On Division Number Three of the Los Muertos ranch the wheat had
already been cut, and S. Behrman on a certain morning in the
first week of August drove across the open expanse of stubble
toward the southwest, his eyes searching the horizon for the
feather of smoke that would mark the location of the steam
harvester. However, he saw nothing. The stubble extended onward
apparently to the very margin of the world.
At length, S. Behrman halted his buggy and brought out his field
glasses from beneath the seat. He stood up in his place and,
adjusting the lenses, swept the prospect to the south and west.
It was the same as though the sea of land were, in reality, the
ocean, and he, lost in an open boat, were scanning the waste
through his glasses, looking for the smoke of a steamer, hull
down, below the horizon. "Wonder," he muttered, "if they're
working on Four this morning?"
At length, he murmured an "Ah" of satisfaction. Far to the south
into the white sheen of sky, immediately over the horizon, he
made out a faint smudge--the harvester beyond doubt.
Thither S. Behrman turned his horse's head. It was all of an
hour's drive over the uneven ground and through the crackling
stubble, but at length he reached the harvester. He found,
however, that it had been halted. The sack sewers, together with
the header-man, were stretched on the ground in the shade of the
machine, while the engineer and separator-man were pottering
about a portion of the works.
"What's the matter, Billy?" demanded S. Behrman reining up.
The engineer turned about.
"The grain is heavy in here. We thought we'd better increase the
speed of the cup-carrier, and pulled up to put in a smaller
S. Behrman nodded to say that was all right, and added a
"How is she going?"
"Anywheres from twenty-five to thirty sacks to the acre right
along here; nothing the matter with that I guess."
"Nothing in the world, Bill."
One of the sack sewers interposed:
"For the last half hour we've been throwing off three bags to the
"That's good, that's good."
It was more than good; it was " bonanza," and all that division
of the great ranch was thick with just such wonderful wheat.
Never had Los Muertos been more generous, never a season more
successful. S. Behrman drew a long breath of satisfaction. He
knew just how great was his share in the lands which had just
been absorbed by the corporation he served, just how many
thousands of bushels of this marvellous crop were his property.
Through all these years of confusion, bickerings, open hostility
and, at last, actual warfare he had waited, nursing his patience,
calm with the firm assurance of ultimate success. The end, at
length, had come; he had entered into his reward and saw himself
at last installed in the place he had so long, so silently
coveted; saw himself chief of a principality, the Master of the
The sprocket adjusted, the engineer called up the gang and the
men took their places. The fireman stoked vigorously, the two
sack sewers resumed their posts on the sacking platform, putting
on the goggles that kept the chaff from their eyes. The
separator-man and header-man gripped their levers.
The harvester, shooting a column of thick smoke straight upward,
vibrating to the top of the stack, hissed, clanked, and lurched
forward. Instantly, motion sprang to life in all its component
parts; the header knives, cutting a thirty-six foot swath,
gnashed like teeth; beltings slid and moved like smooth flowing
streams; the separator whirred, the agitator jarred and crashed;
cylinders, augers, fans, seeders and elevators, drapers and
chaff-carriers clattered, rumbled, buzzed, and clanged. The
steam hissed and rasped; the ground reverberated a hollow note,
and the thousands upon thousands of wheat stalks sliced and
slashed in the clashing shears of the header, rattled like dry
rushes in a hurricane, as they fell inward, and were caught up by
an endless belt, to disappear into the bowels of the vast brute
that devoured them.
It was that and no less. It was the feeding of some prodigious
monster, insatiable, with iron teeth, gnashing and threshing into
the fields of standing wheat; devouring always, never glutted,
never satiated, swallowing an entire harvest, snarling and
slobbering in a welter of warm vapour, acrid smoke, and blinding,
pungent clouds of chaff. It moved belly-deep in the standing
grain, a hippopotamus, half-mired in river ooze, gorging rushes,
snorting, sweating; a dinosaur wallowing through thick, hot
grasses, floundering there, crouching, grovelling there as its
vast jaws crushed and tore, and its enormous gullet swallowed,
incessant, ravenous, and inordinate.
S. Behrman, very much amused, changed places with one of the sack
sewers, allowing him to hold his horse while he mounted the
sacking platform and took his place. The trepidation and
jostling of the machine shook him till his teeth chattered in his
head. His ears were shocked and assaulted by a myriad-tongued
clamour, clashing steel, straining belts, jarring woodwork, while
the impalpable chaff powder from the separators settled like dust
in his hair, his ears, eyes, and mouth.
Directly in front of where he sat on the platform was the chute
from the cleaner, and from this into the mouth of a half-full
sack spouted an unending gush of grain, winnowed, cleaned,
threshed, ready for the mill.
The pour from the chute of the cleaner had for S. Behrman an
immense satisfaction. Without an instant's pause, a thick
rivulet of wheat rolled and dashed tumultuous into the sack. In
half a minute--sometimes in twenty seconds--the sack was full,
was passed over to the second sewer, the mouth reeved up, and the
sack dumped out upon the ground, to be picked up by the wagons
and hauled to the railroad.
S. Behrman, hypnotised, sat watching that river of grain. All
that shrieking, bellowing machinery, all that gigantic organism,
all the months of labour, the ploughing, the planting, the
prayers for rain, the years of preparation, the heartaches, the
anxiety, the foresight, all the whole business of the ranch, the
work of horses, of steam, of men and boys, looked to this spot--
the grain chute from the harvester into the sacks. Its volume
was the index of failure or success, of riches or poverty. And
at this point, the labour of the rancher ended. Here, at the lip
of the chute, he parted company with his grain, and from here the
wheat streamed forth to feed the world. The yawning mouths of
the sacks might well stand for the unnumbered mouths of the
People, all agape for food; and here, into these sacks, at first
so lean. so flaccid, attenuated like starved stomachs, rushed
the living stream of food, insistent, interminable, filling the
empty, fattening the shrivelled, making it sleek and heavy and
Half an hour later, the harvester stopped again. The men on the
sacking platform had used up all the sacks. But S. Behrman's
foreman, a new man on Los Muertos, put in an appearance with the
report that the wagon bringing a fresh supply was approaching.
"How is the grain elevator at Port Costa getting on, sir?"
"Finished," replied S. Behrman.
The new master of Los Muertos had decided upon accumulating his
grain in bulk in a great elevator at the tide-water port, where
the grain ships for Liverpool and the East took on their cargoes.
To this end, he had bought and greatly enlarged a building at
Port Costa, that was already in use for that purpose, and to this
elevator all the crop of Los Muertos was to be carried. The P.
and S. W. made S. Behrman a special rate.
"By the way," said S. Behrman to his superintendent, "we're in
luck. Fallon's buyer was in Bonneville yesterday. He's buying
for Fallon and for Holt, too. I happened to run into him, and
I've sold a ship load."
"A ship load!"
"Of Los Muertos wheat. He's acting for some Indian Famine Relief
Committee--lot of women people up in the city--and wanted a whole
cargo. I made a deal with him. There's about fifty thousand
tons of disengaged shipping in San Francisco Bay right now, and
ships are fighting for charters. I wired McKissick and got a
long distance telephone from him this morning. He got me a
barque, the 'Swanhilda.' She'll dock day after to-morrow, and
"Hadn't I better take a run up," observed the superintendent,
"and keep an eye on things?"
"No," answered S. Behrman, "I want you to stop down here, and see
that those carpenters hustle the work in the ranch house.
Derrick will be out by then. You see this deal is peculiar. I'm
not selling to any middle-man--not to Fallon's buyer. He only
put me on to the thing. I'm acting direct with these women
people, and I've got to have some hand in shipping this stuff
myself. But I made my selling figure cover the price of a
charter. It's a queer, mixed-up deal, and I don't fancy it much,
but there's boodle in it. I'll go to Port Costa myself."
A little later on in the day, when S. Behrman had satisfied
himself that his harvesting was going forward favourably, he
reentered his buggy and driving to the County Road turned
southward towards the Los Muertos ranch house. He had not gone
far, however, before he became aware of a familiar figure on
horse-back, jogging slowly along ahead of him. He recognised
Presley; he shook the reins over his horse's back and very soon
ranging up by the side of the young man passed the time of day
"Well, what brings you down here again, Mr. Presley?" he
observed. "I thought we had seen the last of you."
"I came down to say good-bye to my friends," answered Presley
"Well, upon my word. For your health, hey?"
"You look knocked up," asserted the other. "By the way," he
added, "I suppose you've heard the news?"
Presley shrank a little. Of late the reports of disasters had
followed so swiftly upon one another that he had begun to tremble
and to quail at every unexpected bit of information.
"What news do you mean?" he asked.
"About Dyke. He has been convicted. The judge sentenced him for
For life! Riding on by the side of this man through the ranches
by the County Road, Presley repeated these words to himself till
the full effect of them burst at last upon him.
Jailed for life! No outlook. No hope for the future. Day after
day, year after year, to tread the rounds of the same gloomy
monotony. He saw the grey stone walls, the iron doors; the
flagging of the "yard" bare of grass or trees--the cell, narrow,
bald, cheerless; the prison garb, the prison fare, and round all
the grim granite of insuperable barriers, shutting out the world,
shutting in the man with outcasts, with the pariah dogs of
society, thieves, murderers, men below the beasts, lost to all
decency, drugged with opium, utter reprobates. To this, Dyke had
been brought, Dyke, than whom no man had been more honest, more
courageous, more jovial. This was the end of him, a prison; this
was his final estate, a criminal.
Presley found an excuse for riding on, leaving S. Behrman behind
him. He did not stop at Caraher's saloon, for the heat of his
rage had long since begun to cool, and dispassionately, he saw
things in their true light. For all the tragedy of his wife's
death, Caraher was none the less an evil influence among the
ranchers, an influence that worked only to the inciting of crime.
Unwilling to venture himself, to risk his own life, the anarchist
saloon-keeper had goaded Dyke and Presley both to murder; a bad
man, a plague spot in the world of the ranchers, poisoning the
farmers' bodies with alcohol and their minds with discontent.
At last, Presley arrived at the ranch house of Los Muertos. The
place was silent; the grass on the lawn was half dead and over a
foot high; the beginnings of weeds showed here and there in the
driveway. He tied his horse to a ring in the trunk of one of the
larger eucalyptus trees and entered the house.
Mrs. Derrick met him in the dining-room. The old look of
uneasiness, almost of terror, had gone from her wide-open brown
eyes. There was in them instead, the expression of one to whom a
contingency, long dreaded, has arrived and passed. The stolidity
of a settled grief, of an irreparable calamity, of a despair from
which there was no escape was in her look, her manner, her voice.
She was listless, apathetic, calm with the calmness of a woman
who knows she can suffer no further.
"We are going away," she told Presley, as the two sat down at
opposite ends of the dining table. "Just Magnus and myself--all
there is left of us. There is very little money left; Magnus can
hardly take care of himself, to say nothing of me. I must look
after him now. We are going to Marysville."
"You see," she explained, "it happens that my old place is vacant
in the Seminary there. I am going back to teach--literature."
She smiled wearily. "It is beginning all over again, isn't it?
Only there is nothing to look forward to now. Magnus is an old
man already, and I must take care of him."
"He will go with you, then," Presley said, "that will be some
comfort to you at least."
"I don't know," she said slowly, "you have not seen Magnus
"Is he--how do you mean? Isn't he any better?"
"Would you like to see him? He is in the office. You can go
Presley rose. He hesitated a moment, then:
"Mrs. Annixter," he asked, "Hilma--is she still with you? I
should like to see her before I go."
"Go in and see Magnus," said Mrs. Derrick. "I will tell her you
Presley stepped across the stone-paved hallway with the glass
roof, and after knocking three times at the office door pushed it
open and entered.
Magnus sat in the chair before the desk and did not look up as
Presley entered. He had the appearance of a man nearer eighty
than sixty. All the old-time erectness was broken and bent. It
was as though the muscles that once had held the back rigid, the
chin high, had softened and stretched. A certain fatness, the
obesity of inertia, hung heavy around the hips and abdomen, the
eye was watery and vague, the cheeks and chin unshaven and
unkempt, the grey hair had lost its forward curl towards the
temples and hung thin and ragged around the ears. The hawk-like
nose seemed hooked to meet the chin; the lips were slack, the
Where once the Governor had been a model of neatness in his
dress, the frock coat buttoned, the linen clean, he now sat in
his shirt sleeves, the waistcoat open and showing the soiled
shirt. His hands were stained with ink, and these, the only
members of his body that yet appeared to retain their activity,
were busy with a great pile of papers,--oblong, legal documents,
that littered the table before him. Without a moment's
cessation, these hands of the Governor's came and went among the
papers, deft, nimble, dexterous.
Magnus was sorting papers. From the heap upon his left hand he
selected a document, opened it, glanced over it, then tied it
carefully, and laid it away upon a second pile on his right hand.
When all the papers were in one pile, he reversed the process,
taking from his right hand to place upon his left, then back from
left to right again, then once more from right to left. He spoke
no word, he sat absolutely still, even his eyes did not move,
only his hands, swift, nervous, agitated, seemed alive.
"Why, how are you, Governor?" said Presley, coming forward.
Magnus turned slowly about and looked at him and at the hand in
which he shook his own.
"Ah," he said at length, "Presley...yes."
Then his glance fell, and he looked aimlessly about upon the
"I've come to say good-bye, Governor," continued Presley, "I'm
"Going away...yes, why it's Presley. Good-day, Presley."
"Good-day, Governor. I'm going away. I've come to say good-
"Good-bye?" Magnus bent his brows, "what are you saying good-bye
"I'm going away, sir."
The Governor did not answer. Staring at the ledge of the desk,
he seemed lost in thought. There was a long silence. Then, at
length, Presley said:
"How are you getting on, Governor?"
Magnus looked up slowly.
"Why it's Presley," he said. "How do you do, Presley."
"Are you getting on all right, sir?"
"Yes," said Magnus after a while, "yes, all right. I am going
away. I've come to say good-bye. No--" He interrupted himself
with a deprecatory smile, "You said that, didn't you?"
"Well, you are going away, too, your wife tells me."
"Yes, I'm going away. I can't stay on..." he hesitated a long
time, groping for the right word, "I can't stay on--on--what's
the name of this place?"
"Los Muertos," put in Presley.
"No, it isn't. Yes, it is, too, that's right, Los Muertos. I
don't know where my memory has gone to of late."
"Well, I hope you will be better soon, Governor."
As Presley spoke the words, S. Behrman entered the room, and the
Governor sprang up with unexpected agility and stood against the
wall, drawing one long breath after another, watching the
railroad agent with intent eyes.
S. Behrman saluted both men affably and sat down near the desk,
drawing the links of his heavy watch chain through his fat
"There wasn't anybody outside when I knocked, but I heard your
voice in here, Governor, so I came right in. I wanted to ask
you, Governor, if my carpenters can begin work in here day after
to-morrow. I want to take down that partition there, and throw
this room and the next into one. I guess that will be O. K.,
won't it? You'll be out of here by then, won't you?"
There was no vagueness about Magnus's speech or manner now.
There was that same alertness in his demeanour that one sees in a
tamed lion in the presence of its trainer.
"Yes, yes," he said quickly, "you can send your men here. I will
be gone by to-morrow."
"I don't want to seem to hurry you, Governor."
"No, you will not hurry me. I am ready to go now."
"Anything I can do for you, Governor?"
"Yes, there is, Governor," insisted S. Behrman. "I think now
that all is over we ought to be good friends. I think I can do
something for you. We still want an assistant in the local
freight manager's office. Now, what do you say to having a try
at it? There's a salary of fifty a month goes with it. I guess
you must be in need of money now, and there's always the wife to
support; what do you say? Will you try the place?"
Presley could only stare at the man in speechless wonder. What
was he driving at? What reason was there back of this new move,
and why should it be made thus openly and in his hearing? An
explanation occurred to him. Was this merely a pleasantry on the
part of S. Behrman, a way of enjoying to the full his triumph;
was he testing the completeness of his victory, trying to see
just how far he could go, how far beneath his feet he could push
his old-time enemy?
"What do you say?" he repeated. "Will you try the place?"
"You--you insist?" inquired the Governor.
"Oh, I'm not insisting on anything," cried S. Behrman. "I'm
offering you a place, that's all. Will you take it?"
"Yes, yes, I'll take it."
"You'll come over to our side?"
"Yes, I'll come over."
"You'll have to turn 'railroad,' understand?"
"I'll turn railroad."
"Guess there may be times when you'll have to take orders from
"I'll take orders from you."
"You'll have to be loyal to railroad, you know. No funny
"I'll be loyal to the railroad."
"You would like the place then?"
S. Behrman turned from Magnus, who at once resumed his seat and
began again to sort his papers.
"Well, Presley," said the railroad agent: "I guess I won't see
"I hope not," answered the other.
"Tut, tut, Presley, you know you can't make me angry."
He put on his hat of varnished straw and wiped his fat forehead
with his handkerchief. Of late, he had grown fatter than ever,
and the linen vest, stamped with a multitude of interlocked
horseshoes, strained tight its imitation pearl buttons across the
great protuberant stomach.
Presley looked at the man a moment before replying.
But a few weeks ago he could not thus have faced the great enemy
of the farmers without a gust of blind rage blowing tempestuous
through all his bones. Now, however, he found to his surprise
that his fury had lapsed to a profound contempt, in which there
was bitterness, but no truculence. He was tired, tired to death
of the whole business.
"Yes," he answered deliberately, "I am going away. You have
ruined this place for me. I couldn't live here where I should
have to see you, or the results of what you have done, whenever I
stirred out of doors."
"Nonsense, Presley," answered the other, refusing to become
angry. "That's foolishness, that kind of talk; though, of
course, I understand how you feel. I guess it was you, wasn't
it, who threw that bomb into my house?"
"Well, that don't show any common sense, Presley," returned
S. Behrman with perfect aplomb. "What could you have gained by
"Not so much probably as you have gained by killing Harran and
Annixter. But that's all passed now. You're safe from me." The
strangeness of this talk, the oddity of the situation burst upon
him and he laughed aloud. "It don't seem as though you could be
brought to book, S. Behrman, by anybody, or by any means, does
it? They can't get at you through the courts,--the law can't get
you, Dyke's pistol missed fire for just your benefit, and you
even escaped Caraher's six inches of plugged gas pipe. Just what
are we going to do with you?"
"Best give it up, Pres, my boy," returned the other. "I guess
there ain't anything can touch me. Well, Magnus," he said,
turning once more to the Governor. "Well, I'll think over what
you say, and let you know if I can get the place for you in a day
or two. You see," he added, "you're getting pretty old, Magnus
Presley flung himself from the room, unable any longer to witness
the depths into which Magnus had fallen. What other scenes of
degradation were enacted in that room, how much further S.
Behrman carried the humiliation, he did not know. He suddenly
felt that the air of the office was choking him.
He hurried up to what once had been his own room. On his way he
could not but note that much of the house was in disarray, a
great packing-up was in progress; trunks, half-full, stood in the
hallways, crates and cases in a litter of straw encumbered the
rooms. The servants came and went with armfuls of books,
ornaments, articles of clothing.
Presley took from his room only a few manuscripts and note-books,
and a small valise full of his personal effects; at the doorway
he paused and, holding the knob of the door in his hand, looked
back into the room a very long time.
He descended to the lower floor and entered the dining-room.
Mrs. Derrick had disappeared. Presley stood for a long moment in
front of the fireplace, looking about the room, remembering the
scenes that he had witnessed there--the conference when Osterman
had first suggested the fight for Railroad Commissioner and then
later the attack on Lyman Derrick and the sudden revelation of
that inconceivable treachery. But as he stood considering these
things a door to his right opened and Hilma entered the room.
Presley came forward, holding out his hand, all unable to believe
his eyes. It was a woman, grave, dignified, composed, who
advanced to meet him. Hilma was dressed in black, the cut and
fashion of the gown severe, almost monastic. All the little
feminine and contradictory daintinesses were nowhere to be seen.
Her statuesque calm evenness of contour yet remained, but it was
the calmness of great sorrow, of infinite resignation. Beautiful
she still remained, but she was older. The seriousness of one
who has gained the knowledge of the world--knowledge of its evil--
seemed to envelope her. The calm gravity of a great suffering
past, but not forgotten, sat upon her. Not yet twenty-one, she
exhibited the demeanour of a woman of forty.
The one-time amplitude of her figure, the fulness of hip and
shoulder, the great deep swell from waist to throat were gone.
She had grown thinner and, in consequence, seemed unusually,
almost unnaturally tall. Her neck was slender, the outline of
her full lips and round chin was a little sharp; her arms, those
wonderful, beautiful arms of hers, were a little shrunken. But
her eyes were as wide open as always, rimmed as ever by the thin,
intensely black line of the lashes and her brown, fragrant hair
was still thick, still, at times, glittered and coruscated in the
sun. When she spoke, it was with the old-time velvety huskiness
of voice that Annixter had learned to love so well.
"Oh, it is you," she said, giving him her hand. "You were good
to want to see me before you left. I hear that you are going
She sat down upon the sofa.
"Yes," Presley answered, drawing a chair near to her, "yes, I
felt I could not stay--down here any longer. I am going to take
a long ocean voyage. My ship sails in a few days. But you, Mrs.
Annixter, what are you going to do? Is there any way I can serve
"No," she answered, "nothing. Papa is doing well. We are living
"You are well?"
She made a little helpless gesture with both her hands, smiling
"As you see," she answered.
As he talked, Presley was looking at her intently. Her dignity
was a new element in her character and the certain slender effect
of her figure, emphasised now by the long folds of the black gown
she wore, carried it almost superbly. She conveyed something of
the impression of a queen in exile. But she had lost none of her
womanliness; rather, the contrary. Adversity had softened her,
as well as deepened her. Presley saw that very clearly. Hilma
had arrived now at her perfect maturity; she had known great love
and she had known great grief, and the woman that had awakened in
her with her affection for Annixter had been strengthened and
infinitely ennobled by his death.
What if things had been different? Thus, as he conversed with
her, Presley found himself wondering. Her sweetness, her
beautiful gentleness, and tenderness were almost like palpable
presences. It was almost as if a caress had been laid softly
upon his cheek, as if a gentle hand closed upon his. Here, he
knew, was sympathy; here, he knew, was an infinite capacity for
Then suddenly all the tired heart of him went out towards her. A
longing to give the best that was in him to the memory of her, to
be strong and noble because of her, to reshape his purposeless,
half-wasted life with her nobility and purity and gentleness for
his inspiration leaped all at once within him, leaped and stood
firm, hardening to a resolve stronger than any he had ever known.
For an instant he told himself that the suddenness of this new
emotion must be evidence of its insincerity. He was perfectly
well aware that his impulses were abrupt and of short duration.
But he knew that this was not sudden. Without realising it, he
had been from the first drawn to Hilma, and all through these
last terrible days, since the time he had seen her at Los
Muertos, just after the battle at the ditch, she had obtruded
continually upon his thoughts. The sight of her to-day, more
beautiful than ever, quiet, strong, reserved, had only brought
matters to a culmination.
"Are you," he asked her, "are you so unhappy, Hilma, that you can
look forward to no more brightness in your life?"
"Unless I could forget--forget my husband," she answered, "how
can I be happy? I would rather be unhappy in remembering him
than happy in forgetting him. He was my whole world, literally
and truly. Nothing seemed to count before I knew him, and
nothing can count for me now, after I have lost him."
"You think now," he answered, "that in being happy again you
would be disloyal to him. But you will find after a while--years
from now--that it need not be so. The part of you that belonged
to your husband can always keep him sacred, that part of you
belongs to him and he to it. But you are young; you have all
your life to live yet. Your sorrow need not be a burden to you.
If you consider it as you should--as you will some day, believe
me--it will only be a great help to you. It will make you more
noble, a truer woman, more generous."
"I think I see," she answered, "and I never thought about it in
that light before."
"I want to help you," he answered, "as you have helped me. I
want to be your friend, and above all things I do not want to see
your life wasted. I am going away and it is quite possible I
shall never see you again, but you will always be a help to me."
"I do not understand," she answered, "but I know you mean to be
very, very kind to me. Yes, I hope when you come back--if you
ever do--you will still be that. I do not know why you should
want to be so kind, unless--yes, of course--you were my husband's
They talked a little longer, and at length Presley rose.
"I cannot bring myself to see Mrs. Derrick again," he said. "It
would only serve to make her very unhappy. Will you explain that
to her? I think she will understand."
"Yes," answered Hilma. "Yes, I will."
There was a pause. There seemed to be nothing more for either of
them to say. Presley held out his hand.
"Good-bye," she said, as she gave him hers.
He carried it to his lips.
"Good-bye," he answered. "Good-bye and may God bless you."
He turned away abruptly and left the room.
But as he was quietly making his way out of the house, hoping to
get to his horse unobserved, he came suddenly upon Mrs. Dyke and
Sidney on the porch of the house. He had forgotten that since
the affair at the ditch, Los Muertos had been a home to the
engineer's mother and daughter.
"And you, Mrs. Dyke," he asked as he took her hand, "in this
break-up of everything, where do you go?"
"To the city," she answered, "to San Francisco. I have a sister
there who will look after the little tad."
"But you, how about yourself, Mrs. Dyke?"
She answered him in a quiet voice, monotonous, expressionless:
"I am going to die very soon, Mr. Presley. There is no reason
why I should live any longer. My son is in prison for life,
everything is over for me, and I am tired, worn out."
"You mustn't talk like that, Mrs. Dyke," protested Presley,
"nonsense; you will live long enough to see the little tad
married." He tried to be cheerful. But he knew his words lacked
the ring of conviction. Death already overshadowed the face of
the engineer's mother. He felt that she spoke the truth, and as
he stood there speaking to her for the last time, his arm about
little Sidney's shoulder, he knew that he was seeing the
beginnings of the wreck of another family and that, like Hilda
Hooven, another baby girl was to be started in life, through no
fault of hers, fearfully handicapped, weighed down at the
threshold of existence with a load of disgrace. Hilda Hooven and
Sidney Dyke, what was to be their histories? the one, sister of
an outcast; the other, daughter of a convict. And he thought of
that other young girl, the little Honora Gerard, the heiress of
millions, petted, loved, receiving adulation from all who came
near to her, whose only care was to choose from among the
multitude of pleasures that the world hastened to present to her
"Good-bye," he said, holding out his hand.
He kissed the little girl, clasped Mrs. Dyke's hand a moment with
his; then, slinging his satchel about his shoulders by the long
strap with which it was provided, left the house, and mounting
his horse rode away from Los Muertos never to return.
Presley came out upon the County Road. At a little distance to
his left he could see the group of buildings where once Broderson
had lived. These were being remodelled, at length, to suit the
larger demands of the New Agriculture. A strange man came out by
the road gate; no doubt, the new proprietor. Presley turned
away, hurrying northwards along the County Road by the mammoth
watering-tank and the long wind-break of poplars.
He came to Caraher's place. There was no change here. The
saloon had weathered the storm, indispensable to the new as well
as to the old regime. The same dusty buggies and buckboards were
tied under the shed, and as Presley hurried by he could
distinguish Caraher's voice, loud as ever, still proclaiming his
creed of annihilation.
Bonneville Presley avoided. He had no associations with the
town. He turned aside from the road, and crossing the northwest
corner of Los Muertos and the line of the railroad, turned back
along the Upper Road till he came to the Long Trestle and
Annixter's,--Silence, desolation, abandonment.
A vast stillness, profound, unbroken, brooded low over all the
place. No living thing stirred. The rusted wind-mill on the
skeleton-like tower of the artesian well was motionless; the
great barn empty; the windows of the ranch house, cook house, and
dairy boarded up. Nailed upon a tree near the broken gateway was
a board, white painted, with stencilled letters, bearing the
"Warning. ALL PERSONS FOUND TRESPASSING ON THESE PREMISES WILL
BE PROSECUTED TO THE FULLEST EXTENT OF THE LAW. By order P. and
S. W. R. R."
As he had planned, Presley reached the hills by the head waters
of Broderson's Creek late in the afternoon. Toilfully he climbed
them, reached the highest crest, and turning about, looked long
and for the last time at all the reach of the valley unrolled
beneath him. The land of the ranches opened out forever and
forever under the stimulus of that measureless range of vision.
The whole gigantic sweep of the San Joaquin expanded Titanic
before the eye of the mind, flagellated with heat, quivering and
shimmering under the sun's red eye. It was the season after the
harvest, and the great earth, the mother, after its period of
reproduction, its pains of labour, delivered of the fruit of its
loins, slept the sleep of exhaustion in the infinite repose of
the colossus, benignant, eternal, strong, the nourisher of
nations, the feeder of an entire world.
And as Presley looked there came to him strong and true the sense
and the significance of all the enigma of growth. He seemed for
one instant to touch the explanation of existence. Men were
nothings, mere animalculae, mere ephemerides that fluttered and
fell and were forgotten between dawn and dusk. Vanamee had said
there was no death. But for one second Presley could go one step
further. Men were naught, death was naught, life was naught;
force only existed--force that brought men into the world, force
that crowded them out of it to make way for the succeeding
generation, force that made the wheat grow, force that garnered
it from the soil to give place to the succeeding crop.
It was the mystery of creation, the stupendous miracle of
recreation; the vast rhythm of the seasons, measured,
alternative, the sun and the stars keeping time as the eternal
symphony of reproduction swung in its tremendous cadences like
the colossal pendulum of an almighty machine--primordial energy
flung out from the hand of the Lord God himself, immortal, calm,
But as he stood thus looking down upon the great valley he was
aware of the figure of a man, far in the distance, moving
steadily towards the Mission of San Juan. The man was hardly
more than a dot, but there was something unmistakably familiar in
his gait; and besides this, Presley could fancy that he was
hatless. He touched his pony with his spur. The man was Vanamee
beyond all doubt, and a little later Presley, descending the maze
of cow-paths and cattle-trails that led down towards the
Broderson Creek, overtook his friend.
Instantly Presley was aware of an immense change. Vanamee's face
was still that of an ascetic, still glowed with the rarefied
intelligence of a young seer, a half-inspired shepherd-prophet of
Hebraic legends; but the shadow of that great sadness which for
so long had brooded over him was gone; the grief that once he had
fancied deathless was, indeed, dead, or rather swallowed up in a
victorious joy that radiated like sunlight at dawn from the deep-
set eyes, and the hollow, swarthy cheeks. They talked together
till nearly sundown, but to Presley's questions as to the reasons
for Vanamee's happiness, the other would say nothing. Once only
he allowed himself to touch upon the subject.
"Death and grief are little things," he said. "They are
transient. Life must be before death, and joy before grief.
Else there are no such things as death or grief. These are only
negatives. Life is positive. Death is only the absence of life,
just as night is only the absence of day, and if this is so,
there is no such thing as death. There is only life, and the
suppression of life, that we, foolishly, say is death.
'Suppression,' I say, not extinction. I do not say that life
returns. Life never departs. Life simply is. For certain
seasons, it is hidden in the dark, but is that death, extinction,
annihilation? I take it, thank God, that it is not. Does the
grain of wheat, hidden for certain seasons in the dark, die? The
grain we think is dead resumes again; but how? Not as one grain,
but as twenty. So all life. Death is only real for all the
detritus of the world, for all the sorrow, for all the injustice,
for all the grief. Presley, the good never dies; evil dies,
cruelty, oppression, selfishness, greed--these die; but nobility,
but love, but sacrifice, but generosity, but truth, thank God for
it, small as they are, difficult as it is to discover them--these
live forever, these are eternal. You are all broken, all cast
down by what you have seen in this valley, this hopeless
struggle, this apparently hopeless despair. Well, the end is not
yet. What is it that remains after all is over, after the dead
are buried and the hearts are broken? Look at it all from the
vast height of humanity--'the greatest good to the greatest
numbers.' What remains? Men perish, men are corrupted, hearts
are rent asunder, but what remains untouched, unassailable,
undefiled? Try to find that, not only in this, but in every
crisis of the world's life, and you will find, if your view be
large enough, that it is not evil, but good, that in the end
There was a long pause. Presley, his mind full of new thoughts,
held his peace, and Vanamee added at length:
"I believed Angele dead. I wept over her grave; mourned for her
as dead in corruption. She has come back to me, more beautiful
than ever. Do not ask me any further. To put this story, this
idyl, into words, would, for me, be a profanation. This must
suffice you. Angele has returned to me, and I am happy. Adios."
He rose suddenly. The friends clasped each other's hands.
"We shall probably never meet again," said Vanamee; "but if these
are the last words I ever speak to you, listen to them, and
remember them, because I know I speak the truth. Evil is short-
lived. Never judge of the whole round of life by the mere
segment you can see. The whole is, in the end, perfect."
Abruptly he took himself away. He was gone. Presley, alone,
thoughtful, his hands clasped behind him, passed on through the
ranches--here teeming with ripened wheat--his face set from them
Not so Vanamee. For hours he roamed the countryside, now through
the deserted cluster of buildings that had once been Annixter's
home; now through the rustling and, as yet, uncut wheat of Quien
Sabe! now treading the slopes of the hills far to the north, and
again following the winding courses of the streams. Thus he
spent the night.
At length, the day broke, resplendent, cloudless. The night was
passed. There was all the sparkle and effervescence of joy in
the crystal sunlight as the dawn expanded roseate, and at length
flamed dazzling to the zenith when the sun moved over the edge of
the world and looked down upon all the earth like the eye of God
At the moment, Vanamee stood breast-deep in the wheat in a
solitary corner of the Quien Sabe rancho. He turned eastward,
facing the celestial glory of the day and sent his voiceless call
far from him across the golden grain out towards the little
valley of flowers.
Swiftly the answer came. It advanced to meet him. The flowers
of the Seed ranch were gone, dried and parched by the summer's
sun, shedding their seed by handfuls to be sown again and blossom
yet another time. The Seed ranch was no longer royal with
colour. The roses, the lilies, the carnations, the hyacinths,
the poppies, the violets, the mignonette, all these had vanished,
the little valley was without colour; where once it had exhaled
the most delicious perfume, it was now odourless. Under the
blinding light of the day it stretched to its hillsides, bare,
brown, unlovely. The romance of the place had vanished, but with
it had vanished the Vision.
It was no longer a figment of his imagination, a creature of
dreams that advanced to meet Vanamee. It was Reality--it was
Angele in the flesh, vital, sane, material, who at last issued
forth from the entrance of the little valley. Romance had
vanished, but better than romance was here. Not a manifestation,
not a dream, but her very self. The night was gone, but the sun
had risen; the flowers had disappeared, but strong, vigorous,
noble, the wheat had come.
In the wheat he waited for her. He saw her coming. She was
simply dressed. No fanciful wreath of tube-roses was about her
head now, no strange garment of red and gold enveloped her now.
It was no longer an ephemeral illusion of the night, evanescent,
mystic, but a simple country girl coming to meet her lover. The
vision of the night had been beautiful, but what was it compared
to this? Reality was better than Romance. The simple honesty of
a loving, trusting heart was better than a legend of flowers, an
hallucination of the moonlight. She came nearer. Bathed in
sunlight, he saw her face to face, saw her hair hanging in two
straight plaits on either side of her face, saw the enchanting
fulness of her lips, the strange, balancing movement of her head
upon her slender neck. But now she was no longer asleep. The
wonderful eyes, violet blue, heavy-lidded, with their perplexing,
oriental slant towards the temples, were wide open and fixed upon
From out the world of romance, out of the moonlight and the star
sheen, out of the faint radiance of the lilies and the still air
heavy with perfume, she had at last come to him. The moonlight,
the flowers, and the dream were all vanished away. Angele was
realised in the Wheat. She stood forth in the sunlight, a fact,
and no longer a fancy.
He ran forward to meet her and she held out her arms to him. He
caught her to him, and she, turning her face to his, kissed him
on the mouth.
"I love you, I love you," she murmured.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Upon descending from his train at Port Costa, S. Behrman asked to
be directed at once to where the bark "Swanhilda" was taking on
grain. Though he had bought and greatly enlarged his new
elevator at this port, he had never seen it. The work had been
carried on through agents, S. Behrman having far too many and
more pressing occupations to demand his presence and attention.
Now, however, he was to see the concrete evidence of his success
for the first time.
He picked his way across the railroad tracks to the line of
warehouses that bordered the docks, numbered with enormous Roman
numerals and full of grain in bags.
The sight of these bags of grain put him in mind of the fact that
among all the other shippers he was practically alone in his way
of handling his wheat. They handled the grain in bags; he,
however, preferred it in the bulk. Bags were sometimes four
cents apiece, and he had decided to build his elevator and bulk
his grain therein, rather than to incur this expense. Only a
small part of his wheat--that on Number Three division--had been
sacked. All the rest, practically two-thirds of the entire
harvest of Los Muertos, now found itself warehoused in his
enormous elevator at Port Costa.
To a certain degree it had been the desire of observing the
working of his system of handling the wheat in bulk that had
drawn S. Behrman to Port Costa. But the more powerful motive had
been curiosity, not to say downright sentiment. So long had he
planned for this day of triumph, so eagerly had he looked forward
to it, that now, when it had come, he wished to enjoy it to its
fullest extent, wished to miss no feature of the disposal of the
crop. He had watched it harvested, he had watched it hauled to
the railway, and now would watch it as it poured into the hold of
the ship, would even watch the ship as she cleared and got under
He passed through the warehouses and came out upon the dock that
ran parallel with the shore of the bay. A great quantity of
shipping was in view, barques for the most part, Cape Horners,
great, deep sea tramps, whose iron-shod forefeet had parted every
ocean the world round from Rangoon to Rio Janeiro, and from
Melbourne to Christiania. Some were still in the stream, loaded
with wheat to the Plimsoll mark, ready to depart with the next
tide. But many others laid their great flanks alongside the
docks and at that moment were being filled by derrick and crane
with thousands upon thousands of bags of wheat. The scene was
brisk; the cranes creaked and swung incessantly with a rattle of
chains; stevedores and wharfingers toiled and perspired;
boatswains and dock-masters shouted orders, drays rumbled, the
water lapped at the piles; a group of sailors, painting the
flanks of one of the great ships, raised an occasional chanty;
the trade wind sang aeolian in the cordages, filling the air with
the nimble taint of salt. All around were the noises of ships
and the feel and flavor of the sea.
S. Behrman soon discovered his elevator. It was the largest
structure discernible, and upon its red roof, in enormous white
letters, was his own name. Thither, between piles of grain bags,
halted drays, crates and boxes of merchandise, with an occasional
pyramid of salmon cases, S. Behrman took his way. Cabled to the
dock, close under his elevator, lay a great ship with lofty masts
and great spars. Her stern was toward him as he approached, and
upon it, in raised golden letters, he could read the words
He went aboard by a very steep gangway and found the mate on the
quarter deck. S. Behrman introduced himself.
"Well," he added, "how are you getting on?"
"Very fairly, sir," returned the mate, who was an Englishman.
"We'll have her all snugged down tight by this time, day after
to-morrow. It's a great saving of time shunting the stuff in her
like that, and three men can do the work of seven."
"I'll have a look 'round, I believe," returned S. Behrman.
"Right--oh," answered the mate with a nod.
S. Behrman went forward to the hatch that opened down into the
vast hold of the ship. A great iron chute connected this hatch
with the elevator, and through it was rushing a veritable
cataract of wheat.
It came from some gigantic bin within the elevator itself,
rushing down the confines of the chute to plunge into the roomy,
gloomy interior of the hold with an incessant, metallic roar,
persistent, steady, inevitable. No men were in sight. The place
was deserted. No human agency seemed to be back of the movement
of the wheat. Rather, the grain seemed impelled with a force of
its own, a resistless, huge force, eager, vivid, impatient for
S. Behrman stood watching, his ears deafened with the roar of the
hard grains against the metallic lining of the chute. He put his
hand once into the rushing tide, and the contact rasped the flesh
of his fingers and like an undertow drew his hand after it in its
Cautiously he peered down into the hold. A musty odour rose to
his nostrils, the vigorous, pungent aroma of the raw cereal. It
was dark. He could see nothing; but all about and over the
opening of the hatch the air was full of a fine, impalpable dust
that blinded the eyes and choked the throat and nostrils.
As his eyes became used to the shadows of the cavern below him,
he began to distinguish the grey mass of the wheat, a great
expanse, almost liquid in its texture, which, as the cataract
from above plunged into it, moved and shifted in long, slow
eddies. As he stood there, this cataract on a sudden increased
in volume. He turned about, casting his eyes upward toward the
elevator to discover the cause. His foot caught in a coil of
rope, and he fell headforemost into the hold.
The fall was a long one and he struck the surface of the wheat
with the sodden impact of a bundle of damp clothes. For the
moment he was stunned. All the breath was driven from his body.
He could neither move nor cry out. But, by degrees, his wits
steadied themselves and his breath returned to him. He looked
about and above him. The daylight in the hold was dimmed and
clouded by the thick, chaff-dust thrown off by the pour of grain,
and even this dimness dwindled to twilight at a short distance
from the opening of the hatch, while the remotest quarters were
lost in impenetrable blackness. He got upon his feet only to
find that he sunk ankle deep in the loose packed mass underfoot.
"Hell," he muttered, "here's a fix."
Directly underneath the chute, the wheat, as it poured in, raised
itself in a conical mound, but from the sides of this mound it
shunted away incessantly in thick layers, flowing in all
directions with the nimbleness of water. Even as S. Behrman
spoke, a wave of grain poured around his legs and rose rapidly to
the level of his knees. He stepped quickly back. To stay near
the chute would soon bury him to the waist.
No doubt, there was some other exit from the hold, some companion
ladder that led up to the deck. He scuffled and waded across the
wheat, groping in the dark with outstretched hands. With every
inhalation he choked, filling his mouth and nostrils more with
dust than with air. At times he could not breathe at all, but
gagged and gasped, his lips distended. But search as he would he
could find no outlet to the hold, no stairway, no companion
ladder. Again and again, staggering along in the black darkness,
he bruised his knuckles and forehead against the iron sides of
the ship. He gave up the attempt to find any interior means of
escape and returned laboriously to the space under the open
hatchway. Already he could see that the level of the wheat was
"God," he said, "this isn't going to do at all." He uttered a
great shout. "Hello, on deck there, somebody. For God's sake."
The steady, metallic roar of the pouring wheat drowned out his
voice. He could scarcely hear it himself above the rush of the
cataract. Besides this, he found it impossible to stay under the
hatch. The flying grains of wheat, spattering as they fell,
stung his face like wind-driven particles of ice. It was a
veritable torture; his hands smarted with it. Once he was all
but blinded. Furthermore, the succeeding waves of wheat, rolling
from the mound under the chute, beat him back, swirling and
dashing against his legs and knees, mounting swiftly higher,
carrying him off his feet.
Once more he retreated, drawing back from beneath the hatch. He
stood still for a moment and shouted again. It was in vain. His
voice returned upon him, unable to penetrate the thunder of the
chute, and horrified, he discovered that so soon as he stood
motionless upon the wheat, he sank into it. Before he knew it,
he was knee-deep again, and a long swirl of grain sweeping
outward from the ever-breaking, ever-reforming pyramid below the
chute, poured around his thighs, immobolising him.
A frenzy of terror suddenly leaped to life within him. The
horror of death, the Fear of The Trap, shook him like a dry reed.
Shouting, he tore himself free of the wheat and once more
scrambled and struggled towards the hatchway. He stumbled as he
reached it and fell directly beneath the pour. Like a storm of
small shot, mercilessly, pitilessly, the unnumbered multitude of
hurtling grains flagellated and beat and tore his flesh. Blood
streamed from his forehead and, thickening with the powder-like
chaff-dust, blinded his eyes. He struggled to his feet once
more. An avalanche from the cone of wheat buried him to his
thighs. He was forced back and back and back, beating the air,
falling, rising, howling for aid. He could no longer see; his
eyes, crammed with dust, smarted as if transfixed with needles
whenever he opened them. His mouth was full of the dust, his
lips were dry with it; thirst tortured him, while his outcries
choked and gagged in his rasped throat.
And all the while without stop, incessantly, inexorably, the
wheat, as if moving with a force all its own, shot downward in a
prolonged roar, persistent, steady, inevitable.
He retreated to a far corner of the hold and sat down with his
back against the iron hull of the ship and tried to collect his
thoughts, to calm himself. Surely there must be some way of
escape; surely he was not to die like this, die in this dreadful
substance that was neither solid nor fluid. What was he to do?
How make himself heard?
But even as he thought about this, the cone under the chute broke
again and sent a great layer of grain rippling and tumbling
toward him. It reached him where he sat and buried his hand and
He sprang up trembling and made for another corner.
"By God," he cried, "by God, I must think of something pretty
Once more the level of the wheat rose and the grains began piling
deeper about him. Once more he retreated. Once more he crawled
staggering to the foot of the cataract, screaming till his ears
sang and his eyeballs strained in their sockets, and once more
the relentless tide drove him back.
Then began that terrible dance of death; the man dodging,
doubling, squirming, hunted from one corner to another, the wheat
slowly, inexorably flowing, rising, spreading to every angle, to
every nook and cranny. It reached his middle. Furious and with
bleeding hands and broken nails, he dug his way out to fall
backward, all but exhausted, gasping for breath in the dust-
thickened air. Roused again by the slow advance of the tide, he
leaped up and stumbled away, blinded with the agony in his eyes,
only to crash against the metal hull of the vessel. He turned
about, the blood streaming from his face, and paused to collect
his senses, and with a rush, another wave swirled about his
ankles and knees. Exhaustion grew upon him. To stand still
meant to sink; to lie or sit meant to be buried the quicker; and
all this in the dark, all this in an air that could scarcely be
breathed, all this while he fought an enemy that could not be
gripped, toiling in a sea that could not be stayed.
Guided by the sound of the falling wheat, S. Behrman crawled on
hands and knees toward the hatchway. Once more he raised his
voice in a shout for help. His bleeding throat and raw, parched
lips refused to utter but a wheezing moan. Once more he tried to
look toward the one patch of faint light above him. His eye-
lids, clogged with chaff, could no longer open. The Wheat poured
about his waist as he raised himself upon his knees.
Reason fled. Deafened with the roar of the grain, blinded and
made dumb with its chaff, he threw himself forward with clutching
fingers, rolling upon his back, and lay there, moving feebly, the
head rolling from side to side. The Wheat, leaping continuously
from the chute, poured around him. It filled the pockets of the
coat, it crept up the sleeves and trouser legs, it covered the
great, protuberant stomach, it ran at last in rivulets into the
distended, gasping mouth. It covered the face.
Upon the surface of the Wheat, under the chute, nothing moved but
the Wheat itself. There was no sign of life. Then, for an
instant, the surface stirred. A hand, fat, with short fingers
and swollen veins, reached up, clutching, then fell limp and
prone. In another instant it was covered. In the hold of the
"Swanhilda" there was no movement but the widening ripples that
spread flowing from the ever-breaking, ever-reforming cone; no
sound, but the rushing of the Wheat that continued to plunge
incessantly from the iron chute in a prolonged roar, persistent,