List Of Contents | Contents of Susy, A Story of the Plains
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she thought bitterly, of living alone; of her husband's
preoccupation with the property; of Susy's frivolous caprices.  At
the end of eight years to be outstripped by a former cattle-boy of
her husband's, and to have her French corrected in a matter of fact
way by this recent pupil of the priests, was really too bad!
Perhaps he even looked down upon Susy!  She smiled dangerously but

"You must have worked so hard to educate yourself from nothing, Mr.
Brant.  You couldn't read, I think, when you first came to us.  No?
Could you really?  I know it has been very difficult for Susy to get
on with her studies in proportion.  We had so much to first
eradicate in the way of manners, style, and habits of thought which
the poor child had picked up from her companions, and for which SHE
was not responsible.  Of course, with a boy that does not signify,"
she added, with feline gentleness.

But the barbed speech glanced from the young man's smoothly smiling

"Ah, yes.  But those were happy days, Mrs. Peyton," he answered,
with an exasperating return of his previous boyish enthusiasm,
"perhaps because of our ignorance.  I don't think that Susy and I
are any happier for knowing that the plains are not as flat as we
believed they were, and that the sun doesn't have to burn a hole in
them every night when it sets.  But I know I believed that YOU knew
everything.  When I once saw you smiling over a book in your hand, I
thought it must be a different one from any that I had ever seen,
and perhaps made expressly for you.  I can see you there still.  Do
you know," quite confidentially, "that you reminded me--of course
YOU were much younger--of what I remembered of my mother?"

But Mrs. Peyton's reply of "Ah, indeed," albeit polite, indicated
some coldness and lack of animation.  Clarence rose quickly, but
cast a long and lingering look around him.

"You will come again, Mr. Brant," said the lady more graciously.
"If you are going to ride now, perhaps you would try to meet Mr.
Peyton.  He is late already, and I am always uneasy when he is out
alone,--particularly on one of those half-broken horses, which they
consider good enough for riding here.  YOU have ridden them before
and understand them, but I am afraid that's another thing WE have
got to learn."

When the young man found himself again confronting the glittering
light of the courtyard, he remembered the interview and the soft
twilight of the boudoir only as part of a pleasant dream.  There was
a rude awakening in the fierce wind, which had increased with the
lengthening shadows.  It seemed to sweep away the half-sensuous
comfort that had pervaded him, and made him coldly realize that he
had done nothing to solve the difficulties of his relations to Susy.
He had lost the one chance of confiding to Mrs. Peyton,--if he had
ever really intended to do so.  It was impossible for him to do it
hereafter without a confession of prolonged deceit.

He reached the stables impatiently, where his attention was
attracted by the sound of excited voices in the corral.  Looking
within, he was concerned to see that one of the vacqueros was
holding the dragging bridle of a blown, dusty, and foam-covered
horse, around whom a dozen idlers were gathered.  Even beneath its
coating of dust and foam and the half-displaced saddle blanket,
Clarence immediately recognized the spirited pinto mustang which
Peyton had ridden that morning.

"What's the matter?" said Clarence, from the gateway.

The men fell apart, glancing at each other.  One said quickly in

"Say nothing to HIM.  It is an affair of the house."

But this brought Clarence down like a bombshell among them, not to
be overlooked in his equal command of their tongue and of them.
"Ah! come, now.  What drunken piggishness is this?  Speak!"

"The padron has been--perhaps--thrown," stammered the first speaker.
"His horse arrives,--but he does not.  We go to inform the senora."

"No, you don't! mules and imbeciles!  Do you want to frighten her to
death?  Mount, every one of you, and follow me!"

The men hesitated, but for only a moment.  Clarence had a fine
assortment of Spanish epithets, expletives, and objurgations,
gathered in his rodeo experience at El Refugio, and laid them about
him with such fervor and discrimination that two or three mules,
presumably with guilty consciences, mistaking their direction,
actually cowered against the stockade of the corral in fear.  In
another moment the vacqueros had hastily mounted, and, with Clarence
at their head, were dashing down the road towards Santa Inez.  Here
he spread them in open order in the grain, on either side of the
track, himself taking the road.

They did not proceed very far.  For when they had reached the
gradual slope which marked the decline to the second terrace,
Clarence, obeying an instinct as irresistible as it was
unaccountable, which for the last few moments had been forcing
itself upon him, ordered a halt.  The casa and corral had already
sunk in the plain behind them; it was the spot where the lasso had
been thrown at him a few evenings before!  Bidding the men converge
slowly towards the road, he went on more cautiously, with his eyes
upon the track before him.  Presently he stopped.  There was a
ragged displacement of the cracked and crumbling soil and the
unmistakable scoop of kicking hoofs.  As he stooped to examine them,
one of the men at the right uttered a shout.  By the same strange
instinct Clarence knew that Peyton was found!

He was, indeed, lying there among the wild oats at the right of the
road, but without trace of life or scarcely human appearance.  His
clothes, where not torn and shredded away, were partly turned inside
out; his shoulders, neck, and head were a shapeless, undistinguishable
mask of dried earth and rags, like a mummy wrapping.  His left boot
was gone.  His large frame seemed boneless, and, except for the
cerements of his mud-stiffened clothing, was limp and sodden.

Clarence raised his head suddenly from a quick examination of the
body, and looked at the men around him.  One of them was already
cantering away.  Clarence instantly threw himself on his horse, and,
putting spurs to the animal, drew a revolver from his holster and
fired over the man's head.  The rider turned in his saddle, saw his
pursuer, and pulled up.

"Go back," said Clarence, "or my next shot won't MISS you."

"I was only going to inform the senora," said the man with a shrug
and a forced smile.

"I will do that," said Clarence grimly, driving him back with him
into the waiting circle; then turning to them he said slowly, with
deliberate, smileless irony, "And now, my brave gentlemen,--knights
of the bull and gallant mustang hunters,--I want to inform YOU that
I believe that Mr. Peyton was MURDERED, and if the man who killed
him is anywhere this side of hell, I intend to find him.  Good!  You
understand me!  Now lift up the body,--you two, by the shoulders;
you two, by the feet.  Let your horses follow.  For I intend that
you four shall carry home your master in your arms, on foot.  Now
forward to the corral by the back trail.  Disobey me, or step out of
line and"--  He raised the revolver ominously.

If the change wrought in the dead man before them was weird and
terrifying, no less distinct and ominous was the change that, during
the last few minutes, had come over the living speaker.  For it was
no longer the youthful Clarence who sat there, but a haggard,
prematurely worn, desperate-looking avenger, lank of cheek, and
injected of eye, whose white teeth glistened under the brown
mustache and thin pale lips that parted when his restrained breath
now and then hurriedly escaped them.

As the procession moved on, two men slunk behind with the horses.

"Mother of God!  Who is this wolf's whelp?" said Manuel.

"Hush!" said his companion in a terrified whisper.  "Have you not
heard?  It is the son of Hamilton Brant, the assassin, the duelist,--
he who was fusiladed in Sonora."  He made the sign of the cross
quickly.  "Jesus Maria!  Let them look out who have cause, for the
blood of his father is in him!"


What other speech passed between Clarence and Peyton's retainers was
not known, but not a word of the interview seemed to have been
divulged by those present.  It was generally believed and accepted
that Judge Peyton met his death by being thrown from his half-broken
mustang, and dragged at its heels, and medical opinion, hastily
summoned from Santa Inez after the body had been borne to the
corral, and stripped of its hideous encasings, declared that the
neck had been broken, and death had followed instantaneously.  An
inquest was deemed unnecessary.

Clarence had selected Mary to break the news to Mrs. Peyton, and the
frightened young girl was too much struck with the change still
visible in his face, and the half authority of his manner, to
decline, or even to fully appreciate the calamity that had befallen
them.  After the first benumbing shock, Mrs. Peyton passed into that
strange exaltation of excitement brought on by the immediate
necessity for action, followed by a pallid calm, which the average
spectator too often unfairly accepts as incongruous, inadequate, or
artificial.  There had also occurred one of those strange
compensations that wait on Death or disrupture by catastrophe: such
as the rude shaking down of an unsettled life, the forcible
realization of what were vague speculations, the breaking of old
habits and traditions, and the unloosing of half-conscious bonds.
Mrs. Peyton, without insensibility to her loss or disloyalty to her
affections, nevertheless felt a relief to know that she was now
really Susy's guardian, free to order her new life wherever and
under what conditions she chose as most favorable to it, and that
she could dispose of this house that was wearying to her when Susy
was away, and which the girl herself had always found insupportable.
She could settle this question of Clarence's relations to her
daughter out of hand without advice or opposition.  She had a
brother in the East, who would be summoned to take care of the
property.  This consideration for the living pursued her, even while
the dead man's presence still awed the hushed house; it was in her
thoughts as she stood beside his bier and adjusted the flowers on
his breast, which no longer moved for or against these vanities; and
it stayed with her even in the solitude of her darkened room.

But if Mrs. Peyton was deficient, it was Susy who filled the popular
idea of a mourner, and whose emotional attitude of a grief-stricken
daughter left nothing to be desired.  It was she who, when the house
was filled with sympathizing friends from San Francisco and the few
near neighbors who had hurried with condolences, was overflowing in
her reminiscences of the dead man's goodness to her, and her own
undying affection; who recalled ominous things that he had said, and
strange premonitions of her own, the result of her ever-present
filial anxiety; it was she who had hurried home that afternoon,
impelled with vague fears of some impending calamity; it was she who
drew a picture of Peyton as a doting and almost too indulgent
parent, which Mary Rogers failed to recognize, and which brought
back vividly to Clarence's recollection her own childish
exaggerations of the Indian massacre.  I am far from saying that she
was entirely insincere or merely acting at these moments; at times
she was taken with a mild hysteria, brought on by the exciting
intrusion of this real event in her monotonous life, by the
attentions of her friends, the importance of her suffering as an
only child, and the advancement of her position as the heiress of
the Robles Rancho.  If her tears were near the surface, they were at
least genuine, and filmed her violet eyes and reddened her pretty
eyelids quite as effectually as if they had welled from the depths
of her being.  Her black frock lent a matured dignity to her figure,
and paled her delicate complexion with the refinement of suffering.
Even Clarence was moved in that dark and haggard abstraction that
had settled upon him since his strange outbreak over the body of his
old friend.

The extent of that change had not been noticed by Mrs. Peyton, who
had only observed that Clarence had treated her grief with a grave
and silent respect.  She was grateful for that.  A repetition of his
boyish impulsiveness would have been distasteful to her at such a
moment.  She only thought him more mature and more subdued, and as
the only man now in her household his services had been invaluable
in the emergency.

The funeral had taken place at Santa Inez, where half the county
gathered to pay their last respects to their former fellow-citizen
and neighbor, whose legal and combative victories they had admired,
and whom death had lifted into a public character.  The family were
returning to the house the same afternoon, Mrs. Peyton and the girls
in one carriage, the female house-servants in another, and Clarence
on horseback.  They had reached the first plateau, and Clarence was
riding a little in advance, when an extraordinary figure, rising
from the grain beyond, began to gesticulate to him wildly.  Checking
the driver of the first carriage, Clarence bore down upon the
stranger.  To his amazement it was Jim Hooker.  Mounted on a
peaceful, unwieldy plough horse, he was nevertheless accoutred and
armed after his most extravagant fashion.  In addition to a heavy
rifle across his saddle-bow he was weighted down with a knife and
revolvers.  Clarence was in no mood for trifling, and almost rudely
demanded his business.

"Gord, Clarence, it ain't foolin'.  The Sisters' title was decided

"I knew it, you fool!  It's YOUR title!  You were already on your
land and in possession.  What the devil are you doing HERE?"

"Yes,--but," stammered Jim, "all the boys holding that title moved
up here to 'make the division' and grab all they could.  And I
followed.  And I found out that they were going to grab Judge
Peyton's house, because it was on the line, if they could, and
findin' you was all away, by Gord THEY DID! and they're in it!  And
I stoled out and rode down here to warn ye."

He stopped, looked at Clarence, glanced darkly around him and then
down on his accoutrements.  Even in that supreme moment of
sincerity, he could not resist the possibilities of the situation.

"It's as much as my life's worth," he said gloomily.  "But," with a
dark glance at his weapons, "I'll sell it dearly."

"Jim!" said Clarence, in a terrible voice, "you're not lying again?"

"No," said Jim hurriedly.  "I swear it, Clarence!  No!  Honest Injin
this time.  And look.  I'll help you.  They ain't expectin' you yet,
and they think ye'll come by the road.  Ef I raised a scare off
there by the corral, while you're creepin' ROUND BY THE BACK, mebbe
you could get in while they're all lookin' for ye in front, don't
you see?  I'll raise a big row, and they needn't know but what ye've
got wind of it and brought a party with you from Santa Inez."

In a flash Clarence had wrought a feasible plan out of Jim's

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