Underneath the Long Trestle where Broderson Creek cut the line of
the railroad and the Upper Road, the ground was low and covered
with a second growth of grey green willows. Along the borders of
the creek were occasional marshy spots, and now and then Hilma
Tree came here to gather water-cresses, which she made into
The place was picturesque, secluded, an oasis of green shade in
all the limitless, flat monotony of the surrounding wheat lands.
The creek had eroded deep into the little gully, and no matter
how hot it was on the baking, shimmering levels of the ranches
above, down here one always found one's self enveloped in an
odorous, moist coolness. From time to time, the incessant murmur
of the creek, pouring over and around the larger stones, was
interrupted by the thunder of trains roaring out upon the trestle
overhead, passing on with the furious gallop of their hundreds of
iron wheels, leaving in the air a taint of hot oil, acrid smoke,
and reek of escaping steam.
On a certain afternoon, in the spring of the year, Hilma was
returning to Quien Sabe from Hooven's by the trail that led from
Los Muertos to Annixter's ranch houses, under the trestle. She
had spent the afternoon with Minna Hooven, who, for the time
being, was kept indoors because of a wrenched ankle. As Hilma
descended into the gravel flats and thickets of willows
underneath the trestle, she decided that she would gather some
cresses for her supper that night. She found a spot around the
base of one of the supports of the trestle where the cresses grew
thickest, and plucked a couple of handfuls, washing them in the
creek and pinning them up in her handkerchief. It made a little,
round, cold bundle, and Hilma, warm from her walk, found a
delicious enjoyment in pressing the damp ball of it to her cheeks
For all the change that Annixter had noted in her upon the
occasion of the barn dance, Hilma remained in many things a young
child. She was never at loss for enjoyment, and could always
amuse herself when left alone. Just now, she chose to drink from
the creek, lying prone on the ground, her face half-buried in the
water, and this, not because she was thirsty, but because it was
a new way to drink. She imagined herself a belated traveller, a
poor girl, an outcast, quenching her thirst at the wayside brook,
her little packet of cresses doing duty for a bundle of clothes.
Night was coming on. Perhaps it would storm. She had nowhere to
go. She would apply at a hut for shelter.
Abruptly, the temptation to dabble her feet in the creek
presented itself to her. Always she had liked to play in the
water. What a delight now to take off her shoes and stockings
and wade out into the shallows near the bank! She had worn low
shoes that afternoon, and the dust of the trail had filtered in
above the edges. At times, she felt the grit and grey sand on
the soles of her feet, and the sensation had set her teeth on
edge. What a delicious alternative the cold, clean water
suggested, and how easy it would be to do as she pleased just
then, if only she were a little girl. In the end, it was stupid
to be grown up.
Sitting upon the bank, one finger tucked into the heel of her
shoe, Hilma hesitated. Suppose a train should come! She fancied
she could see the engineer leaning from the cab with a great grin
on his face, or the brakeman shouting gibes at her from the
platform. Abruptly she blushed scarlet. The blood throbbed in
her temples. Her heart beat.
Since the famous evening of the barn dance, Annixter had spoken
to her but twice. Hilma no longer looked after the ranch house
these days. The thought of setting foot within Annixter's
dining-room and bed-room terrified her, and in the end her mother
had taken over that part of her work. Of the two meetings with
the master of Quien Sabe, one had been a mere exchange of good
mornings as the two happened to meet over by the artesian well;
the other, more complicated, had occurred in the dairy-house
again, Annixter, pretending to look over the new cheese press,
asking about details of her work. When this had happened on that
previous occasion, ending with Annixter's attempt to kiss her,
Hilma had been talkative enough, chattering on from one subject
to another, never at a loss for a theme. But this last time was
a veritable ordeal. No sooner had Annixter appeared than her
heart leaped and quivered like that of the hound-harried doe.
Her speech failed her. Throughout the whole brief interview she
had been miserably tongue-tied, stammering monosyllables,
confused, horribly awkward, and when Annixter had gone away, she
had fled to her little room, and bolting the door, had flung
herself face downward on the bed and wept as though her heart
were breaking, she did not know why.
That Annixter had been overwhelmed with business all through the
winter was an inexpressible relief to Hilma. His affairs took
him away from the ranch continually. He was absent sometimes for
weeks, making trips to San Francisco, or to Sacramento, or to
Bonneville. Perhaps he was forgetting her, overlooking her; and
while, at first, she told herself that she asked nothing better,
the idea of it began to occupy her mind. She began to wonder if
it was really so.
She knew his trouble. Everybody did. The news of the sudden
forward movement of the Railroad's forces, inaugurating the
campaign, had flared white-hot and blazing all over the country
side. To Hilma's notion, Annixter's attitude was heroic beyond
all expression. His courage in facing the Railroad, as he had
faced Delaney in the barn, seemed to her the pitch of sublimity.
She refused to see any auxiliaries aiding him in his fight. To
her imagination, the great League, which all the ranchers were
joining, was a mere form. Single-handed, Annixter fronted the
monster. But for him the corporation would gobble Quien Sabe, as
a whale would a minnow. He was a hero who stood between them all
and destruction. He was a protector of her family. He was her
champion. She began to mention him in her prayers every night,
adding a further petition to the effect that he would become a
good man, and that he should not swear so much, and that he
should never meet Delaney again.
However, as Hilma still debated the idea of bathing her feet in
the creek, a train did actually thunder past overhead--the
regular evening Overland,--the through express, that never
stopped between Bakersfield and Fresno. It stormed by with a
deafening clamour, and a swirl of smoke, in a long succession of
way-coaches, and chocolate coloured Pullmans, grimy with the dust
of the great deserts of the Southwest. The quivering of the
trestle's supports set a tremble in the ground underfoot. The
thunder of wheels drowned all sound of the flowing of the creek,
and also the noise of the buckskin mare's hoofs descending from
the trail upon the gravel about the creek, so that Hilma, turning
about after the passage of the train, saw Annixter close at hand,
with the abruptness of a vision.
He was looking at her, smiling as he rarely did, the firm line of
his out-thrust lower lip relaxed good-humouredly. He had taken
off his campaign hat to her, and though his stiff, yellow hair
was twisted into a bristling mop, the little persistent tuft on
the crown, usually defiantly erect as an Apache's scalp-lock, was
nowhere in sight.
"Hello, it's you, is it, Miss Hilma?" he exclaimed, getting down
from the buckskin, and allowing her to drink.
Hilma nodded, scrambling to her feet, dusting her skirt with
nervous pats of both hands.
Annixter sat down on a great rock close by and, the loop of the
bridle over his arm, lit a cigar, and began to talk. He
complained of the heat of the day, the bad condition of the Lower
Road, over which he had come on his way from a committee meeting
of the League at Los Muertos; of the slowness of the work on the
irrigating ditch, and, as a matter of course, of the general hard
"Miss Hilma," he said abruptly, "never you marry a ranchman.
He's never out of trouble."
Hilma gasped, her eyes widening till the full round of the pupil
was disclosed. Instantly, a certain, inexplicable guiltiness
overpowered her with incredible confusion. Her hands trembled as
she pressed the bundle of cresses into a hard ball between her
Annixter continued to talk. He was disturbed and excited himself
at this unexpected meeting. Never through all the past winter
months of strenuous activity, the fever of political campaigns,
the harrowing delays and ultimate defeat in one law court after
another, had he forgotten the look in Hilma's face as he stood
with one arm around her on the floor of his barn, in peril of his
life from the buster's revolver. That dumb confession of Hilma's
wide-open eyes had been enough for him. Yet, somehow, he never
had had a chance to act upon it. During the short period when he
could be on his ranch Hilma had always managed to avoid him.
Once, even, she had spent a month, about Christmas time, with her
mother's father, who kept a hotel in San Francisco.
Now, to-day, however, he had her all to himself. He would put an
end to the situation that troubled him, and vexed him, day after
day, month after month. Beyond question, the moment had come for
something definite, he could not say precisely what. Readjusting
his cigar between his teeth, he resumed his speech. It suited
his humour to take the girl into his confidence, following an
instinct which warned him that this would bring about a certain
closeness of their relations, a certain intimacy.
"What do you think of this row, anyways, Miss Hilma,--this
railroad fuss in general? Think Shelgrim and his rushers are
going to jump Quien Sabe--are going to run us off the ranch?"
"Oh, no, sir," protested Hilma, still breathless. "Oh, no,
"Well, what then?"
Hilma made a little uncertain movement of ignorance.
"I don't know what."
"Well, the League agreed to-day that if the test cases were lost
in the Supreme Court--you know we've appealed to the Supreme
Court, at Washington--we'd fight."
"Fight like--like you and Mr. Delaney that time with--oh, dear--
"I don't know," grumbled Annixter vaguely. "What do you think?"
Hilma's low-pitched, almost husky voice trembled a little as she
replied, "Fighting--with guns--that's so terrible. Oh, those
revolvers in the barn! I can hear them yet. Every shot seemed
like the explosion of tons of powder."
"Shall we clear out, then? Shall we let Delaney have possession,
and S. Behrman, and all that lot? Shall we give in to them?"
"Never, never," she exclaimed, her great eyes flashing.
"You wouldn't like to be turned out of your home, would you, Miss
Hilma, because Quien Sabe is your home isn't it? You've lived
here ever since you were as big as a minute. You wouldn't like
to have S. Behrman and the rest of 'em turn you out?"
"N-no," she murmured. "No, I shouldn't like that. There's mamma
"Well, do you think for one second I'm going to let 'em?" cried
Annixter, his teeth tightening on his cigar. "You stay right
where you are. I'll take care of you, right enough. Look here,"
he demanded abruptly, "you've no use for that roaring lush,
Delaney, have you?"
"I think he is a wicked man," she declared. "I know the Railroad
has pretended to sell him part of the ranch, and he lets Mr. S.
Behrman and Mr. Ruggles just use him."
"Right. I thought you wouldn't be keen on him."
There was a long pause. The buckskin began blowing among the
pebbles, nosing for grass, and Annixter shifted his cigar to the
other corner of his mouth.
"Pretty place," he muttered, looking around him. Then he added:
"Miss Hilma, see here, I want to have a kind of talk with you, if
you don't mind. I don't know just how to say these sort of
things, and if I get all balled up as I go along, you just set it
down to the fact that I've never had any experience in dealing
with feemale girls; understand? You see, ever since the barn
dance--yes, and long before then--I've been thinking a lot about
you. Straight, I have, and I guess you know it. You're about the
only girl that I ever knew well, and I guess," he declared
deliberately, "you're about the only one I want to know. It's my
nature. You didn't say anything that time when we stood there
together and Delaney was playing the fool, but, somehow, I got
the idea that you didn't want Delaney to do for me one little
bit; that if he'd got me then you would have been sorrier than if
he'd got any one else. Well, I felt just that way about you. I
would rather have had him shoot any other girl in the room than
you; yes, or in the whole State. Why, if anything should happen
to you, Miss Hilma--well, I wouldn't care to go on with anything.
S. Behrman could jump Quien Sabe, and welcome. And Delaney could
shoot me full of holes whenever he got good and ready. I'd quit.
I'd lay right down. I wouldn't care a whoop about anything any
more. You are the only girl for me in the whole world. I didn't
think so at first. I didn't want to. But seeing you around
every day, and seeing how pretty you were, and how clever, and
hearing your voice and all, why, it just got all inside of me
somehow, and now I can't think of anything else. I hate to go to
San Francisco, or Sacramento, or Visalia, or even Bonneville, for
only a day, just because you aren't there, in any of those
places, and I just rush what I've got to do so as I can get back
here. While you were away that Christmas time, why, I was as
lonesome as--oh, you don't know anything about it. I just
scratched off the days on the calendar every night, one by one,
till you got back. And it just comes to this, I want you with me
all the time. I want you should have a home that's my home, too.
I want to take care of you, and have you all for myself, you
understand. What do you say?"
Hilma, standing up before him, retied a knot in her handkerchief
bundle with elaborate precaution, blinking at it through her
"What do you say, Miss Hilma?" Annixter repeated. "How about
that? What do you say?"
Just above a whisper, Hilma murmured:
"I--I don't know."
"Don't know what? Don't you think we could hit it off together?"
"I don't know."
"I know we could, Hilma. I don't mean to scare you. What are
you crying for?"
"I don't know."
Annixter got up, cast away his cigar, and dropping the buckskin's
bridle, came and stood beside her, putting a hand on her
shoulder. Hilma did not move, and he felt her trembling. She
still plucked at the knot of the handkerchief. "I can't do
without you, little girl," Annixter continued, "and I want you.
I want you bad. I don't get much fun out of life ever. It,
sure, isn't my nature, I guess. I'm a hard man. Everybody is
trying to down me, and now I'm up against the Railroad. I'm
fighting 'em all, Hilma, night and day, lock, stock, and barrel,
and I'm fighting now for my home, my land, everything I have in
the world. If I win out, I want somebody to be glad with me. If
I don't--I want somebody to be sorry for me, sorry with me,--and
that somebody is you. I am dog-tired of going it alone. I want
some one to back me up. I want to feel you alongside of me, to
give me a touch of the shoulder now and then. I'm tired of
fighting for things--land, property, money. I want to fight for
some person--somebody beside myself. Understand? want to feel
that it isn't all selfishness--that there are other interests
than mine in the game--that there's some one dependent on me, and
that's thinking of me as I'm thinking of them--some one I can
come home to at night and put my arm around--like this, and have
her put her two arms around me--like--" He paused a second, and
once again, as it had been in that moment of imminent peril, when
he stood with his arm around her, their eyes met,--"put her two
arms around me," prompted Annixter, half smiling, "like--like
"I don't know."
"Like what, Hilma?" he insisted.
"Like--like this?" she questioned. With a movement of infinite
tenderness and affection she slid her arms around his neck, still
crying a little.
The sensation of her warm body in his embrace, the feeling of her
smooth, round arm, through the thinness of her sleeve, pressing
against his cheek, thrilled Annixter with a delight such as he
had never known. He bent his head and kissed her upon the nape
of her neck, where the delicate amber tint melted into the thick,
sweet smelling mass of her dark brown hair. She shivered a
little, holding him closer, ashamed as yet to look up. Without
speech, they stood there for a long minute, holding each other
close. Then Hilma pulled away from him, mopping her tear-stained
cheeks with the little moist ball of her handkerchief.
"What do you say? Is it a go?" demanded Annixter jovially.
"I thought I hated you all the time," she said, and the velvety
huskiness of her voice never sounded so sweet to him.
"And I thought it was that crockery smashing goat of a lout of a
"Delaney? The idea! Oh, dear! I think it must always have been
"Since when, Hilma?" he asked, putting his arm around her. "Ah,
but it is good to have you, my girl," he exclaimed, delighted
beyond words that she permitted this freedom. "Since when? Tell
us all about it."
"Oh, since always. It was ever so long before I came to think of
you--to, well, to think about--I mean to remember--oh, you know
what I mean. But when I did, oh, then!"
"I don't know--I haven't thought--that way long enough to know."
"But you said you thought it must have been me always."
"I know; but that was different--oh, I'm all mixed up. I'm so
nervous and trembly now. Oh," she cried suddenly, her face
overcast with a look of earnestness and great seriousness, both
her hands catching at his wrist, "Oh, you will be good to me,
now, won't you? I'm only a little, little child in so many ways,
and I've given myself to you, all in a minute, and I can't go
back of it now, and it's for always. I don't know how it
happened or why. Sometimes I think I didn't wish it, but now
it's done, and I am glad and happy. But now if you weren't good
to me--oh, think of how it would be with me. You are strong, and
big, and rich, and I am only a servant of yours, a little nobody,
but I've given all I had to you--myself--and you must be so good
to me now. Always remember that. Be good to me and be gentle
and kind to me in little things,--in everything, or you will
break my heart."
Annixter took her in his arms. He was speechless. No words that
he had at his command seemed adequate. All he could say was:
"That's all right, little girl. Don't you be frightened. I'll
take care of you. That's all right, that's all right."
For a long time they sat there under the shade of the great
trestle, their arms about each other, speaking only at intervals.
An hour passed. The buckskin, finding no feed to her taste, took
the trail stablewards, the bridle dragging. Annixter let her go.
Rather than to take his arm from around Hilma's waist he would
have lost his whole stable. At last, however, he bestirred
himself and began to talk. He thought it time to formulate some
plan of action.
"Well, now, Hilma, what are we going to do?"
"Do?" she repeated. "Why, must we do anything? Oh, isn't this
"There's better ahead," he went on. "I want to fix you up
somewhere where you can have a bit of a home all to yourself.
Let's see; Bonneville wouldn't do. There's always a lot of yaps
about there that know us, and they would begin to cackle first
off. How about San Francisco. We might go up next week and have
a look around. I would find rooms you could take somewheres, and
we would fix 'em up as lovely as how-do-you-do."
"Oh, but why go away from Quien Sabe?" she protested. "And,
then, so soon, too. Why must we have a wedding trip, now that you
are so busy? Wouldn't it be better--oh, I tell you, we could go
to Monterey after we were married, for a little week, where
mamma's people live, and then come back here to the ranch house
and settle right down where we are and let me keep house for you.
I wouldn't even want a single servant."
Annixter heard and his face grew troubled.
"Hum," he said, "I see."
He gathered up a handful of pebbles and began snapping them
carefully into the creek. He fell thoughtful. Here was a phase
of the affair he had not planned in the least. He had supposed
all the time that Hilma took his meaning. His old suspicion that
she was trying to get a hold on him stirred again for a moment.
There was no good of such talk as that. Always these feemale
girls seemed crazy to get married, bent on complicating the
"Isn't that best?" said Hilma, glancing at him.
"I don't know," he muttered gloomily.
"Well, then, let's not. Let's come right back to Quien Sabe
without going to Monterey. Anything that you want I want."
"I hadn't thought of it in just that way," he observed.
"In what way, then?"
"Can't we--can't we wait about this marrying business?"
"That's just it," she said gayly. "I said it was too soon.
There would be so much to do between whiles. Why not say at the
end of the summer?"
"Our marriage, I mean."
"Why get married, then? What's the good of all that fuss about
it? I don't go anything upon a minister puddling round in my
affairs. What's the difference, anyhow? We understand each
other. Isn't that enough? Pshaw, Hilma, I'M no marrying man."
She looked at him a moment, bewildered, then slowly she took his
meaning. She rose to her feet, her eyes wide, her face paling
with terror. He did not look at her, but he could hear the catch
in her throat.
"Oh!" she exclaimed, with a long, deep breath, and again "Oh!"
the back of her hand against her lips.
It was a quick gasp of a veritable physical anguish. Her eyes
brimmed over. Annixter rose, looking at her.
"Well?" he said, awkwardly, "Well?"
Hilma leaped back from him with an instinctive recoil of her
whole being, throwing out her hands in a gesture of defence,
fearing she knew not what. There was as yet no sense of insult
in her mind, no outraged modesty. She was only terrified. It
was as though searching for wild flowers she had come suddenly
upon a snake.
She stood for an instant, spellbound, her eyes wide, her bosom
swelling; then, all at once, turned and fled, darting across the
plank that served for a foot bridge over the creek, gaining the
opposite bank and disappearing with a brisk rustle of underbrush,
such as might have been made by the flight of a frightened fawn.
Abruptly Annixter found himself alone. For a moment he did not
move, then he picked up his campaign hat, carefully creased its
limp crown and put it on his head and stood for a moment, looking
vaguely at the ground on both sides of him. He went away without
uttering a word, without change of countenance, his hands in his
pockets, his feet taking great strides along the trail in the
direction of the ranch house.
He had no sight of Hilma again that evening, and the next morning
he was up early and did not breakfast at the ranch house.
Business of the League called him to Bonneville to confer with
Magnus and the firm of lawyers retained by the League to fight
the land-grabbing cases. An appeal was to be taken to the
Supreme Court at Washington, and it was to be settled that day
which of the cases involved should be considered as test cases.
Instead of driving or riding into Bonneville, as he usually did,
Annixter took an early morning train, the Bakersfield-Fresno
local at Guadalajara, and went to Bonneville by rail, arriving
there at twenty minutes after seven and breakfasting by
appointment with Magnus Derrick and Osterman at the Yosemite
House, on Main Street .
The conference of the committee with the lawyers took place in a
front room of the Yosemite, one of the latter bringing with him
his clerk, who made a stenographic report of the proceedings and
took carbon copies of all letters written. The conference was
long and complicated, the business transacted of the utmost
moment, and it was not until two o'clock that Annixter found
himself at liberty.
However, as he and Magnus descended into the lobby of the hotel,
they were aware of an excited and interested group collected
about the swing doors that opened from the lobby of the Yosemite
into the bar of the same name. Dyke was there--even at a
distance they could hear the reverberation of his deep-toned
voice, uplifted in wrath and furious expostulation. Magnus and
Annixter joined the group wondering, and all at once fell full
upon the first scene of a drama.
That same morning Dyke's mother had awakened him according to his
instructions at daybreak. A consignment of his hop poles from
the north had arrived at the freight office of the P. and S. W.
in Bonneville, and he was to drive in on his farm wagon and bring
them out. He would have a busy day.
"Hello, hello," he said, as his mother pulled his ear to arouse
him; "morning, mamma."
"It's time," she said, "after five already. Your breakfast is on
He took her hand and kissed it with great affection. He loved
his mother devotedly, quite as much as he did the little tad. In
their little cottage, in the forest of green hops that surrounded
them on every hand, the three led a joyous and secluded life,
contented, industrious, happy, asking nothing better. Dyke,
himself, was a big-hearted, jovial man who spread an atmosphere
of good-humour wherever he went. In the evenings he played with
Sidney like a big boy, an older brother, lying on the bed, or the
sofa, taking her in his arms. Between them they had invented a
great game. The ex-engineer, his boots removed, his huge legs in
the air, hoisted the little tad on the soles of his stockinged
feet like a circus acrobat, dandling her there, pretending he was
about to let her fall. Sidney, choking with delight, held on
nervously, with little screams and chirps of excitement, while he
shifted her gingerly from one foot to another, and thence, the
final act, the great gallery play, to the palm of one great hand.
At this point Mrs. Dyke was called in, both father and daughter,
children both, crying out that she was to come in and look, look.
She arrived out of breath from the kitchen, the potato masher in
"Such children," she murmured, shaking her head at them, amused
for all that, tucking the potato masher under her arm and
clapping her hands.
In the end, it was part of the game that Sidney should tumble
down upon Dyke, whereat he invariably vented a great bellow as if
in pain, declaring that his ribs were broken. Gasping, his eyes
shut, he pretended to be in the extreme of dissolution--perhaps
he was dying. Sidney, always a little uncertain, amused but
distressed, shook him nervously, tugging at his beard, pushing
open his eyelid with one finger, imploring him not to frighten
her, to wake up and be good.
On this occasion, while yet he was half-dressed, Dyke tiptoed
into his mother's room to look at Sidney fast asleep in her
little iron cot, her arm under her head, her lips parted. With
infinite precaution he kissed her twice, and then finding one
little stocking, hung with its mate very neatly over the back of
a chair, dropped into it a dime, rolled up in a wad of paper. He
winked all to himself and went out again, closing the door with
He breakfasted alone, Mrs. Dyke pouring his coffee and handing
him his plate of ham and eggs, and half an hour later took
himself off in his springless, skeleton wagon, humming a tune
behind his beard and cracking the whip over the backs of his
staid and solid farm horses.
The morning was fine, the sun just coming up. He left
Guadalajara, sleeping and lifeless, on his left, and going across
lots, over an angle of Quien Sabe, came out upon the Upper Road,
a mile below the Long Trestle. He was in great spirits, looking
about him over the brown fields, ruddy with the dawn. Almost
directly in front of him, but far off, the gilded dome of the
court-house at Bonneville was glinting radiant in the first rays
of the sun, while a few miles distant, toward the north, the
venerable campanile of the Mission San Juan stood silhouetted in
purplish black against the flaming east. As he proceeded, the
great farm horses jogging forward, placid, deliberate, the
country side waked to another day. Crossing the irrigating ditch
further on, he met a gang of Portuguese, with picks and shovels
over their shoulders, just going to work. Hooven, already
abroad, shouted him a "Goot mornun" from behind the fence of Los
Muertos. Far off, toward the southwest, in the bare expanse of
the open fields, where a clump of eucalyptus and cypress trees
set a dark green note, a thin stream of smoke rose straight into
the air from the kitchen of Derrick's ranch houses.
But a mile or so beyond the Long Trestle he was surprised to see
Magnus Derrick's protege, the one-time shepherd, Vanamee, coming
across Quien Sabe, by a trail from one of Annixter's division
houses. Without knowing exactly why, Dyke received the
impression that the young man had not been in bed all of that
As the two approached each other, Dyke eyed the young fellow. He
was distrustful of Vanamee, having the country-bred suspicion of
any person he could not understand. Vanamee was, beyond doubt,
no part of the life of ranch and country town. He was an alien,
a vagabond, a strange fellow who came and went in mysterious
fashion, making no friends, keeping to himself. Why did he never
wear a hat, why indulge in a fine, black, pointed beard, when
either a round beard or a mustache was the invariable custom?
Why did he not cut his hair? Above all, why did he prowl about
so much at night? As the two passed each other, Dyke, for all
his good-nature, was a little blunt in his greeting and looked
back at the ex-shepherd over his shoulder.
Dyke was right in his suspicion. Vanamee's bed had not been
disturbed for three nights. On the Monday of that week he had
passed the entire night in the garden of the Mission, overlooking
the Seed ranch, in the little valley. Tuesday evening had found
him miles away from that spot, in a deep arroyo in the Sierra
foothills to the eastward, while Wednesday he had slept in an
abandoned 'dobe on Osterman's stock range, twenty miles from his
resting place of the night before.
The fact of the matter was that the old restlessness had once
more seized upon Vanamee. Something began tugging at him; the
spur of some unseen rider touched his flank. The instinct of the
wanderer woke and moved. For some time now he had been a part of
the Los Muertos staff. On Quien Sabe, as on the other ranches,
the slack season was at hand. While waiting for the wheat to
come up no one was doing much of anything. Vanamee had come over
to Los Muertos and spent most of his days on horseback, riding
the range, rounding up and watching the cattle in the fourth
division of the ranch. But if the vagabond instinct now roused
itself in the strange fellow's nature, a counter influence had
also set in. More and more Vanamee frequented the Mission garden
after nightfall, sometimes remaining there till the dawn began to
whiten, lying prone on the ground, his chin on his folded arms,
his eyes searching the darkness over the little valley of the
Seed ranch, watching, watching. As the days went by, he became
more reticent than ever. Presley often came to find him on the
stock range, a lonely figure in the great wilderness of bare,
green hillsides, but Vanamee no longer took him into his
confidence. Father Sarria alone heard his strange stories.
Dyke drove on toward Bonneville, thinking over the whole matter.
He knew, as every one did in that part of the country, the legend
of Vanamee and Angele, the romance of the Mission garden, the
mystery of the Other, Vanamee's flight to the deserts of the
southwest, his periodic returns, his strange, reticent, solitary
character, but, like many another of the country people, he
accounted for Vanamee by a short and easy method. No doubt, the
fellow's wits were turned. That was the long and short of it.
The ex-engineer reached the Post Office in Bonneville towards
eleven o'clock, but he did not at once present his notice of the
arrival of his consignment at Ruggles's office. It entertained
him to indulge in an hour's lounging about the streets. It was
seldom he got into town, and when he did he permitted himself the
luxury of enjoying his evident popularity. He met friends
everywhere, in the Post Office, in the drug store, in the barber
shop and around the court-house. With each one he held a
moment's conversation; almost invariably this ended in the same
"Come on 'n have a drink."
"Well, I don't care if I do."
And the friends proceeded to the Yosemite bar, pledging each
other with punctilious ceremony. Dyke, however, was a strictly
temperate man. His life on the engine had trained him well.
Alcohol he never touched, drinking instead ginger ale,
At the drug store, which also kept a stock of miscellaneous
stationery, his eye was caught by a "transparent slate," a
child's toy, where upon a little pane of frosted glass one could
trace with considerable elaboration outline figures of cows,
ploughs, bunches of fruit and even rural water mills that were
printed on slips of paper underneath.
"Now, there's an idea, Jim," he observed to the boy behind the
soda-water fountain; "I know a little tad that would just about
jump out of her skin for that. Think I'll have to take it with
"How's Sidney getting along?" the other asked, while wrapping up
Dyke's enthusiasm had made of his little girl a celebrity
The ex-engineer promptly became voluble, assertive, doggedly
"Smartest little tad in all Tulare County, and more fun! A
regular whole show in herself."
"And the hops?" inquired the other.
"Bully," declared Dyke, with the good-natured man's readiness to
talk of his private affairs to any one who would listen. "Bully.
I'm dead sure of a bonanza crop by now. The rain came just
right. I actually don't know as I can store the crop in those
barns I built, it's going to be so big. That foreman of mine was
a daisy. Jim, I'm going to make money in that deal. After I've
paid off the mortgage--you know I had to mortgage, yes, crop and
homestead both, but I can pay it off and all the interest to
boot, lovely,--well, and as I was saying, after all expenses are
paid off I'll clear big money, m' son. Yes, sir. I knew there
was boodle in hops. You know the crop is contracted for already.
Sure, the foreman managed that. He's a daisy. Chap in San
Francisco will take it all and at the advanced price. I wanted
to hang on, to see if it wouldn't go to six cents, but the
foreman said, 'No, that's good enough.' So I signed. Ain't it
"Then what'll you do?"
"Well, I don't know. I'll have a lay-off for a month or so and
take the little tad and mother up and show 'em the city--'Frisco--
until it's time for the schools to open, and then we'll put Sid
in the seminary at Marysville. Catch on?"
"I suppose you'll stay right by hops now?"
"Right you are, m'son. I know a good thing when I see it.
There's plenty others going into hops next season. I set 'em the
example. Wouldn't be surprised if it came to be a regular
industry hereabouts. I'm planning ahead for next year already.
I can let the foreman go, now that I've learned the game myself,
and I think I'll buy a piece of land off Quien Sabe and get a
bigger crop, and build a couple more barns, and, by George, in
about five years time I'll have things humming. I'm going to
make money, Jim."
He emerged once more into the street and went up the block
leisurely, planting his feet squarely. He fancied that he could
feel he was considered of more importance nowadays. He was no
longer a subordinate, an employee. He was his own man, a
proprietor, an owner of land, furthering a successful enterprise.
No one had helped him; he had followed no one's lead. He had
struck out unaided for himself, and his success was due solely to
his own intelligence, industry, and foresight. He squared his
great shoulders till the blue gingham of his jumper all but
cracked. Of late, his great blond beard had grown and the work
in the sun had made his face very red. Under the visor of his
cap--relic of his engineering days--his blue eyes twinkled with
vast good-nature. He felt that he made a fine figure as he went
by a group of young girls in lawns and muslins and garden hats on
their way to the Post Office. He wondered if they looked after
him, wondered if they had heard that he was in a fair way to
become a rich man.
But the chronometer in the window of the jewelry store warned him
that time was passing. He turned about, and, crossing the
street, took his way to Ruggles's office, which was the freight
as well as the land office of the P. and S. W. Railroad.
As he stood for a moment at the counter in front of the wire
partition, waiting for the clerk to make out the order for the
freight agent at the depot, Dyke was surprised to see a familiar
figure in conference with Ruggles himself, by a desk inside the
The figure was that of a middle-aged man, fat, with a great
stomach, which he stroked from time to time. As he turned about,
addressing a remark to the clerk, Dyke recognised S. Behrman.
The banker, railroad agent, and political manipulator seemed to
the ex-engineer's eyes to be more gross than ever. His smooth-
shaven jowl stood out big and tremulous on either side of his
face; the roll of fat on the nape of his neck, sprinkled with
sparse, stiff hairs, bulged out with greater prominence. His
great stomach, covered with a light brown linen vest, stamped
with innumerable interlocked horseshoes, protruded far in
advance, enormous, aggressive. He wore his inevitable round-
topped hat of stiff brown straw, varnished so bright that it
reflected the light of the office windows like a helmet, and even
from where he stood Dyke could hear his loud breathing and the
clink of the hollow links of his watch chain upon the vest
buttons of imitation pearl, as his stomach rose and fell.
Dyke looked at him with attention. There was the enemy, the
representative of the Trust with which Derrick's League was
locking horns. The great struggle had begun to invest the
combatants with interest. Daily, almost hourly, Dyke was in
touch with the ranchers, the wheat-growers. He heard their
denunciations, their growls of exasperation and defiance. Here
was the other side--this placid, fat man, with a stiff straw hat
and linen vest, who never lost his temper, who smiled affably
upon his enemies, giving them good advice, commiserating with
them in one defeat after another, never ruffled, never excited,
sure of his power, conscious that back of him was the Machine,
the colossal force, the inexhaustible coffers of a mighty
organisation, vomiting millions to the League's thousands.
The League was clamorous, ubiquitous, its objects known to every
urchin on the streets, but the Trust was silent, its ways
inscrutable, the public saw only results. It worked on in the
dark, calm, disciplined, irresistible. Abruptly Dyke received
the impression of the multitudinous ramifications of the
colossus. Under his feet the ground seemed mined; down there
below him in the dark the huge tentacles went silently twisting
and advancing, spreading out in every direction, sapping the
strength of all opposition, quiet, gradual, biding the time to
reach up and out and grip with a sudden unleashing of gigantic
"I'll be wanting some cars of you people before the summer is
out," observed Dyke to the clerk as he folded up and put away the
order that the other had handed him. He remembered perfectly
well that he had arranged the matter of transporting his crop
some months before, but his role of proprietor amused him and he
liked to busy himself again and again with the details of his
"I suppose," he added, "you'll be able to give 'em to me.
There'll be a big wheat crop to move this year and I don't want
to be caught in any car famine."
"Oh, you'll get your cars," murmured the other.
"I'll be the means of bringing business your way," Dyke went on;
"I've done so well with my hops that there are a lot of others
going into the business next season. Suppose," he continued,
struck with an idea, "suppose we went into some sort of pool, a
sort of shippers' organisation, could you give us special rates,
cheaper rates--say a cent and a half?"
The other looked up.
"A cent and a half! Say four cents and a half and maybe I'll
talk business with you."
"Four cents and a half," returned Dyke, "I don't see it. Why,
the regular rate is only two cents."
"No, it isn't," answered the clerk, looking him gravely in the
eye, "it's five cents."
"Well, there's where you are wrong, m'son," Dyke retorted,
genially. "You look it up. You'll find the freight on hops from
Bonneville to 'Frisco is two cents a pound for car load lots.
You told me that yourself last fall."
"That was last fall," observed the clerk. There was a silence.
Dyke shot a glance of suspicion at the other. Then, reassured,
"You look it up. You'll see I'm right."
S. Behrman came forward and shook hands politely with the ex-
"Anything I can do for you, Mr. Dyke?"
Dyke explained. When he had done speaking, the clerk turned to
S. Behrman and observed, respectfully:
"Our regular rate on hops is five cents."
"Yes," answered S. Behrman, pausing to reflect; "yes, Mr. Dyke,
that's right--five cents."
The clerk brought forward a folder of yellow paper and handed it
to Dyke. It was inscribed at the top "Tariff Schedule No. 8,"
and underneath these words, in brackets, was a smaller
inscription, "Supersedes no. 7 of Aug. 1"
"See for yourself," said S. Behrman. He indicated an item under
the head of "Miscellany."
"The following rates for carriage of hops in car load lots," read
Dyke, "take effect June 1, and will remain in force until
superseded by a later tariff. Those quoted beyond Stockton are
subject to changes in traffic arrangements with carriers by water
from that point."
In the list that was printed below, Dyke saw that the rate for
hops between Bonneville or Guadalajara and San Francisco was five
For a moment Dyke was confused. Then swiftly the matter became
clear in his mind. The Railroad had raised the freight on hops
from two cents to five.
All his calculations as to a profit on his little investment he
had based on a freight rate of two cents a pound. He was under
contract to deliver his crop. He could not draw back. The new
rate ate up every cent of his gains. He stood there ruined.
"Why, what do you mean?" he burst out. "You promised me a rate
of two cents and I went ahead with my business with that
understanding. What do you mean?"
S. Behrman and the clerk watched him from the other side of the
"The rate is five cents," declared the clerk doggedly.
"Well, that ruins me," shouted Dyke. "Do you understand? I
won't make fifty cents. Make! Why, I will owe,--I'll be--be--
That ruins me, do you understand?"
The other, raised a shoulder.
"We don't force you to ship. You can do as you like. The rate
is five cents."
"Well--but--damn you, I'm under contract to deliver. What am I
going to do? Why, you told me--you promised me a two-cent rate."
"I don't remember it," said the clerk. "I don't know anything
about that. But I know this; I know that hops have gone up. I
know the German crop was a failure and that the crop in New York
wasn't worth the hauling. Hops have gone up to nearly a dollar.
You don't suppose we don't know that, do you, Mr. Dyke?"
"What's the price of hops got to do with you?"
"It's got this to do with us," returned the other with a sudden
aggressiveness, "that the freight rate has gone up to meet the
price. We're not doing business for our health. My orders are
to raise your rate to five cents, and I think you are getting off
Dyke stared in blank astonishment. For the moment, the audacity
of the affair was what most appealed to him. He forgot its
"Good Lord," he murmured, "good Lord! What will you people do
next? Look here. What's your basis of applying freight rates,
anyhow?" he suddenly vociferated with furious sarcasm. "What's
your rule? What are you guided by?"
But at the words, S. Behrman, who had kept silent during the heat
of the discussion, leaned abruptly forward. For the only time in
his knowledge, Dyke saw his face inflamed with anger and with the
enmity and contempt of all this farming element with whom he was
"Yes, what's your rule? What's your basis?" demanded Dyke,
turning swiftly to him.
S. Behrman emphasised each word of his reply with a tap of one
forefinger on the counter before him:
The ex-engineer stepped back a pace, his fingers on the ledge of
the counter, to steady himself. He felt himself grow pale, his
heart became a mere leaden weight in his chest, inert, refusing
In a second the whole affair, in all its bearings, went speeding
before the eye of his imagination like the rapid unrolling of a
panorama. Every cent of his earnings was sunk in this hop
business of his. More than that, he had borrowed money to carry
it on, certain of success--borrowed of S. Behrman, offering his
crop and his little home as security. Once he failed to meet his
obligations, S. Behrman would foreclose. Not only would the
Railroad devour every morsel of his profits, but also it would
take from him his home; at a blow he would be left penniless and
without a home. What would then become of his mother--and what
would become of the little tad? She, whom he had been planning
to educate like a veritable lady. For all that year he had
talked of his ambition for his little daughter to every one he
met. All Bonneville knew of it. What a mark for gibes he had
made of himself. The workingman turned farmer! What a target
for jeers--he who had fancied he could elude the Railroad! He
remembered he had once said the great Trust had overlooked his
little enterprise, disdaining to plunder such small fry. He
should have known better than that. How had he ever imagined the
Road would permit him to make any money?
Anger was not in him yet; no rousing of the blind, white-hot
wrath that leaps to the attack with prehensile fingers, moved
him. The blow merely crushed, staggered, confused.
He stepped aside to give place to a coatless man in a pink shirt,
who entered, carrying in his hands an automatic door-closing
"Where does this go?" inquired the man.
Dyke sat down for a moment on a seat that had been removed from a
worn-out railway car to do duty in Ruggles's office. On the back
of a yellow envelope he made some vague figures with a stump of
blue pencil, multiplying, subtracting, perplexing himself with
S. Behrman, the clerk, and the man with the door-closing
apparatus involved themselves in a long argument, gazing intently
at the top panel of the door. The man who had come to fix the
apparatus was unwilling to guarantee it, unless a sign was put on
the outside of the door, warning incomers that the door was self-
closing. This sign would cost fifteen cents extra.
"But you didn't say anything about this when the thing was
ordered," declared S. Behrman. "No, I won't pay it, my friend.
It's an overcharge."
"You needn't think," observed the clerk, "that just because you
are dealing with the Railroad you are going to work us."
Genslinger came in, accompanied by Delaney. S. Behrman and the
clerk, abruptly dismissing the man with the door-closing machine,
put themselves behind the counter and engaged in conversation
with these two. Genslinger introduced Delaney. The buster had a
string of horses he was shipping southward. No doubt he had come
to make arrangements with the Railroad in the matter of stock
cars. The conference of the four men was amicable in the
Dyke, studying the figures on the back of the envelope, came
forward again. Absorbed only in his own distress, he ignored the
editor and the cow-puncher.
"Say," he hazarded, "how about this? I make out----
"We've told you what our rates are, Mr. Dyke," exclaimed the
clerk angrily. "That's all the arrangement we will make. Take
it or leave it." He turned again to Genslinger, giving the ex-
engineer his back.
Dyke moved away and stood for a moment in the centre of the room,
staring at the figures on the envelope.
"I don't see," he muttered, "just what I'm going to do. No, I
don't see what I'm going to do at all."
Ruggles came in, bringing with him two other men in whom Dyke
recognised dummy buyers of the Los Muertos and Osterman ranchos.
They brushed by him, jostling his elbow, and as he went out of
the door he heard them exchange jovial greetings with Delaney,
Genslinger, and S. Behrman.
Dyke went down the stairs to the street and proceeded onward
aimlessly in the direction of the Yosemite House, fingering the
yellow envelope and looking vacantly at the sidewalk.
There was a stoop to his massive shoulders. His great arms
dangled loosely at his sides, the palms of his hands open.
As he went along, a certain feeling of shame touched him. Surely
his predicament must be apparent to every passer-by. No doubt,
every one recognised the unsuccessful man in the very way he
slouched along. The young girls in lawns, muslins, and garden
hats, returning from the Post Office, their hands full of
letters, must surely see in him the type of the failure, the
Then brusquely his tardy rage flamed up. By God, no, it was not
his fault; he had made no mistake. His energy, industry, and
foresight had been sound. He had been merely the object of a
colossal trick, a sordid injustice, a victim of the insatiate
greed of the monster, caught and choked by one of those millions
of tentacles suddenly reaching up from below, from out the dark
beneath his feet, coiling around his throat, throttling him,
strangling him, sucking his blood. For a moment he thought of
the courts, but instantly laughed at the idea. What court was
immune from the power of the monster? Ah, the rage of
helplessness, the fury of impotence! No help, no hope,--ruined
in a brief instant--he a veritable giant, built of great sinews,
powerful, in the full tide of his manhood, having all his health,
all his wits. How could he now face his home? How could he tell
his mother of this catastrophe? And Sidney--the little tad; how
could he explain to her this wretchedness--how soften her
disappointment? How keep the tears from out her eyes--how keep
alive her confidence in him--her faith in his resources?
Bitter, fierce, ominous, his wrath loomed up in his heart. His
fists gripped tight together, his teeth clenched. Oh, for a
moment to have his hand upon the throat of S. Behrman, wringing
the breath from him, wrenching out the red life of him--staining
the street with the blood sucked from the veins of the People!
To the first friend that he met, Dyke told the tale of the
tragedy, and to the next, and to the next. The affair went from
mouth to mouth, spreading with electrical swiftness, overpassing
and running ahead of Dyke himself, so that by the time he reached
the lobby of the Yosemite House, he found his story awaiting him.
A group formed about him. In his immediate vicinity business for
the instant was suspended. The group swelled. One after another
of his friends added themselves to it. Magnus Derrick joined it,
and Annixter. Again and again, Dyke recounted the matter,
beginning with the time when he was discharged from the same
corporation's service for refusing to accept an unfair wage. His
voice quivered with exasperation; his heavy frame shook with
rage; his eyes were injected, bloodshot; his face flamed
vermilion, while his deep bass rumbled throughout the running
comments of his auditors like the thunderous reverberation of
From all points of view, the story was discussed by those who
listened to him, now in the heat of excitement, now calmly,
judicially. One verdict, however, prevailed. It was voiced by
Annixter: "You're stuck. You can roar till you're black in the
face, but you can't buck against the Railroad. There's nothing
to be done."
"You can shoot the ruffian, you can shoot S. Behrman," clamoured
one of the group. "Yes, sir; by the Lord, you can shoot him."
"Poor fool," commented Annixter, turning away.
Nothing to be done. No, there was nothing to be done--not one
thing. Dyke, at last alone and driving his team out of the town,
turned the business confusedly over in his mind from end to end.
Advice, suggestion, even offers of financial aid had been
showered upon him from all directions. Friends were not wanting
who heatedly presented to his consideration all manner of
ingenious plans, wonderful devices. They were worthless. The
tentacle held fast. He was stuck.
By degrees, as his wagon carried him farther out into the
country, and open empty fields, his anger lapsed, and the
numbness of bewilderment returned. He could not look one hour
ahead into the future; could formulate no plans even for the next
day. He did not know what to do. He was stuck.
With the limpness and inertia of a sack of sand, the reins
slipping loosely in his dangling fingers, his eyes fixed, staring
between the horses' heads, he allowed himself to be carried
aimlessly along. He resigned himself. What did he care? What
was the use of going on? He was stuck.
The team he was driving had once belonged to the Los Muertos
stables and unguided as the horses were, they took the county
road towards Derrick's ranch house. Dyke, all abroad, was
unaware of the fact till, drawn by the smell of water, the horses
halted by the trough in front of Caraher's saloon.
The ex-engineer dismounted, looking about him, realising where he
was. So much the worse; it did not matter. Now that he had come
so far it was as short to go home by this route as to return on
his tracks. Slowly he unchecked the horses and stood at their
heads, watching them drink.
"I don't see," he muttered, "just what I am going to do."
Caraher appeared at the door of his place, his red face, red
beard, and flaming cravat standing sharply out from the shadow of
the doorway. He called a welcome to Dyke.
Dyke looked up, nodding his head listlessly.
"Hello, Caraher," he answered.
"Well," continued the saloonkeeper, coming forward a step,
"what's the news in town?"
Dyke told him. Caraher's red face suddenly took on a darker
colour. The red glint in his eyes shot from under his eyebrows.
Furious, he vented a rolling explosion of oaths.
"And now it's your turn," he vociferated. "They ain't after only
the big wheat-growers, the rich men. By God, they'll even pick
the poor man's pocket. Oh, they'll get their bellies full some
day. It can't last forever. They'll wake up the wrong kind of
man some morning, the man that's got guts in him, that will hit
back when he's kicked and that will talk to 'em with a torch in
one hand and a stick of dynamite in the other." He raised his
clenched fists in the air. "So help me, God," he cried, "when I
think it all over I go crazy, I see red. Oh, if the people only
knew their strength. Oh, if I could wake 'em up. There's not
only Shelgrim, but there's others. All the magnates, all the
butchers, all the blood-suckers, by the thousands. Their day
will come, by God, it will."
By now, the ex-engineer and the bar-keeper had retired to the
saloon back of the grocery to talk over the details of this new
outrage. Dyke, still a little dazed, sat down by one of the
tables, preoccupied, saying but little, and Caraher as a matter
of course set the whiskey bottle at his elbow.
It happened that at this same moment, Presley, returning to Los
Muertos from Bonneville, his pockets full of mail, stopped in at
the grocery to buy some black lead for his bicycle. In the
saloon, on the other side of the narrow partition, he overheard
the conversation between Dyke and Caraher. The door was open.
He caught every word distinctly.
"Tell us all about it, Dyke," urged Caraher.
For the fiftieth time Dyke told the story. Already it had
crystallised into a certain form. He used the same phrases with
each repetition, the same sentences, the same words. In his mind
it became set. Thus he would tell it to any one who would listen
from now on, week after week, year after year, all the rest of
his life--"And I based my calculations on a two-cent rate. So
soon as they saw I was to make money they doubled the tariff--all
the traffic would bear--and I mortgaged to S. Behrman--ruined me
with a turn of the hand--stuck, cinched, and not one thing to be
As he talked, he drank glass after glass of whiskey, and the
honest rage, the open, above-board fury of his mind coagulated,
thickened, and sunk to a dull, evil hatred, a wicked, oblique
malevolence. Caraher, sure now of winning a disciple,
replenished his glass.
"Do you blame us now," he cried, "us others, the Reds? Ah, yes,
it's all very well for your middle class to preach moderation. I
could do it, too. You could do it, too, if your belly was fed,
if your property was safe, if your wife had not been murdered if
your children were not starving. Easy enough then to preach law-
abiding methods, legal redress, and all such rot. But how about
us?" he vociferated. "Ah, yes, I'm a loud-mouthed rum-seller,
ain't I? I'm a wild-eyed striker, ain't I? I'm a blood-thirsty
anarchist, ain't I? Wait till you've seen your wife brought home
to you with the face you used to kiss smashed in by a horse's
hoof--killed by the Trust, as it happened to me. Then talk about
moderation! And you, Dyke, black-listed engineer, discharged
employee, ruined agriculturist, wait till you see your little tad
and your mother turned out of doors when S. Behrman forecloses.
Wait till you see 'em getting thin and white, and till you hear
your little girl ask you why you all don't eat a little more and
that she wants her dinner and you can't give it to her. Wait
till you see--at the same time that your family is dying for lack
of bread--a hundred thousand acres of wheat--millions of bushels
of food--grabbed and gobbled by the Railroad Trust, and then talk
of moderation. That talk is just what the Trust wants to hear.
It ain't frightened of that. There's one thing only it does
listen to, one thing it is frightened of--the people with
dynamite in their hands,--six inches of plugged gaspipe. That
Dyke did not reply. He filled another pony of whiskey and drank
it in two gulps. His frown had lowered to a scowl, his face was
a dark red, his head had sunk, bull-like, between his massive
shoulders; without winking he gazed long and with troubled eyes
at his knotted, muscular hands, lying open on the table before
him, idle, their occupation gone.
Presley forgot his black lead. He listened to Caraher. Through
the open door he caught a glimpse of Dyke's back, broad, muscled,
bowed down, the great shoulders stooping.
The whole drama of the doubled freight rate leaped salient and
distinct in the eye of his mind. And this was but one instance,
an isolated case. Because he was near at hand he happened to see
it. How many others were there, the length and breadth of the
State? Constantly this sort of thing must occur--little
industries choked out in their very beginnings, the air full of
the death rattles of little enterprises, expiring unobserved in
far-off counties, up in canyons and arroyos of the foothills,
forgotten by every one but the monster who was daunted by the
magnitude of no business, however great, who overlooked no
opportunity of plunder, however petty, who with one tentacle
grabbed a hundred thousand acres of wheat, and with another
pilfered a pocketful of growing hops.
He went away without a word, his head bent, his hands clutched
tightly on the cork grips of the handle bars of his bicycle. His
lips were white. In his heart a blind demon of revolt raged
tumultuous, shrieking blasphemies.
At Los Muertos, Presley overtook Annixter. As he guided his
wheel up the driveway to Derrick's ranch house, he saw the master
of Quien Sabe and Harran in conversation on the steps of the
porch. Magnus stood in the doorway, talking to his wife.
Occupied with the press of business and involved in the final
conference with the League's lawyers on the eve of the latter's
departure for Washington, Annixter had missed the train that was
to take him back to Guadalajara and Quien Sabe. Accordingly, he
had accepted the Governor's invitation to return with him on his
buck-board to Los Muertos, and before leaving Bonneville had
telephoned to his ranch to have young Vacca bring the buckskin,
by way of the Lower Road, to meet him at Los Muertos. He found
her waiting there for him, but before going on, delayed a few
moments to tell Harran of Dyke's affair.
"I wonder what he will do now?" observed Harran when his first
outburst of indignation had subsided.
"Nothing," declared Annixter. "He's stuck."
"That eats up every cent of Dyke's earnings," Harran went on.
"He has been ten years saving them. Oh, I told him to make sure
of the Railroad when he first spoke to me about growing hops."
"I've just seen him," said Presley, as he joined the others. "He
was at Caraher's. I only saw his back. He was drinking at a
table and his back was towards me. But the man looked broken--
absolutely crushed. It is terrible, terrible."
"He was at Caraher's, was he?" demanded Annixter.
"I think so. Yes, I saw a bottle."
"Drinking at Caraher's," exclaimed Annixter, rancorously; "I can
see his finish."
There was a silence. It seemed as if nothing more was to be
said. They paused, looking thoughtfully on the ground.
In silence, grim, bitter, infinitely sad, the three men as if at
that moment actually standing in the bar-room of Caraher's
roadside saloon, contemplated the slow sinking, the inevitable
collapse and submerging of one of their companions, the wreck of
a career, the ruin of an individual; an honest man, strong,
fearless, upright, struck down by a colossal power, perverted by
an evil influence, go reeling to his ruin.
"I see his finish," repeated Annixter. "Exit Dyke, and score
another tally for S. Behrman, Shelgrim and Co."
He moved away impatiently, loosening the tie-rope with which the
buckskin was fastened. He swung himself up.
"God for us all," he declared as he rode away, "and the devil
take the hindmost. Good-bye, I'm going home. I still have one a
He galloped away along the Lower Road, in the direction of Quien
Sabe, emerging from the grove of cypress and eucalyptus about the
ranch house, and coming out upon the bare brown plain of the
wheat land, stretching away from him in apparent barrenness on
It was late in the day, already his shadow was long upon the
padded dust of the road in front of him. On ahead, a long ways
off, and a little to the north, the venerable campanile of the
Mission San Juan was glinting radiant in the last rays of the
sun, while behind him, towards the north and west, the gilded
dome of the courthouse at Bonneville stood silhouetted in
purplish black against the flaming west. Annixter spurred the
buck-skin forward. He feared he might be late to his supper. He
wondered if it would be brought to him by Hilma.
Hilma! The name struck across in his brain with a pleasant,
glowing tremour. All through that day of activity, of strenuous
business, the minute and cautious planning of the final campaign
in the great war of the League and the Trust, the idea of her and
the recollection of her had been the undercurrent of his
thoughts. At last he was alone. He could put all other things
behind him and occupy himself solely with her.
In that glory of the day's end, in that chaos of sunshine, he saw
her again. Unimaginative, crude, direct, his fancy,
nevertheless, placed her before him, steeped in sunshine,
saturated with glorious light, brilliant, radiant, alluring. He
saw the sweet simplicity of her carriage, the statuesque evenness
of the contours of her figure, the single, deep swell of her
bosom, the solid masses of her hair. He remembered the small
contradictory suggestions of feminine daintiness he had so often
remarked about her, her slim, narrow feet, the little steel
buckles of her low shoes, the knot of black ribbon she had begun
to wear of late on the back of her head, and he heard her voice,
low-pitched, velvety, a sweet, murmuring huskiness that seemed to
come more from her chest than from her throat.
The buckskin's hoofs clattered upon the gravelly flats of
Broderson's Creek underneath the Long Trestle. Annixter's mind
went back to the scene of the previous evening, when he had come
upon her at this place. He set his teeth with anger and
disappointment. Why had she not been able to understand? What
was the matter with these women, always set upon this marrying
notion? Was it not enough that he wanted her more than any other
girl he knew and that she wanted him? She had said as much. Did
she think she was going to be mistress of Quien Sabe? Ah, that
was it. She was after his property, was for marrying him because
of his money. His unconquerable suspicion of the woman, his
innate distrust of the feminine element would not be done away
with. What fathomless duplicity was hers, that she could appear
so innocent. It was almost unbelievable; in fact, was it
For the first time doubt assailed him. Suppose Hilma was indeed
all that she appeared to be. Suppose it was not with her a
question of his property, after all; it was a poor time to think
of marrying him for his property when all Quien Sabe hung in the
issue of the next few months. Suppose she had been sincere. But
he caught himself up. Was he to be fooled by a feemale girl at
this late date? He, Buck Annixter, crafty, hard-headed, a man of
affairs? Not much. Whatever transpired he would remain the
He reached Quien Sabe in this frame of mind. But at this hour,
Annixter, for all his resolutions, could no longer control his
thoughts. As he stripped the saddle from the buckskin and led
her to the watering trough by the stable corral, his heart was
beating thick at the very notion of being near Hilma again. It
was growing dark, but covertly he glanced here and there out of
the corners of his eyes to see if she was anywhere about.
Annixter--how, he could not tell--had become possessed of the
idea that Hilma would not inform her parents of what had passed
between them the previous evening under the Long Trestle. He had
no idea that matters were at an end between himself and the young
woman. He must apologise, he saw that clearly enough, must eat
crow, as he told himself. Well, he would eat crow. He was not
afraid of her any longer, now that she had made her confession to
him. He would see her as soon as possible and get this business
straightened out, and begin again from a new starting point.
What he wanted with Hilma, Annixter did not define clearly in his
mind. At one time he had known perfectly well what he wanted.
Now, the goal of his desires had become vague. He could not say
exactly what it was. He preferred that things should go forward
without much idea of consequences; if consequences came, they
would do so naturally enough, and of themselves; all that he
positively knew was that Hilma occupied his thoughts morning,
noon, and night; that he was happy when he was with her, and
miserable when away from her.
The Chinese cook served his supper in silence. Annixter ate and
drank and lighted a cigar, and after his meal sat on the porch of
his house, smoking and enjoying the twilight. The evening was
beautiful, warm, the sky one powder of stars. From the direction
of the stables he heard one of the Portuguese hands picking a
But he wanted to see Hilma. The idea of going to bed without at
least a glimpse of her became distasteful to him. Annixter got
up and descending from the porch began to walk aimlessly about
between the ranch buildings, with eye and ear alert. Possibly he
might meet her somewheres.
The Trees' little house, toward which inevitably Annixter
directed his steps, was dark. Had they all gone to bed so soon?
He made a wide circuit about it, listening, but heard no sound.
The door of the dairy-house stood ajar. He pushed it open, and
stepped into the odorous darkness of its interior. The pans and
deep cans of polished metal glowed faintly from the corners and
from the walls. The smell of new cheese was pungent in his
nostrils. Everything was quiet. There was nobody there. He
went out again, closing the door, and stood for a moment in the
space between the dairy-house and the new barn, uncertain as to
what he should do next.
As he waited there, his foreman came out of the men's bunk house,
on the other side of the kitchens, and crossed over toward the
barn. "Hello, Billy," muttered Annixter as he passed.
"Oh, good evening, Mr. Annixter," said the other, pausing in
front of him. "I didn't know you were back. By the way," he
added, speaking as though the matter was already known to
Annixter, "I see old man Tree and his family have left us. Are
they going to be gone long? Have they left for good?"
"What's that?" Annixter exclaimed. "When did they go? Did all
of them go, all three?"
"Why, I thought you knew. Sure, they all left on the afternoon
train for San Francisco. Cleared out in a hurry--took all their
trunks. Yes, all three went--the young lady, too. They gave me
notice early this morning. They ain't ought to have done that.
I don't know who I'm to get to run the dairy on such short
notice. Do you know any one, Mr. Annixter?"
"Well, why in hell did you let them go?" vociferated Annixter.
"Why didn't you keep them here till I got back? Why didn't you
find out if they were going for good? I can't be everywhere.
What do I feed you for if it ain't to look after things I can't
He turned on his heel and strode away straight before him, not
caring where he was going. He tramped out from the group of
ranch buildings; holding on over the open reach of his ranch, his
teeth set, his heels digging furiously into the ground. The
minutes passed. He walked on swiftly, muttering to himself from
time to time.
"Gone, by the Lord. Gone, by the Lord. By the Lord Harry, she's
As yet his head was empty of all thought. He could not steady
his wits to consider this new turn of affairs. He did not even
"Gone, by the Lord," he exclaimed. "By the Lord, she's cleared
He found the irrigating ditch, and the beaten path made by the
ditch tenders that bordered it, and followed it some five
minutes; then struck off at right angles over the rugged surface
of the ranch land, to where a great white stone jutted from the
ground. There he sat down, and leaning forward, rested his
elbows on his knees, and looked out vaguely into the night, his
thoughts swiftly readjusting themselves.
He was alone. The silence of the night, the infinite repose of
the flat, bare earth--two immensities--widened around and above
him like illimitable seas. A grey half-light, mysterious, grave,
flooded downward from the stars.
Annixter was in torment. Now, there could be no longer any
doubt--now it was Hilma or nothing. Once out of his reach, once
lost to him, and the recollection of her assailed him with
unconquerable vehemence. Much as she had occupied his mind, he
had never realised till now how vast had been the place she had
filled in his life. He had told her as much, but even then he
did not believe it.
Suddenly, a bitter rage against himself overwhelmed him as he
thought of the hurt he had given her the previous evening. He
should have managed differently. How, he did not know, but the
sense of the outrage he had put upon her abruptly recoiled
against him with cruel force. Now, he was sorry for it,
infinitely sorry, passionately sorry. He had hurt her. He had
brought the tears to her eyes. He had so flagrantly insulted her
that she could no longer bear to breathe the same air with him.
She had told her parents all. She had left Quien Sabe--had left
him for good, at the very moment when he believed he had won her.
Brute, beast that he was, he had driven her away.
An hour went by; then two, then four, then six. Annixter still
sat in his place, groping and battling in a confusion of spirit,
the like of which he had never felt before. He did not know what
was the matter with him. He could not find his way out of the
dark and out of the turmoil that wheeled around him. He had had
no experience with women. There was no precedent to guide him.
How was he to get out of this? What was the clew that would set
everything straight again?
That he would give Hilma up, never once entered his head. Have
her he would. She had given herself to him. Everything should
have been easy after that, and instead, here he was alone in the
night, wrestling with himself, in deeper trouble than ever, and
Hilma farther than ever away from him.
It was true, he might have Hilma, even now, if he was willing to
marry her. But marriage, to his mind, had been always a vague,
most remote possibility, almost as vague and as remote as his
death,--a thing that happened to some men, but that would surely
never occur to him, or, if it did, it would be after long years
had passed, when he was older, more settled, more mature--an
event that belonged to the period of his middle life, distant as
He had never faced the question of his marriage. He had kept it
at an immense distance from him. It had never been a part of his
order of things. He was not a marrying man.
But Hilma was an ever-present reality, as near to him as his
right hand. Marriage was a formless, far distant abstraction.
Hilma a tangible, imminent fact. Before he could think of the
two as one; before he could consider the idea of marriage, side
by side with the idea of Hilma, measureless distances had to be
traversed, things as disassociated in his mind as fire and water,
had to be fused together; and between the two he was torn as if
upon a rack.
Slowly, by imperceptible degrees, the imagination, unused,
unwilling machine, began to work. The brain's activity lapsed
proportionately. He began to think less, and feel more. In that
rugged composition, confused, dark, harsh, a furrow had been
driven deep, a little seed planted, a little seed at first weak,
forgotten, lost in the lower dark places of his character.
But as the intellect moved slower, its functions growing numb,
the idea of self dwindled. Annixter no longer considered
himself; no longer considered the notion of marriage from the
point of view of his own comfort, his own wishes, his own
advantage. He realised that in his newfound desire to make her
happy, he was sincere. There was something in that idea, after
all. To make some one happy--how about that now? It was worth
Far away, low down in the east, a dim belt, a grey light began to
whiten over the horizon. The tower of the Mission stood black
against it. The dawn was coming. The baffling obscurity of the
night was passing. Hidden things were coming into view.
Annixter, his eyes half-closed, his chin upon his fist, allowed
his imagination full play. How would it be if he should take
Hilma into his life, this beautiful young girl, pure as he now
knew her to be; innocent, noble with the inborn nobility of
dawning womanhood? An overwhelming sense of his own unworthiness
suddenly bore down upon him with crushing force, as he thought of
this. He had gone about the whole affair wrongly. He had been
mistaken from the very first. She was infinitely above him. He
did not want--he should not desire to be the master. It was she,
his servant, poor, simple, lowly even, who should condescend to
Abruptly there was presented to his mind's eye a picture of the
years to come, if he now should follow his best, his highest, his
most unselfish impulse. He saw Hilma, his own, for better or for
worse, for richer or for poorer, all barriers down between them,
he giving himself to her as freely, as nobly, as she had given
herself to him. By a supreme effort, not of the will, but of the
emotion, he fought his way across that vast gulf that for a time
had gaped between Hilma and the idea of his marriage. Instantly,
like the swift blending of beautiful colours, like the harmony of
beautiful chords of music, the two ideas melted into one, and in
that moment into his harsh, unlovely world a new idea was born.
Annixter stood suddenly upright, a mighty tenderness, a
gentleness of spirit, such as he had never conceived of, in his
heart strained, swelled, and in a moment seemed to burst. Out of
the dark furrows of his soul, up from the deep rugged recesses of
his being, something rose, expanding. He opened his arms wide.
An immense happiness overpowered him. Actual tears came to his
eyes. Without knowing why, he was not ashamed of it. This poor,
crude fellow, harsh, hard, narrow, with his unlovely nature, his
fierce truculency, his selfishness, his obstinacy, abruptly knew
that all the sweetness of life, all the great vivifying eternal
force of humanity had burst into life within him.
The little seed, long since planted, gathering strength quietly,
had at last germinated.
Then as the realisation of this hardened into certainty, in the
growing light of the new day that had just dawned for him,
Annixter uttered a cry. Now at length, he knew the meaning of it
"Why--I--I, I love her," he cried. Never until then had it
occurred to him. Never until then, in all his thoughts of Hilma,
had that great word passed his lips.
It was a Memnonian cry, the greeting of the hard, harsh image of
man, rough-hewn, flinty, granitic, uttering a note of joy,
acclaiming the new risen sun.
By now it was almost day. The east glowed opalescent. All about
him Annixter saw the land inundated with light. But there was a
change. Overnight something had occurred. In his perturbation
the change seemed to him, at first, elusive, almost fanciful,
unreal. But now as the light spread, he looked again at the
gigantic scroll of ranch lands unrolled before him from edge to
edge of the horizon. The change was not fanciful. The change
was real. The earth was no longer bare. The land was no longer
barren,--no longer empty, no longer dull brown. All at once
Annixter shouted aloud.
There it was, the Wheat, the Wheat! The little seed long
planted, germinating in the deep, dark furrows of the soil,
straining, swelling, suddenly in one night had burst upward to
the light. The wheat had come up. It was there before him,
around him, everywhere, illimitable, immeasurable. The winter
brownness of the ground was overlaid with a little shimmer of
green. The promise of the sowing was being fulfilled. The
earth, the loyal mother, who never failed, who never
disappointed, was keeping her faith again. Once more the
strength of nations was renewed. Once more the force of the
world was revivified. Once more the Titan, benignant, calm,
stirred and woke, and the morning abruptly blazed into glory upon
the spectacle of a man whose heart leaped exuberant with the love
of a woman, and an exulting earth gleaming transcendent with the
radiant magnificence of an inviolable pledge.