Sample N05 from Richard Ferber, Bitter Valley. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1961. Pp. 9-17. A part of the XML version of the Brown Corpus2,016 words 501 (24.9%) quotesN05

Used by permission of Richard W. Ferber. 0010-1670

Richard Ferber, Bitter Valley. New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1961. Pp. 9-17.

Arbitrary Hyphens: dark-skinned [0600] broken-down [1220] deep-set [0680]

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She was carrying a quirt , and she started to raise it , then let it fall again and dangle from her wrist .

`` I saw your fire '' , she said , speaking slowly , making an effort to control her anger . `` You could burn down this whole mountainside with a fire that size . It wouldn't matter to a fool like you . It would to me '' .

`` All right '' , Wilson said quickly . `` The fire's too big . And I appreciate the advice '' .

He was losing patience again . An hour before , with the children asleep and nothing but the strange darkness , he would have appreciated company . She had helped him change his mind .

`` I'm not advising you '' , she said . `` I'm telling you . That fire's too big . Let it burn down . And make sure it's out when you leave in the morning '' .

He was taken aback . It took him a long time to compose himself .

`` There's some mistake '' , he said finally . `` You're right about the fire . It's bigger than it has to be , though I don't see where it's doing any harm . But you're wrong about the rest of it . I'm not leaving in the morning . Why should I ? ? I own the place '' .

She showed her surprise by tightening the reins and moving the gelding around so that she could get a better look at his face . It didn't seem to tell her anything . She glanced around the clearing , taking in the wagon and the load of supplies and trappings scattered over the ground , the two kids , the whiteface bull that was chewing its cud just within the far reaches of the firelight . She studied it for a long time . Then she turned back to Wilson and smiled , and he wasn't quite sure what she meant by it .

`` You own this place '' ? ? She said , and her tone had softened until it was almost friendly . `` You bought it '' ? ?

`` From a man in St. Louis '' , Wilson said . `` Jake Carwood . Maybe you know him '' .

The girl laughed . `` I know him . I ought to . My father ran him off here six years ago '' .

Wilson didn't say anything . He stood watching the girl , wondering what was coming next . She had picked up the quirt and was twirling it around her wrist and smiling at him .

`` Carwood didn't tell you that '' , she said .

`` No '' , Wilson said . `` But it's understandable . It's not the kind of thing that a man would be proud of . And it doesn't make any difference . He sold me a clear title . I have it with me , right here . If you want to see '' --

`` Never mind '' , she said sternly . `` It wouldn't matter to my father , and not to me . I meant what I said about that fire . Be sure it's out when you leave . That's all . I'll let you go back to doing the dishes now '' .

It was meant to insult him , and didn't quite succeed . He took the reins just below the bit and held them firmly , and it was his turn to smile now . `` I don't mind washing dishes now and then '' , he said pleasantly . `` It doesn't hurt . It might hurt you , though . Somebody might mistake you for a woman '' .

He meant to say more , but he never got the chance . She was quick . She brought the quirt down , slashing it across his cheek , and he tried to step back . She swung the quirt again , and this time he caught her wrist and pulled her out of the saddle .

She came down against him , and he tried to break her fall . He grabbed her by the shoulders and went down on one knee , taking her weight so that some of the wind was driven out of him . It made him a little sick , and he let go of her . He got up slowly , and she was already on her feet , and he stood facing her . He wiped the blood from his cheek .

`` I ought to '' -- he said . He was shaking with anger , his breath coming in long , painful gasps . `` That quirt -- I ought to use it on you , where it would do the most good . If you were a man '' --

`` She isn't , mister '' .

The voice came from behind him , and Wilson turned . The fire had gone down , and the man was only a shadow against the trees . But a moment later he brought his horse forward into the light , and Wilson had a good look at him . He was tall and dark-skinned , a half-breed , Wilson thought . And he was handsome , despite the long thin scar that slanted across his cheek .

`` She's not a man , mister '' , he said . `` I am . If you've got any ideas '' . He raised the Winchester and pointed it at Wilson's chest .

`` Put the rifle down , Joseph '' , the girl said . She seemed irritated . `` I thought I told you to stay home '' .

The half-breed eased the Winchester down and rested it across his lap . The scar looked pure white in the half-darkness ; ; his eyes were black and deep-set , and expressionless . `` You shouldn't be riding up here after dark , Judith '' , he said quietly . `` I can take care of this . It's no job for you '' .

The girl tapped the quirt impatiently against her knee and glared at him . He took it without flinching .

`` I said go home , Joseph . You've got no business up here '' .

The half-breed didn't answer this time . But the scar seemed to pull hard at the corner of his mouth , and his eyes were hurt and angry . It made Wilson wonder . He watched the half-breed as he turned silently . They could hear the pony's feet on the dry leaves for a while , then the sound faded out .

Wilson brushed the dust from his coat . `` Who was that '' ? ? He asked . `` Your personal guard ? ? You're pretty hard on him '' .

`` He works for my father '' , the girl said , and then seemed to change her mind . `` He's a friend . His name's Joseph Sanchez . Is there anything else you want to know '' ? ?

`` Not now '' , Wilson said . `` I guess I'll find out soon enough . You've got blood on your cheek . Not yours . Mine . It must have got there when you fell against me '' .

She wiped it off with the sleeve of her coat .

`` I'll bet that's as close as you've been to a man since you were a baby '' , Wilson said .

He saw her hand start to work down the leather thong toward the handle of the quirt , and he grabbed her wrist . `` Oh , no '' , he said , and he was without humor now . `` I've had enough of that . I've had enough of you . I don't know what goes on around here , and I don't care . I don't know what makes you think you can get away with this kind of business , and I don't care about that , either . You took me by surprise . But I'll know how to handle you next time '' .

She brought up her free hand to hit him , but this time he was quicker . He side-stepped her blow and she fell , stumbling against the gelding . She finally regained her balance and got up in the saddle . Her hat had come off and fallen behind her shoulders , held by the string , and he could see her face more clearly than he had at any time before . He had forgotten that she was so pretty . But her prettiness was what he had noticed first , and all the other things had come afterward : cruelty , meanness , self-will . He had known women like that , one woman in particular . And one had been too many . He watched the girl until she had gone into the trees , and waited until he couldn't hear the sound of her horse any longer , then went up to where the children were sleeping .

They weren't sleeping , of course , but they thought they were doing him a favor by pretending . He hadn't shown up too well in their eyes , letting himself be browbeaten by a woman . They expected greater things from him , regardless of how trying the circumstances , and they were disappointed . And determined not to show it . They lay a little too stiffly , with their eyes straining to stay closed .

`` Go to sleep '' , he said . `` Both of you . There's better things to do than listen to something like that . I'll be down at the creek finishing the dishes , if you want me '' .

He found the pan where he had dropped it and carried it back down to the stream . The coyote was calling again , and he hoped that this time there would be no other sounds to interrupt it . Not tonight , at any rate . He had a feeling that the girl meant trouble . If she did , he could stand it better in the light .

He scrubbed absent-mindedly at the pans and reflected on how things had turned out . That afternoon when they had pulled up in front of the broken-down ranch house , his hopes had been high . Already some of the pain had gone from Amelia's death . Not all of it . There would still be plenty of moments of regret and sadness and guilty relief . But they were starting a new life . And they had almost everything they needed : land , a house , two whiteface bulls , three horses .

The land wasn't all Wilson had expected of it . Six hundred and forty acres , the old man back in St. Louis had said ; ; good grass , good water . Well , the grass was there , though in some places the ground was too steep for a cow to get to it . The water was there , so much of it that it spread all through the dead orchard . And there was a house ; ; livable perhaps , but badly in need of repairs .

In the last analysis , though , Wilson had little cause to complain . The place had been cheap -- just the little he had left after Amelia's burial -- and it would serve its purpose . There was only one place where Jake Carwood's description had gone badly awry : the peace and quiet . It hadn't started out that way . And he had a feeling -- thanks to the girl -- that things would get worse before they got better .

2 They had the house cleaned up by noon , and Wilson sent the boy out to the meadow to bring in the horses . He stood on the porch and watched him struggling with the heavy harness , and finally went over to help him . Kathy was already in the wagon . They were going to town , and they were both excited .

Wilson backed the team into the traces , and wished they weren't going to town at all . He had an uneasy feeling about it . That girl last night , what was her name ? ? Judith Pierce . It was the only thing about her that was the least bit hard to remember .

He finished with the team and filled his pipe and stood looking about him . He had spent two hours riding around the ranch that morning , and in broad daylight it was even less inviting than Judith Pierce had made it seem . There was brush , and stands of pine that no grass could grow under , and places so steep that cattle wouldn't stop to graze . But there was water . There was an artificial lake just out of sight in the first stand of trees , fed by a half dozen springs that popped out of the ground above the hillside orchard . Yes , there was plenty of water , too much , and that was probably the trouble . There were tracks of cattle all over his six hundred and forty acres .

The first part of the road was steep , but it leveled off after the second bend and curled gradually into the valley . It was hotter once they reached the flat , and drier , but the grass was better . A warm breeze played across it , moving it like waves . A red-tailed hawk flew in behind them and stayed there , watching for any snakes or rabbits that they might stir up from the side of the road . It took them an hour before they came to the first houses of Kelseyville .

The town was about what Wilson expected : one main street with its rows of false-fronted buildings , a water tower , a few warehouses , a single hotel ; ; all dusty and sunbaked . The place was quiet .