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   Chapter 5 INEZ THREATENS

Aunt Jane's Nieces on the Ranch By L. Frank Baum Characters: 11198

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


"Yes," said Louise, a week later, "we all make fools of ourselves over Toodlums, Really, girls, Jane is a very winning baby. I don't say that because I'm her mother, understand. If she were anyone else's baby, I'd say the same thing."

"Of course," agreed Patsy. "I don't believe such a baby was ever before born. She's so happy, and sweet, and-and-"

"And comfortable," said Beth. "Indeed, Jane is a born sorceress; she bewitches everyone who beholds her dear dimpled face. This is an impartial opinion, you know; I'd say the same thing if I were not her adoring auntie."

"It's true," Patsy declared. "Even the Mexicans worship her. And Mildred Travers-the sphinx-whose blood I am sure is ice-water, displays a devotion for baby that is absolutely amazing. I don't blame her, you know, for it must be a real delight to care for such a fairy. I'm surprised, Louise, that you can bear to have baby out of your sight so much of the time."

Louise laughed lightly.

"I'm not such an unfeeling mother as you think," she answered. "I know just where baby is every minute and she is never out of my thoughts. However, with two nurses, both very competent, to care for Toodlums, I do not think it necessary to hold her in my lap every moment."

Here Uncle John and the major approached the palm, under which the three nieces were sitting, and Mr. Merrick exclaimed:

"I'll bet a cookie you were talking of baby Jane."

"You'd win, then," replied Patsy. "There's no other topic of conversation half so delightful."

"Jane," observed the major, musingly, as he seated himself in a rustic chair. "A queer name for a baby, Louise. Whatever possessed you to burden the poor infant with it?"

"Burden? Nonsense, Major! It's a charming name," cried Patsy.

"She is named after poor Aunt Jane," said Louise.

A silence somewhat awkward followed.

"My sister Jane," remarked Uncle John gravely, "was in some respects an admirable woman."

"And in many others detestable," said Beth in frank protest. "The only good thing I can remember about Aunt Jane," she added, "is that she brought us three girls together, when we had previously been almost unaware of one anothers' existence. And she made us acquainted with Uncle John."

"Then she did us another favor," added Patsy. "She died."

"Poor Aunt Jane!" sighed Louise. "I wish I could say something to prove that I revere her memory. Had the baby been a boy, its name would have been John; but being a girl I named her for Uncle John's sister-the highest compliment I could conceive."

Uncle John nodded gratefully. "I wasn't especially fond of Jane, myself," said he, "but it's a family name and I'm glad you gave it to baby."

"Jane Merrick," said the major, "was very cruel to Patsy and to me, and so I'm sorry you gave her name to baby."

"Always contrary, eh?" returned Uncle John, with a tolerant smile, for he was in no wise disturbed by this adverse criticism of his defunct sister-a criticism that in fact admitted little argument. "But it occurs to me that the most peculiar thing about this name is that you three girls, who were once Aunt Jane's nieces, are now Niece Jane's aunts!"

"Except me," smiled Louise. "I'm happy to claim a closer relationship. But returning to our discussion of Aunt Jane. She was really instrumental in making our fortunes as well as in promoting our happiness, so I have no regret because I made baby her namesake."

"The name of Jane," said Patsy, "is in itself beautiful, because it is simple and old-fashioned. Now that it is connected with my chubby niece it will derive a new and added luster."

"Quite true," declared Uncle John.

"Where is Arthur?" inquired the major.

"Writing his weekly batch of letters," replied Arthur's wife. "When they are ready he is to drive us all over to town in the big car, and we have planned to have lunch there and to return home in the cool of the evening. Will that program please our guests?"

All voiced their approval and presently Arthur appeared with his letters and bade them get ready for the ride, while he brought out the car. He always drove the machine himself, as no one on the place was competent to act as chauffeur; but he managed it admirably and enjoyed driving.

Louise went to the nursery to kiss little Jane. The baby lay in her crib, fast asleep. Near her sat Mildred Travers, reading a book. Crouched in the window-seat was Inez, hugging her knees and gazing moodily out into the garden.

The nursery was in the East Wing, facing the courtyard but also looking upon the rose garden, its one deep-set window being near a corner of the room. On one side it connected with a small chamber used by Inez, which occupied half the depth of the wing and faced the garden. The other half of the space was taken by a small sewing-room letting out upon the court.

At the opposite side of little Jane's nursery was a roomy chamber which had been given up to Mildred, and still beyond this were the rooms occupied by Arthur and Louise, all upon the ground floor. By this arrangement the baby had a nurse on either side and was only one room removed from its parents.

This wing was said to be the oldest part of the mansion, a fact attested by the great thickness of the walls. Just above was the famous blue room occupied by the major, where ghosts were supposed at times to hold their revels. Yet, despite its clumsy construction, the East Wing was cheery and pleasant in all its rooms and sunlight flooded it the year round.

After the master and mistress had driven away to town with their guests, Inez sa

t for a time by the window, still motionless save for an occasional wicked glance over her shoulder at Mildred, who read placidly as she rocked to and fro in her chair. The presence of the American nurse seemed to oppress the girl, for not a semblance of friendship had yet developed between the two; so presently Inez rose and glided softly out into the court, leaving Mildred to watch the sleeping baby.

She took the path that led to the Mexican quarters and ten minutes later entered the hut where Bella, the skinny old hag who was the wife to Miguel Zaloa, was busy with her work.

"Ah, Inez. But where ees Mees Jane?" was the eager inquiry.

Inez glanced around to find several moustached faces in the doorway. Every dark, earnest eye repeated the old woman's question. The girl shrugged her shoulders.

"She is care for by the new nurse, Meeldred. I left her sleeping."

"Who sleeps, Inez?" demanded the aged Miguel. "Ees it the new nurse, or Mees Jane?"

"Both, perhap." She laughed scornfully and went out to the shed that connected two of the adobe dwellings and served as a shady lounging place. Here a group quickly formed around her, including those who followed from the hut.

"I shall kill her, some day," declared the girl, showing her gleaming teeth. "What right have she to come an' take our baby?"

Miguel stroked his white moustache reflectively.

"Ees this Meeldred good to Mees Jane?" he asked.

"When anyone looks, yes," replied Inez reluctantly. "She fool even baby, some time, who laugh at her. But poor baby do not know. I know. This Meeldred ees a devil!" she hissed.

The listening group displayed no emotion at this avowal. They eyed the girl attentively, as if expecting to hear more. But Inez, having vented her spite, now sulked.

"Where she came from?" asked Miguel, the recognized spokesman.

"Back there. New York," tossing her head in an easterly direction.

"Why she come?" continued the old man.

"The little mans with no hair-Meest Merrick-he think I not know about babies. He think this girl who learns babies in school, an' from books, know more than me who has care for many baby-but for none like our Mees Jane. Mees Jane ees angel!"

They all nodded in unison, approving her assertion.

"Eet ees not bad thought, that," remarked old Bella. "Books an' schools ees good to teach wisdom."

"Pah! Not for babies," objected her husband, shaking his head. "Book an' school can not grow orange, either. To do a thing many time ees to know it better than a book can know."

"Besides," said Inez, "this Meeldred ees witch-woman."

"Yes?"

"I know it. She come from New York. But yesterday she say to me: 'Let us wheel leetle Jane to the live oak at Burney's.' How can she know there is live oak at Burney's? Then, the first day she come, she say: 'Take baby's milk into vault under your room an' put on stone shelf to keep cool.' I, who live here, do not know of such a vault. She show me some stone steps in one corner, an' she push against stone wall. Then wall open like door, an' I find vault. But how she know it, unless she is witch-woman?"

There was a murmur of astonishment. Old Miguel scratched his head as if puzzled.

"I, too, know about thees vault," said he; "but then, eet ees I know all of the old house, as no one else know. Once I live there with Se?or Cristoval. But how can thees New York girl know?"

There was no answer. Merely puzzled looks.

"What name has she, Inez?" suddenly asked Miguel.

"Travers. Meeldred Travers."

The old man thought deeply and then shook his head with a sigh.

"In seexty year there be no Travers near El Cajon," he asserted. "I thought maybe she have been here before. But no. Even in old days there ees no Travers come here."

"There ees a Travers Ranch over at the north," asserted Bella.

"Eet ees a name; there be no Travers live there," declared Miguel, still with that puzzled look upon his plump features.

Inez laughed at him.

"She is witch-woman, I tell you. I know it! Look in her eyes, an' see."

The group of Mexicans moved uneasily. Old Miguel deliberately rolled a cigarette and lighted it.

"Thees woman I have not yet see," he announced, after due reflection. "But, if she ees witch-woman, eet ees bad for Mees Jane to be near her."

"That is what I say!" cried Inez eagerly. She spoke better English than the others. "She will bewitch my baby; she will make it sickly, so it will die!" And she wrung her hands in piteous misery.

The Mexicans exchanged frightened looks. Old Bella alone seemed unaffected.

"Mees Weld own her baby-not us," suggested Miguel's wife. "If Mees Weld theenk thees girl is safe nurse, what have we to say-eh?"

"I say she shall not kill my baby!" cried Inez fiercely. "That is what I say, Bella. Before she do that, I kill thees Meeldred Travers."

Miguel examined the girl's face intently.

"You are fool, Inez," he asserted. "It ees bad to keel anything-even thees New York witch-woman. Be compose an' keep watch. Nothing harm Mees Jane if you watch. Where are your folks, girl?"

"Live in San Diego," replied Inez, again sullen.

"Once I know your father. He ees good man, but drink too much. If you make quarrel about thees new nurse, you get sent home. Then you lose Mees Jane. So keep compose, an' watch. If you see anything wrong, come to me an' tell it. That ees best."

Inez glanced around the group defiantly, but all nodded approval of old Miguel's advice. She rose from the bench where she was seated, shrugged her shoulders disdainfully and walked away without a word.

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