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Shandon Waters
by [?]

“For mercy’s sakes, here comes Shandon Waters!” said Jane Dinwoodie, of the post-office, leaving her pigeonholes to peer through the one small window of that unpretentious building. “Mother, here’s Shandon Waters driving into town with the baby!” breathed pretty Mary Dickey, putting an awed face into the sitting-room. “I declare that looks terrible like Shandon!” ejaculated Johnnie Larabee, straightening up at her wash-tubs and shading her eyes with her hand. “Well, what on earth brought her up to town!” said all Deaneville, crowding to the windows and doorways and halting the march of the busy Monday morning to watch a mud-spattered cart come bumping up and down over the holes in the little main street.

The woman–or girl, rather, for she was but twenty–who sat in the cart was in no way remarkable to the eye. She had a serious, even sullen face, and a magnificent figure, buttoned just now into a tan ulster that looked curiously out of keeping with her close, heavy widow’s bonnet and hanging veil. Sprawled luxuriously in her lap, with one fat, idle little hand playing above her own gauntleted one on the reins, was a splendid child something less than a year old, snugly coated and capped against the cool air of a California February. She watched him closely as she drove, not moving her eyes from his little face even for a glance at the village street.

Poor Dan Waters had been six months in his grave, now, and this was the first glimpse Deaneville had had of his widow. For an unbroken half year she had not once left the solitude of the big ranch down by the marsh, or spoken to any one except her old Indian woman servant and the various “hands” in her employ.

She had been, in the words of Deaneville, “sorta nutty” since her husband’s death. Indeed, poor Shandon had been “sorta nutty” all her life. Motherless at six, and allowed by her big, half civilized father to grow up as wild as the pink mallow that fringed the home marshes, she was regarded with mingled horror and pity by the well-ordered Deaneville matrons. Jane Dinwoodie and Mary Dickey could well remember the day she was brought into the district school, her mutinous black eyes gleaming under a shock of rough hair, her clumsy little apron tripping her with its unaccustomed strings. The lonely child had been frantic for companionship, and her direct, even forceful attempts at friendship had repelled and then amused the Deaneville children. As unfortunate chance would have it, it was shy, spoiled, adored little Mary Dickey that Shandon instantly selected for especial worship, and Mary, already bored by admiration, did not like it. But the little people would have adjusted matters in their own simple fashion presently had they been allowed to do so. It was the well-meant interference of the teacher that went amiss. Miss Larks explained to the trembling little newcomer that she mustn’t smile at Mary, that she mustn’t leave her seat to sit with Mary: it was making poor Mary cry.

Shandon listened to her with rising emotion, a youthful titter or two from different parts of the room pointing the moral. When the teacher had finished, she rose with a sudden scream of rage, flung her new slate violently in one direction, her books in another, and departed, kicking the stove over with a well-directed foot as she left. Thus she became a byword to virtuous infancy, and as the years went by, and her wild beauty and her father’s wealth grew apace, Deaneville grew less and less charitable in its judgment of her. Shandon lived in a houseful of men, her father’s adored companion and greatly admired by the rough cattle men who came yearly to buy his famous stock.

When her father died, a little wave of pity swept over Deaneville, and more than one kind-hearted woman took the five-mile drive down to the Bell Ranch ready to console and sympathize. But no one saw her. The girl, eighteen now, clung more to her solitude than ever, spending whole days and nights in lonely roaming over the marsh and the low meadows, like some frantic sick animal.