Jessica Trent: Her Life on a Ranchñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“The gentleman whom you met, as you came in, is a lawyer. A New York lawyer. I–I would like to consult him about our–this business you mention. I was born and reared in New York and have a feeling that anything which comes from there must be all right. Even a lawyer, though I’m not fond of the profession usually.
“The senor is not wont to waste so many words upon her most humble servant, no. And as for the lawyers, have I not this day been to the consulting of the most eminent, the wisest of his kind, no? But yes; and the truth is, senora–believe me, it breaks my heart so to inform you, but this barren rancho of Sobrante belongs not to the Dona Gabriella and her children, but to one Antonio Bernal, even I, myself.”
“To you! Belongs–to–you?” gasped the astonished woman.
The manager shrugged his shoulders and tossed another Spanish proverb toward her: “What I have said, I have said.”
Mrs. Trent felt her strength leaving her and sank into a chair, still gazing incredulously at the other, who now lounged back in his own chair and began to leisurely pick his teeth. It was a trivial action, but one wholly disgusting to the gentlewoman’s fastidious sense, and it angered her, which was a good thing, for her anger banished her momentary faintness and gave her boldness to demand:
“It will be forthcoming, senora, at the right time. Yes. Meanwhile, I am content you shall remain, you and your little ones, until–well, say a month. By that date all things should have been arranged and the senora will have found herself another home less lonely than Sobrante. One so beautiful as the Dona Gabriella must have hosts of friends who–”
Senor Bernal paused. There were footsteps approaching, and the merry voices of children, and an instant later Samson was in the room, still carrying the little lads in his arms, and with Jessica clinging affectionately to his ragged sleeve.
One glance showed the faithful ranchman that something was amiss. There was fresh sorrow, even consternation, in the beloved face of Sobrante’s mistress, fresh insolence in that of her chief assistant. He was not one to hesitate when his friends were in trouble, and turned to Antonio with an angry demand:
“What have you been worrying your betters with now, senor?”
“Keep a civil tongue in your head, rascal.”
“Returnin’ the compliment, if you please. All the same, don’t you know that a man–a man– doesn’t go around worrying women as you worry Mrs. Trent? You, that hadn’t a shirt to your back when the boss took you in and made you what you are! I’m anticipatin’ a mite, and I don’t know just how some of the boys’ll take it, but we’d laid out this very night at moon-up–if there’d been a moon sensible enough to get up, which there isn’t–to haul you and a few other matters over the coals and stir up a fresh sort of blaze. Now, I warn you, just you let matters slide, peaceable, and you–just you, yourself, keep that civil tongue you recommend, or you’ll light out of here so quick ye won’t see your heels for dust, dry season though it is.
“Hear? Yes, I hear. Now, ’tis your turn. You go tell those malcontents you call ‘the boys’ to take their packs and foot it. Times have changed. Things have changed. There’s another master here now, and not a weak-willed mistress. That is me–I–Antonio Bernal, owner of Sobrante rancho and all that appertains thereto. Now, go. Vamos. Depart. Clear out. Get!”
Samson went–as far as the long, open window, and stepped out upon the porch. He did not see Mr. Hale, who had seated himself in a rocker, an unintentional witness of a scene he would gladly have missed, and putting a whistle to his lips blew a summons which was understood by every fellow-workman on the ranch. Then he quietly re-entered the house, folded his arms, and leaned carelessly against the door frame.
Senor Bernal started up as if he would forcibly eject the herder, but thought better of this and sank back nonchalantly in his great chair. Jessica had placed herself behind her mother, and clasped Mrs. Trent’s shoulders with the protecting tenderness habitual to her. Ned had sprung to his mother’s lap and Luis continued his nap at her feet; while all seemed waiting for some fresh development of the affair.
This came and speedily; for, in answer to Samson’s whistle, there filed over the porch and into the room, Joe, the smith; Marty, the gardener; and Carpenter John. There was missing old “Forty-niner,” commonly the dominant fifth of this odd quintet, but nobody wondered much at that. Doubtless he was polishing his darling’s rifle and making ready for some astonishing display of her skill wherewith to dazzle the stranger upon the morrow. In any case he rarely disagreed with the opinions of his cronies and was sure to be one with them in the matter of that hour.
With a respectful salute to Mrs. Trent, a grin toward the children, and a scowl for Antonio, these stalwart ranchmen lined up against the wall and stood at attention. Mr. Hale, observant through the doorway, again noticed that each of these was well along in years, that each had some slight physical infirmity, and that, despite these facts, each looked a man of unusual strength and most entire devotion. Indeed, the gaze fixed upon the little lady, was one of adoration, and the situation boded ill for anybody who meant harm to her.
“Ahem. What say, mates? Has the hour struck?”
“The hour has struck,” answered John Benton, solemnly, shifting his weight from his lame leg to his sound one.
Samson strode a mighty step forward and pulled his forelock.
“Then I state, madam, that we here, on behalf of ourselves and our whole crew, now, and hereby do, throw off all ’legiance to that there Spanish skunk, a-settin’ in your easiest chair, and appoint Our Lady Jess, captain of the good ship Sobrante. Allowin’ you to be the admiral of that same, madam, but takin’ no more orders from anybody save and excepting her–under you, of course–from this time forth, so help us.”
Then there burst from the trio of throats a cheer that shook the windows, and called a contemptuous laugh from the superintendent so valiantly defied.
The cheer died in an ominous silence which Senor Bernal improved.
“Highly dramatic and most edifying, en verdad. Senor, I kiss your hands in even greater devotion. But the play has one little drawback. To I, me, myself, belongs Sobrante. Already I have had the law of which you spoke. My claim I have proved. From the long back generations the good title from the Mission Padres to my own fathers, yes. Sobrante? Si. More and better. Wide lies the valley of Paraiso d’Oro. Mine, Mine. All–all mine. No?”
He rose to his feet and pompously paced up and down the room, insolently handsome and proud of the fact, while out on the darkened porch Mr. Hale had heard a word which set his own pulses beating faster and the row of ranchmen started forward as if minded to throw the braggart out of the house.
But Jessica stepped forth and cried, triumphantly, though still with an effort toward that courtesy she desired.
“Beg pardon, Senor Antonio Bernal, but surely you are quite mistaken. My father taught me some things. He said I was not too young to learn them. He–he only–has the title deed to dear Sobrante, and I–I only–know the safe place where it is kept!”
Antonio halted in his strutting march and for a moment his face grew pale. The next instant he had regained more than his former confidence, and with a sneering laugh, exclaimed:
“Seeing is believing, no? To the satisfaction of the assembled most honorable company,” here he bowed with mock politeness, “let this most interesting document be produced. Si.”
Jessica flew from the room and in an intolerable anxiety the whole “honorable company” awaited her long-delayed return.
When the tension of waiting was becoming intolerable, and Mrs. Trent was already rising to seek her daughter, Jessica reappeared in the doorway. Her white face and frightened eyes told her story without words, but her mother forced herself to ask:
“Did you find it, darling?”
“Mother, it is gone!”
“Gone. Yet it was only that dear, last day when he was with us, in the morning, before he set out for the mines, that he showed it to me, safe and sound in its place. He was to tell you, too, that night–but–”
“It was that, then, which was on his mind, and I could not understand. I–Antonio Bernal, he entrusted you and you must know; where is that missing deed?”
“Deed, senora? This day, just ended, is it not that I have been over all the records and there is none of any deed to Sobrante later than my own–or that proves my claim. In truth, the honorable Dona Gabriella is right, indeed. I was the trusted friend of the dead senor, and if any such precious document existed, would I not have known it? Si. What I do know is the worry, the trouble, the impossibility of such a paper broke the senor’s heart. It does not exist. Sobrante is mine. He knew that this was so–I had often spoken–”
The untruth he was about to utter did not pass his lips. There was that in the white face of Gabriella Trent which arrested his words, as, clasping her boy in her arms, she glided into the darkened hall and entered her own rooms beyond.
The “boys” had not moved, nor Jessica followed, and she now firmly confronted the manager, saying:
“I am sorry to tell you, Antonio Bernal, that you are not acting square. My father did have that title deed, and I believe you know it. Somebody has taken it from the place where his own hands put it, but I will find it. This home is ours, is all my mother’s. Nobody shall ever take it from her. Nobody. You hear me say that, Senor Antonio Bernal, and you, dear ‘boys?’”
“Ay, ay,” echoed her friends, heartily; but the superintendent regarded her as he might have done some amusing little insect.
“Very pretty, senorita. The filial devotion, almost beautiful. But the facts–well, am I not merciful and generous, I? There is no haste. Indeed, no. A month–”
“Before a month is out I will have found that deed and placed it in my darling mother’s hands. I may be too young to understand the ‘business’ you talk about so much, but I am not too young to save my mother’s happiness. I can see that paper now, in my mind, and I remember exactly how it looked inside and out. It seemed such a little thing to be worth a whole, great ranch. I don’t know how nor where, but somehow and somewhere, I shall find that paper. ‘Boys,’ will you help me?”
“To the last drop of our hearts’ blood!” cried John Benton, and the others echoed, “Ay, ay!”
Antonio thought it time to end this scene and walked toward the porch, at the further end of which was another long window opening into his own apartments. But he was not permitted to leave so easily. Great Samson placed himself in the manager’s path and remarked:
“There’s no call to lose sight of the main business ’count o’ this little side-play of yours. We boys come up here to-night to quit your employ and hire out to Our Lady Jess. We’re all agreed, every man jack of us. Your day’s over. Account of Mrs. Trent and the kids, we’d like things done quiet and decent. There’s a good horse of yours in the stable and though there isn’t any moon, you know the roads well. If you tarry for breakfast, likely you won’t have much appetite to eat it. More’n that, the senora, as you call her, has waited on your whelpship for just the last time. Before you start you might as well pay up some of our back wages, and hand over to the mistress the funds you’ve been keeping from her.”
“Insolent! Stand aside. How dare you? Let me pass.”
“I’m not quite through yet. There’s no real call to have talk with such as you, but we ‘boys’ kind of resent being set down as plumb fools. We’ve seen through you, though we’ve kept our mouths shut. Now they’re open; leastways, mine is. This here notion of yours about ownin’ Sobrante is a bird of recent hatchin’. ’Tisn’t full-fledged yet, and ’s likely never to be. Your first idea was to run the ranch down till your mistress had to give it up out of sheer bad luck. Fail, mortgage, or such like. Oranges didn’t sell for what they ought; olives wasn’t worth shucks; some little varmint got to eating the raisin grapes; mine petered out; feathers growing poorer every plucking, though the birds are getting valuabler. Never had accounts quite ready–you, that was a master hand at figures when the boss took you in and made you, You–”
Antonio strode forward, furious, and with uplifted hand.
“You rascal! This to me–I, Antonio Bernal, descendant of–Master of Sobrante and Paraiso, I–”
“Master? Humph! Owner? Fiddlesticks! Why, that little tacker there, asleep on the floor,” pointing to Luis, “is likelier heir to this old ranch than you. The country’s full of Garcias and always has been, Pedro says. Garcia himself, when all’s told. As for Bernals, who ever heard of more’n one o’ them? That’s you, you skunk! Now, usin’ your own fine, highfalutin’ language: ‘Go. Vamos. Depart. Clear out. Get!’”
“I go–because it so suits me, I, myself. But I return. New servants will be with me and your quarters must be empty. Let me pass.”
“Certain. Anything to oblige. But don’t count on them quarters. We couldn’t leave them if we would ’cause we’ve all took root. Been growing so long; become indigenous to the soil, like the boss’ experiments. Thrive so well might have been born here and certainly mean to die on the spot. Going? Well, good-night. Call again. Adios.”
By this time Jessica was laughing, as her old friend had meant she should be. In his contemptuous harangue of the man he disliked and mistrusted, there had been more humor than anger.
“Well, my lady, that did me good. Haven’t had such a thorough housecleaning of my mean thoughts in quite a spell. Feel all ready for a fresh voyage under the new captain. You rest run along and find that long sufferin’ mother of yours and tell her the coast’s clear of that pirate craft. We’ve all shipped men-o’-war, now, and run up the old flag of truth and love. That was the banner your father floated from his masthead, and the colors that’ll never dip to lying or cheating. Wait. I’ll pack this baby Luis to his bed. Poor little castaway, that your good father picked up in the canyon and fetched home in his arms, to share the best with his own. Well, needn’t tell me that the family of a man as good as he was’ll ever come to want. Heave ahead, captain. Show me the track to sail.”
Jessica stopped to bid the other ranchmen good-night, then led the sailor to the little bedroom which the lads shared in common, and where Ned was already asleep, tucked in his white cot by his mother, who let no personal grief interfere with her care for others.
“Good-night, dear Samson. I must find that paper. You must help me. My mother must not, shall not, lose her home.”
“Never. Good-night, captain. You’ve a good crew on deck and we’ll make happy haven yet.”
That was Jessica Trent’s first wakeful night. Though she tried to lie quietly in her own little bed, lest she should disturb her mother whose room she shared, she fancied all sorts of strange sounds, both in-doors and out; and whenever she dropped into a doze, dreamed of the missing paper and of searching for it.
One dream was so vivid that she woke, exclaiming:
“Oh, mother! I’ve found it. The black tin box under the three sharp rocks!”
But her eyes opened upon vacancy, and there was no response from the larger bed where her anxious parent had, at last, fallen asleep. Yet the vision remained, painted upon the darkness, as it were, a sun-lighted glowing spot, with three pyramidal rocks and a clump of scraggly live oaks. A spot she had never seen, indeed, but felt that she should instantly recognize, should she come upon it anywhere.
Then she curled back upon her pillows and again shut her eyes.
Could it be possible that she, a healthy little girl, was growing fidgety, like Aunt Sally Benton, who sometimes came to visit her son and help with the sewing? For she surely was hearing things. Movements, hushed footfalls, softly closing doors, creaking floors, at an hour when all the household should be at rest.
“How silly! It may be somebody is ill! Wun Lung’s hand may hurt him, though it seemed so nearly well, and nobody else would have minded it. That stranger! Yes, I fancy it’s he. He may need something that I can get him, and I’ll go inquire.”
Slipping a little wrapper over her gown, but in her bare feet, the girl noiselessly left the room and followed the sound she had heard. These led her to a small apartment which her father had used as an office and where stood the desk in whose secret drawer she had expected to find the title deed. A small fireproof safe was in this office. It was an old-fashioned affair, with a simple, but heavy key, which the Sobrante children had played with in their infancy. She remembered her father remarking, with a laugh, that a safe was the most useless thing he possessed, for he never had anything worth putting in it; but it had been a belonging of old “Forty-niner” Marsh, a gift to his employer, and therefore accorded a place of honor.
Before this safe now bent a man whom Jessica recognized with surprise and relief.
“Why, Mr. Marsh! Is it you? What in the world are you doing here at this hour? Are you ill? Do you want something?”
“No, dearie. I’m not ill; and I’m not robbing you. And I’ve got all I want. That’s one more look at your bonny face, God bless it!”
It was close to his shoulder now, that face he loved, and he kissed it tenderly; though with equal tenderness, if less emotion, the little maid returned his caress and clasped his neck with those strong, young arms that so yearned to protect and comfort everybody.
“That’s funny. Should think you’d be tired of it, sometimes, I disappoint you so. But never mind. I’m getting handier with my new rifle every day, I think, and I mean to do yet what Samson claims I should–just beat the world. Have you finished looking at your things?” For it was Mr. Marsh himself who had always used the safe, even after giving it away. “Can’t I get you something to eat, so you can sleep better?”
“No, dearie, no, just one more good kiss–to remember. Good-by. Good-by. It–it might have been done kinder, maybe, but–her heart is sad, I know, and her first thought is for you. She must save for you. Here, Lady, take the key. Some time you–you might want to look in that safe for yourself. Good-night.”
Jessica went with him to the outer door, wondering much at this oddly-timed visit. Yet the ranchman walked erect, still carrying his lighted candle quite openly, as one who had done nothing of which to be ashamed; and when he had departed the girl returned to her own bed still more wakeful because of this queer incident.
Ten minutes later, it may have been, she heard the limping footfall of a slowly-moving horse, the echoes growing fainter continually.
Again she sat up and listened.
“That’s Mr. Marsh’s ‘Stiffleg!’ What should send him off riding now? Oh! I do wish mother was awake, things seem so queer. Yet I don’t really wish it. She has so many wakeful nights and just this one is more than I want. Now, Jessica Trent, don’t be foolish any longer. Go straight to sleep or you’ll be late in the morning.”
Nature acted upon this good advice, and Our Lady knew no more till a pair of chubby hands were pulling her curls and Ned’s voice was screeching in her ear:
“Wake up, Jessie Trent. We had our breakfast hours ago, and the ‘boys’ is all out-doors, can’t go to work ’ithout their captain. That’s me, Jessie Trent, ’cause I’m the ‘heir.’ Samson said so.”
“I’s the heir, Samson said so!” echoed Luis from the floor where he was trying the fit of Jessica’s new “buckskins”–the comfortable moccasin-like footgear which Pedro made for her–upon his own stubby toes.
“He, he! What’s the heir Samson said? You’re a stupid, Luis Garcia.”
“Stupid Garcia!” laughed the little mimic, not in the least offended.
“Well, run away then, laddies, and I’ll be ready in a jiffy. Poor mother. To think that I should have left her to do so much alone.”
As she threw open the sash of the rear window, Jessica started back, surprised; for there, reined close to the porch, was Nero’s black form, with the dark face of his master bending low over the saddle.
“Good-morning, senorita, and good fortune. Those who hid may find. I kiss your hand in farewell, and may it rule in peace till I return, I myself, the master. One month hence I come, bringing my servants with me. Adios. Ah! but what did you and the old sharpshooter at the office safe at midnight? When the senora would seek her title, seek him. It is farewell.”
ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
ñòðàíèöû: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15