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Liberty Jones’s Discovery
by [?]

It was at best merely a rocky trail winding along a shelf of the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz range, yet the only road between the sea and the inland valley. The hoof-prints of a whole century of zigzagging mules were impressed on the soil, regularly soaked by winter rains and dried by summer suns during that period; the occasional ruts of heavy, rude, wooden wheels–long obsolete–were still preserved and visible. Weather-worn boulders and ledges, lying in the unclouded glare of an August sky, radiated a quivering heat that was intolerable, even while above them the masts of gigantic pines rocked their tops in the cold southwestern trades from the unseen ocean beyond. A red, burning dust lay everywhere, as if the heat were slowly and visibly precipitating itself.

The creaking of wheels and axles, the muffled plunge of hoofs, and the cough of a horse in the dust thus stirred presently broke the profound woodland silence. Then a dirty white canvas-covered emigrant wagon slowly arose with the dust along the ascent. It was travel-stained and worn, and with its rawboned horses seemed to have reached the last stage of its journey and fitness. The only occupants, a man and a girl, appeared to be equally jaded and exhausted, with the added querulousness of discontent in their sallow and badly nourished faces. Their voices, too, were not unlike the creaking they had been pitched to overcome, and there was an absence of reserve and consciousness in their speech, which told pathetically of an equal absence of society.

“It’s no user talkin’! I tell ye, ye hain’t got no more sense than a coyote! I’m sick and tired of it, doggoned if I ain’t! Ye ain’t no more use nor a hossfly,–and jest ez hinderin’! It was along o’ you that we lost the stock at Laramie, and ef ye’d bin at all decent and takin’, we’d hev had kempany that helped, instead of laggin’ on yere alone!”

“What did ye bring me for?” retorted the girl shrilly. “I might hev stayed with Aunt Marty. I wasn’t hankerin’ to come.”

“Bring ye for?” repeated her father contemptuously; “I reckoned ye might he o’ some account here, whar wimmin folks is skeerce, in the way o’ helpin’,–and mebbe gettin’ yer married to some likely feller. Mighty much chance o’ that, with yer yaller face and skin and bones.”

“Ye can’t blame me for takin’ arter you, dad,” she said, with a shrill laugh, but no other resentment of his brutality.

“Ye want somebody to take arter you–with a club,” he retorted angrily. “Ye hear! Wot’s that ye’re doin’ now?”

She had risen and walked to the tail of the wagon. “Goin’ to get out and walk. I’m tired o’ bein’ jawed at.”

She jumped into the road. The act was neither indignant nor vengeful; the frequency of such scenes had blunted their sting. She was probably “tired” of the quarrel, and ended it rudely. Her father, however, let fly a Parthian arrow.

“Ye needn’t think I’m goin’ to wait for ye, ez I hev! Ye’ve got to keep tetch with the team, or get left. And a good riddance of bad rubbidge.”

In reply the girl dived into the underwood beside the trail, picked a wild berry or two, stripped a wand of young hazel she had broken off, and switching it at her side, skipped along on the outskirts of the wood and ambled after the wagon. Seen in the full, merciless glare of a Californian sky, she justified her father’s description; thin and bony, her lank frame outstripped the body of her ragged calico dress, which was only kept on her shoulders by straps,–possibly her father’s cast-off braces. A boy’s soft felt hat covered her head, and shadowed her only notable feature, a pair of large dark eyes, looking larger for the hollow temples which narrowed the frame in which they were set.