Waifs and Strays
Waifs and Strays
Waifs and Strays
THE RED ROSES OF TONIA
A trestle burned down on the International Railroad. The southbound from San Antonio was cut off for the next forty-eight hours. On that
train was Tonia Weaver's Easter hat.
Espirition, the Mexican, who had been sent forty miles in a buckboard
from the Espinosa Ranch to fetch it, returned with a shrugging shoulder
and hands empty except for a cigarette. At the small station, Nopal, he
had learned of the delayed train and, having no commands to wait, turned
his ponies toward the ranch again.
Now, if one supposes that Easter, the Goddess of Spring, cares any
more for the after-church parade on Fifth Avenue than she does for her
loyal outfit of subjects that assemble at the meeting-house at Cactus, Tex.,
a mistake has been made. The wives and daughters of the ranchmen of
the Frio country put forth Easter blossoms of new hats and gowns as
faithfully as is done anywhere, and the Southwest is, for one day, a
mingling of prickly pear, Paris, and paradise. And now it was Good Friday,
and Tonia Weaver's Easter hat blushed unseen in the desert air of an
impotent express car, beyond the burned trestle. On Saturday noon the
Rogers girls, from the Shoestring Ranch, and Ella Reeves, from the
Anchor-O, and Mrs. Bennet and Ida, from Green Valley, would convene at
the Espinosa and pick up Tonia. With their Easter hats and frocks
carefully wrapped and bundled against the dust, the fair aggregation would
then merrily jog the ten miles to Cactus, where on the morrow they would
array themselves, subjugate man, do homage to Easter, and cause jealous
agitation among the lilies of the field.
Tonia sat on the steps of the Espinosa ranch house flicking gloomily
with a quirt at a tuft of curly mesquite. She displayed a frown and a
contumelious lip, and endeavored to radiate an aura of disagreeableness
"I hate railroads," she announced positively. "And men. Men
pretend to run them. Can you give any excuse why a trestle should burn?
Ida Bennet's hat is to be trimmed with violets. I shall not go one step
toward Cactus without a new hat. If I were a man I would get one."
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Two men listened uneasily to this disparagement of their kind. One
was Wells Pearson, foreman of the Mucho Calor cattle ranch. The other
was Thompson Burrows, the prosperous sheepman from the Quintana
Valley. Both thought Tonia Weaver adorable, especially when she railed
at railroads and menaced men. Either would have given up his epidermis
to make for her an Easter hat more cheerfully than the ostrich gives up his
tip or the aigrette lays down its life. Neither possessed the ingenuity to
conceive a means of supplying the sad deficiency against the coming
Sabbath. Pearson's deep brown face and sunburned light hair gave him
the appearance of a schoolboy seized by one of youth's profound and
insolvable melancholies. Tonia's plight grieved him through and through.
Thompson Burrows was the more skilled and pliable. He hailed from
somewhere in the East originally; and he wore neckties and shoes, and
was made dumb by woman's presence.
"The big water-hole on Sandy Creek," said Pearson, scarcely hoping to
make a hit, "was filled up by that last rain."
"Oh! Was it?" said Tonia sharply. "Thank you for the information. I
suppose a new hat is nothing to you, Mr. Pearson. I suppose you think a
woman ought to wear an old Stetson five years without a change, as you
do. If your old water-hole could have put out the fire on that trestle you
might have some reason to talk about it."
"I am deeply sorry," said Burrows, warned by Pearson's fate, "that you
failed to receive your hat, Miss Weaver--deeply sorry, indeed. If there was
anything I could do--"
"Don't bother," interrupted Tonia, with sweet sarcasm. "If there was
anything you could do, you'd be doing it, of course. There isn't."
Tonia paused. A sudden sparkle of hope had come into her eye. Her
frown smoothed away. She had an inspiration.
"There's a store over at Lone Elm Crossing on the Nueces," she said,
"that keeps hats. Eva Rogers got hers there. She said it was the latest
style. It might have some left. But it's twenty-eight miles to Lone
The spurs of two men who hastily arose jingled; and Tonia almost
smiled. The Knights, then, were not all turned to dust; nor were their
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"Of course," said Tonia, looking thoughtfully at a white gulf cloud
sailing across the cerulean dome, "nobody could ride to Lone Elm and
back by the time the girls call by for me to-morrow. So, I reckon I'll have
to stay at home this Easter Sunday."
And then she smiled.
"Well, Miss Tonia," said Pearson, reaching for his hat, as guileful as a
sleeping babe. "I reckon I'll be trotting along back to Mucho Calor.
There's some cutting out to be done on Dry Branch first thing in the
morning; and me and Road Runner has got to be on hand. It's too bad
your hat got sidetracked. Maybe they'll get that trestle mended yet in
time for Easter."
"I must be riding, too, Miss Tonia," announced Burrows, looking at his
watch. "I declare, it's nearly five o'clock! I must be out at my lambing
camp in time to help pen those crazy ewes."
Tonia's suitors seemed to have been smitten with a need for haste.
They bade her a ceremonious farewell, and then shook each other's hands
with the elaborate and solemn courtesy of the Southwesterner.
"Hope I'll see you again soon, Mr. Pearson," said Burrows.
"Same here," said the cowman, with the serious face of one whose
friend goes upon a whaling voyage. "Be gratified to see you ride over to
Mucho Calor any time you strike that section of the range."
Pearson mounted Road Runner, the soundest cow-pony on the Frio,
and let him pitch for a minute, as he always did on being mounted, even at
the end of a day's travel.
"What kind of a hat was that, Miss Tonia," he called, "that you ordered
from San Antone? I can't help but be sorry about that hat."
"A straw," said Tonia; "the latest shape, of course; trimmed with red
roses. That's what I like--red roses."
"There's no color more becoming to your complexion and hair," said
"It's what I like," said Tonia. "And of all the flowers, give me red
roses. Keep all the pinks and blues for yourself. But what's the use,
when trestles burn and leave you without anything? It'll be a dry old
Waifs and Strays
Easter for me!"
Pearson took off his hat and drove Road Bunner at a gallop into the
chaparral east of the Espinosa ranch house.
As his stirrups rattled against the brush Burrows's long-legged sorrel
struck out down the narrow stretch of open prairie to the southwest.
Tonia hung up her quirt and went into the sitting-room.
"I'm mighty sorry, daughter, that you didn't get your hat," said her
"Oh, don't worry, mother," said Tonia, coolly. "I'll have a new hat, all
right, in time to-morrow."
When Burrows reached the end of the strip of prairie he pulled his
sorrel to the right and let him pick his way daintily across a sacuista flat
through which ran the ragged, dry bed of an arroyo. Then up a gravelly
hill, matted with bush, the hoarse scrambled, and at length emerged, with a
snort of satisfaction into a stretch of high, level prairie, grassy and dotted
with the lighter green of mesquites in their fresh spring foliage. Always
to the right Burrows bore, until in a little while he struck the old Indian
trail that followed the Nueces southward, and that passed, twenty-eight
miles to the southeast, through Lone Elm.
Here Burrows urged the sorrel into a steady lope. As he settled
himself in the saddle for a long ride he heard the drumming of hoofs, the
hollow "thwack" of chaparral against wooden stirrups, the whoop of a
Comanche; and Wells Pearson burst out of the brush at the right of the trail
like a precocious yellow chick from a dark green Easter egg.
Except in the presence of awing femininity melancholy found no place
in Pearson's bosom. In Tonia's presence his voice was as soft as a
summer bullfrog's in his reedy nest. Now, at his gleesome yawp, rabbits,
a mile away, ducked their ears, and sensitive plants closed their fearful
"Moved your lambing camp pretty far from the ranch, haven't you,
neighbor?" asked Pearson, as Road Runner fell in at the sorrel's side.
"Twenty-eight miles," said Burrows, looking a little grim. Pearson's
laugh woke an owl one hour too early in his water-elm on the river bank,
half a mile away.
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"All right for you, sheepman. I like an open game, myself. We're
two locoed he-milliners hat-hunting in the wilderness. I notify you. Burr,
to mind your corrals. We've got an even start, and the one that gets the
headgear will stand some higher at the Espinosa."
"You've got a good pony," said Burrows, eyeing Road Runner's barrellike body and tapering legs that moved as regularly as the pistonrod of an
engine. "It's a race, of course; but you're too much of a horseman to
whoop it up this soon. Say we travel together till we get to the home
"I'm your company," agreed Pearson, "and I admire your sense. If
there's hats at Lone Elm, one of 'em shall set on Miss Tonia's brow tomorrow, and you won't be at the crowning. I ain't bragging, Burr, but
that sorrel of yours is weak in the fore-legs."
"My horse against yours," offered Burrows, "that Miss Tonia wears the
hat I take her to Cactus to-morrow."
"I'll take you up," shouted Pearson. "But oh, it's just like horsestealing for me! I can use that sorrel for a lady's animal when-- when
somebody comes over to Mucho Calor, and--"
Burrows' dark face glowered so suddenly that the cowman broke off
his sentence. But Pearson could never feel any pressure for long.
"What's all this Easter business about, Burr?" he asked, cheerfully.
"Why do the women folks have to have new hats by the almanac or bust
all cinches trying to get 'em?"
"It's a seasonable statute out of the testaments," explained Burrows.
"It's ordered by the Pope or somebody. And it has something to do with
the Zodiac I don't know exactly, but I think it was invented by the
"It's an all-right jubilee if the heathens did put their brand on it," said
Pearson; "or else Tonia wouldn't have anything to do with it. And they
pull it off at church, too. Suppose there ain't but one hat in the Lone Elm
"Then," said Burrows, darkly, "the best man of us'll take it back to the
"Oh, man!" cried Pearson, throwing his hat high and catching it again,
Waifs and Strays
"there's nothing like you come off the sheep ranges before. You talk good
and collateral to the occasion. And if there's more than one?"
"Then," said Burrows, "we'll pick our choice and one of us'll get back
first with his and the other won't."
"There never was two souls," proclaimed Pearson to the stars, "that
beat more like one heart than yourn and mine. Me and you might be
riding on a unicorn and thinking out of the same piece of mind."
At a little past midnight the riders loped into Lone Elm. The half a
hundred houses of the big village were dark. On its only street the big
wooden store stood barred and shuttered.
In a few moments the horses were fastened and Pearson was pounding
cheerfully on the door of old Sutton, the storekeeper.
The barrel of a Winchester came through a cranny of a solid window
shutter followed by a short inquiry.
"Wells Pearson, of the Mucho Calor, and Burrows, of Green Valley,"
was the response. "We want to buy some goods in the store. Sorry to
wake you up but we must have 'em. Come on out, Vncle Tommy, and
get a move on you."
Uncle Tommy was slow, but at length they got him behind his counter
with a kerosene lamp lit, and told him of their dire need.
"Easter hats?" said Uncle Tommy, sleepily. "Why, yes, I believe I
have got just a couple left. I only ordered a dozen this spring. I'll show
'em to you."
Now, Uncle Tommy Sutton was a merchant, half asleep or awake. In
dusty pasteboard boxes under the counter he had two left-over spring hats.
But, alas! for his commercial probity on that early Saturday morn--they
were hats of two springs ago, and a woman's eye would have detected the
fraud at half a glance. But to the unintelligent gaze of the cowpuncher
and the sheepman they seemed fresh from the mint of contemporaneous
The hats were of a variety once known as "cart-wheels." They were
of stiff straw, colored red, and flat brimmed. Both were exactly alike,
and trimmed lavishly around their crowns with full blown, immaculate,
artificial white roses.
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"That all you got, Uncle Tommy?" said Pearson. "All right. Not
much choice here, Burr. Take your pick."
"They're the latest styles" lied Uncle Tommy. "You'd see 'em on Fifth
Avenue, if you was in New York."
Uncle Tommy wrapped and tied each hat in two yards of dark calico
for a protection. One Pearson tied carefully to his calfskin saddle- thongs;
and the other became part of Road Runner's burden. They shouted
thanks and farewells to Uncle Tommy, and cantered back into the night on
the home stretch.
The horsemen jockeyed with all their skill. They rode more slowly
on their way back. The few words they spoke were not unfriendly.
Burrows had a Winchester under his left leg slung over his saddle horn.
Pearson had a six shooter belted around him. Thus men rode in the Frio
At half-past seven in the morning they rode to the top of a hill and saw
the Espinosa Ranch, a white spot under a dark patch of live-oaks, five
The sight roused Pearson from his drooping pose in the saddle. He
knew what Road Runner could do. The sorrel was lathered, and
stumbling frequently; Road Runner was pegging away like a donkey
Pearson turned toward the sheepman and laughed. "Good-bye, Burr,"
he cried, with a wave of his hand. "It's a race now. We're on the home
He pressed Road Runner with his knees and leaned toward the
Espinosa. Road Runner struck into a gallop, with tossing head and
snorting nostrils, as if he were fresh from a month in pasture.
Pearson rode twenty yards and heard the unmistakable sound of a
Winchester lever throwing a cartridge into the barrel. He dropped flat
along his horse's back before the crack of the rifle reached his ears.
It is possible that Burrows intended only to disable the horse-- he was
a good enough shot to do that without endangering his rider. But as
Pearson stooped the ball went through his shoulder and then through Road
Runner's neck. The horse fell and the cowman pitched over his head into
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the hard road, and neither of them tried to move.
Burrows rode on without stopping.
In two hours Pearson opened his eyes and took inventory. He managed
to get to his feet and staggered back to where Road Runner was lying.
Road Runner was lying there, but he appeared to be comfortable.
Pearson examined him and found that the bullet had "creased" him. He
had been knocked out temporarily, but not seriously hurt. But he was
tired, and he lay there on Miss Tonia's hat and ate leaves from a mesquite
branch that obligingly hung over the road.
Pearson made the horse get up. The Easter hat, loosed from the
saddle-thongs, lay there in its calico wrappings, a shapeless thing from its
sojourn beneath the solid carcass of Road Runner. Then Pearson fainted
and fell head long upon the poor hat again, crumpling it under his
It is hard to kill a cowpuncher. In half an hour he revived--long enough
for a woman to have fainted twice and tried ice-cream for a restorer. He
got up carefully and found Road Runner who was busy with the near-by
grass. He tied the unfortunate hat to the saddle again, and managed to get
himself there, too, after many failures.
At noon a gay and fluttering company waited in front of the Espinosa
Ranch. The Rogers girls were there in their new buckboard, and the
Anchor-O outfit and the Green Valley folks--mostly women. And each
and every one wore her new Easter hat, even upon the lonely prairies, for
they greatly desired to shine forth and do honor to the coming festival.
At the gate stood Tonia. with undisguised tears upon her cheeks. In her
hand she held Burrow's Lone Elm hat, and it was at its white roses, hated
by her, that she wept. For her friends were telling her, with the ecstatic
joy of true friends, that cart-wheels could not be worn, being three seasons
passed into oblivion.
"Put on your old hat and come, Tonia," they urged.
"For Easter Sunday?" she answered. "I'll die first." And wept
The hats of the fortunate ones were curved and twisted into the style of
spring's latest proclamation.
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A strange being rode out of the brush among them, and there sat his
horse languidly. He was stained and disfigured with the green of the
grass and the limestone of rocky roads.
"Hallo, Pearson," said Daddy Weaver. "Look like you've been
breaking a mustang. What's that you've got tied to your saddle--a pig in a
"Oh, come on, Tonia, if you're going," said Betty Rogers. "We
mustn't wait any longer. We've saved a seat in the buckboard for you.
Never mind the hat. That lovely muslin you've got on looks sweet
enough with any old hat."
Pearson was slowly untying the queer thing on his saddle. Tonia
looked at him with a sudden hope. Pearson was a man who created hope.
He got the thing loose and handed it to her. Her quick fingers tore at the
"Best I could do," said Pearson slowly. "What Road Runner and me
done to it will be about all it needs."
"Oh, oh! it's just the right shape," shrieked Tonia. "And red roses!
Wait till I try it on!"
She flew in to the glass, and out again, beaming, radiating, blossomed.
"Oh, don't red become her?" chanted the girls in recitative. "Hurry
Tonia stopped for a moment by the side of Road Runner.
"Thank you, thank you, Wells," she said, happily. "It's just what I
wanted. Won't you come over to Cactus to-morrow and go to church
"If I can," said Pearson. He was looking curiously at her hat, and
then he grinned weakly.
Tonia flew into the buckboard like a bird. The vehicles sped away
"What have you been doing, Pearson?" asked Daddy Weaver. "You
ain't looking so well as common."
"Me?" said Pearson. "I've been painting flowers. Them roses was
white when I left Lone Elm. Help me down, Daddy Weaver, for I haven't
got any more paint to spare."
Waifs and Strays
Waifs and Strays
ROUND THE CIRCLE
[This story is especially interesting as an early treatment (1902) of the
theme afterward developed with a surer hand in The Pendulum.]
"Find yo' shirt all right, Sam?" asked Mrs. Webber, from her chair
under the live-oak, where she was comfortably seated with a paper- back
volume for company.
"It balances perfeckly, Marthy," answered Sam, with a suspicious
pleasantness in his tone. "At first I was about ter be a little reckless and
kick 'cause ther buttons was all off, but since I diskiver that the button
holes is all busted out, why, I wouldn't go so fur as to say the buttons is
any loss to speak of."
"Oh, well," said his wife, carelessly, "put on your necktie--that'll keep
Sam Webber's sheep ranch was situated in the loneliest part of the
country between the Nueces and the Frio. The ranch house--a two-room
box structure--was on the rise of a gently swelling hill in the midst of a
wilderness of high chaparral. In front of it was a small clearing where
stood the sheep pens, shearing shed, and wool house. Only a few feet back
of it began the thorny jungle.
Sam was going to ride over to the Chapman ranch to see about buying
some more improved merino rams. At length he came out, ready for his
ride. This being a business trip of some importance, and the Chapman
ranch being almost a small town in population and size, Sam had decided
to "dress up" accordingly. The result was that he had transformed
himself from a graceful, picturesque frontiersman into something much
less pleasing to the sight. The tight white collar awkwardly constricted
his muscular, mahogany-colored neck. The buttonless shirt bulged in
stiff waves beneath his unbuttoned vest. The suit of "ready-made"
effectually concealed the fine lines of his straight, athletic figure. His
berry-brown face was set to the melancholy dignity befitting a prisoner of
state. He gave Randy, his three-year-old son, a pat on the head, and
hurried out to where Mexico, his favorite saddle horse, was standing.
Marthy, leisurely rocking in her chair, fixed her place in the book with
Waifs and Strays
her finger, and turned her head, smiling mischievously as she noted the
havoc Sam had wrought with his appearance in trying to "fix up."
~Well, ef I must say it, Sam," she drawled, "you look jest like one of
them hayseeds in the picture papers, 'stead of a free and independent
sheepman of the State o' Texas."
Sam climbed awkwardly into the saddle.
"You're the one ought to be 'shamed to say so," he replied hotly.
"'Stead of 'tendin' to a man's clothes you're al'ays setting around a-readin'
them billy-by-dam yaller-back novils."
"Oh, shet up and ride along," said Mrs. Webber, with a little jerk at the
handles of her chair; "you always fussin' 'bout my readin'. I do a-plenty;
and I'll read when I wanter. I live in the bresh here like a varmint, never
seein' nor hearin' nothin', and what other 'musement kin I have? Not in
listenin' to you talk, for it's complain, complain, one day after another.
Oh, go on, Sam, and leave me in peace."
Sam gave his pony a squeeze with his knees and "shoved" down the
wagon trail that connected his ranch with the old, open Government road.
It was eight o'clock, and already beginning to be very warm. He should
have started three hours earlier. Chapman ranch was only eighteen miles
away, but there was a road for only three miles of the distance. He had
ridden over there once with one of the Half-Moon cowpunchers, and he
had the direction well-defined in his mind.
Sam turned off the old Government road at the split mesquite, and
struck down the arroyo of the Quintanilla. Here was a narrow stretch of
smiling valley, upholstered with a rich mat of green, curly mesquite grass;
and Mexico consumed those few miles quickly with his long, easy lope.
Again, upon reaching Wild Duck Waterhole, must he abandon welldefined ways. He turned now to his right up a little hill, pebble-covered,
upon which grew only the tenacious and thorny prickly pear and chaparral.
At the summit of this he paused to take his last general view of the
landscape for, from now on, he must wind through brakes and thickets of
chaparral, pear, and mesquite, for the most part seeing scarcely farther
than twenty yards in any direction, choosing his way by the prairiedweller's instinct, guided only by an occasional glimpse of a far distant
Waifs and Strays
hilltop, a peculiarly shaped knot of trees, or the position of the sun.
Sam rode down the sloping hill and plunged into the great pear flat
that lies between the Quintanilla and the Piedra.
In about two hours he discovered that he was lost. Then came the
usual confusion of mind and the hurry to get somewhere. Mexico was
anxious to redeem the situation, twisting with alacrity along the tortuous
labyrinths of the jungle. At the moment his master's sureness of the route
had failed his horse had divined the fact. There were no hills now that they
could climb to obtain a view of the country. They came upon a few, but
so dense and interlaced was the brush that scarcely could a rabbit penetrate
the mass. They were in the great, lonely thicket of the Frio bottoms.
It was a mere nothing for a cattleman or a sheepman to be lost for a
day or a night. The thing often happened. It was merely a matter of
missing a meal or two and sleeping comfortably on your saddle blankets
on a soft mattress of mesquite grass. But in Sam's case it was different.
He had never been away from his ranch at night. Marthy was afraid of the
country--afraid of Mexicans, of snakes, of panthers, even of sheep. So he
had never left her alone.
It must have been about four in the afternoon when Sam's conscience
awoke. He was limp and drenched, rather from anxiety than the heat or
fatigue. Until now he had been hoping to strike the trail that led to the
Frio crossing and the Chapman ranch. He must have crossed it at some
dim part of it and ridden beyond. If so he was now something like fifty
miles from home. If he could strike a ranch-- a camp--any place where
he could get a fresh horse and inquire the road, he would ride all night to
get back to Marthy and the kid.
So, I have hinted, Sam was seized bv remorse. There was a big lump
in his throat as he thought of the cross words he had spoken to his wife.
Surely it was hard enough for her to live in that horrible country witnout
having to bear the burden of his abuse. He cursed himself grimly, and
felt a sudden flush of shame that over-glowed the summer heat as he
remembered the many times he had flouted and railed at her because she
had a liking for reading fiction.
"Ther only so'ce ov amusement ther po' gal's got," said Sam aloud,
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with a sob, which unaccustomed sound caused Mexico to shy a bit. A-livin
with a sore-headed kiote like me--a low-down skunk that ought to be
licked to death with a saddle cinch--a-cookin' and a-washin' and a-livin' on
mutton and beans and me abusin' her fur takin' a squint or two in a little
He thought of Marthy as she had been when he first met her in
Dogtown--smart, pretty, and saucy--before the sun had turned the roses in
her cheeks brown and the silence of the chaparral had tamed her
"Ef I ever speaks another hard word to ther little gal," muttered Sam,
"or fails in the love and affection that's coming to her in the deal, I hopes a
wildcat'll t'ar me to pieces."
He knew what he would do. He would write to Garcia & Jones, his
San Antonio merchants where he bought his supplies and sold his wool,
and have them send down a big box of novels and reading matter for
Marthy. Things were going to be different. He wondered whether a little
piano could be placed in one of the rooms of the ranch house without the
family having to move out of doors.
In nowise calculated to allay his self-reproach was the thought that
Marthy and Randy would have to pass the night alone. In spite of their
bickerings, when night came Marthy was wont to dismiss her fears of the
country, and rest her head upon Sam's strong arm with a sigh of peaceful
content and dependence. And were her fears so groundless? Sam thought
of roving, marauding Mexicans, of stealthy cougars that sometimes
invaded the ranches, of rattlesnakes, centipedes, and a dozen possible
dangers. Marthy would be frantic with fear. Randy would cry, and call
for dada to come.
Still the interminable succession of stretches of brush, cactus, and
mesquite. Hollow after hollow, slope after slope--all exactly alike --all
familiar by constant repetition, and yet all strange and new. If he could
only arrive ~somewhere.~
The straight line is Art. Nature moves in circles. A straightforward
man is more an artificial product than a diplomatist is. Men lost in the
snow travel in exact circles until they sink, exhausted, as their footprints
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have attested. Also, travellers in philosophy and other mental processes
frequently wind up at their starting-point.
It was when Sam Webber was fullest of contrition and good resolves
that Mexico, with a heavy sigh, subsided from his regular, brisk trot into a
slow complacent walk. They were winding up an easy slope covered
with brush ten or twelve feet high.
"I say now, Mex," demurred Sam, "this here won't do. I know you're
plumb tired out, but we got ter git along. Oh, Lordy, ain't there no mo'
houses in the world!" He gave Mexico a smart kick with his heels.
Mexico gave a protesting grunt as if to say: "What's the use of that,
now we're so near?" He quickened his gait into a languid trot. Rounding
a great clump of black chaparral he stopped short. Sam dropped the
bridle reins and sat, looking into the back door of his own house, not ten
Marthy, serene and comfortable, sat in her rocking-chair before the
door in the shade of the house, with her feet resting luxuriously upon the
steps. Randy, who was playing with a pair of spurs on the ground,
looked up for a moment at his father and went on spinning the rowels and
singing a little song. Marthy turned her head lazily against the back of
the chair and considered the arrivals with emotionless eyes. She held a
book in her lap with her finger holding the place.
Sam shook himself queerly, like a man coming out of a dream, and
slowly dismounted. He moistened his dry lips.
"I see you are still a-settin'," he said, "a-readin' of them billy- by-dam
Sam had traveled round the circle and was himself again.
Waifs and Strays
THE RUBBER PLANT'S STORY
We rubber plants form the connecting link between the vegetable
kingdom and the decorations of a Waldorf-Astoria scene in a Third Avenue
theatre. I haven't looked up our family tree, but I believe we were raised
by grafting a gum overshoe on to a 30-cent table d'hote stalk of asparagus.
You take a white bulldog with a Bourke Cockran air of independence
about him and a rubber plant and there you have the fauna and flora of a
flat. What the shamrock is to Ireland the rubber plant is to the dweller in
flats and furnished rooms. We get moved from one place to another so
quickly that the only way we can get our picture taken is with a
kinetoscope. We are the vagrant vine and the flitting fig tree. You
know the proverb: "Where the rubber plant sits in the window the moving
van draws up to the door."
We are the city equivalent to the woodbine and the honeysuckle. No
other vegetable except the Pittsburg stogie can withstand as much
handling as we can. When the family to which we belong moves into a
flat they set us in the front window and we become lares and penates, flypaper and the peripatetic emblem of "Home Sweet Home." We aren't as
green as we look. I guess we are about what you would call the
soubrettes of the conservatory. You try sitting in the front window of a
$40 flat in Manhattan and looking out into the street all day, and back into
the flat at night, and see whether you get wise or not--hey? Talk about
the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden--say!
suppose there had been a rubber plant there when Eve--but I was going to
tell you a story.
The first thing I can remember I had only three leaves and belonged to
a member of the pony ballet. I was kept in a sunny window, and was
generally watered with seltzer and lemon. I had plenty of fun in those
days. I got cross-eyed trying to watch the numbers of the automobiles in
the street and the dates on the labels inside at the same time.
Well, then the angel that was molting for the musical comedy lost his
last feather and the company broke up. The ponies trotted away and I
was left in the window ownerless. The janitor gave me to a refined
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comedy team on the eighth floor, and in six weeks I had been set in the
window of five different flats I took on experience and put out two more
Miss Carruthers, of the refined comedy team--did you ever see her
cross both feet back of her neck?--gave me to a friend of hers who had
made an unfortunate marriage with a man in a store. Consequently I was
placed in the window of a furnished room, rent in advance, water two
flights up, gas extra after ten o'clock at night. Two of my leaves withered
off here. Also, I was moved from one room to another so many times
that I got to liking the odor of the pipes the expressmen smoked.
I don't think I ever had so dull a time as I did with this lady. There was
never anything amusing going on inside--she was devoted to her husband,
and, besides leaning out the window and flirting with the iceman, she
never did a thing toward breaking the monotony.
When the couple broke up they left me with the rest of their goods at a
second-hand store. I was put out in front for sale along with the jobbiest
lot you ever heard of being lumped into one bargain. Think of this little
cornucopia of wonders, all for $1.89: Henry James's works, six talking
machine records, one pair of tennis shoes, two bottles of horse radish, and
a rubber plant--that was me!
One afternoon a girl came along and stopped to look at me. She had
dark hair and eyes, and she looked slim, and sad around the mouth.
"Oh, oh!" she says to herself. "I never thought to see one up here."
She pulls out a little purse about as thick as one of my leaves and
fingers over some small silver in it. Old Koen, always on the lockout, is
ready, rubbing his hands. This girl proceeds to turn down Mr. James and
the other commodities. Rubber plants or nothing is the burden of her
song. And at last Koen and she come together at 39 cents, and away she
goes with me in her arms.
She was a nice girl, but not my style. Too quiet and sober looking.
Thinks I to myself: "I'll just about land on the fire-escape of a tenement,
six stories up. And I'll spend the next six months looking at clothes on
But she carried me to a nice little room only three flights up in quite a
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decent street. And she put me in the window, of course. And then she
went to work and cooked dinner for herself. And what do you suppose
she had? Bread and tea and a little dab of jam! Nothing else. Not a
single lobster, nor so much as one bottle of champagne. The Carruthers
comedy team had both every evening, except now and then when they
took a notion for pig's knuckle and kraut.
After she had finished her dinner my new owner came to the window
and leaned down close to my leaves and cried softly to herself for a while.
It made me feel funny. I never knew anybody to cry that way over a
rubber plant before. Of course, I've seen a few of 'em turn on the tears
for what they could get out of it, but she seemed to be crying just for the
pure enjoyment of it. She touched my leaves like she loved 'em, and she
bent down her head and kissed each one of 'em. I guess I'm about the
toughest specimen of a peripatetic orchid on earth, but I tell you it made
me feel sort of queer. Home never was like that to me before.
Generally I used to get chewed by poodles and have shirt-waists hung on
me to dry, and get watered with coffee grounds and peroxide of hydrogen.
This girl had a piano in the room, and she used to disturb it with both
hands while she made noises with her mouth for hours at a time. I suppose
she was practising vocal music.
One day she seemed very much excited and kept looking at the clock.
At eleven somebody knocked and she let in a stout, dark man with towsled
black hair. He sat down at once at the piano and played while she sang
for him. When she finished she laid one hand on her bosom and looked
at him. He shook his head, and she leaned against the piano. "Two
years already," she said, speaking slowly--"do you think in two more--or
The man shook his head again. "You waste your time," he said,
roughly I thought. "The voice is not there." And then he looked at her
in a peculiar way. "But the voice is not everything," he went on. "You
have looks. I can place you, as I told you if--"
The girl pointed to the door without saying anything, and the dark man
left the room. And then she came over and cried around me again. It's a
good thing I had enough rubber in me to be water-proof.
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About that time somebody else knocked at the door. "Thank
goodness," I said to myself. "Here's a chance to get the water-works
turned off. I hope it's somebody that's game enough to stand a bird and a
bottle to liven things up a little." Tell you the truth, this little girl made
me tired. A rubber plant likes to see a little sport now and then. I don't
suppose there's another green thing in New York that sees as much of gay
life unless it's the chartreuse or the sprigs of parsley around the dish.
When the girl opens the door in steps a young chap in a traveling cap
and picks her up in his arms, and she sings out "Oh, Dick!" and stays there
long enough to--well, you've been a rubber plant too, sometimes, I
"Good thing!" says I to myself. "This is livelier than scales and
weeping. Now there'll be something doing."
"You've got to go back with me," says the young man. "I've come
two thousand miles for you. Aren't you tired of it yet. Bess? You've
kept all of us waiting so long. Haven't you found out yet what is best?"
"The bubble burst only to-day," says the girl. "Come here, Dick, and
see what I found the other day on the sidewalk for sale." She brings him
by the hand and exhibits yours truly. "How one ever got away up here
who can tell? I bought it with almost the last money I had."
He looked at me, but he couldn't keep his eyes off her for more than a
second. "Do you remember the night, Bess," he said, "when we stood
under one of those on the bank of the bayou and what you told me then?"
"Geewillikins!" I said to myself. "Both of them stand under a rubber
plant! Seems to me they are stretching matters somewhat!"
"Do I not," says she, looking up at him and sneaking close to his vest,
"and now I say it again, and it is to last forever. Look, Dick, at its leaves,
how wet they are. Those are my tears, and it was thinking of you that
made them fall."
"The dear old magnolias!" says the young man, pinching one of my
leaves. "I love them all."
Magnolia! Well, wouldn't that--say! those innocents thought I was a
magnolia! What the--well, wasn't that tough on a genuine little old New
York rubber plant?
Waifs and Strays
Waifs and Strays
OUT OF NAZARETH
Okochee, in Georgia, had a boom, and J. Pinkney Bloom came out of
it with a "wad." Okochee came out of it with a half-million-dollar debt, a
two and a half per cent. city property tax, and a city council that showed a
propensity for traveling the back streets of the town. These things came
about through a fatal resemblance of the river Cooloosa to the Hudson, as
set forth and expounded by a Northern tourist. Okochee felt that New
York should not be allowed to consider itself the only alligator in the
swamp, so to speak. And then that harmless, but persistent, individual so
numerous in the South--the man who is always clamoring for more cotton
mills, and is ready to take a dollar's worth of stock, provided he can
borrow the dollar--that man added his deadly work to the tourist's innocent
praise, and Okochee fell.
The Cooloosa River winds through a range of small mountains, passes
Okochee and then blends its waters trippingly, as fall the mellifluous
Indian syllables, with the Chattahoochee.
Okochee rose, as it were, from its sunny seat on the post-office stoop,
hitched up its suspender, and threw a granite dam two hundred and forty
feet long and sixty feet high across the Cooloosa one mile above the town.
Thereupon, a dimpling, sparkling lake backed up twenty miles among the
little mountains. Thus in the great game of municipal rivalry did
Okochee match that famous drawing card, the Hudson. It was conceded
that nowhere could the Palisades be judged superior in the way of scenery
and grandeur. Following the picture card was played the ace of
commercial importance. Fourteen thousand horsepower would this dam
furnish. Cotton mills, factories, and manufacturing plants would rise up
as the green corn after a shower. The spindle and the flywheel and turbine
would sing the shrewd glory of Okochee. Along the picturesque heights
above the lake would rise in beauty the costly villas and the splendid
summer residences of capital. The naphtha launch of the millionaire
would spit among the romantic coves; the verdured hills would take
formal shapes of terrace, lawn, and park. Money would be spent like
water in Okochee, and water would be turned into money.
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The fate of the good town is quickly told. Capital decided not to
invest. Of all the great things promised, the scenery alone came to
fulfilment. The wooded peaks, the impressive promontories of solemn
granite, the beautiful green slants of bank and ravine did all they could to
reconcile Okochee to the delinquency of miserly gold. The sunsets
gilded the dreamy draws and coves with a minting that should charm away
heart-burning. Okochee, true to the instinct of its blood and clime, was
lulled by the spell. It climbed out of the arena, loosed its suspender, sat
down again on the post-office stoop, and took a chew. It consoled itself
by drawling sarcasms at the city council which was not to blame, causing
the fathers, as has been said, to seek back streets and figure perspiringly
on the sinking fund and the appropriation for interest due.
The youth of Okochee--they who were to carry into the rosy future the
burden of the debt--accepted failure with youth's uncalculating joy. For,
here was sport, aquatic and nautical, added to the meagre round of life's
pleasures. In yachting caps and flowing neckties they pervaded the lake
to its limits. Girls wore silk waists embroidered with anchors in blue and
pink. The trousers of the young men widened at the bottom, and their
hands were proudly calloused by the oft- plied oar. Fishermen were
under the spell of a deep and tolerant Jjoy. Sailboats and rowboats
furrowed the lenient waves, popcorn and ice- cream booths sprang up
about the little wooden pier. Two small excursion steamboats were built,
and plied the delectable waters. Okochee philosophically gave up the hope
of eating turtle soup with a gold spoon, and settled back, not ill content, to
its regular diet of lotus and fried hominy. And out of this slow wreck of
great expectations rose up J. Pinkney Bloom with his "wad" and his
prosperous, cheery smile.
Needless to say J. Pinkney was no product of Georgia soil. He came
out of that flushed and capable region known as the "North." He called
himself a "promoter"; his enemies had spoken of him as a "grafter";
Okochee took a middle course, and held him to be no better nor no worse
than a "Yank."
Far up the lake--eighteen miles above the town--the eye of this
cheerful camp-follower of booms had spied out a graft. He purchased
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there a precipitous tract of five hundred acres at forty-five cents per acre;
and this he laid out and subdivided as the city of Skyland --the Queen City
of the Switzerland of the South. Streets and avenues were surveyed;
parks designed; corners of central squares reserved for the "proposed"
opera house, board of trade, lyceum, market, public schools, and
"Exposition Hall." The price of lots ranged from five to five hundred
dollars. Positively, no lot would be priced higher than five hundred
While the boom was growing in Okochee, J. Pinkney's circulars, maps,
and prospectuses were flying through the mails to every part of the
country. Investors sent in their money by post, and the Skyland Real
Estate Company (J. Pinkney Bloom) returned to each a deed, duly placed
on record, to the best lot, at the price, on hand that day. All this time the
catamount screeched upon the reserved lot of the Skyland Board of Trade,
the opossum swung by his tail over the site of the exposition hall, and the
owl hooted a melancholy recitative to his audience of young squirrels in
opera house square. Later, when the money was coming in fast, J.
Pinkney caused to be erected in the coming city half a dozen cheap box
houses, and persuaded a contingent of indigent natives to occupy them,
thereby assuming the role of "poulation" in subsequent prospectuses,
which became, accordingly, more seductive and remunerative.
So, when the dream faded and Okochee dropped back to digging bait
and nursing its two and a half per cent. tax, J. Pinkney Bloom (unloving of
checks and drafts and the cold interrogatories of bankers) strapped about
his fifty-two-inch waist a soft leather belt containing eight thousand
dollars in big bills, and said that all was very good.
One last trip he was making to Skyland before departing to other salad
fields. Skyland was a regular post-office, and the steamboat, ~Dixie
Belle~, under contract, delivered the mail bag (generally empty) twice a
week. There was a little business there to be settled --the postmaster was
to be paid off for his light but lonely services, and the "inhabitants" had to
be furnished with another month's homely rations, as per agreement.
And then Skyland would know J. Pinkney Bloom no more. The owners
of these precipitous, barren, useless lots might come and view the scene of
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their invested credulity, or they might leave them to their fit tenants, the
wild hog and the browsing deer. The work of the Skyland Real Estate
Company was finished.
The little steamboat ~Dixie Belle~ was about to shove off on her
regular up-the-lake trip, when a rickety hired carriage rattled up to the pier,
and a tall, elderly gentleman, in black, stepped out, signaling courteously
but vivaciously for the boat to wait. Time was of the least importance in
the schedule of the ~Dixie Belle~; Captain MacFarland gave the order,
and the boat received its ultimate two passengers. For, upon the arm of
the tall, elderly gentleman, as he crossed the gangway, was a little elderly
lady, with a gray curl depending quaintly forward of her left ear.
Captain MacFarland was at the wheel; therefore it seemed to J.
Pinkney Bloom, who was the only other passenger, that it should be his to
play the part of host to the boat's new guests, who were, doubtless, on a
scenery-viewing expedition. He stepped forward, with that translucent,
child-candid smile upon his fresh, pink countenance, with that air of
unaffected sincerity that was redeemed from bluffness only by its
exquisite calculation, with that promptitude and masterly decision of
manner that so well suited his calling--with all his stock in trade well to
the front; he stepped forward to receive Colonel and Mrs. Peyton Blaylock.
With the grace of a grand marshal or a wedding usher, he escorted the two
passengers to a side of the upper deck, from which the scenery was
supposed to present itself to the observer in increased quantity and quality.
There, in comfortable steamer chairs, they sat and began to piece together
the random lines that were to form an intelligent paragraph in the big
history of little events.
"Our home, sir," said Colonel Blaylock, removing his wide-brimmed,
rather shapeless black felt hat, "is in Holly Springs--Holly Springs,
Georgia. I am very proud to make your acquaintance, Mr. Bloom. Mrs.
Blaylock and myself have just arrived in Okochee this morning, sir, on
business--business of importance in connection with the recent rapid
march of progress in this section of our state."
The Colonel smoothed back, with a sweeping gesture, his long,
smooth, locks. His dark eyes, still fiery under the heavy black brows,
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seemed inappropriate to the face of a business man. He looked rather to
be an old courtier handed down from the reign of Charles, and re-attired in
a modern suit of fine, but raveling and seam-worn, broadcloth.
"Yes, sir," said Mr. Bloom, in his heartiest prospectus voice, "things
have been whizzing around Okochee. Biggest industrial revival an