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The Wizard’s Daughter
by [?]

There had been a norther during the day, and at sunset the valley, seen from Dysart’s cabin on the mesa, was a soft blur of golden haze. The wind had hurled the yellow leaves from the vineyard, exposing the gnarled deformity of the vines, and the trailing branches of the pepper-trees had swept their fallen berries into coral reefs on the southerly side.

A young man with a delicate, discontented face sat on the porch of the Dysart claim cabin, looking out over the valley. A last gust of lukewarm air strewed the floor with scythe-shaped eucalyptus-leaves, and Mrs. Dysart came out with her broom to sweep them away.

She was a large woman, with a crease at her waist that buried her apron-strings, and the little piazza creaked ominously as she walked about. The invalid got up with a man’s instinctive distrust of a broom, and began to move away.

“Don’t disturb yourself, Mr. Palmerston,” she said, waving him back into his chair with one hand, and speaking in a large, level voice, as if she were quelling a mob,–“don’t disturb yourself; I won’t raise any dust. Does the north wind choke you up much?”

“Oh, no,” answered the young fellow, carelessly; “it was a rather more rapid change of air than I bargained for, but I guess it’s over now.”

“Sick folks generally think the north wind makes them nervous. Some of them say it’s the electricity; but I think it’s because most of ’em’s men-folks, and being away from their families, they naturally blame things on the weather.”

Mrs. Dysart turned her ample back toward her hearer, and swept a leaf-laden cobweb from the corner of the window.

The young man’s face relaxed.

“I don’t think it made me nervous,” he said. “But then, I’m not very ill. I’m out here for my mother’s health. She threatened to go into a decline if I didn’t come.”

“Well, you’ve got a consumptive build,” said Mrs. Dysart, striking her broom on the edge of the porch, “and you’re light-complected; that’s likely to mean scrofula. You’d ought to be careful. California’s a good deal of a hospital, but it don’t do to depend too much on the climate. It ain’t right; it’s got to be blessed to your use.”

Palmerston smiled, and leaned his head against the redwood wall of the cabin. Mrs. Dysart creaked virtuously to and fro behind her broom.

“Isn’t that Mr. Dysart’s team?” asked the young man, presently, looking down the valley.

His companion walked to the edge of the porch and pushed back her sunbonnet to look.

“Yes,” she announced, “that’s Jawn; he’s early.”

She piled her cushiony hands on the end of the broom-handle, and stood still, gazing absently at the approaching team.

“I hope your mother’s a Christian woman,” she resumed, with a sort of corpulent severity.

The young man’s face clouded, and then cleared again whimsically.

“I really never inquired,” he said lightly; “but I am inclined to think she is. She is certainly not a pagan.”

“You spoke as if she was a good deal wrapped up in you,” continued his hostess, addressing herself unctuously to the landscape. “I was thinkin’ she’d need something to sustain her if you was to be taken away. There’s nothing but religion that can prepare us for whatever comes. I wonder who that Jawn’s a-bringin’ now,” she broke off suddenly, holding one of her fat hands above her eyes and leaning forward with a start. “He does pick up the queerest lot. I just held my breath the other day when I saw him fetchin’ you. I’d been wantin’ a boarder all summer, and kind of lookin’ for one, but I wasn’t no more ready for you than if you’d been measles. It does seem sometimes as if men-folks take a satisfaction in seein’ how they can put a woman to.”

Mrs. Dysart wabbled heavily indoors, where she creaked about unresignedly, putting things to rights. Palmerston closed his eyes and struggled with a smile that kept breaking into a noiseless laugh. He had a fair, high-bred face, and his smile emphasized its boyishness.