Evelyn Raymond.

Jessica Trent: Her Life on a Ranch





CHAPTER VII
CAPTAIN JESS

Jessica drew back, repelled. Why did that man make her so unhappy whenever she saw him nowadays? What did he mean by that speech about old Ephraim Marsh and the safe? Well, he was gone, riding swiftly away and lightening her trouble with every rod of ground he put between them.

Hell not come for a month, he said, and by that time everything will be straight. If Sobrante is ours it cannot possibly be his. Thats simple. Though he might have lived here always if hed wished. The title paper has been mislaid. Thats all. Im sure to find it when I have time to look thoroughly, and how different things do seem by daylight. Now, to say good-morning to the boys, dear fellows, and then for breakfast. Im as hungry as on ostrich.

Though since sunrise each had been busy about his accustomed duties, neglecting nothing because of the change in command, it suited the ideas of these faithful ranchmen to report for duty to their newly appointed captain and to ask for orders from her. With the ready intuition of childhood she fell in with their mood at once and received them in a manner which robbed the affair of burlesque and invested it with dignity.

From a shaded corner of the porch, from behind his book, Mr. Hale watched the scene with an amusement that soon gave place to wonder and admiration. They were all profoundly in earnest. The fair young girl with folded arms and serene composure, poised at the head of the steps and the group of sunburned workmen standing respectfully before her.

By tacit consent Samson was spokesman for the company and his words had their usual nautical tinge.

Were ready to set sail, captain, and heres wishing good luck to the vyge! Old Forty-niner hasnt showed up on deck yet, but hell likely soon heave to, and the rest the crewll vouch for his being a good hand in any sort o storm were apt to strike. Weve overhauled this chart. Each of us solemnly promise to abide and obey no orders but yours, captain, or the admirals through you. And would respectfully suggesteach man sticks to the post hes always filled, till ordered off it by his superior officer. Right, mates?

Ay, ay.

Hows that suit you, commodore?

That suits me, Samson. It will suit my mother.

As for paybeing as weve got along without any these five months back, and Senor Top-Loftys rode off, forgettin to leave them arrears we mentioned, we wash the slate clean and start all over again. For five months to come well serve you and the admiral for mess and berth, no more, no less.

Samson, do you mean that? Havent you boys been paid your wages regularly, just as in my fathers time?

Come, now, captain, thats all right. Give us the word of dismissal and let that slide. You missed your own mess this morning

But that will break my mothers heart. I know! I know! Ive often heard her ask him, and Antonio tell herhe said that your wages were always taken out before he brought what little money he could to her.

I know you said something about arrears last night, but I didnt understand. What are arrears, Samson?

Blow me, for an old numskull. Why couldnt I keep my long tongue still! I only meant that we are willing, we want, we must work for you and all the Trents for nothing till weve made up part to em of what that sweet senor cheated em of. Thats all. Weve settled it. No use for anybody to try change our minds, even if there was spot cash lying around loose, waiting to be picked up and you havin no call for it. Not one of which conditions hits the case.

You are a good talker, dear old Samson, and a long one. I can talk, too, sometimes. Maybe youve heard me! Youve read me your chart. Hear mine. Its my fathers ownthat he always meant, but was never able to follow. That I know my mother wants to follow for his sake, though she does know so little of business. Now, if were starting fresh, with the clean slates you like, well put this at the top: share and share alike. There was another long name dear father used to call itI

Co-operation, suggested John Benton.

Yes, yes. Thats it. As soon as he was out of debt and had a right to do what he would with Sobrante, he meant to run it that way. But you know, you know. It was only that last day when he came home so late from that far-off town that he had his own title and was all ready to do as he wished. Let us do that now. I know how. He told me. He was to make you, Samson, responsible for all the cattle on the ranch. You were to hire as many of the other boys as you needed and were to have a just share for your own money. The more you made out of the cattle the better it would be for yourself. Isnt that right?

Right to a dot. Atlantic! but youve a head for business, captain!

Ive a head must learn business, if Im to be your captain. That is true enough. It isnt my fathers fault if I dont know some simple things. He was always teaching me, because Ned was too little and my motherwell, business always worried her and hed do anything to save her worry, even talk to a little girl like me. And as Samson was to do with the cattle, so George Cromarty was to do with the raisins and oranges. The ostrichesOh! but they were to be Antonios charge. And now

Theyre yours, captain, with any one or lot of us you choose for helpers.

Ferd knew much about them, and they minded him. But

Ferdll trouble Sobrante none while the senor is away. Joe is a good hand at all live stock, and Ill pledge youll get every feather thats plucked when he does the counting. He wont let any eggs get cooked in hatchin, neither. You can trust Josephif you watch him a mite.

A laugh at honest Joes expense, in which he heartily joined, followed this and Lady Jess stepped down among her friends, holding out her hands to first one, then another. Her blue eyes were filled with happy moisture, for she was not too young to feel their devotion to be as unselfish as it was sincere, and her smile was full of confidence in them and in herself.

Eleven years old is pretty early to be a captain, I guess, but Ill be a good onejust as good and true as you are! What I dont know youll teach me, and if I make mistakes youll be patient, I know. One thing I can do, I can copy bills and papers. I can put down figures and add them up. It was good practice for me, my father said. So Ill put down your names and all your business in these new books he bought and was going to use in his coco-operationis that right, John?

Right as a trivet.

And our admiral, thats the dear mother, will not have to fret so any longer. Between us well make Sobrante all my father meant it should be andas soon as I have my breakfastI will find that title. I must find it. I will. Sobrante is yours and ours forever. Oh, boys, I love you! Im all choked upI love you so and I feel like that my father used to read in Dickens: God bless you every one!

With her hands clasped close against her breast, and her beloved face luminous with her deep affection, their little maid stood before her hardy henchmen, a symbol to them of all that was best and purest in life. Their own eyes were moist, and even Mr. Hale had to take off his glasses and wipe them as, looking around upon his comrades, great Samson swung his hat and cried:

And may God bless Our Lady Jess! And may every man who seeks to injure her bestricken with numb palsy! And may every crop be doubled, prices likewise! Peace, prosperity and happiness to Sobrantedestruction to her enemies!

Forgiveness for her enemies, Samson, dear, if there really are. That will be nobler, more like fathers rule. Make it peace, prosperity and happiness to all the world! Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!

Mr. Hale clapped his hands to his ears, then hastily moved forward and joined in the cheer, that was deafening enough to have come from many more throats than uttered it. Yet he had an uncomfortable feeling that he might be classed among those enemies whom Samson wished afflicted with numb palsy and that, at that moment, he was, by no fault of his own, playing a double part.

But he gave himself the benefit of the doubt until he should learn, as he meant to do at once, the whole history of Sobrante with its strange hodge-podge of industries, its veteran employees, and its childish captain. So, while the ranchmen dispersed to their business and Jessica sought her long-delayed breakfast, he turned towards the kitchen where he hoped to find the mistress of the ranch.

But he was disappointed. There was visible only the broad, purple-covered back and black pig-tail of a Chinaman, pounding away at the snowy loaves of his kneading-board, as if they were enemies of his own and deserving something much worse than numb palsy.

Wun Lung!

No answer, save the whack, whack, whack of the tormented dough.

Ahem. I say, John!

Whack, whack.

Wun Lung, wheres your mistress?

Dlaily.

Indeed? I fancy your hand is better. Im glad of it. That bread ought to be fine. At your leisure, kindly point the direction of the dlaily, will you?

One yellow, floury hand was lifted and extended eastward, but as this signified nothing definite to the stranger he continued his inquiries.

Wheres Pasqual?

Sclub.

And the little boys?

Alle glone.

I congratulate you on your English, though Im uncertainly whether you mean me to go on or assert that somebody else has gone on. I dont like to disturb Miss Jessica at breakfast, but

Back polchee, suggested Wun Lung, anxious to be rid of the intruder, whose irony he suspected if he did not understand.

Mr. Hale betook himself around the house, and, fortunately, in the right direction; for just issuing from her dairy, which was in a cellar under the cottage, was Mrs. Trent, bearing a wooden bowl of freshly made butter.

The guests heart smote him as he saw her sad face brighten at meeting him, for he knew she trusted him for help he was in duty bound to give elsewhere. But it was not a lawyers habit to anticipate evil, and he was thankful for her suggestion.

You should have a ride this fine morning, Mr. Hale, before the sun is too high. Ive ordered a horse brought round for you at nine oclock, and Jessica shall act your guide, on Scruff. That isif the laddies havent already disappeared with him. Ah! here comes my girl, herself. You are to show our friend as much of Sobrante as he cares to see, in one morning, daughter. If the children have ridden the burro off you may have Buster saddled.

Shant you need me, mother? One of the men

No, dear. Wun Lung is at his post again and Pasqual will do the milk and things. But as you go, Id like you to take this butter to Johns. Its the weekly portion for the men, who mess for themselves, she explained to the stranger.

Lucky men to fare on such golden balls as those!

Come and see my dairy. Im very proud of it. You know, I suppose, that cellars are rarities in California. Everything is built above ground, in ordinary homes; but I needed a cooler place for the milk, and my husband had this planned for me. See the water, our greatest luxury; piped from an artesian well to the tank above, and then down through these cooling pipes around the shelves. After such use supplying the garden, for whatever else may be wasted here it is never a drop of water. Will you taste the buttermilk? I cant give you ice, but we cool it in earthen crocks sunk in the floor.

More and more did the lawyers admiration for his hostess increase. She displayed the prosaic details of her dairy with the same ease and pride with which she would have exhibited the choicest bric-a-brac of a sumptuous drawing-room, and her manner impelled him to an interest in the place which he would have found impossible under other circumstances. But above all he wondered at the unselfishness with which she set aside her own anxieties and gave herself wholly to the entertainment of her guest.

The loss of that title deed means ruin for her and her familyeven if I were not also compelled to bring distress upon her. But she does not whine nor complain, and thats going to make my task all the harder. Well, first to see this ranch, and thenI wish Id never come upon this business! Better suffer nervous dyspepsia all the rest of my life than break such a womans heart. Her husband may have been a scamp of the first water, but shes a lady and a Christian. So is that beautiful little girl, and its from her I mean to get all my needed information.

Absorbed in thoughts that were far from pleasant, the gentleman walked beside Mrs. Trent to the horseblock, and mounted the horse which a gray-haired stable boy was holding for him, all without rousing from the preoccupation that held him. It was not till he heard Jessicas excited call coming over the space between the cottage and the quarters that he realized where he was and looked up, expectant.

The little girl who had left them for a few moments, was galloping toward them on the back of a rough-coated broncho, waving a paper in her hand and with distressed indignation, crying out as she came:

Forty-niner has gone. Dear old Forty-niner! I found this letter in his room and its foreverforever! Oh, mother! And he says you discharged himor it means thatwithout show of chance! Mother, mother, how could you? That dear old man that everybody loved!

Discharged himI? I should as soon have thought of discharging myself! What fresh distress is this?

Catching the paper from Jessicas hand Mrs. Trent read it, then turned and without a word walked slowly into the house. But her head was giddy and her limbs trembled, and she had a strange feeling as if she were being swiftly inclosed in a net from which she could not escape.

CHAPTER VIII
IN THE MINERS CABIN

Forgive me, mother! I oughtnt to have told it that way. But what does it mean? Why should you want him to go?

Did you not hear me say I would not have dismissed him? No, dear. There is something in this I dont understand. How do we know but that all the other boys who left so suddenly have been deceived in just this way? As long as there was food enough to eat and a roof to shelter them the men whom your father befriended and who, in turn have befriended us, were as welcome to Sobrante as my own children. I must think this over. We must then find Ephraim and bring him back. We must. There! Well not discuss it any more at present. You are keeping Mr. Hale waiting and that is rudeness. Go, now, and explain all your fathers plans to him, as you ride.

Id so much rather stay with you. I dont like to leave you now.

I shall be busy and youll be back for dinner.

Id like to look for that paperthe title.

When you come back.

Good-by, then, and dont do any hard work. Ill send the children up to stay around the house. That will be one worry off your mind.

When she had again sprung into her saddle, Lady Jess apologized for keeping Mr. Hale so long, and suggested:

Suppose we ride first to the mines, while it is coolest. Then come around by the olive and orange orchards. We can rest at the lemon house awhile. Its interesting to see how they are cared for, or so most strangers think.

Anything and anywhere suits me, for Im full of curiosity about Sobrante. How did your father happen to take up so many different lines of industry?

Oh, they were all his experiments. You see he wanted to do good to some sorts of people that nobody else seemed much interested in. Men that were getting old and were not rich or well. He was born in California, and he always thought it the land where everybody could find a place if he only had a chance. He went to New York and lived a long time, and he and mother were married there. Hed once ridden over this valley, on a horseback tripjust like yours, maybeand after that he always meant to buy it if he could. So, when he began to lose his own health he came right away. He hadnt much money himself, but he worked and mother helped, and hed paid for it all before he died. It was the title deed which proved it, that he had just brought home and I could not find last night. Though, of course, I shall find it yet, she added confidently.

I hope so, my child. I devotedly hope so. Yet if it was duly recorded the matter should easily be set right.

Jessicas face fell.

I dont believe it was. He said something about that, I didnt understand it quite, but I know he said recorded and that he meant to have it done the next time he went to Los Angeles. Buthe didnt ever go.

The lawyers face grew still more serious. Something of the love with which she inspired everybody was already in his heart for this little maid, and thoughts of his own young daughters, threatened with the misfortune which menaced her, stirred him to fresh regret for the mission he had undertaken.

They had now turned their horses heads toward the foothills on the north and he asked:

What are these mines of which you speak?

For coal. It was an old man from Pennsylvania first thought there might be such stuff in the mountains near, and its worth so much here. Father had found him in one of the towns, with his wife and sick son. Theyd spent all they had, to come West to try to cure the son, and were very poor. So, of course, father brought them to Sobrante, and the boy got better at once. They didnt understand any sort of work except mining, and old Wolfgang couldnt rest without trying to do something back for father. So he and Otto dug and picked around till they found a vein and then they put up a little cabin near and there they live. Their name is Winkler, and Elsa, the mother, is the quaintest little Dutchwoman. Of course, theres never been money enough to work the mine right. All they can do is to get out enough coal for us to use. Thats why we always have such lovely grate fires in the winter time, that make the house so cosy. Youll like the Winklers, and youll like Elsas coffee. Go there what time of day you will she always makes you drink some, sweetened with the wild honey she gets in the hills and with her goats milk in it.

Mr. Hale made a wry face.

Oh! youre sure to like it. It is delicious, drank with a slice of her hard, sweetened bread. And their little cabin is as clean as can be. Elsa is a great knitter. She has knitted covers for everything, her beds, chairs, table, everything. All the furniture is made out of wood they found in the hills, and when theyre not mining Otto carves it beautifully.

Are all the people who work for you unfortunate? I mean, was some misfortune that which made your father engage them?

Yes, just that. They are his experiments. He said this valley was made for every sort of work there was to be done. All men cant be the same thing, and every man was happiest at his own trade. Young men can get work anywhere, but dear Sobrante is a Home with a capital H, for anybody who needs one. My father said the more he trusted people the less they ever disappointed him. Hed proved his plan was right on his own single ranch and he was trying to make others do the same on theirs. Paraiso dOrooh! youre from that same New York. Do you know aa Mr. Syndicate, I think he was, who owns Paraiso. Of course, I know in such a big city you might not, though maybe

The listener started, then looked keenly into the innocent face bending toward him from the bronchos back.

Suppose I do know a syndicatea companynot an individual, which is interested in Paraiso? Can you tell me anything about such a place? Until last night I had no idea that I had come anywhere near to it, and then by accident, hearing Antonio Bernal mention it as his. Is it hereabouts?

Jessica turned her horse about in a circle, rapidly swinging her pointing arm to indicate every direction of the compass.

Know it? It is there, and there, and thereeverywhere. The very richest tract of land in all the country, my father believed. Sobrante is the heart of it, he said, but the rest of the valley is even better than Sobrante. It is so big one can hardly believe. He said there was room in it, and a little ranch apiece, for every poor down-trodden mannot bad men, but poor gentlemen, like worn-out lawyers and doctors andand nice folksand make a new home in which to live at peace. He said there were plenty of people always ready to help the very poor and ignorant, but nobody so willing to help gentlefolks without money. Thats why he asked a lot of rich people he used to know in New York to buy Paraiso. He gave it its name, himself, and he believed that there might be really gold somewhere in it. Theres everything else, you see. But it was a name of syndicate he talked about most and was most grieved by because the money to buy it had not been sent as it had been promised.

Poor child!

Beg pardon?

It was nothing. I was thinking. So this Mr. Syndicate never sent the money your father hoped for?

No. It was a great disappointment. Antonio had charge of all the letters, only he; so there could have been nobody careless enough to lose them had any come. Father left all the writing to Antonio, for he was nearly blind, you know. Thats how he came to get hurt. He could not see and his horse stepped over the ledge and somebody brought him home that way. Poor mother!





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