too! "Susy!" The young girl raised her head quickly; her deep violet eyes seemed also to leap with a sudden suspicion, and with a half-mechanical, secretive movement, that might have been only a schoolgirl's instinct, her right hand had slipped a paper on which she was scribbling between the leaves of her book. Yet the next moment, even while looking interrogatively at her mother, she withdrew the paper quietly, tore it up into small pieces, and threw them on the ground. But Mrs. Peyton was too preoccupied with her news to notice the circumstance, and too nervous in her haste to be tactful. "Susy, your father has invited that boy, Clarence Brant,--you know that creature we picked up and assisted on the plains, when you were a mere baby,--to come down here and make us a visit." Her heart seemed to stop beating as she gazed breathlessly at the girl. But Susy's face, unchanged except for the alert, questioning eyes, remained fixed for a moment; then a childish smile of wonder opened her small red mouth, expanded it slightly as she said simply:-- "Lor, mar! He hasn't, really!" Inexpressibly, yet unreasonably reassured, Mrs. Peyton hurriedly recounted her husband's story of Clarence's fortune, and was even joyfully surprised into some fairness of statement. "But you don't remember him much, do you, dear? It was so long ago, and--you are quite a young lady now," she added eagerly. The open mouth was still fixed; the wondering smile would have been idiotic in any face less dimpled, rosy, and piquant than Susy's. After a slight gasp, as if in still incredulous and partly reminiscent preoccupation, she said without replying:-- "How funny! When is he coming?" "Day after to-morrow," returned Mrs. Peyton, with a contented smile. "And Mary Rogers will be here, too. It will be real fun for her." Mrs. Peyton was more than reassured. Half ashamed of her jealous fears, she drew Susy's golden head towards her and kissed it. And the young girl, still reminiscent, with smilingly abstracted toleration, returned the caress. CHAPTER II. It was not thought inconsistent with Susy's capriciousness that she should declare her intention the next morning of driving her pony buggy to Santa Inez to anticipate the stage-coach and fetch Mary Rogers from the station. Mrs. Peyton, as usual, supported the young lady's whim and opposed her husband's objections. "Because the stage-coach happens to pass our gate, John, it is no reason why Susy shouldn't drive her friend from Santa Inez if she prefers it. It's only seven miles, and you can send Pedro to follow her on horseback to see that she comes to no harm." "But that isn't Pedro's business," said Peyton. "He ought to be proud of the privilege," returned the lady, with a toss of her head. Peyton smiled grimly, but yielded; and when the stage-coach drew up the next afternoon at the Santa Inez Hotel, Susy was already waiting in her pony carriage before it. Although the susceptible driver, expressman, and passengers generally, charmed with this golden- haired vision, would have gladly protracted the meeting of the two young friends, the transfer of Mary Rogers from the coach to the carriage was effected with considerable hauteur and youthful dignity by Susy. Even Mary Rogers, two years Susy's senior, a serious brunette, whose good-humor did not, however, impair her capacity for sentiment, was impressed and even embarrassed by her demeanor; but only for a moment. When they had driven from the hotel and were fairly hidden again in the dust of the outlying plain, with the discreet Pedro hovering in the distance, Susy dropped the reins, and, grasping her companion's arm, gasped, in tones of dramatic intensity:-- "He's been heard from, and is coming HERE!" "Who?" A sickening sense that her old confidante had already lost touch with her--they had been separated for nearly two weeks--might have passed through Susy's mind. "Who?" she repeated, with a vicious shake of Mary's arm, "why, Clarence Brant, of course." "No!" said Mary, vaguely. Nevertheless, Susy went on rapidly, as if to neutralize the effect of her comrade's vacuity. "You never could have imagined it! Never! Even I, when mother told me, I thought I should have fainted, and ALL would have been revealed!" "But," hesitated the still wondering confidante, "I thought that was all over long ago. You haven't seen him nor heard from him since that day you met accidentally at Santa Clara, two years ago, have you?" Susy's eyes shot a blue ray of dark but unutterable significance into Mary's, and then were carefully averted. Mary Rogers, although perfectly satisfied that Susy had never seen Clarence since, nevertheless instantly accepted and was even thrilled with this artful suggestion of a clandestine correspondence. Such was the simple faith of youthful friendship. "Mother knows nothing of it, of course, and a word from you or him would ruin everything," continued the breathless Susy. "That's why I came to fetch you and warn you. You must see him first, and warn him at any cost. If I hadn't run every risk to come here to-day, Heaven knows what might have happened! What do you think of the ponies, dear? They're my own, and the sweetest! This one's Susy, that one Clarence,--but privately, you know. Before the world and in the stables he's only Birdie." "But I thought you wrote to me that you called them 'Paul and Virginie,'" said Mary doubtfully. "I do, sometimes," said Susy calmly. "But one has to learn to suppress one's feelings, dear!" Then quickly, "I do so hate deceit, don't you? Tell me, don't you think deceit perfectly hateful?" Without waiting for her friend's loyal assent, she continued rapidly: "And he's just rolling in wealth! and educated, papa says, to the highest degree!" "Then," began Mary, "if he's coming with your mother's consent, and if you haven't quarreled, and it is not broken off, I should think you'd be just delighted." But another quick flash from Susy's eyes dispersed these beatific visions of the future. "Hush!" she said, with suppressed dramatic intensity. "You know not what you say! There's an awful mystery hangs over him. Mary Rogers," continued the young girl, approaching her small mouth to her confidante's ear in an appalling whisper. "His father was--a PIRATE! Yes--lived a pirate and was killed a pirate!" The statement, however, seemed to be partly ineffective. Mary Rogers was startled but not alarmed, and even protested feebly. "But," she said, "if the father's dead, what's that to do with Clarence? He was always with your papa--so you told me, dear--or other people, and couldn't catch anything from his own father. And I'm sure, dearest, he always seemed nice and quiet." "Yes, SEEMED," returned Susy darkly, "but that's all you know! It was in his BLOOD. You know it always is,--you read it in the books,--you could see it in his eye. There were times, my dear, when he was thwarted,--when the slightest attention from another person to me revealed it! I have kept it to myself,--but think, dearest, of the effects of jealousy on that passionate nature! Sometimes I tremble to look back upon it." Nevertheless, she raised her hands and threw back her lovely golden mane from her childish shoulders with an easy, untroubled gesture. It was singular that Mary Rogers, leaning back comfortably in the buggy, also accepted these heart-rending revelations with comfortably knitted brows and luxuriously contented concern. If she found it difficult to recognize in the picture just drawn by Susy the quiet, gentle, and sadly reserved youth she had known, she said nothing. After a silence, lazily watching the distant wheeling vacquero, she said:-- "And your father always sends an outrider like that with you? How nice! So picturesque--and like the old Spanish days." "Hush!" said Susy, with another unutterable glance. But this time Mary was in full sympathetic communion with her friend, and equal to any incoherent hiatus of revelation. "No!" she said promptly, "you don't mean it!" "Don't ask me, I daren't say anything to papa, for he'd be simply furious. But there are times when we're alone, and Pedro wheels down so near with SUCH a look in his black eyes, that I'm all in a tremble. It's dreadful! They say he's a real Briones,--and he sometimes says something in Spanish, ending with 'senorita,' but I pretend I don't understand." "And I suppose that if anything should happen to the ponies, he'd just risk his life to save you." "Yes,--and it would be so awful,--for I just hate him!" "But if I was with you, dear, he couldn't expect you to be as grateful as if you were alone. Susy!" she continued after a pause, "if you just stirred up the ponies a little so as to make 'em go fast, perhaps he might think they'd got away from you, and come dashing down here. It would be so funny to see him,--wouldn't it?" The two girls looked at each other; their eyes sparkled already with a fearful joy,--they drew a long breath of guilty anticipation. For a moment Susy even believed in her imaginary sketch of Pedro's devotion. "Papa said I wasn't to use the whip except in a case of necessity," she said, reaching for the slender silver-handled toy, and setting her pretty lips together with the added determination of disobedience. "G'long!"--and she laid the lash smartly on the shining backs of the animals. They were wiry, slender brutes of Mojave Indian blood, only lately broken to harness, and still undisciplined in temper. The lash sent them rearing into the air, where, forgetting themselves in the slackened traces and loose reins, they came down with a succession of bounds that brought the light buggy leaping after them with its wheels scarcely touching the ground. That unlucky lash had knocked away the bonds of a few months' servitude and sent the half-broken brutes instinctively careering with arched backs and kicking heels into the field towards the nearest cover. Mary Rogers cast a hurried glance over her shoulder. Alas, they had not calculated on the insidious levels of the terraced plain, and the faithful Pedro had suddenly disappeared; the intervention of six inches of rising wild oats had wiped him out of the prospect and their possible salvation as completely as if he had been miles away. Nevertheless, the girls were not frightened; perhaps they had not time. There was, however, the briefest interval for the most dominant of feminine emotions, and it was taken advantage of by Susy. "It was all YOUR fault, dear!" she gasped, as the forewheels of the buggy, dropping into a gopher rut, suddenly tilted up the back of the vehicle and shot its fair occupants into the yielding palisades of dusty grain. The shock detached the whiffletree from the splinter-bar, snapped the light pole, and, turning the now thoroughly frightened animals again from their course, sent them, goaded by the clattering fragments, flying down the turnpike. Half a mile farther on they overtook the gleaming white canvas hood of a slowly moving wagon drawn by two oxen, and, swerving again, the nearer pony stepped upon a trailing trace and ingloriously ended their career by rolling himself and his companion in the dust at the very feet of the peacefully plodding team. Equally harmless and inglorious was the catastrophe of Susy and her friend. The strong, elastic stalks of the tall grain broke their fall and enabled them to scramble to their feet, dusty, disheveled, but unhurt, and even unstunned by the shock. Their first instinctive cries over a damaged hat or ripped skirt were followed by the quick reaction of childish laughter. They were alone; the very defection of Pedro consoled them, in its absence of any witness to their disaster; even their previous slight attitude to each other was forgotten. They groped their way, pushing and panting, to the road again, where, beholding the overset buggy with its wheels ludicrously in the air, they suddenly seized and shook each other, and in an outburst of hilarious ecstasy, fairly laughed until the tears came into their eyes. Then there was a breathless silence. "The stage will be coming by in a moment," composedly said Susy. "Fix me, dear." Mary Rogers calmly walked around her friend, bestowing a practical shake there, a pluck here, completely retying one bow and restoring an engaging fullness to another, yet critically examining, with her head on one side, the fascinating result. Then Susy performed the same function for Mary with equal deliberation and deftness. Suddenly Mary started and looked up. "It's coming," she said quickly, "and they've SEEN US." The expression of the faces of the two girls instantly changed. A pained dignity and resignation, apparently born of the most harrowing experiences and controlled only by perfect good breeding, was distinctly suggested in their features and attitude as they stood patiently by the wreck of their overturned buggy awaiting the oncoming coach. In sharp contrast was the evident excitement among the passengers. A few rose from their seats in their eagerness; as the stage pulled up in the road beside the buggy four or five of the younger men leaped to the ground. "Are you hurt, miss?" they gasped sympathetically. Susy did not immediately reply, but ominously knitted her pretty eyebrows as if repressing a spasm of pain. Then she said, "Not at all," coldly, with the suggestion of stoically concealing some lasting or perhaps fatal injury, and took the arm of Mary Rogers, who had, in the mean time, established a touching yet graceful limp. Declining the proffered assistance of the passengers, they helped each other into the coach, and freezingly requesting the driver to stop at Mr. Peyton's gate, maintained a statuesque and impressive silence. At the gates they got down, followed by the sympathetic glances of the others. To all appearance their escapade, albeit fraught with dangerous possibilities, had happily ended. But in the economy of human affairs, as in nature, forces are not suddenly let loose without more or less sympathetic disturbance which is apt to linger after the impelling cause is harmlessly spent. The fright which the girls had unsuccessfully attempted to produce in the heart of their escort had passed him to become a panic elsewhere. Judge Peyton, riding near the gateway of his rancho, was suddenly confronted by the spectacle of one of his vacqueros driving on before him the two lassoed and dusty ponies, with a face that broke into violent gesticulating at his master's quick interrogation. "Ah! Mother of God! It was an evil day! For the bronchos had run away, upset the buggy, and had only been stopped by a brave Americano of an ox-team, whose lasso was even now around their necks, to prove it, and who had been dragged a matter of a hundred varas, like a calf, at their heels. The senoritas,--ah! had he not already said they were safe, by the mercy of Jesus!--picked up by the coach, and would be here at this moment."
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