Jessica Trent: Her Life on a Ranchñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Cost not a bit too much and be a deal easier than thinking of separate things for so many. Next? Aunt Sally?”
“Oh! she’s no trouble. A few bits of new calico ‘print’ for her patchwork would make her very happy.”
They forgot nobody, not even Ferd whom Jessica so disliked; and at the end of the list she rather timidly suggested: “Antonio.”
To that, however, both her friends cried a vehement “No!” Not a cent of their money should ever go to please such a man as the Senor Bernal.
“But, 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.”
“No. Don’t you go near him, captain. He’s a snake and snakes are unpleasant critters even after their fangs are drawn. Leave Antonio to me. When I get well I’ll have a little score to settle with him on my own behalf,” urged Ephraim.
“Why doesn’t he come to me, himself? Instead of sending for me to him. Then I shouldn’t have to trouble you to take me.”
Mr. Sharp looked at Ephraim and smiled, significantly.
“I suppose because he cannot. Else so polished a gentleman would surely do so.”
“Why cannot he? Is he ill, too?”
“Rather ill in his mind, but not in body. Simply, he isn’t allowed.”
“Won’t the hospital folks have him?”
“Not at present.”
“I believe you are teasing me. Where is Antonio?”
“At police headquarters.”
“Oh! with Matron Wood?”
“Not with that good woman, I fear.”
“Mr. Sharp, please, don’t tease me any more. What do you mean?”
“Antonio 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. We’ll call to see him on our way to the shopping district and get him over and done with. I’ve no desire to continue his acquaintance, myself.”
Jessica’s face grew serious.
“Oh! poor Antonio!”
“Quit that!” commanded “Forty-niner,” with more sharpness than he often used toward his beloved lady.
“But, it is so terrible to be a–prisoner. 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 I’m sorry for him. I can’t help it, Ephraim, even if it does displease you.”
“H-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.”
“Maybe he didn’t know any better. Maybe–”
“Child, you are incorrigible. You’d pity–anybody. Yet, perhaps, you are right in a measure. Antonio strikes me as more fool that knave.”
“Well, I’ll be glad to say good-by to him, anyway.”
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 manager’s wordy explanations and commanded:
“Now, if you’ve got anything special to say to Miss Trent, out with it and have done. We must be off.”
“Then leave her alone with me for five minutes, yes.”
“No. What you can say to her must be said in my presence.”
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.
“It is the good turn I do. Well, then, it is the good turn you will answer, no.”
“Of course. I’d do you any ‘good turn’ which was right for me.”
“Then 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 you–something–a little story–maybe?”
“I’m in no mood for stories, and you’re talking in riddles as you’ve always been fond of doing. Say what you mean at once, Antonio, for I’m going home to-morrow. Home! going home!”
“Ah! me! And? But yes. I will. I will force myself. I will ask it. That–that–title? Know you of that?”
“How should I know?”
“Ephraim. Was not Ephraim at the safe one midnight? Is not Ephraim a little strange–here?” touching his own forehead.
Jessica turned away, indignant.
“No, but you are. The queerest, crookedest man I ever saw. If you’ve 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 couldn’t 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.”
“Well, 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?”
“You 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 children’s sakes, would not quarrel nor resent your insolence. All that is changed. You can do us no further harm. My father’s name is freed from all the shadow that your wickedness cast over it, and as for titles to property–poor! None of the Trents, big or little, care anything for property since we have regained honor! Besides, Sobrante isn’t 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, I–just I, Jessica Trent, a child, will make a home for my mother and my brother–somewhere. I am strong. I can work. I am not at all afraid.”
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.
“Good, 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 might–it 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 bargain–yes?”
Jessica pondered. The temptation was strong to say “yes” without delay; but she had now learned to distrust the late manager of her mother’s business, and answered, cautiously:
“I’ll do what I can, Antonio, but if my mother forbids me to ‘plead,’ I shall not disobey her. You did what you pleased, and my friends say you will have to suffer the consequences.”
“Ah! 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, heir–rightful heir–to Sobrante rancho and all of Paraiso d’Oro. See! Behold! Did the Lady Jessica never hear of El Desierto, no?”
“The Deserted Ranch? Where Pedro says the spirits of dead people walk? Of course. Everybody has heard of that. Why?”
“Sometimes the ‘spirits’ keep hidden treasures safe. Yes. Si. Does the senorita know the trail thither, to that haunted place?”
“No. Nor wish to. Good-by, Antonio. I can wait for no more of your nonsense.”
“The paper. The pencil, which the Lady Jess holds in her hand. One moment, that to me, if the senorita pleases.”
“I brought these for my little shopping trip, which I’m to take with Mr. Sharp. I can’t give them to you, but I’ll lend, for a moment. Here they are. Be quick.”
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 “Marion,” and at the end “Sobrante.” Midway, and well to the north, where a curving course indicated an arroyo he marked “El Desierto.”
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:
“The promise, senorita. First the promise; ‘I will plead for the liberty of Senor Antonio Bernal, so help me–’”
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:
“Come on, Lady Jess. Time’s up. So is Antonio’s little game; yet, thanks, senor, for playing it so openly, Good-day. Adios. Farewell. Et cetera. Au revoir and all the rest. We’ll show you that title deed–if we find it!”
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.
“Step aboard, Lady Jess. Homeward bound!”
“Oh! it looks so big and somehow dreadful. I can ride any kind of a horse, or an ostrich, and burros, of course, but–”
“But you don’t know yet how to ride a railway carriage. Then let me tell you you’ll find it so delightful you’ll not want to get out when the journey’s done.”
“Don’t you believe that, Mr. Sharp. The end of the journey, this part, at least, means, Marion, and that’s but a bit of a way from my mother. Is everything ready? Scruff? Is he here?”
“Come and see the sorrowful chap in his moving stable if you wish. Though it hasn’t moved as yet. He’ll probably rebel against the state of affairs, at first; then be just as unwilling to leave the car as he was to enter it. It’s a fine place for sleeping, and sleeping is Scruff’s chief aim in life.”
“He’s had to make up for lost time, for he’d never too much sleep at home, where Ned and Luis were. Oh! to think! To-morrow, to-morrow–this very next day that’s coming–I shall have my arms around those children’s precious necks and feel my mother’s kisses on my lips. I can’t wait. I can’t.”
“Humph! I shall begin to think you can wait and very contentedly if you don’t step into this car pretty soon.”
Jessica had never traveled by rail and the shock of the accident which had befallen Luis’ 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.
“Time. Time. We must make time, Lady Jess. A newspaper man never uses a week where a day will do. If he did–well, 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?”
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.
“Some day I’ll come back to Sobrante, if I’m invited, and get that famous rider, Samson, to teach me the trick of ‘broncho busting’ or some other caper. But now, the engine can’t travel fast enough to suit my impatience.”
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 Sally’s bountiful luncheon but what seemed to Lady Jess something far finer–a 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 girl’s 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 “teasing” he laid several harmless “traps” 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.
“No, Mr. Sharp, I’m 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: ‘Use your eyes, not your tongue, and watch what other folks do.’ So, if watching will prevent my doing awkward things, I’ll watch, surely enough.”
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 “one horse” village as this. “Why, I thought it was your post town and all that.”
“So it is. And a very pretty place by daylight, save that they don’t irrigate.”
“Which means there isn’t a spear of grass within the town limits, doesn’t it?”
“Almost as bad. But now we’ll change places, if you please. I’ve been to Marion several times with my father and once since–since he went away, with Samson. There! They’re taking Scruff out of the car and you must ride him. I know the way. It’s only a mile, about, to the hotel. Of course, there’s a lodging-house nearer, right by this station, indeed, but the hotel’s much nicer. You’ll get a better bed there, and we’d best go on.”
“I’d rather sleep on the ground than walk a mile.”
“You shall do neither. Didn’t you hear me say we’ve changed places now? I’m so near home I am at home and I’m–the captain. Obey orders, sir, and mount Scruff’s back.”
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 Jessica’s tone which sick people find restful, and he quietly threw one leg across Scruff’s 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 “tavern,” from one window of which there gleamed a solitary oil lamp.
“Horrors! Antonio described a ranch called Desolation, or something like that, and I reckon we’ve arrived,” lamented the reporter, jolted into fresh distress by the burro’s trot.
“Wait. Be patient, dear man. Within five minutes you’ll 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, and–Sobrante!”
Then she tapped on the window and called:
“Hello, there! Sobrante folks! Open the door, quick!”
A head was thrust out of another window, further along the narrow porch, and a sleepy voice asked:
“What’s that you say? Who wants–”
“I do! Jessica Trent, from Sobrante. But last, right from Los Angeles city. Please be quick!”
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.
“Oh! but this is the darling home again! And is it good news you’ve 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?”
Jessica presented her friend and added, quickly:
“Only for him I could never have done that business, Janet, Aleck. And it is done. Everybody–”
“All the countryside knows it already, Jessica Trent. It’s 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 father’s memory of a stain some ne’er-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 ‘boys’ are here long before sun up; hours before mailtime, to get the latest news. Ah! it’s proud is all this land because of you, my wee bit bairnie!”
Again was Jessica caught and kissed till her breath was gone; but released she demanded, and with disappointment in her tone:
“So the news is no news, and does my mother, too, know all?”
“Hasn’t the sweet lady read the papers that the ‘boys’ have carried, loping to break their necks! Ah, lassie, ’twill be an ovation you’ll get when once they sight your bonny head shining on the sandy branch road!”
Jessica turned toward Ninian Sharp with the first feeling of anger she had ever had toward him.
“The papers? Your Lancet, I suppose. But you knew, you knew how much I wanted to surprise my mother.”
“Even so. But could you expect a man to keep back such fine ‘copy’ 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. We’ll discuss this further to-morrow. To-night I’d like to see the bed you promised.”
Jessica caught the hand of her weary friend and begged:
“Forgive me. I forgot. And I suppose that the very feeling which made you so kind and faithful to us, strangers, made you faithful to–to 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.”
“’Tis ready this instant. ’Tis always ready, lassie, though few come nowadays, to use it. This way, sir. After I show him I’ll come for you, Lady Jess.”
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.
“Samson, Samson, here he is! Mr. Sharp, dear Mr. Sharp, this is my biggest ‘boy’!”
“Huh! Glad to see you, little one. ‘Looks like you’d be quite a man when you get growed up,’” quoted the joker, giving Samson’s hand a cordial grasp.
“Come on! Come on! You’re the lad for us! Well, sir, you do me proud. You do Sobrante proud. You do all the world proud, and that’s my sentiment to a t-i-o-n, sir! Breakfast’s ready.”
“Oh, Mr. Ninian, he’s brought–my mother has sent you the horse that nobody else has ridden since my father did. Nimrod, the swiftest, gentlest thoroughbred that anybody ever rode.”
“Sent him for me? Why, how could she know that we were coming?”
“Why shouldn’t she?” asked Samson. “Him 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 there’s always been a led horse for you, sir. Would have been till the day of judgment, too, if you hadn’t struck us afore. Reckon you aren’t acquainted with our little settlement, sir.”
“Reckon I wasn’t, but I’m beginning to be. My! What a magnificent animal. And it solves the difficulty of finding a mount out to the ranch. I’m not much of a horseman, though. I don’t know but I’d better stick to Scruff and leave Nimrod to Lady Jess.”
Samson wheeled around and eyed the stranger, curiously. Then he advanced and held out his hand again.
“Shake, Sharp. You’re a man, even if you do live in a city, and the first one I ever met who hailed from such a place and didn’t think he knew it all. You’ll do. And you can ride. A baby could, that creatur’. If you can’t stick I’ll hold you on. Now, breakfast, I say.”
This was Jessica’s 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:ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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