List Of Contents | Contents of Susy, A Story of the Plains
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the compliment to the rancho."

For a moment the young man was transported back again to his
boyhood, and once more felt Peyton's approving hand pushing back the
worn straw hat from his childish forehead.  A faint color rose to
his cheeks; his eyes momentarily dropped.  The highest art could
have done no more!  The slight aggressiveness of his youthful finery
and picturesque good looks was condoned at once; his modesty
conquered where self-assertion might have provoked opposition, and
even Mrs. Peyton felt herself impelled to come forward with an
outstretched hand scarcely less frank than her husband's.  Then
Clarence lifted his eyes.  He saw before him the woman to whom his
childish heart had gone out with the inscrutable longing and
adoration of a motherless, homeless, companionless boy; the woman
who had absorbed the love of his playmate without sharing it with
him; who had showered her protecting and maternal caresses on Susy,
a waif like himself, yet had not only left his heart lonely and
desolate, but had even added to his childish distrust of himself the
thought that he had excited her aversion.  He saw her more beautiful
than ever in her restored health, freshness of coloring, and mature
roundness of outline.  He was unconsciously touched with a man's
admiration for her without losing his boyish yearnings and half-
filial affection; in her new materialistic womanhood his youthful
imagination had lifted her to a queen and goddess.  There was all
this appeal in his still boyish eyes,--eyes that had never yet known
shame or fear in the expression of their emotions; there was all
this in the gesture with which he lifted Mrs. Peyton's fingers to
his lips.  The little group saw in this act only a Spanish courtesy
in keeping with his accepted role.  But a thrill of surprise, of
embarrassment, of intense gratification passed over her.  For he had
not even looked at Susy!

Her relenting was graceful.  She welcomed him with a winning smile.
Then she motioned pleasantly towards Susy.

"But here is an older friend, Mr. Brant, whom you do not seem to
recognize,--Susy, whom you have not seen since she was a child."

A quick flush rose to Clarence's cheek.  The group smiled at this
evident youthful confession of some boyish admiration.  But Clarence
knew that his truthful blood was merely resenting the deceit his
lips were sealed from divulging.  He did not dare to glance at Susy;
it added to the general amusement that the young girl was obliged to
present herself.  But in this interval she had exchanged glances
with Mary Rogers, who had rejoined the group, and she knew she was
safe.  She smiled with gracious condescension at Clarence; observed,
with the patronizing superiority of age and established position,
that he had GROWN, but had not greatly changed, and, it is needless
to say, again filled her mother's heart with joy.  Clarence, still
intoxicated with Mrs. Peyton's kindliness, and, perhaps, still
embarrassed by remorse, had not time to remark the girl's studied
attitude.  He shook hands with her cordially, and then, in the quick
reaction of youth, accepted with humorous gravity the elaborate
introduction to Mary Rogers by Susy, which completed this little
comedy.  And if, with a woman's quickness, Mrs. Peyton detected a
certain lingering glance which passed between Mary Rogers and
Clarence, and misinterpreted it, it was only a part of that
mystification into which these youthful actors are apt to throw
their mature audiences.

"Confess, Ally," said Peyton, cheerfully, as the three young people
suddenly found their tongues with aimless vivacity and inconsequent
laughter, and started with unintelligible spirits for an exploration
of the garden, "confess now that your bete noir is really a very
manly as well as a very presentable young fellow.  By Jove! the
padres have made a Spanish swell out of him without spoiling the
Brant grit, either!  Come, now; you're not afraid that Susy's style
will suffer from HIS companionship.  'Pon my soul, she might borrow
a little of his courtesy to his elders without indelicacy.  I only
wish she had as sincere a way of showing her respect for you as he
has.  Did you notice that he really didn't seem to see anybody else
but you at first?  And yet you never were a friend to him, like

The lady tossed her head slightly, but smiled.

"This is the first time he's seen Mary Rogers, isn't it?" she said

"I reckon.  But what's that to do with his politeness to you?"

"And do her parents know him?" she continued, without replying.

"How do I know?  I suppose everybody has heard of him.  Why?"

"Because I think they've taken a fancy to each other."

"What in the name of folly, Ally"--began the despairing Peyton.

"When you invite a handsome, rich, and fascinating young man into
the company of young ladies, John," returned Mrs. Peyton, in her
severest manner, "you must not forget you owe a certain responsibility
to the parents.  I shall certainly look after Miss Rogers."


Although the three young people had left the veranda together, when
they reached the old garden Clarence and Susy found themselves
considerably in advance of Mary Rogers, who had become suddenly and
deeply interested in the beauty of a passion vine near the gate.  At
the first discovery of their isolation their voluble exchange of
information about themselves and their occupations since their last
meeting stopped simultaneously.  Clarence, who had forgotten his
momentary irritation, and had recovered his old happiness in her
presence, was nevertheless conscious of some other change in her
than that suggested by the lengthened skirt and the later and more
delicate accentuation of her prettiness.  It was not her affectation
of superiority and older social experience, for that was only the
outcome of what he had found charming in her as a child, and which
he still good-humoredly accepted; nor was it her characteristic
exaggeration of speech, which he still pleasantly recognized.  It
was something else, vague and indefinite,--something that had been
unnoticed while Mary was with them, but had now come between them
like some unknown presence which had taken the confidante's place.
He remained silent, looking at her half-brightening cheek and
conscious profile.  Then he spoke with awkward directness.

"You are changed, Susy, more than in looks."

"Hush," said the girl in a tragic whisper, with a warning gesture
towards the blandly unconscious Mary.

"But," returned Clarence wonderingly, "she's your--our friend, you

"I DON'T know," said Susy, in a still deeper tone, "that is--oh,
don't ask me!  But when you're always surrounded by spies, when you
can't say your soul is your own, you doubt everybody!"  There was
such a pretty distress in her violet eyes and curving eyebrows, that
Clarence, albeit vague as to its origin and particulars,
nevertheless possessed himself of the little hand that was
gesticulating dangerously near his own, and pressed it
sympathetically.  Perhaps preoccupied with her emotions, she did not
immediately withdraw it, as she went on rapidly: "And if you were
cooped up here, day after day, behind these bars," pointing to the
grille, "you'd know what I suffer."

"But"--began Clarence.

"Hush!" said Susy, with a stamp of her little foot.

Clarence, who had only wished to point out that the whole lower end
of the garden wall was in ruins and the grille really was no
prevention, "hushed."

"And listen!  Don't pay me much attention to-day, but talk to HER,"
indicating the still discreet and distant Mary, "before father and
mother.  Not a word to her of this confidence, Clarence.  To-morrow
ride out alone on your beautiful horse, and come back by way of the
woods, beyond our turning, at four o'clock.  There's a trail to the
right of the big madrono tree.  Take that.  Be careful and keep a
good lookout, for she mustn't see you."

"Who mustn't see me?" said the puzzled Clarence.

"Why, Mary, of course, you silly boy!" returned the girl
impatiently.  "She'll be looking for ME.  Go now, Clarence!  Stop!
Look at that lovely big maiden's-blush up there," pointing to a
pink-suffused specimen of rose grandiflora hanging on the wall.
"Get it, Clarence,--that one,--I'll show you where,--there!"  They
had already plunged into the leafy bramble, and, standing on tiptoe,
with her hand on his shoulder and head upturned, Susy's cheek had
innocently approached Clarence's own.  At this moment Clarence,
possibly through some confusion of color, fragrance, or softness of
contact, seemed to have availed himself of the opportunity, in a way
which caused Susy to instantly rejoin Mary Rogers with affected
dignity, leaving him to follow a few moments later with the captured

Without trying to understand the reason of to-morrow's rendezvous,
and perhaps not altogether convinced of the reality of Susy's
troubles, he, however, did not find that difficulty in carrying out
her other commands which he had expected.  Mrs. Peyton was still
gracious, and, with feminine tact, induced him to talk of himself,
until she was presently in possession of his whole history, barring
the episode of his meeting with Susy, since he had parted with them.
He felt a strange satisfaction in familiarly pouring out his
confidences to this superior woman, whom he had always held in awe.
There was a new delight in her womanly interest in his trials and
adventures, and a subtle pleasure even in her half-motherly
criticism and admonition of some passages.  I am afraid he forgot
Susy, who listened with the complacency of an exhibitor; Mary, whose
black eyes dilated alternately with sympathy for the performer and
deprecation of Mrs. Peyton's critical glances; and Peyton, who,
however, seemed lost in thought, and preoccupied.  Clarence was
happy.  The softly shaded lights in the broad, spacious, comfortably
furnished drawing-room shone on the group before him.  It was a
picture of refined domesticity which the homeless Clarence had never
known except as a vague, half-painful, boyish remembrance; it was a
realization of welcome that far exceeded his wildest boyish vision
of the preceding night.  With that recollection came another,--a
more uneasy one.  He remembered how that vision had been interrupted
by the strange voices in the road, and their vague but ominous
import to his host.  A feeling of self-reproach came over him.  The
threats had impressed him as only mere braggadocio,--he knew the
characteristic exaggeration of the race,--but perhaps he ought to
privately tell Peyton of the incident at once.

The opportunity came later, when the ladies had retired, and Peyton,
wrapped in a poncho in a rocking-chair, on the now chilly veranda,
looked up from his reverie and a cigar.  Clarence casually
introduced the incident, as if only for the sake of describing the
supernatural effect of the hidden voices, but he was concerned to
see that Peyton was considerably disturbed by their more material
import.  After questioning him as to the appearance of the two men,
his host said: "I don't mind telling you, Clarence, that as far as
that fellow's intentions go he is quite sincere, although his
threats are only borrowed thunder.  He is a man whom I have just
dismissed for carelessness and insolence,--two things that run in
double harness in this country,--but I should be more afraid to find
him at my back on a dark night, alone on the plains; than to
confront him in daylight, in the witness box, against me.  He was
only repeating a silly rumor that the title to this rancho and the
nine square leagues beyond would be attacked by some speculators."

"But I thought your title was confirmed two years ago," said

"The GRANT was confirmed," returned Peyton, "which means that the
conveyance of the Mexican government of these lands to the ancestor
of Victor Robles was held to be legally proven by the United States
Land Commission, and a patent issued to all those who held under it.
I and my neighbors hold under it by purchase from Victor Robles,
subject to the confirmation of the Land Commission.  But that
confirmation was only of Victor's GREAT-GRANDFATHER'S TITLE, and it
is now alleged that as Victor's father died without making a will,
Victor has claimed and disposed of property which he ought to have
divided with his SISTERS.  At least, some speculating rascals in San
Francisco have set up what they call 'the Sisters' title,' and are
selling it to actual settlers on the unoccupied lands beyond.  As,
by the law, it would hold possession against the mere ordinary
squatters, whose only right is based, as you know, on the
presumption that there is NO TITLE CLAIMED, it gives the possessor
immunity to enjoy the use of the property until the case is decided,
and even should the original title hold good against his, the
successful litigant would probably be willing to pay for
improvements and possession to save the expensive and tedious
process of ejectment."

"But this does not affect YOU, who have already possession?" said
Clarence quickly.

"No, not as far as THIS HOUSE and the lands I actually OCCUPY AND
CULTIVATE are concerned; and they know that I am safe to fight to
the last, and carry the case to the Supreme Court in that case,
until the swindle is exposed, or they drop it; but I may have to pay
them something to keep the squatters off my UNOCCUPIED land."

"But you surely wouldn't recognize those rascals in any way?" said
the astonished Clarence.

"As against other rascals?  Why not?" returned Peyton grimly.  "I
only pay for the possession which their sham title gives me to my
own land.  If by accident that title obtains, I am still on the safe
side."  After a pause he said, more gravely, "What you overheard,
Clarence, shows me that the plan is more forward than I had
imagined, and that I may have to fight traitors here."

"I hope, sir," said Clarence, with a quick glow in his earnest face,
"that you'll let me help you.  You thought I did once, you
remember,--with the Indians."

There was so much of the old Clarence in his boyish appeal and
eager, questioning face that Peyton, who had been talking to him as
a younger but equal man of affairs, was startled into a smile, "You
did, Clarence, though the Indians butchered your friends, after all.
I don't know, though, but that your experiences with those
Spaniards--you must have known a lot of them when you were with Don
Juan Robinson and at the college--might be of service in getting at
evidence, or smashing their witnesses if it comes to a fight.  But
just now, MONEY is everything.  They must be bought OFF THE LAND if
I have to mortgage it for the purpose.  That strikes you as a rather
heroic remedy, Clarence, eh?" he continued, in his old, half-
bantering attitude towards Clarence's inexperienced youth, "don't it?"

But Clarence was not thinking of that.  Another more audacious but
equally youthful and enthusiastic idea had taken possession of his
mind, and he lay awake half that night revolving it.  It was true
that it was somewhat impractically mixed with his visions of Mrs.

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