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The Judgment Of Bolinas Plain
by [?]

The wind was getting up on the Bolinas Plain. It had started the fine alkaline dust along the level stage road, so that even that faint track, the only break in the monotony of the landscape, seemed fainter than ever. But the dust cloud was otherwise a relief; it took the semblance of distant woods where there was no timber, of moving teams where there was no life. And as Sue Beasley, standing in the doorway of One Spring House that afternoon, shading her sandy lashes with her small red hand, glanced along the desolate track, even HER eyes, trained to the dreary prospect, were once or twice deceived.

“Sue!”

It was a man’s voice from within. Sue took no notice of it, but remained with her hand shading her eyes.

“Sue! Wot yer yawpin’ at thar?”

“Yawpin'” would seem to have been the local expression for her abstraction, since, without turning her head, she answered slowly and languidly: “Reckoned I see’d som’ un on the stage road. But ’tain’t nothin’ nor nobody.”

Both voices had in their accents and delivery something of the sadness and infinite protraction of the plain. But the woman’s had a musical possibility in its long-drawn cadence, while the man’s was only monotonous and wearying. And as she turned back into the room again, and confronted her companion, there was the like difference in their appearance. Ira Beasley, her husband, had suffered from the combined effects of indolence, carelessness, misadventure, and disease. Two of his fingers had been cut off by a scythe, his thumb and part of his left ear had been blown away by an overcharged gun; his knees were crippled by rheumatism, and one foot was lame from ingrowing nails,–deviations that, however, did not tend to correct the original angularities of his frame. His wife, on the other hand, had a pretty figure, which still retained–they were childless–the rounded freshness of maidenhood. Her features were irregular, yet not without a certain piquancy of outline; her hair had the two shades sometimes seen in imperfect blondes, and her complexion the sallowness of combined exposure and alkaline assimilation.

She had lived there since, an angular girl of fifteen, she had been awkwardly helped by Ira from the tail-board of the emigrant wagon in which her mother had died two weeks before, and which was making its first halt on the Californian plains, before Ira’s door. On the second day of their halt Ira had tried to kiss her while she was drawing water, and had received the contents of the bucket instead,–the girl knowing her own value. On the third day Ira had some conversation with her father regarding locations and stock. On the fourth day this conversation was continued in the presence of the girl; on the fifth day the three walked to Parson Davies’ house, four miles away, where Ira and Sue were married. The romance of a week had taken place within the confines of her present view from the doorway; the episode of her life might have been shut in in that last sweep of her sandy lashes.

Nevertheless, at that moment some instinct, she knew not what, impelled her when her husband left the room to put down the dish she was washing, and, with the towel lapped over her bare pretty arms, to lean once more against the doorpost, lazily looking down the plain. A cylindrical cloud of dust trailing its tattered skirt along the stage road suddenly assaulted the house, and for an instant enveloped it. As it whirled away again something emerged, or rather dropped from its skirts behind the little cluster of low bushes which encircled the “One Spring.” It was a man.

“Thar! I knew it was suthin’,” she began aloud, but the words somehow died upon her lips. Then she turned and walked towards the inner door, wherein her husband had disappeared,–but here stopped again irresolutely. Then she suddenly walked through the outer door into the road and made directly for the spring. The figure of a man crouching, covered with dust, half rose from the bushes when she reached them. She was not frightened, for he seemed utterly exhausted, and there was a singular mixture of shame, hesitation, and entreaty in his broken voice as he gasped out:–