O. Henry

Part 5 out of 5

"You are as legally and as firmly bound," said the priest, "as though
it had been done in a cathedral, in the presence of thousands. The
additional observances I referred to are not necessary to the
strictest legality of the act, but were advised as a precaution for
the future--for convenience of proof in such contingencies as wills,
inheritances and the like."

Lorison laughed harshly.

"Many thanks," he said. "Then there is no mistake, and I am the happy
benedict. I suppose I should go stand upon the bridal corner, and
when my wife gets through walking the streets she will look me up."

Father Rogan regarded him calmly.

"My son," he said, "when a man and woman come to me to be married I
always marry them. I do this for the sake of other people whom they
might go away and marry if they did not marry each other. As you see,
I do not seek your confidence; but your case seems to me to be one not
altogether devoid of interest. Very few marriages that have come to
my notice have brought such well-expressed regret within so short a
time. I will hazard one question: were you not under the impression
that you loved the lady you married, at the time you did so;"

"Loved her!" cried Lorison, wildly. "Never so well as now, though
she told me she deceived and sinned and stole. Never more than now,
when, perhaps, she is laughing at the fool she cajoled and left, with
scarcely a word, to return to God only knows what particular line of
her former folly."

Father Rogan answered nothing. During the silence that succeeded, he
sat with a quiet expectation beaming in his full, lambent eye.

"If you would listen--" began Lorison. The priest held up his hand.

"As I hoped," he said. "I thought you would trust me. Wait but a
moment." He brought a long clay pipe, filled and lighted it.

"Now, my son," he said.

Lorison poured a twelve month's accumulated confidence into Father
Rogan's ear. He told all; not sparing himself or omitting the facts
of his past, the events of the night, or his disturbing conjectures
and fears.

"The main point," said the priest, when he had concluded, "seems to
me to be this--are you reasonably sure that you love this woman whom
you have married?"

"Why," exclaimed Lorison, rising impulsively to his feet--"why
should I deny it? But look at me--am fish, flesh or fowl? That is
the main point to me, I assure you."

"I understand you," said the priest, also rising, and laying down his
pipe. "The situation is one that has taxed the endurance of much
older men than you--in fact, especially much older men than you. I
will try to relieve you from it, and this night. You shall see for
yourself into exactly what predicament you have fallen, and how you
shall, possibly, be extricated. There is no evidence so credible as
that of the eyesight."

Father Rogan moved about the room, and donned a soft black hat.
Buttoning his coat to his throat, he laid his hand on the doorknob.
"Let us walk," he said.

The two went out upon the street. The priest turned his face down it,
and Lorison walked with him through a squalid district, where the
houses loomed, awry and desolate-looking, high above them. Presently
they turned into a less dismal side street, where the houses were
smaller, and, though hinting of the most meagre comfort, lacked the
concentrated wretchedness of the more populous byways.

At a segregated, two-story house Father Rogan halted, and mounted the
steps with the confidence of a familiar visitor. He ushered Lorison
into a narrow hallway, faintly lighted by a cobwebbed hanging lamp.
Almost immediately a door to the right opened and a dingy Irishwoman
protruded her head.

"Good evening to ye, Mistress Geehan," said the priest, unconsciously,
it seemed, falling into a delicately flavoured brogue. "And is it
yourself can tell me if Norah has gone out again, the night, maybe?"

"Oh, it's yer blissid riverence! Sure and I can tell ye the same.
The purty darlin' wint out, as usual, but a bit later. And she says:
'Mother Geehan,' says she, 'it's me last noight out, praise the
saints, this noight is!' And, oh, yer riverence, the swate, beautiful
drame of a dress she had this toime! White satin and silk and
ribbons, and lace about the neck and arrums--'twas a sin, yer
reverence, the gold was spint upon it."

The priest heard Lorison catch his breath painfully, and a faint smile
flickered across his own clean-cut mouth.

"Well, then, Mistress Geehan," said he, "I'll just step upstairs and
see the bit boy for a minute, and I'll take this gentleman up with

"He's awake, thin," said the woman. 'I've just come down from sitting
wid him the last hour, tilling him fine shtories of ould County
Tyrone. 'Tis a greedy gossoon, it is, yer riverence, for me

"Small the doubt," said Father Rogan. "There's no rocking would put
him to slape the quicker, I'm thinking."

Amid the woman's shrill protest against the retort, the two men
ascended the steep stairway. The priest pushed open the door of a
room near its top.

"Is that you already, sister?" drawled a sweet, childish voice from
the darkness.

"It's only ould Father Denny come to see ye, darlin'; and a foine
gentleman I've brought to make ye a gr-r-and call. And ye resaves us
fast aslape in bed! Shame on yez manners!"

"Oh, Father Denny, is that you? I'm glad. And will you light the
lamp, please? It's on the table by the door. And quit talking like
Mother Geehan, Father Denny."

The priest lit the lamp, and Lorison saw a tiny, towsled-haired boy,
with a thin, delicate face, sitting up in a small bed in a corner.
Quickly, also, his rapid glance considered the room and its
contents. It was furnished with more than comfort, and its adornments
plainly indicated a woman's discerning taste. An open door beyond
revealed the blackness of an adjoining room's interior.

The boy clutched both of Father Rogan's hands. "I'm so glad you
came," he said; "but why did you come in the night? Did sister send

"Off wid ye! Am I to be sint about, at me age, as was Terence
McShane, of Ballymahone? I come on me own r-r-responsibility."

Lorison had also advanced to the boy's bedside. He was fond of
children; and the wee fellow, laying himself down to sleep alone in
that dark room, stirred-his heart.

"Aren't you afraid, little man?" he asked, stooping down beside him.

"Sometimes," answered the boy, with a shy smile, "when the rats make
too much noise. But nearly every night, when sister goes out, Mother
Geehan stays a while with me, and tells me funny stories. I'm not
often afraid, sir."

"This brave little gentleman," said Father Rogan, "is a scholar of
mine. Every day from half-past six to half-past eight--when sister
comes for him--he stops in my study, and we find out what's in the
inside of books. He knows multiplication, division and fractions; and
he's troubling me to begin wid the chronicles of Ciaran of
Clonmacnoise, Corurac McCullenan and Cuan O'Lochain, the gr-r-reat
Irish histhorians." The boy was evidently accustomed to the priest's
Celtic pleasantries. A little, appreciative grin was all the attention
the insinuation of pedantry received.

Lorison, to have saved his life, could not have put to the child one
of those vital questions that were wildly beating about, unanswered,
in his own brain. The little fellow was very like Norah; he had the
same shining hair and candid eyes.

"Oh, Father Denny," cried the boy, suddenly, "I forgot to tell you!
Sister is not going away at night any more! She told me so when she
kissed me good night as she was leaving. And she said she was so
happy, and then she cried. Wasn't that queer? But I'm glad; aren't

"Yes, lad. And now, ye omadhaun, go to sleep, and say good night; we
must be going."

"Which shall I do first, Father Denny?"

"Faith, he's caught me again! Wait till I get the sassenach into the
annals of Tageruach, the hagiographer; I'll give him enough of the
Irish idiom to make him more respectful."

The light was out, and the small, brave voice bidding them good night
from the dark room. They groped downstairs, and tore away from the
garrulity of Mother Geehan.

Again the priest steered them through the dim ways, but this time in
another direction. His conductor was serenely silent, and Lorison
followed his example to the extent of seldom speaking. Serene he
could not be. His heart beat suffocatingly in his breast. The
following of this blind, menacing trail was pregnant with he knew not
what humiliating revelation to be delivered at its end.

They came into a more pretentious street, where trade, it could be
surmised, flourished by day. And again the priest paused; this time
before a lofty building, whose great doors and windows in the lowest
floor were carefully shuttered and barred. Its higher apertures were
dark, save in the third story, the windows of which were brilliantly
lighted. Lorison's ear caught a distant, regular, pleasing thrumming,
as of music above. They stood at an angle of the building. Up, along
the side nearest them, mounted an iron stairway. At its top was an
upright, illuminated parallelogram. Father Rogan had stopped, and
stood, musing.

"I will say this much," he remarked, thoughtfully: "I believe you to
be a better man than you think yourself to be, and a better man than I
thought some hours ago. But do not take this," he added, with a smile,
"as much praise. I promised you a possible deliverance from an
unhappy perplexity. I will have to modify that promise. I can only
remove the mystery that enhanced that perplexity. Your deliverance
depends upon yourself. Come."

He led his companion up the stairway. Halfway up, Lorison caught him
by the sleeve. "Remember," he gasped, "I love that woman."

"You desired to know.

"I--Go on."

The priest reached the landing at the top of the stairway. Lorison,
behind him, saw that the illuminated space was the glass upper half of
a door opening into the lighted room. The rhythmic music increased as
they neared it; the stairs shook with the mellow vibrations.

Lorison stopped breathing when he set foot upon the highest step, for
the priest stood aside, and motioned him to look through the glass of
the door.

His eye, accustomed to the darkness, met first a blinding glare,
and then he made out the faces and forms of many people, amid
an extravagant display of splendid robings--billowy laces,
brilliant-hued finery, ribbons, silks and misty drapery. And then
he caught the meaning of that jarring hum, and he saw the tired,
pale, happy face of his wife, bending, as were a score of others,
over her sewing machine--toiling, toiling. Here was the folly she
pursued, and the end of his quest.

But not his deliverance, though even then remorse struck him. His
shamed soul fluttered once more before it retired to make room for the
other and better one. For, to temper his thrill of joy, the shine of
the satin and the glimmer of ornaments recalled the disturbing figure
of the bespangled Amazon, and the base duplicate histories lit by the
glare of footlights and stolen diamonds. It is past the wisdom of him
who only sets the scenes, either to praise or blame the man. But this
time his love overcame his scruples. He took a quick step, and
reached out his hand for the doorknob. Father Rogan was quicker to
arrest it and draw him back.

"You use my trust in you queerly," said the priest sternly. "What are
you about to do?"

"I am going to my wife," said Lorison. "Let me pass."

"Listen," said the priest, holding him firmly by the arm. "I am about
to put you in possession of a piece of knowledge of which, thus far,
you have scarcely proved deserving. I do not think you ever will; but
I will not dwell upon that. You see in that room the woman you
married, working for a frugal living for herself, and a generous
comfort for an idolized brother. This building belongs to the chief
costumer of the city. For months the advance orders for the coming
Mardi Gras festivals have kept the work going day and night. I myself
secured employment here for Norah. She toils here each night from
nine o'clock until daylight, and, besides, carries home with her some
of the finer costumes, requiring more delicate needlework, and works
there part of the day. Somehow, you two have remained strangely
ignorant of each other's lives. Are you convinced now that your wife
is not walking the streets?"

"Let me go to her," cried Lorison, again struggling, "and beg her

"Sir," said the priest, "do you owe me nothing? Be quiet. It seems
so often that Heaven lets fall its choicest gifts into hands that must
be taught to hold them. Listen again. You forgot that repentant sin
must not compromise, but look up, for redemption, to the purest and
best. You went to her with the fine-spun sophistry that peace could be
found in a mutual guilt; and she, fearful of losing what her heart so
craved, thought it worth the price to buy it with a desperate, pure,
beautiful lie. I have known her since the day she was born; she is as
innocent and unsullied in life and deed as a holy saint. In that
lowly street where she dwells she first saw the light, and she has
lived there ever since, spending her days in generous self-sacrifice
for others. Och, ye spalpeen!" continued Father Rogan, raising his
finger in kindly anger at Lorison. "What for, I wonder, could she be
after making a fool of hersilf, and shamin' her swate soul with lies,
for the like of you!"

"Sir," said Lorison, trembling, "say what you please of me. Doubt it
as you must, I will yet prove my gratitude to you, and my devotion to
her. But let me speak to her once now, let me kneel for just one
moment at her feet, and--"

"Tut, tut!" said the priest. "How many acts of a love drama do you
think an old bookworm like me capable of witnessing? Besides, what
kind of figures do we cut, spying upon the mysteries of midnight
millinery! Go to meet your wife to-morrow, as she ordered you, and
obey her thereafter, and maybe some time I shall get forgiveness for
the part I have played in this night's work. Off wid yez down the
shtairs, now! 'Tis late, and an ould man like me should be takin' his



"Aunt Ellen," said Octavia, cheerfully, as she threw her black kid
gloves carefully at the dignified Persian cat on the window-seat, "I'm
a pauper."

"You are so extreme in your statements, Octavia, dear," said Aunt
Ellen, mildly, looking up from her paper. "If you find yourself
temporarily in need of some small change for bonbons, you will find
my purse in the drawer of the writing desk."

Octavia Beaupree removed her hat and seated herself on a footstool
near her aunt's chair, clasping her hands about her knees. Her slim
and flexible figure, clad in a modish mourning costume, accommodated
itself easily and gracefully to the trying position. Her bright and
youthful face, with its pair of sparkling, life-enamoured eyes, tried
to compose itself to the seriousness that the occasion seemed to

"You good auntie, it isn't a case of bonbons; it is abject, staring,
unpicturesque poverty, with ready-made clothes, gasolined gloves, and
probably one o'clock dinners all waiting with the traditional wolf at
the door. I've just come from my lawyer, auntie, and, 'Please, ma'am,
I ain't got nothink 't all. Flowers, lady? Buttonhole, gentleman?
Pencils, sir, three for five, to help a poor widow?' Do I do it
nicely, auntie, or, as a bread-winner accomplishment, were my lessons
in elocution entirely wasted?"

"Do be serious, my dear," said Aunt Ellen, letting her paper fall to
the floor, "long enough to tell me what you mean. Colonel Beaupree's

"Colonel Beaupree's estate," interrupted Octavia, emphasizing her
words with appropriate dramatic gestures, "is of Spanish castellar
architecture. Colonel Beaupree's resources are--wind. Colonel
Beaupree's stocks are--water. Colonel Beaupree's income is--all
in. The statement lacks the legal technicalities to which I have been
listening for an hour, but that is what it means when translated."

"Octavia!" Aunt Ellen was now visibly possessed by consternation. "I
can hardly believe it. And it was the impression that he was worth a
million. And the De Peysters themselves introduced him!"

Octavia rippled out a laugh, and then became properly grave.

"_De mortuis nil_, auntie--not even the rest of it. The dear old
colonel--what a gold brick he was, after all! I paid for my bargain
fairly--I'm all here, am I not?--items: eyes, fingers, toes,
youth, old family, unquestionable position in society as called for
in the contract--no wild-cat stock here." Octavia picked up the morning
paper from the floor. "But I'm not going to 'squeal'--isn't that
what they call it when you rail at Fortune because you've, lost the
game?" She turned the pages of the paper calmly. "'Stock market'--no
use for that. 'Society's doings'--that's done. Here is my page--the
wish column. A Van Dresser could not be said to 'want' for anything,
of course. 'Chamber-maids, cooks, canvassers, stenographers--'"

"Dear," said Aunt Ellen, with a little tremor in her voice, "please do
not talk in that way. Even if your affairs are in so unfortunate a
condition, there is my three thousand--"

Octavia sprang up lithely, and deposited a smart kiss on the delicate
cheek of the prim little elderly maid.

"Blessed auntie, your three thousand is just sufficient to insure your
Hyson to be free from willow leaves and keep the Persian in sterilized
cream. I know I'd be welcome, but I prefer to strike bottom like
Beelzebub rather than hang around like the Peri listening to the music
from the side entrance. I'm going to earn my own living. There's
nothing else to do. I'm a--Oh, oh, oh!--I had forgotten. There's
one thing saved from the wreck. It's a corral--no, a ranch in--let
me see--Texas: an asset, dear old Mr. Bannister called it. How
pleased he was to show me something he could describe as unencumbered!
I've a description of it among those stupid papers he made me bring
away with me from his office. I'll try to find it."

Octavia found her shopping-bag, and drew from it a long envelope
filled with typewritten documents.

"A ranch in Texas," sighed Aunt Ellen. "It sounds to me more like a
liability than an asset. Those are the places where the centipedes are
found, and cowboys, and fandangos."

"'The Rancho de las Sombras,'" read Octavia from a sheet of violently
purple typewriting, "'is situated one hundred and ten miles southeast
of San Antonio, and thirty-eight miles from its nearest railroad
station, Nopal, on the I. and G. N. Ranch, consists of 7,680 acres
of well-watered land, with title conferred by State patents, and
twenty-two sections, or 14,080 acres, partly under yearly running
lease and partly bought under State's twenty-year-purchase act. Eight
thousand graded merino sheep, with the necessary equipment of horses,
vehicles and general ranch paraphernalia. Ranch-house built of brick,
with six rooms comfortably furnished according to the requirements of
the climate. All within a strong barbed-wire fence.

"'The present ranch manager seems to be competent and reliable, and is
rapidly placing upon a paying basis a business that, in other hands,
had been allowed to suffer from neglect and misconduct.

"'This property was secured by Colonel Beaupree in a deal with a
Western irrigation syndicate, and the title to it seems to be perfect.
With careful management and the natural increase of land values, it
ought to be made the foundation for a comfortable fortune for its

When Octavia ceased reading, Aunt Ellen uttered something as near a
sniff as her breeding permitted.

"The prospectus," she said, with uncompromising metropolitan
suspicion, "doesn't mention the centipedes, or the Indians. And you
never did like mutton, Octavia. I don't see what advantage you can
derive from this--desert."

But Octavia was in a trance. Her eyes were steadily regarding
something quite beyond their focus. Her lips were parted, and her face
was lighted by the kindling furor of the explorer, the ardent,
stirring disquiet of the adventurer. Suddenly she clasped her hands
together exultantly.

"The problem solves itself, auntie," she cried. "I'm going to that
ranch. I'm going to live on it. I'm going to learn to like mutton,
and even concede the good qualities of centipedes--at a respectful
distance. It's just what I need. It's a new life that comes when my
old one is just ending. It's a release, auntie; it isn't a narrowing.
Think of the gallops over those leagues of prairies, with the wind
tugging at the roots of your hair, the coming close to the earth
and learning over again the stories of the growing grass and the
little wild flowers without names! Glorious is what it will be. Shall
I be a shepherdess with a Watteau hat, and a crook to keep the bad
wolves from the lambs, or a typical Western ranch girl, with short
hair, like the pictures of her in the Sunday papers? I think the
latter. And they'll have my picture, too, with the wild-cats I've
slain, single-handed, hanging from my saddle horn. 'From the Four
Hundred to the Flocks' is the way they'll headline it, and they'll
print photographs of the old Van Dresser mansion and the church where
I was married. They won't have my picture, but they'll get an artist
to draw it. I'll be wild and woolly, and I'll grow my own wool."

"Octavia!" Aunt Ellen condensed into the one word all the protests
she was unable to utter.

"Don't say a word, auntie. I'm going. I'll see the sky at night fit
down on the world like a big butter-dish cover, and I'll make friends
again with the stars that I haven't had a chat with since I was a wee
child. I wish to go. I'm tired of all this. I'm glad I haven't any
money. I could bless Colonel Beaupree for that ranch, and forgive him
for all his bubbles. What if the life will be rough and lonely! I--I
deserve it. I shut my heart to everything except that miserable
ambition. I--oh, I wish to go away, and forget--forget!"

Octavia swerved suddenly to her knees, laid her flushed face in her
aunt's lap, and shook with turbulent sobs.

Aunt Ellen bent over her, and smoothed the coppery-brown hair.

"I didn't know," she said, gently; "I didn't know--that. Who was it,

When Mrs. Octavia Beaupree, née Van Dresser, stepped from the train at
Nopal, her manner lost, for the moment, some of that easy certitude
which had always marked her movements. The town was of recent
establishment, and seemed to have been hastily constructed of undressed
lumber and flapping canvas. The element that had congregated about the
station, though not offensively demonstrative, was clearly composed of
citizens accustomed to and prepared for rude alarms.

Octavia stood on the platform, against the telegraph office, and
attempted to choose by intuition from the swaggering, straggling
string, of loungers the manager of the Rancho de las Sombras, who
had been instructed by Mr. Bannister to meet her there. That tall,
serious, looking, elderly man in the blue flannel shirt and white tie
she thought must be he. But, no; he passed by, removing his gaze from
the lady as hers rested on him, according to the Southern custom. The
manager, she thought, with some impatience at being kept waiting,
should have no difficulty in selecting her. Young women wearing the
most recent thing in ash-coloured travelling suits were not so
plentiful in Nopal!

Thus keeping a speculative watch on all persons of possible managerial
aspect, Octavia, with a catching breath and a start of surprise,
suddenly became aware of Teddy Westlake hurrying along the platform in
the direction of the train--of Teddy Westlake or his sun-browned
ghost in cheviot, boots and leather-girdled hat--Theodore Westlake,
Jr., amateur polo (almost) champion, all-round butterfly and cumberer
of the soil; but a broader, surer, more emphasized and determined
Teddy than the one she had known a year ago when last she saw him.

He perceived Octavia at almost the same time, deflected his course,
and steered for her in his old, straightforward way. Something like
awe came upon her as the strangeness of his metamorphosis was
brought into closer range; the rich, red-brown of his complexion
brought out so vividly his straw-coloured mustache and steel-gray
eyes. He seemed more grown-up, and, somehow, farther away. But, when
he spoke, the old, boyish Teddy came back again. They had been friends
from childhood.

"Why, 'Tave!" he exclaimed, unable to reduce his perplexity to
coherence. "How--what--when--where?"

"Train," said Octavia; "necessity; ten minutes ago; home. Your
complexion's gone, Teddy. Now, how--what--when--where?"

"I'm working down here," said Teddy. He cast side glances about the
station as one does who tries to combine politeness with duty.

"You didn't notice on the train," he asked, "an old lady with gray
curls and a poodle, who occupied two seats with her bundles and
quarrelled with the conductor, did you?"

"I think not," answered Octavia, reflecting. "And you haven't, by
any chance, noticed a big, gray-mustached man in a blue shirt and
six-shooters, with little flakes of merino wool sticking in his hair,
have you?"

"Lots of 'em," said Teddy, with symptoms of mental delirium under the
strain. Do you happen to know any such individual?"

"No; the description is imaginary. Is your interest in the old lady
whom you describe a personal one?"

"Never saw her in my life. She's painted entirely from fancy. She owns
the little piece of property where I earn my bread and butter--the
Rancho de las Sombras. I drove up to meet her according to arrangement
with her lawyer."

Octavia leaned against the wall of the telegraph office. Was this
possible? And didn't he know?

"Are you the manager of that ranch?" she asked weakly.

"I am," said Teddy, with pride.

"I am Mrs. Beaupree," said Octavia faintly; "but my hair never would
curl, and I was polite to the conductor."

For a moment that strange, grown-up look came back, and removed Teddy
miles away from her.

"I hope you'll excuse me," he said, rather awkwardly. "You see, I've
been down here in the chaparral a year. I hadn't heard. Give me your
checks, please, and I'll have your traps loaded into the wagon. José
will follow with them. We travel ahead in the buckboard."

Seated by Teddy in a feather-weight buckboard, behind a pair of wild,
cream-coloured Spanish ponies, Octavia abandoned all thought for the
exhilaration of the present. They swept out of the little town and
down the level road toward the south. Soon the road dwindled and
disappeared, and they struck across a world carpeted with an endless
reach of curly mesquite grass. The wheels made no sound. The tireless
ponies bounded ahead at an unbroken gallop. The temperate wind, made
fragrant by thousands of acres of blue and yellow wild flowers, roared
gloriously in their ears. The motion was aërial, ecstatic, with a
thrilling sense of perpetuity in its effect. Octavia sat silent,
possessed by a feeling of elemental, sensual bliss. Teddy seemed to be
wrestling with some internal problem.

"I'm going to call you madama," he announced as the result of his
labours. "That is what the Mexicans will call you--they're nearly
all Mexicans on the ranch, you know. That seems to me about the proper

"Very well, Mr. Westlake," said Octavia, primly.

"Oh, now," said Teddy, in some consternation, "that's carrying the
thing too far, isn't it?"

"Don't worry me with your beastly etiquette. I'm just beginning to
live. Don't remind me of anything artificial. If only this air could
be bottled! This much alone is worth coming for. Oh, look I there goes
a deer!"

"Jack-rabbit," said Teddy, without turning his head.

"Could I--might I drive?" suggested Octavia, panting, with rose-tinted
cheeks and the eye of an eager child.

"On one condition. Could I--might I smoke?"

"Forever!" cried Octavia, taking the lines with solemn joy. "How shall
I know which way to drive?"

"Keep her sou' by sou'east, and all sail set. You see that black speck
on the horizon under that lowermost Gulf cloud? That's a group of
live-oaks and a landmark. Steer halfway between that and the little
hill to the left. I'll recite you the whole code of driving rules for
the Texas prairies: keep the reins from under the horses' feet, and
swear at 'em frequent."

"I'm too happy to swear, Ted. Oh, why do people buy yachts or travel
in palace-cars, when a buckboard and a pair of plugs and a spring
morning like this can satisfy all desire?"

"Now, I'll ask you," protested Teddy, who was futilely striking match
after match on the dashboard, "not to call those denizens of the air
plugs. They can kick out a hundred miles between daylight and dark."
At last he succeeded in snatching a light for his cigar from the flame
held in the hollow of his hands.

"Room!" said Octavia, intensely. "That's what produces the effect. I
know now what I've wanted--scope--range--room!"

"Smoking-room," said Teddy, unsentimentally. "I love to smoke in a
buckboard. The wind blows the smoke into you and out again. It saves

The two fell so naturally into their old-time goodfellowship that it
was only by degrees that a sense of the strangeness of the new
relations between them came to be felt.

"Madama," said Teddy, wonderingly, "however did you get it into your
bead to cut the crowd and come down here? Is it a fad now among the
upper classes to trot off to sheep ranches instead of to Newport?"

"I was broke, Teddy," said Octavia, sweetly, with her interest centred
upon steering safely between a Spanish dagger plant and a clump of
chaparral; "I haven't a thing in the world but this ranch--not even
any other home to go to."

"Come, now," said Teddy, anxiously but incredulously, "you don't
mean it?"

"When my husband," said Octavia, with a shy slurring of the word,
"died three months ago I thought I had a reasonable amount of the
world's goods. His lawyer exploded that theory in a sixty-minute fully
illustrated lecture. I took to the sheep as a last resort. Do you
happen to know of any fashionable caprice among the gilded youth of
Manhattan that induces them to abandon polo and club windows to become
managers of sheep ranches?"

"It's easily explained in my case," responded Teddy, promptly. "I
had to go to work. I couldn't have earned my board in New York, so I
chummed a while with old Sandford, one of the syndicate that owned the
ranch before Colonel Beaupree bought it, and got a place down here. I
wasn't manager at first. I jogged around on ponies and studied the
business in detail, until I got all the points in my head. I saw where
it was losing and what the remedies were, and then Sandford put me
in charge. I get a hundred dollars a month, and I earn it."

"Poor Teddy!" said Octavia, with a smile.

"You needn't. I like it. I save half my wages, and I'm as hard as a
water plug. It beats polo."

"Will it furnish bread and tea and jam for another outcast from

"The spring shearing," said the manager, "just cleaned up a deficit in
last year's business. Wastefulness and inattention have been the rule
heretofore. The autumn clip will leave a small profit over all
expenses. Next year there will be jam."

When, about four o'clock in the afternoon, the ponies rounded a
gentle, brush-covered hill, and then swooped, like a double
cream-coloured cyclone, upon the Rancho de las Sombras, Octavia gave
a little cry of delight. A lordly grove of magnificent live-oaks cast
an area of grateful, cool shade, whence the ranch had drawn its name,
"de las Sombras"--of the shadows. The house, of red brick, one story,
ran low and long beneath the trees. Through its middle, dividing its
six rooms in half, extended a broad, arched passageway, picturesque
with flowering cactus and hanging red earthern jars. A "gallery," low
and broad, encircled the building. Vines climbed about it, and the
adjacent ground was, for a space, covered with transplanted grass and
shrubs. A little lake, long and narrow, glimmered in the sun at the
rear. Further away stood the shacks of the Mexican workers, the
corrals, wool sheds and shearing pens. To the right lay the low hills,
splattered with dark patches of chaparral; to the left the unbounded
green prairie blending against the blue heavens.

"It's a home, Teddy," said Octavia, breathlessly; that's what it
is--it's a home."

"Not so bad for a sheep ranch," admitted Teddy, with excusable pride.
"I've been tinkering on it at odd times."

A Mexican youth sprang from somewhere in the grass, and took charge of
the creams. The mistress and the manager entered the house.

"Here's Mrs. MacIntyre," said Teddy, as a placid, neat, elderly lady
came out upon the gallery to meet them. "Mrs. Mac, here's the boss.
Very likely she will be wanting a hunk of ham and a dish of beans
after her drive."

Mrs. MacIntyre, the housekeeper, as much a fixture on the place as the
lake or the live-oaks, received the imputation of the ranch's
resources of refreshment with mild indignation, and was about to give
it utterance when Octavia spoke.

"Oh, Mrs. MacIntyre, don't apologize for Teddy. Yes, I call him Teddy.
So does every one whom he hasn't duped into taking him seriously. You
see, we used to cut paper dolls and play jackstraws together ages ago.
No one minds what he says."

"No," said Teddy, "no one minds what he says, just so he doesn't do it

Octavia cast one of those subtle, sidelong glances toward him from
beneath her lowered eyelids--a glance that Teddy used to describe as
an upper-cut. But there was nothing in his ingenuous, weather-tanned
face to warrant a suspicion that he was making an allusion--nothing.
Beyond a doubt, thought Octavia, he had forgotten.

"Mr. Westlake likes his fun," said Mrs. Maclntyre, as she conducted
Octavia to her rooms. "But," she added, loyally, "people around here
usually pay attention to what he says when he talks in earnest. I
don't know what would have become of this place without him."

Two rooms at the east end of the house had been arranged for the
occupancy of the ranch's mistress. When she entered them a slight
dismay seized her at their bare appearance and the scantiness of
their furniture; but she quickly reflected that the climate was a
semi-tropical one, and was moved to appreciation of the well-conceived
efforts to conform to it. The sashes had already been removed from the
big windows, and white curtains waved in the Gulf breeze that streamed
through the wide jalousies. The bare floor was amply strewn with cool
rugs; the chairs were inviting, deep, dreamy willows; the walls were
papered with a light, cheerful olive. One whole side of her sitting
room was covered with books on smooth, unpainted pine shelves. She
flew to these at once. Before her was a well-selected library. She
caught glimpses of titles of volumes of fiction and travel not yet
seasoned from the dampness of the press.

Presently, recollecting that she was now in a wilderness given over to
mutton, centipedes and privations, the incongruity of these luxuries
struck her, and, with intuitive feminine suspicion, she began turning
to the fly-leaves of volume after volume. Upon each one was inscribed
in fluent characters the name of Theodore Westlake, Jr.

Octavia, fatigued by her long journey, retired early that night. Lying
upon her white, cool bed, she rested deliciously, but sleep coquetted
long with her. She listened to faint noises whose strangeness kept her
faculties on the alert--the fractious yelping of the coyotes, the
ceaseless, low symphony of the wind, the distant booming of the frogs
about the lake, the lamentation of a concertina in the Mexicans'
quarters. There were many conflicting feelings in her heart--
thankfulness and rebellion, peace and disquietude, loneliness and a
sense of protecting care, happiness and an old, haunting pain.

She did what any other woman would have done--sought relief in a
wholesome tide of unreasonable tears, and her last words, murmured to
herself before slumber, capitulating, came softly to woo her, were "He
has forgotten."

The manager of the Rancho de las Sombras was no dilettante. He was a
"hustler." He was generally up, mounted, and away of mornings before
the rest of the household were awake, making the rounds of the flocks
and camps. This was the duty of the major-domo, a stately old Mexican
with a princely air and manner, but Teddy seemed to have a great deal
of confidence in his own eyesight. Except in the busy seasons, he
nearly always returned to the ranch to breakfast at eight o'clock,
with Octavia and Mrs. Maclntyre, at the little table set in the
central hallway, bringing with him a tonic and breezy cheerfulness
full of the health and flavour of the prairies.

A few days after Octavia's arrival he made her get out one of her
riding skirts, and curtail it to a shortness demanded by the chaparral

With some misgivings she donned this and the pair of buckskin leggings
he prescribed in addition, and, mounted upon a dancing pony, rode with
him to view her possessions. He showed her everything--the flocks
of ewes, muttons and grazing lambs, the dipping vats, the shearing
pens, the uncouth merino rams in their little pasture, the water-tanks
prepared against the summer drought--giving account of his stewardship
with a boyish enthusiasm that never flagged.

Where was the old Teddy that she knew so well? This side of him was
the same, and it was a side that pleased her; but this was all she
ever saw of him now. Where was his sentimentality--those old,
varying moods of impetuous love-making, of fanciful, quixotic
devotion, of heart-breaking gloom, of alternating, absurd tenderness
and haughty dignity? His nature had been a sensitive one, his
temperament bordering closely on the artistic. She knew that, besides
being a follower of fashion and its fads and sports, he had cultivated
tastes of a finer nature. He had written things, he had tampered with
colours, he was something of a student in certain branches of art, and
once she had been admitted to all his aspirations and thoughts. But
now--and she could not avoid the conclusion--Teddy had barricaded
against her every side of himself except one--the side that showed the
manager of the Rancho de las Sombras and a jolly chum who had forgiven
and forgotten. Queerly enough the words of Mr. Bannister's description
of her property came into her mind--"all inclosed within a strong
barbed-wire fence."

"Teddy's fenced, too," said Octavia to herself.

It was not difficult for her to reason out the cause of his
fortifications. It had originated one night at the Hammersmiths' ball.
It occurred at a time soon after she had decided to accept Colonel
Beaupree and his million, which was no more than her looks and the
entrée she held to the inner circles were worth. Teddy had proposed
with all his impetuosity and fire, and she looked him straight in the
eyes, an said, coldly and finally: "Never let me hear any such silly
nonsense from you again." "You won't," said Teddy, with an expression
around his mouth, and--now Teddy was inclosed within a strong
barbed-wire fence.

It was on this first ride of inspection that Teddy was seized by the
inspiration that suggested the name of Mother Goose's heroine, and he
at once bestowed it upon Octavia. The idea, supported by both a
similarity of names and identity of occupations, seemed to strike him
as a peculiarly happy one, and he never tired of using it. The
Mexicans on the ranch also took up the name, adding another syllable
to accommodate their lingual incapacity for the final "p," gravely
referring to her as "La Madama Bo-Peepy." Eventually it spread, and
"Madame Bo-Peep's ranch" was as often mentioned as the "Rancho de las

Came the long, hot season from May to September, when work is scarce
on the ranches. Octavia passed the days in a kind of lotus-eater's
dream. Books, hammocks, correspondence with a few intimate friends, a
renewed interest in her old water-colour box and easel--these
disposed of the sultry hours of daylight. The evenings were always
sure to bring enjoyment. Best of all were the rapturous horseback
rides with Teddy, when the moon gave light over the wind-swept
leagues, chaperoned by the wheeling night-hawk and the startled owl.
Often the Mexicans would come up from their shacks with their guitars
and sing the weirdest of heart-breaking songs. There were long, cosy
chats on the breezy gallery, and an interminable warfare of wits
between Teddy and Mrs. MacIntyre, whose abundant Scotch shrewdness
often more than overmatched the lighter humour in which she was

And the nights came, one after another, and were filed away by weeks
and months--nights soft and languorous and fragrant, that should
have driven Strephon to Chloe over wires however barbed, that might
have drawn Cupid himself to hunt, lasso in hand, among those amorous
pastures--but Teddy kept his fences up.

One July night Madame Bo-Peep and her ranch manager were sitting on
the east gallery. Teddy had been exhausting the science of
prognostication as to the probabilities of a price of twenty-four
cents for the autumn clip, and had then subsided into an anesthetic
cloud of Havana smoke. Only as incompetent a judge as a woman would
have failed to note long ago that at least a third of his salary must
have gone up in the fumes of those imported Regalias.

"Teddy," said Octavia, suddenly, and rather sharply, "what are you
working down here on a ranch for?"

"One hundred per," said Teddy, glibly, "and found."

"I've a good mind to discharge you."

"Can't do it," said Teddy, with a grin.

"Why not?" demanded Octavia, with argumentative heat.

"Under contract. Terms of sale respect all unexpired contracts. Mine
runs until 12 P. M., December thirty-first. You might get up at
midnight on that date and fire me. If you try it sooner I'll be in a
position to bring legal proceedings."

Octavia seemed to be considering the prospects of litigation.

"But," continued Teddy cheerfully, "I've been thinking of resigning

Octavia's rocking-chair ceased its motion. There were centipedes in
this country, she felt sure; and Indians, and vast, lonely, desolate,
empty wastes; all within strong barbed-wire fence. There was a Van
Dresser pride, but there was also a Van Dresser heart. She must know
for certain whether or not he had forgotten.

"Ah, well, Teddy," she said, with a fine assumption of polite
interest, "it's lonely down here; you're longing to get back to the
old life--to polo and lobsters and theatres and balls."

"Never cared much for balls," said Teddy virtuously.

"You're getting old, Teddy. Your memory is failing. Nobody ever knew
you to miss a dance, unless it occurred on the same night with another
one which you attended. And you showed such shocking bad taste, too,
in dancing too often with the same partner. Let me see, what was that
Forbes girl's name--the one with wall eyes--Mabel, wasn't it?"

"No; Adéle. Mabel was the one with the bony elbows. That wasn't wall
in Adéle's eyes. It was soul. We used to talk sonnets together, and
Verlaine. Just then I was trying to run a pipe from the Pierian

"You were on the floor with her," said Octavia, undeflected, "five
times at the Hammersmiths'."

"Hammersmiths' what?" questioned Teddy, vacuously.

"Ball--ball," said Octavia, viciously. "What were we talking of?"

"Eyes, I thought," said Teddy, after some reflection; "and elbows."

"Those Hammersmiths," went on Octavia, in her sweetest society
prattle, after subduing an intense desire to yank a handful of
sunburnt, sandy hair from the head lying back contentedly against the
canvas of the steamer chair, "had too much money. Mines, wasn't it? It
was something that paid something to the ton. You couldn't get a glass
of plain water in their house. Everything at that ball was dreadfully

"It was," said Teddy.

"Such a crowd there was!" Octavia continued, conscious that she was
talking the rapid drivel of a school-girl describing her first dance.
"The balconies were as warm as the rooms. I--lost--something at
that ball." The last sentence was uttered in a tone calculated to
remove the barbs from miles of wire.

"So did I," confessed Teddy, in a lower voice.

"A glove," said Octavia, falling back as the enemy approached her

"Caste," said Teddy, halting his firing line without loss. "I
hobnobbed, half the evening with one of Hammersmith's miners, a fellow
who kept his hands in his pockets, and talked like an archangel about
reduction plants and drifts and levels and sluice-boxes."

"A pearl-gray glove, nearly new," sighed Octavia, mournfully.

"A bang-up chap, that McArdle," maintained Teddy approvingly. "A
man who hated olives and elevators; a man who handled mountains as
croquettes, and built tunnels in the air; a man who never uttered a
word of silly nonsense in his life. Did you sign those lease-renewal
applications yet, madama? They've got to be on file in the land office
by the thirty-first."

Teddy turned his head lazily. Octavia's chair was vacant.

A certain centipede, crawling along the lines marked out by fate,
expounded the situation. It was early one morning while Octavia and
Mrs. Maclntyre were trimming the honeysuckle on the west gallery.
Teddy had risen and departed hastily before daylight in response to
word that a flock of ewes had been scattered from their bedding ground
during the night by a thunder-storm.

The centipede, driven by destiny, showed himself on the floor of the
gallery, and then, the screeches of the two women giving him his cue,
he scuttled with all his yellow legs through the open door into the
furthermost west room, which was Teddy's. Arming themselves with
domestic utensils selected with regard to their length, Octavia and
Mrs. Maclntyre, with much clutching of skirts and skirmishing for the
position of rear guard in the attacking force, followed.

Once outside, the centipede seemed to have disappeared, and his
prospective murderers began a thorough but cautious search for their

Even in the midst of such a dangerous and absorbing adventure Octavia
was conscious of an awed curiosity on finding herself in Teddy's
sanctum. In that room he sat alone, silently communing with those
secret thoughts that he now shared with no one, dreamed there whatever
dreams he now called on no one to interpret.

It was the room of a Spartan or a soldier. In one corner stood a wide,
canvas-covered cot; in another, a small bookcase; in another, a grim
stand of Winchesters and shotguns. An immense table, strewn with
letters, papers and documents and surmounted by a set of pigeon-holes,
occupied one side.

The centipede showed genius in concealing himself in such bare
quarters. Mrs. Maclntyre was poking a broom-handle behind the
bookcase. Octavia approached Teddy's cot. The room was just as the
manager had left it in his hurry. The Mexican maid had not yet given
it her attention. There was his big pillow with the imprint of his
head still in the centre. She thought the horrid beast might have
climbed the cot and hidden itself to bite Teddy. Centipedes were thus
cruel and vindictive toward managers.

She cautiously overturned the pillow, and then parted her lips to give
the signal for reinforcements at sight of a long, slender, dark object
lying there. But, repressing it in time, she caught up a glove, a
pearl-gray glove, flattened--it might be conceived--by many, many
months of nightly pressure beneath the pillow of the man who had
forgotten the Hammersmiths' ball. Teddy must have left so hurriedly
that morning that he had, for once, forgotten to transfer it to its
resting-place by day. Even managers, who are notoriously wily and
cunning, are sometimes caught up with.

Octavia slid the gray glove into the bosom of her summery morning gown.
It was hers. Men who put themselves within a strong barbed-wire fence,
and remember Hammersmith balls only by the talk of miners about
sluice-boxes, should not be allowed to possess such articles.

After all, what a paradise this prairie country was! How it blossomed
like the rose when you found things that were thought to be lost! How
delicious was that morning breeze coming in the windows, fresh and
sweet with the breath of the yellow ratama blooms! Might one not
stand, for a minute, with shining, far-gazing eyes, and dream that
mistakes might be corrected?

Why was Mrs. Maclntyre poking about so absurdly with a broom?

"I've found it," said Mrs. MacIntyre, banging the door. "Here it is."

"Did you lose something? asked Octavia, with sweetly polite

"The little devil!" said Mrs. Maclntyre, driven to violence. "Ye've no
forgotten him alretty?"

Between them they slew the centipede. Thus was he rewarded for his
agency toward the recovery of things lost at the Hammersmiths' ball.

It seems that Teddy, in due course, remembered the glove, and when he
returned to the house at sunset made a secret but exhaustive search
for it. Not until evening, upon the moonlit eastern gallery, did he
find it. It was upon the hand that he had thought lost to him forever,
and so he was moved to repeat certain nonsense that he had been
commanded never, never to utter again. Teddy's fences were down.

This time there was no ambition to stand in the way, and the wooing
was as natural and successful as should be between ardent shepherd and
gentle shepherdess.

The prairies changed to a garden. The Rancho de las Sombras became the
Ranch of Light.

A few days later Octavia received a letter from Mr. Bannister, in
reply to one she had written to him asking some questions about her
business. A portion of the letter ran as follows:

"I am at a loss to account for your references to the sheep ranch.
Two months after your departure to take up your residence upon it,
it was discovered that Colonel Beaupree's title was worthless. A
deed came to light showing that he disposed of the property before
his death. The matter was reported to your manager, Mr. Westlake,
who at once repurchased the property. It is entirely beyond my
powers of conjecture to imagine how you have remained in ignorance
of this fact. I beg that you that will at once confer with that
gentleman, who will, at least, corroborate my statement."

Octavia sought Teddy, with battle in her eye.

"What are you working on this ranch for?" she asked once more.

"One hundred--" he began to repeat, but saw in her face that she
knew. She held Mr. Bannister's letter in her hand. He knew that the
game was up.

"It's my ranch," said Teddy, like a schoolboy detected in evil. "It's
a mighty poor manager that isn't able to absorb the boss's business if
you give him time."

"Why were you working down here?" pursued Octavia still struggling
after the key to the riddle of Teddy.

"To tell the truth, 'Tave," said Teddy, with quiet candour, "it wasn't
for the salary. That about kept me in cigars and sunburn lotions. I
was sent south by my doctor. 'Twas that right lung that was going to
the bad on account of over-exercise and strain at polo and gymnastics.
I needed climate and ozone and rest and things of that sort."

In an instant Octavia was close against the vicinity of the affected
organ. Mr. Bannister's letter fluttered to the floor.

"It's--it's well now, isn't it, Teddy?"

"Sound as a mesquite chunk. I deceived you in one thing. I paid fifty
thousand for your ranch as soon as I found you had no title. I had
just about that much income accumulated at my banker's while I've been
herding sheep down here, so it was almost like picking the thing up on
a bargain-counter for a penny. There's another little surplus of
unearned increment piling up there, 'Tave. I've been thinking of a
wedding trip in a yacht with white ribbons tied to the mast, through
the Mediterranean, and then up among the Hebrides and down Norway to
the Zuyder Zee."

"And I was thinking," said Octavia, softly, "of a wedding gallop with
my manager among the flocks of sheep and back to a wedding breakfast
with Mrs. MacIntyre on the gallery, with, maybe, a sprig of orange
blossom fastened to the red jar above the table."

Teddy laughed, and began to chant:

"Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And doesn't know where to find 'em.
Let 'em alone, and they'll come home,

Octavia drew his head down, and whispered in his ear, But that is one
of the tales they brought behind them.


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