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Austin’s Girl
by [?]

In the blazing heat of a July afternoon, Mrs. Cyrus Austin Phelps, of Boston, arrived unexpectedly at the Yerba Buena rancho in California. She was the only passenger to leave the train at the little sun-burned platform that served as a station, and found not even a freight agent there, of whom to ask the way to Miss Manzanita Boone’s residence. There were a few glittering lizards whisking about on the dusty boards, and a few buzzards hanging motionless against the cloudless pale blue of the sky overhead. Otherwise nothing living was in sight.

The train roared on down the valley, and disappeared. Its last echo died away. All about was the utter silence of the foot-hills. The even spires of motionless redwood trees rose, dense and steep, to meet the sky-line with a shimmer of heat. The sun beat down mercilessly, there was no shadow anywhere.

Mrs. Phelps, trim, middle-aged, richly and simply dressed, typical of her native city, was not a woman to be easily disconcerted, but she felt quite at a loss now. She was already sorry that she had come at all to Yerba Buena, sorry that, in coming, she had not written Austin to meet her. She already disliked this wide, silent, half-savage valley, and already felt out of place here. How could she possibly imagine that there would not be shops, stables, hotels at the station? What did other people do when they arrived here? Mrs. Phelps crisply asked these questions of the unanswering woods and hills.

After a while she sat down on her trunk, though with her small back erect, and her expression uncompromisingly stern. She was sitting there when Joe Bettancourt, a Portuguese milkman, happened to come by with his shabby milk wagon, and his lean, shaggy horses, and–more because Joe, not understanding English, took it calmly for granted that she wished to drive with him, than because she liked the arrangement–Mrs. Phelps got him to take her trunk and herself upon their way. They drove steadily upward, through apple orchards that stretched in hot zigzag lines, like the spokes of a great wheel, about them, and through strips of forest, where the corduroy road was springy beneath the wagon wheels, and past ugly low cow sheds, where the red-brown cattle were already gathering for the milking.

“You are taking me to Mr. Boone’s residence?” Mrs. Phelps would ask, at two-minute intervals. And Joe, hunched lazily over the reins, would respond huskily:

“Sure. Thaz th’ ole man.”

And presently they did turn a corner, and find, in a great gash of clearing, a low, rambling structure only a little better than the cow sheds, with wide, unpainted porches all about it, and a straggling line of out-houses near by. A Chinese cook came out of a swinging door to stare at the arrival, two or three Portuguese girls, evidently house-servants, entered into a cheerful, nasal conversation with Joe Bettancourt, from their seats by the kitchen door, and a very handsome young woman, whom Mrs. Phelps at first thought merely another servant came running down to the wagon. This young creature had a well-rounded figure, clad in faded, crisp blue linen, slim ankles that showed above her heavy buckled slippers, and a loosely-braided heavy rope of bright hair. Her eyes were a burning blue, the lashes curled like a doll’s lashes, and the brows as even and dark as a doll’s, too. She was extraordinarily pretty, even Mrs. Phelps could find no fault with the bright perfection of her face.

“Don’t say you’re Mother Phelps!” cried this young person, delightedly, lifting the older woman almost bodily from the wagon. “But I know you are!” she continued joyously. “Do you know who I am? I’m Manzanita Boone!”

Mrs. Phelps felt her heart grow sick within her. She had thought herself steeled for any shock,–but not this! Stricken dumb for a moment, she was led indoors, and found herself listening to a stream of gay chatter, and relieved of hat and gloves, and answering questions briefly and coldly, while all the time an agonized undercurrent of protest filled her heart: “He cannot–he SHALL NOT marry her!”