List Of Contents | Contents of Susy, A Story of the Plains
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there, afore we did," said Hopkins grimly.

"What smash-up?" asked Jim, with slightly resentful quickness.

"Why, the smash-up of the Sisters' title,--didn't you hear that?"

There was a slight movement of relief and a return of gloomy hauteur
in Jim's manner.

"No, we don't know much of what goes on in the cow counties, up

"Ye mout, considerin' it concerns some o' your friends," returned
Hopkins dryly.  "For the Sisters' title went smash as soon as it was
known that Pedro Valdez--the man as started it--had his neck broken
outside the walls o' Robles Rancho; and they do say as this yer
Brant, YOUR friend, had suthin' to do with the breaking of it,
though it was laid to the ghost of old Peyton.  Anyhow, there was
such a big skeer that one of the Greaser gang, who thought he'd seen
the ghost, being a Papist, to save his everlasting soul went to the
priest and confessed.  But the priest wouldn't give him absolution
until he'd blown the hull thing, and made it public.  And then it
turned out that all the dockyments for the title, and even the
custom-house paper, were FORGED by Pedro Valdez, and put on the
market by his confederates.  And that's just where YOUR friend,
Clarence Brant, comes in, for HE had bought up the whole title from
them fellers.  Now, either, as some say, he was in the fraud from
the beginnin', and never paid anything, or else he was an all-fired
fool, and had parted with his money like one.  Some allow that the
reason was that he was awfully sweet on Mrs. Peyton's adopted
daughter, and ez the parents didn't approve of him, he did THIS so
as to get a holt over them by the property.  But he's a ruined man,
anyway, now; for they say he's such a darned fool that he's goin' to
pay for all the improvements that the folks who bought under him put
into the land, and that'll take his last cent.  I thought I'd tell
you that, for I suppose YOU'VE lost a heap in your improvements, and
will put in your claim?"

"I reckon I put nearly as much into it as Clar Brant did," said Jim
gloomily, "but I ain't goin' to take a cent from him, or go back on
him now."

The rascal could not resist this last mendacious opportunity,
although he was perfectly sincere in his renunciation, touched in
his sympathy, and there was even a film of moisture in his shifting

Phoebe was thrilled with the generosity of this noble being, who
could be unselfish even in his superior condition.  She added

"And they say that the girl did not care for him at all, but was
actually going to run off with Pedro, when he stopped her and sent
for Mrs. Peyton."

To her surprise, Jim's face flushed violently.

"It's all a dod-blasted lie," he said, in a thick stage whisper.
"It's only the hogwash them Greasers and Pike County galoots ladle
out to each other around the stove in a county grocery.  But,"
recalling himself loftily, and with a tolerant wave of his be-
diamonded hand, "wot kin you expect from one of them cow counties?
They ain't satisfied till they drive every gentleman out of the
darned gopher-holes they call their 'kentry.'"

In her admiration of what she believed to be a loyal outburst for
his friend, Phoebe overlooked the implied sneer at her provincial
home.  But her father went on with a perfunctory, exasperating,
dusty aridity:--

"That mebbee ez mebbee, Mr. Hooker, but the story down in our
precinct goes that she gave Mrs. Peyton the slip,--chucked up her
situation as adopted darter, and went off with a queer sort of a
cirkiss woman,--one of her own KIN, and I reckon one of her own

To this Mr. Hooker offered no further reply than a withering rebuke
of the waiter, a genteel abstraction, and a lofty change of subject.
He pressed upon them two tickets for the performance, of which he
seemed to have a number neatly clasped in an india-rubber band, and
advised them to come early.  They would see him after the
performance and sup together.  He must leave them now, as he had to
be punctually at the theatre, and if he lingered he should be
pestered by interviewers.  He withdrew under a dazzling display of
cuff and white handkerchief, and with that inward swing of the arm
and slight bowiness of the leg generally recognized in his
profession as the lounging exit of high comedy.

The mingling of awe and an uneasy sense of changed relations which
that meeting with Jim had brought to Phoebe was not lessened when
she entered the theatre with her father that evening, and even Mr.
Hopkins seemed to share her feelings.  The theatre was large, and
brilliant in decoration, the seats were well filled with the same
heterogeneous mingling she had seen in the dining-room at the Placer
Hotel, but in the parquet were some fashionable costumes and
cultivated faces.  Mr. Hopkins was not altogether so sure that Jim
had been "only gassing."  But the gorgeous drop curtain,
representing an allegory of Californian prosperity and abundance,
presently uprolled upon a scene of Western life almost as striking
in its glaring unreality.  From a rose-clad English cottage in a
subtropical landscape skipped "Rosalie, the Prairie Flower."  The
briefest of skirts, the most unsullied of stockings, the tiniest of
slippers, and the few diamonds that glittered on her fair neck and
fingers, revealed at once the simple and unpretending daughter of
the American backwoodsman.  A tumult of delighted greeting broke
from the audience.  The bright color came to the pink, girlish
cheeks, gratified vanity danced in her violet eyes, and as she
piquantly bowed her acknowledgments, this great breath of praise
seemed to transfigure and possess her.  A very young actor who
represented the giddy world in a straw hat and with an effeminate
manner was alternately petted and girded at by her during the
opening exposition of the plot, until the statement that a "dark
destiny" obliged her to follow her uncle in an emigrant train across
the plains closed the act, apparently extinguished him, and left HER
the central figure.  So far, she evidently was the favorite.  A
singular aversion to her crept into the heart of Phoebe.

But the second act brought an Indian attack upon the emigrant train,
and here "Rosalie" displayed the archest heroism and the pinkest and
most distracting self-possession, in marked contrast to the giddy
worldling who, having accompanied her apparently for comic purposes
best known to himself, cowered abjectly under wagons, and was pulled
ignominiously out of straw, until Red Dick swept out of the wings
with a chosen band and a burst of revolvers and turned the tide of
victory.  Attired as a picturesque combination of the Neapolitan
smuggler, river-bar miner, and Mexican vacquero, Jim Hooker
instantly began to justify the plaudits that greeted him and the
most sanguinary hopes of the audience.  A gloomy but fascinating
cloud of gunpowder and dark intrigue from that moment hung about the

Yet in this sombre obscuration Rosalie had passed a happy six
months, coming out with her character and stockings equally
unchanged and unblemished, to be rewarded with the hand of Red Dick
and the discovery of her father, the governor of New Mexico, as a
white-haired, but objectionable vacquero, at the fall of the

Through this exciting performance Phoebe sat with a vague and
increasing sense of loneliness and distrust.  She did not know that
Hooker had added to his ordinary inventive exaggeration the form of
dramatic composition.  But she had early detected the singular fact
that such shadowy outlines of plot as the piece possessed were
evidently based on his previous narrative of his OWN experiences,
and the saving of Susy Peyton--by himself!  There was the episode of
their being lost on the plains, as he had already related it to her,
with the addition of a few years to Susy's age and some vivid
picturesqueness to himself as Red Dick.  She was not, of course,
aware that the part of the giddy worldling was Jim's own conception
of the character of Clarence.  But what, even to her provincial
taste, seemed the extravagance of the piece, she felt, in some way,
reflected upon the truthfulness of the story she had heard.  It
seemed to be a parody on himself, and in the laughter which some of
the most thrilling points produced in certain of the audience, she
heard an echo of her own doubts.  But even this she could have borne
if Jim's confidence had not been given to the general public; it was
no longer HERS alone, she shared it with them.  And this strange,
bold girl, who acted with him,--the "Blanche Belville" of the
bills,--how often he must have told HER the story, and yet how badly
she had learned it!  It was not her own idea of it, nor of HIM.  In
the last extravagant scene she turned her weary and half-shamed eyes
from the stage and looked around the theatre.  Among a group of
loungers by the wall a face that seemed familiar was turned towards
her own with a look of kindly and sympathetic recognition.  It was
the face of Clarence Brant.  When the curtain fell, and she and her
father rose to go, he was at their side.  He seemed older and more
superior looking than she had ever thought him before, and there was
a gentle yet sad wisdom in his eyes and voice that comforted her
even while it made her feel like crying.

"You are satisfied that no harm has come to our friend," he said
pleasantly.  "Of course you recognized him?"

"Oh, yes; we met him to-day," said Phoebe.  Her provincial pride
impelled her to keep up a show of security and indifference.  "We
are going to supper with him."

Clarence slightly lifted his brows.

"You are more fortunate than I am," he said smilingly.  "I only
arrived here at seven, and I must leave at midnight."

Phoebe hesitated a moment, then said with affected carelessness:--

"What do you think of the young girl who plays with him?  Do you
know her?  Who is she?"

He looked at her quickly, and then said, with some surprise:--

"Did he not tell you?"

"She WAS the adopted daughter of Mrs. Peyton,--Miss Susan Silsbee,"
he said gravely.

"Then she DID run away from home as they said," said Phoebe

"Not EXACTLY as they said," said Clarence gently.  "She elected to
make her home with her aunt, Mrs. McClosky, who is the wife of the
manager of this theatre, and she adopted the profession a month ago.
As it now appears that there was some informality in the old
articles of guardianship, Mrs. Peyton would have been powerless to
prevent her from doing either, even if she had wished to."

The infelicity of questioning Clarence regarding Susy suddenly
flashed upon the forgetful Phoebe, and she colored.  Yet, although
sad, he did not look like a rejected lover.

"Of course, if she is here with her own relatives, that makes all
the difference," she said gently.  "It is protection."

"Certainly," said Clarence.

"And," continued Phoebe hesitatingly, "she is playing with--with--an
old friend--Mr. Hooker!"

"That is quite proper, too, considering their relations," said
Clarence tolerantly.

"I--don't--understand," stammered Phoebe.

The slightly cynical smile on Clarence's face changed as he looked
into Phoebe's eyes.

"I've just heard that they are married," he returned gently.


Nowhere had the long season of flowers brought such glory as to the
broad plains and slopes of Robles Rancho.  By some fortuitous chance
of soil, or flood, or drifting pollen, the three terraces had each
taken a distinct and separate blossom and tint of color.  The
straggling line of corral, the crumbling wall of the old garden, the
outlying chapel, and even the brown walls of the casa itself, were
half sunken in the tall racemes of crowding lupines, until from the
distance they seemed to be slowly settling in the profundity of a
dark-blue sea.  The second terrace was a league-long flow of gray
and gold daisies, in which the cattle dazedly wandered mid-leg deep.
A perpetual sunshine of yellow dandelions lay upon the third.  The
gentle slope to the dark-green canada was a broad cataract of
crimson poppies.  Everywhere where water had stood, great patches of
color had taken its place.  It seemed as if the rains had ceased
only that the broken heavens might drop flowers.

Never before had its beauty--a beauty that seemed built upon a
cruel, youthful, obliterating forgetfulness of the past--struck
Clarence as keenly as when he had made up his mind that he must
leave the place forever.  For the tale of his mischance and ill-
fortune, as told by Hopkins, was unfortunately true.  When he
discovered that in his desire to save Peyton's house by the purchase
of the Sisters' title he himself had been the victim of a gigantic
fraud, he accepted the loss of the greater part of his fortune with
resignation, and was even satisfied by the thought that he had at
least effected the possession of the property for Mrs. Peyton.  But
when he found that those of his tenants who had bought under him had
acquired only a dubious possession of their lands and no title, he
had unhesitatingly reimbursed them for their improvements with the
last of his capital.  Only the lawless Gilroy had good-humoredly
declined.  The quiet acceptance of the others did not, unfortunately,
preclude their settled belief that Clarence had participated in the
fraud, and that even now his restitution was making a dangerous
precedent, subversive of the best interests of the State, and
discouraging to immigration.  Some doubted his sanity.  Only one,
struck with the sincerity of his motive, hesitated to take his
money, with a look of commiseration on his face.

"Are you not satisfied?" asked Clarence, smiling.

"Yes, but"--

"But what?"

"Nothin'.  Only I was thinkin' that a man like you must feel awful
lonesome in Calforny!"

Lonely he was, indeed; but his loneliness was not the loss of
fortune nor what it might bring.  Perhaps he had never fully
realized his wealth; it had been an accident rather than a custom of
his life, and when it had failed in the only test he had made of its
power, it is to be feared that he only sentimentally regretted it.
It was too early yet for him to comprehend the veiled blessings of
the catastrophe in its merciful disruption of habits and ways of
life; his loneliness was still the hopeless solitude left by
vanished ideals and overthrown idols.  He was satisfied that he had
never cared for Susy, but he still cared for the belief that he had.

After the discovery of Pedro's body that fatal morning, a brief but
emphatic interview between himself and Mrs. McClosky had followed.
He had insisted upon her immediately accompanying Susy and himself
to Mrs. Peyton in San Francisco.  Horror-stricken and terrified at
the catastrophe, and frightened by the strange looks of the excited
servants, they did not dare to disobey him.  He had left them with
Mrs. Peyton in the briefest preliminary interview, during which he
spoke only of the catastrophe, shielding the woman from the
presumption of having provoked it, and urging only the importance of
settling the question of guardianship at once.  It was odd that Mrs.
Peyton had been less disturbed than he imagined she would be at even

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