Old man Bobo was the sole survivor of a once famous trio. Two out of the three, Doc Dickson and Pap Spooner, had passed to the shades, and the legend ran that when their disembodied spirits reached the banks of Styx, the ruling passion of their lives asserted itself for the last time. They demurred loudly, impatiently, at the exorbitant fee, ten cents, demanded by Charon.
“We weigh light,” said Pap Spooner, “awful light! Call it, mister, fifteen cents for the two!”
“Ten cents apiece,” replied the ferryman, “or three for a quarter.”
Thereupon the worthy couple seated themselves in Cimmerian darkness, and vowed their intention of awaiting old man Bobo.
“He’ll soon be along,” they remarked. “He must be awful lonesome.”
But the old gentleman kept them out of Hades for full five years.
Old man Bobo won’t surrender his grand daughter to marriage unless her suitor can meet the asking price of two thousand dollars.
“Old Man Bobo’s Mandy” is included in Horace Annesley Vachell’s collection of stories set in Central California of the 1880s and 1890s Bunch Grass: A Chronicle of Life on a Cattle Ranch, which is available at Project Gutenberg
He lived alone with his grand-daughter and a stable helper in the tumble-down adobe just to the left of the San Lorenzo race track. The girl cooked, baked, and washed for him. Twice a week she peddled fruit and garden stuff in San Lorenzo. Of these sales her grandsire exacted the most rigorous accounting, and occasionally, in recognition of her services, would fling her a nickel. The old man himself rarely left home, and might be seen at all hours hobbling around his garden and corrals, keenly interested in his own belongings, halter-breaking his colts, anxiously watching the growth of his lettuce, counting the oranges, and beguiling the fruitful hours with delightful calculation.
“It’s all profit,” he has often said to me. “We buy nothin’ an’ we sell every durned thing we raise.”
Then he would chuckle and rub together his yellow, wrinkled hands. Ajax said that whenever Mr. Bobo laughed it behooved other folk to look grave.
“Mandy’s dress costs something,” I observed.
“Considerable, — I’d misremembered that. Her rig-out las’ fall cost me the vally o’ three boxes o’ apples — winter pearmains!”
“She will marry soon, Mr. Bobo.”
“An’ leave me?” he cried shrilly. “I’d like to see a man prowlin’ around my Mandy—I’d stimilate him. Besides, mister, Mandy ain’t the marryin’ kind. She’s homely as a mud fence, is Mandy. She ain’t put up right for huggin’ and kissin’.”
“But she is your heiress, Mr. Bobo.”
“Heiress,” he repeated with a cunning leer. “I’m poor, mister, poor. The tax collector has eat me up—eat me up, I say, eat me up!”
He looked such an indigestible morsel, so obviously unfit for the maw of even a tax collector, that I laughed and took my leave. He was worth, I had reason to know, at least fifty thousand dollars.
* * * * *
“Say, Mandy, I like ye awful well! D’ye know it?”
The speaker, Mr. Rinaldo Roberts, trainer and driver of horses, was sitting upon the top rail of the fence that divided the land of old man Bobo from the property of the Race Track Association.
Mandy, freckled, long-legged, and tow-headed, balanced herself easily upon one ill-shod foot and rubbed herself softly with the other. The action to those who knew her ways denoted mental perplexity and embarrassment. This assignation was bristling with peril as well as charm. Her grandfather had the eyes of a turkey-buzzard, eyes which she contrasted involuntarily with the soft, kindly orbs now bent upon her. She decided instantly that blue was a prettier colour than yellow. Rinaldo’s skin, too, commended itself. She had never seen so white a forehead, such ruddy cheeks. David, she reflected, must have been such a man; but Rinaldo was a nicer name than David, ever so much nicer.
“Shakespeare never repeats,” observed Mr. Roberts, “but I’ll tell ye again, Mandy, that I like ye awful well.”
“Pshaw!” she replied.
“Honest, Mandy, I ain’t lyin’.”
He smoothed his hair, well oiled by the barber an hour before, wiped his hand upon his brown overalls, and laughed. The overalls were worn so as to expose four inches of black trouser.
“Ye think more of your sorrel than ye do of me, Nal.”
“Yes, indeed, you do. You know you do.”
“I know I don’t! Say—I’ve gone an’ christened the cuss.”
“You have?” said Mandy, in a tone of intense interest. “Tell me its name.”
“It’s a her, Mandy, an’ me an’ Pete fixed on By-Jo. That’s French, Mandy,” he added triumphantly, “an’ it means a gem, a jool, an’ that’s what she is—a regler ruby!”
“It don’t sound like French,” said Amanda doubtfully.
“That French feller,” replied Nal, with the fine scorn of the Anglo- Saxon, “him as keeps the ‘Last Chance’ saloon, pronounces it By-Jew, but he’s as ignorant as a fool, an’ By-Jo seems to come kind o’ nateral.”
“Ye might ha’ called the filly, Amandy, Nal.”
The honest face of Rinaldo flushed scarlet. He squirmed—I use the word advisedly—and nearly fell off the fence.
“If there was a nickel-in-the-slot kickin’ machine around San Lorenzy,” he cried, “I’d take a dollar dose right now! Gosh! What a clam I am! I give ye my word, Mandy, that the notion o’ callin’ the filly after you never entered my silly head. Never onst! Jeewhillikins! this makes me feel awful bad.”
He wiped his broad forehead with a large white silk pocket- handkerchief, horribly scented with patchouli. His distress was quite painful to witness.
“Never mind,” said Amanda softly. “I was only joking, Nal. It’s all right.”
Looking at her now, what son of Adam could call her homely? Her slender figure, the head well poised upon shapely shoulders, suddenly straightened itself; her red lips parted, revealing a row of small, white teeth; her eyes were uplifted to meet the glance of her lover; her bosom rose and fell as Nal sprang from the fence and seized her hand.
A simple courtship truly! Love had written in plain characters upon their radiant faces an artless tale. With fingers interlaced they gazed tranquilly at each other, eloquently silent.
Then the man bent his head and kissed her.
* * * * *
“Marry my Mandy!” cried old man Bobo, a few hours later. “Why, Nal, ye must be crazy! Ye’re both children.”
“I’m twenty-two,” said Mr. Roberts, expanding his broad chest, and towering six inches at least above his companion, “an’ Mandy will be eighteen next December, and,” he added with dignity, “I love Mandy an’ Mandy loves me.”
“Now, I ain’t a goin’ to git mad,” said Mr. Bobo, stamping upon the ground and gnashing his teeth, “but I’ll give ye a pointer, Nal Roberts; you go right home an’ stay there! I need Mandy the worst kind, an’ ye know it. I couldn’t spare the girl nohow. An’ there’s another thing; I won’t have no sparkin’ aroun’ this place. No huggin’ an’ kissin’. There’s none for me an’ there’ll be none for you. Love, pah! I reckon that’s all ye’ve got. Love! Ye make me sick to my stomach, Nal Roberts. Ye’ve bin readin’ dime novels, that’s what ails ye. Love! There ain’t no dividen’s in love.”
“Naterally,” observed Mr. Roberts, “ye know nothin’ of love, Mister Bobo, an’ ye never will. I’m sorry for ye, too. Life without love is like eatin’ bull-beef jerky without salsa!”
“I’ve raised Mandy,” continued Mr. Bobo, ignoring this interruption, “very keerful. I give her good schoolin’, victuals, an’ a heap o’ clothes. I’ve knocked some horse sense into the child. There ain’t no nonsense in Mandy, an’ ye won’t find her equal in the land for peddlin’ fruit an’ sech. I’ve kep’ her rustlin’ from morn till night. When a woman idles, the ole Nick gits away with her mighty quick. I’ve salted that down many a long year. No, sir, Mandy is mine, an’ Mandy will do jest as I say. She minds me well, does Mandy. She won’t marry till I give the word—an’ I ain’t agoin’ to give the word.”
He snapped his lantern jaws, and grinned in Nal’s face. The selfishness which rated its sordid interest paramount to any consideration for others appalled the young man. How could he stem this tide of avarice, this torrent of egoism?
“So love don’t go?” said Nal shortly.
“No, sonny, love don’t go—leastways not with me.”
“Mebbe you think I’m after the grease,” remarked Nal with deliberation, “but I ain’t. Folks say ye’re rich, Mr. Bobo, but I don’t keer for that. I’m after Mandy, an’ I’ll take her in her chimmy.”
“I’ll be damned if ye will, Nal! Ye won’t take Mandy at all, an’ that’s all there is about it.”
“Say,” said Mr. Roberts, his fine eyes aglow with inspiration, “say, I’ll make ye a cold business proposition, fair an’ square betwixt man an’ man. I’ll buy Mandy from ye, at the market price—there!”
From beneath his penthouse brows Mr. Bobo peered curiously at this singular youth.
“Buy her!” he repeated scornfully. “With what? Ye’ve got nothin’, Nal Roberts—that is, nothin’ but yer sorrel filly and a measly two, or three mebbe, hundred dollars. I vally Mandy at twenty dollars a month. At one per cent.—I allus git one per cent. a month—that makes two thousand dollars. Have ye got the cold cash, Nal?”
Honest Nal hung his head.
“Not the half of it, but I earn a hundred a month at the track.”
“Bring me two thousand dollars, gold coin o’ the United States, no foolin’, an’ I’ll give ye Mandy.”
“Ye mean that, Mr. Bobo?”
The old man hesitated.
“I was kind o’ bluffin’,” he admitted reluctantly, “but I’ll stand by my words. Bring me the cash, an’ I’ll give ye Mandy.”
“I’ll guess I’ll go,” said Mr. Roberts.
“Yes, Nal, ye’d better go, an’ sonny, ye needn’t to come back; I like ye first rate, but ye needn’t to come back!”
Rinaldo walked home to the race track, and as he walked, cursed old man Bobo, cursed him heartily, in copious Western vernacular, from the peaky crown of his bald head to the tip of his ill-shaped, sockless toe. When, however, he had fed the filly and bedded her down in cool, fresh straw, he felt easier in his mind. Running his hand down her iron forelegs, he reflected hopefully that a few hundred dollars were easily picked up on a race track. Bijou was a well-bred beast, with a marvellous turn of speed. For half-a-mile she was a wonder, a record breaker—so Nal thought. Presently he pulled a list of entries from his pocket and scanned it closely. Old man Bobo had a bay gelding in training for the half-mile race, Comet, out of Shooting Star, by Meteor. Nal had taken the measure of the other horses and feared none of them; but Comet, he admitted ruefully to be a dangerous colt. He was stabled at home, and the small boy that exercised him was both deaf and dumb.
“If I could hold my watch on him,” said Nal to himself, “I’d give a hundred dollars.”
A smile illumined his pleasant features as he remembered that Mr. Bobo, like himself, was sitting upon the anxious seat. That same afternoon he had tried, in vain, to extract from Nal some information about the filly’s speed. The old man’s weakness, if he had one, was betting heavily upon a certainty.
“By Jimminy,” mused Mr. Roberts, patting affectionately the satin neck of Bijou, “it would be a nice howdy-do to win a thousand off the old son of a gun! Gosh, Mandy! how ye startled me.”
Amanda, out of breath and scarlet of face, slipped quietly into the loose box and sat down in the straw.
“Hush,” she said, panting, “grandfather would take a quirt to me if he knew I was here, but, Nal dear, I jest had to come. I’ve been talkin’ with the old man, an’ he won’t let me leave him, but I’ll be true to you, Nal, true as steel, an’ you’ll be true to me, won’t you? Grandfather won’t last long, he’s—”
“Tough,” said Mr. Roberts, “tough as abalone, tough as the hondo of my lariat. I suspicioned he’d peter out when Pap Spooner died, but he fooled us the worst kind. No, Mandy, the old gentleman ain’t a-goin’, as he says, till he gits ready. He told me that to-day, an’ he ain’t a liar. He’s close as a clam, is Mr. Bobo, but he ain’t no liar. As for bein’ true to you, Mandy—why—dern it—my heart’s jest froze to yours, it don’t belong to Nal Roberts no longer.”
The girl blushed with pleasure and rose to her feet.
“You won’t quarrel, Nal,” she said anxiously, “you an’ grandfather. He gets awful hot at times, but your head is level. He’s comin’ down to the track to-morrow morning at five to work out Comet, an’ you might have words about me.”
“To work out Comet?” said Nal, pricking up his ears.
“Mercy!—” cried Amanda, “I’ve given it away, an’ it’s a deathly secret.”
“It’s safe enough with me,” replied the young man carelessly. None the less his eyes brightened and he smiled beneath his blonde mustache. “An’, Mandy, don’t worry, I wouldn’t touch the old gentleman with a pair o’ tongs.”
“Well, good night, Nal—no, you mustn’t—somebody might see. Only one then! Let me go, let me go!—Good night, Nal.”
She ran swiftly away, holding high her skirts on account of the sticker grass. Nal watched her retreating figure admiringly.
“A good gait,” he murmured critically, “no interferin’ an’ nothin’ gummy about the pastern!”
He then squatted down, cowboy fashion, upon his hams, and smoothing carefully a piece of level ground, began to—what he called “figger.” He wrote with a pointed stick and presently broke into a loud laugh.
“A low down trick,” he muttered, “to play upon a white man, but Mr. Bobo ain’t a white man, an’ mustn’t be treated as sech.”
He erased his hieroglyphics, and proceeded leisurely to prepare his simple supper. He ate his bacon and beans with even more than usual relish, laughing softly to himself repeatedly, and when he had finished and the dishes were washed and put away, he selected, still laughing, a spade and crowbar from a heap of tools in the corner of his shanty. These he shouldered and then strode out into the night.
* * * * *
The crowd at the race track upon the opening afternoon of the fair was beginning to assume colossal proportions—colossal, that is to say, for San Lorenzo. Beneath the grand stand, where the pools are always sold, the motley throng surged thickest. Jew and gentile, greaser and dude, tin-horn gamblers and tenderfeet, hayseeds and merchants, jostled each other good humouredly. In the pool box were two men. One—the auctioneer—a perfect specimen of the “sport”; a ponderous individual, brazen of face and voice, who presented to the crowd an amazing front of mottled face, diamond stud, bulging shirt sleeves, and a bull-neck encircled by a soiled eighteen-and-a-half inch paper collar. The other gentleman, who handled the tickets, was unclean, unshorn, and cadaverous-looking, with a black cigar, unlighted, stuck aggressively into the corner of his mouth.
“Once more,” yelled the pool-selling person, in raucous tones. “Once more, boys! I’m sellin’ once more the half-mile dash! I’ve one hundred dollars for Comet; how much fer second choice? Be lively there. Sixty dollars!!! Go the five, five, five! Thank ye, sir, you’re a dead game sport. Bijou fer sixty-five dollars. How much am I bid fer the field?”
The field sold for fifty, and the auctioneer glanced at Mr. Bobo, who shook his head and shuffled away. Ten consecutive times he had bought pools. Ten consecutive times Mr. Rinaldo Roberts had paid, by proxy, sixty-five dollars for the privilege of naming By-Jo as second choice to the son of Meteor.
“Fifteen hunderd,” mumbled the old man to himself. “Five las’ night an’ ten to-day. It’s a sure shot, that’s what it is, a sure shot. I worked him out in fifty-one seconds. Oh, Lord, what a clip! in fifty- one,” he repeated with his abominable chuckle, “an’ Nal’s filly has never done better than fifty-two. Nal didn’t buy no pools. He knows better.”
By a queer coincidence Mr. Roberts was also indulging in pleasing introspection.
“The old cuss,” he mused, “is blooded. I’ll allow he’s blooded, but he thinks this a dead cert. Lemme see, fifty-one an’ two make fifty- three. No clip at all. Gosh! what a game, what a game! Why, there’s Mandy a-sittin’ up with Mis’ Root. I’ll jest sashay acrost the track an’ give ‘em my regards.”
Mandy was atop a red-wheeled spring wagon. A sailor hat—price, trimmed, forty-five cents—overshadowed her smiling face, and a new dress cleverly fashioned out of white cheese cloth, embellished her person. She had been watching her lover closely for upwards of an hour, but expressed superlative surprise at seeing him.
“Why, Nal,” she said demurely “this ain’t you? You are acquainted with Mis’ Root, I guess?”
Nal removed his cap with a flourish, and Mrs. Root, a large, lymphatic, prolific female, entreated him to ascend the wagon and sit down.
“You have a horse runnin’, Mister Roberts?”
“Yes, marm, By-Jo.”
“By Diamond,” replied Rinaldo, glibly, “outer Cap Wilson’s old Sally. She was by——”
“Mis’ Root didn’t catch the name right,” interrupted Mandy. “It’s By- Jo, Mis’ Root—that’s French.”
“Mercy me, ain’t that nice—quite toney. I hope he’ll win if Mister Bobo’s horse don’t.”
“Nal,” whispered Mandy, “you’ve not been betting against Comet, have you?”
“That’s what I have, Mandy. I’ve got my hull stack o’ chips on this yere half-mile dash.”
“But, Nal, Comet will win sure. Grandfather’s crazy about the colt. He says he can’t lose no-way.”
“That’s all right,” said Nal. “I’m glad he feels so well about it. Set his heart on winnin’, eh? That’s good. Say, I guess I’ll sit right here and see the race. It’s handy to the judges’ stand, and the horses are all on the track.”
In fact, for some time the runners had been walking backwards and forwards, and were now grouped together near the starter. Mr. Bobo was in the timer’s box, chuckling satanically. Fifteen hundred dollars, according to his own computation, were already added to a plethoric bank account.
“Yer feelin’ well, Mister Bobo,” said a bystander.
“I’m feelin’ mighty well,” he replied, “never was feelin’ better, never. There’s a heap o’ fools in this yere world, but I ain’t responsible for their mistakes—not much,” and he cackled loudly.
After the usual annoying delay the horses were dismissed with an excellent start. Bijou jumped immediately to the front, and Nal threw his hat high into the air.
“Ain’t she a cyclone?” he shouted, standing upon the wagon seat and waving his stop-watch.
“Look at her, I say, look at her!”
The people in his vicinity stared, smiled, and finally cheered. Most of them knew Nal and liked him well.
“Yer mare is winnin’,” yelled a granger.
“You bet she is,” retorted Mr. Roberts. “See her! Ain’t she takin’ the kinks out of her speed? Ain’t that a clip? Sit still, ye fool,” he cried lustily, apostrophising the boy who was riding; “if ye git a move on ye I’ll kill ye. Oh, my lord! if she ain’t a-goin’ to distance them! Yes, sir, she’s a shuttin’ ‘em out. Damn it—I ain’t a swearin’, Mis’ Root—damn it, I say, she’s a shuttin’ ‘em out! She’s done it!! The race is won!!!”
He jumped from the wagon and plunged into the crowd, which respectfully made way for him.
* * * * *
“I’ve somethin’ to tell ye, Mandy,” said Mr. Roberts, some ten months later. I feel kind o’ mean, too. But I done it for you; for love o’ you, Mandy.”
“Yes, Nal; what is it?”
They had been married a fortnight.
“Ye remember when the old man had the fit in the timer’s box? Well, that knocked me galley-west. I felt a reg’ler murderer. But when he’d braced up, an began makin’ himself hateful over our weddin’, I felt glad that I’d done what I done.”
“And what had you done, Nal, dear?”
“Hold on, Mandy, I’m tellin’ this. Ye see, he promised to sell ye to me for two thousand dollars cash. But when I tendered him the coin, he went back on me. He was the meanest, the ornariest——”
“Hush, Nal, he’s dead now.”
“You bet he is, or we wouldn’t be sittin’ here.”
They were comfortably installed upon the porch of the old adobe. A smell of paint tainted the air, and some shavings and odds and ends of lumber betrayed a recent visit from the carpenter. The house, in short, had been placed in thorough repair. A young woman with fifty thousand dollars in her own right can afford to spend a little money upon her home.
“He wouldn’t take the coin,” continued Nal, “he said I’d robbed him of it, an’ so I had.”
“It was this way, Mandy. Ye remember the trial, an’ how you give the snap away. Well I studied over it, an’ finally I concluded to jest dig up the half-mile post, an’ put it one hundred feet nearer home. I took considerable chances but not a soul suspicioned the change. The next night I put it back again. The old man timed the colt an’ so did I. Fifty-one seconds! I knew my filly could do the whole half-mile in that. Comet’s second dam was a bronco, an’ that will tell! But I wanted to make your grandfather bet his wad. He never could resist a sure-shot bet, never. That’s all.”
Amanda looked deep into his laughing eyes.
“He was willing to sell me, his own flesh and blood,” she murmured dreamily. “I think, Nal, you served him just about right, but I wish, don’t get mad, Nal, I wish that—er—someone else had pulled up the post!”