List Of Contents | Contents of Susy, A Story of the Plains
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himself, it now seemed to him possible that, in some obscure way,
his presence at the rancho had precipitated the more serious attack
on Peyton.  If, as it had been said, there was some curse upon his
inheritance from his father, he seemed to have made others share it
with him.  He was riding onward abstractedly, with his head sunk on
his breast and his eyes fixed upon some vague point between his
horse's sensitive ears, when a sudden, intelligent, forward pricking
of them startled him, and an apparition arose from the plain before
him that seemed to sweep all other sense away.

It was the figure of a handsome young horseman as abstracted as
himself, but evidently on better terms with his own personality.  He
was dark haired, sallow cheeked, and blue eyed,--the type of the old
Spanish Californian.  A burnt-out cigarette was in his mouth, and he
was riding a roan mustang with the lazy grace of his race.  But what
arrested Clarence's attention more than his picturesque person was
the narrow, flexible, long coil of gray horse-hair riata which hung
from his saddle-bow, but whose knotted and silver-beaded terminating
lash he was swirling idly in his narrow brown hand.  Clarence knew
and instantly recognized it as the ordinary fanciful appendage of a
gentleman rider, used for tethering his horse on lonely plains, and
always made the object of the most lavish expenditure of decoration
and artistic skill.  But he was as suddenly filled with a blind,
unreasoning sense of repulsion and fury, and lifted his eyes to the
man as he approached.  What the stranger saw in Clarence's blazing
eyes no one but himself knew, for his own became fixed and staring;
his sallow cheeks grew lanker and livid; his careless, jaunty
bearing stiffened into rigidity, and swerving his horse to one side
he suddenly passed Clarence at a furious gallop.  The young American
wheeled quickly, and for an instant his knees convulsively gripped
the flanks of his horse to follow.  But the next moment he recalled
himself, and with an effort began to collect his thoughts.  What was
he intending to do, and for what reason!  He had met hundreds of
such horsemen before, and caparisoned and accoutred like this, even
to the riata.  And he certainly was not dressed like either of the
mysterious horsemen whom he had overheard that moonlight evening.
He looked back; the stranger had already slackened his pace, and was
slowly disappearing.  Clarence turned and rode on his way.


Without disclosing the full extent of Jim's defection and desertion,
Clarence was able to truthfully assure the Hopkins family of his
personal safety, and to promise that he would continue his quest,
and send them further news of the absentee.  He believed it would be
found that Jim had been called away on some important business, but
that not daring to leave his new shanty exposed and temptingly
unprotected, he had made a virtue of necessity by selling it to his
neighbors, intending to build a better house on its site after his
return.  Having comforted Phoebe, and impulsively conceived further
plans for restoring Jim to her,--happily without any recurrence of
his previous doubts as to his own efficacy as a special Providence,--
he returned to the rancho.  If he thought again of Jim's defection
and Gilroy's warning, it was only to strengthen himself to a clearer
perception of his unselfish duty and singleness of purpose.  He
would give up brooding, apply himself more practically to the
management of the property, carry out his plans for the foundation
of a Landlords' Protective League for the southern counties, become
a candidate for the Legislature, and, in brief, try to fill Peyton's
place in the county as he had at the rancho.  He would endeavor to
become better acquainted with the half-breed laborers on the estate
and avoid the friction between them and the Americans; he was
conscious that he had not made that use of his early familiarity
with their ways and language which he might have done.  If,
occasionally, the figure of the young Spaniard whom he had met on
the lonely road obtruded itself on him, it was always with the
instinctive premonition that he would meet him again, and the
mystery of the sudden repulsion be in some way explained.  Thus
Clarence!  But the momentary impulse that had driven him to Fair
Plains, the eagerness to set his mind at rest regarding Susy and her
relatives, he had utterly forgotten.

Howbeit some of the energy and enthusiasm that he breathed into
these various essays made their impression.  He succeeded in forming
the Landlords' League; under a commission suggested by him the
straggling boundaries of Robles and the adjacent claims were
resurveyed, defined, and mutually protected; even the lawless
Gilroy, from extending an amused toleration to the young administrator,
grew to recognize and accept him; the peons and vacqueros began to
have faith in a man who acknowledged them sufficiently to rebuild
the ruined Mission Chapel on the estate, and save them the long
pilgrimage to Santa Inez on Sundays and saints' days; the San
Francisco priest imported from Clarence's old college at San Jose,
and an habitual guest at Clarence's hospitable board, was grateful
enough to fill his flock with loyalty to the young padron.

He had returned from a long drive one afternoon, and had just thrown
himself into an easy-chair with the comfortable consciousness of a
rest fairly earned.  The dull embers of a fire occasionally glowed
in the oven-like hearth, although the open casement of a window let
in the soft breath of the southwest trades.  The angelus had just
rung from the restored chapel, and, mellowed by distance, seemed to
Clarence to lend that repose to the wind-swept landscape that it had
always lacked.

Suddenly his quick ear detected the sound of wheels in the ruts of
the carriage way.  Usually his visitors to the casa came on
horseback, and carts and wagons used only the lower road.  As the
sound approached nearer, an odd fancy filled his heart with
unaccountable pleasure.  Could it be Mrs. Peyton making an
unexpected visit to the rancho?  He held his breath.  The vehicle
was now rolling on into the patio.  The clatter of hoofs and a halt
were followed by the accents of women's voices.  One seemed
familiar.  He rose quickly, as light footsteps ran along the
corridor, and then the door opened impetuously to the laughing face
of Susy!

He came towards her hastily, yet with only the simple impulse of
astonishment.  He had no thought of kissing her, but as he
approached, she threw her charming head archly to one side, with a
mischievous knitting of her brows and a significant gesture towards
the passage, that indicated the proximity of a stranger and the
possibility of interruption.

"Hush!  Mrs. McClosky's here," she whispered.

"Mrs. McClosky?" repeated Clarence vaguely.

"Yes, of course," impatiently.  "My Aunt Jane.  Silly!  We just cut
away down here to surprise you.  Aunty's never seen the place, and
here was a good chance."

"And your mother--Mrs. Peyton?  Has she--does she?"--stammered

"Has she--does she?" mimicked Susy, with increasing impatience.
"Why, of course she DOESN'T know anything about it.  She thinks I'm
visiting Mary Rogers at Oakland.  And I am--AFTERWARDS," she
laughed.  "I just wrote to Aunt Jane to meet me at Alameda, and we
took the stage to Santa Inez and drove on here in a buggy.  Wasn't
it real fun?  Tell me, Clarence!  You don't say anything!  Tell me--
wasn't it real fun?"

This was all so like her old, childlike, charming, irresponsible
self, that Clarence, troubled and bewildered as he was, took her
hands and drew her like a child towards him.

"Of course," she went on, yet stopping to smell a rosebud in his
buttonhole, "I have a perfect right to come to my own home, goodness
knows! and if I bring my own aunt, a married woman, with me,--
although," loftily, "there may be a young unmarried gentleman alone
there,--still I fail to see any impropriety in it!"

He was still holding her; but in that instant her manner had
completely changed again; the old Susy seemed to have slipped away
and evaded him, and he was retaining only a conscious actress in his

"Release me, Mr. Brant, please," she said, with a languid affected
glance behind her; "we are not alone."

Then, as the rustling of a skirt sounded nearer in the passage, she
seemed to change back to her old self once more, and with a
lightning flash of significance whispered,--

"She knows everything!"

To add to Clarence's confusion, the woman who entered cast a quick
glance of playful meaning on the separating youthful pair.  She was
an ineffective blonde with a certain beauty that seemed to be
gradually succumbing to the ravages of paint and powder rather than
years; her dress appeared to have suffered from an equally unwise
excess of ornamentation and trimming, and she gave the general
impression of having been intended for exhibition in almost any
other light than the one in which she happened to be.  There were
two or three mud-stains on the laces of her sleeve and underskirt
that were obtrusively incongruous.  Her voice, which had, however, a
ring of honest intention in it, was somewhat over-strained, and
evidently had not yet adjusted itself to the low-ceilinged,
conventual-like building.

"There, children, don't mind me!  I know I'm not on in this scene,
but I got nervous waiting there, in what you call the 'salon,' with
only those Greaser servants staring round me in a circle, like a
regular chorus.  My! but it's anteek here--regular anteek--Spanish."
Then, with a glance at Clarence, "So this is Clarence Brant,--your
Clarence?  Interduce me, Susy."

In his confusion of indignation, pain, and even a certain conception
of the grim ludicrousness of the situation, Clarence grasped
despairingly at the single sentence of Susy's.  "In my own home."
Surely, at least, it was HER OWN HOME, and as he was only the
business agent of her adopted mother, he had no right to dictate to
her under what circumstances she should return to it, or whom she
should introduce there.  In her independence and caprice Susy might
easily have gone elsewhere with this astounding relative, and would
Mrs. Peyton like it better?  Clinging to this idea, his instinct of
hospitality asserted itself.  He welcomed Mrs. McClosky with nervous

"I am only Mrs. Peyton's major domo here, but any guest of her
DAUGHTER'S is welcome."

"Yes," said Mrs. McClosky, with ostentatious archness, "I reckon
Susy and I understand your position here, and you've got a good
berth of it.  But we won't trouble you much on Mrs. Peyton's
account, will we, Susy?  And now she and me will just take a look
around the shanty,--it is real old Spanish anteek, ain't it?--and
sorter take stock of it, and you young folks will have to tear
yourselves apart for a while, and play propriety before me.  You've
got to be on your good behavior while I'm here, I can tell you!  I'm
a heavy old 'doo-anna.'  Ain't I, Susy?  School-ma'ms and mother
superiors ain't in the game with ME for discipline."

She threw her arms around the young girl's waist and drew her
towards her affectionately, an action that slightly precipitated
some powder upon the black dress of her niece.  Susy glanced
mischievously at Clarence, but withdrew her eyes presently to let
them rest with unmistakable appreciation and admiration on her
relative.  A pang shot through Clarence's breast.  He had never seen
her look in that way at Mrs. Peyton.  Yet here was this stranger,
provincial, overdressed, and extravagant, whose vulgarity was only
made tolerable through her good humor, who had awakened that
interest which the refined Mrs. Peyton had never yet been able to
touch.  As Mrs. McClosky swept out of the room with Susy he turned
away with a sinking heart.

Yet it was necessary that the Spanish house servants should not
suspect this treason to their mistress, and Clarence stopped their
childish curiosity about the stranger with a careless and easy
acceptance of Susy's sudden visit in the light of an ordinary
occurrence, and with a familiarity towards Mrs. McClosky which
became the more distasteful to him in proportion as he saw that it
was evidently agreeable to her.  But, easily responsive, she became
speedily confidential.  Without a single question from himself, or a
contributing remark from Susy, in half an hour she had told him her
whole history.  How, as Jane Silsbee, an elder sister of Susy's
mother, she had early eloped from the paternal home in Kansas with
McClosky, a strolling actor.  How she had married him and gone on
the stage under his stage name, effectively preventing any
recognition by her family.  How, coming to California, where her
husband had become manager of the theatre at Sacramento, she was
indignant to find that her only surviving relation, a sister-in-law,
living in the same place, had for a money consideration given up all
claim to the orphaned Susy, and how she had resolved to find out "if
the poor child was happy."  How she succeeded in finding out that
she was not happy.  How she wrote to her, and even met her secretly
at San Francisco and Oakland, and how she had undertaken this
journey partly for "a lark," and partly to see Clarence and the
property.  There was no doubt of the speaker's sincerity; with this
outrageous candor there was an equal obliviousness of any indelicacy
in her conduct towards Mrs. Peyton that seemed hopeless.  Yet he
must talk plainly to her; he must say to her what he could not say
to Susy; upon HER Mrs. Peyton's happiness--he believed he was
thinking of Susy's also--depended.  He must take the first
opportunity of speaking to her alone.

That opportunity came sooner than he had expected.  After dinner,
Mrs. McClosky turned to Susy, and playfully telling her that she had
"to talk business" with Mr. Brant, bade her go to the salon and
await her.  When the young girl left the room, she looked at
Clarence, and, with that assumption of curtness with which coarse
but kindly natures believe they overcome the difficulty of delicate
subjects, said abruptly:--

"Well, young man, now what's all this between you and Susy?  I'm
looking after her interests--same as if she was my own girl.  If
you've got anything to say, now's your time.  And don't you shilly-
shally too long over it, either, for you might as well know that a
girl like that can have her pick and choice, and be beholden to no
one; and when she don't care to choose, there's me and my husband
ready to do for her all the same.  We mightn't be able to do the
anteek Spanish Squire, but we've got our own line of business, and
it's a comfortable one."

To have this said to him under the roof of Mrs. Peyton, from whom,
in his sensitiveness, he had thus far jealously guarded his own
secret, was even more than Clarence's gentleness could stand, and
fixed his wavering resolution.

"I don't think we quite understand each other, Mrs. McClosky," he
said coldly, but with glittering eyes.  "I have certainly something
to say to you; if it is not on a subject as pleasant as the one you

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