A Sappho of Green Springs

Contents:
Author: Bret Harte

Chapter VI

It was nearly noon when Mr. Dawson finished rubbing down his sweating mare in the little stable shed among the wheat. He had left Rose at the hotel, for they found Mr. Mallory had previously started by a circuitous route for the wheat ranch. He had resumed not only his working clothes but his working expression. He was now superintending the unloading of a wain of stores and implements when the light carryall of the Randolphs rolled into the field. It contained only Mrs. Randolph and the driver. A slight look of intelligence passed between the latter and the nearest one of Dawson’s companions, succeeded, however, by a dull look of stupid vacancy on the faces of all the others, including Dawson. Mrs. Randolph noticed it, and was forewarned. She reflected that no human beings ever looked NATURALLY as stupid as that and were able to work. She smiled sarcastically, and then began with dry distinctness and narrowing lips.

"Miss Mallory, a young lady visiting us, went out for an early walk this morning and has not returned. It is possible she may have lost her way among your wheat. Have you seen anything of her?"

Dawson raised his eyes from his work and glanced slowly around at his companions, as if taking the heavy sense of the assembly. One or two shook their heads mechanically, and returned to their suspended labor. He said, coolly:—

"Nobody here seems to."

She felt that they were lying. She was only a woman against five men. She was only a petty domestic tyrant; she might have been a larger one. But she had all the courage of that possibility.

"Major Randolph and my son are away," she went on, drawing herself erect. "But I know that the major will pay liberally if these men will search the field, besides making it all right with your— EMPLOYERS—for the loss of time."

Dawson uttered a single word in a low voice to the man nearest him, who apparently communicated it to the others, for the four men stopped unloading, and moved away one after the other—even the driver joining in the exodus. Mrs. Randolph smiled sarcastically; it was plain that these people, with all their boasted independence, were quite amenable to pecuniary considerations. Nevertheless, as Dawson remained looking quietly at her, she said:—

"Then I suppose they’ve concluded to go and see?"

"No; I’ve sent them away so that they couldn’t HEAR."

"Hear what?"

"What I’ve got to say to you."

She looked at him suddenly. Then she said, with a disdainful glance around her: "I see I am helpless here, and—thanks to your trickery—alone. Have a care, sir; I warn you that you will have to answer to Major Randolph for any insolence."

"I reckon you won’t tell Major Randolph what I have to say to you," he returned coolly.

Her lips were nearly a grayish hue, but she said scornfully: "And why not? Do you know who you are talking to?"

The man came lazily forward to the carryall, carelessly brushed aside the slack reins, and resting his elbows on the horse’s back, laid his chin on his hands, as he looked up in the woman’s face.

"Yes; I know who I’m talking to," he said coolly. "But as the major don’t, I reckon you won’t tell him."

"Stand away from that horse!" she said, her whole face taking the grayish color of her lips, but her black eyes growing smaller and brighter. "Hand me those reins, and let me pass! What canaille are you to stop me?"

"I thought so," returned the man, without altering his position; "you don’t know ME. You never saw ME before. Well, I’m Jim Dawson, the nephew of L’Hommadieu, YOUR OLD MASTER!"

She gripped the iron rail of the seat as if to leap from it, but checked herself suddenly and leaned back, with a set smile on her mouth that seemed stamped there. It was remarkable that with that smile she flung away her old affectation of superciliousness for an older and ruder audacity, and that not only the expression, but the type of her face appeared to have changed.

"I don’t say," continued the man quietly, "that he didn’t MARRY you before he died. But you know as well as I do that the laws of his State didn’t recognize the marriage of a master with his octoroon slave! And you know as well as I do that even if he had freed you, he couldn’t change your blood. Why, if I’d been willing to stay at Avoyelles to be a nigger-driver like him, the plantation of ’de Fontanges’—whose name you have taken—would have been left to me. If YOU had stayed there, you might have been my property instead of YOUR owning a square man like Randolph. You didn’t think of that when you came here, did you?" he said composedly.

"Oh, mon Dieu!" she said, dropping rapidly into a different accent, with her white teeth and fixed mirthless smile, "so it is a claim for PROPERTY, eh? You’re wanting money—you? Tres bien, you forget we are in California, where one does not own a slave. And you have a fine story there, my poor friend. Very pretty, but very hard to prove, m’sieu. And these peasants are in it, eh, working it on shares like the farm, eh?"

"Well," said Dawson, slightly changing his position, and passing his hand over the horse’s neck with a half-wearied contempt, "one of these men is from Plaquemine, and the other from Coupee. They know all the l’Hommadieus’ history. And they know a streak of the tar brush when they see it. They took your measure when they came here last year, and sized you up fairly. So had I, for the matter of that, when I FIRST saw you. And we compared notes. But the major is a square man, for all he is your husband, and we reckoned he had a big enough contract on his hands to take care of you and l’Hommadieu’s half-breeds, and so"—he tossed the reins contemptuously aside—"we kept this to ourselves."

"And now you want—what—eh?"

"We want an end to this foolery," he broke out roughly, stepping back from the vehicle, and facing her suddenly, with his first angry gesture. "We want an end to these airs and grimaces, and all this dandy nigger business; we want an end to this ’cake-walking’ through the wheat, and flouting of the honest labor of your betters. We want you and your ’de Fontanges’ to climb down. And we want an end to this roping-in of white folks to suit your little game; we want an end to your trying to mix your nigger blood with any one here, and we intend to stop it. We draw the line at the major."

Lashed as she had been by those words apparently out of all semblance of her former social arrogance, a lower and more stubborn resistance seemed to have sprung up in her, as she sat sideways, watching him with her set smile and contracting eyes.

"Ah," she said dryly, "so SHE IS HERE. I thought so. Which of you is it, eh? It’s a good spec—Mallory’s a rich man. She’s not particular."

The man had stopped as if listening, his head turned towards the road. Then he turned carelessly, and facing her again, waved his hand with a gesture of tired dismissal, and said, "Go! You’ll find your driver over there by the tool-shed. He has heard nothing yet— but I’ve given you fair warning. Go!"

He walked slowly back towards the shed, as the woman, snatching up the reins, drove violently off in the direction where the men had disappeared. But she turned aside, ignoring her waiting driver in her wild and reckless abandonment of all her old conventional attitudes, and lashing her horse forward with the same set smile on her face, the same odd relaxation of figure, and the same squaring of her elbows.

Avoiding the main road, she pushed into a narrow track that intersected another nearer the scene of the accident to Rose’s buggy three weeks before. She had nearly passed it when she was hailed by a strange voice, and looking up, perceived a horseman floundering in the mazes of the wheat to one side of the track. Whatever mean thought of her past life she was flying from, whatever mean purpose she was flying to, she pulled up suddenly, and as suddenly resumed her erect, aggressive stiffness. The stranger was a middle-aged man; in dress and appearance a dweller of cities. He lifted his hat as he perceived the occupant of the wagon to be a lady.

"I beg your pardon, but I fear I’ve lost my way in trying to make a short cut to the Excelsior Company’s Ranch."

"You are in it now," said Mrs. Randolph, quickly.

"Thank you, but where can I find the farmhouse?"

"There is none," she returned, with her old superciliousness, "unless you choose to give that name to the shanties and sheds where the laborers and servants live, near the road."

The stranger looked puzzled. "I’m looking for a Mr. Dawson," he said reflectively, "but I may have made some mistake. Do you know Major Randolph’s house hereabouts?"

"I do. I am Mrs. Randolph," she said stiffly.

The stranger’s brow cleared, and he smiled pleasantly. "Then this is a fortunate meeting," he said, raising his hat again as he reined in his horse beside the wagon, "for I am Mr. Mallory, and I was looking forward to the pleasure of presenting myself to you an hour or two later. The fact is, an old acquaintance, Mr. Dawson, telegraphed me yesterday to meet him here on urgent business, and I felt obliged to go there first."

Mrs. Randolph’s eyes sparkled with a sudden gratified intelligence, but her manner seemed rather to increase than abate its grim precision.

"Our meeting this morning, Mr. Mallory, is both fortunate and unfortunate, for I regret to say that your daughter, who has not been quite herself since the earthquake, was missing early this morning and has not yet been found, though we have searched everywhere. Understand me," she said, as the stranger started, "I have no fear for her PERSONAL safety, I am only concerned for any INDISCRETION that she may commit in the presence of these strangers whose company she would seem to prefer to ours."

"But I don’t understand you, madam," said Mallory, sternly; "you are speaking of my daughter, and"—

"Excuse me, Mr. Mallory," said Mrs. Randolph, lifting her hand with her driest deprecation and her most desiccating smile, "I’m not passing judgment or criticism. I am of a foreign race, and consequently do not understand the freedom of American young ladies, and their familiarity with the opposite sex. I make no charges, I only wish to assure you that she will no doubt be found in the company and under the protection of her own countrymen. There is," she added with ironical distinctness, "a young mechanic, or field hand, or ’quack well-doctor,’ whom she seems to admire, and with whom she appears to be on equal terms."

Mallory regarded her for a moment fixedly, and then his sternness relaxed to a mischievously complacent smile. "That must be young Bent, of whom I’ve heard," he said with unabated cheerfulness. "And I don’t know but what she may be with him, after all. For now I think of it, a chuckle-headed fellow, of whom a moment ago I inquired the way to your house, told me I’d better ask the young man and young woman who were ’philandering through the wheat’ yonder. Suppose we look for them. From what I’ve heard of Bent he’s too much wrapped up in his inventions for flirtation, but it would be a good joke to stumble upon them."

Mrs. Randolph’s eyes sparkled with a mingling of gratified malice and undisguised contempt for the fatuous father beside her. But before she could accept or decline the challenge, it had become useless. A murmur of youthful voices struck her ear, and she suddenly stood upright and transfixed in the carriage. For lounging down slowly towards them out of the dim green aisles of the arbored wheat, lost in themselves and the shimmering veil of their seclusion, came the engineer, Thomas Bent, and on his arm, gazing ingenuously into his face, the figure of Adele,—her own perfect daughter.

"I don’t think, my dear," said Mr. Mallory, as the anxious Rose flew into his arms on his return to San Jose, a few hours later, "that it will be necessary for you to go back again to Major Randolph’s before we leave. I have said ’Good-by’ for you and thanked them, and your trunks are packed and will be sent here. The fact is, my dear, you see this affair of the earthquake and the disaster to the artesian well have upset all their arrangements, and I am afraid that my little girl would be only in their way just now."

"And you have seen Mr. Dawson—and you know why he sent for you?" asked the young girl, with nervous eagerness.

"Ah, yes," said Mr. Mallory thoughtfully, "THAT was really important. You see, my child," he continued, taking her hand in one of his own and patting the back of it gently with the other, "we think, Dawson and I, of taking over the major’s ranch and incorporating it with the Excelsior in one, to be worked on shares like the Excelsior; and as Mrs. Randolph is very anxious to return to the Atlantic States with her children, it is quite possible. Mrs. Randolph, as you have possibly noticed," Mr. Mallory went on, still patting his daughter’s hand, "does not feel entirely at home here, and will consequently leave the major free to rearrange, by himself, the ranch on the new basis. In fact, as the change must be made before the crops come in, she talks of going next week. But if you like the place, Rose, I’ve no doubt the major and Dawson will always find room for you and me when we run down there for a little fresh air."

"And did you have all that in your mind, papa, when you came down here, and was that what you and Mr. Dawson wanted to talk about?" said the astonished Rose.

"Mainly, my dear, mainly. You see I’m a capitalist now, and the real value of capital is to know how and when to apply it to certain conditions."

"And this Mr.—Mr. Bent—do you think—he will go on and find the water, papa?" said Rose, hesitatingly.

"Ah! Bent—Tom Bent—oh, yes," said Mallory, with great heartiness. "Capital fellow, Bent! and mighty ingenious! Glad you met him! Well," thoughtfully but still heartily, "he may not find it exactly where he expected, but he’ll find it or something better. We can’t part with him, and he has promised Dawson to stay. We’ll utilize HIM, you may be sure."

It would seem that they did, and from certain interviews and conversations that took place between Mr. Bent and Miss Mallory on a later visit, it would also appear that her father had exercised a discreet reticence in regard to a certain experiment of the young inventor, of which he had been an accidental witness.

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Chicago: Bret Harte, "Chapter VI," A Sappho of Green Springs, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in A Sappho of Green Springs (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920), Original Sources, accessed August 7, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LSBEGJ29WGAIWF.

MLA: Harte, Bret. "Chapter VI." A Sappho of Green Springs, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in A Sappho of Green Springs, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1920, Original Sources. 7 Aug. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LSBEGJ29WGAIWF.

Harvard: Harte, B, 'Chapter VI' in A Sappho of Green Springs, ed. . cited in 1920, A Sappho of Green Springs, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 7 August 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4LSBEGJ29WGAIWF.