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- Jeff Briggs's Love Story - 6/17 -
very superior to his own.
"A month ago," she continued reflectively, "my mother would never have thought it possible to leave me here alone. Perhaps she may be getting worried now."
Miss Mayfield had calculated over much on Jeff's recumbent position. To her surprise and slight mortification, he rose instantly to his feet, and said anxiously
"Ef you think so, miss, p'raps I'm keeping you here."
"Not at all, Mr. Jeff. Your being here is a sufficient excuse for my staying," she replied, with the large dignity of a small body.
Jeff, mentally and physically crushed again, came down a little heavier than before, and reclined humbly at her feet. Second knock- down blow for Miss Mayfield.
"Come, Mr. Jeff," said the triumphant goddess, in her first voice, "tell me something about yourself. How do you live here--I mean; what do you do? You ride, of course--and very well too, I can tell you! But you know that. And of course that scarf and the silver spurs and the whole dashing equipage are not intended entirely for yourself. No! Some young woman is made happy by that exhibition, of course. Well, then, there's the riding down to see her, and perhaps the riding out with her, and--what else?"
"Miss Mayfield," said Jeff, suddenly rising above his elbow and his grammar, "thar isn't no young woman! Thar isn't another soul except yourself that I've laid eyes on, or cared to see since I've been yer. Ef my aunt hez been telling ye that--she's--she--she--she--she-- lies."
Absolute, undiluted truth, even of a complimentary nature, is confounding to most women. Miss Mayfield was no exception to her sex. She first laughed, as she felt she ought to, and properly might with any other man than Jeff; then she got frightened, and said hurriedly, "No, no! you misunderstand me. Your aunt has said nothing." And then she stopped with a pink spot on her cheek-bones. First blood for Jeff!
Now this would never do; it was worse than the butterflies! She rose to her full height--four feet eleven and a half--and drew her cloak over her shoulders. "I think I will return to the house," she said quietly; "I suppose I ought not to overtask my strength."
"You'd better let me go with you, miss," said Jeff submissively.
"I will, on one condition," she said, recovering her archness, with a little venom in it, I fear. "You were going home, too, when I called to you. Now, I do not intend to let you leave that bag behind that tree, and then have to come back for it, just because you feel obliged to go with me. Bring it with you on one arm, and I'll take the other, or else--I'll go alone. Don't be alarmed," she added softly; "I'm stronger than I was the first night I came, when you carried me and all my worldly goods besides."
She turned upon him her subtle magnetic eyes, and looked at him as she had the first night they met. Jeff turned away bewildered, but presently appeared again with the bag on his shoulder, and her wrap on his arm. As she slipped her little hand over his sleeve, he began, apologetically and nervously
"When I said that about Aunt Sally, miss, I"--
The hand immediately became limp, the grasp conventional.
"I was mad, miss," Jeff blundered on, "and I don't see how you believed it--knowing everything ez you do."
"How knowing everything as I do?" asked Miss Mayfield coldly.
"Why, about the quail, and about the bag!"
"Oh," said Miss Mayfield.
Five minutes later, Yuba Bill nearly ditched his coach in his utter amazement at an apparently simple spectacle--a tall, good-looking young fellow, in a red shirt and high boots, carrying a bag on his back, and beside him, hanging confidentially on his arm, a small, slight, pretty girl in a red cloak. "Nothing mean about her, eh, Bill?" said as admiring box-passenger. "Young couple, I reckon, just out from the States."
"No!" roared Bill.
"Oh, well, his sweetheart, I reckon?" suggested the box-passenger.
"Nary time!" growled Bill. "Look yer! I know 'em both, and they knows me. Did ye notiss she never drops his arm when she sees the stage comin', but kinder trapes along jist the same? Had they been courtin', she'd hev dropped his arm like pizen, and walked on t'other side the road."
Nevertheless, for some occult reason, Bill was evidently out of humor; and for the next few miles exhorted the impenitent Blue Grass horse with considerable fervor.
Meanwhile this pair, outwardly the picture of pastoral conjugality, slowly descended the hill. In that brief time, failing to get at any further facts regarding Jeff's life, or perhaps reading the story quite plainly, Miss Mayfield had twittered prettily about herself. She painted her tropic life in the Sandwich Islands--her delicious "laziness," as she called it; "for, you know," she added, "although I had the excuse of being an invalid, and of living in the laziest climate in the world, and of having money, I think, Mr. Jeff, that I'm naturally lazy. Perhaps if I lived here long enough, and got well again, I might do something, but I don't think I could ever be like your aunt. And there she is now, Mr. Jeff, making signs for you to hasten. No, don't mind me, but run on ahead; else I shall have her blaming me for demoralizing you too. Go; I insist upon it! I can walk the rest of the way alone. Will you go? You won't? Then I shall stop here and not stir another step forward until you do."
She stopped, half jestingly, half earnestly, in the middle of the road, and emphasized her determination with a nod of her head--an action that, however, shook her hat first rakishly over one eye, and then on the ground. At which Jeff laughed, picked it up, presented it to her, and then ran off to the house.
His aunt met him angrily on the porch. "Thar ye are at last, and yer's a stranger waitin to see you. He's been axin all sorts o' questions, about the house and the business, and kinder snoopin' round permiskiss. I don't like his looks, Jeff, but thet's no reason why ye should be gallivantin' round in business hours."
A large, thick-set man, with a mechanical smile that was an overt act of false pretense, was lounging in the bar-room. Jeff dimly remembered to have seen him at the last county election, distributing tickets at the polls. This gave Jeff a slight prejudice against him, but a greater presentiment of some vague evil in the air caused him to motion the stranger to an empty room in the angle of the house behind the barroom, which was too near the hall through which Miss Mayfield must presently pass.
It was an infelicitous act of precaution, for at that very moment Miss Mayfield slowly passed beneath its open window, and seeing her chair in the sunny angle, dropped into it for rest and possibly meditation. Consequently she overheard every word of the following colloquy.
The Stranger's voice: "Well, now, seein' ez I've been waitin' for ye over an hour, off and on, and ez my bizness with ye is two words, it strikes me yer puttin' on a little too much style in this yer interview, Mr. Jefferson Briggs."
Jeff's voice (a little husky with restraint): "What is yer business?"
The stranger's voice (lazily): "It's an at-tachment on this yer property for principal, interest, and costs--one hundred and twelve dollars and' seventy-five cents, at the suit of Cyrus Parker."
Jeff's voice (in quick surprise): "Parker? Why, I saw him only yesterday, and he agreed to wait a spell longer."
The Stranger's voice: "Mebbee he did! Mebbee he heard afterwards suthin' about the goin's on up yar. Mebbee he heard suthin' o' property bein' converted into ready cash--sich property ez horses, guns, and sich! Mebbee he heard o' gay and festive doin's--chickin every day, fresh eggs, butcher's meat, port wine, and sich! Mebbee he allowed that his chances o' gettin' his own honest grub outer his debt was lookin' mighty slim! Mebbee" (louder) "he thought he'd ask the man who bought yer horse, and the man you pawned your gun to, what was goin' on! Mebbee he thought he'd like to get a holt a suthin' himself, even if it was only some of that yar chickin and port wine!"
Jeff's voice (earnestly and hastily): "They're not for me. I have a family boarding here, with a sick daughter. You don't think--"
The Stranger's voice (lazily): "I reckon! I seed you and her pre- ambulating down the hill, lockin' arms. A good deal o' style, Jeff--fancy! expensive! How does Aunt Sally take it?"
A slight shaking of the floor and window--a dead silence.
The Stranger's voice (very faintly): "For God's sake, let me up!"
Jeff's voice (very distinctly): "Another word! raise your voice above a whisper, and by the living G--"
The Stranger's voice (gasping): "I--I--promise!"
Jeff's voice (low and desperate): "Get up out of that! Sit down thar! Now hear me! I'm not resisting your process. If you had all h-ll as witnesses you daren't say that. I've shut up your foul jaw, and kept it from poisoning the air, and thar's no law in Californy agin it! Now listen. What! You will, will you?"
Everything quiet; a bird twittering on the window ledge, nothing more.
The Stranger's voice (very huskily): "I cave! Gimme some whiskey."
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