa dining car. To be sure, during their first meal in this, served by colored waiters whose unfamiliar faces distracted her attention, and swayed by the motion of the train, the girlís appetite was not worth mentioning; but by the time the supper hour was reached she was ready to enjoy almost everything which her companion ordered for her. It delighted him to observe how swiftly she comprehended and adapted herself to new things, and in his spirit of ďteasingĒ he laid several harmless ďtrapsĒ for her entanglement.
But she had now learned to distinguish his fun from his earnest and, after one keen glance into his face, would skillfully avoid the little slips of speech or manner that would have so diverted him.
ďNo, Mr. Sharp, Iím ever so ignorant of the way city people and traveling people do, but one thing Ephraim taught me, even on our quiet way out. That was: ĎUse your eyes, not your tongue, and watch what other folks do.í So, if watching will prevent my doing awkward things, Iíll watch, surely enough.Ē
They were to sleep at Marion, and when they finally left the less comfortable car of the branch road at that town, it was very dark and no vehicles were in waiting to convey passengers to the one hotel of the place. Few persons stopped at Marion, except such as resided there or near, and such either walked from the station to their homes or had their own wagons meet them.
Ninian Sharp was disgusted. He was tired, his head ached, and he had anticipated no such ďone horseĒ village as this. ďWhy, I thought it was your post town and all that.Ē
ďSo it is. And a very pretty place by daylight, save that they donít irrigate.Ē
ďWhich means there isnít a spear of grass within the town limits, doesnít it?Ē
ďAlmost as bad. But now weíll change places, if you please. Iíve been to Marion several times with my father and once sinceĖsince he went away, with Samson. There! Theyíre taking Scruff out of the car and you must ride him. I know the way. Itís only a mile, about, to the hotel. Of course, thereís a lodging-house nearer, right by this station, indeed, but the hotelís much nicer. Youíll get a better bed there, and weíd best go on.Ē
ďIíd rather sleep on the ground than walk a mile.Ē
ďYou shall do neither. Didnít you hear me say weíve changed places now? Iím so near home I am at home and IímĖthe captain. Obey orders, sir, and mount Scruffís back.Ē
He was too weary to protest and too ill. Subject to acute neuralgia, he was, like plenty of people, rather less courageous when he was in pain than at other times. Besides, now there was something of that decision in Jessicaís tone which sick people find restful, and he quietly threw one leg across Scruffís back and let the girl do as she pleased.
This was to start forward over the unpaved, unlighted street at a swift unbroken run, which Scruff had some work to equal; but the speed brought them promptly to a wooden ďtavern,Ē from one window of which there gleamed a solitary oil lamp.
ďHorrors! Antonio described a ranch called Desolation, or something like that, and I reckon weíve arrived,Ē lamented the reporter, jolted into fresh distress by the burroís trot.
ďWait. Be patient, dear man. Within five minutes youíll be sleeping on a clean, sweet bed, and when you wake up in the morning it will be to a fine breakfast, a perfect day, andĖSobrante!Ē
Then she tapped on the window and called:
ďHello, there! Sobrante folks! Open the door, quick!Ē
A head was thrust out of another window, further along the narrow porch, and a sleepy voice asked:
ďWhatís that you say? Who wantsĖĒ
ďI do! Jessica Trent, from Sobrante. But last, right from Los Angeles city. Please be quick!Ē
In less time than seemed possible, for such a drowsy person to reach it, the door was flung wide and there rushed out upon the porch a man and a woman, who both seized Jessica at one time and in their effort to embrace her succeeded in hugging each other. Whereupon the landlady flung her stalwart husband aside and caught the little girl in her arms, to carry her within.
ďOh! but this is the darling home again! And is it good news youíve brought, my dear? Ah! by the shining of your bonny eyes one can see that plain. Light up, Aleck! Light up! How can we have such darkness when the bairn is safe back? And begging pardon, lassie, who is this yon?Ē
Jessica presented her friend and added, quickly:
ďOnly for him I could never have done that business, Janet, Aleck. And it is done. EverybodyĖĒ
ďAll the countryside knows it already, Jessica Trent. Itís ringing with it, as it rung with the story of a wave little lass who set out alone and unfriended, save for one old man, to clear her fatherís memory of a stain some neíer-do-well had dared to splash it with; and how the old man broke his leg and lost the bairn; and, losing, she fell into wiser hands and all, and all. Why, the Ďboysí are here long before sun up; hours before mailtime, to get the latest news. Ah! itís proud is all this land because of you, my wee bit bairnie!Ē
Again was Jessica caught and kissed till her breath was gone; but released she demanded, and with disappointment in her tone:
ďSo the news is no news, and does my mother, too, know all?Ē
ďHasnít the sweet lady read the papers that the Ďboysí have carried, loping to break their necks! Ah, lassie, ítwill be an ovation youíll get when once they sight your bonny head shining on the sandy branch road!Ē
Jessica turned toward Ninian Sharp with the first feeling of anger she had ever had toward him.
ďThe papers? Your Lancet, I suppose. But you knew, you knew how much I wanted to surprise my mother.Ē
ďEven so. But could you expect a man to keep back such fine Ďcopyí from his office? If you did, or if I could, somebody else, like The Gossip, would have got ahead of us. It was public property, my little Lady, and private interests, or fancies, always yield to the great public. Weíll discuss this further to-morrow. To-night Iíd like to see the bed you promised.Ē
Jessica caught the hand of her weary friend and begged:
ďForgive me. I forgot. And I suppose that the very feeling which made you so kind and faithful to us, strangers, made you faithful toĖto that horrid old Lancet, too. Now Janet, you are to give Mr. Sharp your very nicest bed and breakfast, for he is tired and suffering.Ē
ďíTis ready this instant. íTis always ready, lassie, though few come nowadays, to use it. This way, sir. After I show him Iíll come for you, Lady Jess.Ē
Jessica had not overpraised the neatness and comfort of this out-of-the-way hostelry, and Ninian Sharp slept dreamlessly till joyous voices outside his window roused him to the fact that morning and hunger had arrived together. Remembering, too, the long ride that lay before him and the necessity of finding a horse for it, he rose and hastily dressed. He had lost his neuralgic pains and his spirits were again such as Jessica had always seen him show. She, too, was up and waiting, and it looked as if her ovation had begun; for she was already the center of an admiring group yet held closest to the side of a big ranchman, grizzled and rugged, but beaming upon her and all the rest like an incarnate joy.
ďSamson, Samson, here he is! Mr. Sharp, dear Mr. Sharp, this is my biggest Ďboyí!Ē
ďHuh! Glad to see you, little one. ĎLooks like youíd be quite a man when you get growed up,íĒ quoted the joker, giving Samsonís hand a cordial grasp.
ďCome on! Come on! Youíre the lad for us! Well, sir, you do me proud. You do Sobrante proud. You do all the world proud, and thatís my sentiment to a t-i-o-n, sir! Breakfastís ready.Ē
ďOh, Mr. Ninian, heís broughtĖmy mother has sent you the horse that nobody else has ridden since my father did. Nimrod, the swiftest, gentlest thoroughbred that anybody ever rode.Ē
ďSent him for me? Why, how could she know that we were coming?Ē
ďWhy shouldnít she?Ē asked Samson. ďHim and John Benton was over yesterday, but to-day it was my turn. One of us has been every day since the captain left Sobrante; and since the good news arrived thereís always been a led horse for you, sir. Would have been till the day of judgment, too, if you hadnít struck us afore. Reckon you arenít acquainted with our little settlement, sir.Ē
ďReckon I wasnít, but Iím beginning to be. My! What a magnificent animal. And it solves the difficulty of finding a mount out to the ranch. Iím not much of a horseman, though. I donít know but Iíd better stick to Scruff and leave Nimrod to Lady Jess.Ē
Samson wheeled around and eyed the stranger, curiously. Then he advanced and held out his hand again.
ďShake, Sharp. Youíre a man, even if you do live in a city, and the first one I ever met who hailed from such a place and didnít think he knew it all. Youíll do. And you can ride. A baby could, that creaturí. If you canít stick Iíll hold you on. Now, breakfast, I say.Ē
This was Jessicaís chance, and before they sat down to the bounteous meal which Janet had been hours in preparing she managed to draw Ninian aside and whisper a request, to which he nodded prompt assent. So nobody but they two knew what was meant when, as the three mounted and were about to ride away, she asked Samson:ŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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