Jessica Trent: Her Life on a RanchŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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.
ďHeíll not come for a month, he said, and by that time everything will be straight. If Sobrante is ours it cannot possibly be his. Thatís simple. Though he might have lived here always if heíd wished. The title paper has been mislaid. Thatís all. Iím 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 Ďboys,í dear fellows, and then for breakfast. Iím as hungry as on ostrich.Ē
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 ďcaptainĒ 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.
ďWeíre ready to set sail, captain, and hereís wishing good luck to the víyge! Old ĎForty-ninerí hasnít showed up on deck yet, but heíll likely soon heave to, and the rest the crewíll vouch for his being a good hand in any sort oí storm weíre apt to strike. Weíve overhauled this chart. Each of us solemnly promise to abide and obey no orders but yours, captain, or the admiralís through you. And would respectfully suggestĖeach man sticks to the post heís always filled, till ordered off it by his superior officer. Right, mates?Ē
ďHowís that suit you, commodore?Ē
ďThat suits me, Samson. It will suit my mother.Ē
ďAs for payĖbeing as weíve got along without any these five months back, and Senor Top-Loftyís rode off, forgettiní to leave them arrears we mentioned, we wash the slate clean and start all over again. For five months to come weíll serve you and the admiral for mess and berth, no more, no less.Ē
ďSamson, do you mean that? Havenít you boys been paid your wages regularly, just as in my fatherís time?Ē
ďCome, now, captain, thatís all right. Give us the word of dismissal and let that slide. You missed your own mess this morningĖĒ
ďBut that will break my motherís heart. I know! I know! Iíve often heard her ask him, and Antonio tell herĖhe said that your wages were always taken out before he brought what little money he could to her.
I know you said something about Ďarrearsí last night, but I didnít understand. What are Ďarrears,í Samson?Ē
ďBlow me, for an old numskull. Why couldnít 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 weíve made up part to íem of what that sweet Ďsenorí cheated íem of. Thatís all. Weíve 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 haviní no call for it. Not one of which conditions hits the case.Ē
ďYou are a good talker, dear old Samson, and a long one. I can talk, too, sometimes. Maybe youíve heard me! Youíve read me your chart. Hear mine. Itís my fatherís ownĖthat 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 weíre starting fresh, with the clean slates you like, weíll put this at the top: Ďshare and share alike.í There was another long name dear father used to call itĖIĖĒ
ďCo-operation,Ē suggested John Benton.
ďYes, yes. Thatís 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 Ďtitleí 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. Isnít that right?Ē
ďRight to a dot. Atlantic! but youíve a head for business, captain!Ē
ďIíve a head must learn business, if Iím to be your captain. That is true enough. It isnít my fatherís fault if I donít know some simple things. He was always teaching me, because Ned was too little and my motherĖwell, business always worried her and heíd 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 ostrichesĖOh! but they were to be Antonioís charge. And nowĖĒ
ďTheyíre yours, captain, with any one or lot of us you choose for helpers.Ē
ďFerd knew much about them, and they minded him. ButĖĒ
ďFerdíll trouble Sobrante none while the senor is away. Joe is a good hand at all live stock, and Iíll pledge youíll get every feather thatís plucked when he does the counting. He wonít let any eggs get cooked in hatchiní, neither. You can trust JosephĖif you watch him a mite.Ē
A laugh at honest Joeís 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.
ďEleven years old is pretty early to be a captain, I guess, but Iíll be a good oneĖjust as good and true as you are! What I donít know youíll teach me, and if I make mistakes youíll 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 Iíll put down your names and all your business in these new books he bought and was going to use in his coĖco-operationĖis that right, John?Ē
ďRight as a trivet.Ē
ďAnd our admiral, thatís the dear mother, will not have to fret so any longer. Between us weíll make Sobrante all my father meant it should be andĖas soon as I have my breakfastĖI will find that title. I must find it. I will. Sobrante is yours and ours forever. Oh, boys, I love you! Iím all choked upĖI love you so and I feel like that my father used to read in Dickens: ĎGod bless you every one!íĒ
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:
ďAnd may God bless Our Lady Jess! And may every man who seeks to injure her beĖstricken with numb palsy! And may every crop be doubled, prices likewise! Peace, prosperity and happiness to SobranteĖdestruction to her enemies!Ē
ďForgiveness for her enemies, Samson, dear, if there really are. That will be nobler, more like fatherís rule. Make it peace, prosperity and happiness to all the world! Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!Ē
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 ďenemiesĒ 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 ďcaptain.Ē 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 ďenemiesĒ of his own and deserving something much worse than ďnumb palsy.Ē
No answer, save the whack, whack, whack of the tormented dough.
ďAhem. I say, John!Ē
ďWun Lung, whereís your mistress?Ē
ďIndeed? I fancy your hand is better. Iím glad of it. That bread ought to be fine. At your leisure, kindly point the direction of the Ďdlaily,í will you?Ē
One yellow, floury hand was lifted and extended eastward, but as this signified nothing definite to the stranger he continued his inquiries.
ďAnd the little boys?Ē
ďI congratulate you on your English, though Iím uncertainly whether you mean me to Ďgo oní or assert that somebody else has gone on. I donít like to disturb Miss Jessica at breakfast, butĖĒ
ďBack polchee,Ē 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 guestís 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 lawyerís habit to anticipate evil, and he was thankful for her suggestion.
ďYou should have a ride this fine morning, Mr. Hale, before the sun is too high. Iíve ordered a horse brought round for you at nine oíclock, and Jessica shall act your guide, on Scruff. That isĖif the laddies havenít 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.Ē
ďShanít you need me, mother? One of the menĖĒ
ďNo, dear. Wun Lung is at his post again and Pasqual will do the milk and things. But as you go, Iíd like you to take this butter to Johnís. Itís the weekly portion for the men, who mess for themselves,Ē she explained to the stranger.
ďLucky men to fare on such golden balls as those!Ē
ďCome and see my dairy. Iím 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 canít give you ice, but we cool it in earthen crocks sunk in the floor.Ē
More and more did the lawyerís 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.
ďThe loss of that title deed means ruin for her and her familyĖeven if I were not also compelled to bring distress upon her. But she does not whine nor complain, and thatís going to make my task all the harder. Well, first to see this ranch, and thenĖI wish Iíd never come upon this business! Better suffer nervous dyspepsia all the rest of my life than break such a womanís heart. Her husband may have been a scamp of the first water, but sheís a lady and a Christian. So is that beautiful little girl, and itís from her I mean to get all my needed information.Ē
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 ďboyĒ was holding for him, all without rousing from the preoccupation that held him. It was not till he heard Jessicaís excited call coming over the space between the cottage and the ďquartersĒ 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:
ďĎForty-ninerí has gone. Dear old ĎForty-niner!í I found this letter in his room and itís foreverĖforever! Oh, mother! And he says you discharged himĖor it means thatĖwithout show of chance! Mother, mother, how could you? That dear old man that everybody loved!Ē
ďDischarged himĖI? I should as soon have thought of discharging myself! What fresh distress is this?Ē
Catching the paper from Jessicaís 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.
IN THE MINERíS CABIN
ďForgive me, mother! I oughtnít to have told it that way. But what does it mean? Why should you want him to go?Ē
ďDid you not hear me say I would not have dismissed him? No, dear. There is something in this I donít understand. How do we know but that all the other Ďboysí 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! Weíll not discuss it any more at present. You are keeping Mr. Hale waiting and that is rudeness. Go, now, and explain all your fatherís plans to him, as you ride.Ē
ďIíd so much rather stay with you. I donít like to leave you now.Ē
ďI shall be busy and youíll be back for dinner.Ē
ďIíd like to look for that paperĖthe title.Ē
ďWhen you come back.Ē
ďGood-by, then, and donít do any hard work. Iíll send the children up to stay around the house. That will be one worry off your mind.Ē
When she had again sprung into her saddle, Lady Jess apologized for keeping Mr. Hale so long, and suggested:
ďSuppose 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. Itís interesting to see how they are cared for, or so most strangers think.Ē
ďAnything and anywhere suits me, for Iím full of curiosity about Sobrante. How did your father happen to take up so many different lines of industry?Ē
ďOh, they were all his Ďexperiments.í 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. Heíd once ridden over this valley, on a horseback tripĖjust like yours, maybeĖand 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 hadnít much money himself, but he worked and mother helped, and heíd 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,Ē she added confidently.
ďI hope so, my child. I devotedly hope so. Yet if it was duly recorded the matter should easily be set right.Ē
Jessicaís face fell.
ďI donít believe it was. He said something about that, I didnít understand it quite, but I know he said Ďrecordedí and that he meant to have it done the next time he went to Los Angeles. ButĖhe didnít ever go.Ē
The lawyerís 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 horsesí heads toward the foothills on the north and he asked:
ďWhat are these Ďminesí of which you speak?Ē
ďFor coal. It was an old man from Pennsylvania first thought there might be such stuff in the mountains near, and itís worth so much here. Father had found him in one of the towns, with his wife and sick son. Theyíd 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 didnít understand any sort of work except mining, and old Wolfgang couldnít rest without trying to do something back for father. So he and Otto dug and picked around till they found a Ďveiní 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, thereís never been money enough to work the mine right. All they can do is to get out enough coal for us to use. Thatís why we always have such lovely grate fires in the winter time, that make the house so cosy. Youíll like the Winklers, and youíll like Elsaís 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 goatís milk in it.Ē
Mr. Hale made a wry face.
ďOh! youíre 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 theyíre not mining Otto carves it beautifully.Ē
ďAre all the people who work for you unfortunate? I mean, was some misfortune that which made your father engage them?Ē
ďYes, just that. They are his Ďexperiments.í He said this valley was made for every sort of work there was to be done. All men canít 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. Heíd proved his plan was right on his own single ranch and he was trying to make others do the same on theirs. Paraiso díOroĖoh! youíre from that same New York. Do you know aĖa Mr. Syndicate, I think he was, who owns Paraiso. Of course, I know in such a big city you might not, though maybeĖĒ
The listener started, then looked keenly into the innocent face bending toward him from the bronchoís back.
ďSuppose I do know a syndicateĖa companyĖnot 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?Ē
Jessica turned her horse about in a circle, rapidly swinging her pointing arm to indicate every direction of the compass.
ďKnow it? It is there, and there, and thereĖeverywhere. 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 manĖnot bad men, but poor gentlemen, like worn-out lawyers and doctors andĖand nice folksĖand 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. Thatís 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. Thereís everything else, you see. But it was a name of Ďsyndicateí he talked about most and was most grieved by because the money to buy it had not been sent as it had been promised.Ē
ďIt was nothing. I was thinking. So this ĎMr. Syndicateí never sent the money your father hoped for?Ē
ďNo. 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. Thatís 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!ĒŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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