List Of Contents | Contents of Susy, A Story of the Plains
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shadow.  He then opened the door softly, locked it behind him, and
passed noiselessly into the hall.  Susy's and Mrs. McClosky's rooms
were at the further end of the passage, but between them and the
boudoir was the open patio, and the low murmur of the voices of
servants, who still lingered until he should dismiss them for the
night.  Turning back, he moved silently down the passage, until he
reached the narrow arched door to the garden.  This he unlocked and
opened with the same stealthy caution.  The rain had recommenced.
Not daring to risk a return to his room, he took from a peg in the
recess an old waterproof cloak and "sou'wester" of Peyton's, which
still hung there, and passed out into the night, locking the door
behind him.  To keep the knowledge of his secret patrol from the
stablemen, he did not attempt to take out his own horse, but trusted
to find some vacquero's mustang in the corral.  By good luck an old
"Blue Grass" hack of Peyton's, nearest the stockade as he entered,
allowed itself to be quickly caught.  Using its rope headstall for a
bridle, Clarence vaulted on its bare back, and paced cautiously out
into the road.  Here he kept the curve of the long line of stockade
until he reached the outlying field where, half hidden in the
withered, sapless, but still standing stalks of grain, he slowly
began a circuit of the casa.

The misty gray dome above him, which an invisible moon seemed to
have quicksilvered over, alternately lightened and darkened with
passing gusts of fine rain.  Nevertheless he could see the outline
of the broad quadrangle of the house quite distinctly, except on the
west side, where a fringe of writhing willows beat the brown adobe
walls with their imploring arms at every gust.  Elsewhere nothing
moved; the view was uninterrupted to where the shining, watery sky
met the equally shining, watery plain.  He had already made a half
circuit of the house, and was still noiselessly picking his way
along the furrows, muffled with soaked and broken-down blades, and
the velvety upspringing of the "volunteer" growth, when suddenly,
not fifty yards before him, without sound or warning, a figure rode
out of the grain upon the open crossroad, and deliberately halted
with a listless, abstracted, waiting air.  Clarence instantly
recognized one of his own vacqueros, an undersized half-breed, but
he as instantly divined that he was only an outpost or confederate,
stationed to give the alarm.  The same precaution had prevented each
hearing the other, and the lesser height of the vacquero had
rendered him indistinguishable as he preceded Clarence among the
grain.  As the young man made no doubt that the real trespasser was
nearer the casa, along the line of willows, he wheeled to intercept
him without alarming his sentry.  Unfortunately, his horse answered
the rope bridle clumsily, and splashed in striking out.  The watcher
quickly raised his head, and Clarence knew that his only chance was
now to suppress him.  Determined to do this at any hazard, with a
threatening gesture he charged boldly down upon him.

But he had not crossed half the distance between them when the man
uttered an appalling cry, so wild and despairing that it seemed to
chill even the hot blood in Clarence's veins, and dashed frenziedly
down the cross-road into the interminable plain.  Before Clarence
could determine if that cry was a signal or an involuntary outburst,
it was followed instantly by the sound of frightened and struggling
hoofs clattering against the wall of the casa, and a swaying of the
shrubbery near the back gate of the patio.  Here was his real
quarry!  Without hesitation he dug his heels into the flanks of his
horse and rode furiously towards it.  As he approached, a long
tremor seemed to pass through the shrubbery, with the retreating
sound of horse hoofs.  The unseen trespasser had evidently taken the
alarm and was fleeing, and Clarence dashed in pursuit.  Following
the sound, for the shrubbery hid the fugitive from view, he passed
the last wall of the casa; but it soon became evident that the
unknown had the better horse.  The hoof-beats grew fainter and
fainter, and at times appeared even to cease, until his own approach
started them again, eventually to fade away in the distance.  In
vain Clarence dug his heels into the flanks of his heavier steed,
and regretted his own mustang; and when at last he reached the edge
of the thicket he had lost both sight and sound of the fugitive.
The descent to the lower terrace lay before him empty and desolate.
The man had escaped!

He turned slowly back with baffled anger and vindictiveness.
However, he had prevented something, although he knew not what.  The
principal had got away, but he had identified his confederate, and
for the first time held a clue to his mysterious visitant.  There
was no use to alarm the household, which did not seem to have been
disturbed.  The trespassers were far away by this time, and the
attempt would hardly be repeated that night.  He made his way
quietly back to the corral, let loose his horse, and regained the
casa unobserved.  He unlocked the arched door in the wall, reentered
the darkened passage, stopped a moment to open the door of the
boudoir, glance at the closely fastened casement, and extinguish the
still burning candle, and, relocking the door securely, made his way
to his own room.

But he could not sleep.  The whole incident, over so quickly, had
nevertheless impressed him deeply, and yet like a dream.  The
strange yell of the vacquero still rang in his ears, but with an
unearthly and superstitious significance that was even more
dreamlike in its meaning.  He awakened from a fitful slumber to find
the light of morning in the room, and Incarnacion standing by his

The yellow face of the steward was greenish with terror, and his
lips were dry.

"Get up, Senor Clarencio; get up at once, my master.  Strange things
have happened.  Mother of God protect us!"

Clarence rolled to his feet, with the events of the past night
struggling back upon his consciousness.

"What mean you, Nascio?" he said, grasping the man's arm, which was
still mechanically making the sign of the cross, as he muttered
incoherently.  "Speak, I command you!"

"It is Jose, the little vacquero, who is even now at the padre's
house, raving as a lunatic, stricken as a madman with terror!  He
has seen him,--the dead alive!  Save us!"

"Are you mad yourself, Nascio?" said Clarence.  "Whom has he seen?"

"Whom?  God help us! the old padron--Senor Peyton himself!  He
rushed towards him here, in the patio, last night--out of the air,
the sky, the ground, he knew not,--his own self, wrapped in his old
storm cloak and hat, and riding his own horse,--erect, terrible, and
menacing, with an awful hand upholding a rope--so!  He saw him with
these eyes, as I see you.  What HE said to him, God knows!  The
priest, perhaps, for he has made confession!"

In a flash of intelligence Clarence comprehended all.  He rose
grimly and began to dress himself.

"Not a word of this to the women,--to any one, Nascio, dost thou
understand?" he said curtly.  "It may be that Jose has been
partaking too freely of aguardiente,--it is possible.  I will see
the priest myself.  But what possesses thee?  Collect thyself, good

But the man was still trembling.

"It is not all,--Mother of God! it is not all, master!" he
stammered, dropping to his knees and still crossing himself.  "This
morning, beside the corral, they find the horse of Pedro Valdez
splashed and spattered on saddle and bridle, and in the stirrup,--
dost thou hear? the STIRRUP,--hanging, the torn-off boot of Valdez!
Ah, God!  The same as HIS!  Now do you understand?  It is HIS
vengeance.  No!  Jesu forgive me! it is the vengeance of God!"

Clarence was staggered.

"And you have not found Valdez?  You have looked for him?" he said,
hurriedly throwing on his clothes.

"Everywhere,--all over the plain.  The whole rancho has been out
since sunrise,--here and there and everywhere.  And there is
nothing!  Of course not.  What would you?"  He pointed solemnly to
the ground.

"Nonsense!" said Clarence, buttoning his coat and seizing his hat.
"Follow me."

He ran down the passage, followed by Incarnacion, through the
excited, gesticulating crowd of servants in the patio, and out of
the back gate.  He turned first along the wall of the casa towards
the barred window of the boudoir.  Then a cry came from Incarnacion.

They ran quickly forward.  Hanging from the grating of the window,
like a mass of limp and saturated clothes, was the body of Pedro
Valdez, with one unbooted foot dangling within an inch of the
ground.  His head was passed inside the grating and fixed as at that
moment when the first spring of the frightened horse had broken his
neck between the bars as in a garrote, and the second plunge of the
terrified animal had carried off his boot in the caught stirrup when
it escaped.


The winter rains were over and gone, and the whole long line of
Californian coast was dashed with color.  There were miles of yellow
and red poppies, leagues of lupines that painted the gently rounded
hills with soft primary hues, and long continuous slopes, like low
mountain systems, of daisies and dandelions.  At Sacramento it was
already summer; the yellow river was flashing and intolerable; the
tule and marsh grasses were lush and long; the bloom of cottonwood
and sycamore whitened the outskirts of the city, and as Cyrus
Hopkins and his daughter Phoebe looked from the veranda of the
Placer Hotel, accustomed as they were to the cool trade winds of the
coast valleys, they felt homesick from the memory of eastern heats.

Later, when they were surveying the long dinner tables at the table
d'hote with something of the uncomfortable and shamefaced loneliness
of the provincial, Phoebe uttered a slight cry and clutched her
father's arm.  Mr. Hopkins stayed the play of his squared elbows and
glanced inquiringly at his daughter's face.  There was a pretty
animation in it, as she pointed to a figure that had just entered.
It was that of a young man attired in the extravagance rather than
the taste of the prevailing fashion, which did not, however, in the
least conceal a decided rusticity of limb and movement.  A long
mustache, which looked unkempt, even in its pomatumed stiffness, and
lank, dark hair that had bent but never curled under the barber's
iron, made him notable even in that heterogeneous assembly.

"That's he," whispered Phoebe.

"Who?" said her father.

Alas for the inconsistencies of love!  The blush came with the name
and not the vision.

"Mr. Hooker," she stammered.

It was, indeed, Jim Hooker.  But the role of his exaggeration was
no longer the same; the remorseful gloom in which he had been
habitually steeped had changed into a fatigued, yet haughty,
fastidiousness more in keeping with his fashionable garments.  He
was more peaceful, yet not entirely placable, and, as he sat down at
a side table and pulled down his striped cuffs with his clasped
fingers, he cast a glance of critical disapproval on the general
company.  Nevertheless, he seemed to be furtively watchful of his
effect upon them, and as one or two whispered and looked towards
him, his consciousness became darkly manifest.

All of which might have intimidated the gentle Phoebe, but did not
discompose her father.  He rose, and crossing over to Hooker's
table, clapped him heartily on the back.

"How do, Hooker?  I didn't recognize you in them fine clothes, but
Phoebe guessed as how it was you."

Flushed, disconcerted, irritated, but always in wholesome awe of Mr.
Hopkins, Jim returned his greeting awkwardly and half hysterically.
How he would have received the more timid Phoebe is another
question.  But Mr. Hopkins, without apparently noticing these
symptoms, went on:--

"We're only just down, Phoebe and me, and as I guess we'll want to
talk over old times, we'll come alongside o' you.  Hold on, and I'll
fetch her."

The interval gave the unhappy Jim a chance to recover himself, to
regain his vanished cuffs, display his heavy watch-chain, curl his
mustache, and otherwise reassume his air of blase fastidiousness.
But the transfer made, Phoebe, after shaking hands, became
speechless under these perfections.  Not so her father.

"If there's anything in looks, you seem to be prospering," he said
grimly; "unless you're in the tailorin' line, and you're only
showin' off stock.  What mout ye be doing?"

"Ye ain't bin long in Sacramento, I reckon?" suggested Jim, with
patronizing pity.

"No, we only came this morning," returned Hopkins.

"And you ain't bin to the theatre?" continued Jim.


"Nor moved much in--in--gin'ral fash'nable sassiety?"

"Not yet," interposed Phoebe, with an air of faint apology.

"Nor seen any of them large posters on the fences, of 'The Prairie
Flower; or, Red-handed Dick,'--three-act play with five tableaux,--
just the biggest sensation out,--runnin' for forty nights,--money
turned away every night,--standin' room only?" continued Jim, with
prolonged toleration.


"Well, I play Red-handed Dick.  I thought you might have seen it and
recognized me.  All those people over there," darkly indicating the
long table, "know me.  A fellow can't stand it, you know, being
stared at by such a vulgar, low-bred lot.  It's gettin' too fresh
here.  I'll have to give the landlord notice and cut the whole
hotel.  They don't seem to have ever seen a gentleman and a
professional before."

"Then you're a play-actor now?" said the farmer, in a tone which did
not, however, exhibit the exact degree of admiration which shone in
Phoebe's eyes.

"For the present," said Jim, with lofty indifference.  "You see I
was in--in partnership with McClosky, the manager, and I didn't like
the style of the chump that was doin' Red-handed Dick, so I offered
to take his place one night to show him how.  And by Jinks! the
audience, after that night, wouldn't let anybody else play it,--
wouldn't stand even the biggest, highest-priced stars in it!  I
reckon," he added gloomily, "I'll have to run the darned thing in
all the big towns in Californy,--if I don't have to go East with it
after all, just for the business.  But it's an awful grind on a
man,--leaves him no time, along of the invitations he gets, and what
with being run after in the streets and stared at in the hotels he
don't get no privacy.  There's men, and women, too, over at that
table, that just lie in wait for me here till I come, and don't lift
their eyes off me.  I wonder they don't bring their opery-glasses
with them."

Concerned, sympathizing, and indignant, poor Phoebe turned her brown
head and honest eyes in that direction.  But because they were
honest, they could not help observing that the other table did not
seem to be paying the slightest attention to the distinguished
impersonator of Red-handed Dick.  Perhaps he had been overheard.

"Then that was the reason ye didn't come back to your location.  I
always guessed it was because you'd got wind of the smash-up down

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