List Of Contents | Contents of Susy, A Story of the Plains
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Bret Harte






Where the San Leandro turnpike stretches its dusty, hot, and
interminable length along the valley, at a point where the heat and
dust have become intolerable, the monotonous expanse of wild oats on
either side illimitable, and the distant horizon apparently remoter
than ever, it suddenly slips between a stunted thicket or hedge of
"scrub oaks," which until that moment had been undistinguishable
above the long, misty, quivering level of the grain.  The thicket
rising gradually in height, but with a regular slope whose gradient
had been determined by centuries of western trade winds, presently
becomes a fair wood of live-oak, and a few hundred yards further at
last assumes the aspect of a primeval forest.  A delicious coolness
fills the air; the long, shadowy aisles greet the aching eye with a
soothing twilight; the murmur of unseen brooks is heard, and, by a
strange irony, the enormous, widely-spaced stacks of wild oats are
replaced by a carpet of tiny-leaved mosses and chickweed at the
roots of trees, and the minutest clover in more open spaces.  The
baked and cracked adobe soil of the now vanished plains is exchanged
for a heavy red mineral dust and gravel, rocks and boulders make
their appearance, and at times the road is crossed by the white
veins of quartz.  It is still the San Leandro turnpike,--a few miles
later to rise from this canada into the upper plains again,--but it
is also the actual gateway and avenue to the Robles Rancho.  When
the departing visitors of Judge Peyton, now owner of the rancho,
reach the outer plains again, after twenty minutes' drive from the
house, the canada, rancho, and avenue have as completely disappeared
from view as if they had been swallowed up in the plain.

A cross road from the turnpike is the usual approach to the casa or
mansion,--a long, low quadrangle of brown adobe wall in a bare but
gently sloping eminence.  And here a second surprise meets the
stranger.  He seems to have emerged from the forest upon another
illimitable plain, but one utterly trackless, wild, and desolate.
It is, however, only a lower terrace of the same valley, and, in
fact, comprises the three square leagues of the Robles Rancho.
Uncultivated and savage as it appears, given over to wild cattle and
horses that sometimes sweep in frightened bands around the very casa
itself, the long south wall of the corral embraces an orchard of
gnarled pear-trees, an old vineyard, and a venerable garden of
olives and oranges.  A manor, formerly granted by Charles V. to Don
Vincente Robles, of Andalusia, of pious and ascetic memory, it had
commended itself to Judge Peyton, of Kentucky, a modern heretic
pioneer of bookish tastes and secluded habits, who had bought it of
Don Vincente's descendants.  Here Judge Peyton seemed to have
realized his idea of a perfect climate, and a retirement, half-
studious, half-active, with something of the seignioralty of the old
slaveholder that he had been.  Here, too, he had seen the hope of
restoring his wife's health--for which he had undertaken the
overland emigration--more than fulfilled in Mrs. Peyton's improved
physical condition, albeit at the expense, perhaps, of some of the
languorous graces of ailing American wifehood.

It was with a curious recognition of this latter fact that Judge
Peyton watched his wife crossing the patio or courtyard with her arm
around the neck of her adopted daughter "Suzette."  A sudden memory
crossed his mind of the first day that he had seen them together,--
the day that he had brought the child and her boy-companion--two
estrays from an emigrant train on the plains--to his wife in camp.
Certainly Mrs. Peyton was stouter and stronger fibred; the wonderful
Californian climate had materialized her figure, as it had their
Eastern fruits and flowers, but it was stranger that "Susy"--the
child of homelier frontier blood and parentage, whose wholesome
peasant plumpness had at first attracted them--should have grown
thinner and more graceful, and even seemed to have gained the
delicacy his wife had lost.  Six years had imperceptibly wrought
this change; it had never struck him before so forcibly as on this
day of Susy's return from the convent school at Santa Clara for the

The woman and child had reached the broad veranda which, on one side
of the patio, replaced the old Spanish corridor.  It was the single
modern innovation that Peyton had allowed himself when he had broken
the quadrangular symmetry of the old house with a wooden "annexe" or
addition beyond the walls.  It made a pleasant lounging-place,
shadowed from the hot midday sun by sloping roofs and awnings, and
sheltered from the boisterous afternoon trade winds by the opposite
side of the court.  But Susy did not seem inclined to linger there
long that morning, in spite of Mrs. Peyton's evident desire for a
maternal tete-a-tete.  The nervous preoccupation and capricious
ennui of an indulged child showed in her pretty but discontented
face, and knit her curved eyebrows, and Peyton saw a look of pain
pass over his wife's face as the young girl suddenly and half-
laughingly broke away and fluttered off towards the old garden.

Mrs. Peyton looked up and caught her husband's eye.

"I am afraid Susy finds it more dull here every time she returns,"
she said, with an apologetic smile.  "I am glad she has invited one
of her school friends to come for a visit to-morrow.  You know,
yourself, John," she added, with a slight partisan attitude, "that
the lonely old house and wild plain are not particularly lively for
young people, however much they may suit YOUR ways."

"It certainly must be dull if she can't stand it for three weeks in
the year," said her husband dryly.  "But we really cannot open the
San Francisco house for her summer vacation, nor can we move from
the rancho to a more fashionable locality.  Besides, it will do her
good to run wild here.  I can remember when she wasn't so
fastidious.  In fact, I was thinking just now how changed she was
from the day when we picked her up"--

"How often am I to remind you, John," interrupted the lady, with
some impatience, "that we agreed never to speak of her past, or even
to think of her as anything but our own child.  You know how it
pains me!  And the poor dear herself has forgotten it, and thinks of
us only as her own parents.  I really believe that if that wretched
father and mother of hers had not been killed by the Indians, or
were to come to life again, she would neither know them nor care for
them.  I mean, of course, John," she said, averting her eyes from a
slightly cynical smile on her husband's face, "that it's only
natural for young children to be forgetful, and ready to take new

"And as long, dear, as WE are not the subjects of this youthful
forgetfulness, and she isn't really finding US as stupid as the
rancho," replied her husband cheerfully, "I suppose we mustn't

"John, how can you talk such nonsense?" said Mrs. Peyton impatiently.
"But I have no fear of that," she added, with a slightly ostentatious
confidence.  "I only wish I was as sure"--

"Of what?"

"Of nothing happening that could take her from us.  I do not mean
death, John,--like our first little one.  That does not happen to
one twice; but I sometimes dread"--

"What?  She's only fifteen, and it's rather early to think about the
only other inevitable separation,--marriage.  Come, Ally, this is
mere fancy.  She has been given up to us by her family,--at least,
by all that we know are left of them.  I have legally adopted her.
If I have not made her my heiress, it is because I prefer to leave
everything to YOU, and I would rather she should know that she was
dependent upon you for the future than upon me."

"And I can make a will in her favor if I want to?" said Mrs. Peyton

"Always," responded her husband smilingly; "but you have ample time
to think of that, I trust.  Meanwhile I have some news for you which
may make Susy's visit to the rancho this time less dull to her.  You
remember Clarence Brant, the boy who was with her when we picked her
up, and who really saved her life?"

"No, I don't," said Mrs. Peyton pettishly, "nor do I want to!  You
know, John, how distasteful and unpleasant it is for me to have
those dreary, petty, and vulgar details of the poor child's past
life recalled, and, thank Heaven, I have forgotten them except when
you choose to drag them before me.  You agreed, long ago, that we
were never to talk of the Indian massacre of her parents, so that we
could also ignore it before her; then why do you talk of her vulgar
friends, who are just as unpleasant?  Please let us drop the past."

"Willingly, my dear; but, unfortunately, we cannot make others do
it.  And this is a case in point.  It appears that this boy, whom we
brought to Sacramento to deliver to a relative"--

"And who was a wicked little impostor,--you remember that yourself,
John, for he said that he was the son of Colonel Brant, and that he
was dead; and you know, and my brother Harry knew, that Colonel
Brant was alive all the time, and that he was lying, and Colonel
Brant was not his father," broke in Mrs. Peyton impatiently.

"As it seems you do remember that much," said Peyton dryly, "it is
only just to him that I should tell you that it appears that he was
not an impostor.  His story was TRUE.  I have just learned that
Colonel Brant WAS actually his father, but had concealed his lawless
life here, as well as his identity, from the boy.  He was really
that vague relative to whom Clarence was confided, and under that
disguise he afterwards protected the boy, had him carefully educated
at the Jesuit College of San Jose, and, dying two years ago in that
filibuster raid in Mexico, left him a considerable fortune."

"And what has he to do with Susy's holidays?" said Mrs. Peyton, with
uneasy quickness.  "John, you surely cannot expect her ever to meet
this common creature again, with his vulgar ways.  His wretched
associates like that Jim Hooker, and, as you yourself admit, the
blood of an assassin, duelist, and--Heaven knows what kind of a
pirate his father wasn't at the last--in his veins!  You don't
believe that a lad of this type, however much of his father's ill-
gotten money he may have, can be fit company for your daughter?  You
never could have thought of inviting him here?"

"I'm afraid that's exactly what I have done, Ally," said the smiling
but unmoved Peyton; "but I'm still more afraid that your conception
of his present condition is an unfair one, like your remembrance of
his past.  Father Sobriente, whom I met at San Jose yesterday, says
he is very intelligent, and thoroughly educated, with charming
manners and refined tastes.  His father's money, which they say was
an investment for him in Carson's Bank five years ago, is as good as
any one's, and his father's blood won't hurt him in California or
the Southwest.  At least, he is received everywhere, and Don Juan
Robinson was his guardian.  Indeed, as far as social status goes, it
might be a serious question if the actual daughter of the late John
Silsbee, of Pike County, and the adopted child of John Peyton was in
the least his superior.  As Father Sobriente evidently knew
Clarence's former companionship with Susy and her parents, it would
be hardly politic for us to ignore it or seem to be ashamed of it.
So I intrusted Sobriente with an invitation to young Brant on the

Mrs. Peyton's impatience, indignation, and opposition, which had
successively given way before her husband's quiet, masterful good
humor, here took the form of a neurotic fatalism.  She shook her
head with superstitious resignation.

"Didn't I tell you, John, that I always had a dread of something

"But if it comes in the shape of a shy young lad, I see nothing
singularly portentous in it.  They have not met since they were
quite small; their tastes have changed; if they don't quarrel and
fight they may be equally bored with each other.  Yet until then, in
one way or another, Clarence will occupy the young lady's vacant
caprice, and her school friend, Mary Rogers, will be here, you know,
to divide his attentions, and," added Peyton, with mock solemnity,
preserve the interest of strict propriety.  Shall I break it to
her,--or will you?"

"No,--yes," hesitated Mrs. Peyton; "perhaps I had better."

"Very well, I leave his character in your hands; only don't
prejudice her into a romantic fancy for him."  And Judge Peyton
lounged smilingly away.

Then two little tears forced themselves from Mrs. Peyton's eyes.
Again she saw that prospect of uninterrupted companionship with
Susy, upon which each successive year she had built so many maternal
hopes and confidences, fade away before her.  She dreaded the coming
of Susy's school friend, who shared her daughter's present thoughts
and intimacy, although she had herself invited her in a more
desperate dread of the child's abstracted, discontented eyes; she
dreaded the advent of the boy who had shared Susy's early life
before she knew her; she dreaded the ordeal of breaking the news and
perhaps seeing that pretty animation spring into her eyes, which she
had begun to believe no solicitude or tenderness of her own ever
again awakened,--and yet she dreaded still more that her husband
should see it too.  For the love of this recreated woman, although
not entirely materialized with her changed fibre, had nevertheless
become a coarser selfishness fostered by her loneliness and limited
experience.  The maternal yearning left unsatisfied by the loss of
her first-born had never been filled by Susy's thoughtless
acceptance of it; she had been led astray by the child's easy
transference of dependence and the forgetfulness of youth, and was
only now dimly conscious of finding herself face to face with an
alien nature.

She started to her feet and followed the direction that Susy had
taken.  For a moment she had to front the afternoon trade wind which
chilled her as it swept the plain beyond the gateway, but was
stopped by the adobe wall, above whose shelter the stunted treetops--
through years of exposure--slanted as if trimmed by gigantic
shears.  At first, looking down the venerable alley of fantastic,
knotted shapes, she saw no trace of Susy.  But half way down the
gleam of a white skirt against a thicket of dark olives showed her
the young girl sitting on a bench in a neglected arbor.  In the
midst of this formal and faded pageantry she looked charmingly
fresh, youthful, and pretty; and yet the unfortunate woman thought
that her attitude and expression at that moment suggested more than
her fifteen years of girlhood.  Her golden hair still hung
unfettered over her straight, boy-like back and shoulders; her short
skirt still showed her childish feet and ankles; yet there seemed to
be some undefined maturity or a vague womanliness about her that
stung Mrs. Peyton's heart.  The child was growing away from her,

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