The Daughter Of Withersteen





"Lassiter, will you be my rider?" Jane had asked him.







"I reckon so," he had replied.







Few as the words were, Jane knew how infinitely much they



implied. She wanted him to take charge of her cattle and horse



and ranges, and save them if that were possible. Yet, though she



could not have spoken aloud all she meant, she was perfectly



honest with herself. Whatever the price to be paid, she must keep



Lassiter close to her; she must shield from him the man who had



led Milly Erne to Cottonwoods. In her fear she so controlled her



mind that she did not whisper this Mormon's name to her own soul,



she did not even think it. Besides, beyond this thing she regarded



as a sacred obligation thrust upon her, was the need of a helper,



of a friend, of a champion in this critical time. If she could rule



this gun-man, as Venters had called him, if she could even keep



him from shedding blood, what strategy to play his flame and his



presence against the game of oppression her churchmen were waging



against her? Never would she forget the effect on Tull and his



men when Venters shouted Lassiter's name. If she could not wholly



control Lassiter, then what she could do might put off the fatal



day.







One of her safe racers was a dark bay, and she called him Bells



because of the way he struck his iron shoes on the stones. When



Jerd led out this slender, beautifully built horse Lassiter



suddenly became all eyes. A rider's love of a thoroughbred shone



in them. Round and round Bells he walked, plainly weakening all



the time in his determination not to take one of Jane's favorite



racers.







"Lassiter, you're half horse, and Bells sees it already," said



Jane, laughing. "Look at his eyes. He likes you. He'll love you,



too. How can you resist him? Oh, Lassiter, but Bells can run!



It's nip and tuck between him and Wrangle, and only Black Star



can beat him. He's too spirited a horse for a woman. Take him.



He's yours."







"I jest am weak where a hoss's concerned," said Lassiter. "I'll



take him, an' I'll take your orders, ma'am."







"Well, I'm glad, but never mind the ma'am. Let it still be Jane."







From that hour, it seemed, Lassiter was always in the saddle,



riding early and late, and coincident with his part in Jane's



affairs the days assumed their old tranquillity. Her intelligence



told her this was only the lull before the storm, but her faith



would not have it so.







She resumed her visits to the village, and upon one of these she



encountered Tull. He greeted her as he had before any trouble



came between them, and she, responsive to peace if not quick to



forget, met him halfway with manner almost cheerful. He regretted



the loss of her cattle; he assured her that the vigilantes which



had been organized would soon rout the rustlers; when that had



been accomplished her riders would likely return to her.







"You've done a headstrong thing to hire this man Lassiter," Tull



went on, severely. "He came to Cottonwoods with evil intent."







"I had to have somebody. And perhaps making him my rider may turn



out best in the end for the Mormons of Cottonwoods."







"You mean to stay his hand?"







"I do--if I can."







"A woman like you can do anything with a man. That would be well,



and would atone in some measure for the errors you have made."







He bowed and passed on. Jane resumed her walk with conflicting



thoughts. She resented Elder Tull's cold, impassive manner that



looked down upon her as one who had incurred his just



displeasure. Otherwise he would have been the same calm,



dark-browed, impenetrable man she had known for ten years. In



fact, except when he had revealed his passion in the matter of



the seizing of Venters, she had never dreamed he could be other



than the grave, reproving preacher. He stood out now a strange,



secretive man. She would have thought better of him if he had



picked up the threads of their quarrel where they had parted. Was



Tull what he appeared to be? The question flung itself in-



voluntarily over Jane Withersteen's inhibitive habit of faith



without question. And she refused to answer it. Tull could not



fight in the open Venters had said, Lassiter had said, that her



Elder shirked fight and worked in the dark. Just now in this



meeting Tull had ignored the fact that he had sued, exhorted,



demanded that she marry him. He made no mention of Venters. His



manner was that of the minister who had been outraged, but who



overlooked the frailties of a woman. Beyond question he seemed



unutterably aloof from all knowledge of pressure being brought to



bear upon her, absolutely guiltless of any connection with secret



power over riders, with night journeys, with rustlers and



stampedes of cattle. And that convinced her again of unjust



suspicions. But it was convincement through an obstinate faith.



She shuddered as she accepted it, and that shudder was the



nucleus of a terrible revolt.







Jane turned into one of the wide lanes leading from the main



street and entered a huge, shady yard. Here were sweet-smelling



clover, alfalfa, flowers, and vegetables, all growing in happy



confusion. And like these fresh green things were the dozens of



babies, tots, toddlers, noisy urchins, laughing girls, a whole



multitude of children of one family. For Collier Brandt, the



father of all this numerous progeny, was a Mormon with four



wives.







The big house where they lived was old, solid, picturesque the



lower part built of logs, the upper of rough clapboards, with



vines growing up the outside stone chimneys. There were many



wooden-shuttered windows, and one pretentious window of glass



proudly curtained in white. As this house had four mistresses, it



likewise had four separate sections, not one of which



communicated with another, and all had to be entered from the



outside.







In the shade of a wide, low, vine-roofed porch Jane found



Brandt's wives entertaining Bishop Dyer. They were motherly



women, of comparatively similar ages, and plain-featured, and



just at this moment anything but grave. The Bishop was rather



tall, of stout build, with iron-gray hair and beard, and eyes of



light blue. They were merry now; but Jane had seen them when they



were not, and then she feared him as she had feared her father.







The women flocked around her in welcome.







"Daughter of Withersteen," said the Bishop, gaily, as he took her



hand, "you have not been prodigal of your gracious self of late.



A Sabbath without you at service! I shall reprove Elder Tull."







"Bishop, the guilt is mine. I'll come to you and confess," Jane



replied, lightly; but she felt the undercurrent of her words.







"Mormon love-making!" exclaimed the Bishop, rubbing his hands.



"Tull keeps you all to himself."







"No. He is not courting me."







"What? The laggard! If he does not make haste I'll go a-courting



myself up to Withersteen House."







There was laughter and further bantering by the Bishop, and then



mild talk of village affairs, after which he took his leave, and



Jane was left with her friend, Mary Brandt.







"Jane, you're not yourself. Are you sad about the rustling of the



cattle? But you have so many, you are so rich."







Then Jane confided in her, telling much, yet holding back her



doubts of fear.







"Oh, why don't you marry Tull and be one of us?







"But, Mary, I don't love Tull," said Jane, stubbornly.







"I don't blame you for that. But, Jane Withersteen, you've got to



choose between the love of man and love of God. Often we Mormon



women have to do that. It's not easy. The kind of happiness you



want I wanted once. I never got it, nor will you, unless you



throw away your soul. We've all watched your affair with Venters



in fear and trembling. Some dreadful thing will come of it. You



don't want him hanged or shot--or treated worse, as that Gentile



boy was treated in Glaze for fooling round a Mormon woman. Marry



Tull. It's your duty as a Mormon. You'll feel no rapture as his



wife--but think of Heaven! Mormon women don't marry for what they



expect on earth. Take up the cross, Jane. Remember your father



found Amber Spring, built these old houses, brought Mormons here,



and fathered them. You are the daughter of Withersteen!"







Jane left Mary Brandt and went to call upon other friends. They



received her with the same glad welcome as had Mary, lavished



upon her the pent-up affection of Mormon women, and let her go



with her ears ringing of Tull, Venters, Lassiter, of duty to God



and glory in Heaven.







"Verily," murmured Jane, "I don't know myself when, through all



this, I remain unchanged--nay, more fixed of purpose."







She returned to the main street and bent her thoughtful steps



toward the center of the village. A string of wagons drawn by



oxen was lumbering along. These "sage-freighters," as they were



called, hauled grain and flour and merchandise from Sterling, and



Jane laughed suddenly in the midst of her humility at the thought



that they were her property, as was one of the three stores for



which they freighted goods. The water that flowed along the path



at her feet, and turned into each cottage-yard to nourish garden



and orchard, also was hers, no less her private property because



she chose to give it free. Yet in this village of Cottonwoods,



which her father had founded and which she maintained she was not



her own mistress; she was not able to abide by her own choice of



a husband. She was the daughter of Withersteen. Suppose she



proved it, imperiously! But she quelled that proud temptation at



its birth.







Nothing could have replaced the affection which the village



people had for her; no power could have made her happy as the



pleasure her presence gave. As she went on down the street past



the stores with their rude platform entrances, and the saloons



where tired horses stood with bridles dragging, she was again



assured of what was the bread and wine of life to her--that she



was loved. Dirty boys playing in the ditch, clerks, teamsters,



riders, loungers on the corners, ranchers on dusty horses little



girls running errands, and women hurrying to the stores all



looked up at her coming with glad eyes.







Jane's various calls and wandering steps at length led her to the



Gentile quarter of the village. This was at the extreme southern



end, and here some thirty Gentile families lived in huts and



shacks and log-cabins and several dilapidated cottages. The



fortunes of these inhabitants of Cottonwoods could be read in



their abodes. Water they had in abundance, and therefore grass



and fruit-trees and patches of alfalfa and vegetable gardens.



Some of the men and boys had a few stray cattle, others obtained



such intermittent employment as the Mormons reluctantly tendered



them. But none of the families was prosperous, many were very



poor, and some lived only by Jane Withersteen's beneficence.







As it made Jane happy to go among her own people, so it saddened



her to come in contact with these Gentiles. Yet that was not



because she was unwelcome; here she was gratefully received by



the women, passionately by the children. But poverty and



idleness, with their attendant wretchedness and sorrow, always



hurt her. That she could alleviate this distress more now than



ever before proved the adage that it was an ill wind that blew



nobody good. While her Mormon riders were in her employ she had



found few Gentiles who would stay with her, and now she was able



to find employment for all the men and boys. No little shock was



it to have man after man tell her that he dare not accept her



kind offer.







"It won't do," said one Carson, an intelligent man who had seen



better days. "We've had our warning. Plain and to the point! Now



there's Judkins, he packs guns, and he can use them, and so can



the daredevil boys he's hired. But they've little responsibility.



Can we risk having our homes burned in our absence?"







Jane felt the stretching and chilling of the skin of her face as



the blood left it.







"Carson, you and the others rent these houses?" she asked.







"You ought to know, Miss Withersteen. Some of them are yours."







"I know?...Carson, I never in my life took a day's labor for rent



or a yearling calf or a bunch of grass, let alone gold."







"Bivens, your store-keeper, sees to that."







"Look here, Carson," went on Jane, hurriedly, and now her cheeks



were burning. "You and Black and Willet pack your goods and move



your families up to my cabins in the grove. They're far more



comfortable than these. Then go to work for me. And if aught



happens to you there I'll give you money--gold enough to leave



Utah!"







The man choked and stammered, and then, as tears welled into his



eyes, he found the use of his tongue and cursed. No gentle speech



could ever have equaled that curse in eloquent expression of what



he felt for Jane Withersteen. How strangely his look and tone



reminded her of Lassiter!







"No, it won't do," he said, when he had somewhat recovered



himself. "Miss Withersteen, there are things that you don't know,



and there's not a soul among us who can tell you."







"I seem to be learning many things, Carson. Well, then, will you



let me aid you--say till better times?"







"Yes, I will," he replied, with his face lighting up. "I see what



it means to you, and you know what it means to me. Thank you! And



if better times ever come, I'll be only too happy to work for



you."







"Better times will come. I trust God and have faith in man. Good



day, Carson."







The lane opened out upon the sage-inclosed alfalfa fields, and



the last habitation, at the end of that lane of hovels, was the



meanest. Formerly it had been a shed; now it was a home. The



broad leaves of a wide-spreading cottonwood sheltered the sunken



roof of weathered boards. Like an Indian hut, it had one floor.



Round about it were a few scanty rows of vegetables, such as the



hand of a weak woman had time and strength to cultivate. This



little dwelling-place was just outside the village limits, and



the widow who lived there had to carry her water from the nearest



irrigation ditch. As Jane Withersteen entered the unfenced yard a



child saw her, shrieked with joy, and came tearing toward her



with curls flying. This child was a little girl of four called



Fay. Her name suited her, for she was an elf, a sprite, a



creature so fairy-like and beautiful that she seemed



unearthly.







"Muvver sended for oo," cried Fay, as Jane kissed her, "an' oo



never tome."







"I didn't know, Fay; but I've come now."







Fay was a child of outdoors, of the garden and ditch and field,



and she was dirty and ragged. But rags and dirt did not hide her



beauty. The one thin little bedraggled garment she wore half



covered her fine, slim body. Red as cherries were her cheeks and



lips; her eyes were violet blue, and the crown of her childish



loveliness was the curling golden hair. All the children of



Cottonwoods were Jane Withersteen's friends, she loved them all.



But Fay was dearest to her. Fay had few playmates, for among the



Gentile children there were none near her age, and the Mormon



children were forbidden to play with her. So she was a shy, wild,



lonely child.







"Muvver's sick," said Fay, leading Jane toward the door of the



hut.







Jane went in. There was only one room, rather dark and bare, but



it was clean and neat. A woman lay upon a bed.







"Mrs. Larkin, how are you?" asked Jane, anxiously.







"I've been pretty bad for a week, but I'm better now."







"You haven't been here all alone--with no one to wait on you?"







"Oh no! My women neighbors are kind. They take turns coming in."







"Did you send for me?"







"Yes, several times."







"But I had no word--no messages ever got to me."







"I sent the boys, and they left word with your women that I was



ill and would you please come."







A sudden deadly sickness seized Jane. She fought the weakness, as



she fought to be above suspicious thoughts, and it passed,



leaving her conscious of her utter impotence. That, too, passed



as her spirit rebounded. But she had again caught a glimpse of



dark underhand domination, running its secret lines this time



into her own household. Like a spider in the blackness of night



an unseen hand had begun to run these dark lines, to turn and



twist them about her life, to plait and weave a web. Jane



Withersteen knew it now, and in the realization further coolness



and sureness came to her, and the fighting courage of her



ancestors.







"Mrs. Larkin, you're better, and I'm so glad," said Jane. "But



may I not do something for you--a turn at nursing, or send you



things, or take care of Fay?"







"You're so good. Since my husband's been gone what would have



become of Fay and me but for you? It was about Fay that I wanted



to speak to you. This time I thought surely I'd die, and I was



worried about Fay. Well, I'll be around all right shortly, but my



strength's gone and I won't live long. So I may as well speak



now. You remember you've been asking me to let you take Fay and



bring her up as your daughter?"







"Indeed yes, I remember. I'll be happy to have her. But I hope



the day--"







"Never mind that. The day'll come--sooner or later. I refused



your offer, and now I'll tell you why."







"I know why," interposed Jane. "It's because you don't want her



brought up as a Mormon."







"No, it wasn't altogether that." Mrs. Larkin raised her thin hand



and laid it appealingly on Jane's. "I don't like to tell you.



But--it's this: I told all my friends what you wanted. They know



you, care for you, and they said for me to trust Fay to you.



Women will talk, you know. It got to the ears of Mormons--gossip



of your love for Fay and your wanting her. And it came straight



back to me, in jealousy, perhaps, that you wouldn't take Fay as



much for love of her as because of your religious duty to bring



up another girl for some Mormon to marry."







"That's a damnable lie!" cried Jane Withersteen.







"It was what made me hesitate," went on Mrs. Larkin, "but I never



believed it at heart. And now I guess I'll let you--"







"Wait! Mrs. Larkin, I may have told little white lies in my life,



but never a lie that mattered, that hurt any one. Now believe me.



I love little Fay. If I had her near me I'd grow to worship her.



When I asked for her I thought only of that love....Let me prove



this. You and Fay come to live with me. I've such a big house,



and I'm so lonely. I'll help nurse you, take care of you. When



you're better you can work for me. I'll keep little Fay and bring



her up--without Mormon teaching. When she's grown, if she should



want to leave me, I'll send her, and not empty-handed, back to



Illinois where you came from. I promise you."







"I knew it was a lie," replied the mother, and she sank back upon



her pillow with something of peace in her white, worn face. "Jane



Withersteen, may Heaven bless you! I've been deeply grateful to



you. But because you're a Mormon I never felt close to you till



now. I don't know much about religion as religion, but your God



and my God are the same."





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