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The Mystery Of The Hacienda.
by [?]

Dick Bracy gazed again at the Hacienda de los Osos, and hesitated. There it lay–its low whitewashed walls looking like a quartz outcrop of the long lazy hillside–unmistakably hot, treeless, and staring broadly in the uninterrupted Californian sunlight. Yet he knew that behind those blistering walls was a reposeful patio, surrounded by low-pitched verandas; that the casa was full of roomy corridors, nooks, and recesses, in which lurked the shadows of a century, and that hidden by the further wall was a lonely old garden, hoary with gnarled pear-trees, and smothered in the spice and dropping leaves of its baking roses. He knew that, although the unwinking sun might glitter on its red tiles, and the unresting trade winds whistle around its angles, it always kept one unvarying temperature and untroubled calm, as if the dignity of years had triumphed over the changes of ephemeral seasons. But would others see it with his eyes? Would his practical, housekeeping aunt, and his pretty modern cousin–

“Well, what do you say? Speak the word, and you can go into it with your folks to-morrow. And I reckon you won’t want to take anything either, for you’ll find everything there–just as the old Don left it. I don’t want it; the land is good enough for me; I shall have my vaqueros and rancheros to look after the crops and the cattle, and they won’t trouble you, for their sheds and barns will be two miles away. You can stay there as long as you like, and go when you choose. You might like to try it for a spell; it’s all the same to me. But I should think it the sort of thing a man like you would fancy, and it seems the right thing to have you there. Well,–what shall it be? Is it a go?”

Dick knew that the speaker was sincere. It was an offer perfectly characteristic of his friend, the Western millionaire, who had halted by his side. And he knew also that the slow lifting of his bridle-rein, preparatory to starting forward again, was the business-like gesture of a man who wasted no time even over his acts of impulsive liberality. In another moment he would dismiss the unaccepted offer from his mind–without concern and without resentment.

“Thank you–it is a go,” said Dick gratefully.

Nevertheless, when he reached his own little home in the outskirts of San Francisco that night, he was a trifle nervous in confiding to the lady, who was at once his aunt and housekeeper, the fact that he was now the possessor of a huge mansion in whose patio alone the little eight-roomed villa where they had lived contentedly might be casually dropped. “You see, Aunt Viney,” he hurriedly explained, “it would have been so ungrateful to have refused him–and it really was an offer as spontaneous as it was liberal. And then, you see, we need occupy only a part of the casa.”

“And who will look after the other part?” said Aunt Viney grimly. “That will have to be kept tidy, too; and the servants for such a house, where in heaven are they to come from? Or do they go with it?”

“No,” said Dick quickly; “the servants left with their old master, when Ringstone bought the property. But we’ll find servants enough in the neighborhood–Mexican peons and Indians, you know.”

Aunt Viney sniffed. “And you’ll have to entertain–if it’s a big house. There are all your Spanish neighbors. They’ll be gallivanting in and out all the time.”

“They won’t trouble us,” he returned, with some hesitation. “You see, they’re furious at the old Don for disposing of his lands to an American, and they won’t be likely to look upon the strangers in the new place as anything but interlopers.”

“Oh, that is it, is it?” ejaculated Aunt Viney, with a slight puckering of her lips. “I thought there was SOMETHING.”