Nowhere had the long season of flowers
brought such glory as to the broad plains and slopes
of Robles Rancho. By some fortuitous chance of
soil, or flood, or drifting pollen, the three terraces
had each taken a distinct and separate blossom and
tint of color. The straggling line of corral,
the crumbling wall of the old garden, the outlying
chapel, and even the brown walls of the casa itself,
were half sunken in the tall racemes of crowding lupines,
until from the distance they seemed to be slowly settling
in the profundity of a dark-blue sea. The second
terrace was a league-long flow of gray and gold daisies,
in which the cattle dazedly wandered mid-leg deep.
A perpetual sunshine of yellow dandelions lay upon
the third. The gentle slope to the dark-green
canada was a broad cataract of crimson poppies.
Everywhere where water had stood, great patches of
color had taken its place. It seemed as if the
rains had ceased only that the broken heavens might
Never before had its beauty a
beauty that seemed built upon a cruel, youthful, obliterating
forgetfulness of the past struck Clarence
as keenly as when he had made up his mind that he
must leave the place forever. For the tale of
his mischance and ill-fortune, as told by Hopkins,
was unfortunately true. When he discovered that
in his desire to save Peyton’s house by the
purchase of the Sisters’ title he himself had
been the victim of a gigantic fraud, he accepted the
loss of the greater part of his fortune with resignation,
and was even satisfied by the thought that he had
at least effected the possession of the property for
Mrs. Peyton. But when he found that those of his
tenants who had bought under him had acquired only
a dubious possession of their lands and no title,
he had unhesitatingly reimbursed them for their improvements
with the last of his capital. Only the lawless
Gilroy had good-humoredly declined. The quiet
acceptance of the others did not, unfortunately, preclude
their settled belief that Clarence had participated
in the fraud, and that even now his restitution was
making a dangerous precedent, subversive of the best
interests of the State, and discouraging to immigration.
Some doubted his sanity. Only one, struck with
the sincerity of his motive, hesitated to take his
money, with a look of commiseration on his face.
“Are you not satisfied?” asked Clarence,
“Nothin’. Only I
was thinkin’ that a man like you must feel awful
lonesome in Calforny!”
Lonely he was, indeed; but his loneliness
was not the loss of fortune nor what it might bring.
Perhaps he had never fully realized his wealth; it
had been an accident rather than a custom of his life,
and when it had failed in the only test he had made
of its power, it is to be feared that he only sentimentally
regretted it. It was too early yet for him to
comprehend the veiled blessings of the catastrophe
in its merciful disruption of habits and ways of life;
his loneliness was still the hopeless solitude left
by vanished ideals and overthrown idols. He was
satisfied that he had never cared for Susy, but he
still cared for the belief that he had.
After the discovery of Pedro’s
body that fatal morning, a brief but emphatic interview
between himself and Mrs. McClosky had followed.
He had insisted upon her immediately accompanying
Susy and himself to Mrs. Peyton in San Francisco.
Horror-stricken and terrified at the catastrophe,
and frightened by the strange looks of the excited
servants, they did not dare to disobey him. He
had left them with Mrs. Peyton in the briefest preliminary
interview, during which he spoke only of the catastrophe,
shielding the woman from the presumption of having
provoked it, and urging only the importance of settling
the question of guardianship at once. It was
odd that Mrs. Peyton had been less disturbed than
he imagined she would be at even his charitable version
of Susy’s unfaithfulness to her; it even seemed
to him that she had already suspected it. But
as he was about to withdraw to leave her to meet them
alone, she had stopped him suddenly.
“What would you advise me to do?”
It was his first interview with her
since the revelation of his own feelings. He
looked into the pleading, troubled eyes of the woman
he now knew he had loved, and stammered:
“You alone can judge. Only
you must remember that one cannot force an affection
any more than one can prevent it.”
He felt himself blushing, and, conscious
of the construction of his words, he even fancied
that she was displeased.
“Then you have no preference?”
she said, a little impatiently.
She made a slight gesture with her
handsome shoulders, but she only said, “I should
have liked to have pleased you in this,” and
turned coldly away. He had left without knowing
the result of the interview; but a few days later
he received a letter from her stating that she had
allowed Susy to return to her aunt, and that she had
resigned all claims to her guardianship.
“It seemed to be a foregone
conclusion,” she wrote; “and although I
cannot think such a change will be for her permanent
welfare, it is her present wish, and who knows,
indeed, if the change will be permanent? I have
not allowed the legal question to interfere with my
judgment, although her friends must know that she
forfeits any claim upon the estate by her action;
but at the same time, in the event of her suitable
marriage, I should try to carry out what I believe
would have been Mr. Peyton’s wishes.”
There were a few lines of postscript:
“It seems to me that the change would leave
you more free to consult your own wishes in regard
to continuing your friendship with Susy, and upon
such a footing as may please you. I judge from
Mrs. McClosky’s conversation that she believed
you thought you were only doing your duty in reporting
to me, and that the circumstances had not altered
the good terms in which you all three formerly stood.”
Clarence had dropped the letter with
a burning indignation that seemed to sting his eyes
until a scalding moisture hid the words before him.
What might not Susy have said? What exaggeration
of his affection was she not capable of suggesting?
He recalled Mrs. McClosky, and remembered her easy
acceptance of him as Susy’s lover. What
had they told Mrs. Peyton? What must be her opinion
of his deceit towards herself? It was hard enough
to bear this before he knew he loved her. It was
intolerable now! And this is what she meant when
she suggested that he should renew his old terms with
Susy; it was for him that this ill-disguised,
scornful generosity in regard to Susy’s pecuniary
expectations was intended. What should he do?
He would write to her, and indignantly deny any clandestine
affection for Susy. But could he do that, in honor,
in truthfulness? Would it not be better to write
and confess all? Yes, everything.
Fortunately for his still boyish impulsiveness,
it was at this time that the discovery of his own
financial ruin came to him. The inquest on the
body of Pedro Valdez and the confession of his confidant
had revealed the facts of the fraudulent title and
forged testamentary documents. Although it was
correctly believed that Pedro had met his death in
an escapade of gallantry or intrigue, the coroner’s
jury had returned a verdict of “accidental death,”
and the lesser scandal was lost in the wider, far-spreading
disclosure of fraud. When he had resolved to assume
all the liabilities of his purchase, he was obliged
to write to Mrs. Peyton and confess his ruin.
But he was glad to remind her that it did not alter
her status or security; he had only given her
the possession, and she would revert to her original
and now uncontested title. But as there was now
no reason for his continuing the stewardship, and as
he must adopt some profession and seek his fortune
elsewhere, he begged her to relieve him of his duty.
Albeit written with a throbbing heart and suffused
eyes, it was a plain, business-like, and practical
letter. Her reply was equally cool and matter
of fact. She was sorry to hear of his losses,
although she could not agree with him that they could
logically sever his present connection with the rancho,
or that, placed upon another and distinctly business
footing, the occupation would not be as remunerative
to him as any other. But, of course, if he had
a preference for some more independent position, that
was another question, although he would forgive her
for using the privilege of her years to remind him
that his financial and business success had not yet
justified his independence. She would also advise
him not to decide hastily, or, at least, to wait until
she had again thoroughly gone over her husband’s
papers with her lawyer, in reference to the old purchase
of the Sisters’ title, and the conditions under
which it was bought. She knew that Mr. Brant
would not refuse this as a matter of business, nor
would that friendship, which she valued so highly,
allow him to imperil the possession of the rancho
by leaving it at such a moment. As soon as she
had finished the examination of the papers, she would
write again. Her letter seemed to leave him no
hope, if, indeed, he had ever indulged in any.
It was the practical kindliness of a woman of business,
nothing more. As to the examination of her husband’s
papers, that was a natural precaution. He alone
knew that they would give no record of a transaction
which had never occurred. He briefly replied that
his intention to seek another situation was unchanged,
but that he would cheerfully await the arrival of
his successor. Two weeks passed. Then Mr.
Sanderson, Mrs. Peyton’s lawyer, arrived, bringing
an apologetic note from Mrs. Peyton. She was
so sorry her business was still delayed, but as she
had felt that she had no right to detain him entirely
at Robles, she had sent to Mr. Sanderson to temporarily
relieve him, that he might be free to look around
him or visit San Francisco in reference to his own
business, only extracting a promise from him that he
would return to Robles to meet her at the end of the
week, before settling upon anything.
The bitter smile with which Clarence
had read thus far suddenly changed. Some mysterious
touch of unbusiness-like but womanly hesitation, that
he had never noticed in her previous letters, gave
him a faint sense of pleasure, as if her note had
been perfumed. He had availed himself of the
offer. It was on this visit to Sacramento that
he had accidentally discovered the marriage of Susy
“It’s a great deal better
business for her to have a husband in the ‘profesh’
if she’s agoin’ to stick to it,”
said his informant, Mrs. McClosky, “and she’s
nothing if she ain’t business and profesh, Mr.
Brant. I never see a girl that was born for the
stage yes, you might say jess cut out o’
the boards of the stage as that girl Susy
is! And that’s jest what’s the matter;
and you know it, and I know it, and there you
It was with these experiences that
Clarence was to-day reentering the wooded and rocky
gateway of the rancho from the high road of the canada;
but as he cantered up the first slope, through the
drift of scarlet poppies that almost obliterated the
track, and the blue and yellow blooms of the terraces
again broke upon his view, he thought only of Mrs.
Peyton’s pleasure in this changed aspect of her
old home. She had told him of it once before,
and of her delight in it; and he had once thought
how happy he should be to see it with her.
The servant who took his horse told
him that the senora had arrived that morning from
Santa Inez, bringing with her the two Señoritas
Hernandez from the rancho of Los Canejos, and that
other guests were expected. And there was the
Senor Sanderson and his Reverence Padre Esteban.
Truly an affair of hospitality, the first since the
padrón died. Whatever dream Clarence might
have had of opportunities for confidential interview
was rudely dispelled. Yet Mrs. Peyton had left
orders to be informed at once of Don Clarencio’s
As he crossed the patio and stepped
upon the corridor he fancied he already detected in
the internal arrangements the subtle influence of
Mrs. Peyton’s taste and the indefinable domination
of the mistress. For an instant he thought of
anticipating the servant and seeking her in the boudoir,
but some instinct withheld him, and he turned into
the study which he had used as an office. It
was empty; a few embers glimmered on the hearth.
At the same moment there was a light step behind him,
and Mrs. Peyton entered and closed the door behind
her. She was very beautiful. Although paler
and thinner, there was an odd sort of animation about
her, so unlike her usual repose that it seemed almost
“I thought we could talk together
a few moments before the guests arrive. The house
will be presently so full, and my duties as hostess
“I was about to seek
you in in the boudoir,”
She gave an impatient shiver.
“Good heavens, not there!
I shall never go there again. I should fancy
every time I looked out of the window that I saw the
head of that man between the bars. No! I
am only thankful that I wasn’t here at the time,
and that I can keep my remembrance of the dear old
place unchanged.” She checked herself a
little abruptly, and then added somewhat irrelevantly
but cheerfully, “Well, you have been away?
What have you done?”
“Nothing,” said Clarence.
“Then you have kept your promise,”
she said, with the same nervous hilarity.
“I have returned here without
making any other engagement,” he said gravely;
“but I have not altered my determination.”
She shrugged her shoulders again,
or, as it seemed, the skin of her tightly fitting
black dress above them, with the sensitive shiver of
a highly groomed horse, and moved to the hearth as
if for warmth; put her slim, slippered foot upon the
low fender, drawing, with a quick hand, the whole
width of her skirt behind her until it clingingly accented
the long, graceful curve from her hip to her feet.
All this was so unlike her usual fastidiousness and
repose that he was struck by it. With her eyes
on the glowing embers of the hearth, and tentatively
advancing her toe to its warmth and drawing it away,
“Of course, you must please
yourself. I am afraid I have no right except
that of habit and custom to keep you here; and you
know,” she added, with an only half-withheld
bitterness, “that they are not always very effective
with young people who prefer to have the ordering of
their own lives. But I have something still to
tell you before you finally decide. I have, as
you know, been looking over my over Mr.
Peyton’s papers very carefully. Well, as
a result, I find, Mr. Brant, that there is no record
whatever of his wonderfully providential purchase of
the Sisters’ title from you; that he never entered
into any written agreement with you, and never paid
you a cent; and that, furthermore, his papers show
me that he never even contemplated it; nor, indeed,
even knew of your owning the title when he died.
Yes, Mr. Brant, it was all to your foresight and
prudence, and your generosity alone, that we owe
our present possession of the rancho. When you
helped us into that awful window, it was your
house we were entering; and if it had been you,
and not those wretches, who had chosen to shut the
doors on us after the funeral, we could never have
entered here again. Don’t deny it, Mr. Brant.
I have suspected it a long time, and when you spoke
of changing your position, I determined to find
out if it wasn’t I who had to leave the house
rather than you. One moment, please. And
I did find out, and it was I. Don’t speak,
please, yet. And now,” she said, with a
quick return to her previous nervous hilarity, “knowing
this, as you did, and knowing, too, that I would know
it when I examined the papers, don’t
speak, I’m not through yet, don’t
you think that it was just a little cruel for
you to try to hurry me, and make me come here instead
of your coming to me in San Francisco, when I
gave you leave for that purpose?”
“But, Mrs. Peyton,” gasped Clarence.
“Please don’t interrupt
me,” said the lady, with a touch of her old
imperiousness, “for in a moment I must join my
guests. When I found you wouldn’t tell
me, and left it to me to find out, I could only go
away as I did, and really leave you to control what
I believed was your own property. And I thought,
too, that I understood your motives, and, to be frank
with you, that worried me; for I believed I knew the
disposition and feelings of a certain person better
“One moment,” broke out
Clarence, “you must hear me, now. Foolish
and misguided as that purchase may have been, I swear
to you I had only one motive in making it, to
save the homestead for you and your husband, who had
been my first and earliest benefactors. What the
result of it was, you, as a business woman, know;
your friends know; your lawyer will tell you the same.
You owe me nothing. I have given you nothing but
the repossession of this property, which any other
man could have done, and perhaps less stupidly than
I did. I would not have forced you to come here
to hear this if I had dreamed of your suspicions, or
even if I had simply understood that you would see
me in San Francisco as I passed through.”
“Passed through? Where were you going?”
she said quickly.
The abrupt change in her manner startled
him to a recollection of Susy, and he blushed.
She bit her lips, and moved towards the window.
“Then you saw her?” she
said, turning suddenly towards him. The inquiry
of her beautiful eyes was more imperative than her
Clarence recognized quickly what he
thought was his cruel blunder in touching the half-healed
wound of separation. But he had gone too far to
be other than perfectly truthful now.
“Yes; I saw her on the stage,”
he said, with a return of his boyish earnestness;
“and I learned something which I wanted you to
first hear from me. She is married, and
to Mr. Hooker, who is in the same theatrical company
with her. But I want you to think, as I honestly
do, that it is the best for her. She has married
in her profession, which is a great protection and
a help to her success, and she has married a man who
can look lightly upon certain qualities in her that
others might not be so lenient to. His worst
faults are on the surface, and will wear away in contact
with the world, and he looks up to her as his superior.
I gathered this from her friend, for I did not speak
with her myself; I did not go there to see her.
But as I expected to be leaving you soon, I thought
it only right that as I was the humble means of first
bringing her into your life, I should bring you this
last news, which I suppose takes her out of it forever.
Only I want you to believe that you have nothing
to regret, and that she is neither lost nor unhappy.”
The expression of suspicious inquiry
on her face when he began changed gradually to perplexity
as he continued, and then relaxed into a faint, peculiar
smile. But there was not the slightest trace of
that pain, wounded pride, indignation, or anger, that
he had expected to see upon it.
“That means, I suppose, Mr.
Brant, that you no longer care for her?”
The smile had passed, yet she spoke
now with a half-real, half-affected archness that
was also unlike her.
“It means,” said Clarence
with a white face, but a steady voice, “that
I care for her now as much as I ever cared for her,
no matter to what folly it once might have led me.
But it means, also, that there was no time when I
was not able to tell it to you as frankly as I
“One moment, please,”
she interrupted, and turned quickly towards the door.
She opened it and looked out. “I thought
they were calling me, and I I must
go now, Mr. Brant. And without finishing my business
either, or saying half I had intended to say.
But wait” she put her hand to her
head in a pretty perplexity, “it’s a moonlight
night, and I’ll propose after dinner a stroll
in the gardens, and you can manage to walk a little
with me.” She stopped again, returned, said,
“It was very kind of you to think of me at Sacramento,”
held out her hand, allowed it to remain for an instant,
cool but acquiescent, in his warmer grasp, and with
the same odd youthfulness of movement and gesture
slipped out of the door.
An hour later she was at the head
of her dinner table, serene, beautiful, and calm,
in her elegant mourning, provokingly inaccessible
in the sweet deliberation of her widowed years; Padre
Esteban was at her side with a local magnate, who
had known Peyton and his wife, while Donna Rosita
and a pair of liquid-tongued, childlike senoritas were
near Clarence and Sanderson. To the priest Mrs.
Peyton spoke admiringly of the changes in the rancho
and the restoration of the Mission Chapel, and together
they had commended Clarence from the level of their
superior passionless reserve and years. Clarence
felt hopelessly young and hopelessly lonely; the naïve
prattle of the young girls beside him appeared infantine.
In his abstraction, he heard Mrs. Peyton allude to
the beauty of the night, and propose that after coffee
and chocolate the ladies should put on their wraps
and go with her to the old garden. Clarence raised
his eyes; she was not looking at him, but there was
a slight consciousness in her face that was not there
before, and the faintest color in her cheek, still
lingering, no doubt, from the excitement of conversation.
It was a cool, tranquil, dewless night
when they at last straggled out, mere black and white
patches in the colorless moonlight. The brilliancy
of the flower-hued landscape was subdued under its
passive, pale austerity; even the gray and gold of
the second terrace seemed dulled and confused.
At any other time Clarence might have lingered over
this strange effect, but his eyes followed only a
tall figure, in a long striped burnous, that moved
gracefully beside the soutaned priest. As he
approached, it turned towards him.
“Ah! here you are. I just
told Father Esteban that you talked of leaving to-morrow,
and that he would have to excuse me a few moments while
you showed me what you had done to the old garden.”
She moved beside him, and, with a
hesitation that was not unlike a more youthful timidity,
slipped her hand through his arm. It was for the
first time, and, without thinking, he pressed it impulsively
to his side. I have already intimated that Clarence’s
reserve was at times qualified by singular directness.
A few steps carried them out of hearing;
a few more, and they seemed alone in the world.
The long adobe wall glanced away emptily beside them,
and was lost; the black shadows of the knotted pear-trees
were beneath their feet. They began to walk with
the slight affectation of treading the shadows as
if they were patterns on a carpet. Clarence was
voiceless, and yet he seemed to be moving beside a
spirit that must be first addressed.
But it was flesh and blood nevertheless.
“I interrupted you in something
you were saying when I left the office,” she
“I was speaking of Susy,”
returned Clarence eagerly; “and”
“Then you needn’t go on,”
interrupted Mrs. Peyton quickly. “I understand
you, and believe you. I would rather talk of something
else. We have not yet arranged how I can make
restitution to you for the capital you sank in saving
this place. You will be reasonable, Mr. Brant,
and not leave me with the shame and pain of knowing
that you ruined yourself for the sake of your old
friends. For it is no more a sentimental idea
of mine to feel in this way than it is a fair and
sensible one for you to imply that a mere quibble
of construction absolves me from responsibility.
Mr. Sanderson himself admits that the repossession
you gave us is a fair and legal basis for any arrangement
of sharing or division of the property with you, that
might enable you to remain here and continue the work
you have so well begun. Have you no suggestion,
or must it come from me, Mr. Brant?”
“Neither. Let us not talk of that now.”
She did not seem to notice the boyish
doggedness of his speech, except so far as it might
have increased her inconsequent and nervously pitched
“Then suppose we speak of the
Misses Hernandez, with whom you scarcely exchanged
a word at dinner, and whom I invited for you and your
fluent Spanish. They are charming girls, even
if they are a little stupid. But what can I do?
If I am to live here, I must have a few young people
around me, if only to make the place cheerful for others.
Do you know I have taken a great fancy to Miss Rogers,
and have asked her to visit me. I think she is
a good friend of yours, although perhaps she is a little
shy. What’s the matter? You have nothing
against her, have you?”
Clarence had stopped short. They
had reached the end of the pear-tree shadows.
A few steps more would bring them to the fallen south
wall of the garden and the open moonlight beyond,
but to the right an olive alley of deeper shadow diverged.
“No,” he said, with slow
deliberation; “I have to thank Mary Rogers for
having discovered something in me that I have been
blindly, foolishly, and hopelessly struggling with.”
“And, pray, what was that?” said Mrs.
“That I love you!”
Mrs. Peyton was fairly startled.
The embarrassment of any truth is apt to be in its
eternal abruptness, which no deviousness of tact or
circumlocution of diplomacy has ever yet surmounted.
Whatever had been in her heart, or mind, she was unprepared
for this directness. The bolt had dropped from
the sky; they were alone; there was nothing between
the stars and the earth but herself and this man and
this truth; it could not be overlooked, surmounted,
or escaped from. A step or two more would take
her out of the garden into the moonlight, but always
into this awful frankness of blunt and outspoken nature.
She hesitated, and turned the corner into the olive
shadows. It was, perhaps, more dangerous; but
less shameless, and less like truckling. And the
appallingly direct Clarence instantly followed.
“I know you will despise me,
hate me; and, perhaps, worst of all, disbelieve me;
but I swear to you, now, that I have always loved
you, yes, always! When first I
came here, it was not to see my old playmate, but
you, for I had kept the memory of you as I first
saw you when a boy, and you have always been my ideal.
I have thought of, dreamed of, worshiped, and lived
for no other woman. Even when I found Susy again,
grown up here at your side; even when I thought that
I might, with your consent, marry her, it was that
I might be with you always; that I might be a
part of your home, your family, and have a place
with her in your heart; for it was you I loved,
and you only. Don’t laugh at me, Mrs.
Peyton, it is the truth, the whole truth, I am telling
you. God help me!”
If she only could have laughed, harshly,
ironically, or even mercifully and kindly! But
it would not come. And she burst out:
“I am not laughing. Good
heavens, don’t you see? It is me you
are making ridiculous.”
he said in a momentarily choked, half-stupefied voice.
“You a beautiful woman, my superior
in everything, the mistress of these lands where I
am only steward made ridiculous, not by
my presumption, but by my confession? Was the
saint you just now admired in Father Esteban’s
chapel ridiculous because of the peon clowns who were
kneeling before it?”
“Hush! This is wicked! Stop!”
She felt she was now on firm ground,
and made the most of it in voice and manner.
She must draw the line somewhere, and she would draw
it between passion and impiety.
“Not until I have told you all,
and I must before I leave you. I loved you
when I came here, even when your husband
was alive. Don’t be angry, Mrs. Peyton;
he would not, and need not, have been angry; he
would have pitied the foolish boy, who, in the very
innocence and ignorance of his passion, might have
revealed it to him as he did to everybody but one.
And yet, I sometimes think you might have guessed it,
had you thought of me at all. It must have been
on my lips that day I sat with you in the boudoir.
I know that I was filled with it; with it and with
you; with your presence, with your beauty, your grace
of heart and mind, yes, Mrs. Peyton, even
with your own unrequited love for Susy. Only,
then, I knew not what it was.”
“But I think I can tell you
what it was then, and now,” said Mrs. Peyton,
recovering her nervous little laugh, though it died
a moment after on her lips. “I remember
it very well. You told me then that I reminded
you of your mother. Well,
I am not old enough to be your mother, Mr. Brant,
but I am old enough to have been, and might have been,
the mother of your wife. That was what you meant
then; that is what you mean now. I was wrong
to accuse you of trying to make me ridiculous.
I ask your pardon. Let us leave it as it was that
day in the boudoir, as it is now. Let me
still remind you of your mother, I know
she must have been a good woman to have had so good
a son, and when you have found some sweet
young girl to make you happy, come to me for a mother’s
blessing, and we will laugh at the recollection and
misunderstanding of this evening.”
Her voice did not, however, exhibit
that exquisite maternal tenderness which the beatific
vision ought to have called up, and the persistent
voice of Clarence could not be evaded in the shadow.
“I said you reminded me of my
mother,” he went on at her side, “because
I knew her and lost her only as a child. She never
was anything to me but a memory, and yet an ideal
of all that was sweet and lovable in woman. Perhaps
it was a dream of what she might have been when she
was as young in years as you. If it pleases you
still to misunderstand me, it may please you also
to know that there is a reminder of her even in this.
I have no remembrance of a word of affection from her,
nor a caress; I have been as hopeless in my love for
her who was my mother, as of the woman I would make
“But you have seen no one, you
know no one, you are young, you scarcely know your
own self! You will forget this, you will forget
me! And if if I should listen
to you, what would the world say, what would you
yourself say a few years hence? Oh, be reasonable.
Think of it, it would be so wild, so
mad! so so utterly ridiculous!”
In proof of its ludicrous quality,
two tears escaped her eyes in the darkness. But
Clarence caught the white flash of her withdrawn handkerchief
in the shadow, and captured her returning hand.
It was trembling, but did not struggle, and presently
hushed itself to rest in his.
“I’m not only a fool but
a brute,” he said in a lower voice. “Forgive
me. I have given you pain, you, for
whom I would have died.”
They had both stopped. He was
still holding her sleeping hand. His arm had
stolen around the burnous so softly that it followed
the curves of her figure as lightly as a fold of the
garment, and was presumably unfelt. Grief has
its privileges, and suffering exonerates a questionable
situation. In another moment her fair head might
have dropped upon his shoulder. But an approaching
voice uprose in the adjoining broad allée.
It might have been the world speaking through the
voice of the lawyer Sanderson.
“Yes, he is a good fellow, and
an intelligent fellow, too, but a perfect child in
his experience of mankind.”
They both started, but Mrs. Peyton’s
hand suddenly woke up and grasped his firmly.
Then she said in a higher, but perfectly level tone:
“Yes, I think with you we had
better look at it again in the sunlight to-morrow.
But here come our friends; they have probably been
waiting for us to join them and go in.”
The wholesome freshness of early morning
was in the room when Clarence awoke, cleared and strengthened.
His resolution had been made. He would leave
the rancho that morning, to enter the world again and
seek his fortune elsewhere. This was only right
to her, whose future it should never be said
he had imperiled by his folly and inexperience; and
if, in a year or two of struggle he could prove his
right to address her again, he would return.
He had not spoken to her since they had parted in the
garden, with the grim truths of the lawyer ringing
in his ears, but he had written a few lines of farewell,
to be given to her after he had left. He was
calm in his resolution, albeit a little pale and hollow-eyed
He crept downstairs in the gray twilight
of the scarce-awakened house, and made his way to
the stables. Saddling his horse, and mounting,
he paced forth into the crisp morning air. The
sun, just risen, was everywhere bringing out the fresh
color of the flower-strewn terraces, as the last night’s
shadows, which had hidden them, were slowly beaten
back. He cast a last look at the brown adobe quadrangle
of the quiet house, just touched with the bronzing
of the sun, and then turned his face towards the highway.
As he passed the angle of the old garden he hesitated,
but, strong in his resolution, he put the recollection
of last night behind him, and rode by without raising
It was her voice. He wheeled
his horse. She was standing behind the grille
in the old wall as he had seen her standing on the
day he had ridden to his rendezvous with Susy.
A Spanish manta was thrown over her head and
shoulders, as if she had dressed hastily, and had run
out to intercept him while he was still in the stable.
Her beautiful face was pale in its black-hooded recess,
and there were faint circles around her lovely eyes.
“You were going without saying
’goodby’!” she said softly.
She passed her slim white hand between
the grating. Clarence leaped to the ground, caught
it, and pressed it to his lips. But he did not
let it go.
“No! no!” she said, struggling
to withdraw it. “It is better as it is as as
you have decided it to be. Only I could not let
you go thus, without a word. There
now, go, Clarence, go. Please!
Don’t you see I am behind these bars? Think
of them as the years that separate us, my poor, dear,
foolish boy. Think of them as standing between
us, growing closer, heavier, and more cruel and hopeless
as the years go on.”
Ah, well! they had been good bars
a hundred and fifty years ago, when it was thought
as necessary to repress the innocence that was behind
them as the wickedness that was without. They
had done duty in the convent at Santa Inez, and the
monastery of Santa Barbara, and had been brought hither
in Governor Micheltorrenas’ time to keep the
daughters of Robles from the insidious contact of
the outer world, when they took the air in their cloistered
pleasance. Guitars had tinkled against them in
vain, and they had withstood the stress and storm
of love tokens. But, like many other things which
have had their day and time, they had retained their
semblance of power, even while rattling loosely in
their sockets, only because no one had ever thought
of putting them to the test, and, in the strong hand
of Clarence, assisted, perhaps, by the leaning figure
of Mrs. Peyton, I grieve to say that the whole grille
suddenly collapsed, became a frame of tinkling iron,
and then clanked, bar by bar, into the road.
Mrs. Peyton uttered a little cry and drew back, and
Clarence, leaping the ruins, caught her in his arms.
For a moment only, for she quickly
withdrew from them, and although the morning sunlight
was quite rosy on her cheeks, she said gravely, pointing
to the dismantled opening:
“I suppose you must stay
now, for you never could leave me here alone and defenseless.”
He stayed. And with this fulfillment
of his youthful dreams the romance of his young manhood
seemed to be completed, and so closed the second volume
of this trilogy. But what effect that fulfillment
of youth had upon his maturer years, or the fortunes
of those who were nearly concerned in it, may be told
in a later and final chronicle.