“When Will was killed by those Mexican outlaws,—which is a story in itself,—Nelly sold the ranch to the Power Company, and bought an orange grove in Fairlands—which was the thing for her to do, as she and Myra could handle that sort of property, and the ranch had to go, anyway. Before Nelly died, she and I talked things over, and she put everything in Myra’s hands, in trust for the girl. Later, Myra sold the grove and the house where you men live, now, and bought the little place next door—putting the rest of the money into gilt-edged securities in Sibyl’s name; which insures the girl against want, for years to come. Sibyl helps out their income with her music. And that’s the story, boys, except that they come up here into the mountains, every summer, to spend a month or so in the old home place.”
The Ranger rose to go.
“But do you think it is safe for those women to stay up there alone?” asked Aaron King.
Brian Oakley laughed. “Safe! You don’t know Myra Willard! Sibyl, herself, can pick a squirrel out of the tallest pine in the mountains with her six-shooter. Will and I taught her all we knew, as she grew up. Besides, you see, I drop in every day or so, to see that they’re all right.” He laughed meaningly as he added,—to Conrad Lagrange for the artist’s benefit,—“I’m going to tell them, though, that Sibyl must be careful how she goes dancing around these hills—now that she has such distinguished but irresponsible neighbors.”
He whistled—and the chestnut horse was at his side before the echo of their laughter died away.
With a “so-long,” the Ranger rode away into the night.
When the Canyon Gates Are Shut
If Aaron King had questioned what it was that had held him in the cedar thicket until Brian Oakley’s heavy hand broke the spell, he would probably have answered that it was his artistic appreciation of the beautiful scene. But—deep down in the man’s inner consciousness—there was a still, small voice—declaring, with an insistency not to be denied, that—for him—there was a something in that picture that was not to be put into the vernacular of his profession.
Had he acted without his habitual self-control, the day following the Ranger’s visit, he would, again, have gone fishing—up Clear Creek—at least, to the pool where that master trout had broken his leader. But he did not. Instead, he roamed aimlessly about the vicinity of the camp—explored the sycamore grove; climbed a little way up the mountain spur, and down again; circled the cienaga; and so came, finally, to the ruins of the house and barn on the creek side of the orchard.
Not far from the lonely fireplace with its naked chimney, a little, old gate of split palings, in an ancient tumble-down fence, under a great mistletoe-hung oak, at the top of a bank—attracted his careless attention. From the gate, he saw what once had been a path leading down the bank to a spring, where the tiny streamlet that crossed the road a hundred yards away, on its course to Clear Creek, began. Pushing open the gate that sagged dejectedly from its leaning post, the artist went down the path, and found himself in a charming nook—shut in on every side by the forest vegetation that, watered by the spring, grew rank and dense.