It was high noon, and the rays of the sun, that hung poised
directly overhead in an intolerable white glory, fell straight as
plummets upon the roofs and streets of Guadalajara. The adobe
walls and sparse brick sidewalks of the drowsing town radiated
the heat in an oily, quivering shimmer. The leaves of the
eucalyptus trees around the Plaza drooped motionless, limp and
relaxed under the scorching, searching blaze. The shadows of
these trees had shrunk to their smallest circumference,
contracting close about the trunks. The shade had dwindled to
the breadth of a mere line. The sun was everywhere. The heat
exhaling from brick and plaster and metal met the heat that
steadily descended blanketwise and smothering, from the pale,
scorched sky. Only the lizards--they lived in chinks of the
crumbling adobe and in interstices of the sidewalk--remained
without, motionless, as if stuffed, their eyes closed to mere
slits, basking, stupefied with heat. At long intervals the
prolonged drone of an insect developed out of the silence,
vibrated a moment in a soothing, somnolent, long note, then
trailed slowly into the quiet again. Somewhere in the interior
of one of the 'dobe houses a guitar snored and hummed sleepily.
On the roof of the hotel a group of pigeons cooed incessantly
with subdued, liquid murmurs, very plaintive; a cat, perfectly
white, with a pink nose and thin, pink lips, dozed complacently
on a fence rail, full in the sun. In a corner of the Plaza three
hens wallowed in the baking hot dust their wings fluttering,
And this was all. A Sunday repose prevailed the whole moribund
town, peaceful, profound. A certain pleasing numbness, a sense
of grateful enervation exhaled from the scorching plaster. There
was no movement, no sound of human business. The faint hum of
the insect, the intermittent murmur of the guitar, the mellow
complainings of the pigeons, the prolonged purr of the white cat,
the contented clucking of the hens--all these noises mingled
together to form a faint, drowsy bourdon, prolonged, stupefying,
suggestive of an infinite quiet, of a calm, complacent life,
centuries old, lapsing gradually to its end under the gorgeous
loneliness of a cloudless, pale blue sky and the steady fire of
an interminable sun.
In Solotari's Spanish-Mexican restaurant, Vanamee and Presley sat
opposite each other at one of the tables near the door, a bottle
of white wine, tortillas, and an earthen pot of frijoles between
them. They were the sole occupants of the place. It was the day
that Annixter had chosen for his barn-dance and, in consequence,
Quien Sabe was in fete and work suspended. Presley and Vanamee
had arranged to spend the day in each other's company, lunching
at Solotari's and taking a long tramp in the afternoon. For the
moment they sat back in their chairs, their meal all but
finished. Solotari brought black coffee and a small carafe of
mescal, and retiring to a corner of the room, went to sleep.
All through the meal Presley had been wondering over a certain
change he observed in his friend. He looked at him again.
Vanamee's lean, spare face was of an olive pallor. His long,
black hair, such as one sees in the saints and evangelists of the
pre-Raphaelite artists, hung over his ears. Presley again
remarked his pointed beard, black and fine, growing from the
hollow cheeks. He looked at his face, a face like that of a
young seer, like a half-inspired shepherd of the Hebraic legends,
a dweller in the wilderness, gifted with strange powers. He was
dressed as when Presley had first met him, herding his sheep, in
brown canvas overalls, thrust into top boots; grey flannel shirt,
open at the throat, showing the breast ruddy with tan; the waist
encircled with a cartridge belt, empty of cartridges.
But now, as Presley took more careful note of him, he was
surprised to observe a certain new look in Vanamee's deep-set
eyes. He remembered now that all through the morning Vanamee had
been singularly reserved. He was continually drifting into
reveries, abstracted, distrait. Indubitably, something of moment
At length Vanamee spoke. Leaning back in his chair, his thumbs
in his belt, his bearded chin upon his breast, his voice was the
even monotone of one speaking in his sleep.
He told Presley in a few words what had happened during the first
night he had spent in the garden of the old Mission, of the
Answer, half-fancied, half-real, that had come to him.
"To no other person but you would I speak of this," he said, "but
you, I think, will understand--will be sympathetic, at least, and
I feel the need of unburdening myself of it to some one. At
first I would not trust my own senses. I was sure I had deceived
myself, but on a second night it happened again. Then I was
afraid--or no, not afraid, but disturbed--oh, shaken to my very
heart's core. I resolved to go no further in the matter, never
again to put it to test. For a long time I stayed away from the
Mission, occupying myself with my work, keeping it out of my
mind. But the temptation was too strong. One night I found
myself there again, under the black shadow of the pear trees
calling for Angele, summoning her from out the dark, from out the
night. This time the Answer was prompt, unmistakable. I cannot
explain to you what it was, nor how it came to me, for there was
no sound. I saw absolutely nothing but the empty night. There
was no moon. But somewhere off there over the little valley, far
off, the darkness was troubled; that me that went out upon my
thought--out from the Mission garden, out over the valley,
calling for her, searching for her, found, I don't know what, but
found a resting place--a companion. Three times since then I
have gone to the Mission garden at night. Last night was the
He paused, his eyes shining with excitement. Presley leaned
forward toward him, motionless with intense absorption.
"Well--and last night," he prompted.
Vanamee stirred in his seat, his glance fell, he drummed an
instant upon the table.
"Last night," he answered, "there was--there was a change. The
Answer was--" he drew a deep breath--"nearer."
"You are sure?"
The other smiled with absolute certainty.
"It was not that I found the Answer sooner, easier. I could not
be mistaken. No, that which has troubled the darkness, that
which has entered into the empty night--is coming nearer to me--
physically nearer, actually nearer."
His voice sank again. His face like the face of younger
prophets, the seers, took on a half-inspired expression. He
looked vaguely before him with unseeing eyes.
"Suppose," he murmured, "suppose I stand there under the pear
trees at night and call her again and again, and each time the
Answer comes nearer and nearer and I wait until at last one
night, the supreme night of all, she--she----"
Suddenly the tension broke. With a sharp cry and a violent
uncertain gesture of the hand Vanamee came to himself.
"Oh," he exclaimed, "what is it? Do I dare? What does it mean?
There are times when it appals me and there are times when it
thrills me with a sweetness and a happiness that I have not known
since she died. The vagueness of it! How can I explain it to
you, this that happens when I call to her across the night--that
faint, far-off, unseen tremble in the darkness, that intangible,
scarcely perceptible stir. Something neither heard nor seen,
appealing to a sixth sense only. Listen, it is something like
this: On Quien Sabe, all last week, we have been seeding the
earth. The grain is there now under the earth buried in the
dark, in the black stillness, under the clods. Can you imagine
the first--the very first little quiver of life that the grain of
wheat must feel after it is sown, when it answers to the call of
the sun, down there in the dark of the earth, blind, deaf; the
very first stir from the inert, long, long before any physical
change has occurred,--long before the microscope could discover
the slightest change,--when the shell first tightens with the
first faint premonition of life? Well, it is something as
illusive as that." He paused again, dreaming, lost in a reverie,
then, just above a whisper, murmured:
"'That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die,' . . .
and she, Angele . . . died."
"You could not have been mistaken?" said Presley. "You were sure
that there was something? Imagination can do so much and the
influence of the surroundings was strong. How impossible it
would be that anything should happen. And you say you heard
nothing, saw nothing."
"I believe," answered Vanamee, "in a sixth sense, or, rather, a
whole system of other unnamed senses beyond the reach of our
understanding. People who live much alone and close to nature
experience the sensation of it. Perhaps it is something
fundamental that we share with plants and animals. The same
thing that sends the birds south long before the first colds, the
same thing that makes the grain of wheat struggle up to meet the
sun. And this sense never deceives. You may see wrong, hear
wrong, but once touch this sixth sense and it acts with absolute
fidelity, you are certain. No, I hear nothing in the Mission
garden. I see nothing, nothing touches me, but I am certain for
Presley hesitated for a moment, then he asked:
"Shall you go back to the garden again? Make the test again?"
"I don't know."
"Strange enough," commented Presley, wondering.
Vanamee sank back in his chair, his eyes growing vacant again:
"Strange enough," he murmured.
There was a long silence. Neither spoke nor moved. There, in
that moribund, ancient town, wrapped in its siesta, flagellated
with heat, deserted, ignored, baking in a noon-day silence, these
two strange men, the one a poet by nature, the other by training,
both out of tune with their world, dreamers, introspective,
morbid, lost and unfamiliar at that end-of-the-century time,
searching for a sign, groping and baffled amidst the perplexing
obscurity of the Delusion, sat over empty wine glasses, silent
with the pervading silence that surrounded them, hearing only the
cooing of doves and the drone of bees, the quiet so profound,
that at length they could plainly distinguish at intervals the
puffing and coughing of a locomotive switching cars in the
station yard of Bonneville.
It was, no doubt, this jarring sound that at length roused
Presley from his lethargy. The two friends rose; Solotari very
sleepily came forward; they paid for the luncheon, and stepping
out into the heat and glare of the streets of the town, passed on
through it and took the road that led northward across a corner
of Dyke's hop fields. They were bound for the hills in the
northeastern corner of Quien Sabe. It was the same walk which
Presley had taken on the previous occasion when he had first met
Vanamee herding the sheep. This encompassing detour around the
whole country-side was a favorite pastime of his and he was
anxious that Vanamee should share his pleasure in it.
But soon after leaving Guadalajara, they found themselves upon
the land that Dyke had bought and upon which he was to raise his
famous crop of hops. Dyke's house was close at hand, a very
pleasant little cottage, painted white, with green blinds and
deep porches, while near it and yet in process of construction,
were two great storehouses and a drying and curing house, where
the hops were to be stored and treated. All about were evidences
that the former engineer had already been hard at work. The
ground had been put in readiness to receive the crop and a
bewildering, innumerable multitude of poles, connected with a
maze of wire and twine, had been set out. Farther on at a turn
of the road, they came upon Dyke himself, driving a farm wagon
loaded with more poles. He was in his shirt sleeves, his
massive, hairy arms bare to the elbow, glistening with sweat, red
with heat. In his bell-like, rumbling voice, he was calling to
his foreman and a boy at work in stringing the poles together.
At sight of Presley and Vanamee he hailed them jovially,
addressing them as "boys," and insisting that they should get
into the wagon with him and drive to the house for a glass of
beer. His mother had only the day before returned from
Marysville, where she had been looking up a seminary for the
little tad. She would be delighted to see the two boys; besides,
Vanamee must see how the little tad had grown since he last set
eyes on her; wouldn't know her for the same little girl; and the
beer had been on ice since morning. Presley and Vanamee could
not well refuse.
They climbed into the wagon and jolted over the uneven ground
through the bare forest of hop-poles to the house. Inside they
found Mrs. Dyke, an old lady with a very gentle face, who wore a
cap and a very old-fashioned gown with hoop skirts, dusting the
what-not in a corner of the parlor. The two men were presented
and the beer was had from off the ice.
"Mother," said Dyke, as he wiped the froth from his great blond
beard, "ain't Sid anywheres about? I want Mr. Vanamee to see how
she has grown. Smartest little tad in Tulare County, boys. Can
recite the whole of 'Snow Bound,' end to end, without skipping or
looking at the book. Maybe you don't believe that. Mother,
ain't I right--without skipping a line, hey?"
Mrs. Dyke nodded to say that it was so, but explained that Sidney
was in Guadalajara. In putting on her new slippers for the first
time the morning before, she had found a dime in the toe of one
of them and had had the whole house by the ears ever since till
she could spend it.
"Was it for licorice to make her licorice water?" inquired Dyke
"Yes," said Mrs. Dyke. "I made her tell me what she was going
to get before she went, and it was licorice."
Dyke, though his mother protested that he was foolish and that
Presley and Vanamee had no great interest in "young ones,"
insisted upon showing the visitors Sidney's copy-books. They
were monuments of laborious, elaborate neatness, the trite
moralities and ready-made aphorisms of the philanthropists and
publicists, repeated from page to page with wearying insistence.
"I, too, am an American Citizen. S. D.," "As the Twig is Bent
the Tree is Inclined," "Truth Crushed to Earth Will Rise Again,"
"As for Me, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," and last of all, a
strange intrusion amongst the mild, well-worn phrases, two
legends. "My motto--Public Control of Public Franchises," and "
The P. and S. W. is an Enemy of the State."
"I see," commented Presley, "you mean the little tad to
understand 'the situation' early."
"I told him he was foolish to give that to Sid to copy," said
Mrs. Dyke, with indulgent remonstrance. "What can she understand
of public franchises?"
"Never mind," observed Dyke, "she'll remember it when she grows
up and when the seminary people have rubbed her up a bit, and
then she'll begin to ask questions and understand. And don't you
make any mistake, mother," he went on, "about the little tad not
knowing who her dad's enemies are. What do you think, boys?
Listen, here. Precious little I've ever told her of the railroad
or how I was turned off, but the other day I was working down by
the fence next the railroad tracks and Sid was there. She'd
brought her doll rags down and she was playing house behind a
pile of hop poles. Well, along comes a through freight--mixed
train from Missouri points and a string of empties from New
Orleans,--and when it had passed, what do you suppose the tad
did? She didn't know I was watching her. She goes to the fence
and spits a little spit after the caboose and puts out her little
head and, if you'll believe me, hisses at the train; and mother
says she does that same every time she sees a train go by, and
never crosses the tracks that she don't spit her little spit on
'em. What do you think of that?"
"But I correct her every time," protested Mrs. Dyke seriously.
"Where she picked up the trick of hissing I don't know. No, it's
not funny. It seems dreadful to see a little girl who's as sweet
and gentle as can be in every other way, so venomous. She says
the other little girls at school and the boys, too, are all the
same way. Oh, dear," she sighed, "why will the General Office be
so unkind and unjust? Why, I couldn't be happy, with all the
money in the world, if I thought that even one little child hated
me--hated me so that it would spit and hiss at me. And it's not
one child, it's all of them, so Sidney says; and think of all the
grown people who hate the road, women and men, the whole county,
the whole State, thousands and thousands of people. Don't the
managers and the directors of the road ever think of that? Don't
they ever think of all the hate that surrounds them, everywhere,
everywhere, and the good people that just grit their teeth when
the name of the road is mentioned? Why do they want to make the
people hate them? No," she murmured, the tears starting to her
eyes, "No, I tell you, Mr. Presley, the men who own the railroad
are wicked, bad-hearted men who don't care how much the poor
people suffer, so long as the road makes its eighteen million a
year. They don't care whether the people hate them or love them,
just so long as they are afraid of them. It's not right and God
will punish them sooner or later."
A little after this the two young men took themselves away, Dyke
obligingly carrying them in the wagon as far as the gate that
opened into the Quien Sabe ranch. On the way, Presley referred
to what Mrs. Dyke had said and led Dyke, himself, to speak of the
P. and S. W.
"Well," Dyke said, "it's like this, Mr. Presley. I, personally,
haven't got the right to kick. With you wheat-growing people I
guess it's different, but hops, you see, don't count for much in
the State. It's such a little business that the road don't want
to bother themselves to tax it. It's the wheat growers that the
road cinches. The rates on hops are fair. I've got to admit
that; I was in to Bonneville a while ago to find out. It's two
cents a pound, and Lord love you, that's reasonable enough to
suit any man. No," he concluded, "I'm on the way to make money
now. The road sacking me as they did was, maybe, a good thing
for me, after all. It came just at the right time. I had a bit
of money put by and here was the chance to go into hops with the
certainty that hops would quadruple and quintuple in price inside
the year. No, it was my chance, and though they didn't mean it
by a long chalk, the railroad people did me a good turn when they
gave me my time--and the tad'll enter the seminary next fall."
About a quarter of an hour after they had said goodbye to the
one-time engineer, Presley and Vanamee, tramping briskly along
the road that led northward through Quien Sabe, arrived at
Annixter's ranch house. At once they were aware of a vast and
unwonted bustle that revolved about the place. They stopped a
few moments looking on, amused and interested in what was going
The colossal barn was finished. Its freshly white-washed sides
glared intolerably in the sun, but its interior was as yet
innocent of paint and through the yawning vent of the sliding
doors came a delicious odour of new, fresh wood and shavings. A
crowd of men--Annixter's farm hands--were swarming all about it.
Some were balanced on the topmost rounds of ladders, hanging
festoons of Japanese lanterns from tree to tree, and all across
the front of the barn itself. Mrs. Tree, her daughter Hilma and
another woman were inside the barn cutting into long strips bolt
after bolt of red, white and blue cambric and directing how these
strips should be draped from the ceiling and on the walls;
everywhere resounded the tapping of tack hammers. A farm wagon
drove up loaded to overflowing with evergreens and with great
bundles of palm leaves, and these were immediately seized upon
and affixed as supplementary decorations to the tri-coloured
cambric upon the inside walls of the barn. Two of the larger
evergreen trees were placed on either side the barn door and
their tops bent over to form an arch. In the middle of this arch
it was proposed to hang a mammoth pasteboard escutcheon with gold
letters, spelling the word WELCOME. Piles of chairs, rented from
I.O.O.F. hall in Bonneville, heaped themselves in an apparently
hopeless entanglement on the ground; while at the far extremity
of the barn a couple of carpenters clattered about the impromptu
staging which was to accommodate the band.
There was a strenuous gayety in the air; everybody was in the
best of spirits. Notes of laughter continually interrupted the
conversation on every hand. At every moment a group of men
involved themselves in uproarious horse-play. They passed
oblique jokes behind their hands to each other--grossly veiled
double-meanings meant for the women--and bellowed with laughter
thereat, stamping on the ground. The relations between the sexes
grew more intimate, the women and girls pushing the young fellows
away from their sides with vigorous thrusts of their elbows. It
was passed from group to group that Adela Vacca, a division
superintendent's wife, had lost her garter; the daughter of the
foreman of the Home ranch was kissed behind the door of the
Annixter, in execrable temper, appeared from time to time,
hatless, his stiff yellow hair in wild disorder. He hurried
between the barn and the ranch house, carrying now a wickered
demijohn, now a case of wine, now a basket of lemons and
pineapples. Besides general supervision, he had elected to
assume the responsibility of composing the punch--something
stiff, by jingo, a punch that would raise you right out of your
boots; a regular hairlifter.
The harness room of the barn he had set apart for: himself and
intimates. He had brought a long table down from the house and
upon it had set out boxes of cigars, bottles of whiskey and of
beer and the great china bowls for the punch. It would be no
fault of his, he declared, if half the number of his men friends
were not uproarious before they left. His barn dance would be
the talk of all Tulare County for years to come. For this one
day he had resolved to put all thoughts of business out of his
head. For the matter of that, things were going well enough.
Osterman was back from Los Angeles with a favourable report as to
his affair with Disbrow and Darrell. There had been another
meeting of the committee. Harran Derrick had attended. Though
he had taken no part in the discussion, Annixter was satisfied.
The Governor had consented to allow Harran to "come in," if he so
desired, and Harran had pledged himself to share one-sixth of the
campaign expenses, providing these did not exceed a certain
As Annixter came to the door of the barn to shout abuse at the
distraught Chinese cook who was cutting up lemons in the kitchen,
he caught sight of Presley and Vanamee and hailed them.
"Hello, Pres," he called. "Come over here and see how she
looks;" he indicated the barn with a movement of his head.
"Well, we're getting ready for you tonight," he went on as the
two friends came up. "But how we are going to get straightened
out by eight o'clock I don't know. Would you believe that pip
Caraher is short of lemons--at this last minute and I told him
I'd want three cases of 'em as much as a month ago, and here,
just when I want a good lively saddle horse to get around on,
somebody hikes the buckskin out the corral. Stole her, by jingo.
I'll have the law on that thief if it breaks me--and a sixty-
dollar saddle 'n' head-stall gone with her; and only about half
the number of Jap lanterns that I ordered have shown up and not
candles enough for those. It's enough to make a dog sick.
There's nothing done that you don't do yourself, unless you stand
over these loafers with a club. I'm sick of the whole business--
and I've lost my hat; wish to God I'd never dreamed of givin'
this rotten fool dance. Clutter the whole place up with a lot of
feemales. I sure did lose my presence of mind when I got that
Then, ignoring the fact that it was he, himself, who had called
the young men to him, he added:
"Well, this is my busy day. Sorry I can't stop and talk to you
He shouted a last imprecation at the Chinaman and turned back
into the barn. Presley and Vanamee went on, but Annixter, as he
crossed the floor of the barn, all but collided with Hilma Tree,
who came out from one of the stalls, a box of candles in her
Gasping out an apology, Annixter reentered the harness room,
closing the door behind him, and forgetting all the
responsibility of the moment, lit a cigar and sat down in one of
the hired chairs, his hands in his pockets, his feet on the
table, frowning thoughtfully through the blue smoke.
Annixter was at last driven to confess to himself that he could
not get the thought of Hilma Tree out of his mind. Finally she
had "got a hold on him." The thing that of all others he most
dreaded had happened. A feemale girl had got a hold on him, and
now there was no longer for him any such thing as peace of mind.
The idea of the young woman was with him continually. He went to
bed with it; he got up with it. At every moment of the day he
was pestered with it. It interfered with his work, got mixed up
in his business. What a miserable confession for a man to make;
a fine way to waste his time. Was it possible that only the
other day he had stood in front of the music store in Bonneville
and seriously considered making Hilma a present of a music-box?
Even now, the very thought of it made him flush with shame, and
this after she had told him plainly that she did not like him.
He was running after her--he, Annixter! He ripped out a furious
oath, striking the table with his boot heel. Again and again he
had resolved to put the whole affair from out his mind. Once he
had been able to do so, but of late it was becoming harder and
harder with every successive day. He had only to close his eyes
to see her as plain as if she stood before him; he saw her in a
glory of sunlight that set a fine tinted lustre of pale carnation
and gold on the silken sheen of her white skin, her hair sparkled
with it, her thick, strong neck, sloping to her shoulders with
beautiful, full curves, seemed to radiate the light; her eyes,
brown, wide, innocent in expression, disclosing the full disc of
the pupil upon the slightest provocation, flashed in this
sunlight like diamonds.
Annixter was all bewildered. With the exception of the timid
little creature in the glove-cleaning establishment in
Sacramento, he had had no acquaintance with any woman. His world
was harsh, crude, a world of men only--men who were to be
combatted, opposed--his hand was against nearly every one of
them. Women he distrusted with the instinctive distrust of the
overgrown schoolboy. Now, at length, a young woman had come into
his life. Promptly he was struck with discomfiture, annoyed
almost beyond endurance, harassed, bedevilled, excited, made
angry and exasperated. He was suspicious of the woman, yet
desired her, totally ignorant of how to approach her, hating the
sex, yet drawn to the individual, confusing the two emotions,
sometimes even hating Hilma as a result of this confusion, but at
all times disturbed, vexed, irritated beyond power of expression.
At length, Annixter cast his cigar from him and plunged again
into the work of the day. The afternoon wore to evening, to the
accompaniment of wearying and clamorous endeavour. In some
unexplained fashion, the labour of putting the great barn in
readiness for the dance was accomplished; the last bolt of
cambric was hung in place from the rafters. The last evergreen
tree was nailed to the joists of the walls; the last lantern
hung, the last nail driven into the musicians' platform. The sun
set. There was a great scurry to have supper and dress.
Annixter, last of all the other workers, left the barn in the
dusk of twilight. He was alone; he had a saw under one arm, a
bag of tools was in his hand. He was in his shirt sleeves and
carried his coat over his shoulder; a hammer was thrust into one
of his hip pockets. He was in execrable temper. The day's work
had fagged him out. He had not been able to find his hat.
"And the buckskin with sixty dollars' worth of saddle gone, too,"
he groaned. "Oh, ain't it sweet?"
At his house, Mrs. Tree had set out a cold supper for him, the
inevitable dish of prunes serving as dessert. After supper
Annixter bathed and dressed. He decided at the last moment to
wear his usual town-going suit, a sack suit of black, made by a
Bonneville tailor. But his hat was gone. There were other hats
he might have worn, but because this particular one was lost he
fretted about it all through his dressing and then decided to
have one more look around the barn for it.
For over a quarter of an hour he pottered about the barn, going
from stall to stall, rummaging the harness room and feed room,
all to no purpose. At last he came out again upon the main
floor, definitely giving up the search, looking about him to see
if everything was in order.
The festoons of Japanese lanterns in and around the, barn were
not yet lighted, but some half-dozen lamps, with great, tin
reflectors, that hung against the walls, were burning low. A
dull half light pervaded the vast interior, hollow, echoing,
leaving the corners and roof thick with impenetrable black
shadows. The barn faced the west and through the open sliding
doors was streaming a single bright bar from the after-glow,
incongruous and out of all harmony with the dull flare of the
As Annixter glanced about him, he saw a figure step briskly out
of the shadows of one corner of the building, pause for the
fraction of one instant in the bar of light, then, at sight of
him, dart back again. There was a sound of hurried footsteps.
Annixter, with recollections of the stolen buckskin in his mind,
cried out sharply:
There was no answer. In a second his pistol was in his hand.
"Who's there? Quick, speak up or I'll shoot."
"No, no, no, don't shoot," cried an answering voice. "Oh, be
careful. It's I--Hilma Tree."
Annixter slid the pistol into his pocket with a great qualm of
apprehension. He came forward and met Hilma in the doorway.
"Good Lord," he murmured, "that sure did give me a start. If I
Hilma stood abashed and confused before him. She was dressed in
a white organdie frock of the most rigorous simplicity and wore
neither flower nor ornament. The severity of her dress made her
look even larger than usual, and even as it was her eyes were on
a level with Annixter's. There was a certain fascination in the
contradiction of stature and character of Hilma--a great girl,
half-child as yet, but tall as a man for all that.
There was a moment's awkward silence, then Hilma explained:
"I--I came back to look for my hat. I thought I left it here
"And I was looking for my hat," cried Annixter. "Funny enough,
They laughed at this as heartily as children might have done.
The constraint of the situation was a little relaxed and
Annixter, with sudden directness, glanced sharply at the young
woman and demanded:
"Well, Miss Hilma, hate me as much as ever?"
"Oh, no, sir," she answered, "I never said I hated you."
"Well,--dislike me, then; I know you said that."
"I--I disliked what you did--tried to do. It made me angry and
it hurt me. I shouldn't have said what I did that time, but it
was your fault."
"You mean you shouldn't have said you didn't like me?" asked
"Well, well,--I don't--I don't dislike anybody," admitted Hilma.
"Then I can take it that you don't dislike me? Is that it?"
"I don't dislike anybody," persisted Hilma.
"Well, I asked you more than that, didn't I?" queried Annixter
uneasily. "I asked you to like me, remember, the other day. I'm
asking you that again, now. I want you to like me."
Hilma lifted her eyes inquiringly to his. In her words was an
unmistakable ring of absolute sincerity. Innocently she
Annixter was struck speechless. In the face of such candour,
such perfect ingenuousness, he was at a loss for any words.
"Well--well," he stammered, "well--I don't know," he suddenly
burst out. "That is," he went on, groping for his wits, "I can't
quite say why." The idea of a colossal lie occurred to him, a
thing actually royal.
"I like to have the people who are around me like me," he
declared. "I--I like to be popular, understand? Yes, that's
it," he continued, more reassured. "I don't like the idea of any
one disliking me. That's the way I am. It's my nature."
"Oh, then," returned Hilma, "you needn't bother. No, I don't
"Well, that's good," declared Annixter judicially. "That's good.
But hold on," he interrupted, "I'm forgetting. It's not enough
to not dislike me. I want you to like me. How about that?"
Hilma paused for a moment, glancing vaguely out of the doorway
toward the lighted window of the dairy-house, her head tilted.
"I don't know that I ever thought about that," she said.
"Well, think about it now," insisted Annixter.
"But I never thought about liking anybody particularly," she
observed. "It's because I like everybody, don't you see?"
"Well, you've got to like some people more than other people,"
hazarded Annixter, "and I want to be one of those 'some people,'
savvy? Good Lord, I don't know how to say these fool things. I
talk like a galoot when I get talking to feemale girls and I
can't lay my tongue to anything that sounds right. It isn't my
nature. And look here, I lied when I said I liked to have people
like me--to be popular. Rot! I don't care a curse about
people's opinions of me. But there's a few people that are more
to me than most others--that chap Presley, for instance--and
those people I do want to have like me. What they think counts.
Pshaw! I know I've got enemies; piles of them. I could name you
half a dozen men right now that are naturally itching to take a
shot at me. How about this ranch? Don't I know, can't I hear
the men growling oaths under their breath after I've gone by?
And in business ways, too," he went on, speaking half to himself,
"in Bonneville and all over the county there's not a man of them
wouldn't howl for joy if they got a chance to down Buck Annixter.
Think I care? Why, I like it. I run my ranch to suit myself
and I play my game my own way. I'm a 'driver,' I know it, and a
'bully,' too. Oh, I know what they call me--'a brute beast, with
a twist in my temper that would rile up a new-born lamb,' and I'm
'crusty' and 'pig-headed' and 'obstinate.' They say all that, but
they've got to say, too, that I'm cleverer than any man-jack in
the running. There's nobody can get ahead of me." His eyes
snapped. "Let 'em grind their teeth. They can't 'down' me.
When I shut my fist there's not one of them can open it. No, not
with a chisel." He turned to Hilma again. "Well, when a man's
hated as much as that, it stands to reason, don't it, Miss Hilma,
that the few friends he has got he wants to keep? I'm not such
an entire swine to the people that know me best--that jackass,
Presley, for instance. I'd put my hand in the fire to do him a
real service. Sometimes I get kind of lonesome; wonder if you
would understand? It's my fault, but there's not a horse about
the place that don't lay his ears back when I get on him; there's
not a dog don't put his tail between his legs as soon as I come
near him. The cayuse isn't foaled yet here on Quien Sabe that
can throw me, nor the dog whelped that would dare show his teeth
at me. I kick that Irish setter every time I see him--but wonder
what I'd do, though, if he didn't slink so much, if he wagged his
tail and was glad to see me? So it all comes to this: I'd like
to have you--well, sort of feel that I was a good friend of yours
and like me because of it."
The flame in the lamp on the wall in front of Hilma stretched
upward tall and thin and began to smoke. She went over to where
the lamp hung and, standing on tip-toe, lowered the wick. As she
reached her hand up, Annixter noted how the sombre, lurid red of
the lamp made a warm reflection on her smooth, round arm.
"Do you understand?" he queried.
"Yes, why, yes," she answered, turning around. "It's very good
of you to want to be a friend of mine. I didn't think so,
though, when you tried to kiss me. But maybe it's all right
since you've explained things. You see I'm different from you.
I like everybody to like me and I like to like everybody. It
makes one so much happier. You wouldn't believe it, but you
ought to try it, sir, just to see. It's so good to be good to
people and to have people good to you. And everybody has always
been so good to me. Mamma and papa, of course, and Billy, the
stableman, and Montalegre, the Portugee foreman, and the Chinese
cook, even, and Mr. Delaney--only he went away--and Mrs. Vacca
and her little----"
"Delaney, hey?" demanded Annixter abruptly. "You and he were
pretty good friends, were you?"
"Oh, yes," she answered. "He was just as good to me. Every day
in the summer time he used to ride over to the Seed ranch back of
the Mission and bring me a great armful of flowers, the prettiest
things, and I used to pretend to pay him for them with dollars
made of cheese that I cut out of the cheese with a biscuit
cutter. It was such fun. We were the best of friends."
"There's another lamp smoking," growled Annixter. "Turn it down,
will you?--and see that somebody sweeps this floor here. It's
all littered up with pine needles. I've got a lot to do. Good-
Annixter returned to the ranch house, his teeth clenched,
enraged, his face flushed.
"Ah," he muttered, "Delaney, hey? Throwing it up to me that I
fired him." His teeth gripped together more fiercely than ever.
"The best of friends, hey? By God, I'll have that girl yet.
I'll show that cow-puncher. Ain't I her employer, her boss?
I'll show her--and Delaney, too. It would be easy enough--and
then Delaney can have her--if he wants her--after me."
An evil light flashing from under his scowl, spread over his
face. The male instincts of possession, unreasoned, treacherous,
oblique, came twisting to the surface. All the lower nature of
the man, ignorant of women, racked at one and the same time with
enmity and desire, roused itself like a hideous and abominable
beast. And at the same moment, Hilma returned to her house,
humming to herself as she walked, her white dress glowing with a
shimmer of faint saffron light in the last ray of the after-glow.
A little after half-past seven, the first carry-all, bearing the
druggist of Bonneville and his women-folk, arrived in front of
the new barn. Immediately afterward an express wagon loaded down
with a swarming family of Spanish-Mexicans, gorgeous in red and
yellow colours, followed. Billy, the stableman, and his
assistant took charge of the teams, unchecking the horses and
hitching them to a fence back of the barn. Then Caraher, the
saloon-keeper, in "derby" hat, "Prince Albert" coat, pointed
yellow shoes and inevitable red necktie, drove into the yard on
his buckboard, the delayed box of lemons under the seat. It
looked as if the whole array of invited guests was to arrive in
one unbroken procession, but for a long half-hour nobody else
appeared. Annixter and Caraher withdrew to the harness room and
promptly involved themselves in a wrangle as to the make-up of
the famous punch. From time to time their voices could be heard
uplifted in clamorous argument.
"Two quarts and a half and a cupful of chartreuse."
"Rot, rot, I know better. Champagne straight and a dash of
The druggist's wife and sister retired to the feed room, where a
bureau with a swinging mirror had been placed for the convenience
of the women. The druggist stood awkwardly outside the door of
the feed room, his coat collar turned up against the draughts
that drifted through the barn, his face troubled, debating
anxiously as to the propriety of putting on his gloves. The
Spanish-Mexican family, a father, mother and five children and
sister-in-law, sat rigid on the edges of the hired chairs,
silent, constrained, their eyes lowered, their elbows in at their
sides, glancing furtively from under their eyebrows at the
decorations or watching with intense absorption young Vacca, son
of one of the division superintendents, who wore a checked coat
and white thread gloves and who paced up and down the length of
the barn, frowning, very important, whittling a wax candle over
the floor to make it slippery for dancing.
The musicians arrived, the City Band of Bonneville--Annixter
having managed to offend the leader of the "Dirigo" Club
orchestra, at the very last moment, to such a point that he had
refused his services. These members of the City Band repaired at
once to their platform in the corner. At every instant they
laughed uproariously among themselves, joshing one of their
number, a Frenchman, whom they called "Skeezicks." Their
hilarity reverberated in a hollow, metallic roll among the
rafters overhead. The druggist observed to young Vacca as he
passed by that he thought them pretty fresh, just the same.
"I'm busy, I'm very busy," returned the young man, continuing on
his way, still frowning and paring the stump of candle.
"Two quarts 'n' a half. Two quarts 'n' a half."
"Ah, yes, in a way, that's so; and then, again, in a way, it
isn't. I know better."
All along one side of the barn were a row of stalls, fourteen of
them, clean as yet, redolent of new cut wood, the sawdust still
in the cracks of the flooring. Deliberately the druggist went
from one to the other, pausing contemplatively before each. He
returned down the line and again took up his position by the door
of the feed room, nodding his head judicially, as if satisfied.
He decided to put on his gloves.
By now it was quite dark. Outside, between the barn and the
ranch houses one could see a group of men on step-ladders
lighting the festoons of Japanese lanterns. In the darkness,
only their faces appeared here and there, high above the ground,
seen in a haze of red, strange, grotesque. Gradually as the
multitude of lanterns were lit, the light spread. The grass
underfoot looked like green excelsior. Another group of men
invaded the barn itself, lighting the lamps and lanterns there.
Soon the whole place was gleaming with points of light. Young
Vacca, who had disappeared, returned with his pockets full of wax
candles. He resumed his whittling, refusing to answer any
questions, vociferating that he was busy.
Outside there was a sound of hoofs and voices. More guests had
arrived. The druggist, seized with confusion, terrified lest he
had put on his gloves too soon, thrust his hands into his
pockets. It was Cutter, Magnus Derrick's division
superintendent, who came, bringing his wife and her two girl
cousins. They had come fifteen miles by the trail from the far
distant division house on "Four" of Los Muertos and had ridden on
horseback instead of driving. Mrs. Cutter could be heard
declaring that she was nearly dead and felt more like going to
bed than dancing. The two girl cousins, in dresses of dotted
Swiss over blue sateen, were doing their utmost to pacify her.
She could be heard protesting from moment to moment. One
distinguished the phrases "straight to my bed," "back nearly
broken in two," "never wanted to come in the first place." The
druggist, observing Cutter take a pair of gloves from Mrs.
Cutter's reticule, drew his hands from his pockets.
But abruptly there was an interruption. In the musicians' corner
a scuffle broke out. A chair was overturned. There was a noise
of imprecations mingled with shouts of derision. Skeezicks, the
Frenchman, had turned upon the joshers.
"Ah, no," he was heard to exclaim, "at the end of the end it is
too much. Kind of a bad canary--we will go to see about that.
Aha, let him close up his face before I demolish it with a good
stroke of the fist."
The men who were lighting the lanterns were obliged to intervene
before he could be placated.
Hooven and his wife and daughters arrived. Minna was carrying
little Hilda, already asleep, in her arms. Minna looked very
pretty, striking even, with her black hair, pale face, very red
lips and greenish-blue eyes. She was dressed in what had been
Mrs. Hooven's wedding gown, a cheap affair of "farmer's satin."
Mrs. Hooven had pendent earrings of imitation jet in her ears.
Hooven was wearing an old frock coat of Magnus Derrick's, the
sleeves too long, the shoulders absurdly too wide. He and Cutter
at once entered into an excited conversation as to the ownership
of a certain steer.
"Why, the brand----"
"Ach, Gott, der brendt," Hooven clasped his head, "ach, der
brendt, dot maks me laugh some laughs. Dot's goot--der brendt--
doand I see um--shoor der boole mit der bleck star bei der vore-
head in der middle oaf. Any someones you esk tell you dot is
mein boole. You esk any someones. Der brendt? To hell mit der
brendt. You aindt got some memorie aboudt does ting I guess
"Please step aside, gentlemen," said young Vacca, who was still
making the rounds of the floor.
Hooven whirled about. "Eh? What den," he exclaimed, still
excited, willing to be angry at any one for the moment. "Doand
you push soh, you. I tink berhapz you doand own dose barn, hey?"
"I'm busy, I'm very busy." The young man pushed by with grave
"Two quarts 'n' a half. Two quarts 'n' a half."
"I know better. That's all rot."
But the barn was filling up rapidly. At every moment there was a
rattle of a newly arrived vehicle from outside. Guest after
guest appeared in the doorway, singly or in couples, or in
families, or in garrulous parties of five and six. Now it was
Phelps and his mother from Los Muertos, now a foreman from
Broderson's with his family, now a gayly apparelled clerk from a
Bonneville store, solitary and bewildered, looking for a place to
put his hat, now a couple of Spanish-Mexican girls from
Guadalajara with coquettish effects of black and yellow about
their dress, now a group of Osterman's tenants, Portuguese,
swarthy, with plastered hair and curled mustaches, redolent of
cheap perfumes. Sarria arrived, his smooth, shiny face
glistening with perspiration. He wore a new cassock and carried
his broad-brimmed hat under his arm. His appearance made quite a
stir. He passed from group to group, urbane, affable, shaking
hands right and left; he assumed a set smile of amiability which
never left his face the whole evening.
But abruptly there was a veritable sensation. From out the
little crowd that persistently huddled about the doorway came
Osterman. He wore a dress-suit with a white waistcoat and patent
leather pumps--what a wonder! A little qualm of excitement
spread around the barn. One exchanged nudges of the elbow with
one's neighbour, whispering earnestly behind the hand. What
astonishing clothes! Catch on to the coat-tails! It was a
masquerade costume, maybe; that goat Osterman was such a josher,
one never could tell what he would do next.
The musicians began to tune up. From their corner came a medley
of mellow sounds, the subdued chirps of the violins, the dull
bourdon of the bass viol, the liquid gurgling of the flageolet
and the deep-toned snarl of the big horn, with now and then a
rasping stridulating of the snare drum. A sense of gayety began
to spread throughout the assembly. At every moment the crowd
increased. The aroma of new-sawn timber and sawdust began to be
mingled with the feminine odour of sachet and flowers. There was
a babel of talk in the air--male baritone and soprano chatter--
varied by an occasional note of laughter and the swish of stiffly
starched petticoats. On the row of chairs that went around three
sides of the wall groups began to settle themselves. For a long
time the guests huddled close to the doorway; the lower end of
the floor was crowded! the upper end deserted; but by degrees
the lines of white muslin and pink and blue sateen extended,
dotted with the darker figures of men in black suits. The
conversation grew louder as the timidity of the early moments
wore off. Groups at a distance called back and forth;
conversations were carried on at top voice. Once, even a whole
party hurried across the floor from one side of the barn to the
Annixter emerged from the harness room, his face red with
wrangling. He took a position to the right of the door, shaking
hands with newcomers, inviting them over and over again to cut
loose and whoop it along. Into the ears of his more intimate
male acquaintances he dropped a word as to punch and cigars in
the harness room later on, winking with vast intelligence.
Ranchers from remoter parts of the country appeared: Garnett,
from the Ruby rancho, Keast, from the ranch of the same name,
Gethings, of the San Pablo, Chattern, of the Bonanza, and others
and still others, a score of them--elderly men, for the most
part, bearded, slow of speech, deliberate, dressed in broadcloth.
Old Broderson, who entered with his wife on his arm, fell in with
this type, and with them came a certain Dabney, of whom nothing
but his name was known, a silent old man, who made no friends,
whom nobody knew or spoke to, who was seen only upon such
occasions as this, coming from no one knew where, going, no one
cared to inquire whither.
Between eight and half-past, Magnus Derrick and his family were
seen. Magnus's entry caused no little impression. Some said:
"There's the Governor," and called their companions' attention to
the thin, erect figure, commanding, imposing, dominating all in
his immediate neighbourhood. Harran came with him, wearing a
cut-away suit of black. He was undeniably handsome, young and
fresh looking, his cheeks highly coloured, quite the finest
looking of all the younger men; blond, strong, with that certain
courtliness of manner that had always made him liked. He took
his mother upon his arm and conducted her to a seat by the side
of Mrs. Broderson.
Annie Derrick was very pretty that evening. She was dressed in a
grey silk gown with a collar of pink velvet. Her light brown
hair that yet retained so much of its brightness was transfixed
by a high, shell comb, very Spanish. But the look of uneasiness
in her large eyes--the eyes of a young girl--was deepening every
day. The expression of innocence and inquiry which they so
easily assumed, was disturbed by a faint suggestion of aversion,
almost of terror. She settled herself in her place, in the
corner of the hall, in the rear rank of chairs, a little
frightened by the glare of lights, the hum of talk and the
shifting crowd, glad to be out of the way, to attract no
attention, willing to obliterate herself.
All at once Annixter, who had just shaken hands with Dyke, his
mother and the little tad, moved abruptly in his place, drawing
in his breath sharply. The crowd around the great, wide-open
main door of the barn had somewhat thinned out and in the few
groups that still remained there he had suddenly recognised Mr.
and Mrs. Tree and Hilma, making their way towards some empty
seats near the entrance of the feed room.
In the dusky light of the barn earlier in the evening, Annixter
had not been able to see Hilma plainly. Now, however, as she
passed before his eyes in the glittering radiance of the lamps
and lanterns, he caught his breath in astonishment. Never had
she appeared more beautiful in his eyes. It did not seem
possible that this was the same girl whom he saw every day in and
around the ranch house and dairy, the girl of simple calico
frocks and plain shirt waists, who brought him his dinner, who
made up his bed. Now he could not take his eyes from her.
Hilma, for the first time, was wearing her hair done high upon
her head. The thick, sweet-smelling masses, bitumen brown in the
shadows, corruscated like golden filaments in the light. Her
organdie frock was long, longer than any she had yet worn. It
left a little of her neck and breast bare and all of her arm.
Annixter muttered an exclamation. Such arms! How did she manage
to keep them hid on ordinary occasions. Big at the shoulder,
tapering with delicious modulations to the elbow and wrist,
overlaid with a delicate, gleaming lustre. As often as she
turned her head the movement sent a slow undulation over her neck
and shoulders, the pale amber-tinted shadows under her chin,
coming and going over the creamy whiteness of the skin like the
changing moire of silk. The pretty rose colour of her cheek had
deepened to a pale carnation. Annixter, his hands clasped behind
him, stood watching.
In a few moments Hilma was surrounded by a group of young men,
clamouring for dances. They came from all corners of the barn,
leaving the other girls precipitately, almost rudely. There
could be little doubt as to who was to be the belle of the
occasion. Hilma's little triumph was immediate, complete.
Annixter could hear her voice from time to time, its usual
velvety huskiness vibrating to a note of exuberant gayety.
All at once the orchestra swung off into a march--the Grand
March. There was a great rush to secure "partners." Young
Vacca, still going the rounds, was pushed to one side. The gayly
apparelled clerk from the Bonneville store lost his head in the
confusion. He could not find his "partner." He roamed wildly
about the barn, bewildered, his eyes rolling. He resolved to
prepare an elaborate programme card on the back of an old
envelope. Rapidly the line was formed, Hilma and Harran Derrick
in the lead, Annixter having obstinately refused to engage in
either march, set or dance the whole evening. Soon the confused
shuffling of feet settled to a measured cadence; the orchestra
blared and wailed, the snare drum, rolling at exact intervals,
the cornet marking the time. It was half-past eight o'clock.
Annixter drew a long breath:
"Good," he muttered, "the thing is under way at last."
Singularly enough, Osterman also refused to dance. The week
before he had returned from Los Angeles, bursting with the
importance of his mission. He had been successful. He had
Disbrow "in his pocket." He was impatient to pose before the
others of the committee as a skilful political agent, a
manipulator. He forgot his attitude of the early part of the
evening when he had drawn attention to himself with his wonderful
clothes. Now his comic actor's face, with its brownish-red
cheeks, protuberant ears and horizontal slit of a mouth, was
overcast with gravity. His bald forehead was seamed with the
wrinkles of responsibility. He drew Annixter into one of the
empty stalls and began an elaborate explanation, glib, voluble,
interminable, going over again in detail what he had reported to
the committee in outline.
"I managed--I schemed--I kept dark--I lay low----"
But Annixter refused to listen.
"Oh, rot your schemes. There's a punch in the harness room that
will make the hair grow on the top of your head in the place
where the hair ought to grow. Come on, we'll round up some of
the boys and walk into it."
They edged their way around the hall outside "The Grand March,"
toward the harness room, picking up on their way Caraher, Dyke,
Hooven and old Broderson. Once in the harness room, Annixter
shot the bolt.
"That affair outside," he observed, "will take care of itself,
but here's a little orphan child that gets lonesome without
Annixter began ladling the punch, filling the glasses.
Osterman proposed a toast to Quien Sabe and the Biggest Barn.
Their elbows crooked in silence. Old Broderson set down his
glass, wiping his long beard and remarking:
"That--that certainly is very--very agreeable. I remember a
punch I drank on Christmas day in '83, or no, it was '84--anyhow,
that punch--it was in Ukiah--'twas '83--" He wandered on
aimlessly, unable to stop his flow of speech, losing himself in
details, involving his talk in a hopeless maze of trivialities to
which nobody paid any attention.
"I don't drink myself," observed Dyke, "but just a taste of that
with a lot of water wouldn't be bad for the little tad. She'd
think it was lemonade." He was about to mix a glass for Sidney,
but thought better of it at the last moment.
"It's the chartreuse that's lacking," commented Caraher, lowering
at Annixter. The other flared up on the instant.
"Rot, rot. I know better. In some punches it goes; and then,
again, in others it don't."
But it was left to Hooven to launch the successful phrase:
"Gesundheit," he exclaimed, holding out his second glass. After
drinking, he replaced it on the table with a long breath. "Ach
Gott!" he cried, "dat poonsch, say I tink dot poonsch mek some
demn goot vertilizer, hey?"
Fertiliser! The others roared with laughter.
"Good eye, Bismarck," commented Annixter. The name had a great
success. Thereafter throughout the evening the punch was
invariably spoken of as the "Fertiliser." Osterman, having spilt
the bottom of a glassful on the floor, pretended that he saw
shoots of grain coming up on the spot. Suddenly he turned upon
"I'm bald, ain't I? Want to know how I lost my hair? Promise
you won't ask a single other question and I'll tell you. Promise
your word of honour."
"Eh? What--wh--I--I don't understand. Your hair? Yes, I'll
promise. How did you lose it?"
"It was bit off."
The other gazed at him stupefied; his jaw dropped. The company
shouted, and old Broderson, believing he had somehow accomplished
a witticism, chuckled in his beard, wagging his head. But
suddenly he fell grave, struck with an idea. He demanded:
"Yes--I know--but--but what bit it off?"
"Ah," vociferated Osterman, "that's just what you promised not to
The company doubled up with hilarity. Caraher leaned against the
door, holding his sides, but Hooven, all abroad, unable to
follow, gazed from face to face with a vacant grin, thinking it
was still a question of his famous phrase.
"Vertilizer, hey? Dots some fine joke, hey? You bedt."
What with the noise of their talk and laughter, it was some time
before Dyke, first of all, heard a persistent knocking on the
bolted door. He called Annixter's attention to the sound.
Cursing the intruder, Annixter unbolted and opened the door. But
at once his manner changed.
"Hello. It's Presley. Come in, come in, Pres."
There was a shout of welcome from the others. A spirit of
effusive cordiality had begun to dominate the gathering.
Annixter caught sight of Vanamee back of Presley, and waiving for
the moment the distinction of employer and employee, insisted
that both the friends should come in.
"Any friend of Pres is my friend," he declared.
But when the two had entered and had exchanged greetings, Presley
drew Annixter aside.
"Vanamee and I have just come from Bonneville," he explained.
"We saw Delaney there. He's got the buckskin, and he's full of
bad whiskey and dago-red. You should see him; he's wearing all
his cow-punching outfit, hair trousers, sombrero, spurs and all
the rest of it, and he has strapped himself to a big revolver.
He says he wasn't invited to your barn dance but that he's coming
over to shoot up the place. He says you promised to show him off
Quien Sabe at the toe of your boot and that he's going to give
you the chance to-night!"
"Ah," commented Annixter, nodding his head, "he is, is he?"
Presley was disappointed. Knowing Annixter's irascibility, he
had expected to produce a more dramatic effect. He began to
explain the danger of the business. Delaney had once knifed a
greaser in the Panamint country. He was known as a "bad" man.
But Annixter refused to be drawn.
"All right," he said, "that's all right. Don't tell anybody
else. You might scare the girls off. Get in and drink."
Outside the dancing was by this time in full swing. The
orchestra was playing a polka. Young Vacca, now at his fiftieth
wax candle, had brought the floor to the slippery surface of
glass. The druggist was dancing with one of the Spanish-Mexican
girls with the solemnity of an automaton, turning about and
about, always in the same direction, his eyes glassy, his teeth
set. Hilma Tree was dancing for the second time with Harran
Derrick. She danced with infinite grace. Her cheeks were bright
red, her eyes half-closed, and through her parted lips she drew
from time to time a long, tremulous breath of pure delight. The
music, the weaving colours, the heat of the air, by now a little
oppressive, the monotony of repeated sensation, even the pain of
physical fatigue had exalted all her senses. She was in a dreamy
lethargy of happiness. It was her "first ball." She could have
danced without stopping until morning. Minna Hooven and Cutter
were "promenading." Mrs. Hooven, with little Hilda already
asleep on her knees, never took her eyes from her daughter's
gown. As often as Minna passed near her she vented an energetic
"pst! pst!" The metal tip of a white draw string was showing
from underneath the waist of Minna's dress. Mrs. Hooven was on
the point of tears.
The solitary gayly apparelled clerk from Bonneville was in a
fever of agitation. He had lost his elaborate programme card.
Bewildered, beside himself with trepidation, he hurried about the
room, jostled by the dancing couples, tripping over the feet of
those who were seated; he peered distressfully under the chairs
and about the floor, asking anxious questions.
Magnus Derrick, the centre of a listening circle of ranchers--
Garnett from the Ruby rancho, Keast from the ranch of the same
name, Gethings and Chattern of the San Pablo and Bonanza--stood
near the great open doorway of the barn, discussing the
possibility of a shortage in the world's wheat crop for the next
Abruptly the orchestra ceased playing with a roll of the snare
drum, a flourish of the cornet and a prolonged growl of the bass
viol. The dance broke up, the couples hurrying to their seats,
leaving the gayly apparelled clerk suddenly isolated in the
middle of the floor, rolling his eyes. The druggist released the
Spanish-Mexican girl with mechanical precision out amidst the
crowd of dancers. He bowed, dropping his chin upon his cravat;
throughout the dance neither had hazarded a word. The girl found
her way alone to a chair, but the druggist, sick from continually
revolving in the same direction, walked unsteadily toward the
wall. All at once the barn reeled around him; he fell down.
There was a great laugh, but he scrambled to his feet and
disappeared abruptly out into the night through the doorway of
the barn, deathly pale, his hand upon his stomach.
Dabney, the old man whom nobody knew, approached the group of
ranchers around Magnus Derrick and stood, a little removed,
listening gravely to what the governor was saying, his chin sunk
in his collar, silent, offering no opinions.
But the leader of the orchestra, with a great gesture of his
violin bow, cried out:
"All take partners for the lancers and promenade around the
However, there was a delay. A little crowd formed around the
musicians' platform; voices were raised; there was a commotion.
Skeezicks, who played the big horn, accused the cornet and the
snare-drum of stealing his cold lunch. At intervals he could be
"Ah, no! at the end of the end! Render me the sausages, you, or
less I break your throat! Aha! I know you. You are going to
play me there a bad farce. My sausages and the pork sandwich,
else I go away from this place!"
He made an exaggerated show of replacing his big horn in its
case, but the by-standers raised a great protest. The sandwiches
and one sausage were produced; the other had disappeared. In the
end Skeezichs allowed himself to be appeased. The dance was
Half an hour later the gathering in the harness room was
considerably reinforced. It was the corner of the barn toward
which the male guests naturally gravitated. Harran Derrick, who
only cared to dance with Hilma Tree, was admitted. Garnett from
the Ruby rancho and Gethings from the San Pablo, came in a little
afterwards. A fourth bowl of punch was mixed, Annixter and
Caraher clamouring into each other's face as to its ingredients.
Cigars were lighted. Soon the air of the room became blue with
an acrid haze of smoke. It was very warm. Ranged in their
chairs around the side of the room, the guests emptied glass
Vanamee alone refused to drink. He sat a little to one side,
disassociating himself from what was going forward, watching the
others calmly, a little contemptuously, a cigarette in his
Hooven, after drinking his third glass, however, was afflicted
with a great sadness; his breast heaved with immense sighs. He
asserted that he was "obbressed;" Cutter had taken his steer. He
retired to a corner and seated himself in a heap on his chair,
his heels on the rungs, wiping the tears from his eyes, refusing
to be comforted.
Old Broderson startled Annixter, who sat next to him, out of all
measure by suddenly winking at him with infinite craftiness.
"When I was a lad in Ukiah," he whispered hoarsely, "I was a
devil of a fellow with the girls; but Lordy!" he nudged him
slyly, "I wouldn't have it known!"
Of those who were drinking, Annixter alone retained all his wits.
Though keeping pace with the others, glass for glass, the punch
left him solid upon his feet, clear-headed. The tough, cross-
grained fibre of him seemed proof against alcohol. Never in his
life had he been drunk. He prided himself upon his power of
resistance. It was his nature.
"Say!" exclaimed old Broderson, gravely addressing the company,
pulling at his beard uneasily--"say! I--I--listen! I'm a devil
of a fellow with the girls." He wagged his head doggedly,
shutting his eyes in a knowing fashion. "Yes, sir, I am. There
was a young lady in Ukiah--that was when I was a lad of
seventeen. We used to meet in the cemetery in the afternoons. I
was to go away to school at Sacramento, and the afternoon I left
we met in the cemetery and we stayed so long I almost missed the
train. Her name was Celestine."
There was a pause. The others waited for the rest of the story.
"And afterwards?" prompted Annixter.
"Afterwards? Nothing afterwards. I never saw her again. Her
name was Celestine."
The company raised a chorus of derision, and Osterman cried
"Say! That's a pretty good one! Tell us another."
The old man laughed with the rest, believing he had made another
hit. He called Osterman to him, whispering in his ear:
"Sh! Look here! Some night you and I will go up to San
Francisco--hey? We'll go skylarking. We'll be gay. Oh, I'm a--
a--a rare old buck, I am! I ain't too old. You'll see."
Annixter gave over the making of the fifth bowl of punch to
Osterman, who affirmed that he had a recipe for a "fertiliser"
from Solotari that would take the plating off the ladle. He left
him wrangling with Caraher, who still persisted in adding
chartreuse, and stepped out into the dance to see how things were
It was the interval between two dances. In and around a stall at
the farther end of the floor, where lemonade was being served,
was a great throng of young men. Others hurried across the floor
singly or by twos and threes, gingerly carrying overflowing
glasses to their "partners," sitting in long rows of white and
blue and pink against the opposite wall, their mothers and older
sisters in a second dark-clothed rank behind them. A babel of
talk was in the air, mingled with gusts of laughter. Everybody
seemed having a good time. In the increasing heat the
decorations of evergreen trees and festoons threw off a pungent
aroma that suggested a Sunday-school Christmas festival. In the
other stalls, lower down the barn, the young men had brought
chairs, and in these deep recesses the most desperate love-making
was in progress, the young man, his hair neatly parted, leaning
with great solicitation over the girl, his "partner" for the
moment, fanning her conscientiously, his arm carefully laid along
the back of her chair.
By the doorway, Annixter met Sarria, who had stepped out to smoke
a fat, black cigar. The set smile of amiability was still fixed
on the priest's smooth, shiny face; the cigar ashes had left grey
streaks on the front of his cassock. He avoided Annixter,
fearing, no doubt, an allusion to his game cocks, and took up his
position back of the second rank of chairs by the musicians'
stand, beaming encouragingly upon every one who caught his eye.
Annixter was saluted right and left as he slowly went the round
of the floor. At every moment he had to pause to shake hands and
to listen to congratulations upon the size of his barn and the
success of his dance. But he was distrait, his thoughts
elsewhere; he did not attempt to hide his impatience when some of
the young men tried to engage him in conversation, asking him to
be introduced to their sisters, or their friends' sisters. He
sent them about their business harshly, abominably rude, leaving
a wake of angry disturbance behind him, sowing the seeds of
future quarrels and renewed unpopularity. He was looking for
When at last he came unexpectedly upon her, standing near where
Mrs. Tree was seated, some half-dozen young men hovering uneasily
in her neighbourhood, all his audacity was suddenly stricken from
him; his gruffness, his overbearing insolence vanished with an
abruptness that left him cold. His old-time confusion and
embarrassment returned to him. Instead of speaking to her as he
intended, he affected not to see her, but passed by, his head in
the air, pretending a sudden interest in a Japanese lantern that
was about to catch fire.
But he had had a single distinct glimpse of her, definite,
precise, and this glimpse was enough. Hilma had changed. The
change was subtle, evanescent, hard to define, but not the less
unmistakable. The excitement, the enchanting delight, the
delicious disturbance of "the first ball," had produced its
result. Perhaps there had only been this lacking. It was hard
to say, but for that brief instant of time Annixter was looking
at Hilma, the woman. She was no longer the young girl upon whom
he might look down, to whom he might condescend, whose little,
infantile graces were to be considered with amused toleration.
When Annixter returned to the harness room, he let himself into a
clamour of masculine hilarity. Osterman had, indeed, made a
marvellous "fertiliser," whiskey for the most part, diluted with
champagne and lemon juice. The first round of this drink had
been welcomed with a salvo of cheers. Hooven, recovering his
spirits under its violent stimulation, spoke of "heving ut oudt
mit Cudder, bei Gott," while Osterman, standing on a chair at the
end of the room, shouted for a "few moments quiet, gentlemen," so
that he might tell a certain story he knew.
But, abruptly, Annixter discovered that the liquors--the
champagne, whiskey, brandy, and the like--were running low. This
would never do. He felt that he would stand disgraced if it
could be said afterward that he had not provided sufficient drink
at his entertainment. He slipped out, unobserved, and, finding
two of his ranch hands near the doorway, sent them down to the
ranch house to bring up all the cases of "stuff" they found
However, when this matter had been attended to, Annixter did not
immediately return to the harness room. On the floor of the barn
a square dance was under way, the leader of the City Band calling
the figures. Young Vacca indefatigably continued the rounds of
the barn, paring candle after candle, possessed with this single
idea of duty, pushing the dancers out of his way, refusing to
admit that the floor was yet sufficiently slippery. The druggist
had returned indoors, and leaned dejected and melancholy against
the wall near the doorway, unable to dance, his evening's
enjoyment spoiled. The gayly apparelled clerk from Bonneville
had just involved himself in a deplorable incident. In a search
for his handkerchief, which he had lost while trying to find his
programme card, he had inadvertently wandered into the feed room,
set apart as the ladies' dressing room, at the moment when Mrs.
Hooven, having removed the waist of Minna's dress, was relacing
her corsets. There was a tremendous scene. The clerk was
ejected forcibly, Mrs. Hooven filling all the neighbourhood with
shrill expostulation. A young man, Minna's "partner," who stood
near the feed room door, waiting for her to come out, had invited
the clerk, with elaborate sarcasm, to step outside for a moment;
and the clerk, breathless, stupefied, hustled from hand to hand,
remained petrified, with staring eyes, turning about and about,
looking wildly from face to face, speechless, witless, wondering
what had happened.
But the square dance was over. The City Band was just beginning
to play a waltz. Annixter assuring himself that everything was
going all right, was picking his way across the floor, when he
came upon Hilma Tree quite alone, and looking anxiously among the
crowd of dancers.
"Having a good time, Miss Hilma?" he demanded, pausing for a
"Oh, am I, just!" she exclaimed. "The best time--but I don't
know what has become of my partner. See! I'm left all alone--
the only time this whole evening," she added proudly. "Have you
seen him--my partner, sir? I forget his name. I only met him
this evening, and I've met so many I can't begin to remember half
of them. He was a young man from Bonneville--a clerk, I think,
because I remember seeing him in a store there, and he wore the
"I guess he got lost in the shuffle," observed Annixter.
Suddenly an idea occurred to him. He took his resolution in both
hands. He clenched his teeth.
"Say! look here, Miss Hilma. What's the matter with you and I
stealing this one for ourselves? I don't mean to dance. I don't
propose to make a jumping-jack of myself for some galoot to give
me the laugh, but we'll walk around. Will you? What do you
"I'm not so very sorry I missed my dance with that--that--little
clerk," she said guiltily. "I suppose that's very bad of me,
Annixter fulminated a vigorous protest.
"I am so warm!" murmured Hilma, fanning herself with her
handkerchief; "and, oh! Such a good time as I have had! I was
so afraid that I would be a wall-flower and sit up by mamma and
papa the whole evening; and as it is, I have had every single
dance, and even some dances I had to split. Oh-h!" she breathed,
glancing lovingly around the barn, noting again the festoons of
tri-coloured cambric, the Japanese lanterns, flaring lamps, and
"decorations" of evergreen; "oh-h! it's all so lovely, just like
a fairy story; and to think that it can't last but for one little
evening, and that to-morrow morning one must wake up to the
every-day things again!"
"Well," observed Annixter doggedly, unwilling that she should
forget whom she ought to thank, "I did my best, and my best is as
good as another man's, I guess."
Hilma overwhelmed him with a burst of gratitude which he gruffly
pretended to deprecate. Oh, that was all right. It hadn't cost
him much. He liked to see people having a good time himself, and
the crowd did seem to be enjoying themselves. What did she
think? Did things look lively enough? And how about herself--
was she enjoying it?
Stupidly Annixter drove the question home again, at his wits' end
as to how to make conversation. Hilma protested volubly she
would never forget this night, adding:
"Dance! Oh, you don't know how I love it! I didn't know myself.
I could dance all night and never stop once!"
Annixter was smitten with uneasiness. No doubt this
"promenading" was not at all to her taste. Wondering what kind
of a spectacle he was about to make of himself, he exclaimed:
"Want to dance now?"
"Oh, yes!" she returned.
They paused in their walk, and Hilma, facing him, gave herself
into his arms. Annixter shut his teeth, the perspiration
starting from his forehead. For five years he had abandoned
dancing. Never in his best days had it been one of his
They hesitated a moment, waiting to catch the time from the
musicians. Another couple bore down upon them at precisely the
wrong moment, jostling them out of step. Annixter swore under
his breath. His arm still about the young woman, he pulled her
over to one corner.
"Now," he muttered, "we'll try again."
A second time, listening to the one-two-three, one-two-three
cadence of the musicians, they endeavoured to get under way.
Annixter waited the fraction of a second too long and stepped on
Hilma's foot. On the third attempt, having worked out of the
corner, a pair of dancers bumped into them once more, and as they
were recovering themselves another couple caromed violently
against Annixter so that he all but lost his footing. He was in
a rage. Hilma, very embarrassed, was trying not to laugh, and
thus they found themselves, out in the middle of the floor,
continually jostled from their position, holding clumsily to each
other, stammering excuses into one another's faces, when Delaney
He came with the suddenness of an explosion. There was a
commotion by the doorway, a rolling burst of oaths, a furious
stamping of hoofs, a wild scramble of the dancers to either side
of the room, and there he was. He had ridden the buckskin at a
gallop straight through the doorway and out into the middle of
the floor of the barn.
Once well inside, Delaney hauled up on the cruel spade-bit, at
the same time driving home the spurs, and the buckskin, without
halting in her gait, rose into the air upon her hind feet, and
coming down again with a thunder of iron hoofs upon the hollow
floor, lashed out with both heels simultaneously, her back
arched, her head between her knees. It was the running buck, and
had not Delaney been the hardest buster in the county, would have
flung him headlong like a sack of sand. But he eased off the
bit, gripping the mare's flanks with his knees, and the buckskin,
having long since known her master, came to hand quivering, the
bloody spume dripping from the bit upon the slippery floor.
Delaney had arrayed himself with painful elaboration, determined
to look the part, bent upon creating the impression, resolved
that his appearance at least should justify his reputation of
being "bad." Nothing was lacking--neither the campaign hat with
upturned brim, nor the dotted blue handkerchief knotted behind
the neck, nor the heavy gauntlets stitched with red, nor--this
above all--the bear-skin "chaparejos," the hair trousers of the
mountain cowboy, the pistol holster low on the thigh. But for
the moment this holster was empty, and in his right hand, the
hammer at full cock, the chamber loaded, the puncher flourished
his teaser, an army Colt's, the lamplight dully reflected in the
dark blue steel.
In a second of time the dance was a bedlam. The musicians
stopped with a discord, and the middle of the crowded floor bared
itself instantly. It was like sand blown from off a rock; the
throng of guests, carried by an impulse that was not to be
resisted, bore back against the sides of the barn, overturning
chairs, tripping upon each other, falling down, scrambling to
their feet again, stepping over one another, getting behind each
other, diving under chairs, flattening themselves against the
wall--a wild, clamouring pell-mell, blind, deaf, panic-stricken;
a confused tangle of waving arms, torn muslin, crushed flowers,
pale faces, tangled legs, that swept in all directions back from
the centre of the floor, leaving Annixter and Hilma, alone,
deserted, their arms about each other, face to face with Delaney,
mad with alcohol, bursting with remembered insult, bent on evil,
reckless of results.
After the first scramble for safety, the crowd fell quiet for the
fraction of an instant, glued to the walls, afraid to stir,
struck dumb and motionless with surprise and terror, and in the
instant's silence that followed Annixter, his eyes on Delaney,
muttered rapidly to Hilma:
"Get back, get away to one side. The fool might shoot."
There was a second's respite afforded while Delaney occupied
himself in quieting the buckskin, and in that second of time, at
this moment of crisis, the wonderful thing occurred. Hilma,
turning from Delaney, her hands clasped on Annixter's arm, her
eyes meeting his, exclaimed:
And that was all; but to Annixter it was a revelation. Never
more alive to his surroundings, never more observant, he suddenly
understood. For the briefest lapse of time he and Hilma looked
deep into each other's eyes, and from that moment on, Annixter
knew that Hilma cared.
The whole matter was brief as the snapping of a finger. Two
words and a glance and all was done. But as though nothing had
occurred, Annixter pushed Hilma from him, repeating harshly:
"Get back, I tell you. Don't you see he's got a gun? Haven't I
enough on my hands without you?"
He loosed her clasp and his eyes once more on Delaney, moved
diagonally backwards toward the side of the barn, pushing Hilma
from him. In the end he thrust her away so sharply that she gave
back with a long stagger; somebody caught her arm and drew her
in, leaving Annixter alone once more in the middle of the floor,
his hands in his coat pockets, watchful, alert, facing his enemy.
But the cow-puncher was not ready to come to grapples yet.
Fearless, his wits gambolling under the lash of the alcohol, he
wished to make the most of the occasion, maintaining the
suspense, playing for the gallery. By touches of the hand and
knee he kept the buckskin in continual, nervous movement, her
hoofs clattering, snorting, tossing her head, while he, himself,
addressing himself to Annixter, poured out a torrent of
"Well, strike me blind if it ain't old Buck Annixter! He was
going to show me off Quien Sabe at the toe of his boot, was he?
Well, here's your chance,--with the ladies to see you do it.
Gives a dance, does he, high-falutin' hoe-down in his barn and
forgets to invite his old broncho-bustin' friend. But his friend
don't forget him; no, he don't. He remembers little things, does
his broncho-bustin' friend. Likes to see a dance hisself on
occasion, his friend does. Comes anyhow, trustin' his welcome
will be hearty; just to see old Buck Annixter dance, just to show
Buck Annixter's friends how Buck can dance--dance all by hisself,
a little hen-on-a-hot-plate dance when his broncho-bustin' friend
asks him so polite. A little dance for the ladies, Buck. This
feature of the entertainment is alone worth the price of
admission. Tune up, Buck. Attention now! I'll give you the
He "fanned" his revolver, spinning it about his index finger by
the trigger-guard with incredible swiftness, the twirling weapon
a mere blur of blue steel in his hand. Suddenly and without any
apparent cessation of the movement, he fired, and a little
splinter of wood flipped into the air at Annixter's feet.
"Time!" he shouted, while the buckskin reared to the report.
"Hold on--wait a minute. This place is too light to suit. That
big light yonder is in my eyes. Look out, I'm going to throw
A second shot put out the lamp over the musicians' stand. The
assembled guests shrieked, a frantic, shrinking quiver ran
through the crowd like the huddling of frightened rabbits in
Annixter hardly moved. He stood some thirty paces from the
buster, his hands still in his coat pockets, his eyes glistening,
Excitable and turbulent in trifling matters, when actual bodily
danger threatened he was of an abnormal quiet.
"I'm watching you," cried the other. "Don't make any mistake
about that. Keep your hands in your coat pockets, if you'd like
to live a little longer, understand? And don't let me see you
make a move toward your hip or your friends will be asked to
identify you at the morgue to-morrow morning. When I'm bad, I'm
called the Undertaker's Friend, so I am, and I'm that bad to-
night that I'm scared of myself. They'll have to revise the
census returns before I'm done with this place. Come on, now,
I'm getting tired waiting. I come to see a dance."
"Hand over that horse, Delaney," said Annixter, without raising
his voice, "and clear out."
The other affected to be overwhelmed with infinite astonishment,
his eyes staring. He peered down from the saddle.
"Wh-a-a-t!" he exclaimed; "wh-a-a-t did you say? Why, I guess
you must be looking for trouble; that's what I guess."
"There's where you're wrong, m'son," muttered Annixter, partly to
Delaney, partly to himself. "If I was looking for trouble there
wouldn't be any guess-work about it."
With the words he began firing. Delaney had hardly entered the
barn before Annixter's plan had been formed. Long since his
revolver was in the pocket of his coat, and he fired now through
the coat itself, without withdrawing his hands.
Until that moment Annixter had not been sure of himself. There
was no doubt that for the first few moments of the affair he
would have welcomed with joy any reasonable excuse for getting
out of the situation. But the sound of his own revolver gave him
confidence. He whipped it from his pocket and fired again.
Abruptly the duel began, report following report, spurts of pale
blue smoke jetting like the darts of short spears between the two
men, expanding to a haze and drifting overhead in wavering
strata. It was quite probable that no thought of killing each
other suggested itself to either Annixter or Delaney. Both fired
without aiming very deliberately. To empty their revolvers and
avoid being hit was the desire common to both. They no longer
vituperated each other. The revolvers spoke for them.
Long after, Annixter could recall this moment. For years he
could with but little effort reconstruct the scene--the densely
packed crowd flattened against the sides of the barn, the
festoons of lanterns, the mingled smell of evergreens, new wood,
sachets, and powder smoke; the vague clamour of distress and
terror that rose from the throng of guests, the squealing of the
buckskin, the uneven explosions of the revolvers, the
reverberation of trampling hoofs, a brief glimpse of Harran
Derrick's excited face at the door of the harness room, and in
the open space in the centre of the floor, himself and Delaney,
manoeuvring swiftly in a cloud of smoke.
Annixter's revolver contained but six cartridges. Already it
seemed to him as if he had fired twenty times. Without doubt the
next shot was his last. Then what? He peered through the blue
haze that with every discharge thickened between him and the
buster. For his own safety he must "place" at least one shot.
Delaney's chest and shoulders rose suddenly above the smoke close
upon him as the distraught buckskin reared again. Annixter, for
the first time during the fight, took definite aim, but before he
could draw the trigger there was a great shout and he was aware
of the buckskin, the bridle trailing, the saddle empty, plunging
headlong across the floor, crashing into the line of chairs.
Delaney was scrambling off the floor. There was blood on the
buster's wrist and he no longer carried his revolver. Suddenly
he turned and ran. The crowd parted right and left before him as
he made toward the doorway. He disappeared.
Twenty men promptly sprang to the buckskin's head, but she broke
away, and wild with terror, bewildered, blind, insensate, charged
into the corner of the barn by the musicians' stand. She brought
up against the wall with cruel force and with impact of a sack of
stones; her head was cut. She turned and charged again, bull-
like, the blood streaming from her forehead. The crowd,
shrieking, melted before her rush. An old man was thrown down
and trampled. The buckskin trod upon the dragging bridle,
somersaulted into a confusion of chairs in one corner, and came
down with a terrific clatter in a wild disorder of kicking hoofs
and splintered wood. But a crowd of men fell upon her, tugging
at the bit, sitting on her head, shouting, gesticulating. For
five minutes she struggled and fought; then, by degrees, she
recovered herself, drawing great sobbing breaths at long
intervals that all but burst the girths, rolling her eyes in
bewildered, supplicating fashion, trembling in every muscle, and
starting and shrinking now and then like a young girl in
hysterics. At last she lay quiet. The men allowed her to
struggle to her feet. The saddle was removed and she was led to
one of the empty stalls, where she remained the rest of the
evening, her head low, her pasterns quivering, turning her head
apprehensively from time to time, showing the white of one eye
and at long intervals heaving a single prolonged sigh.
And an hour later the dance was progressing as evenly as though
nothing in the least extraordinary had occurred. The incident
was closed--that abrupt swoop of terror and impending death
dropping down there from out the darkness, cutting abruptly
athwart the gayety of the moment, come and gone with the
swiftness of a thunderclap. Many of the women had gone home,
taking their men with them; but the great bulk of the crowd still
remained, seeing no reason why the episode should interfere with
the evening's enjoyment, resolved to hold the ground for mere
bravado, if for nothing else. Delaney would not come back, of
that everybody was persuaded, and in case he should, there was
not found wanting fully half a hundred young men who would give
him a dressing down, by jingo! They had been too surprised to
act when Delaney had first appeared, and before they knew where
they were at, the buster had cleared out. In another minute,
just another second, they would have shown him--yes, sir, by
jingo!--ah, you bet!
On all sides the reminiscences began to circulate. At least one
man in every three had been involved in a gun fight at some time
of his life. "Ah, you ought to have seen in Yuba County one
time--" "Why, in Butte County in the early days--" "Pshaw! this
to-night wasn't anything! Why, once in a saloon in Arizona when
I was there--" and so on, over and over again. Osterman solemnly
asserted that he had seen a greaser sawn in two in a Nevada
sawmill. Old Broderson had witnessed a Vigilante lynching in '55
on California Street in San Francisco. Dyke recalled how once in
his engineering days he had run over a drunk at a street
crossing. Gethings of the San Pablo had taken a shot at a
highwayman. Hooven had bayonetted a French Chasseur at Sedan.
An old Spanish-Mexican, a centenarian from Guadalajara,
remembered Fremont's stand on a mountain top in San Benito
County. The druggist had fired at a burglar trying to break into
his store one New Year's eve. Young Vacca had seen a dog shot in
Guadalajara. Father Sarria had more than once administered the
sacraments to Portuguese desperadoes dying of gunshot wounds.
Even the women recalled terrible scenes. Mrs. Cutter recounted
to an interested group how she had seen a claim jumped in Placer
County in 1851, when three men were shot, falling in a fusillade
of rifle shots, and expiring later upon the floor of her kitchen
while she looked on. Mrs. Dyke had been in a stage hold-up, when
the shotgun messenger was murdered. Stories by the hundreds went
the round of the company. The air was surcharged with blood,
dying groans, the reek of powder smoke, the crack of rifles. All
the legends of '49, the violent, wild life of the early days,
were recalled to view, defiling before them there in an endless
procession under the glare of paper lanterns and kerosene lamps.
But the affair had aroused a combative spirit amongst the men of
the assembly. Instantly a spirit of aggression, of truculence,
swelled up underneath waistcoats and starched shirt bosoms. More
than one offender was promptly asked to "step outside." It was
like young bucks excited by an encounter of stags, lowering their
horns upon the slightest provocation, showing off before the does
and fawns. Old quarrels were remembered. One sought laboriously
for slights and insults, veiled in ordinary conversation. The
sense of personal honour became refined to a delicate, fine
point. Upon the slightest pretext there was a haughty drawing up
of the figure, a twisting of the lips into a smile of scorn.
Caraher spoke of shooting S. Behrman on sight before the end of
the week. Twice it became necessary to separate Hooven and
Cutter, renewing their quarrel as to the ownership of the steer.
All at once Minna Hooven's "partner" fell upon the gayly
apparelled clerk from Bonneville, pummelling him with his fists,
hustling him out of the hall, vociferating that Miss Hooven had
been grossly insulted. It took three men to extricate the clerk
from his clutches, dazed, gasping, his collar unfastened and
sticking up into his face, his eyes staring wildly into the faces
of the crowd.
But Annixter, bursting with pride, his chest thrown out, his chin
in the air, reigned enthroned in a circle of adulation. He was
the Hero. To shake him by the hand was an honour to be struggled
for. One clapped him on the back with solemn nods of approval.
"There's the boy for you;" "There was nerve for you;" "What's the
matter with Annixter?" "How about that for sand, and how was that
for a shot?" "Why, Apache Kid couldn't have bettered that."
"Cool enough." "Took a steady eye and a sure hand to make a shot
like that." "There was a shot that would be told about in Tulare
County fifty years to come."
Annixter had refrained from replying, all ears to this
conversation, wondering just what had happened. He knew only
that Delaney had run, leaving his revolver and a spatter of blood
behind him. By degrees, however, he ascertained that his last
shot but one had struck Delaney's pistol hand, shattering it and
knocking the revolver from his grip. He was overwhelmed with
astonishment. Why, after the shooting began he had not so much
as seen Delaney with any degree of plainness. The whole affair
was a whirl.
"Well, where did you learn to shoot that way?" some one in the
crowd demanded. Annixter moved his shoulders with a gesture of
"Oh," he observed carelessly, "it's not my shooting that ever
worried me, m'son."
The crowd gaped with delight. There was a great wagging of
"Well, I guess not."
"No, sir, not much."
"Ah, no, you bet not."
When the women pressed around him, shaking his hands, declaring
that he had saved their daughters' lives, Annixter assumed a pose
of superb deprecation, the modest self-obliteration of the
chevalier. He delivered himself of a remembered phrase, very
elegant, refined. It was Lancelot after the tournament, Bayard
receiving felicitations after the battle.
"Oh, don't say anything about it," he murmured. "I only did what
any man would have done in my place."
To restore completely the equanimity of the company, he announced
supper. This he had calculated as a tremendous surprise. It was
to have been served at mid-night, but the irruption of Delaney
had dislocated the order of events, and the tables were brought
in an hour ahead of time. They were arranged around three sides
of the barn and were loaded down with cold roasts of beef, cold
chickens and cold ducks, mountains of sandwiches, pitchers of
milk and lemonade, entire cheeses, bowls of olives, plates of
oranges and nuts. The advent of this supper was received with a
volley of applause. The musicians played a quick step. The
company threw themselves upon the food with a great scraping of
chairs and a vast rustle of muslins, tarletans, and organdies;
soon the clatter of dishes was a veritable uproar. The tables
were taken by assault. One ate whatever was nearest at hand,
some even beginning with oranges and nuts and ending with beef
and chicken. At the end the paper caps were brought on, together
with the ice cream. All up and down the tables the pulled
"crackers" snapped continually like the discharge of innumerable
The caps of tissue paper were put on--"Phrygian Bonnets,"
"Magicians' Caps," "Liberty Caps;" the young girls looked across
the table at their vis-a-vis with bursts of laughter and vigorous
clapping of the hands.
The harness room crowd had a table to themselves, at the head of
which sat Annixter and at the foot Harran. The gun fight had
sobered Presley thoroughly. He sat by the side of Vanamee, who
ate but little, preferring rather to watch the scene with calm
observation, a little contemptuous when the uproar around the
table was too boisterous, savouring of intoxication. Osterman
rolled bullets of bread and shot them with astonishing force up
and down the table, but the others--Dyke, old Broderson, Caraher,
Harran Derrick, Hooven, Cutter, Garnett of the Ruby rancho, Keast
from the ranch of the same name, Gethings of the San Pablo, and
Chattern of the Bonanza--occupied themselves with eating as much
as they could before the supper gave out. At a corner of the
table, speechless, unobserved, ignored, sat Dabney, of whom
nothing was known but his name, the silent old man who made no
friends. He ate and drank quietly, dipping his sandwich in his
Osterman ate all the olives he could lay his hands on, a score of
them, fifty of them, a hundred of them. He touched no crumb of
anything else. Old Broderson stared at him, his jaw fallen.
Osterman declared he had once eaten a thousand on a bet. The men
called each others' attention to him. Delighted to create a
sensation, Osterman persevered. The contents of an entire bowl
disappeared in his huge, reptilian slit of a mouth. His cheeks
of brownish red were extended, his bald forehead glistened.
Colics seized upon him. His stomach revolted. It was all one
with him. He was satisfied, contented. He was astonishing the
"Once I swallowed a tree toad." he told old Broderson, "by
mistake. I was eating grapes, and the beggar lived in me three
weeks. In rainy weather he would sing. You don't believe that,"
he vociferated. "Haven't I got the toad at home now in a bottle
And the old man, never doubting, his eyes starting, wagged his
head in amazement.
"Oh, yes," cried Caraher, the length of the table, "that's a
pretty good one. Tell us another."
"That reminds me of a story," hazarded old Broderson uncertainly;
"once when I was a lad in Ukiah, fifty years"
"Oh, yes," cried half a dozen voices, "that's a pretty good one.
Tell us another."
"Eh--wh--what?" murmured Broderson, looking about him. "I--I
don't know. It was Ukiah. You--you--you mix me all up."
As soon as supper was over, the floor was cleared again. The
guests clamoured for a Virginia reel. The last quarter of the
evening, the time of the most riotous fun, was beginning. The
young men caught the girls who sat next to them. The orchestra
dashed off into a rollicking movement. The two lines were
formed. In a second of time the dance was under way again; the
guests still wearing the Phrygian bonnets and liberty caps of
pink and blue tissue paper.
But the group of men once more adjourned to the harness room.
Fresh boxes of cigars were opened; the seventh bowl of fertiliser
was mixed. Osterman poured the dregs of a glass of it upon his
bald head, declaring that he could feel the hair beginning to
But suddenly old Broderson rose to his feet.
"Aha," he cackled, "I'M going to have a dance, I am. Think I'm
too old? I'll show you young fellows. I'm a regular old rooster
when I get started."
He marched out into the barn, the others following, holding their
sides. He found an aged Mexican woman by the door and hustled
her, all confused and giggling, into the Virginia reel, then at
its height. Every one crowded around to see. Old Broderson
stepped off with the alacrity of a colt, snapping his fingers,
slapping his thigh, his mouth widening in an excited grin. The
entire company of the guests shouted. The City Band redoubled
their efforts; and the old man, losing his head, breathless,
gasping, dislocated his stiff joints in his efforts. He became
possessed, bowing, scraping, advancing, retreating, wagging his
beard, cutting pigeons' wings, distraught with the music, the
clamour, the applause, the effects of the fertiliser.
"Nice eye, Santa Claus."
But Annixter's attention wandered. He searched for Hilma Tree,
having still in mind the look in her eyes at that swift moment of
danger. He had not seen her since then. At last he caught sight
of her. She was not dancing, but, instead, was sitting with her
"partner" at the end of the barn near her father and mother, her
eyes wide, a serious expression on her face, her thoughts, no
doubt, elsewhere. Annixter was about to go to her when he was
interrupted by a cry.
Old Broderson, in the midst of a double shuffle, had clapped his
hand to his side with a gasp, which he followed by a whoop of
anguish. He had got a stitch or had started a twinge somewhere.
With a gesture of resignation, he drew himself laboriously out of
the dance, limping abominably, one leg dragging. He was heard
asking for his wife. Old Mrs. Broderson took him in charge. She
jawed him for making an exhibition of himself, scolding as though
he were a ten-year-old.
"Well, I want to know!" she exclaimed, as he hobbled off,
dejected and melancholy, leaning upon her arm, "thought he had to
dance, indeed! What next? A gay old grandpa, this. He'd
better be thinking of his coffin."
It was almost midnight. The dance drew towards its close in a
storm of jubilation. The perspiring musicians toiled like galley
slaves; the guests singing as they danced.
The group of men reassembled in the harness room. Even Magnus
Derrick condescended to enter and drink a toast. Presley and
Vanamee, still holding themselves aloof, looked on, Vanamee more
and more disgusted. Dabney, standing to one side, overlooked and
forgotten, continued to sip steadily at his glass, solemn,
reserved. Garnett of the Ruby rancho, Keast from the ranch of
the same name, Gethings of the San Pablo, and Chattern of the
Bonanza, leaned back in their chairs, their waist-coats
unbuttoned, their legs spread wide, laughing--they could not tell
why. Other ranchers, men whom Annixter had never seen, appeared
in the room, wheat growers from places as far distant as Goshen
and Pixley; young men and old, proprietors of veritable
principalities, hundreds of thousands of acres of wheat lands, a
dozen of them, a score of them; men who were strangers to each
other, but who made it a point to shake hands with Magnus
Derrick, the "prominent man" of the valley. Old Broderson, whom
every one had believed had gone home, returned, though much
sobered, and took his place, refusing, however, to drink another
Soon the entire number of Annixter's guests found themselves in
two companies, the dancers on the floor of the barn, frolicking
through the last figures of the Virginia reel and the boisterous
gathering of men in the harness room, downing the last quarts of
fertiliser. Both assemblies had been increased. Even the older
people had joined in the dance, while nearly every one of the men
who did not dance had found their way into the harness room. The
two groups rivalled each other in their noise. Out on the floor
of the barn was a very whirlwind of gayety, a tempest of
laughter, hand-clapping and cries of amusement. In the harness
room the confused shouting and singing, the stamping of heavy
feet, set a quivering reverberation in the oil of the kerosene
lamps, the flame of the candles in the Japanese lanterns flaring
and swaying in the gusts of hilarity. At intervals, between the
two, one heard the music, the wailing of the violins, the
vigorous snarling of the cornet, and the harsh, incessant rasping
of the snare drum.
And at times all these various sounds mingled in a single vague
note, huge, clamorous, that rose up into the night from the
colossal, reverberating compass of the barn and sent its echoes
far off across the unbroken levels of the surrounding ranches,
stretching out to infinity under the clouded sky, calm,
Annixter, the punch bowl clasped in his arms, was pouring out the
last spoonful of liquor into Caraher's glass when he was aware
that some one was pulling at the sleeve of his coat. He set down
the punch bowl.
"Well, where did you come from?" he demanded.
It was a messenger from Bonneville, the uniformed boy that the
telephone company employed to carry messages. He had just
arrived from town on his bicycle, out of breath and panting.
"Message for you, sir. Will you sign?"
He held the book to Annixter, who signed the receipt, wondering.
The boy departed, leaving a thick envelope of yellow paper in
Annixter's hands, the address typewritten, the word "Urgent"
written in blue pencil in one corner.
Annixter tore it open. The envelope contained other sealed
envelopes, some eight or ten of them, addressed to Magnus
Derrick, Osterman, Broderson, Garnett, Keast, Gethings, Chattern,
Dabney, and to Annixter himself.
Still puzzled, Annixter distributed the envelopes, muttering to
"What's up now?"
The incident had attracted attention. A comparative quiet
followed, the guests following the letters with their eyes as
they were passed around the table. They fancied that Annixter
had arranged a surprise.
Magnus Derrick, who sat next to Annixter, was the first to
receive his letter. With a word of excuse he opened it.
"Read it, read it, Governor," shouted a half-dozen voices. "No
secrets, you know. Everything above board here to-night."
Magnus cast a glance at the contents of the letter, then rose to
his feet and read:
Bonneville, Tulare Co., Cal.
By regrade of October 1st, the value of the railroad land you
occupy, included in your ranch of Los Muertos, has been fixed at
$27.00 per acre. The land is now for sale at that price to any
CYRUS BLAKELEE RUGGLES,
Land Agent, P. and S. W. R. R.
Local Agent, P. and S. W. R. R.
In the midst of the profound silence that followed, Osterman was
heard to exclaim grimly:
"That's a pretty good one. Tell us another."
But for a long moment this was the only remark.
The silence widened, broken only by the sound of torn paper as
Annixter, Osterman, old Broderson, Garnett, Keast, Gethings,
Chattern, and Dabney opened and read their letters. They were
all to the same effect, almost word for word like the Governor's.
Only the figures and the proper names varied. In some cases the
price per acre was twenty-two dollars. In Annixter's case it was
"And--and the company promised to sell to me, to--to all of us,"
gasped old Broderson, "at two dollars and a half an acre."
It was not alone the ranchers immediately around Bonneville who
would be plundered by this move on the part of the Railroad. The
"alternate section" system applied throughout all the San
Joaquin. By striking at the Bonneville ranchers a terrible
precedent was established. Of the crowd of guests in the harness
room alone, nearly every man was affected, every man menaced with
ruin. All of a million acres was suddenly involved.
Then suddenly the tempest burst. A dozen men were on their feet
in an instant, their teeth set, their fists clenched, their faces
purple with rage. Oaths, curses, maledictions exploded like the
firing of successive mines. Voices quivered with wrath, hands
flung upward, the fingers hooked, prehensile, trembled with
anger. The sense of wrongs, the injustices, the oppression,
extortion, and pillage of twenty years suddenly culminated and
found voice in a raucous howl of execration. For a second there
was nothing articulate in that cry of savage exasperation,
nothing even intelligent. It was the human animal hounded to its
corner, exploited, harried to its last stand, at bay, ferocious,
terrible, turning at last with bared teeth and upraised claws to
meet the death grapple. It was the hideous squealing of the
tormented brute, its back to the wall, defending its lair, its
mate and its whelps, ready to bite, to rend, to trample, to
batter out the life of The Enemy in a primeval, bestial welter of
blood and fury.
The roar subsided to intermittent clamour, in the pauses of which
the sounds of music and dancing made themselves audible once
"S. Behrman again," vociferated Harran Derrick.
"Chose his moment well," muttered Annixter. "Hits his hardest
when we're all rounded up having a good time."
"Gentlemen, this is ruin."
"What's to be done now?"
"Fight! My God! do you think we are going to stand this? Do
you think we can?"
The uproar swelled again. The clearer the assembly of ranchers
understood the significance of this move on the part of the
Railroad, the more terrible it appeared, the more flagrant, the
more intolerable. Was it possible, was it within the bounds of
imagination that this tyranny should be contemplated? But they
knew--past years had driven home the lesson--the implacable, iron
monster with whom they had to deal, and again and again the sense
of outrage and oppression lashed them to their feet, their mouths
wide with curses, their fists clenched tight, their throats
hoarse with shouting.
"Fight! How fight? What are you going to do?"
"If there's a law in this land"
"If there is, it is in Shelgrim's pocket. Who owns the courts in
California? Ain't it Shelgrim?"
"God damn him."
"Well, how long are you going to stand it? How long before
you'll settle up accounts with six inches of plugged gas-pipe?"
"And our contracts, the solemn pledges of the corporation to sell
to us first of all----"
"And now the land is for sale to anybody."
"Why, it is a question of my home. Am I to be turned out? Why,
I have put eight thousand dollars into improving this land."
"And I six thousand, and now that I have, the Railroad grabs it."
"And the system of irrigating ditches that Derrick and I have
been laying out. There's thousands of dollars in that!"
"I'll fight this out till I've spent every cent of my money."
"Where? In the courts that the company owns?"
"Think I am going to give in to this? Think I am to get off my
land? By God, gentlemen, law or no law, railroad or no
"This is the last. Legal means first; if those fail--the
"They can kill me. They can shoot me down, but I'll die--die
fighting for my home--before I'll give in to this."
At length Annixter made himself heard:
"All out of the room but the ranch owners," he shouted. "Hooven,
Caraher, Dyke, you'll have to clear out. This is a family
affair. Presley, you and your friend can remain."
Reluctantly the others filed through the door. There remained in
the harness room--besides Vanamee and Presley--Magnus Derrick,
Annixter, old Broderson Harran, Garnett from the Ruby rancho,
Keast from the ranch of the same name, Gethings of the San Pablo,
Chattern of the Bonanza, about a score of others, ranchers from
various parts of the county, and, last of all, Dabney, ignored,
silent, to whom nobody spoke and who, as yet, had not uttered a
But the men who had been asked to leave the harness room spread
the news throughout the barn. It was repeated from lip to lip.
One by one the guests dropped out of the dance. Groups were
formed. By swift degrees the gayety lapsed away. The Virginia
reel broke up. The musicians ceased playing, and in the place of
the noisy, effervescent revelry of the previous half hour, a
subdued murmur filled all the barn, a mingling of whispers,
lowered voices, the coming and going of light footsteps, the
uneasy shifting of positions, while from behind the closed doors
of the harness room came a prolonged, sullen hum of anger and
strenuous debate. The dance came to an abrupt end. The guests,
unwilling to go as yet, stunned, distressed, stood clumsily
about, their eyes vague, their hands swinging at their sides,
looking stupidly into each others' faces. A sense of impending
calamity, oppressive, foreboding, gloomy, passed through the air
overhead in the night, a long shiver of anguish and of terror,
In the harness room, however, the excitement continued unchecked.
One rancher after another delivered himself of a torrent of
furious words. There was no order, merely the frenzied outcry of
blind fury. One spirit alone was common to all--resistance at
whatever cost and to whatever lengths.
Suddenly Osterman leaped to his feet, his bald head gleaming in
the lamp-light, his red ears distended, a flood of words filling
his great, horizontal slit of a mouth, his comic actor's face
flaming. Like the hero of a melodrama, he took stage with a
great sweeping gesture.
"Organisation," he shouted, "that must be our watch-word. The
curse of the ranchers is that they fritter away their strength.
Now, we must stand together, now, now. Here's the crisis, here's
the moment. Shall we meet it? I call for the league. Not next
week, not to-morrow, not in the morning, but now, now, now, this
very moment, before we go out of that door. Every one of us here
to join it, to form the beginnings of a vast organisation, banded
together to death, if needs be, for the protection of our rights
and homes. Are you ready? Is it now or never? I call for the
Instantly there was a shout. With an actor's instinct, Osterman
had spoken at the precise psychological moment. He carried the
others off their feet, glib, dexterous, voluble. Just what was
meant by the League the others did not know, but it was
something, a vague engine, a machine with which to fight.
Osterman had not done speaking before the room rang with
outcries, the crowd of men shouting, for what they did not know.
"The League! The League!"
"Now, to-night, this moment; sign our names before we leave."
"He's right. Organisation! The League!"
"We have a committee at work already," Osterman vociferated. "I
am a member, and also Mr. Broderson, Mr. Annixter, and Mr. Harran
Derrick. What our aims are we will explain to you later. Let
this committee be the nucleus of the League--temporarily, at
least. Trust us. We are working for you and with you. Let this
committee be merged into the larger committee of the League, and
for President of the League"--he paused the fraction of a second--
"for President there can be but one name mentioned, one man to
whom we all must look as leader--Magnus Derrick."
The Governor's name was received with a storm of cheers. The
harness room reechoed with shouts of:
"Magnus for President!"
"Derrick, our natural leader."
"Derrick, Derrick, Derrick for President."
Magnus rose to his feet. He made no gesture. Erect as a cavalry
officer, tall, thin, commanding, he dominated the crowd in an
instant. There was a moment's hush.
"Gentlemen," he said, "if organisation is a good word, moderation
is a better one. The matter is too grave for haste. I would
suggest that we each and severally return to our respective homes
for the night, sleep over what has happened, and convene again
to-morrow, when we are calmer and can approach this affair in a
more judicious mood. As for the honour with which you would
inform me, I must affirm that that, too, is a matter for grave
deliberation. This League is but a name as yet. To accept
control of an organisation whose principles are not yet fixed is
a heavy responsibility. I shrink from it--"
But he was allowed to proceed no farther. A storm of protest
developed. There were shouts of:
"No, no. The League to-night and Derrick for President."
"We have been moderate too long."
"The League first, principles afterward."
"We can't wait," declared Osterman. "Many of us cannot attend a
meeting to-morrow. Our business affairs would prevent it. Now
we are all together. I propose a temporary chairman and
secretary be named and a ballot be taken. But first the League.
Let us draw up a set of resolutions to stand together, for the
defence of our homes, to death, if needs be, and each man present
affix his signature thereto."
He subsided amidst vigorous applause. The next quarter of an
hour was a vague confusion, every one talking at once,
conversations going on in low tones in various corners of the
room. Ink, pens, and a sheaf of foolscap were brought from the
ranch house. A set of resolutions was draughted, having the
force of a pledge, organising the League of Defence. Annixter
was the first to sign. Others followed, only a few holding back,
refusing to join till they had thought the matter over. The roll
grew; the paper circulated about the table; each signature was
welcomed by a salvo of cheers. At length, it reached Harran
Derrick, who signed amid tremendous uproar. He released the pen
only to shake a score of hands.
"Now, Magnus Derrick."
"Gentlemen," began the Governor, once more rising, "I beg of you
to allow me further consideration. Gentlemen"
He was interrupted by renewed shouting.
"No, no, now or never. Sign, join the League."
"Don't leave us. We look to you to help."
But presently the excited throng that turned their faces towards
the Governor were aware of a new face at his elbow. The door of
the harness room had been left unbolted and Mrs. Derrick, unable
to endure the heart-breaking suspense of waiting outside, had
gathered up all her courage and had come into the room.
Trembling, she clung to Magnus's arm, her pretty light-brown hair
in disarray, her large young girl's eyes wide with terror and
distrust. What was about to happen she did not understand, but
these men were clamouring for Magnus to pledge himself to
something, to some terrible course of action, some ruthless,
unscrupulous battle to the death with the iron-hearted monster of
steel and steam. Nerved with a coward's intrepidity, she, who so
easily obliterated herself, had found her way into the midst of
this frantic crowd, into this hot, close room, reeking of alcohol
and tobacco smoke, into this atmosphere surcharged with hatred
and curses. She seized her husband's arm imploring, distraught
"No, no," she murmured; "no, don't sign."
She was the feather caught in the whirlwind. En masse, the crowd
surged toward the erect figure of the Governor, the pen in one
hand, his wife's fingers in the other, the roll of signatures
before him. The clamour was deafening; the excitement culminated
brusquely. Half a hundred hands stretched toward him; thirty
voices, at top pitch, implored, expostulated, urged, almost
commanded. The reverberation of the shouting was as the plunge
of a cataract.
It was the uprising of The People; the thunder of the outbreak of
revolt; the mob demanding to be led, aroused at last, imperious,
resistless, overwhelming. It was the blind fury of insurrection,
the brute, many-tongued, red-eyed, bellowing for guidance, baring
its teeth, unsheathing its claws, imposing its will with the
abrupt, resistless pressure of the relaxed piston, inexorable,
knowing no pity.
"No, no," implored Annie Derrick. "No, Magnus, don't sign."
"He must," declared Harran, shouting in her ear to make himself
heard, "he must. Don't you understand?"
Again the crowd surged forward, roaring. Mrs. Derrick was swept
back, pushed to one side. Her husband no longer belonged to her.
She paid the penalty for being the wife of a great man. The
world, like a colossal iron wedge, crushed itself between. She
was thrust to the wall. The throng of men, stamping, surrounded
Magnus; she could no longer see him, but, terror-struck, she
listened. There was a moment's lull, then a vast thunder of
savage jubilation. Magnus had signed.
Harran found his mother leaning against the wall, her hands shut
over her ears; her eyes, dilated with fear, brimming with tears.
He led her from the harness room to the outer room, where Mrs.
Tree and Hilma took charge of her, and then, impatient, refusing
to answer the hundreds of anxious questions that assailed him,
hurried back to the harness room.
Already the balloting was in progress, Osterman acting as
temporary chairman on the very first ballot he was made secretary
of the League pro tem., and Magnus unanimously chosen for its
President. An executive committee was formed, which was to meet
the next day at the Los Muertos ranch house.
It was half-past one o'clock. In the barn outside the greater
number of the guests had departed. Long since the musicians had
disappeared. There only remained the families of the ranch
owners involved in the meeting in the harness room. These
huddled in isolated groups in corners of the garish, echoing
barn, the women in their wraps, the young men with their coat
collars turned up against the draughts that once more made
For a long half hour the loud hum of eager conversation continued
to issue from behind the door of the harness room. Then, at
length, there was a prolonged scraping of chairs. The session
was over. The men came out in groups, searching for their
At once the homeward movement began. Every one was worn out.
Some of the ranchers' daughters had gone to sleep against their
Billy, the stableman, and his assistant were awakened, and the
teams were hitched up. The stable yard was full of a maze of
swinging lanterns and buggy lamps. The horses fretted, champing
the bits; the carry-alls creaked with the straining of leather
and springs as they received their loads. At every instant one
heard the rattle of wheels. as vehicle after vehicle disappeared
in the night.
A fine, drizzling rain was falling, and the lamps began to show
dim in a vague haze of orange light.
Magnus Derrick was the last to go. At the doorway of the barn he
found Annixter, the roll of names--which it had been decided he
was to keep in his safe for the moment--under his arm. Silently
the two shook hands. Magnus departed. The grind of the wheels
of his carry-all grated sharply on the gravel of the driveway in
front of the ranch house, then, with a hollow roll across a
little plank bridge, gained the roadway. For a moment the beat
of the horses' hoofs made itself heard on the roadway. It
ceased. Suddenly there was a great silence.
Annixter, in the doorway of the great barn, stood looking about
him for a moment, alone, thoughtful. The barn was empty. That
astonishing evening had come to an end. The whirl of things and
people, the crowd of dancers, Delaney, the gun fight, Hilma Tree,
her eyes fixed on him in mute confession, the rabble in the
harness room, the news of the regrade, the fierce outburst of
wrath, the hasty organising of the League, all went spinning
confusedly through his recollection. But he was exhausted. Time
enough in the morning to think it all over. By now it was
raining sharply. He put the roll of names into his inside
pocket, threw a sack over his head and shoulders, and went down
to the ranch house.
But in the harness room, lighted by the glittering lanterns and
flaring lamps, in the midst of overturned chairs, spilled liquor,
cigar stumps, and broken glasses, Vanamee and Presley still
remained talking, talking. At length, they rose, and came out
upon the floor of the barn and stood for a moment looking about
Billy, the stableman, was going the rounds of the walls, putting
out light after light. By degrees, the vast interior was growing
dim. Upon the roof overhead the rain drummed incessantly, the
eaves dripping. The floor was littered with pine needles, bits
of orange peel, ends and fragments of torn organdies and muslins
and bits of tissue paper from the "Phrygian Bonnets" and "Liberty
Caps." The buckskin mare in the stall, dozing on three legs,
changed position with a long sigh. The sweat stiffening the hair
upon her back and loins, as it dried, gave off a penetrating,
ammoniacal odour that mingled with the stale perfume of sachet
and wilted flowers.
Presley and Vanamee stood looking at the deserted barn. There
was a long silence. Then Presley said:
"Well ... what do you think of it all?"
"I think," answered Vanamee slowly, "I think that there was a
dance in Brussels the night before Waterloo."