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WHEN THE GODS INTERVENE
BY REBECCA N. PORTER
T'S THE FINEST ranch in the San Joaquin Valley," the girl cried, her eyes resting proudly upon the level stretch of vineyard. "Oh, wait," she begged, as the buggy turned into the broad avenue, "let's stop and look it all over again."
Douglas Neal, with a boyish laugh, drew the gray horses to a stand-still and swept a keen glance over the myriad rows of vines. Never had San Marcus seemed to him so beautiful, so rich with promise. As far as his eye could reach up each narrow aisle, stretched an unbroken succession of fruit-filled trays. Far over toward the west boundary line were piles of empty ones, but the men at work there were fast leveling these, and spreading more luscious clusters out to the September sun. Not a breath of breeze stirred: the still air was heavy with the sugary smell of half-dried grapes. The heat waves hov
ered over the amber bunches and beat against the blue dome of sky. Then suddenly the clang of the big ranch bell rang clear and shrill in the distance, sending its jerky note of invitation far across the fields. At its first sound, the whole crew of Japanese grape pickers, each armed with his knife, sprang into full view from behind the vines, as though like the army of the dragon's teeth they had sprouted from the earth. Neal gathered up his reins with an exclamation of surprise. "Why, I didn't know it was six o'clock. I guess we'd better be moving on."
"Yes," she admitted, "we will have to hurry. I promised that I would be home early to-night, but we never seem know where time goes, somehow, do we?"
"No, and we don't care, either," Douglas supplemented with happy unconcern. "So long as we're together, what difference does it make when we get anywhere? It's too grand to care for anything but just the relish of living."
"Oh, that's it," she answered, a suppressed fervor in her tone. "It's been perfect to-day, hasn't it? I love every inch of this country, the sounds of it, the smell of it. Yes," giving the light lap robe a little shake, "even this white dust that settles all over us whenever we stir abroad."
"And you'll love this part of it even more when it belongs to you," the man told her. "I hope," he added, with a glance at the clear sky, "that it will be a long time before that dust is changed to something else."
They had reached the end of the long avenue now, and he was pulling open the panel gate. When she had driven through he waited a moment to speak to his foreman, a burly Dane who was plodding by, a shovel on his shoulder, toward the house.
"Well, Oscar, things seem to be moving along all right so far; but I see we've only got twenty-three pickers; thought we were to have ten more men this morning."
The man dug his shovel into the soft earth, and half leaned upon it as he talked. "Yes, that's what I thought, too, Mr. Neal, but they didn't seem to show up. I'd counted on 'em, and the boss said he'd sure have 'em for me, but-I don't know what we're comin' to for help in this country," he finished, with gloomy irrele
picked right now, we'll stand a good chance of curing it all right before there's any prospect of rain."
"Yes," she admitted, a trifle dubiously. "But I do wish that you could have built a drier, Douglas. You would feel so much surer of things then?"
"Not so sure of some things as I am now," he answered, smiling down upon her. "A new house somehow makes me feel a lot surer of what I want than a drier would."
But she shook her head, and refused to respond to the banter of his tone. "Oh, I don't know about that," she said. "If you had a drier we might manage to live very comfortably in one corner of it, but we certainly can never cure the raisin crop in our-in the house."
"Well, I guess we won't have to make shift to that extent, my dear-not with a sun like this beating down upon us."
When they reached her home some twenty minutes later, they found supper already awaiting them. "Yes, you must come in, Douglas," a bright, dark-eyed little woman called to him from the front porch. "We've been waiting for you. Tie up to the rack there and one of the boys will take the team."
After supper he and Ruth went out to the hop arbor at the side of the house. It was a quaint octagon of trellis work with. a long seat running around four sides. Heavy sprays of the vine trailed over the door, like a curtain, and in among the broad leaves on the roof a wily mocker had hidden her nest. They brushed aside the over-hanging tendrils, and the girl broke off a soft green hop ball that had entangled itself in her hair. "When you were just a wee bud of a thing," she said, turning it gently in her hand, "we came out here, but we were not paying the least bit of attention to you. Then all the time that you were growing into what you are now, we were building out here on paper that wonderful house of ours. Look, Douglas, it's just beginning to turn yellow. Autumn is really coming."
"And by the time it is all yellow," the man answered, "there will be somebody living in the wonderful paper house. By the time it is quite ripe," he went on, as though talking to himself, "the crop will all be in, and the man will see his way
clear to really owning the paper house and all its surrounding acres. But not until all this is done shall the girl come to claim her own."
"As though that mortgage made any difference to the girl," Ruth cried, scornfully addressing the hop flower.
"But it makes a big difference to the man," he answered, and there was in his dark eyes a dogged determination.
She laughed at the tragedy of his tones. and crushed the soft ball into a fragrant pulp. "You talk as though paying off that trifling debt were the all-important thing of life."
"Why, isn't it?" he insisted, then went on more slowly. "No woman ever realizes quite how a man feels about things like that. Because you are willing to come to mortgage-burdened home is no reason why I should be willing to let you."
"Yes, I think I do appreciate your feelings about it, Douglas," she responded, and her voice was quite as serious now as his own, "but is a man's love always so near akin to pride, I wonder?"
They had argued this same question many times in like manner before, and it had always ended as it did now, with the man's emphatic declaration that nothing could make him forget his obligation to the woman that he loved.
It was late when they left the arbor and he bade her good-night. Driving briskly homeward over the level country road, he lived over again every sweet moment of the evening. Her last words seemed to ring in his ears, distinct and separate from all the rest: "You are big and strong and self-reliant; you don't really need me at all; you only want me, Douglas."
That he was all-sufficient in himself had seemed to her a thing so fine, so even enviable as she had looked up at him with those fathomless, trusting eyes. "Strong and self-reliant," he repeated the words to himself and they gave him a thrill of conscious pride. Well, that was as it should be, he told himself; it was a woman's privilege to lean.
The following days were crowded with work on San Marcus. Neal traveled from one end of the vast vineyard to the other, overseeing the last of the picking. If there was one half-filled tray over in some far corner of the place he was sure to
come upon it; so said the crew, who believed that he had supernatural powers of divination. Late in the week, the time for "turning" came, that moment so all-critical in the great drama of raisin drying. In twos now the crew went back over their first week's work, clapping an empty tray over the half-dried fruit and deftly turning the under side to the sun. Douglas seemed everywhere at once now, urging the men to careful work, warning them against wasting so many of the clusters.
"No sense in this," he said one day, gathering up a great handful of ruined goods which the men had spilled and ground into the soft earth; "it's pure carelessness. I declare enough goes to waste on this place every year to support a family in luxury,” he went on as Oscar approached, pencil in hand down the long
The foreman nodded with abstracted eyes fixed upon the last group of trays. He was counting them to compare at night with the estimate of the Japanese contractor. When he had noted down the number he turned abruptly to Neal. "What's the weather report from San Francisco to-day?" he asked.
"Fair to-night and to-morrow," the other answered. "I just got a 'phone message before I left the house."
The foreman started upon his next row. He was a man of few words, and he never wasted comment upon satisfactory news. "Ten days more of this will fix us all right," Neal called cheerily after him, and the other, without looking back, nodded assent.
Toward the close of the afternoon, tired and perspiring, Douglas took a short cut to the house. "If I can just lose myself for ten minutes before supper," he told himself, "I'll feel like a different man." But at the end of the long driveway he saw the Japanese contractor in his buggy coming toward him, and with an exclamation of impatience he stopped to wait.
The Japanese drew his horse to a walk. and stopped. Douglas stood with. hand upon the front wheel of the smart buggy and the contractor leaned forward playing idly with his whip as he talked. For any one who knew conditions in that country, there was in this very reversal of position a world of significance.
but he eyed the other man with the suspicion born of past experience. “They want to go into town for some Japanese hullabaloo, do they?" he said. "Well, I don't want to be left with no men in camp. You tell them that half of them have got to stay here."
"You don't need them to-night," the boss suggested, "and by to-morrow morning
"Of course I don't need them to-night," Neal cut in. "But those men are mine until I get this crop off my hands, and I don't propose to have the whole gang move off and leave me here helpless if anything should happen."
In his anxiety his voice had grown quite fierce, and the boss gathered up his reins. "Oh, all right, Mr. Neil, I fix it as you say," he hastened to assure him. “I go now to tell the boys."
"Well, you'd better fix it and I'll send my foreman up to the camp after supper to see if you have."
He turned toward the bunk house and stamped wearily up the steps. It was desolate enough, and he stopped with his hand on the screen door to glance at the pretty red bungalow half-hidden from view on the other side of the driveway by spreading mulberry trees. Then he sank down on the lower step and gazed at it through half-shut eyes. Slowly the anxious, worried lines left his face, and a smile curved the corners of his mouth. "Makes me feel rested all over to have visions like that," he muttered. "Some day it'll all come true; that's the best of it. Hope I'll have sand enough to stick this out, though, until I've got things into shape and am ready for her; no sense in a man's making a fool of himself just because he's in love." He rose and stalked into the cheerless bunk house and the little god of love who had overheard his last remark, folded his white wings over
his breast and laughed long and cynically.
Half an hour later, when the men were busy with the night chores in the barn. yard, Oscar stopped at the house to ask about some lost trays. "I hear there's a big crew of Japs came in this morning from Fresno," he said, when the matter had been settled. "They're out of a job now, I guess, since pickin' season's over there."
"Yes," Neal answered absently. His mind was still upon the missing trays. "Where are they camping?"
"Don't know exactly; somewhere out out near Mansfield's, I think. Well, they needn't stay out of a job long if they don't want to. There's sure plenty for them to do in this country."
He went to bed early that night and to sleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow. There is something in the San Joaquin night air that makes a man sleep, and for several hours he lay upon his cot, a motionless, inert heap. Then all at once he found himself wide awake, staring at the ceiling. It was as though some one had called to him, but he was sure that the men were all asleep. The next moment to his ears, now alert, came a different sound; not a voice, indeed, but an insistent patter, patter, patter on the roof. For a brief minute he lay there, paralyzed with amazement, telling himself that he was dreaming. It couldn't be rain; the sun had looked a little hazy last night, but the weather report had- He sprang out of bed and tore at the blind. that was rain that fell upon his outstretched hand. Without a word, he began flinging on his clothes. A lantern, he remembered, was on the back porch. Groping about madly in the darkness, his hand touched it, lifted it, empty. More precious time lost in finding the kerosene can. "Nobody ever tends to anything on this place unless you tell them to," he muttered savagely, shaking the can and spilling a river of oil over the pantry floor.
The foreman was out when he ran to the bunk-house again. "Hurry to the Jap camp," Neal yelled, and disappeared inside to get his overcoat. Breathless and panting he emerged, tugging at the coat, the lantern swinging between his teeth.
The camp was dark and still. In the feeble light he saw Oscar standing dazed in the open doorway. Then and not until then did the full realization burst upon him. There were no men!
"Not even half of them!" he yelled, peering into the heavy darkness.
"They were all here when I came up at eight o'clock last night," the foreman murmured, his slow brain hardly taking in the suddenness of the situation.
"Go across the road to the Arnold place and see if they can't let us have a few of their men," Douglas ordered. "They're ahead with their work, and have got some of their goods boxed. Tell them we've got to stack. Hurry, man, don't stand there staring at me.'
Then he tore back to the house and seized the telephone receiver. "Hello, Central, give me the Ray ranch-oh, I don't know the number. Hurry up."
There was a long wait, and he could hear the steady whirr of the Ray's callbell. A woman's voice finally came to him over the wire. "No, the boss isn't here; everybody's gone out to stack, I think; why, I don't know whether there are any extra men or not."
He cut her off rudely, slamming up the receiver and muttering something about the folly of expecting a woman to know anything. He tried the Japanese headquarters in town to get news of his own crew, but there was no response. The rain was falling in big drops when he went out again, and the dust of the driveway was already coated with a thin crust of mud.
"Our only hope is the Arnold men," he told himself. "They're good neighbors, and if they can half get along they'll send us help. Ten men could do a good deal; with fifteen we could stack about half the stuff."
He began with frenzied haste to stack up a few of the trays on the row nearest to him, impelled by a fierce desire for action which forces a man to whom time is vital to get out of a slow crawling car and run ahead. One man working in a sixty-acre vineyard! The grimness of it brought a drawn smile to his face. "Oh, these raisin growers," he cried, "who sweat and toil a whole year for a crop, and then lose it all in a single night."
The rain drops splashed against his
shabby black overcoat and ran in little streamlets down his boot-legs. Once he paused, straining under the heavy trays, and swept his despairing eyes around the boundaries of the vineyard. Oh, in such a little while it would be too late to save any of that hard-earned crop, lying shelterless under the traitor sky! Then through the thick darkness he made out a wagon standing at the West gate. The next moment there was a heavy step behind him, and Oscar ran by to open the panel. He had got the men! Douglas followed, swinging the light, which cast its feeble glimmer a few feet in advance. He saw the big Dane swing open the gate and the men pile out, separating at once into couples and seizing the first trays at hand. He stopped still and ran his eye them. Four, six, ten, fourteen, eighteen, twenty-four, twenty-six. There were thirty, at least. The foreman had taken his place among the first, and was already half way up his row. Neal beckoned to the last of the crew and they set to work. Neither of them spoke, but under their deft hands, the piles mounted up and up, each tray of fruit sheltered by the one above, and an inverted empty tray on top. The rain was falling in a heavy shower now, and black clouds poised themselves overhead like vultures who at a given signal would swoop down upon their prey. Once the foreman passing Douglas, and glancing at his set face, offered the only form of sympathy of which his nature was capable. "It's cursed luck," he muttered, "an' havin' no drier, too."
Drier! That word seemed to Neal to add the only wanting drop to his cup of bitterness. The vacant red bungalow rose before his eyes. "I think we can take five of these at a time," he said to his helper.
Thus they toiled all the long night, and six o'clock found the vineyard a of neat wooden houses that seemed to have sprung up mushroom-like during the night. With the first grey streaks of dawn the rain had gradually ceased to fall, and the air was rich and fragrant now with the new life of a first rain. The crew came up to the bunkhouse for coffee, while Neal sitting on the steps, made a hasty estimate of their "time."
"How much an hour did you agree with them for, Oscar?"
The foreman had sunk heavily down on the step below him, and was mopping his moist forehead, his breath coming in steamy gasps. He turned upon Neal a look of slow surprise. "Why, I didn't hire 'em. Thought they were the men you got by telephone; the driver said that somebody on the Mansfield's place had told 'em to come."
The pencil dropped from Neal's hand and rolled slowly along the porch. He sat staring after it with unseeing eyes. It was she, then, who had sent him help in the terrible crisis of the night. He wondered now why he had not known it at once, for when in the past had she not been ready with her suggestions and her practical ideas to tide him over a critical or perplexing situation. As he sat there now, a pitiful, lonely figure in his mudstreaked overcoat, a new appreciation of her flooded his whole being and brought the hot tears to his eyes. He got up abruptly and stumbled toward the barn. "You'd better come in and have a cup of coffee, Mr. Neal," the foreman called after him, but he shook his head.
"No, I'm going away for a little while," he called back over his shoulder. "Tell the men that I'll settle with them at noon."
He found her in the garden when he drove up, and she came to meet him, her grey eyes full of anxious sympathy. "Don't try to tell me anything until you have gotten warn and dry by the fire," she commanded, but he waved away the suggestion and drew her toward the arbor where the heavy foliage glistened in the faint sunlight. "No, no; I want to stay out here; I want to tell you-something else."
She waited, but he seemed unable to go on. "The rain was terrible," she began gently, "but things might have been so much worse. It's such a fine raisin year; why, even damaged goods are saleable, and father says that the winery is going to pay fair prices for the second crop. There is no reason why you should feel discouraged."
Never had she seemed to him so dear, as when now she struggled to find words to comfort him for what she deemed the hardest part of his trial. With a choking little cry he drew her to him, murmuring