Book I - Chapter V
At seven o'clock, in the bedroom of his ranch house, in the white-painted iron bedstead with its blue-grey army blankets and red counterpane, Annixter was still asleep, his face red, his mouth open, his stiff yellow hair in wild disorder. On the wooden chair at the bed-head, stood the kerosene lamp, by the light of which he had been reading the previous evening. Beside it was a paper bag of dried prunes, and the limp volume of "Copperfield," the place marked by a slip of paper torn from the edge of the bag.
Annixter slept soundly, making great work of the business, unable to take even his rest gracefully. His eyes were shut so tight that the skin at their angles was drawn into puckers. Under his pillow, his two hands were doubled up into fists. At intervals, he gritted his teeth ferociously, while, from time to time, the abrupt sound of his snoring dominated the brisk ticking of the alarm clock that hung from the brass knob of the bed-post, within six inches of his ear.
But immediately after seven, this clock sprung its alarm with the abruptness of an explosion, and within the second, Annixter had hurled the bed-clothes from him and flung himself up to a sitting posture on the edge of the bed, panting and gasping, blinking at the light, rubbing his head, dazed and bewildered, stupefied at the hideous suddenness with which he had been wrenched from his sleep.
His first act was to take down the alarm clock and stifle its prolonged whirring under the pillows and blankets. But when this had been done, he continued to sit stupidly on the edge of the bed, curling his toes away from the cold of the floor; his halfshut eyes, heavy with sleep, fixed and vacant, closing and opening by turns. For upwards of three minutes he alternately dozed and woke, his head and the whole upper half of his body sagging abruptly sideways from moment to moment. But at length, coming more to himself, he straightened up, ran his fingers through his hair, and with a prodigious yawn, murmured vaguely:
"Oh, Lord! Oh-h, LORD!"
He stretched three or four times, twisting about in his place, curling and uncurling his toes, muttering from time to time between two yawns:
"Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!"
He stared about the room, collecting his thoughts, readjusting himself for the day's work.
The room was barren, the walls of tongue-and-groove sheathing-- alternate brown and yellow boards--like the walls of a stable, were adorned with two or three unframed lithographs, the Christmas "souvenirs" of weekly periodicals, fastened with great wire nails; a bunch of herbs or flowers, lamentably withered and grey with dust, was affixed to the mirror over the black walnut washstand by the window, and a yellowed photograph of Annixter's combined harvester--himself and his men in a group before it-- hung close at hand. On the floor, at the bedside and before the bureau, were two oval rag-carpet rugs. In the corners of the room were muddy boots, a McClellan saddle, a surveyor's transit, an empty coal-hod and a box of iron bolts and nuts. On the wall over the bed, in a gilt frame, was Annixter's college diploma, while on the bureau, amid a litter of hair-brushes, dirty collars, driving gloves, cigars and the like, stood a broken machine for loading shells.
It was essentially a man's room, rugged, uncouth, virile, full of the odours of tobacco, of leather, of rusty iron; the bare floor hollowed by the grind of hob-nailed boots, the walls marred by the friction of heavy things of metal. Strangely enough, Annixter's clothes were disposed of on the single chair with the precision of an old maid. Thus he had placed them the night before; the boots set carefully side by side, the trousers, with the overalls still upon them, neatly folded upon the seat of the chair, the coat hanging from its back.
The Quien Sabe ranch house was a six-room affair, all on one floor. By no excess of charity could it have been called a home. Annixter was a wealthy man; he could have furnished his dwelling with quite as much elegance as that of Magnus Derrick. As it was, however, he considered his house merely as a place to eat, to sleep, to change his clothes in; as a shelter from the rain, an office where business was transacted--nothing more.
When he was sufficiently awake, Annixter thrust his feet into a pair of wicker slippers, and shuffled across the office adjoining his bedroom, to the bathroom just beyond, and stood under the icy shower a few minutes, his teeth chattering, fulminating oaths at the coldness of the water. Still shivering, he hurried into his clothes, and, having pushed the button of the electric bell to announce that he was ready for breakfast, immediately plunged into the business of the day. While he was thus occupied, the butcher's cart from Bonneville drove into the yard with the day's supply of meat. This cart also brought the Bonneville paper and the mail of the previous night. In the bundle of correspondence that the butcher handed to Annixter that morning, was a telegram from Osterman, at that time on his second trip to Los Angeles. It read:
"Flotation of company in this district assured. Have secured services of desirable party. Am now in position to sell you your share stock, as per original plan."
Annixter grunted as he tore the despatch into strips. "Well," he muttered, "that part is settled, then."
He made a little pile of the torn strips on the top of the unlighted stove, and burned them carefully, scowling down into the flicker of fire, thoughtful and preoccupied.
He knew very well what Osterman referred to by "Flotation of company," and also who was the "desirable party" he spoke of.
Under protest, as he was particular to declare, and after interminable argument, Annixter had allowed himself to be reconciled with Osterman, and to be persuaded to reenter the proposed political "deal." A committee had been formed to finance the affair--Osterman, old Broderson, Annixter himself, and, with reservations, hardly more than a looker-on, Harran Derrick. Of this committee, Osterman was considered chairman. Magnus Derrick had formally and definitely refused his adherence to the scheme. He was trying to steer a middle course. His position was difficult, anomalous. If freight rates were cut through the efforts of the members of the committee, he could not very well avoid taking advantage of the new schedule. He would be the gainer, though sharing neither the risk nor the expense. But, meanwhile, the days were passing; the primary elections were drawing nearer. The committee could not afford to wait, and by way of a beginning, Osterman had gone to Los Angeles, fortified by a large sum of money--a purse to which Annixter, Broderson and himself had contributed. He had put himself in touch with Disbrow, the political man of the Denver, Pueblo and Mojave road, and had had two interviews with him. The telegram that Annixter received that morning was to say that Disbrow had been bought over, and would adopt Parrell as the D., P. and M. candidate for Railroad Commissioner from the third district.
One of the cooks brought up Annixter's breakfast that morning, and he went through it hastily, reading his mail at the same time and glancing over the pages of the "Mercury," Genslinger's paper. The "Mercury," Annixter was persuaded, received a subsidy from the Pacific and Southwestern Railroad, and was hardly better than the mouthpiece by which Shelgrim and the General Office spoke to ranchers about Bonneville.
An editorial in that morning's issue said:
"It would not be surprising to the well-informed, if the longdeferred re-grade of the value of the railroad sections included in the Los Muertos, Quien Sabe, Osterman and Broderson properties was made before the first of the year. Naturally, the tenants of these lands feel an interest in the price which the railroad will put upon its holdings, and it is rumoured they expect the land will be offered to them for two dollars and fifty cents per acre. It needs no seventh daughter of a seventh daughter to foresee that these gentlemen will be disappointed."
"Rot!" vociferated Annixter to himself as he finished. He rolled the paper into a wad and hurled it from him.
"Rot! rot! What does Genslinger know about it? I stand on my agreement with the P. and S. W.--from two fifty to five dollars an acre--there it is in black and white. The road IS obligated. And my improvements! I made the land valuable by improving it, irrigating it, draining it, and cultivating it. Talk to ME. I know better."
The most abiding impression that Genslinger's editorial made upon him was, that possibly the "Mercury" was not subsidised by the corporation after all. If it was; Genslinger would not have been led into making his mistake as to the value of the land. He would have known that the railroad was under contract to sell at two dollars and a half an acre, and not only this, but that when the land was put upon the market, it was to be offered to the present holders first of all. Annixter called to mind the explicit terms of the agreement between himself and the railroad, and dismissed the matter from his mind. He lit a cigar, put on his hat and went out.
The morning was fine, the air nimble, brisk. On the summit of the skeleton-like tower of the artesian well, the windmill was turning steadily in a breeze from the southwest. The water in the irrigating ditch was well up. There was no cloud in the sky. Far off to the east and west, the bulwarks of the valley, the Coast Range and the foothills of the Sierras stood out, pale amethyst against the delicate pink and white sheen of the horizon. The sunlight was a veritable flood, crystal, limpid, sparkling, setting a feeling of gayety in the air, stirring up an effervescence in the blood, a tumult of exuberance in the veins.
But on his way to the barns, Annixter was obliged to pass by the open door of the dairy-house. Hilma Tree was inside, singing at her work; her voice of a velvety huskiness, more of the chest than of the throat, mingling with the liquid dashing of the milk in the vats and churns, and the clear, sonorous clinking of the cans and pans. Annixter turned into the dairy-house, pausing on the threshold, looking about him. Hilma stood bathed from head to foot in the torrent of sunlight that poured in upon her from the three wide-open windows. She was charming, delicious, radiant of youth, of health, of well-being. Into her eyes, wide open, brown, rimmed with their fine, thin line of intense black lashes, the sun set a diamond flash; the same golden light glowed all around her thick, moist hair, lambent, beautiful, a sheen of almost metallic lustre, and reflected itself upon her wet lips, moving with the words of her singing. The whiteness of her skin under the caress of this hale, vigorous morning light was dazzling, pure, of a fineness beyond words. Beneath the sweet modulation of her chin, the reflected light from the burnished copper vessel she was carrying set a vibration of pale gold. Overlaying the flush of rose in her cheeks, seen only when she stood against the sunlight, was a faint sheen of down, a lustrous floss, delicate as the pollen of a flower, or the impalpable powder of a moth's wing. She was moving to and fro about her work, alert, joyous, robust; and from all the fine, full amplitude of her figure, from her thick white neck, sloping downward to her shoulders, from the deep, feminine swell of her breast, the vigorous maturity of her hips, there was disengaged a vibrant note of gayety, of exuberant animal life, sane, honest, strong. She wore a skirt of plain blue calico and a shirtwaist of pink linen, clean, trim; while her sleeves turned back to her shoulders, showed her large, white arms, wet with milk, redolent and fragrant with milk, glowing and resplendent in the early morning light.
On the threshold, Annixter took off his hat.
"Good morning, Miss Hilma."
Hilma, who had set down the copper can on top of the vat, turned about quickly.
"Oh, GOOD morning, sir;" and, unconsciously, she made a little gesture of salutation with her hand, raising it part way toward her head, as a man would have done.
"Well," began Annixter vaguely, "how are you getting along down here?"
"Oh, very fine. To-day, there is not so much to do. We drew the whey hours ago, and now we are just done putting the curd to press. I have been cleaning. See my pans. Wouldn't they do for mirrors, sir? And the copper things. I have scrubbed and scrubbed. Oh, you can look into the tiniest corners, everywhere, you won't find so much as the littlest speck of dirt or grease. I love CLEAN things, and this room is my own particular place. Here I can do just as I please, and that is, to keep the cement floor, and the vats, and the churns and the separators, and especially the cans and coppers, clean; clean, and to see that the milk is pure, oh, so that a little baby could drink it; and to have the air always sweet, and the sun--oh, lots and lots of sun, morning, noon and afternoon, so that everything shines. You know, I never see the sun set that it don't make me a little sad; yes, always, just a little. Isn't it funny? I should want it to be day all the time. And when the day is gloomy and dark, I am just as sad as if a very good friend of mine had left me. Would you believe it? Just until within a few years, when I was a big girl, sixteen and over, mamma had to sit by my bed every night before I could go to sleep. I was afraid in the dark. Sometimes I am now. Just imagine, and now I am nineteen--a young lady."
"You were, hey?" observed Annixter, for the sake of saying something. "Afraid in the dark? What of--ghosts?"
"N-no; I don't know what. I wanted the light, I wanted----" She drew a deep breath, turning towards the window and spreading her pink finger-tips to the light. "Oh, the SUN. I love the sun. See, put your hand there--here on the top of the vat--like that. Isn't it warm? Isn't it fine? And don't you love to see it coming in like that through the windows, floods of it; and all the little dust in it shining? Where there is lots of sunlight, I think the people must be very good. It's only wicked people that love the dark. And the wicked things are always done and planned in the dark, I think. Perhaps, too, that's why I hate things that are mysterious--things that I can't see, that happen in the dark." She wrinkled her nose with a little expression of aversion. "I hate a mystery. Maybe that's why I am afraid in the dark--or was. I shouldn't like to think that anything could happen around me that I couldn't see or understand or explain."
She ran on from subject to subject, positively garrulous, talking in her low-pitched voice of velvety huskiness for the mere enjoyment of putting her ideas into speech, innocently assuming that they were quite as interesting to others as to herself. She was yet a great child, ignoring the fact that she had ever grown up, taking a child's interest in her immediate surroundings, direct, straightforward, plain. While speaking, she continued about her work, rinsing out the cans with a mixture of hot water and soda, scouring them bright, and piling them in the sunlight on top of the vat.
Obliquely, and from between his narrowed lids, Annixter scrutinised her from time to time, more and more won over by her adorable freshness, her clean, fine youth. The clumsiness that he usually experienced in the presence of women was wearing off. Hilma Tree's direct simplicity put him at his ease. He began to wonder if he dared to kiss Hilma, and if he did dare, how she would take it. A spark of suspicion flickered up in his mind. Did not her manner imply, vaguely, an invitation? One never could tell with feemales. That was why she was talking so much, no doubt, holding him there, affording the opportunity. Aha! She had best look out, or he would take her at her word.
"Oh, I had forgotten," suddenly exclaimed Hilma, "the very thing I wanted to show you--the new press. You remember I asked for one last month? This is it. See, this is how it works. Here is where the curds go; look. And this cover is screwed down like this, and then you work the lever this way." She grasped the lever in both hands, throwing her weight upon it, her smooth, bare arm swelling round and firm with the effort, one slim foot, in its low shoe set off with the bright, steel buckle, braced against the wall.
"My, but that takes strength," she panted, looking up at him and smiling. "But isn't it a fine press? Just what we needed."
"And," Annixter cleared his throat, "and where do you keep the cheeses and the butter?" He thought it very likely that these were in the cellar of the dairy.
"In the cellar," answered Hilma. "Down here, see?" She raised the flap of the cellar door at the end of the room. "Would you like to see? Come down; I'll show you."
She went before him down into the cool obscurity underneath, redolent of new cheese and fresh butter. Annixter followed, a certain excitement beginning to gain upon him. He was almost sure now that Hilma wanted him to kiss her. At all events, one could but try. But, as yet, he was not absolutely sure. Suppose he had been mistaken in her; suppose she should consider herself insulted and freeze him with an icy stare. Annixter winced at the very thought of it. Better let the whole business go, and get to work. He was wasting half the morning. Yet, if she DID want to give him the opportunity of kissing her, and he failed to take advantage of it, what a ninny she would think him; she would despise him for being afraid. He afraid! He, Annixter, afraid of a fool, feemale girl. Why, he owed it to himself as a man to go as far as he could. He told himself that that goat Osterman would have kissed Hilma Tree weeks ago. To test his state of mind, he imagined himself as having decided to kiss her, after all, and at once was surprised to experience a poignant qualm of excitement, his heart beating heavily, his breath coming short. At the same time, his courage remained with him. He was not afraid to try. He felt a greater respect for himself because of this. His self-assurance hardened within him, and as Hilma turned to him, asking him to taste a cut from one of the ripe cheeses, he suddenly stepped close to her, throwing an arm about her shoulders, advancing his head.
But at the last second, he bungled, hesitated; Hilma shrank from him, supple as a young reed; Annixter clutched harshly at her arm, and trod his full weight upon one of her slender feet, his cheek and chin barely touching the delicate pink lobe of one of her ears, his lips brushing merely a fold of her shirt waist between neck and shoulder. The thing was a failure, and at once he realised that nothing had been further from Hilma's mind than the idea of his kissing her.
She started back from him abruptly, her hands nervously clasped against her breast, drawing in her breath sharply and holding it with a little, tremulous catch of the throat that sent a quivering vibration the length of her smooth, white neck. Her eyes opened wide with a childlike look, more of astonishment than anger. She was surprised, out of all measure, discountenanced, taken all aback, and when she found her breath, gave voice to a great "Oh" of dismay and distress.
For an instant, Annixter stood awkwardly in his place, ridiculous, clumsy, murmuring over and over again:
"Well--well--that's all right--who's going to hurt you? You needn't be afraid--who's going to hurt you--that's all right."
Then, suddenly, with a quick, indefinite gesture of one arm, he exclaimed:
"Good-bye, I--I'm sorry."
He turned away, striding up the stairs, crossing the dairy-room, and regained the open air, raging and furious. He turned toward the barns, clapping his hat upon his head, muttering the while under his breath:
"Oh, you goat! You beastly fool PIP. Good LORD, what an ass you've made of yourself now!"
Suddenly he resolved to put Hilma Tree out of his thoughts. The matter was interfering with his work. This kind of thing was sure not earning any money. He shook himself as though freeing his shoulders of an irksome burden, and turned his entire attention to the work nearest at hand.
The prolonged rattle of the shinglers' hammers upon the roof of the big barn attracted him, and, crossing over between the ranch house and the artesian well, he stood for some time absorbed in the contemplation of the vast building, amused and interested with the confusion of sounds--the clatter of hammers, the cadenced scrape of saws, and the rhythmic shuffle of planes--that issued from the gang of carpenters who were at that moment putting the finishing touches upon the roof and rows of stalls. A boy and two men were busy hanging the great sliding door at the south end, while the painters--come down from Bonneville early that morning--were engaged in adjusting the spray and force engine, by means of which Annixter had insisted upon painting the vast surfaces of the barn, condemning the use of brushes and pots for such work as old-fashioned and out-of-date.
He called to one of the foremen, to ask when the barn would be entirely finished, and was told that at the end of the week the hay and stock could be installed.
"And a precious long time you've been at it, too," Annixter declared.
"Well, you know the rain----"
"Oh, rot the rain! I work in the rain. You and your unions make me sick."
"But, Mr. Annixter, we couldn't have begun painting in the rain. The job would have been spoiled."
"Hoh, yes, spoiled. That's all very well. Maybe it would, and then, again, maybe it wouldn't."
But when the foreman had left him, Annixter could not forbear a growl of satisfaction. It could not be denied that the barn was superb, monumental even. Almost any one of the other barns in the county could be swung, bird-cage fashion, inside of it, with room to spare. In every sense, the barn was precisely what Annixter had hoped of it. In his pleasure over the success of his idea, even Hilma for the moment was forgotten.
"And, now," murmured Annixter, "I'll give that dance in it. I'll make 'em sit up."
It occurred to him that he had better set about sending out the invitations for the affair. He was puzzled to decide just how the thing should be managed, and resolved that it might be as well to consult Magnus and Mrs. Derrick.
"I want to talk of this telegram of the goat's with Magnus, anyhow," he said to himself reflectively, "and there's things I got to do in Bonneville before the first of the month."
He turned about on his heel with a last look at the barn, and set off toward the stable. He had decided to have his horse saddled and ride over to Bonneville by way of Los Muertos. He would make a day of it, would see Magnus, Harran, old Broderson and some of the business men of Bonneville.
A few moments later, he rode out of the barn and the stable-yard, a fresh cigar between his teeth, his hat slanted over his face against the rays of the sun, as yet low in the east. He crossed the irrigating ditch and gained the trail--the short cut over into Los Muertos, by way of Hooven's. It led south and west into the low ground overgrown by grey-green willows by Broderson Creek, at this time of the rainy season a stream of considerable volume, farther on dipping sharply to pass underneath the Long Trestle of the railroad. On the other side of the right of way, Annixter was obliged to open the gate in Derrick's line fence. He managed this without dismounting, swearing at the horse the while, and spurring him continually. But once inside the gate he cantered forward briskly.
This part of Los Muertos was Hooven's holding, some five hundred acres enclosed between the irrigating ditch and Broderson Creek, and half the way across, Annixter came up with Hooven himself, busily at work replacing a broken washer in his seeder. Upon one of the horses hitched to the machine, her hands gripped tightly upon the harness of the collar, Hilda, his little daughter, with her small, hob-nailed boots and boy's canvas overalls, sat, exalted and petrified with ecstasy and excitement, her eyes wide opened, her hair in a tangle.
"Hello, Bismarck," said Annixter, drawing up beside him. "What are YOU doing here? I thought the Governor was going to manage without his tenants this year."
"Ach, Meest'r Ennixter," cried the other, straightening up. "Ach, dat's you, eh? Ach, you bedt he doand menege mitout me. Me, I gotta stay. I talk der straighd talk mit der Governor. I fix 'em. Ach, you bedt. Sieben yahr I hef bei der rench gestopped; yais, sir. Efery oder sohn-of-a-guhn bei der plaice ged der sach bud me. Eh? Wat you tink von dose ting?"
"I think that's a crazy-looking monkey-wrench you've got there," observed Annixter, glancing at the instrument in Hooven's hand.
"Ach, dot wrainch," returned Hooven. "Soh! Wail, I tell you dose ting now whair I got 'em. Say, you see dot wrainch. Dat's not Emericen wrainch at alle. I got 'em at Gravelotte der day we licked der stuffun oudt der Frainch, ach, you bedt. Me, I pelong to der Wurtemberg redgimend, dot dey use to suppord der batterie von der Brince von Hohenlohe. Alle der day we lay down bei der stomach in der feildt behindt der batterie, und der schells von der Frainch cennon hef eggsblode--ach, donnerwetter!--I tink efery schell eggsblode bei der beckside my neck. Und dat go on der whole day, noddun else, noddun aber der Frainch schell, b-rr, b-r-r b-r-r, b-r-AM, und der smoag, und unzer batterie, dat go off slow, steady, yoost like der glock, eins, zwei, boom! eins, zwei, boom! yoost like der glock, ofer und ofer again, alle der day. Den vhen der night come dey say we hev der great victorie made. I doand know. Vhat do I see von der bettle? Noddun. Den we gedt oop und maerch und maerch alle night, und in der morgen we hear dose cennon egain, hell oaf der way, far-off, I doand know vhair. Budt, nef'r mindt. Bretty qnick, ach, Gott--" his face flamed scarlet, "Ach, du lieber Gott! Bretty zoon, dere wass der Kaiser, glose bei, und Fritz, Unzer Fritz. Bei Gott, den I go grazy, und yell, ach, you bedt, der whole redgimend: 'Hoch der Kaiser! Hoch der Vaterland!' Und der dears come to der eyes, I doand know because vhy, und der mens gry und shaike der hend, und der whole redgimend maerch off like dat, fairy broudt, bei Gott, der head oop high, und sing 'Die Wacht am Rhein.' Dot wass Gravelotte."
"And the monkey-wrench?"
"Ach, I pick 'um oop vhen der batterie go. Der cennoniers hef forgedt und leaf 'um. I carry 'um in der sack. I tink I use 'um vhen I gedt home in der business. I was maker von vagons in Carlsruhe, und I nef'r gedt home again. Vhen der war hef godt over, I go beck to Ulm und gedt marriet, und den I gedt demn sick von der armie. Vhen I gedt der release, I clair oudt, you bedt. I come to Emerica. First, New Yor-ruk; den Milwaukee; den Sbringfieldt-Illinoy; den Galifornie, und heir I stay."
"And the Fatherland? Ever want to go back?"
"Wail, I tell you dose ting, Meest'r Ennixter. Alle-ways, I tink a lot oaf Shairmany, und der Kaiser, und nef'r I forgedt Gravelotte. Budt, say, I tell you dose ting. Vhair der wife is, und der kinder--der leedle girl Hilda--DERE IS DER VATERLAND. Eh? Emerica, dat's my gountry now, und dere," he pointed behind him to the house under the mammoth oak tree on the Lower Road, "dat's my home. Dat's goot enough Vaterland for me."
Annixter gathered up the reins, about to go on.
"So you like America, do you, Bismarck?" he said. "Who do you vote for?"
"Emerica? I doand know," returned the other, insistently. "Dat's my home yonder. Dat's my Vaterland. Alle von we Shairmens yoost like dot. Shairmany, dot's hell oaf some fine plaice, sure. Budt der Vaterland iss vhair der home und der wife und kinder iss. Eh? Yes? Voad? Ach, no. Me, I nef'r voad. I doand bodder der haid mit dose ting. I maig der wheat grow, und ged der braid fur der wife und Hilda, dot's all. Dot's me; dot's Bismarck."
"Good-bye," commented Annixter, moving off.
Hooven, the washer replaced, turned to his work again, starting up the horses. The seeder advanced, whirring.
"Ach, Hilda, leedle girl," he cried, "hold tight bei der shdrap on. Hey MULE! Hoop! Gedt oop, you."
Annixter cantered on. In a few moments, he had crossed Broderson Creek and had entered upon the Home ranch of Los Muertos. Ahead of him, but so far off that the greater portion of its bulk was below the horizon, he could see the Derricks' home, a roof or two between the dull green of cypress and eucalyptus. Nothing else was in sight. The brown earth, smooth, unbroken, was as a limitless, mud-coloured ocean. The silence was profound.
Then, at length, Annixter's searching eye made out a blur on the horizon to the northward; the blur concentrated itself to a speck; the speck grew by steady degrees to a spot, slowly moving, a note of dull colour, barely darker than the land, but an inky black silhouette as it topped a low rise of ground and stood for a moment outlined against the pale blue of the sky. Annixter turned his horse from the road and rode across the ranch land to meet this new object of interest. As the spot grew larger, it resolved itself into constituents, a collection of units; its shape grew irregular, fragmentary. A disintegrated, nebulous confusion advanced toward Annixter, preceded, as he discovered on nearer approach, by a medley of faint sounds. Now it was no longer a spot, but a column, a column that moved, accompanied by spots. As Annixter lessened the distance, these spots resolved themselves into buggies or men on horseback that kept pace with the advancing column. There were horses in the column itself. At first glance, it appeared as if there were nothing else, a riderless squadron tramping steadily over the upturned plough land of the ranch. But it drew nearer. The horses were in lines, six abreast, harnessed to machines. The noise increased, defined itself. There was a shout or two; occasionally a horse blew through his nostrils with a prolonged, vibrating snort. The click and clink of metal work was incessant, the machines throwing off a continual rattle of wheels and cogs and clashing springs. The column approached nearer; was close at hand. The noises mingled to a subdued uproar, a bewildering confusion; the impact of innumerable hoofs was a veritable rumble. Machine after machine appeared; and Annixter, drawing to one side, remained for nearly ten minutes watching and interested, while, like an array of chariots--clattering, jostling, creaking, clashing, an interminable procession, machine succeeding machine, six-horse team succeeding six-horse team--bustling, hurried-- Magnus Derrick's thirty-three grain drills, each with its eight hoes, went clamouring past, like an advance of military, seeding the ten thousand acres of the great ranch; fecundating the living soil; implanting deep in the dark womb of the Earth the germ of life, the sustenance of a whole world, the food of an entire People.
When the drills had passed, Annixter turned and rode back to the Lower Road, over the land now thick with seed. He did not wonder that the seeding on Los Muertos seemed to be hastily conducted. Magnus and Harran Derrick had not yet been able to make up the time lost at the beginning of the season, when they had waited so long for the ploughs to arrive. They had been behindhand all the time. On Annixter's ranch, the land had not only been harrowed, as well as seeded, but in some cases, cross-harrowed as well. The labour of putting in the vast crop was over. Now there was nothing to do but wait, while the seed silently germinated; nothing to do but watch for the wheat to come up.
When Annixter reached the ranch house of Los Muertos, under the shade of the cypress and eucalyptus trees, he found Mrs. Derrick on the porch, seated in a long wicker chair. She had been washing her hair, and the light brown locks that yet retained so much of their brightness, were carefully spread in the sun over the back of her chair. Annixter could not but remark that, spite of her more than fifty years, Annie Derrick was yet rather pretty. Her eyes were still those of a young girl, just touched with an uncertain expression of innocence and inquiry, but as her glance fell upon him, he found that that expression changed to one of uneasiness, of distrust, almost of aversion.
The night before this, after Magnus and his wife had gone to bed, they had lain awake for hours, staring up into the dark, talking, talking. Magnus had not long been able to keep from his wife the news of the coalition that was forming against the railroad, nor the fact that this coalition was determined to gain its ends by any means at its command. He had told her of Osterman's scheme of a fraudulent election to seat a Board of Railroad Commissioners, who should be nominees of the farming interests. Magnus and his wife had talked this matter over and over again; and the same discussion, begun immediately after supper the evening before, had lasted till far into the night.
At once, Annie Derrick had been seized with a sudden terror lest Magnus, after all, should allow himself to be persuaded; should yield to the pressure that was every day growing stronger. None better than she knew the iron integrity of her husband's character. None better than she remembered how his dearest ambition, that of political preferment, had been thwarted by his refusal to truckle, to connive, to compromise with his ideas of right. Now, at last, there seemed to be a change. Long continued oppression, petty tyranny, injustice and extortion had driven him to exasperation. S. Behrman's insults still rankled. He seemed nearly ready to countenance Osterman's scheme. The very fact that he was willing to talk of it to her so often and at such great length, was proof positive that it occupied his mind. The pity of it, the tragedy of it! He, Magnus, the "Governor," who had been so staunch, so rigidly upright, so loyal to his convictions, so bitter in his denunciation of the New Politics, so scathing in his attacks on bribery and corruption in high places; was it possible that now, at last, he could be brought to withhold his condemnation of the devious intrigues of the unscrupulous, going on there under his very eyes? That Magnus should not command Harran to refrain from all intercourse with the conspirators, had been a matter of vast surprise to Mrs. Derrick. Time was when Magnus would have forbidden his son to so much as recognise a dishonourable man.
But besides all this, Derrick's wife trembled at the thought of her husband and son engaging in so desperate a grapple with the railroad--that great monster, iron-hearted, relentless, infinitely powerful. Always it had issued triumphant from the fight; always S. Behrman, the Corporation's champion, remained upon the field as victor, placid, unperturbed, unassailable. But now a more terrible struggle than any hitherto loomed menacing over the rim of the future; money was to be spent like water; personal reputations were to be hazarded in the issue; failure meant ruin in all directions, financial ruin, moral ruin, ruin of prestige, ruin of character. Success, to her mind, was almost impossible. Annie Derrick feared the railroad. At night, when everything else was still, the distant roar of passing trains echoed across Los Muertos, from Guadalajara, from Bonneville, or from the Long Trestle, straight into her heart. At such moments she saw very plainly the galloping terror of steam and steel, with its single eye, cyclopean, red, shooting from horizon to horizon, symbol of a vast power, huge and terrible; the leviathan with tentacles of steel, to oppose which meant to be ground to instant destruction beneath the clashing wheels. No, it was better to submit, to resign oneself to the inevitable. She obliterated herself, shrinking from the harshness of the world, striving, with vain hands, to draw her husband back with her.
Just before Annixter's arrival, she had been sitting, thoughtful, in her long chair, an open volume of poems turned down upon her lap, her glance losing itself in the immensity of Los Muertos that, from the edge of the lawn close by, unrolled itself, gigantic, toward the far, southern horizon, wrinkled and serrated after the season's ploughing. The earth, hitherto grey with dust, was now upturned and brown. As far as the eye could reach, it was empty of all life, bare, mournful, absolutely still; and, as she looked, there seemed to her morbid imagination--diseased and disturbed with long brooding, sick with the monotony of repeated sensation--to be disengaged from all this immensity, a sense of a vast oppression, formless, disquieting. The terror of sheer bigness grew slowly in her mind; loneliness beyond words gradually enveloped her. She was lost in all these limitless reaches of space. Had she been abandoned in mid-ocean, in an open boat, her terror could hardly have been greater. She felt vividly that certain uncongeniality which, when all is said, forever remains between humanity and the earth which supports it. She recognised the colossal indifference of nature, not hostile, even kindly and friendly, so long as the human ant-swarm was submissive, working with it, hurrying along at its side in the mysterious march of the centuries. Let, however, the insect rebel, strive to make head against the power of this nature, and at once it became relentless, a gigantic engine, a vast power, huge, terrible; a leviathan with a heart of steel, knowing no compunction, no forgiveness, no tolerance; crushing out the human atom with sound less calm, the agony of destruction sending never a jar, never the faintest tremour through all that prodigious mechanism of wheels and cogs.
Such thoughts as these did not take shape distinctly in her mind. She could not have told herself exactly what it was that disquieted her. She only received the vague sensation of these things, as it were a breath of wind upon her face, confused, troublous, an indefinite sense of hostility in the air.
The sound of hoofs grinding upon the gravel of the driveway brought her to herself again, and, withdrawing her gaze from the empty plain of Los Muertos, she saw young Annixter stopping his horse by the carriage steps. But the sight of him only diverted her mind to the other trouble. She could not but regard him with aversion. He was one of the conspirators, was one of the leaders in the battle that impended; no doubt, he had come to make a fresh attempt to win over Magnus to the unholy alliance.
However, there was little trace of enmity in her greeting. Her hair was still spread, like a broad patch of back, and she made that her excuse for not getting up. In answer to Annixter's embarrassed inquiry after Magnus, she sent the Chinese cook to call him from the office; and Annixter, after tying his horse to the ring driven into the trunk of one of the eucalyptus trees, came up to the porch, and, taking off his hat, sat down upon the steps.
"Is Harran anywhere about?" he asked. "I'd like to see Harran, too."
"No," said Mrs. Derrick, "Harran went to Bonneville early this morning."
She glanced toward Annixter nervously, without turning her head, lest she should disturb her outspread hair.
"What is it you want to see Mr. Derrick about?" she inquired hastily. "Is it about this plan to elect a Railroad Commission? Magnus does not approve of it," she declared with energy. "He told me so last night."
Annixter moved about awkwardly where he sat, smoothing down with his hand the one stiff lock of yellow hair that persistently stood up from his crown like an Indian's scalp-lock. At once his suspicions were all aroused. Ah! this feemale woman was trying to get a hold on him, trying to involve him in a petticoat mess, trying to cajole him. Upon the instant, he became very crafty; an excess of prudence promptly congealed his natural impulses. In an actual spasm of caution, he scarcely trusted himself to speak, terrified lest he should commit himself to something. He glanced about apprehensively, praying that Magnus might join them speedily, relieving the tension.
"I came to see about giving a dance in my new barn," he answered, scowling into the depths of his hat, as though reading from notes he had concealed there. "I wanted to ask how I should send out the invites. I thought of just putting an ad. in the 'Mercury.'"
But as he spoke, Presley had come up behind Annixter in time to get the drift of the conversation, and now observed:
"That's nonsense, Buck. You're not giving a public ball. You MUST send out invitations."
"Hello, Presley, you there?" exclaimed Annixter, turning round. The two shook hands.
"Send out invitations?" repeated Annixter uneasily. "Why must I?"
"Because that's the only way to do."
"It is, is it?" answered Annixter, perplexed and troubled. No other man of his acquaintance could have so contradicted Annixter without provoking a quarrel upon the instant. Why the young rancher, irascible, obstinate, belligerent, should invariably defer to the poet, was an inconsistency never to be explained. It was with great surprise that Mrs. Derrick heard him continue:
"Well, I suppose you know what you're talking about, Pres. Must have written invites, hey?"
"Why, what an ass you are, Buck," observed Presley calmly. "Before you get through with it, you will probably insult threefourths of the people you intend to invite, and have about a hundred quarrels on your hands, and a lawsuit or two."
However, before Annixter could reply, Magnus came out on the porch, erect, grave, freshly shaven. Without realising what he was doing, Annixter instinctively rose to his feet. It was as though Magnus was a commander-in-chief of an unseen army, and he a subaltern. There was some little conversation as to the proposed dance, and then Annixter found an excuse for drawing the Governor aside. Mrs. Derrick watched the two with eyes full of poignant anxiety, as they slowly paced the length of the gravel driveway to the road gate, and stood there, leaning upon it, talking earnestly; Magnus tall, thin-lipped, impassive, one hand in the breast of his frock coat, his head bare, his keen, blue eyes fixed upon Annixter's face. Annixter came at once to the main point.
"I got a wire from Osterman this morning, Governor, and, well-- we've got Disbrow. That means that the Denver, Pueblo and Mojave is back of us. There's half the fight won, first off."
"Osterman bribed him, I suppose," observed Magnus.
Annixter raised a shoulder vexatiously.
"You've got to pay for what you get," he returned. "You don't get something for nothing, I guess. Governor," he went on, "I don't see how you can stay out of this business much longer. You see how it will be. We're going to win, and I don't see how you can feel that it's right of you to let us do all the work and stand all the expense. There's never been a movement of any importance that went on around you that you weren't the leader in it. All Tulare County, all the San Joaquin, for that matter, knows you. They want a leader, and they are looking to you. I know how you feel about politics nowadays. But, Governor, standards have changed since your time; everybody plays the game now as we are playing it--the most honourable men. You can't play it any other way, and, pshaw! if the right wins out in the end, that's the main thing. We want you in this thing, and we want you bad. You've been chewing on this affair now a long time. Have you made up your mind? Do you come in? I tell you what, you've got to look at these things in a large way. You've got to judge by results. Well, now, what do you think? Do you come in?"
Magnus's glance left Annixter's face, and for an instant sought the ground. His frown lowered, but now it was in perplexity, rather than in anger. His mind was troubled, harassed with a thousand dissensions.
But one of Magnus's strongest instincts, one of his keenest desires, was to be, if only for a short time, the master. To control men had ever been his ambition; submission of any kind, his greatest horror. His energy stirred within him, goaded by the lash of his anger, his sense of indignity, of insult. Oh for one moment to be able to strike back, to crush his enemy, to defeat the railroad, hold the Corporation in the grip of his fist, put down S. Behrman, rehabilitate himself, regain his selfrespect. To be once more powerful, to command, to dominate. His thin lips pressed themselves together; the nostrils of his prominent hawk-like nose dilated, his erect, commanding figure stiffened unconsciously. For a moment, he saw himself controlling the situation, the foremost figure in his State, feared, respected, thousands of men beneath him, his ambition at length gratified; his career, once apparently brought to naught, completed; success a palpable achievement. What if this were his chance, after all, come at last after all these years. His chance! The instincts of the old-time gambler, the most redoubtable poker player of El Dorado County, stirred at the word. Chance! To know it when it came, to recognise it as it passed fleet as a wind-flurry, grip at it, catch at it, blind, reckless, staking all upon the hazard of the issue, that was genius. Was this his Chance? All of a sudden, it seemed to him that it was. But his honour! His cherished, lifelong integrity, the unstained purity of his principles? At this late date, were they to be sacrificed? Could he now go counter to all the firm built fabric of his character? How, afterward, could he bear to look Harran and Lyman in the face? And, yet--and, yet--back swung the pendulum--to neglect his Chance meant failure; a life begun in promise, and ended in obscurity, perhaps in financial ruin, poverty even. To seize it meant achievement, fame, influence, prestige, possibly great wealth.
"I am so sorry to interrupt," said Mrs. Derrick, as she came up. "I hope Mr. Annixter will excuse me, but I want Magnus to open the safe for me. I have lost the combination, and I must have some money. Phelps is going into town, and I want him to pay some bills for me. Can't you come right away, Magnus? Phelps is ready and waiting."
Annixter struck his heel into the ground with a suppressed oath. Always these fool feemale women came between him and his plans, mixing themselves up in his affairs. Magnus had been on the very point of saying something, perhaps committing himself to some course of action, and, at precisely the wrong moment, his wife had cut in. The opportunity was lost. The three returned toward the ranch house; but before saying good-bye, Annixter had secured from Magnus a promise to the effect that, before coming to a definite decision in the matter under discussion, he would talk further with him.
Presley met him at the porch. He was going into town with Phelps, and proposed to Annixter that he should accompany them.
"I want to go over and see old Broderson," Annixter objected.
But Presley informed him that Broderson had gone to Bonneville earlier in the morning. He had seen him go past in his buckboard. The three men set off, Phelps and Annixter on horseback, Presley on his bicycle.
When they had gone, Mrs. Derrick sought out her husband in the office of the ranch house. She was at her prettiest that morning, her cheeks flushed with excitement, her innocent, wideopen eyes almost girlish. She had fastened her hair, still moist, with a black ribbon tied at the back of her head, and the soft mass of light brown reached to below her waist, making her look very young.
"What was it he was saying to you just now," she exclaimed, as she came through the gate in the green-painted wire railing of the office. "What was Mr. Annixter saying? I know. He was trying to get you to join him, trying to persuade you to be dishonest, wasn't that it? Tell me, Magnus, wasn't that it?"
His wife drew close to him, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"But you won't, will you? You won't listen to him again; you won't so much as allow him--anybody--to even suppose you would lend yourself to bribery? Oh, Magnus, I don't know what has come over you these last few weeks. Why, before this, you would have been insulted if any one thought you would even consider anything like dishonesty. Magnus, it would break my heart if you joined Mr. Annixter and Mr. Osterman. Why, you couldn't be the same man to me afterward; you, who have kept yourself so clean till now. And the boys; what would Lyman say, and Harran, and every one who knows you and respects you, if you lowered yourself to be just a political adventurer!"
For a moment, Derrick leaned his head upon his hand, avoiding her gaze. At length, he said, drawing a deep breath: "I am troubled, Annie. These are the evil days. I have much upon my mind."
"Evil days or not," she insisted, "promise me this one thing, that you will not join Mr. Annixter's scheme." She had taken his hand in both of hers and was looking into his face, her pretty eyes full of pleading.
"Promise me," she repeated; "give me your word. Whatever happens, let me always be able to be proud of you, as I always have been. Give me your word. I know you never seriously thought of joining Mr. Annixter, but I am so nervous and frightened sometimes. Just to relieve my mind, Magnus, give me your word."
"Why--you are right," he answered. "No, I never thought seriously of it. Only for a moment, I was ambitious to be--I don't know what--what I had hoped to be once--well, that is over now. Annie, your husband is a disappointed man."
"Give me your word," she insisted. "We can talk about other things afterward."
Again Magnus wavered, about to yield to his better instincts and to the entreaties of his wife. He began to see how perilously far he had gone in this business. He was drifting closer to it every hour. Already he was entangled, already his foot was caught in the mesh that was being spun. Sharply he recoiled. Again all his instincts of honesty revolted. No, whatever happened, he would preserve his integrity. His wife was right. Always she had influenced his better side. At that moment, Magnus's repugnance of the proposed political campaign was at its pitch of intensity. He wondered how he had ever allowed himself to so much as entertain the idea of joining with the others. Now, he would wrench free, would, in a single instant of power, clear himself of all compromising relations. He turned to his wife. Upon his lips trembled the promise she implored. But suddenly there came to his mind the recollection of his new-made pledge to Annixter. He had given his word that before arriving at a decision he would have a last interview with him. To Magnus, his given word was sacred. Though now he wanted to, he could not as yet draw back, could not promise his wife that he would decide to do right. The matter must be delayed a few days longer.
Lamely, he explained this to her. Annie Derrick made but little response when he had done. She kissed his forehead and went out of the room, uneasy, depressed, her mind thronging with vague fears, leaving Magnus before his office desk, his head in his hands, thoughtful, gloomy, assaulted by forebodings.
Meanwhile, Annixter, Phelps, and Presley continued on their way toward Bonneville. In a short time they had turned into the County Road by the great watering-tank, and proceeded onward in the shade of the interminable line of poplar trees, the windbreak that stretched along the roadside bordering the Broderson ranch. But as they drew near to Caraher's saloon and grocery, about half a mile outside of Bonneville, they recognised Harran's horse tied to the railing in front of it. Annixter left the others and went in to see Harran.
"Harran," he said, when the two had sat down on either side of one of the small tables, "you've got to make up your mind one way or another pretty soon. What are you going to do? Are you going to stand by and see the rest of the Committee spending money by the bucketful in this thing and keep your hands in your pockets? If we win, you'll benefit just as much as the rest of us. I suppose you've got some money of your own--you have, haven't you? You are your father's manager, aren't you?"
Disconcerted at Annixter's directness, Harran stammered an affirmative, adding:
"It's hard to know just what to do. It's a mean position for me, Buck. I want to help you others, but I do want to play fair. I don't know how to play any other way. I should like to have a line from the Governor as to how to act, but there's no getting a word out of him these days. He seems to want to let me decide for myself ."
"Well, look here," put in Annixter. "Suppose you keep out of the thing till it's all over, and then share and share alike with the Committee on campaign expenses."
Harran fell thoughtful, his hands in his pockets, frowning moodily at the toe of his boot. There was a silence. Then:
"I don't like to go it blind," he hazarded. "I'm sort of sharing the responsibility of what you do, then. I'm a silent partner. And, then--I don't want to have any difficulties with the Governor. We've always got along well together. He wouldn't like it, you know, if I did anything like that." "Say," exclaimed Annixter abruptly, "if the Governor says he will keep his hands off, and that you can do as you please, will you come in? For God's sake, let us ranchers act together for once. Let's stand in with each other in ONE fight."
Without knowing it, Annixter had touched the right spring.
"I don't know but what you're right," Harran murmured vaguely. His sense of discouragement, that feeling of what's-the-use, was never more oppressive. All fair means had been tried. The wheat grower was at last with his back to the wall. If he chose his own means of fighting, the responsibility must rest upon his enemies, not on himself.
"It's the only way to accomplish anything," he continued, "standing in with each other . . . well, . . . go ahead and see what you can do. If the Governor is willing, I'll come in for my share of the campaign fund."
"That's some sense," exclaimed Annixter, shaking him by the hand. "Half the fight is over already. We've got Disbrow you know; and the next thing is to get hold of some of those rotten San Francisco bosses. Osterman will----" But Harran interrupted him, making a quick gesture with his hand.
"Don't tell me about it," he said. "I don't want to know what you and Osterman are going to do. If I did, I shouldn't come in."
Yet, for all this, before they said good-bye Annixter had obtained Harran's promise that he would attend the next meeting of the Committee, when Osterman should return from Los Angeles and make his report. Harran went on toward Los Muertos. Annixter mounted and rode into Bonneville.
Bonneville was very lively at all times. It was a little city of some twenty or thirty thousand inhabitants, where, as yet, the city hall, the high school building, and the opera house were objects of civic pride. It was well governed, beautifully clean, full of the energy and strenuous young life of a new city. An air of the briskest activity pervaded its streets and sidewalks. The business portion of the town, centring about Main Street, was always crowded. Annixter, arriving at the Post Office, found himself involved in a scene of swiftly shifting sights and sounds. Saddle horses, farm wagons--the inevitable Studebakers-- buggies grey with the dust of country roads, buckboards with squashes and grocery packages stowed under the seat, two-wheeled sulkies and training carts, were hitched to the gnawed railings and zinc-sheathed telegraph poles along the curb. Here and there, on the edge of the sidewalk, were bicycles, wedged into bicycle racks painted with cigar advertisements. Upon the asphalt sidewalk itself, soft and sticky with the morning's heat, was a continuous movement. Men with large stomachs, wearing linen coats but no vests, laboured ponderously up and down. Girls in lawn skirts, shirt waists, and garden hats, went to and fro, invariably in couples, coming in and out of the drug store, the grocery store, and haberdasher's, or lingering in front of the Post Office, which was on a corner under the I.O.O.F. hall. Young men, in shirt sleeves, with brown, wicker cuff-protectors over their forearms, and pencils behind their ears, bustled in front of the grocery store, anxious and preoccupied. A very old man, a Mexican, in ragged white trousers and bare feet, sat on a horse-block in front of the barber shop, holding a horse by a rope around its neck. A Chinaman went by, teetering under the weight of his market baskets slung on a pole across his shoulders. In the neighbourhood of the hotel, the Yosemite House, travelling salesmen, drummers for jewelry firms of San Francisco, commercial agents, insurance men, well- dressed, metropolitan, debonair, stood about cracking jokes, or hurried in and out of the flapping white doors of the Yosemite barroom. The Yosemite 'bus and City 'bus passed up the street, on the way from the morning train, each with its two or three passengers. A very narrow wagon, belonging to the Cole & Colemore Harvester Works, went by, loaded with long strips of iron that made a horrible din as they jarred over the unevenness of the pavement. The electric car line, the city's boast, did a brisk business, its cars whirring from end to end of the street, with a jangling of bells and a moaning plaint of gearing. On the stone bulkheads of the grass plat around the new City Hall, the usual loafers sat, chewing tobacco, swapping stories. In the park were the inevitable array of nursemaids, skylarking couples, and ragged little boys. A single policeman, in grey coat and helmet, friend and acquaintance of every man and woman in the town, stood by the park entrance, leaning an elbow on the fence post, twirling his club.
But in the centre of the best business block of the street was a three-story building of rough brown stone, set off with plate glass windows and gold-lettered signs. One of these latter read, "Pacific and Southwestern Railroad, Freight and Passenger Office," while another much smaller, beneath the windows of the second story bore the inscription, "P. and S. W. Land Office."
Annixter hitched his horse to the iron post in front of this building, and tramped up to the second floor, letting himself into an office where a couple of clerks and bookkeepers sat at work behind a high wire screen. One of these latter recognised him and came forward.
"Hello," said Annixter abruptly, scowling the while. "Is your boss in? Is Ruggles in?"
The bookkeeper led Annixter to the private office in an adjoining room, ushering him through a door, on the frosted glass of which was painted the name, "Cyrus Blakelee Ruggles." Inside, a man in a frock coat, shoestring necktie, and Stetson hat, sat writing at a roller-top desk. Over this desk was a vast map of the railroad holdings in the country about Bonneville and Guadalajara, the alternate sections belonging to the Corporation accurately plotted. Ruggles was cordial in his welcome of Annixter. He had a way of fiddling with his pencil continually while he talked, scribbling vague lines and fragments of words and names on stray bits of paper, and no sooner had Annixter sat down than he had begun to write, in full-bellied script, ANN ANN all over his blotting pad.
"I want to see about those lands of mine--I mean of yours--of the railroad's," Annixter commenced at once. "I want to know when I can buy. I'm sick of fooling along like this."
"Well, Mr. Annixter," observed Ruggles, writing a great L before the ANN, and finishing it off with a flourishing D. "The lands"-- he crossed out one of the N's and noted the effect with a hasty glance--"the lands are practically yours. You have an option on them indefinitely, and, as it is, you don't have to pay the taxes."
"Rot your option! I want to own them," Annixter declared. "What have you people got to gain by putting off selling them to us. Here this thing has dragged along for over eight years. When I came in on Quien Sabe, the understanding was that the lands--your alternate sections--were to be conveyed to me within a few months."
"The land had not been patented to us then," answered Ruggles.
"Well, it has been now, I guess," retorted Annixter.
"I'm sure I couldn't tell you, Mr. Annixter."
Annixter crossed his legs weariedly.
"Oh, what's the good of lying, Ruggles? You know better than to talk that way to me."
Ruggles's face flushed on the instant, but he checked his answer and laughed instead.
"Oh, if you know so much about it--" he observed.
"Well, when are you going to sell to me?"
"I'm only acting for the General Office, Mr. Annixter," returned Ruggles. "Whenever the Directors are ready to take that matter up, I'll be only too glad to put it through for you."
"As if you didn't know. Look here, you're not talking to old Broderson. Wake up, Ruggles. What's all this talk in Genslinger's rag about the grading of the value of our lands this winter and an advance in the price?"
Ruggles spread out his hands with a deprecatory gesture.
"I don't own the 'Mercury,'" he said.
"Well, your company does."
"If it does, I don't know anything about it."
"Oh, rot! As if you and Genslinger and S. Behrman didn't run the whole show down here. Come on, let's have it, Ruggles. What does S. Behrman pay Genslinger for inserting that three-inch ad. of the P. and S. W. in his paper? Ten thousand a year, hey?"
"Oh, why not a hundred thousand and be done with it?" returned the other, willing to take it as a joke.
Instead of replying, Annixter drew his check-book from his inside pocket.
"Let me take that fountain pen of yours," he said. Holding the book on his knee he wrote out a check, tore it carefully from the stub, and laid it on the desk in front of Ruggles.
"What's this?" asked Ruggles.
"Three-fourths payment for the sections of railroad land included in my ranch, based on a valuation of two dollars and a half per acre. You can have the balance in sixty-day notes."
Ruggles shook his head, drawing hastily back from the check as though it carried contamination.
"I can't touch it," he declared. "I've no authority to sell to you yet."
"I don't understand you people," exclaimed Annixter. "I offered to buy of you the same way four years ago and you sang the same song. Why, it isn't business. You lose the interest on your money. Seven per cent. of that capital for four years--you can figure it out. It's big money."
"Well, then, I don't see why you're so keen on parting with it. You can get seven per cent. the same as us."
"I want to own my own land," returned Annixter. "I want to feel that every lump of dirt inside my fence is my personal property. Why, the very house I live in now--the ranch house--stands on railroad ground."
"But, you've an option"
"I tell you I don't want your cursed option. I want ownership; and it's the same with Magnus Derrick and old Broderson and Osterman and all the ranchers of the county. We want to own our land, want to feel we can do as we blame please with it. Suppose I should want to sell Quien Sabe. I can't sell it as a whole till I've bought of you. I can't give anybody a clear title. The land has doubled in value ten times over again since I came in on it and improved it. It's worth easily twenty an acre now. But I can't take advantage of that rise in value so long as you won't sell, so long as I don't own it. You're blocking me."
"But, according to you, the railroad can't take advantage of the rise in any case. According to you, you can sell for twenty dollars, but we can only get two and a half."
"Who made it worth twenty?" cried Annixter. "I've improved it up to that figure. Genslinger seems to have that idea in his nut, too. Do you people think you can hold that land, untaxed, for speculative purposes until it goes up to thirty dollars and then sell out to some one else--sell it over our heads? You and Genslinger weren't in office when those contracts were drawn. You ask your boss, you ask S. Behrman, he knows. The General Office is pledged to sell to us in preference to any one else, for two and a half."
"Well," observed Ruggles decidedly, tapping the end of his pencil on his desk and leaning forward to emphasise his words, "we're not selling NOW. That's said and signed, Mr. Annixter."
"Why not? Come, spit it out. What's the bunco game this time?"
"Because we're not ready. Here's your check."
"You won't take it?"
"I'll make it a cash payment, money down--the whole of it-- payable to Cyrus Blakelee Ruggles, for the P. and S. W."
"Third and last time."
"Oh, go to the devil!"
"I don't like your tone, Mr. Annixter," returned Ruggles, flushing angrily. "I don't give a curse whether you like it or not," retorted Annixter, rising and thrusting the check into his pocket, "but never you mind, Mr. Ruggles, you and S. Behrman and Genslinger and Shelgrim and the whole gang of thieves of you-- you'll wake this State of California up some of these days by going just one little bit too far, and there'll be an election of Railroad Commissioners of, by, and for the people, that'll get a twist of you, my bunco-steering friend--you and your backers and cappers and swindlers and thimble-riggers, and smash you, lock, stock, and barrel. That's my tip to you and be damned to you, Mr. Cyrus Blackleg Ruggles."
Annixter stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind him, and Ruggles, trembling with anger, turned to his desk and to the blotting pad written all over with the words LANDS, TWENTY DOLLARS, TWO AND A HALF, OPTION, and, over and over again, with great swelling curves and flourishes, RAILROAD, RAILROAD, RAILROAD.
But as Annixter passed into the outside office, on the other side of the wire partition he noted the figure of a man at the counter in conversation with one of the clerks. There was something familiar to Annixter's eye about the man's heavy built frame, his great shoulders and massive back, and as he spoke to the clerk in a tremendous, rumbling voice, Annixter promptly recognised Dyke.
There was a meeting. Annixter liked Dyke, as did every one else in and about Bonneville. He paused now to shake hands with the discharged engineer and to ask about his little daughter, Sidney, to whom he knew Dyke was devotedly attached.
"Smartest little tad in Tulare County," asserted Dyke. "She's getting prettier every day, Mr. Annixter. THERE'S a little tad that was just born to be a lady. Can recite the whole of 'Snow Bound' without ever stopping. You don't believe that, maybe, hey? Well, it's true. She'll be just old enough to enter the Seminary up at Marysville next winter, and if my hop business pays two per cent. on the investment, there's where she's going to go."
"How's it coming on?" inquired Annixter.
"The hop ranch? Prime. I've about got the land in shape, and I've engaged a foreman who knows all about hops. I've been in luck. Everybody will go into the business next year when they see hops go to a dollar, and they'll overstock the market and bust the price. But I'm going to get the cream of it now. I say two per cent. Why, Lord love you, it will pay a good deal more than that. It's got to. It's cost more than I figured to start the thing, so, perhaps, I may have to borrow somewheres; but then on such a sure game as this--and I do want to make something out of that little tad of mine."
"Through here?" inquired Annixter, making ready to move off.
"In just a minute," answered Dyke. "Wait for me and I'll walk down the street with you."
Annixter grumbled that he was in a hurry, but waited, nevertheless, while Dyke again approached the clerk.
"I shall want some empty cars of you people this fall," he explained. "I'm a hop-raiser now, and I just want to make sure what your rates on hops are. I've been told, but I want to make sure. Savvy?" There was a long delay while the clerk consulted the tariff schedules, and Annixter fretted impatiently. Dyke, growing uneasy, leaned heavily on his elbows, watching the clerk anxiously. If the tariff was exorbitant, he saw his plans brought to naught, his money jeopardised, the little tad, Sidney, deprived of her education. He began to blame himself that he had not long before determined definitely what the railroad would charge for moving his hops. He told himself he was not much of a business man; that he managed carelessly.
"Two cents," suddenly announced the clerk with a certain surly indifference.
"Two cents a pound?"
"Yes, two cents a pound--that's in car-load lots, of course. I won't give you that rate on smaller consignments."
"Yes, car-load lots, of course . . . two cents. Well, all right."
He turned away with a great sigh of relief.
"He sure did have me scared for a minute," he said to Annixter, as the two went down to the street, "fiddling and fussing so long. Two cents is all right, though. Seems fair to me. That fiddling of his was all put on. I know 'em, these railroad heelers. He knew I was a discharged employee first off, and he played the game just to make me seem small because I had to ask favours of him. I don't suppose the General Office tips its slavees off to act like swine, but there's the feeling through the whole herd of them. 'Ye got to come to us. We let ye live only so long as we choose, and what are ye going to do about it? If ye don't like it, git out.'"
Annixter and the engineer descended to the street and had a drink at the Yosemite bar, and Annixter went into the General Store while Dyke bought a little pair of red slippers for Sidney. Before the salesman had wrapped them up, Dyke slipped a dime into the toe of each with a wink at Annixter.
"Let the little tad find 'em there," he said behind his hand in a hoarse whisper. "That'll be one on Sid."
"Where to now?" demanded Annixter as they regained the street. "I'm going down to the Post Office and then pull out for the ranch. Going my way?"
Dyke hesitated in some confusion, tugging at the ends of his fine blonde beard.
"No, no. I guess I'll leave you here. I've got--got other things to do up the street. So long."
The two separated, and Annixter hurried through the crowd to the Post Office, but the mail that had come in on that morning's train was unusually heavy. It was nearly half an hour before it was distributed. Naturally enough, Annixter placed all the blame of the delay upon the railroad, and delivered himself of some pointed remarks in the midst of the waiting crowd. He was irritated to the last degree when he finally emerged upon the sidewalk again, cramming his mail into his pockets. One cause of his bad temper was the fact that in the bundle of Quien Sabe letters was one to Hilma Tree in a man's handwriting.
"Huh!" Annixter had growled to himself, "that pip Delaney. Seems now that I'm to act as go-between for 'em. Well, maybe that feemale girl gets this letter, and then, again, maybe she don't."
But suddenly his attention was diverted. Directly opposite the Post Office, upon the corner of the street, stood quite the best business building of which Bonneville could boast. It was built of Colusa granite, very solid, ornate, imposing. Upon the heavy plate of the window of its main floor, in gold and red letters, one read the words: "Loan and Savings Bank of Tulare County." It was of this bank that S. Behrman was president. At the street entrance of the building was a curved sign of polished brass, fixed upon the angle of the masonry; this sign bore the name, "S. Behrman," and under it in smaller letters were the words, "Real Estate, Mortgages."
As Annixter's glance fell upon this building, he was surprised to see Dyke standing upon the curb in front of it, apparently reading from a newspaper that he held in his hand. But Annixter promptly discovered that he was not reading at all. From time to time the former engineer shot a swift glance out of the corner of his eye up and down the street. Annixter jumped at a conclusion. An idea suddenly occurred to him. Dyke was watching to see if he was observed--was waiting an opportunity when no one who knew him should be in sight. Annixter stepped back a little, getting a telegraph pole somewhat between him and the other. Very interested, he watched what was going on. Pretty soon Dyke thrust the paper into his pocket and sauntered slowly to the windows of a stationery store, next the street entrance of S. Behrman's offices. For a few seconds he stood there, his back turned, seemingly absorbed in the display, but eyeing the street narrowly nevertheless; then he turned around, gave a last look about and stepped swiftly into the doorway by the great brass sign. He disappeared. Annixter came from behind the telegraph pole with a flush of actual shame upon his face. There had been something so slinking, so mean, in the movements and manner of this great, burly honest fellow of an engineer, that he could not help but feel ashamed for him. Circumstances were such that a simple business transaction was to Dyke almost culpable, a degradation, a thing to be concealed.
"Borrowing money of S. Behrman," commented Annixter, "mortgaging your little homestead to the railroad, putting your neck in the halter. Poor fool! The pity of it. Good Lord, your hops must pay you big, now, old man."
Annixter lunched at the Yosemite Hotel, and then later on, toward the middle of the afternoon, rode out of the town at a canter by the way of the Upper Road that paralleled the railroad tracks and that ran diametrically straight between Bonneville and Guadalajara. About half-way between the two places he overtook Father Sarria trudging back to San Juan, his long cassock powdered with dust. He had a wicker crate in one hand, and in the other, in a small square valise, the materials for the Holy Sacrament. Since early morning the priest had covered nearly fifteen miles on foot, in order to administer Extreme Unction to a moribund good-for-nothing, a greaser, half Indian, half Portuguese, who lived in a remote corner of Osterman's stock range, at the head of a canon there. But he had returned by way of Bonneville to get a crate that had come for him from San Diego. He had been notified of its arrival the day before.
Annixter pulled up and passed the time of day with the priest.
"I don't often get up your way," he said, slowing down his horse to accommodate Sarria's deliberate plodding. Sarria wiped the perspiration from his smooth, shiny face .
"You? Well, with you it is different," he answered. "But there are a great many Catholics in the county--some on your ranch. And so few come to the Mission. At High Mass on Sundays, there are a few--Mexicans and Spaniards from Guadalajara mostly; but weekdays, for matins, vespers, and the like, I often say the offices to an empty church--'the voice of one crying in the wilderness.' You Americans are not good churchmen. Sundays you sleep--you read the newspapers."
"Well, there's Vanamee," observed Annixter. "I suppose he's there early and late."
Sarria made a sharp movement of interest.
"Ah, Vanamee--a strange lad; a wonderful character, for all that. If there were only more like him. I am troubled about him. You know I am a very owl at night. I come and go about the Mission at all hours. Within the week, three times I have seen Vanamee in the little garden by the Mission, and at the dead of night. He had come without asking for me. He did not see me. It was strange. Once, when I had got up at dawn to ring for early matins, I saw him stealing away out of the garden. He must have been there all the night. He is acting queerly. He is pale; his cheeks are more sunken than ever. There is something wrong with him. I can't make it out. It is a mystery. Suppose you ask him?"
"Not I. I've enough to bother myself about. Vanamee is crazy in the head. Some morning he will turn up missing again, and drop out of sight for another three years. Best let him alone, Sarria. He's a crank. How is that greaser of yours up on Osterman's stock range?"
"Ah, the poor fellow--the poor fellow," returned the other, the tears coming to his eyes. "He died this morning--as you might say, in my arms, painfully, but in the faith, in the faith. A good fellow."
"A lazy, cattle-stealing, knife-in-his-boot Dago."
"You misjudge him. A really good fellow on better acquaintance."
Annixter grunted scornfully. Sarria's kindness and good-will toward the most outrageous reprobates of the ranches was proverbial. He practically supported some half-dozen families that lived in forgotten cabins, lost and all but inaccessible, in the far corners of stock range and canyon. This particular greaser was the laziest, the dirtiest, the most worthless of the lot. But in Sarria's mind, the lout was an object of affection, sincere, unquestioning. Thrice a week the priest, with a basket of provisions--cold ham, a bottle of wine, olives, loaves of bread, even a chicken or two--toiled over the interminable stretch of country between the Mission and his cabin. Of late, during the rascal's sickness, these visits had been almost daily. Hardly once did the priest leave the bedside that he did not slip a half-dollar into the palm of his wife or oldest daughter. And this was but one case out of many.
His kindliness toward animals was the same. A horde of mangecorroded curs lived off his bounty, wolfish, ungrateful, often marking him with their teeth, yet never knowing the meaning of a harsh word. A burro, over-fed, lazy, incorrigible, browsed on the hill back of the Mission, obstinately refusing to be harnessed to Sarria's little cart, squealing and biting whenever the attempt was made; and the priest suffered him, submitting to his humour, inventing excuses for him, alleging that the burro was foundered, or was in need of shoes, or was feeble from extreme age. The two peacocks, magnificent, proud, cold-hearted, resenting all familiarity, he served with the timorous, apologetic affection of a queen's lady-in-waiting, resigned to their disdain, happy if only they condescended to enjoy the grain he spread for them.
At the Long Trestle, Annixter and the priest left the road and took the trail that crossed Broderson Creek by the clumps of grey-green willows and led across Quien Sabe to the ranch house, and to the Mission farther on. They were obliged to proceed in single file here, and Annixter, who had allowed the priest to go in front, promptly took notice of the wicker basket he carried. Upon his inquiry, Sarria became confused. "It was a basket that he had had sent down to him from the city."
"Well, I know--but what's in it?"
"Why--I'm sure--ah, poultry--a chicken or two."
"Yes, yes, that's it, a fancy breed." At the ranch house, where they arrived toward five o'clock, Annixter insisted that the priest should stop long enough for a glass of sherry. Sarria left the basket and his small black valise at the foot of the porch steps, and sat down in a rocker on the porch itself, fanning himself with his broad-brimmed hat, and shaking the dust from his cassock. Annixter brought out the decanter of sherry and glasses, and the two drank to each other's health.
But as the priest set down his glass, wiping his lips with a murmur of satisfaction, the decrepit Irish setter that had attached himself to Annixter's house came out from underneath the porch, and nosed vigorously about the wicker basket. He upset it. The little peg holding down the cover slipped, the basket fell sideways, opening as it fell, and a cock, his head enclosed in a little chamois bag such as are used for gold watches, struggled blindly out into the open air. A second, similarly hooded, followed. The pair, stupefied in their headgear, stood rigid and bewildered in their tracks, clucking uneasily. Their tails were closely sheared. Their legs, thickly muscled, and extraordinarily long, were furnished with enormous cruel-looking spurs. The breed was unmistakable. Annixter looked once at the pair, then shouted with laughter.
"'Poultry'--'a chicken or two'--'fancy breed'--ho! yes, I should think so. Game cocks! Fighting cocks! Oh, you old rat! You'll be a dry nurse to a burro, and keep a hospital for infirm puppies, but you will fight game cocks. Oh, Lord! Why, Sarria, this is as good a grind as I ever heard. There's the Spanish cropping out, after all."
Speechless with chagrin, the priest bundled the cocks into the basket and catching up the valise, took himself abruptly away, almost running till he had put himself out of hearing of Annixter's raillery. And even ten minutes later, when Annixter, still chuckling, stood upon the porch steps, he saw the priest, far in the distance, climbing the slope of the high ground, in the direction of the Mission, still hurrying on at a great pace, his cassock flapping behind him, his head bent; to Annixter's notion the very picture of discomfiture and confusion.
As Annixter turned about to reenter the house, he found himself almost face to face with Hilma Tree. She was just going in at the doorway, and a great flame of the sunset, shooting in under the eaves of the porch, enveloped her from her head, with its thick, moist hair that hung low over her neck, to her slim feet, setting a golden flash in the little steel buckles of her low shoes. She had come to set the table for Annixter's supper. Taken all aback by the suddenness of the encounter, Annixter ejaculated an abrupt and senseless, "Excuse me." But Hilma, without raising her eyes, passed on unmoved into the dining-room, leaving Annixter trying to find his breath, and fumbling with the brim of his hat, that he was surprised to find he had taken from his head. Resolutely, and taking a quick advantage of his opportunity, he followed her into the dining-room.
"I see that dog has turned up," he announced with brisk cheerfulness. "That Irish setter I was asking about."
Hilma, a swift, pink flush deepening the delicate rose of her cheeks, did not reply, except by nodding her head. She flung the table-cloth out from under her arms across the table, spreading it smooth, with quick little caresses of her hands. There was a moment's silence. Then Annixter said:
"Here's a letter for you." He laid it down on the table near her, and Hilma picked it up. "And see here, Miss Hilma," Annixter continued, "about that--this morning--I suppose you think I am a first-class mucker. If it will do any good to apologise, why, I will. I want to be friends with you. I made a bad mistake, and started in the wrong way. I don't know much about women people. I want you to forget about that--this morning, and not think I am a galoot and a mucker. Will you do it? Will you be friends with me?"
Hilma set the plate and coffee cup by Annixter's place before answering, and Annixter repeated his question. Then she drew a deep, quick breath, the flush in her cheeks returning.
"I think it was--it was so wrong of you," she murmured. "Oh! you don't know how it hurt me. I cried--oh, for an hour."
"Well, that's just it," returned Annixter vaguely, moving his head uneasily. "I didn't know what kind of a girl you were--I mean, I made a mistake. I thought it didn't make much difference. I thought all feemales were about alike."
"I hope you know now," murmured Hilma ruefully. "I've paid enough to have you find out. I cried--you don't know. Why, it hurt me worse than anything I can remember. I hope you know now." "Well, I do know now," he exclaimed.
"It wasn't so much that you tried to do--what you did," answered Hilma, the single deep swell from her waist to her throat rising and falling in her emotion. "It was that you thought that you could--that anybody could that wanted to--that I held myself so cheap. Oh!" she cried, with a sudden sobbing catch in her throat, "I never can forget it, and you don't know what it means to a girl."
"Well, that's just what I do want," he repeated. "I want you to forget it and have us be good friends."
In his embarrassment, Annixter could think of no other words. He kept reiterating again and again during the pauses of the conversation:
"I want you to forget it. Will you? Will you forget it--that-- this morning, and have us be good friends?"
He could see that her trouble was keen. He was astonished that the matter should be so grave in her estimation. After all, what was it that a girl should be kissed? But he wanted to regain his lost ground.
"Will you forget it, Miss Hilma? I want you to like me."
She took a clean napkin from the sideboard drawer and laid it down by the plate.
"I--I do want you to like me," persisted Annixter. "I want you to forget all about this business and like me."
Hilma was silent. Annixter saw the tears in her eyes.
"How about that? Will you forget it? Will you--will--will you LIKE me?"
She shook her head.
"No," she said.
"No what? You won't like me? Is that it?"
Hilma, blinking at the napkin through her tears, nodded to say, Yes, that was it. Annixter hesitated a moment, frowning, harassed and perplexed.
"You don't like me at all, hey?"
At length Hilma found her speech. In her low voice, lower and more velvety than ever, she said:
"No--I don't like you at all."
Then, as the tears suddenly overpowered her, she dashed a hand across her eyes, and ran from the room and out of doors.
Annixter stood for a moment thoughtful, his protruding lower lip thrust out, his hands in his pocket.
"I suppose she'll quit now," he muttered. "Suppose she'll leave the ranch--if she hates me like that. Well, she can go--that's all--she can go. Fool feemale girl," he muttered between his teeth, "petticoat mess." He was about to sit down to his supper when his eye fell upon the Irish setter, on his haunches in the doorway. There was an expectant, ingratiating look on the dog's face. No doubt, he suspected it was time for eating.
"Get out--YOU!" roared Annixter in a tempest of wrath.
The dog slunk back, his tail shut down close, his ears drooping, but instead of running away, he lay down and rolled supinely upon his back, the very image of submission, tame, abject, disgusting. It was the one thing to drive Annixter to a fury. He kicked the dog off the porch in a rolling explosion of oaths, and flung himself down to his seat before the table, fuming and panting.
"Damn the dog and the girl and the whole rotten business--and now," he exclaimed, as a sudden fancied qualm arose in his stomach, "now, it's all made me sick. Might have known it. Oh, it only lacked that to wind up the whole day. Let her go, I don't care, and the sooner the better."
He countermanded the supper and went to bed before it was dark, lighting his lamp, on the chair near the head of the bed, and opening his "Copperfield" at the place marked by the strip of paper torn from the bag of prunes. For upward of an hour he read the novel, methodically swallowing one prune every time he reached the bottom of a page. About nine o'clock he blew out the lamp and, punching up his pillow, settled himself for the night.
Then, as his mind relaxed in that strange, hypnotic condition that comes just before sleep, a series of pictures of the day's doings passed before his imagination like the roll of a kinetoscope.
First, it was Hilma Tree, as he had seen her in the dairy-house-- charming, delicious, radiant of youth, her thick, white neck with its pale amber shadows under the chin; her wide, open eyes rimmed with fine, black lashes; the deep swell of her breast and hips, the delicate, lustrous floss on her cheek, impalpable as the pollen of a flower. He saw her standing there in the scintillating light of the morning, her smooth arms wet with milk, redolent and fragrant of milk, her whole, desirable figure moving in the golden glory of the sun, steeped in a lambent flame, saturated with it, glowing with it, joyous as the dawn itself.
Then it was Los Muertos and Hooven, the sordid little Dutchman, grimed with the soil he worked in, yet vividly remembering a period of military glory, exciting himself with recollections of Gravelotte and the Kaiser, but contented now in the country of his adoption, defining the Fatherland as the place where wife and children lived. Then came the ranch house of Los Muertos, under the grove of cypress and eucalyptus, with its smooth, gravelled driveway and well-groomed lawns; Mrs. Derrick with her wideopened eyes, that so easily took on a look of uneasiness, of innocence, of anxious inquiry, her face still pretty, her brown hair that still retained so much of its brightness spread over her chair back, drying in the sun; Magnus, erect as an officer of cavalry, smooth-shaven, grey, thin-lipped, imposing, with his hawk-like nose and forward-curling grey hair; Presley with his dark face, delicate mouth and sensitive, loose lips, in corduroys and laced boots, smoking cigarettes--an interesting figure, suggestive of a mixed origin, morbid, excitable, melancholy, brooding upon things that had no names. Then it was Bonneville, with the gayety and confusion of Main Street, the whirring electric cars, the zinc-sheathed telegraph poles, the buckboards with squashes stowed under the seats; Ruggles in frock coat, Stetson hat and shoe-string necktie, writing abstractedly upon his blotting pad; Dyke, the engineer, big-boned. Powerful, deepvoiced, good-natured, with his fine blonde beard and massive arms, rehearsing the praises of his little daughter Sidney, guided only by the one ambition that she should be educated at a seminary, slipping a dime into the toe of her diminutive slipper, then, later, overwhelmed with shame, slinking into S. Behrman's office to mortgage his homestead to the heeler of the corporation that had discharged him. By suggestion, Annixter saw S. Behrman, too, fat, with a vast stomach, the check and neck meeting to form a great, tremulous jowl, the roll of fat over his collar, sprinkled with sparse, stiff hairs; saw his brown, round-topped hat of varnished straw, the linen vest stamped with innumerable interlocked horseshoes, the heavy watch chain, clinking against the pearl vest buttons; invariably placid, unruffled, never losing his temper, serene, unassailable, enthroned.
Then, at the end of all, it was the ranch again, seen in a last brief glance before he had gone to bed; the fecundated earth, calm at last, nursing the emplanted germ of life, ruddy with the sunset, the horizons purple, the small clamour of the day lapsing into quiet, the great, still twilight, building itself, domelike, toward the zenith. The barn fowls were roosting in the trees near the stable, the horses crunching their fodder in the stalls, the day's work ceasing by slow degrees; and the priest, the Spanish churchman, Father Sarria, relic of a departed regime, kindly, benign, believing in all goodness, a lover of his fellows and of dumb animals, yet, for all that, hurrying away in confusion and discomfiture, carrying in one hand the vessels of the Holy Communion and in the other a basket of game cocks.