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The Withrow Water Right
by [?]


Lysander Sproul, driving his dun-colored mules leisurely toward the mesa, looked back now and then at the winery which crowned its low hill like a bit of fortification.

“If I’d really had any idee o’ gettin’ ahead o’ him,” he reflected, “or circumventin’ him an inch, I reckon I’d been more civil; it’s no more ‘n fair to be civil to a man when you’re gettin’ the best of ‘im; but I hain’t. I don’t s’pose Indian Pete’s yaller dog, standin’ ahead there in the road ready to bark at my team like mad, has any idee of eatin’ a mule, much less two, but all the same it’s a satisfaction to him to be sassy; an’ seein’ he’s limited in his means of entertainin’ hisself, I don’t begrudge him. And the Colonel don’t begrudge me. When a man has his coat pretty well wadded with greenbacks, he can stand a good deal o’ thumpin’.”

The ascent was growing rougher and more mountainous. Lysander put on the brake and stopped “to blow” his team. Whiffs of honey-laden air came from the stretch of chaparral on the slope behind him. He turned on the high spring-seat, and, dangling his long legs over the wagon-box, sent a far-reaching, indefinite gaze across the valley. There were broad acres of yellowing vineyard, fields of velvety young barley, orange-trees in dark orderly ranks, and here and there a peach orchard robbed of its leaves,–a cloud of tender maroon upon the landscape. Lysander collected his wandering glance and fixed it upon one of the pale-green barley-fields.

“It’s about there, I reckon. Of course the old woman’ll kick; but if the Colonel has laid out to do it he’ll do it, kickin’ or no kickin’. If he can’t buy her out or trade her out, he’ll freeze her out. Well, well, I ain’t a-carin’; she can do as she pleases.”

The man turned and took off the brake, and the mules, without further signal, resumed their journey. Boulders began to thicken by the roadside. The sun went down, and the air grew heavy with the soft, resinous mountain odors. Some one stepped from the shadow of a scraggy buckthorn in front of the team.

“Is that you, Sandy?”

It was a woman’s voice, but it came from a figure wearing a man’s hat and coat. Lysander stopped the mules.

“Why, Minervy! what’s up?”

“Oh, nothin’. I just walked a ways to meet you.” The woman climbed up beside her husband. “You’re later ‘n I ‘lowed you’d be. Something must ‘a’ kep’ you.”

“Yes, I come around by the winery. I saw Poindexter over t’ the Mission, an’ he said the old Colonel wanted to see me.”

“The old Colonel wanted to see you, Sandy?” The woman turned upon him anxiously in the yellow twilight. The rakishness of her attire was grotesquely at variance with her troubled voice and small, freckled face. “What did he want with you?”

“Well, he said he wanted me to help him make a trade with the old man,”–Lysander sent a short, explosive laugh through his nostrils; “an’ I told ‘im I reckoned he knowed that the old woman was the old man, up our way.”

“Oh, I’m glad you give it to ‘im that way, Sandy,” said the woman earnestly, rising to her habiliments. “Mother’ll be prouder ‘n a peacock of you. I hope you held your head high and sassed him right and left.” Mrs. Sproul straightened her manly back and raised her shrill, womanish voice nervously. “Oh, I hope you told him you’d stood at the cannon’s mouth before, an’ wasn’t afraid to face him or any other red-handed destroyer of his country’s flag. I hope you told him that, Sandy.”

“Well, I wasn’t to say brash,” returned her husband slowly and soothingly. “It wouldn’t do, Minervy; it wouldn’t do.” Lysander uncoiled his long braided lash and whipped off two or three spikes of the withering, perfumed sage. “I talked up to ‘im, though, middlin’ impident; but law! it didn’t hurt ‘im; he’s got a hide like a hypothenuse.”