Dry Valley Johnson shook the bottle. You have to shake the bottle
before using; for sulphur will not dissolve. Then Dry Valley saturated
a small sponge with the liquid and rubbed it carefully into the roots
of his hair. Besides sulphur there was sugar of lead in it and
tincture of nux vomica and bay rum. Dry Valley found the recipe in a
Sunday newspaper. You must next be told why a strong man came to fall
a victim to a Beauty Hint.
Dry Valley had been a sheepman. His real name was Hector, but he had
been rechristened after his range to distinguish him from "Elm Creek"
Johnson, who ran sheep further down the Frio.
Many years of living face to face with sheep on their own terms
wearied Dry Valley Johnson. So, he sold his ranch for eighteen
thousand dollars and moved to Santa Rosa to live a life of gentlemanly
ease. Being a silent and melancholy person of thirty-five--or perhaps
thirty-eight--he soon became that cursed and earth-cumbering thing--an
elderlyish bachelor with a hobby. Some one gave him his first
strawberry to eat, and he was done for.
Dry Valley bought a four-room cottage in the village, and a library on
strawberry culture. Behind the cottage was a garden of which he made a
strawberry patch. In his old grey woolen shirt, his brown duck
trousers, and high-heeled boots he sprawled all day on a canvas cot
under a live-oak tree at his back door studying the history of the
seductive, scarlet berry.
The school teacher, Miss De Witt, spoke of him as "a fine, presentable
man, for all his middle age." But, the focus of Dry Valley's eyes
embraced no women. They were merely beings who flew skirts as a signal
for him to lift awkwardly his heavy, round-crowned, broad-brimmed felt
Stetson whenever he met them, and then hurry past to get back to his
And all this recitative by the chorus is only to bring us to the point
where you may be told why Dry Valley shook up the insoluble sulphur in
the bottle. So long-drawn and inconsequential a thing is history--the
anamorphous shadow of a milestone reaching down the road between us
and the setting sun.
When his strawberries were beginning to ripen Dry Valley bought the
heaviest buggy whip in the Santa Rosa store. He sat for many hours
under the live oak tree plaiting and weaving in an extension to its
lash. When it was done he could snip a leaf from a bush twenty feet
away with the cracker. For the bright, predatory eyes of Santa Rosa
youth were watching the ripening berries, and Dry Valley was arming
himself against their expected raids. No greater care had he taken of
his tender lambs during his ranching days than he did of his cherished
fruit, warding it from the hungry wolves that whistled and howled and
shot their marbles and peered through the fence that surrounded his
In the house next to Dry Valley's lived a widow with a pack of
children that gave the husbandman frequent anxious misgivings. In the
woman there was a strain of the Spanish. She had wedded one of the
name of O'Brien. Dry Valley was a connoisseur in cross strains; and he
foresaw trouble in the offspring of this union.
Between the two homesteads ran a crazy picket fence overgrown with
morning glory and wild gourd vines. Often he could see little heads
with mops of black hair and flashing dark eyes dodging in and out
between the pickets, keeping tabs on the reddening berries.
Late one afternoon Dry Valley went to the post office. When he came
back, like Mother Hubbard he found the deuce to pay. The descendants
of Iberian bandits and Hibernian cattle raiders had swooped down upon
his strawberry patch. To the outraged vision of Dry Valley there
seemed to be a sheep corral full of them; perhaps they numbered five
or six. Between the rows of green plants they were stooped, hopping
about like toads, gobbling silently and voraciously his finest fruit.
Dry Valley slipped into the house, got his whip, and charged the
marauders. The lash curled about the legs of the nearest--a greedy
ten-year-old--before they knew they were discovered. His screech gave
warning; and the flock scampered for the fence like a drove of
/javelis/ flushed in the chaparral. Dry Valley's whip drew a toll of
two more elfin shrieks before they dived through the vine-clad fence
Dry Valley, less fleet, followed them nearly to the pickets. Checking
his useless pursuit, he rounded a bush, dropped his whip and stood,
voiceless, motionless, the capacity of his powers consumed by the act
of breathing and preserving the perpendicular.
Behind the bush stood Panchita O'Brien, scorning to fly. She was
nineteen, the oldest of the raiders. Her night-black hair was gathered
back in a wild mass and tied with a scarlet ribbon. She stood, with
reluctant feet, yet nearer the brook than to the river; for childhood
had environed and detained her.
She looked at Dry Valley Johnson for a moment with magnificent
insolence, and before his eyes slowly crunched a luscious berry
between her white teeth. Then she turned and walked slowly to the
fence with a swaying, conscious motion, such as a duchess might make
use of in leading a promenade. There she turned again and grilled Dry
Valley Johnson once more in the dark flame of her audacious eyes,
laughed a trifle school-girlishly, and twisted herself with pantherish
quickness between the pickets to the O'Brien side of the wild gourd
Dry Valley picked up his whip and went into his house. He stumbled as
he went up the two wooden steps. The old Mexican woman who cooked his
meals and swept his house called him to supper as he went through the
rooms. Dry Valley went on, stumbled down the front steps, out the gate
and down the road into a mesquite thicket at the edge of town. He sat
down in the grass and laboriously plucked the spines from a prickly
pear, one by one. This was his attitude of thought, acquired in the
days when his problems were only those of wind and wool and water.
A thing had happened to the man--a thing that, if you are eligible,
you must pray may pass you by. He had become enveloped in the Indian
Summer of the Soul.
Dry Valley had had no youth. Even his childhood had been one of
dignity and seriousness. At six he had viewed the frivolous gambols of
the lambs on his father's ranch with silent disapproval. His life as a
young man had been wasted. The divine fires and impulses, the glorious
exaltations and despairs, the glow and enchantment of youth had passed
above his head. Never a thrill of Romeo had he known; he was but a
melancholy Jaques of the forest with a ruder philosophy, lacking the
bitter-sweet flavour of experience that tempered the veteran years of
the rugged ranger of Arden. And now in his sere and yellow leaf one
scornful look from the eyes of Panchita O'Brien had flooded the
autumnal landscape with a tardy and delusive summer heat.
But a sheepman is a hardy animal. Dry Valley Johnson had weathered too
many northers to turn his back on a late summer, spiritual or real.
Old? He would show them.
By the next mail went an order to San Antonio for an outfit of the
latest clothes, colours and styles and prices no object. The next day
went the recipe for the hair restorer clipped from a newspaper; for
Dry Valley's sunburned auburn hair was beginning to turn silvery above
Dry Valley kept indoors closely for a week except for frequent sallies
after youthful strawberry snatchers. Then, a few days later, he
suddenly emerged brilliantly radiant in the hectic glow of his belated
A jay-bird-blue tennis suit covered him outwardly, almost as far as
his wrists and ankles. His shirt was ox-blood; his collar winged and
tall; his necktie a floating oriflamme; his shoes a venomous bright
tan, pointed and shaped on penitential lasts. A little flat straw hat
with a striped band desecrated his weather-beaten head. Lemon-coloured
kid gloves protected his oak-tough hands from the benignant May
sunshine. This sad and optic-smiting creature teetered out of its den,
smiling foolishly and smoothing its gloves for men and angels to see.
To such a pass had Dry Valley Johnson been brought by Cupid, who
always shoots game that is out of season with an arrow from the quiver
of Momus. Reconstructing mythology, he had risen, a prismatic macaw,
from the ashes of the grey-brown phoenix that had folded its tired
wings to roost under the trees of Santa Rosa.
Dry Valley paused in the street to allow Santa Rosans within sight of
him to be stunned; and then deliberately and slowly, as his shoes
required, entered Mrs. O'Brien's gate.
Not until the eleven months' drought did Santa Rosa cease talking
about Dry Valley Johnson's courtship of Panchita O'Brien. It was an
unclassifiable procedure; something like a combination of cake-
walking, deaf-and-dumb oratory, postage stamp flirtation and parlour
charades. It lasted two weeks and then came to a sudden end.
Of course Mrs. O'Brien favoured the match as soon as Dry Valley's
intentions were disclosed. Being the mother of a woman child, and
therefore a charter member of the Ancient Order of the Rat-trap, she
joyfully decked out Panchita for the sacrifice. The girl was
temporarily dazzled by having her dresses lengthened and her hair
piled up on her head, and came near forgetting that she was only a
slice of cheese. It was nice, too, to have as good a match as Mr.
Johnson paying you attentions and to see the other girls fluttering
the curtains at their windows to see you go by with him.
Dry Valley bought a buggy with yellow wheels and a fine trotter in San
Antonio. Every day he drove out with Panchita. He was never seen to
speak to her when they were walking or driving. The consciousness of
his clothes kept his mind busy; the knowledge that he could say
nothing of interest kept him dumb; the feeling that Panchita was there
kept him happy.
He took her to parties and dances, and to church. He tried--oh, no man
ever tried so hard to be young as Dry Valley did. He could not dance;
but he invented a smile which he wore on these joyous occasions, a
smile that, in him, was as great a concession to mirth and gaiety as
turning hand-springs would be in another. He began to seek the company
of the young men in the town--even of the boys. They accepted him as a
decided damper, for his attempts at sportiveness were so forced that
they might as well have essayed their games in a cathedral. Neither he
nor any other could estimate what progress he had made with Panchita.
The end came suddenly in one day, as often disappears the false
afterglow before a November sky and wind.
Dry Valley was to call for the girl one afternoon at six for a walk.
An afternoon walk in Santa Rosa was a feature of social life that
called for the pink of one's wardrobe. So Dry Valley began gorgeously
to array himself; and so early that he finished early, and went over
to the O'Brien cottage. As he neared the porch on the crooked walk
from the gate he heard sounds of revelry within. He stopped and looked
through the honeysuckle vines in the open door.
Panchita was amusing her younger brothers and sisters. She wore a
man's clothes--no doubt those of the late Mr. O'Brien. On her head was
the smallest brother's straw hat decorated with an ink-striped paper
band. On her hands were flapping yellow cloth gloves, roughly cut out
and sewn for the masquerade. The same material covered her shoes,
giving them the semblance of tan leather. High collar and flowing
necktie were not omitted.
Panchita was an actress. Dry Valley saw his affectedly youthful gait,
his limp where the right shoe hurt him, his forced smile, his awkward
simulation of a gallant air, all reproduced with startling fidelity.
For the first time a mirror had been held up to him. The corroboration
of one of the youngsters calling, "Mamma, come and see Pancha do like
Mr. Johnson," was not needed.
As softly as the caricatured tans would permit, Dry Valley tiptoed
back to the gate and home again.
Twenty minutes after the time appointed for the walk Panchita tripped
demurely out of her gate in a thin, trim white lawn and sailor hat.
She strolled up the sidewalk and slowed her steps at Dry Valley's
gate, her manner expressing wonder at his unusual delinquency.
Then out of his door and down the walk strode--not the polychromatic
victim of a lost summertime, but the sheepman, rehabilitated. He wore
his old grey woolen shirt, open at the throat, his brown duck trousers
stuffed into his run-over boots, and his white felt sombrero on the
back of his head. Twenty years or fifty he might look; Dry Valley
cared not. His light blue eyes met Panchita's dark ones with a cold
flash in them. He came as far as the gate. He pointed with his long
arm to her house.
"Go home," said Dry Valley. "Go home to your mother. I wonder
lightnin' don't strike a fool like me. Go home and play in the sand.
What business have you got cavortin' around with grown men? I reckon I
was locoed to be makin' a he poll-parrot out of myself for a kid like
you. Go home and don't let me see you no more. Why I done it, will
somebody tell me? Go home, and let me try and forget it."
Panchita obeyed and walked slowly toward her home, saying nothing. For
some distance she kept her head turned and her large eyes fixed
intrepidly upon Dry Valley's. At her gate she stood for a moment
looking back at him, then ran suddenly and swiftly into the house.
Old Antonia was building a fire in the kitchen stove. Dry Valley
stopped at the door and laughed harshly.
"I'm a pretty looking old rhinoceros to be gettin' stuck on a kid,
ain't I, 'Tonia?" said he.
"Not verree good thing," agreed Antonia, sagely, "for too much old man
to likee /muchacha/."
"You bet it ain't," said Dry Valley, grimly. "It's dum foolishness;
and, besides, it hurts."
He brought at one armful the regalia of his aberration--the blue
tennis suit, shoes, hat, gloves and all, and threw them in a pile at
"Give them to your old man," said he, "to hunt antelope in."
Just as the first star presided palely over the twilight Dry Valley
got his biggest strawberry book and sat on the back steps to catch the
last of the reading light. He thought he saw the figure of someone in
his strawberry patch. He laid aside the book, got his whip and hurried
forth to see.
It was Panchita. She had slipped through the picket fence and was
half-way across the patch. She stopped when she saw him and looked at
him without wavering.
A sudden rage--a humiliating flush of unreasoning wrath--came over Dry
Valley. For this child he had made himself a motley to the view. He
had tried to bribe Time to turn backward for himself; he had--been
made a fool of. At last he had seen his folly. There was a gulf
between him and youth over which he could not build a bridge even with
yellow gloves to protect his hands. And the sight of his torment
coming to pester him with her elfin pranks--coming to plunder his
strawberry vines like a mischievous schoolboy--roused all his anger.
"I told you to keep away from here," said Dry Valley. "Go back to your
Panchita moved slowly toward him.
Dry Valley cracked his whip.
"Go back home," said Dry Valley, savagely, "and play theatricals some
more. You'd make a fine man. You've made a fine one of me."
She came a step nearer, silent, and with that strange, defiant, steady
shine in her eyes that had always puzzled him. Now it stirred his
His whiplash whistled through the air. He saw a red streak suddenly
come out through her white dress above her knee where it had struck.
Without flinching and with the same unchanging dark glow in her eyes,
Panchita came steadily toward him through the strawberry vines. Dry
Valley's trembling hand released his whip handle. When within a yard
of him Panchita stretched out her arms.
"God, kid!" stammered Dry Valley, "do you mean--?"
But the seasons are versatile; and it may have been Springtime, after
all, instead of Indian Summer, that struck Dry Valley Johnson.