List Of Contents | Contents of Susy, A Story of the Plains
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

him to assume a disguise.

He remembered how his sudden accession to wealth and independence
had half frightened him, and had always left a lurking sensitiveness
that he was unfairly favored, by some mere accident, above his less
lucky companions.  The rude vices of his old associates had made him
impatient of the feebler sensual indulgences of the later companions
of his luxury, and exposed their hollow fascinations; his sensitive
fastidiousness kept him clean among vulgar temptations; his clear
perceptions were never blinded by selfish sophistry.  Meantime his
feeling for Susy remained unchanged.  Pride had kept him from
seeking the Peytons.  His present visit was as unpremeditated as
Peyton's invitation had been unlooked for by him.  Yet he had not
allowed himself to be deceived.  He knew that this courtesy was
probably due to the change in his fortune, although he had hoped it
might have been some change in their opinion brought about by Susy.
But he would at least see her again, not in the pretty, half-
clandestine way she had thought necessary, but openly and as her

In his rapid ride he seemed to have suddenly penetrated the peaceful
calm of the night.  The restless irritation of the afternoon trade
winds had subsided; the tender moonlight had hushed and tranquilly
possessed the worried plain; the unending files of wild oats, far
spaced and distinct, stood erect and motionless as trees; something
of the sedate solemnity of a great forest seemed to have fallen upon
their giant stalks.  There was no dew.  In that light, dry air, the
heavier dust no longer rose beneath the heels of his horse, whose
flying shadow passed over the field like a cloud, leaving no trail
or track behind it.  In the preoccupation of his thought and his
breathless retrospect, the young man had ridden faster than he
intended, and he now checked his panting horse.  The influence of
the night and the hushed landscape stole over him; his thoughts took
a gentler turn; in that dim, mysterious horizon line before him, his
future seemed to be dreamily peopled with airy, graceful shapes that
more or less took the likeness of Susy.  She was bright, coquettish,
romantic, as he had last seen her; she was older, graver, and
thoughtfully welcome of him; or she was cold, distant, and severely
forgetful of the past.  How would her adopted father and mother
receive him?  Would they ever look upon him in the light of a suitor
to the young girl?  He had no fear of Peyton,--he understood his own
sex, and, young as he was, knew already how to make himself
respected; but how could he overcome that instinctive aversion which
Mrs. Peyton had so often made him feel he had provoked?  Yet in this
dreamy hush of earth and sky, what was not possible?  His boyish
heart beat high with daring visions.

He saw Mrs. Peyton in the porch, welcoming him with that maternal
smile which his childish longing had so often craved to share with
Susy.  Peyton would be there, too,--Peyton, who had once pushed back
his torn straw hat to look approvingly in his boyish eyes; and
Peyton, perhaps, might be proud of him.

Suddenly he started.  A voice in his very ear!

"Bah!  A yoke of vulgar cattle grazing on lands that were thine by
right and law.  Neither more nor less than that.  And I tell thee,
Pancho, like cattle, to be driven off or caught and branded for
one's own.  Ha!  There are those who could swear to the truth of
this on the Creed.  Ay! and bring papers stamped and signed by the
governor's rubric to prove it.  And not that I hate them,--bah! what
are those heretic swine to me?  But thou dost comprehend me?  It
galls and pricks me to see them swelling themselves with stolen
husks, and men like thee, Pancho, ousted from their own land."

Clarence had halted in utter bewilderment.  No one was visible
before him, behind him, on either side.  The words, in Spanish, came
from the air, the sky, the distant horizon, he knew not which.  Was
he still dreaming?  A strange shiver crept over his skin as if the
air had grown suddenly chill.  Then another mysterious voice arose,
incredulous, half mocking, but equally distinct and clear.

"Caramba!  What is this?  You are wandering, friend Pancho.  You are
still smarting from his tongue.  He has the grant confirmed by his
brigand government; he has the POSSESSION, stolen by a thief like
himself; and he has the Corregidors with him.  For is he not one of
them himself, this Judge Peyton?"

Peyton!  Clarence felt the blood rush back to his face in
astonishment and indignation.  His heels mechanically pressed his
horse's flanks, and the animal sprang forward.

"Guarda!  Mira!" said the voice again in a quicker, lower tone.  But
this time it was evidently in the field beside him, and the heads
and shoulders of two horsemen emerged at the same moment from the
tall ranks of wild oats.  The mystery was solved.  The strangers had
been making their way along a lower level of the terraced plain,
hidden by the grain, not twenty yards away, and parallel with the
road they were now ascending to join.  Their figures were alike
formless in long striped serapes, and their features undistinguishable
under stiff black sombreros.

"Buenas noches, senor," said the second voice, in formal and
cautious deliberation.

A sudden inspiration made Clarence respond in English, as if he had
not comprehended the stranger's words, "Eh?"

"Gooda-nighta," repeated the stranger.

"Oh, good-night," returned Clarence.  They passed him.  Their spurs
tinkled twice or thrice, their mustangs sprang forward, and the next
moment the loose folds of their serapes were fluttering at their
sides like wings in their flight.


After the chill of a dewless night the morning sun was apt to look
ardently upon the Robles Rancho, if so strong an expression could
describe the dry, oven-like heat of a Californian coast-range
valley.  Before ten o'clock the adobe wall of the patio was warm
enough to permit lingering vacqueros and idle peons to lean against
it, and the exposed annexe was filled with sharp, resinous odors
from the oozing sap of unseasoned "redwood" boards, warped and
drying in the hot sunshine.  Even at that early hour the climbing
Castilian roses were drooping against the wooden columns of the new
veranda, scarcely older than themselves, and mingling an already
faded spice with the aroma of baking wood and the more material
fragrance of steaming coffee, that seemed dominant everywhere.

In fact, the pretty breakfast-room, whose three broad windows,
always open to the veranda, gave an al fresco effect to every meal,
was a pathetic endeavor of the Southern-bred Peyton to emulate the
soft, luxurious, and open-air indolence of his native South, in a
climate that was not only not tropical, but even austere in its most
fervid moments.  Yet, although cold draughts invaded it from the
rear that morning, Judge Peyton sat alone, between the open doors
and windows, awaiting the slow coming of his wife and the young
ladies.  He was not in an entirely comfortable mood that morning.
Things were not going on well at Robles.  That truculent vagabond,
Pedro, had, the night before, taken himself off with a curse that
had frightened even the vacqueros, who most hated him as a
companion, but who now seemed inclined to regard his absence as an
injury done to their race.  Peyton, uneasily conscious that his own
anger had been excited by an exaggerated conception of the accident,
was now, like most obstinate men, inclined to exaggerate the
importance of Pedro's insolence.  He was well out of it to get rid
of this quarrelsome hanger-on, whose presumption and ill-humor
threatened the discipline of the rancho, yet he could not entirely
forget that he had employed him on account of his family claims, and
from a desire to placate racial jealousy and settle local differences.
For the inferior Mexicans and Indian half-breeds still regarded
their old masters with affection; were, in fact, more concerned for
the integrity of their caste than the masters were themselves, and
the old Spanish families who had made alliances with Americans, and
shared their land with them, had rarely succeeded in alienating
their retainers with their lands.  Certain experiences in the
proving of his grant before the Land Commission had taught Peyton
that they were not to be depended upon.  And lately there had been
unpleasant rumors of the discovery of some unlooked-for claimants to
a division of the grant itself, which might affect his own title.

He looked up quickly as voices and light steps on the veranda at
last heralded the approach of his tardy household from the corridor.
But, in spite of his preoccupation, he was startled and even
awkwardly impressed with a change in Susy's appearance.  She was
wearing, for the first time, a long skirt, and this sudden maturing
of her figure struck him, as a man, much more forcibly than it would
probably have impressed a woman, more familiar with details.  He had
not noticed certain indications of womanhood, as significant,
perhaps, in her carriage as her outlines, which had been lately
perfectly apparent to her mother and Mary, but which were to him
now, for the first time, indicated by a few inches of skirt.  She
not only looked taller to his masculine eyes, but these few inches
had added to the mystery as well as the drapery of the goddess; they
were not so much the revelation of maturity as the suggestion that
it was HIDDEN.  So impressed was he, that a half-serious lecture on
her yesterday's childishness, the outcome of his irritated
reflections that morning, died upon his lips.  He felt he was no
longer dealing with a child.

He welcomed them with that smile of bantering approbation, supposed
to keep down inordinate vanity, which for some occult reason one
always reserves for the members of one's own family.  He was quite
conscious that Susy was looking very pretty in this new and mature
frock, and that as she stood beside his wife, far from ageing Mrs.
Peyton's good looks and figure, she appeared like an equal
companion, and that they mutually "became" one another.  This, and
the fact that they were all, including Mary Rogers, in their
freshest, gayest morning dresses, awakened a half-humorous, half-
real apprehension in his mind, that he was now hopelessly surrounded
by a matured sex, and in a weak minority.

"I think I ought to have been prepared," he began grimly, "for this
addition to--to--the skirts of my family."

"Why, John," returned Mrs. Peyton quickly; "do you mean to say you
haven't noticed that the poor child has for weeks been looking
positively indecent?"

"Really, papa, I've been a sight to behold.  Haven't I, Mary?"
chimed in Susy.

"Yes, dear.  Why, Judge, I've been wondering that Susy stood it so
well, and never complained."

Peyton glanced around him at this compact feminine embattlement.  It
was as he feared.  Yet even here he was again at fault.

"And," said Mrs. Peyton slowly, with the reserved significance of
the feminine postscript in her voice, "if that Mr. Brant is coming
here to-day, it would be just as well for him to see that SHE IS NO

An hour later, good-natured Mary Rogers, in her character of "a
dear,"--which was usually indicated by the undertaking of small
errands for her friend,--was gathering roses from the old garden for
Susy's adornment, when she saw a vision which lingered with her for
many a day.  She had stopped to look through the iron grille in the
adobe wall, across the open wind-swept plain.  Miniature waves were
passing over the wild oats, with glittering disturbances here and
there in the depressions like the sparkling of green foam; the
horizon line was sharply defined against the hard, steel-blue sky;
everywhere the brand-new morning was shining with almost painted
brilliancy; the vigor, spirit, and even crudeness of youth were over
all.  The young girl was dazzled and bewildered.  Suddenly, as if
blown out of the waving grain, or an incarnation of the vivid
morning, the bright and striking figure of a youthful horseman
flashed before the grille.  It was Clarence Brant!  Mary Rogers had
always seen him, in the loyalty of friendship, with Susy's
prepossessed eyes, yet she fancied that morning that he had never
looked so handsome before.  Even the foppish fripperies of his
riding-dress and silver trappings seemed as much the natural
expression of conquering youth as the invincible morning sunshine.
Perhaps it might have been a reaction against Susy's caprice or some
latent susceptibility of her own; but a momentary antagonism to her
friend stirred even her kindly nature.  What right had Susy to
trifle with such an opportunity?  Who was SHE to hesitate over this
gallant prince?

But Prince Charming's quick eyes had detected her, and the next
moment his beautiful horse was beside the grating, and his ready
hand of greeting extended through the bars.

"I suppose I am early and unexpected, but I slept at Santa Inez last
night, that I might ride over in the cool of the morning.  My things
are coming by the stage-coach, later.  It seemed such a slow way of
coming one's self."

Mary Rogers's black eyes intimated that the way he had taken was the
right one, but she gallantly recovered herself and remembered her
position as confidante.  And here was the opportunity of delivering
Susy's warning unobserved.  She withdrew her hand from Clarence's
frank grasp, and passing it through the grating, patted the sleek,
shining flanks of his horse, with a discreet division of admiration.

"And such a lovely creature, too!  And Susy will be so delighted!
and oh, Mr. Brant, please, you're to say nothing of having met her
at Santa Clara.  It's just as well not to begin with THAT here, for,
you see" (with a large, maternal manner), "you were both SO young

Clarence drew a quick breath.  It was the first check to his vision
of independence and equal footing!  Then his invitation was NOT the
outcome of a continuous friendship revived by Susy, as he had hoped;
the Peytons had known nothing of his meeting with her, or perhaps
they would not have invited him.  He was here as an impostor,--and
all because Susy had chosen to make a mystery of a harmless
encounter, which might have been explained, and which they might
have even countenanced.  He thought bitterly of his old playmate for
a brief moment,--as brief as Mary's antagonism.  The young girl
noticed the change in his face, but misinterpreted it.

"Oh, there's no danger of its coming out if you don't say anything,"
she said, quickly.  "Ride on to the house, and don't wait for me.
You'll find them in the patio on the veranda."

Clarence moved on, but not as spiritedly as before.  Nevertheless
there was still dash enough about him and the animal he bestrode to
stir into admiration the few lounging vacqueros of a country which
was apt to judge the status of a rider by the quality of his horse.
Nor was the favorable impression confined to them alone.  Peyton's
gratification rang out cheerily in his greeting:--

"Bravo, Clarence!  You are here in true caballero style.  Thanks for

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: