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Jane







Part of: The Estray
From: The Branding Iron

After that night, there began a sort of persecution, skillfully
conducted by Jasper and Betty, against the ferocity of Jane. It was a
persecution impossible to imagine in any other setting, even the social
simplicity of Lazy-Y found itself a trifle amused. For Jasper, the
stately Jewish figure, would carry pails of water for Jane from the
well to the kitchen, would help her in the vegetable garden, and to
straighten out her recalcitrant stove-pipe; Betty would put on an apron
a mile too large, to wash dishes and shell peas. She would sit on the
kitchen table swinging her long, childlike legs and chatter amiably.
Jasper talked, too, to the virago, talked delightfully, about horses
and dogs,--he had a charming gift of humorous observation,--talked
about hunting and big-game shooting, about trapping, about travel, and,
at last, about plays. Undoubtedly Jane listened. Sometimes she laughed.
Once in a while she ejaculated, musically, "Well!" Occasionally she
swore.

One afternoon he met her riding home from an errand to a neighboring
ranch, and, turning his horse, rode with her. In worn corduroy skirt,
flannel shirt, and gray sombrero, she looked like a handsome, haggard
boy, and, that afternoon, there was a certain unusual wistfulness in
her eyes, and her mouth had relaxed a little from its bitterness.
Perhaps it was the beauty of a clear, keen summer day; without doubt,
also, she was touched by the courteous pleasure of his greeting and by
his giving up his ride in order to accompany her. She even unbent from
her silence and, for the first time, really talked to him. And she
spoke, too, in a new manner, using her beautiful voice with beautiful
carefulness. It was like a master-musician who, after a long illness,
takes up his beloved instrument and tentatively tests his shaken
powers. Jasper had much ado to keep his surprise to himself, for the
rough ranch girl could speak pure enough English if she would.

"You and your wife are leaving soon?" she asked him, and, when he
nodded, she gave a sigh. "I'll be missing you," she said, throwing
away her brusquerie like a rag with which she was done. "You've been
company for me. You've made use of lots of patience and courage, but I
have really liked it. I've not got the ways of being sociable and I
don't know that I want ever to get them. I am not seeking for friends.
There isn't another person on the ranch that would dare talk to me as
you and Mrs. Morena have talked. They don't know anything about me
here and I don't mean that they should know." She paused, then gave
way to an impulse of confidence. "One of the boys asked me to marry
him. He came and shouted it through the window and I caught him with a
pan of water." She sighed. "I don't know rightly if he meant it for a
joke or not, but the laugh wasn't on me."

Jasper controlled his laughter, then saw the dry humor of her eyes and
lips and let out his mirth.

"Why, sir," said Jane, "you'd be surprised at the foolishness of men.
Sometimes it seems that, just for pure contrariness, they want to
marry her that least wants them about. The day I came tramping into
this valley, I stopped for food at the ranch of an old bachelor down
yonder at the ford. And he invited me to be his wife while I was
drinking a glass of water from his well. He told me how much money he
had and said he'd start my stove for me winter mornings. There's a
good husband! And he was sure kind to me even when I told him 'no.' 'T
was that same evening that the boy from Lazy-Y rode in and claimed me
for a cook. Mr. Yarnall is a trusting man. He took me and didn't ask
any questions. I told him I was 'Jane' and that I wasn't planning to
let him know more. He hasn't asked me another question since. He's a
gentleman, I figure it, and he's kind of quiet himself about what he
was before he came to this country. He's a man of fifty and he has
lots back of him only he's taken a fresh start." She sighed, "Folks
like you and Betty seem awfully open-hearted. It's living in cities, I
suppose, where every one knows every one else so well."

This astonishing picture of the candid simplicity of New York's social
life absorbed Jasper's attention for some time.

"Wouldn't you like to live in a city, Jane?"

She laughed her short, boyish "Hoo!" "It isn't what I would like, Mr.
Morena," she said. "Why, I'd like to see the world. I would like to be
that fellow who was condemned to wander all over the earth and never
to die. He was a Jew, too, wasn't he?"

Jasper flushed. People were not in the habit of making direct
reference to his nationality, and, being an Israelite who had early
cut himself off with dislike from his own people and cultivated the
society of Gentiles, "a man without a country," he was acutely
sensitive.

"The Wandering Jew? Yes. Where did you ever hear of him?"

"I read his story," she answered absently; "an awful long one, but
interesting, about lots of people, by Eugene Sue."

Jasper's lips fell apart and he stared. She had spoken unwittingly and
he could see that she was not thinking of him, that she was far away,
staring beyond her horse's head into the broad, sunset-brightened
west.

"Where were you schooled?" he asked her.

He had brought her back and her face stiffened. She gave him a
startled, almost angry look, dug her heels into her horse and broke
into a gallop; nor could he win from her another word.

A few days before he left, he took Yarnall into his confidence. At
first the rancher would do nothing but laugh. "Jane on the boards!
That's a notion!" followed by explosion after explosion of mirth. The
Jew waited, patient, pliant, smiling, and then enumerated his reasons.
He talked to Yarnall for an hour, at the end of which time, Yarnall,
his eyes still twinkling, sent for Jane.

The two men sat in a log-walled room, known as the office. Yarnall's
big desk crowded a stove. There was no other furniture except shelves
and a box seat beneath a window. Jasper sat on the end of the desk,
swinging his slim, well-booted leg; Yarnall, stocky, gray, shabby,
weather-beaten, leaned back in his wicker chair. The door which Jasper
faced was directly behind Yarnall. When Jane opened it, he turned.

The girl looked grim and a little pale. She was evidently frightened.
This summons from Yarnall suggested dismissal or reproof. She came
around to face him and stood there, looking fierce and graceful, her
head lowered, staring gloomily at him from under her brows. To Jasper
she gave not so much as a glance.

"Well, Jane, I fancy I shall have to let you go," said Yarnall. He was
not above tormenting the wild-cat. Female ferocity always excites the
teasing boy in a man. "You're getting too ambitious for us. You see,
once these rich New Yorkers take you up, you're no more use to a plain
ranchman like me."

"What are you drivin' at?" asked Jane.

"Do let me explain it to her, Yarnall!" Jasper snapped his elastic
fingers, color had risen to his face, and he looked annoyed. "Miss
Jane, won't you sit down?"

Jane turned her deep, indignant eyes upon him. "Are you and your wife
the rich New Yorkers he says are takin' me up?"

"No, no. He's joking. This is a serious business. It's of vital
importance to me and it ought to be of vital importance to you. Please
do sit down!"

Jane took a long step back and sat down on the settle under the long,
horizontal window. She folded her hands on her knee and looked up at
Morena. She had transferred her attention completely to him. Yarnall
watched them. He was an Englishman of much experience and this picture
of the skillful, cultivated, handsome Jew angling deftly for the
gaunt, young savage diverted him hugely. He screwed up his eyes to get
a picture of it.

"I am a producer and manager of plays," said Jasper, "which means that
I take a play written by a more gifted man and arrange it for the
stage. Have you ever seen a play?"

"No, sir."

"But you have some idea what they are?"

"Yes. I have read them. Shakespeare wrote quite a lot of that kind of
talking pieces, didn't he?"

Jasper was less surprised than Yarnall. "At present I have a play on
my hands which is a very brilliant and promising piece of work, but
which I have been unable to produce for lack of a heroine. There isn't
an actress on my list that can take the part and do it justice. Now,
Miss Jane, I believe that with some training you could take it to
perfection. My wife and I would like to take you to New York, paying
all your expenses, of course, and put you into training at once. It
would take a year's hard work to get you fitted for the part. Then
next fall we could bring out the play and I think I can promise you
success and fame and wealth in no small measure. I don't know you very
well; I don't know whether or not you are ambitious; but I do know
that every woman must love beauty and ease and knowledge and
experience. For what else," he smiled, "did Eve eat the apple? All
these you can have if you will let us take you East. Of course, if I
find you cannot take this part, I will hold myself accountable for
you. I will not let you be a loser in any way by the experiment. With
your beauty"--Yarnall fell back in his chair and gaped from the
excited speaker to the silent listener--"and your extraordinary voice,
and your magnetism, you must be especially fitted for a career of some
kind. I promise to find you your career."

Every drop of blood had fallen from Jane's face and the rough hands on
her knee were locked together.

"What part," she asked in a quick, low voice, "is this that you think
I could learn to do?"

Jasper changed his position. He came nearer and spoke more rapidly.
"It is the story of a girl, a savage girl, whom a man takes up and
trains. He trains her as a professional might train a lioness. It is a
passion with him to break spirits and shape them to his will. He
trains her with coaxing and lashing--not actual lashing, though I
believe in one place he does come near to beating her--and he gets her
broken so that she lies at his feet and eats out of his hand. All
this, you understand, while he's an exile from his own world. Then, in
the second act,--that is the second part of the play,--he takes his
tamed lioness back to civilization. They go to London and there the
woman does his training infinite credit. She is extraordinarily
beautiful; she is civilized, successful, courted. Her eccentricities
only add to her charm. So it goes on very prettily for a while. Then
he makes a mistake. He blunders very badly. He gives his lioness cause
for jealousy and--to come to the point--she flies at his throat. You
see, he hadn't really tamed her. She was under the skin, a lioness, a
beast, at heart."

Jasper had been absorbed in the plot and had not noticed Jane, but
Yarnall for several minutes had been leaning forward, his hands
tightened on the arms of his chair. The instant Jasper stopped he held
up his hand.

"Quiet, Jane," he said softly as a man might speak to a plunging
horse. "Steady!"

Jane got to her feet. She was very white. She put up her hand and
pressed the back of it against her forehead and from under this hand
she looked at the two men with eyes of such astonished pain and beauty
as they could never forget.

"Yes," she said presently; "that's something I could do."

At once Jasper hastened to retrieve his error. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I've
been horribly clumsy. Do forgive me. Do let me explain. I didn't mean
that you were a wild--"

She let the hand fall and held it up to stop his speech. "I'm not
taking offense, Mr. Morena," she said. "You say you arrange plays and
that you have been seeking for some one to play that girl, that
lioness-girl who wasn't rightly tamed, though the man had done his
worst to break her?"

Jasper nodded with a puzzled, anxious air. For all his skill and
subtlety, he could not interpret her tone.

"And you think I'm beautiful?"

"My dear child, I know you are," said he. "You try to disguise it. And
I know that in many other ways you disguise yourself. I think you make
a great mistake. Your work is hard and rough--"

She smiled. "I'm not complaining of my work," she said. "It's rough
and so am I. Oh, yes, I'm real, true rough. I was born to roughness
and raised to it. I'm not anything I don't seem, Mr. Morena. I've had
rough travel all my days, only--only--" She sat down again, twisting
her hands painfully in her apron and bending her face down from the
sight of the two men. The line of her long, bent neck was a beautiful
thing to see. She spoke low and rapidly, holding down her emotion,
though she could not control all the exquisite modulations of her
voice. "There's only one part of my travel that I want to forget and
that's the one smooth bit. And it's hateful to me and you've been
reminding me of it. I must tell you now that I'd rather be burnt by a
white-hot iron"--here she gave him a wide and horrified look like a
child who speaks of some dreadful remembered punishment--"than do that
thing you've asked of me. I hate everything you've been telling me
about. I don't want to be beautiful. I don't want any one to be
telling me such things. I don't want to be any different from what I
am now. This is my real self. It is. I hate beauty. I hate it. I'm not
good enough to love it. Beauty and learning and--and music--"

Her head had been bending lower and lower, her voice rocking under its
weight of restrained anguish. On the word "music" she dropped her head
to her knees and was silent.

"I can't talk no more," she said, after a moment, and she stood up and
ran out of the room.

"I'll be d----d!" swore Yarnall.

But Jasper stood, his face pale, smiting one hand into the other.

"I feel that I, at least, deserve to be," he said.





Next: Flight

Previous: Morena's Wife



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