He had left his seat and approached her; he was leaning close over her chair. While his words had suggested marriage on a purely intellectual basis he did not hesitate to bring his physical presence into the scale. He was accustomed to having his way—he had always had it—never did he want it more than he did now.... And although he had made his plea from the intellectual angle he was sure, he was very, very sure there was more than that. This girl; whose very presence delighted him—intoxicated him—would have made him mad—
"Will you say yes?" he repeated, and his hands found hers and drew her with his great strength up from her chair. She did not resist, but when she was on her feet she avoided his embrace.
"You must not hurry me," she whispered. "I must have time to think. I did not realize what you were saying until—"
"Say yes now," he urged. Transley was a man very hard to resist. She felt as though she were in the grip of a powerful machine; it was as though she were being swept along by a stream against which her feeble strength was as nothing. Zen was as nearly frightened as she had ever been in her vigorous young life. And yet there was something delightful. It would have been so easy to surrender—it was so hard to resist.
"Say yes now," he repeated, drawing her close at last and breathing the question into her ear. "You shall have time to think—you shall ask your own heart, and if it does not confirm your words you will be released from your promise."
They heard the footsteps of her father approaching, and Transley waited no longer for an answer. He turned her face to his; he pressed his lips against hers.
Zen thought over the events of that evening until they became a blur in her memory. Her principal recollection was that she had been quite swept off her feet. Transley had interpreted her submission as assent, and she had not corrected him in the vital moment when they stood before her father that night in the deep shadow of the veranda.
"Y.D.," Transley had said, "your consent and your blessing! Zen and I are to be married as soon as she can be ready."
That was the moment at which she should have spoken, but she did not. She, who had prided herself that she would make a race of it—she, who had always been able to slip out of a predicament in the nick of time—stood mutely by and let Transley and her father interpret her silence as consent. She was not sure that she was sorry; she was not sure but she would have consented anyway; but Transley had taken the matter quite out of her hands. And yet she could not bring herself to feel resentment toward him; that was the strangest part of it. It seemed that she had come under his domination; that she even had to think as he would have her think.
In the darkness she could not see her father's face, for which she was sorry; and he could not see hers, for which she was glad. There was a long moment of tense silence before she heard him say,
"Well, well! I had a hunch it might come to that, but I didn't reckon you youngsters would work so fast."
"This was a stake worth working fast for," Transley was saying, as he shook Y.D.'s hand. "I wouldn't trade places with any man alive." And Zen was sure he meant exactly what he said.
"She's a good girl, Transley," her father commented; "a good girl, even if a bit obstrep'rous at times. She's got spirit, Transley, an' you'll have to handle her with sense. She's a—a thoroughbred!"
Y.D. had reached his arms toward his daughter, and at these words he closed them about her. Zen had never known her father to be emotional; she had known him to face matters of life and death without the quiver of an eyelid, but as he held her there in his arms that night she felt his big frame tremble. Suddenly she had a powerful desire to cry. She broke from his embrace and ran upstairs to her room.
When she came down her father and mother and Transley were sitting about the table in the living-room; the room hung with trophies of the chase and of competition; the room which had been the nucleus of the Y.D. estate. There was a colored cover on the table, and the shaded oil lamp in the centre sent a comfortable glow of light downward and about. The mammoth shadows of the three people fell on the log walls, darting silently from position to position with their every movement.
Her mother arose as Zen entered the room and took her hands in a warm, tender grip.
"You're early leaving us," she said. "I'm not saying I object. I think Mr. Transley will make you a good husband. He is a man of energy, like your father. He will do well. You will not know the hardships that we knew in our early married life." Their eyes met, and there was a moment's pause.
"You will not understand for many years what this means to me, Zenith," her mother said, and turned quickly to her place at the table.
She could not remember what they had talked about after that. She had been conscious of Transley's eyes often on her, and of a certain spiritual exaltation within her. She could not remember what she had said, but she knew she had talked with unusual vivacity and charm. It was as though certain storehouses of brilliance in her being, of which she had been unaware, had been suddenly opened to her. It was as though she had been intoxicated by a very subtle wine which did not deaden, but rather quickened, all her faculties.
Afterwards, she had spent long hours among the foothills, thinking and thinking. There were times when the flame of that strange exaltation burned low indeed; times when it seemed almost to expire. There were moments—hours—of misgivings. She could not understand the strange docility which had come over her; the unprecedented willingness to have her course shaped by another. That strange willingness came as near to frightening Zen as anything had ever done. She felt that she was being carried along in a stream; that she was making no resistance; that she had no desire to resist. She had a strange fear that some day she would need to resist; some day she would mightily need qualities of self-direction, and those qualities would refuse to arise at her command.
She did not fear Transley. She believed in him. She believed in his ability to grapple with anything that stood in his way; to thrust it aside, and press on. She respected the judgment of her father and her mother, and both of them believed in Transley. He would succeed; he would seize the opportunities this young country afforded and rise to power and influence upon them. He would be kind, he would be generous. He would make her proud of him. What more could she want?
That was just it. There were dark moments when she felt that surely there must be something more than all this. She did not know what it was—she could not analyze her thoughts or give them definite form—but in these dark moments she feared that she was being tricked, that the whole thing was a sham which she would discover when it was too late. She did not suspect her mother, or her father, or Transley, one or all, of being parties to this trick; she believed that they did not know it existed. She herself did not know it existed. But the fear was there.
After a week she admitted, much against her will, that possibly Dennison Grant had something to do with it. She had not seen him since she had pressed his fingers and he had ridden away through the smoke-haze of the South Y.D. She had dutifully tried to force him from her mind. But he would not stay out of it. It was about that fact that her misgivings seemed most to centre. When she would be thinking of Transley, and wondering about the future, suddenly she would discover that she was not thinking of Transley, but of Dennison Grant. These discoveries shocked and humiliated her. It was an impossible position. She would throw Grant forcibly out of her mind and turn to Transley. And then, in an unguarded moment, Transley would fade from her consciousness, and she would know again that she was thinking of Grant.
At length she allowed herself the luxury of thinking frankly about Dennison Grant. It WAS a luxury. It brought her a secret happiness which she was wholly at a loss to understand, but which was very delightful, nevertheless. She amused herself with comparing Grant with Transley. They had two points in common: their physical perfection and their fearless, self-confident manner. With these exceptions they seemed to be complete contradictions. The ambitious Transley worshipped success; the philosophical Grant despised it. That difference in attitude toward the world and its affairs was a ridge which separated the whole current of their lives. It even, in a way, shut one from the view of the other; at least it shut Grant from the view of Transley. Transley would never understand Grant, but Grant might, and probably did, understand Transley. That was why Grant was the greater of the two....
She reproached herself for such a thought; it was disloyal to admit that this stranger on the Landson ranch was a greater man than her husband-to-be. And yet honesty—or, perhaps, something deeper than honesty—compelled her to make that admission.... She ran back over the remembered incidents of the night they had spent together, marooned like shipwrecked sailors on a rock in the foothills. His attentiveness, his courtesy, his freedom from any conventional restraint, his manly respect which was so much greater than conventional restraint—all these came back to her with a poignant tenderness. She pictured Transley in his place. Transley would probably have proposed even before he bandaged her ankle. Grant had not said a word of love, or even of affection. He had talked freely of himself—at her request—but there had been nothing that might not have been said before the world. She had been safe with Grant....
After she had thought on this theme for a while Zen would acknowledge to herself that the situation was absurd and impossible. Grant had given no evidence of thinking more of her than of any other girl whom he might have met. He had been chivalrous only. She had sat up with a start at the thought that there might be another girl.... Or there might be no girl. Grant was an unusual character....
At any rate, the thing for her to do was to forget about him. She should have no place in her mind for any man but Transley. It was true he had stampeded her, but she had accepted the situation in which she found herself. Transley was worthy of her—she had nothing to take back—she would go through with it.
On the principle that the way to drive an unwelcome thought out of the mind is to think vigorously about something else, Zen occupied herself with plans and day-dreams centering about the new home that was to be built in town. Neither her father nor Transley had as yet returned from the trip on which they had gone with a view to forming a partnership, so there had been no opportunity to discuss the plans for the future, but Zen took it for granted that Transley would build in town. He was so enthusiastic over the possibilities of that young and bustling centre of population that there was no doubt he would want to throw in his lot with it. This prospect was quite pleasing to the girl; it would leave her within easy distance of her old home; it would introduce her to a type of society with which she was well acquainted, and where she could do herself justice, and it would not break up the associations of her young life. She would still be able, now and again, to take long rides through the tawny foothills; to mingle with her old friends; possibly to maintain a somewhat sisterly acquaintance with Dennison Grant....
After ten days Y.D. returned—alone. He had scarcely been able to believe the developments which he had seen. It was as though the sleepy, lazy cow-town had become electrified. Y.D. had looked on for three days, wondering if he were not in some kind of a dream from which he would awaken presently among his herds in the foothills. After three days he bought a property. Before he left he sold it at a profit greater than the earnings of his first five years on the ranch. It would be indeed a stubborn confidence which could not be won by such an experience, and before leaving for the ranch Y.D. had arranged for Transley practically an open credit with his bankers, and had undertaken to send down all the horses and equipment that could be spared.
Transley had planned to return to the foothills with Y.D., but at the last moment business matters developed which required his attention. He placed a tiny package in Y.D.'s capacious palm.
"For the girl," he said. "I should deliver it myself, but you'll explain?"
Y.D. fumbled the tiny package into a vest pocket. "Sure, I'll attend to that," he promised. "Wasn't much of these fancy trimmin's when I settled into double harness, but lots of things has changed since then. You'll be out soon?"
"Just as soon as business will stand for it. Not a minute longer."
On his return home Y.D., after maintaining an exasperating silence until supper was finished, casually handed the package to his daughter.
"Some trinket Transley sent out," he explained. "He'll be here himself as soon as business permits."
She took the package with a glow of expectancy, started to open it, then folded the paper again and ran up to her room. Here she tempted herself for minutes before she would finally open it, whetting the appetite of anticipation to the full.... The gem justified her little play. It was magnificent; more beautiful and more expensive than anything her father ever bought her.
She hesitated strangely about putting it on. To Zen it seemed that the putting on of Transley's ring would be a voluntary act symbolizing her acceptance of him. If she had been carried off her feet—swept into the position in which she found herself—that explanation would not apply to the deliberate placing of his ring upon her finger. There would be no excuse; she could never again plead that she had been the victim of Transley's precipitateness. This would be deliberate, and she must do it herself.
She rather blamed Transley for not having left his old business and come to perform this rite himself, as he should have done. What was one day of business, more or less? Yet Zen gathered no hint from that incident that always, with Transley, business would come first. It was symbolic—prophetic—but she did not see the sign nor understand the prophecy.
She held the ring between her fingers; slipped it off and on her little fingers; held it so the rays of the sun fell through the window upon it and danced before her eyes in all their primal colors.
"I have to put this on," she said, pursing her lips firmly, "and—and forget about Dennison Grant!"
For a long time she thought of that and all it meant. Then she raised the jewel to her lips.
"Help me—help me—" she murmured. With a quick little impetuous motion she drew it on to the finger where it belonged. There she gazed upon it for a moment, as though fascinated by it. Then she fell upon her bed and lay motionless until long after the valley was wrapped in shadow.
The events of these days had almost driven from Zen's mind the tragedy of George Drazk. When she thought of it at all it presented such a grotesque unreality—it was such an unreasonable thing—that it assumed the vague qualities of a dream. It was something unreal and very much better forgotten, and it was only by an unwilling effort at such times that she could bring herself to know that it was not unreal. It was a matter that concerned her tremendously. Sooner or later Drazk's disappearance must be noted,—perhaps his body would be found—and while she had little fear that anyone would associate her with the tragedy it was a most unpleasant thing to think about. Sometimes she wondered if she should not tell her father or Transley just what had happened, but she shrank from doing so as from the confession of a crime. Mostly she was able to think of other matters.
Her father brought it up in a startling way at breakfast. Absolutely out of a blue sky he said, "Did you know, Zen, that Drazk has disappeared? Transley tells me you were int'rested a bit in him, or perhaps I should say he was int'rested in you."
Zen was so overcome by this startling change in the conversation that she was unable to answer. The color went from her face and she leaned low over her plate to conceal her agitation.
"Yep," continued Y.D., with no more concern than if a steer had been lost from the herd. "Transley said to tell you Drazk had disappeared an' he reckoned you wouldn't be bothered any more with him."
"Drazk was nothing to me," she managed to say. "How can you think he was?"
"Now who said he was?" her father retorted. "For a young woman with the price of a herd of steers on her third finger you're sort o' short this mornin'. Now I'm jus' wonderin' how far you can see through a board fence, Zen. Are you surprised that Drazk has disappeared?"
She was entirely at a loss to understand the drift of her father's talk. He could not connect her with Drazk's disappearance, or he would not approach the matter with such unconcern. That was unthinkable. Neither could Transley, or he would not have sent so brutal a message. And yet it was clear that they thought she should be interested.
Her father's question demanded an answer.
"What should I care?" she ventured at length.
"I didn't ask you whether you cared. I asked you whether you was surprised."
"Drazk's movements were—are nothing to me. I don't know that I have any occasion to be surprised about anything he may do."
"Well, I'm rather glad you're not, because if you don't jump to conclusions, perhaps other people won't. Not that it makes any partic'lar diff'rence."
"Dad," she cried in desperation, "whatever do you mean?"
"It was all plain enough to me, an' plain enough to Transley," her father continued with remarkable calmness. "We seen it right from the first."
"You're talking in riddles, Y.D.," his wife remonstrated. "You're getting Zen all worked up."
"Jewelry seems to be mighty upsettin'," Y.D. commented. "There was nothin' like that in our engagement, eh, Jessie? Well, to come to the point. There was a fire which burned up the valley of the South Y.D. Fires don't start themselves—usually. This one started among the Landson stacks, so it was natural enough to suspec' Y.D. or some of his sympathizers. Well it wasn't Y.D., an' I reckon it wasn't Zen, an' it wasn't Transley nor Linder an' every one of the gang's accounted for excep' Drazk. Drazk thought he was doin' a great piece of business when he fired the Landson hay, but when the wind turned an' burned up the whole valley Drazk sees where he can't play no hero part around here so he loses himself for good. I gathered from Transley that Drazk had been botherin' you a little, Zen, which is why I told you."
The girl's heart was pounding violently at this explanation. It was logical, and would be accepted readily by those who knew Drazk. She would not trust herself in further conversation, so she slipped away as soon as she could and spent the day riding down by the river.
The afternoon wore on, and as the day was warm she dismounted by a ford and sat down upon a flat rock close to the water. The rock reminded her of the one on which she and Grant had sat that night while the thin red lines of fire played far up and down the valley. Her ankle was paining a little so she removed her boot and stocking and soothed it in the cool water.
As she sat watching her reflection in the clear stream and toying with the ripple about her foot a horseman rode quickly down through the cottonwoods on the other side and plunged into the ford. It happened so quickly that neither saw the other until he was well into the river. Although she had had no dream of seeing him here, in some way she felt no surprise. Her heart was behaving boisterously, but she sat outwardly demure, and when he was close enough she sent a frank smile up to him. The look on his sunburned face as he returned her greeting convinced her that the meeting, on his part, was no less unexpected and welcome than it was to her.
When his horse was out of the water he dismounted and walked to her with extended hand.
"This is an unexpected pleasure," he said. "How is the ankle progressing?"
"Well enough," she returned, "but it gets tired as the day wears on. I am just resting a bit."
There was a moment of somewhat embarrassed silence.
"That is a good-sized rock," he suggested, at length.
"Yes, isn't it? And here in the shade, at that."
She did not invite him with words, but she gave her body a slight hitch, as though to make room, although there was enough already. He sat down without comment.
"Not unlike a rock I remember up in the foothills," he remarked, after a silence.
"Oh, you remember that? It WAS like this, wasn't it?"
"Same two people sitting on it."
"Not like this, though."
"No.... You're mean. You know I didn't intend to fall asleep."
"Of course not. Still...."
His voice lingered on it as though it were a delightful remembrance.
She found herself holding one of her hands in the other. She could feel the pressure of Transley's ring on her palm, and she held it tighter still.
"Riding anywhere in particular?" he inquired.
"No. Just mooning." She looked up at him again, this time at close quarters. It was a quick, bright flash on his face—a moment only.
She did not answer. Looking down in the water he met her gaze there.
"You're troubled!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, no! My—my ankle hurts a little."
He looked at her sympathetically. "But not that much," he said.
She gave a forced little laugh. "What a mind reader you are! Can you tell my fortune?"
"I should have to read it in your hand."
She would have extended her hand, but for Transley's ring.
"No.... No. You'll have to read it in—in the stars."
"Then look at me." She did so, innocently.
"I cannot read it there," he said, after his long gaze had begun to whip the color to her cheeks. "There is no answer."
She turned again to the water, and after a long while she heard his voice, very low and earnest.
"Zen, I could read a fortune for you, if you would not be offended. We are only chance acquaintances—not very well acquainted, yet—"
She knew what he meant, but she pretended she did not. Even in that moment something came to her of Transley's speech about love being a game of pretence. Very well, she would play the game—this once.
"I don't see how I could be offended at your reading my fortune," she murmured.
"Then this is the fortune I would read for you," he said boldly. "I see a young man, a rather foolish young man, perhaps, by ordinary standards, and yet one who has found a great deal of happiness in his simple, unconventional life. Until a short time ago he felt that life could give him all the happiness that was worth having. He had health, strength, hours of work and hours of pleasure, the fields, the hills, the mountains, the sky—all God's open places to live in and enjoy. He thought there was nothing more.
"Well, then he found, all of a sudden, that there was something more—everything more. He made that discovery on a calm autumn night, when fire had blackened all the foothills and still ran in dancing red ribbons over their distant crests. That night a great thing—two great things—came into his life. First was something he gave. Not very much, indeed, but typical of all it might be. It was service. And next was something he received, something so wonderful he did not understand it then, and does not understand it yet. It was trust. These were things he had been leaving largely out of his life, and suddenly he discovered how empty it was. I think there is one word for both these things, and, it may be, for even more. You know?"
"I know," she said, and her voice was scarcely audible.
"But it is YOUR fortune I am to read," he corrected himself. "It has been your fortune to open that new world to me. That can never be undone—those gates can never be closed—no matter where the paths may lead. Those two paths go down to the future—as all paths must—even as this road leads away through the valley to the sunset. Zen—if only, like this road, they could run side by side to the sunset—Oh! Zen, if they could?"
"I know," she said, and as she raised her face he saw that her eyes were wet. "I know—if only they could!"
There was a little sob in her voice, and in her beauty and distress she was altogether irresistible. He reached out his arms and would have taken her in them, but she thrust her hands in his and held herself back. She turned the diamond deliberately to his eyes. She could feel his grip relax and apparently grow suddenly cold. He stood speechless, like one dazed—benumbed.
"You see, I should not have let you talk—it is my fault," she said, speaking hurriedly. "I should not have let you talk. Please do not think I am shallow; that I let you suffer to gratify my vanity." Her eyes found his again. "If I had not believed every word you said—if I had not liked every word you said—if I had not—HOPED—every word you said, I would not have listened.... But you see how it is."
He was silent for so long that she thought he was not going to answer her at all. When he spoke it was in a dry, parched voice.
"I beg your pardon," he said. "I should not have presumed—"
"I know, I know. If only—"
Then he looked straight at her and talked out.
"You liked me enough to let me speak as I did. I opened my heart to you. I ask no such concession in return. I hope you will not think me presumptuous, but I do not plead now for my happiness, but for yours. Is this irrevocable? Are—you—sure?"
He said the last words so slowly and deliberately that she felt that each of them was cutting the very rock from underneath her. She knew she was at a junction point in her life, and her mind strove to quickly appraise the situation. On one side was this man who had for her so strange and so powerful an appeal. It was only by sheer force of will that she could hold herself aloof from him. But he was a man who had broken with his family and quarrelled with her father—a man whom her father would certainly not for a moment consider as a son-in-law. He was a foreman; practically a ranch hand. Neither Zen nor her father were snobs, and if Grant worked for a living, so did Transley. That was not to be counted against him. The point was, what kind of living did he earn? What Transley had to offer was perhaps on a lower plane, but it was more substantial. It had been approved by her father, and her mother, and herself. It wasn't as though one man were good and the other bad; it wasn't as though one thing were right and the other wrong. It would have been easy then....
"I have promised," she said at last.
She released her hands from his, and, sitting down, silently put on her stocking and boot. She was aware that he was still standing near, as though waiting to be formally dismissed. She walked by him to her horse and put her foot in the stirrup. Then she looked at him and gave her hand a little farewell wave.
Then a great pang, irresistible in its yearning, swept over her. She drew her foot from the stirrup, and, rushing down, threw her arms about his neck....
"I must go," she said. "I must go. We must both go and forget."
And Dennison Grant continued his way down the valley while Zen rode back to the Y.D., wondering if she could ever forget.
Linder scratched his tousled brown hair reflectively as he gazed after the retreating form of Transley. His hat was off, and the perspiration stood on his sunburned face—a face which, in point of handsomeness, needed make no apology to Transley.
"Well, by thunder!" said Linder; "by thunder, think of that!"
Linder stood for some time, thinking "of that" as deeply as his somewhat disorganized mental state would permit. For Transley had announced, with his usual directness, that he wanted so many men and teams for a house excavation in the most exclusive part of the city. So far they had been building in the cheaper districts a cheap type of house for those who, having little capital, are the easier deprived of what they have. The shift in operations caused Linder to lift his eyebrows.
Transley laughed boyishly and clapped a palm on his shoulder.
"I may as well make you wise, Linder," he said. "We're going to build a house for Mr. and Mrs. Transley."
"MISSUS?" Linder echoed, incredulously.
"That's the good word," Transley confirmed. "Never expected it to happen to me, but it did, all of a sudden. You want to look out; maybe it's catching."
Transley was evidently in prime humor. Linder had, indeed, noted this good humor for some time, but had attributed it to the very successful operations in which his employer had been engaged. He pulled himself together enough to offer a somewhat confused congratulation.
"And may I ask who is to be the fortunate young lady?" he ventured.
"You may," said Transley, "but if you could see the length of your nose it wouldn't be necessary. Linder, you're the best foreman I ever had, just because you don't ever think of anything else. When you pass on there'll be no heaven for you unless they give you charge of a bunch of men and teams where you can raise a sweat and make money for the boss. If you weren't like that you would have anticipated what I've told you—or perhaps made a play for Zen yourself."
"Zen? You don't mean Y.D.'s daughter?"
"If I don't mean Y.D.'s daughter I don't mean anybody, and you can take that from me. You bet it's Zen. Say, Linder, I didn't think I could go silly over a girl, but I'm plumb locoed. I bought the biggest old sparkler in this town and sent it out with Y.D., if he didn't lose it through the lining of his vest—he handled it like it might have been a box of pills—bad pills, Linder—and I've got an architect figuring how much expense he can put on a house—he gets a commission on the cost, you see—and one of these nights I'm going to buy you a dinner that'll keep you fed till Christmas. I never knew before that silliness and happiness go together, but they do. I'm glad I've got a sober old foreman—that's all that keeps the business going."
And after Transley had turned away Linder had scratched his head and said "By thunder.... Linder, when you wake up you'll be dead.... After her practically saying 'The water's fine.'... Well, that's why I'm a foreman, and always will be."
But after a little reflection Linder came to the conclusion that perhaps it was all for the best. He could not have bought Y.D.'s daughter a big sparkler or have built her a fine home—because he was a foreman. It was a round circle.... He threw himself into the building of Transley's house with as much fidelity as if it had been his own. He gave his undivided attention to Transley's interests, making dollars for him while earning cents for himself. This attention was more needed than it ever had been, as Transley found it necessary to make weekly trips to the ranch in the foothills to consult with Y.D. upon business matters.
Zen found her interest in Transley growing as his attentions continued. He spent money upon her lavishly, to the point at which she protested, for although Y.D. was rated as a millionaire the family life was one of almost stark simplicity. Transley assured her that he was making money faster than he possibly could spend it, and even if not, money had no nobler mission than to bring her happiness. He explained the blue-prints of the house, and discussed with her details of the appointments. As the building progressed he brought her weekly photographs of it. He urged her to set the date about Christmas; during the winter contracting would be at a standstill, so they would spend three months in California and return in time for the spring business.
Day by day the girl turned the situation over in her mind. Her life had been swept into strange and unexpected channels, and the experience puzzled her. Since the episode with Drazk she had lost some of her native recklessness; she was more disposed to weigh the result of her actions, and she approached the future not without some misgivings. She assured herself that she looked forward to her marriage with Transley with the proper delight of a bride-to-be, and indeed it was a prospect that could well be contemplated with pleasure.... Transley had won the complete confidence of her father and when doubts assailed her Zen found in that fact a very considerable comfort. Y.D. was a shrewd man; a man who seldom guessed wrong. Zen did not admit that she was allowing her father to choose a husband for her, but the fact that her father concurred in the choice strengthened her in it. Transley had in him qualities which would win not only wealth, but distinction, and she would share in the laurels. She told herself that it was a delightful outlook; that she was a very happy girl indeed—and wondered why she was not happier!
Particularly she laid it upon herself that she must now, finally, dismiss Dennison Grant from her mind. It was absurd to suppose that she cared more for Grant than she did for Transley. The two men were so different; it was impossible to make comparisons. They occupied quite different spheres in her regard. To be sure, Grant was a very likeable man, but he was not eligible as a husband, and she could not marry two, in any case. Zen entertained no girlish delusions about there being only one man in the world. On the contrary, she was convinced that there were very many men in the world, and, among the better types, there was, perhaps, not so much to choose between them. Grant would undoubtedly be a good husband within his means; so would Transley, and his means were greater. The blue-prints of the new house in town had not been without their effect. It was a different prospect from being a foreman's wife on a ranch. Her father would never hear of it....
So she busied herself with preparations for the great event, and what preparations they were! "Zen," her father had said, "for once the lid is off. Go the limit!" She took him at his word. There were many trips to town, and activities about the old ranch buildings such as they had never known since Jessie Wilson came to finish Y.D.'s up-bringing, nor even then. The good word spread throughout the foothill country and down over the prairies, and many a lazy cloud of dust lay along the November hillsides as the women folk of neighboring ranches came to pay their respects and gratify their curiosity. Zen had treasures to show which sent them home with new standards of extravagance.
Y.D. had not thought he could become so worked up over a simple matter like a wedding. Time had dulled the edge of memory, but even after making allowances he could not recall that his marriage to Jessie Wilson had been such an event in his life as this. It did not at least reflect so much glory upon him personally. He basked in the reflected glow of his daughter's beauty and popularity, as happily as the big cat lying on the sunny side of the bunk-house. He found all sorts of excuses for invading where his presence was little wanted while Zen's finery was being displayed for admiration. Y.D. always pretended that such invasions were quite accidental, and affected a fine indifference to all this "women's fuss an' feathers," but his affectations deceived at least none of the older visitors.
As the great day approached Y.D.'s wife shot a bomb-shell at him. "What do you propose to wear for Zen's wedding?" she demanded.
"What's the matter with the suit I go to town in?"
"Y.D.," said his wife, kindly, "there are certain little touches which you overlook. Your town suit is all right for selling steers, although I won't say that it hasn't outlived its prime even for that. To attend Zen's wedding it is—hardly the thing."
"It's been a good suit," he protested. "It is—"
"It HAS. It is also a venerable suit. But really, Y.D., it will not do for this occasion. You must get yourself a new suit, and a white shirt—"
"What do I want with a white shirt—"
"It has to be," his wife insisted. "You'll have to deck yourself out in a new suit and a while shirt and collar."
Y.D. stamped around the room, and in a moment slipped out. "All fool nonsense," he confided to himself, on his way to the bunk-house. "It's all right for Zen to have good clothes—didn't I tell her to go the limit?—but as for me, 'tain't me that's gettin' married, is it? Standin' up before all them cow punchers in a white shirt!" The bitterness of such disgrace cut the old rancher no less keenly than the physical discomfort which he forecast for himself, yet he put his own desires sufficiently to one side to buy a suit of clothes, and a white shirt and collar, when he was next in town.
It must not be supposed that Y.D. admitted to the salesman that he personally was descending to any such garb.
"A suit for a fellow about my size," he explained. "He's visitin' out at the ranch, an' he hefts about the same as me. Put in one of them Hereford shirts an' a collar."
Y.D. tucked the package surreptitiously in his room and awaited the day of Zen's marriage with mingled emotions.
Zen, yielding to Transley's importunities, had at last said that it should be Christmas Day. The wedding would be in the house, with the leading ranchers and farmers of the district as invited guests, and the general understanding was to be given out that the countryside as a whole would be welcome. All could not be taken care of in the house, so Y.D. gave orders that the hay was to be cleared out of one of the barns and the floor put in shape for dancing. Open house would be held in the barn and in the bunk-house, where substantial refreshments would be served to all and sundry.
Christmas Day dawned with a seasonable nip to the air, but the sun rose warm and bright. There was no snow, and by early afternoon clouds of dust were rising on every trail leading to the Y.D. The old ranchers and their wives drove in buckboards, and one or two in automobiles; the younger generation, of both sexes, came on horseback, with many an exciting impromptu race by the way. Y.D. received them all in the yard, commenting on the horses and the weather, and how the steers were wintering, and revealing, at the proper moments, the location of a well-filled stone jug. The faithful Linder was on hand to assist in caring for the horses and maintaining organization about the yard. The women were ushered into the house, but the men sat about the bunk-house or leaned against the sunny side of the barn, sharpening their wits in conversational sallies which occasionally brought loud guffaws of merriment.
In the house every arrangement had been completed. Zen was to come down the stairs leaning on her father's arm, and the ceremony would take place in the big central room, lavishly decorated with flowers which Transley had sent from town in a heated automobile. After the ceremony the principals and the older people would eat the wedding dinner in the house, and all others would be served in the bunk-house. One of the downstairs rooms was already filled with presents.
As the hour approached Zen found herself possessed of a calmness which she deemed worthy of Y.D.'s daughter. She had elected to be unattended as she had no very special girl friend, and that seemed the simplest way out of the problem of selecting someone for this honor. She was, however, amply assisted with her dressing, and the color of her fine cheeks burned deeper with the compliments to which she listened with modest appreciation.
At a quarter to the hour it was discovered that Y.D. had not yet dressed for the occasion. He was, in fact, engaged with Landson in making a tentative arrangement for the distribution of next year's hay. Zen had been so insistent upon an invitation being sent to Mr. and Mrs. Landson, that Y.D., although fearing a snub for his pains, at last conceded the point. He had done his neighbor rather less than justice, and now he and Landson, with the assistance of the jug already referred to, were burying the hatchet in a corner of the bunk-house.
"Dang this dressin'," Y.D. remonstrated when a message demanding instant action reached him. "Landson, hear me now! I wouldn't take a million dollars for that girl, y' understand—and I wouldn't trade a mangy cayuse for another!"
So, grumbling, he found his way to his room and began a wrestle with his "store" clothes. Before the fight was over he was being reminded through the door that he wasn't roping a steer, and everybody was waiting. At the last moment he discovered that he had neglected to buy shoes. There was nothing for it but his long ranch boots, so on they went.
He sought Zen in her room. "Will I do in this?" he asked, feeling very sheepish.
Zen could have laughed, or she could have cried, but she did neither. She sensed in some way the fact that to her father this experience was a positive ordeal. So she just slipped her arm through his and whispered, "Of course you'll do, you silly old duffer," and tripped down the stairs by the side of his ponderous steps.
After the ceremony the elder people sat down to dinner in the house, and the others in the bunk-house. Zen was radiant and calm; Transley handsome, delighted, self-possessed. His good luck was the subject of many a comment, both inside and out of the old house. He accepted it at its full value, and yet as one who has a right to expect that luck will play him some favors.
Suddenly there was a rush from outside, and Zen found herself being carried bodily away. The young people had decided that the dancing could wait no longer, so a half dozen hustlers had been deputed to kidnap the bride and carry her to the barn, where the fiddles were already strumming. Zen insisted that the first dance must belong to Transley, but after that she danced with the young ranchers and cowboys with strict impartiality. And even as she danced she found herself wondering if, among all this representation of the countryside, that one upon whom her thoughts had turned so much should be missing. She found herself watching the door. Surely it would have been only a decent respect to her—surely he might have helped to whirl her joyously away into the new life in which the past had to be forgotten.... How much better that they should part that way, than with the memories they had!
But Dennison Grant did not appear. Evidently he preferred to keep his memories....
When at last the night had worn thin and it was time for the bridal couple to leave if they were to catch the morning train in town, and they had ridden down the foothill trails to the thunder of many accompanying hoof-beats, the old ranch became suddenly a place very quiet and still and alone. Y.D. sat down in the corner of the big room by the fire, and saw strange pictures in its dying embers. Zen.... Zen!... Transley was a good fellow, but how much a man will take with scarce a thank-you!... Presently Y.D. became aware of a hand resting upon his shoulder, and tingling from its fingertips came something akin to the almost forgotten rapture of a day long gone. He raised his great palm and took that slowly ageing hand, once round and fresh like Zen's, in his. Together they watched the fire die out in the silence of their empty house....
Grant read the account of her wedding in the city papers a day or two later. It was given the place of prominence among the Christmas Day nuptials. He read it through twice and then tossed the paper to the end of his little office. Grant was housed in a building by himself; a shack twelve by sixteen feet, double boarded and tar-papered. A single square window in the eastern wall commanded a view of the Landson corrals. On the opposite side of the room was his bed; in the centre a huge wood-burning stove; near the window stood a table littered with daily papers and agricultural journals. The floor was of bare boards; a leather trunk, with D. G. in aggressive letters, sat by the head of his bed, and in the corner near the foot was a washstand with basin and pitcher of graniteware. In another corner was a short shelf of well-selected books; clothing hung from nails driven into the two-by-fours which formed the framework of the little building; a rifle was suspended over the door, and lariat and saddle hung from spikes in the wall. Grant sat in an arm chair by the stove, where the bracket lamp on the wall could shed its yellow glare upon his paper.
After throwing the sheet across the room he half turned in his chair, so that the yellow light fell across his face. Fidget, the pup, always alert for action, was on her feet in a moment, eager to lead the way to the door and whatever adventure might lie outside. But Grant did not leave his chair, and, finding all her tail-waving of no avail, she presently settled down again by the stove, her chin on her outstretched paws, her drooping eyes half closed, but a wakeful ear flopping occasionally forward and back. Grant snuggled his foot against her friendly side and fell into reverie....
There was nothing else for it; he must absolutely dismiss Zen—Zen Transley—from his mind. That was not only the course of honor; it was the course of common sense. After all, he had not sought her for his bride. He had not pressed his suit. He had given her to Transley. The thought was rather a pleasant one. It implied some sort of voluntary action upon Grant's part. He had been magnanimous. Nevertheless, he was cave man enough to know pangs of jealousy which his magnanimity could not suppress.
"If things had been different," he remarked to himself; "if I had been in a position to offer her decent conditions, I would have followed up the lead. And I would have won." He turned the incident on the river bank over in his mind, and a faint smile played along his lips. "I would have won. But I couldn't bring her here.... It's the first time I ever felt that money could really contribute to happiness. Well—I was happy before I met her; I can be happy still. This little episode...."
He crossed the room and picked up the newspaper he had thrown away; he crumpled it in his hand as he approached the stove. It said the bride was beautiful—the happy couple—the groom, prosperous young contractor—California—three months.... He turned to the table, smoothed out the paper, and studied it again. Of course he had heard the whole thing from the Landsons; they had done Y.D. and his daughter justice. He clipped the article carefully from the sheet and folded it away in a little book on the shelf.
Then he told himself that Zen had been swept from his mind; that if ever they should meet—and he dallied a moment with that possibility—they would shake hands and say some decent, insipid things and part as people who had never met before. Only they would know....
Grant occupied himself with the work of the ranch that winter, spring, and summer. Occasional news of Mrs. Transley filtered through; she was too prominent a character in that countryside to be lost track of in a season. But anything which reached Grant came through accidental channels; he sought no information of her, and turned a deaf ear, almost, to what he heard. Then in the fall came an incident which immediately changed the course of his career.
It came in the form of an important-looking letter with an eastern postmark. It had been delivered with other mail at the house, and Landson himself brought it down. Grant read it and at first stared at it somewhat blankly, as one not taking in its full portent.
"Not bad news, I hope?" said his employer, cloaking his curiosity in commiseration.
"Rather," Grant admitted, and handed him the letter. Landson read:
"It is our duty to place before you information which must be of a very distressing nature, and which at the same time will have the effect of greatly increasing your responsibilities and opportunities. Unless you have happened to see the brief despatches which have appeared in the Press this letter will doubtless be the first intimation to you that your father and younger brother Roy were the victims of a most regrettable accident while motoring on a brief holiday in the South. The automobile in which they were travelling was struck by a fast train, and both of them received injuries from which they succumbed almost immediately.
"Your father, by his will, left all his property, aside from certain behests to charity, to his son Roy, but Roy had no will, and as he was unmarried, and as there are no other surviving members of the family except yourself, the entire estate, less the behests already referred to, descends to you. We have not yet attempted an appraisal, but you will know that the amount is very considerable indeed. In recent years your father's business undertakings were remarkably successful, and we think we may conservatively suggest that the amount of the estate will be very much greater than even you may anticipate.
"The brokerage firm which your father founded is, temporarily, without a head. You have had some experience in your father's office, and as his solicitors for many years, we take the liberty of suggesting that you should immediately assume control of the business. A faithful staff are at present continuing it to the best of their ability, but you will understand that a permanent organization must be effected at as early a date as may be possible.
"Inability to locate you until after somewhat exhaustive inquiries had been made explains the failure to notify you by wire in time to permit of your attending the funeral of your father and brother, which took place in this city on the eighth instant, and was marked by many evidences of respect.
"We beg to tender our very sincere sympathy, and to urge upon you that you so arrange your affairs as to enable you to assume the responsibilities which have, in a sense, been forced upon you, at a very early date. In the meantime we assure you of our earnest attention to your interests.
"BARRETT, JONES, BARRETT, DEACON & BARRETT."
"Well, I guess it means you've struck oil, and I've lost a good foreman," said Landson, as he returned the letter. "I'm sorry about your loss, Grant, and glad to hear of your good luck, if I may put it that way."
"No particular good luck that I can see," Grant protested. "I came west to get away from all that bothering nuisance, and now I've got to go back and take it all up again. I feel badly about Dad and the kid; they were decent, only they didn't understand me.... I suppose I didn't understand them, either. At any rate they didn't wish this on me. They had quite other plans."
"What do you reckon she's worth?" Landson asked, after waiting as long as his patience would permit.
"Oh, I don't know. Possibly six or eight millions by this time."
"Six or eight millions! Jehoshaphat! What will you do with it?"
"Look after it. Mr. Landson, you know that I have never worried about money; if I had I wouldn't be here. I figure that the more money a man has the greater are his responsibilities and his troubles; worse than that, his wealth excites the jealousy of the public and even the envy of his friends. It builds a barrier around him, shutting out all those things which are really most worth while. It makes him the legitimate prey of the unprincipled. I know all these things, and it is because I know them that I sought happiness out here on the ranges, where perhaps some people are rich and some are poor, but they all think alike and live alike and are part of one community and stand together in a pinch—and out here I have found happiness. Now I'm going back to the other job. I don't care for the money, but any son-of-a-gun who takes it from me is a better man than I am, and I'll sit up nights at both ends of the day to beat him at his own game. Now, just as soon as you can line up someone to take charge I'll have to beat it."
The news of Grant's fortune spread rapidly, and many were the congratulations from his old cow puncher friends; congratulations, for the most part, without a suggestion of envy in them. Grant put his affairs in order as quickly as possible, and started for the East with a trunkful of clothes. But even before he started one thought had risen up to haunt him. He crushed it down, but it would insist. If only this had happened a year ago....
Dennison Grant's mother had died in his infancy, and as soon as Roy was old enough to go to boarding-school his father had given up housekeeping. The club had been his home ever since. Grant reflected on this situation with some satisfaction. He would at least be spared the unpleasantness of discharging a houseful of servants and disposing of the family furniture. As for the club—he had no notion for that. A couple of rooms in some quiet apartment house, where he could cook a meal to his own liking as the fancy took him; that was his picture of something as near domestic happiness as was possible for a single man rather sadly out of his proper environment.
Grant reached his old home city late at night, and after a quiet cigar and a stroll through some of the half-forgotten streets he put up at one of the best hotels. He was deferentially shown to a room about as large as the whole Landson house; soft lights were burning under pink shades; his feet fell noiselessly on the thick carpets. He placed a chair by a window, where he could watch the myriad lights of the city, and tried to appraise the new sphere in which he found himself. It would be a very different game from riding the ranges or roping steers, but it would be a game, nevertheless; a game in which he would have to stand on his own resources even more than in those brave days in the foothills. He relished the notion of the game even while he was indifferent to the prize. He had no clear idea what he eventually should do with his wealth; that was something to think about very carefully in the days and years to come. In the meantime his job was to handle a big business in the way it should be handled. He must first prove his ability to make money before he showed the world how little he valued it.
He turned the water into his bath; there was a smell about the towels, the linen, the soap, that was very grateful to his nostrils....
In the morning he passed by the office of Grant & Son. He did not turn in, but pursued his way to a door where a great brass plate announced the law firm of Barrett, Jones, Barrett, Deacon & Barrett. He smiled at this elaboration of names; it represented three generations of the Barrett family and two sons-in-law. Grant found himself speculating over a name for the Landson ranch; it might have been Landson, Grant, Landson, Murphy, Skinny & Pete....
He entered and inquired for Mr. Barrett, senior.
"Mr. David Barrett, senior, sir; he's out of the city, sir; he has not yet come in from his summer home in the mountains."
"Then the next Mr. Barrett?"
"Mr. David Barrett, junior, sir; he also is out of the city."
"Have you any more Barretts?"
"There's young Mr. Barrett, but he seldom comes down in the forenoon, sir."
Grant suppressed a grin. "The Barretts are a somewhat leisurely family, I take it," he remarked.
"They have been very successful," said the clerk, with a touch of reserve.
"Apparently; but who does the work?"
"Mr. Jones is in his office. Would you care to send in your card?"
"No, I think I'll just take it in." He pressed through a counter-gate and opened a door upon which was emblazoned the name of Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones proved to be a man with thin, iron-grey hair and a stubby, pugnacious moustache. He sat at a desk at the end of a long, narrow room, down both sides of which were rows of cases filled with impressive-looking books. He did not raise his eyes when Grant entered, but continued poring over a file of correspondence.
"What an existence!" Grant commented to himself. "And yet I suppose this man thinks he's alive."
Grant remained standing for a moment, but as the lawyer showed no disposition to divide his attention he presently advanced to the desk. Mr. Jones looked up.
"You are Mr. Jones, I believe?"
"I am, but you have the better of me—"
"Only for the moment. You are a lawyer. You will take care of that. I understand the firm of Barrett, Jones, Barrett, Deacon & Barrett have somewhat leisurely methods?"
"Is the firm on trial?" inquired Mr. Jones, sharply.
"In a sense, yes. I also understand that although all the Barretts, and also Mr. Deacon, share in the name plate, Mr. Jones does the work?"
The lawyer laid down his papers. "Who the dickens are you, anyway, and what do you want?"
"That's better. With undivided attention we shall get there much quicker. I have a certain amount of legal business which requires attention, and in connection with which I am willing to pay what the service is worth. But I'm not going to pay two generations of Barretts which are out of the city, and a third which doesn't come down in the forenoon. If I have to buy name plates, I'll buy name plates of my own, and that is what I've decided to do. Do you mind saying how much this job here is worth?"
"Of course I do, sir. I don't understand you at all—"
"Then I'll make myself understood. I am Dennison Grant. By force of circumstances I find myself—"
The lawyer had risen from his chair. "Oh, Mr. Dennison Grant! I'm so glad—"
Grant ignored the outstretched hand. "I'm exactly the same man who came into your office five minutes ago, and you were too busy to raise your eyes from your papers. It is not me to whom you are now offering courtesy; it's to my money."
"I am sure I beg your pardon. I didn't know—"
"Then you will know in future. If you've got a hand on you, stick it out, whether your visitor has any money or not."
Grant was glaring at the lawyer across the desk, and the pugnacious-looking moustache was beginning to bristle back.
"Did you come in here to read me a lecture, or to get legal advice?" the lawyer returned with some spirit.
"I came in here on business. In the course of that business I find it necessary to tell you where you get off at, and to ask you what you're going to do about it."
The lawyer came around from behind his desk. "And I'll show you," he said, very curtly. "You've been drinking, or you're out of your head. In either case I'm going to put you out of this room until you are in a different frame of mind."
"Hop to it!" said Grant, bracing himself. Jones was an oldish man, and he had no intention of hurting him. In a moment they clenched, and before Grant could realize what was happening he was on his back.
He arose quickly, laughing, and sat down in a chair. "Mr. Jones, will you sit down? I want to talk to you."
"If you will talk business. You were rude to me."
"Perhaps. For my rudeness I apologize. But I was not untruthful. And I wanted to find something out. I found it."
"Whether you had any sand in you. You have, and considerable muscle, or knack, as well. I'm not saying you could do it again—"
"Well, what is this all about?"
"Simply this. If I am to manage the business of Grant & Son I shall need legal advice of the highest order, and I want it from a man with red blood in him—I should be afraid of any other advice. What is your price? You understand, you leave this firm and think of nothing, professionally, but what I pay you for."
Mr. Jones had seated himself, and the pugnacious moustache was settling back into a less hostile attitude.
"You are quite serious?"
"Quite. You see, I know nothing about business. It is true I spent some time in my father's office, but I never had much heart for it. I went west to get away from it. Fate has forced it back upon my hands. Well—I'm not a piker, and I mean to show Fate that I can handle the job. To do so I must have the advice of a man who knows the game. I want a man who can look over a bond issue, or whatever it is, and tell me at a glance whether it's spavined or wind-broken. I want a man who can sense out the legal badger-holes, and who won't let me gallop over a cutbank. I want a man who has not only brains to back up his muscle, but who also has muscle to back up his brains. To be quite frank, I didn't think you were the man. I had no doubt you had the legal ability, or you wouldn't be guiding the affairs of this five-cylinder firm, but I was afraid you didn't have the fight in you. I picked a quarrel with you to find out, and you showed me, for which I am much obliged. By the way, how do you do it?"
Before answering Mr. Jones got up, walked around behind his desk, unlocked a drawer and produced a box of cigars.
"That's a mistake you Westerners make," he remarked, when they had lighted up. "You think the muscle is all out there, just as some Easterners will admit that the brains are all down here. Both are wrong. Life at a desk calls for an antidote, and two nights a week keep me in form. I wrestled a bit when I was a boy, but I haven't had a chance to try out my skill in a long while. I rather welcomed the opportunity."
"I noticed that. Well—what's she worth?"
Mr. Jones ruminated. "I wouldn't care to break with the firm," he said at length. "There are family ties as well as those of business. A year's leave of absence might be arranged. By that time you would be safe in your saddle. By the way, do you propose to hire all your staff by the same test?"
Grant smiled. "I don't expect to hire any more staff. I presume there is already a complete organization, doubtless making money for me at this very moment. I will not interfere except when necessary, but I want a man like you to tell me when it is necessary."
Terms were agreed upon, and Mr. Jones asked only the remainder of the week to clean up important matters on hand. Telegrams were despatched to Mr. David Barrett, senior, and Mr. David Barrett, junior, and Jones in some way managed to convey the delicate information to young Mr. Barrett that a morning appearance on his part would henceforth be essential. Grant decided to fill in the interval with a little fishing expedition. He was determined that he would not so much as call at the office of Grant & Son until Jones could accompany him. "A tenderfoot like me would stampede that bunch in no time," he warned himself.
When he finally did appear at the office he was received with a deference amounting almost to obeisance. Murdoch, the chief clerk, and manager of the business in all but title, who had known him in the old days when he had been "Mr. Denny," bore him into the private office which had for so many years been the sacred recess of the senior Grant. Only big men or trusted employees were in the habit of passing those silent green doors.
"Well Murdy, old boy, how goes it?" Grant had said when they met, taking his hand in a husky grip.
"Not so bad, sir; not so bad, considering the shock of the accident, sir. And we are all so glad to see you—we who knew you before, sir."
"Listen, Murdy," said Grant. "What's the idea of all the sirs?"
"Why," said the somewhat abashed official, "you know you are now the head of the firm, sir."
"Quite so. Because a chauffeur neglected to look over his shoulder I am converted from a cow puncher to a sir. Well, go easy on it. If a man has native dignity in him he doesn't need it piled on from outside."
"Very true, sir. I hope you will be comfortable here. Some memorable matters have been transacted within these walls, sir. Let me take your hat and cane."
"Cane? What cane?"
"Your stick, sir; didn't you have a stick?"
"What for? Have you rattlers here? Oh, I see—more dignity. No, I don't carry a stick. Perhaps when I'm old—"
"You'll have to try and accommodate yourself to our manners," said Jones, when Murdoch had left the room. "They may seem unnecessary, or even absurd, but they are sanctioned by custom, and, you know, civilization is built on custom. The poet speaks of a freedom which 'slowly broadens down from precedent to precedent.' Precedent is custom. Never defy custom, or you will find her your master. Humor her, and she will be your slave. Now I think I shall leave, while you try and tune yourself to the atmosphere of these surroundings. I need hardly warn you that the furniture is—quite valuable."
Grant saw him out with a friendly grip on his arm. "You will need another course of wrestling lessons presently," he warned him.
So this was the room which had been the inner shrine of the firm of Grant & Son. The quarters were new since he had left the East; the furnishings revealed that large simplicity which is elegance and wealth. A painting of the elder Grant hung from the wall; Dennison stood before it, looking into the sad, capable, grey eyes. What had life brought to his father that was worth the price those eyes reflected? Dennison found his own eyes moistening with memories now strangely poignant....
"Environment," the young man murmured, as he turned from the portrait, "environment, master of everything! And yet—"
A photograph of Roy stood on the mantelpiece, and beside it, in a little silver frame, was one of his mother.... Grant pulled himself together and fell to an examination of the papers in his father's desk.
Grant's first concern was to get a grasp of the business affairs which had so unexpectedly come under his direction. To accomplish this he continued the practice of the Landson ranch; he was up every morning at five, and had done a day's work before the members of his staff began to assemble. For advice he turned to Jones and Murdoch, and the management of routine affairs he left entirely in the hands of the latter. He had soon convinced himself that the camaraderie of the ranch would not work in a staff of this kind, so while he was formulating plans of his own he left the administration to Murdoch. He found this absence of companionship the most unpleasant feature of his position; it seemed that his wealth had elevated him out of the human family. He wavered between amusement and annoyance over the deference that was paid him. Some of the staff were openly terrified at his approach.
Not so Miss Bruce. Miss Bruce had tapped on the door and entered with the words, "I was your father's stenographer. He left practically all his personal correspondence to me. I worked at this desk in the corner, and had a private office through the door there into which I slipped when my absence was preferred."
She had crossed the room, and, instead of standing respectfully before Grant's desk, had come around the end of it. Grant looked up with some surprise, and noted that her features were not without commending qualities. The mouth, a little large, perhaps—
"How do you think you're going to like your job?" she asked.
Grant swung around quickly in his chair. No one in the staff had spoken to him like that; Murdoch himself would not have dared address him in so familiar a manner. He decided to take a firm position.
"Were you in the habit of speaking to my father like that?"
"Your father was a man well on in years, Mr. Grant. Every man according to his age."
"I am the head of the firm."
"That is so," she assented. "But if it were not for me and the others on your pay roll there would be no firm to require a head, and you'd be out of a job. You see, we are quite as essential to you as you are to us."
Grant looked at her keenly. Whatever her words, he had to admit that her tone was not impertinent. She had a manner of stating a fact, rather than engaging in an argument. There was nothing hostile about her. She had voiced these sentiments in as matter-of-fact a way as if she were saying, "It's raining out; you had better take your umbrella."
"You appear to be a very advanced young woman," he remarked. "I am a little surprised—I had hardly thought my father would select young women of your type as his confidential secretaries."
"Private stenographer," she corrected. "A little extra side on a title is neither here nor there. Well, I will admit that I rather took your father's breath at times; he discharged me so often it became a habit, but we grew to have a sort of tacit understanding that that was just his way of blowing off steam. You see, I did his work, and I did it right. I never lost my head when he got into a temper; I could always read my notes even after he had spent most of the day in death grips with some business rival. You see, I wasn't afraid of him, not the least bit. And I'm not afraid of you."
"I don't believe you are," Grant admitted. "You are a remarkable woman. I think we shall get along all right if you are able to distinguish between independence and bravado." He turned to his desk, then suddenly looked up again. He was homesick for someone he could talk to frankly.
"I don't mind telling you," he said abruptly, "that the deference which is being showered upon me around this institution gives me a good deal of a pain. I've been accustomed to working with men on the same level. They took their orders from me, and they carried them out, but the older hands called me by my first name, and any of them swore back when he thought he had occasion. I can't fit in to this 'Yes sir,' 'No sir,' 'Very good, sir,' way of doing business. It doesn't ring true."
"I know what you mean," she said. "There's too much servility in it. And yet one may pay these courtesies and not be servile. I always 'sir'd' your father, and he knew I did it because I wanted to, not because I had to. And I shall do the same with you once we understand each other. The position I want to make clear is this: I don't admit that because I work for you I belong to a lower order of the human family than you do, and I don't admit that, aside from the giving of faithful service, I am under any obligation to you. I give you my labor, worth so much; you pay me; we're square. If we can accept that as an understanding I'm ready to begin work now; if not, I'm going out to look for another job."
"I think we can accept that as a working basis," he agreed.
She produced notebook and pencil. "Very well, SIR. Do you wish to dictate?"
The selection of a place to call home was a matter demanding Grant's early attention. He discussed it with Mr. Jones.
"Of course you will take memberships in some of the better clubs," the lawyer had suggested. "It's the best home life there is. That is why it is not to be recommended to married men; it has a tendency to break up the domestic circle."
"But it will cost more than I can afford."
"Nonsense! You could buy out one of their clubs, holus-bolus, if you wanted to."
"You don't quite get me," said Grant. "If I used the money which was left by my father, or the income from the business, no doubt I could do as you say. But I feel that that money isn't really mine. You see, I never earned it, and I don't see how a person can, morally, spend money that he did not earn."
"Then there are a great many immoral people in the world," the lawyer observed, dryly.
"I am disposed to agree with you," said Grant, somewhat pointedly. "But I don't intend that they shall set my standards."
"You have your salary. That comes under the head of earnings, if you are finnicky about the profits. What do you propose to pay yourself?"
"I have been thinking about that. On the ranch I got a hundred dollars a month, and board."
"Well, your father got twenty thousand a year, and Roy half that, and if they wanted more they charged it up as expenses."
"Considering the cost of board here, I think I would be justified in taking two hundred dollars a month," Grant continued.
Jones got up and took the young man by the shoulders. "Look here, Grant, you're not taking yourself seriously. I don't want to assail your pet theories—you'll grow out of them in time—but you hired me to give you advice, and right here I advise you not to make a fool of yourself. You are now in a big position; you're a big man, and you've got to live in a big way. If for nothing else than to hold the confidence of the public you must do it. Do you think they're going to intrust their investments to a firm headed by a two-hundred-dollar-a-month man?"
"But I AM a two-hundred-dollar-a-month man. In fact, I'm not sure I'm worth quite that much. I've got no more muscle, and no more sense, and very little more experience than I had a month ago, when in the open market my services commanded a hundred and board."
"When a man is big enough—or his job is big enough—" Jones argued, "he arises above the ordinary law of supply and demand. In fact, in a sense, he controls supply and demand. He puts himself in the job and dictates the salary. You have a perfect right to pay yourself what other men in similar positions are getting. Besides, as I said, you'll have to do so for the credit of the firm. Do you call a doctor who lives in a tumble-down tenement? You do not. You call one from a fine home; you select him for his appearance of prosperity, regardless of the fact that he may have mortgaged his future to create that appearance, and of the further fact that he will charge you a fee calculated to help pay off the mortgage. When you want a lawyer, do you seek some garret practitioner? You do not. You go to a big building, with a big name plate"—the pugnacious moustache gave hint of a smile gathering beneath—"and you pay a big price for a man with an office full of imposing-looking books, not a tenth part of which he has ever read, or intends ever to read. I admit there's a good deal of bunco in the game, but if you sit in you've got to play it that way, or the dear public will throw you into the discard. Many a man who votes himself a salary in five figures—or gets a friendly board of directors to do it for him—if thrown unfriended between the millstones of supply and demand probably couldn't qualify for your modest hundred dollars a month and board. But he has risen into a different world; instead of being dictated to, he dictates. That is your position, Grant. Look at it sensibly."
"Nevertheless, I shall get along on two hundred a month. If I find it necessary in order to protect the interests of the business to take a membership in an expensive club, or commit any other extravagance, I shall do so, and charge it up as a business expense. Besides, I think I can be happier that way."
"And in the meantime your business is piling up profits. What are you going to do with them? Give them away?"
"No. That, too, is immoral—whether it be a quarter to a beggar or a library to a city. It feeds the desire to get money without earning it, which is the most immoral of all our desires. I have not yet decided what I shall do with it. I have hired an expert, in you, to show me how to make money. I shall probably find it necessary to hire another to show me how to dispose of it. But not a dollar will be given away."
"And so you would let the beggar starve? That's a new kind of altruism."
"No. I would correct the conditions that made him a beggar. That's the only kind of altruism that will make him something better than a beggar."
"Some people would beg in any case, Grant. They are incapable of anything better."
"Then they are defectives, and should be cared for by the State."
"Then the State may practise charity—"
"It is not charity; it is the discharge of an obligation. A father may support his children, but he must not let anyone else do it."
"Well, I give up," said Jones. "You're beyond me."
Grant laughed and extended a cigar box. "Don't hesitate," he said, "this doesn't come out of the two hundred. This is entertainment expense. And you must come and see me when I get settled."
"When you get settled—yes. You won't be settled until you're married, and you might as well do some thinking about that. A man in your position gets a pretty good range of choice; you'd be surprised if you knew the wire-pulling I have already encountered; ambitious old dames fishing for introductions for their daughters. You may be an expert with rope or branding-iron, but you're outclassed in this matrimonial game, and some one of them will land you one of these times before you know it. You should be very proud," and Mr. Jones struck something of an attitude. "The youth and beauty of the city are raving about you."
"About my money," Grant retorted. "If my father had had time to change his will they would every one of them have passed me by with their noses in the air. As for marrying—that's all off."
The lawyer was about to aim a humorous sally, but something in Grant's appearance closed his lips. "Very well, I'll come and see you if you say when," he agreed.
Grant found what he wanted in a little apartment house on a side street, overlooking the lake. Here was a place where the vision could leap out without being beaten back by barricades of stone and brick. He rested his eyes on the distance, and assured the inveigling landlady that the rooms would do, and he would arrange for decorating at his own expense. There was a living-room, about the size of his shack on the Landson ranch; a bathroom, and a kitchenette, and the rent was twenty-two dollars a month. A decorator was called in to repaper the bathroom and kitchenette, but for the living-room Grant engaged a carpenter. He ordered that the inside of the room should be boarded up with rough boards, with exposed scantlings on the walls and ceiling. No doubt the tradesman thought his patron mad, or nearly so, but his business was to obey orders, and when the job was completed it presented a very passable duplicate of Grant's old quarters on the ranch. He had spared the fireplace, as a concession to comfort. When he had gotten his personal effects out of storage, when he had hung rifle, saddle and lariat from spikes in the wall; had built a little book-shelf and set his old favorites upon it; had installed his bed and the trunk with the big D. G.; sitting in his arm chair before the fire, with Fidget's nose snuggled companionably against his foot, he would not have traded his quarters for the finest suite in the most expensive club in the city. Here was something at least akin to home.
As he was arranging the books on his shelf the clipping with the account of Zen's wedding fell to the floor. He sat down in his chair and read it slowly through. Later he went out for a walk.
It was in his long walks that Grant found the only real comfort of his new life. To be sure, it was not like roaming the foothills; there was not the soft breath of the Chinook, nor the deep silence of the mighty valleys. But there was movement and freedom and a chance to think. The city offered artificial attractions in which the foothills had not competed; faultlessly kept parks and lawns; splashes of perfume and color; spraying fountains and vagrant strains of music. He reflected that some merciful principle of compensation has made no place quite perfect and no place entirely undesirable. He remembered also the toll of his life in the saddle; the physical hardship, the strain of long hours and broken weather. And here, too, in a different way, he was in the saddle, and he did not know which strain was the greater. He was beginning to have a higher regard for the men in the saddle of business. The world saw only their success, or, it may be, their pretence of success. But there was a different story from all that, which each one of them could have told for himself.
On this evening when his mind had been suddenly turned into old channels by the finding of the newspaper clipping dealing with the wedding of Y.D.'s daughter, Grant walked far into the outskirts of the city, paying little attention to his course. It was late October; the leaves lay thick on the sidewalks and through the parks; there was in all the air that strange, sad, sweet dreariness of the dying summer.... Grant had tried heroically to keep his thoughts away from Transley's wife. The past had come back on him, had rather engulfed him, in that little newspaper clipping. He let himself wonder where she was, and whether nearly a year of married life had shown her the folly of her decision. He took it for granted that her decision had been folly, and he arrived at that position without any reflection upon Transley. Only—Zen had been in love with him, with him, Dennison Grant! Sooner or later she must discover the tragedy of that fact, and yet he told himself he was big enough to hope she might never discover it. It would be best that she should forget him, as he had—almost—forgotten her. There was no doubt that would be best. And yet there was a delightful sadness in thinking of her still, and hoping that some day—He was never able to complete the thought.
He had been walking down a street of modest homes; the bare trees groped into a sky clear and blue with the first chill presage of winter. A quick step fell unheeded by his side; the girl passed, hesitated, then turned and spoke.
"You are preoccupied, Mr. Grant."
"Oh, Miss Bruce, I beg your pardon. I am glad to see you." Even at that moment he had been thinking of Zen, and perhaps he put more cordiality into his words than he intended. But he had grown to have considerable regard, on her own account, for this unusual girl who was not afraid of him. He had found that she was what he called "a good head." She could take a detached view; she was absolutely fair; she was not easily flustered.
Her step had fallen into swing with his.
"You do not often visit our part of the city," she essayed.
"You live here?"
"Near by. Will you come and see?"
He turned with her at a corner, and they went up a narrow street lying deep in dead leaves. Friendly domestic glimpses could be caught through unblinded windows.
"This is our home," she said, stopping before a little gate. Grant's eye followed the pathway to a cottage set back among the trees. "I live here with my sister and brother and mother. Father is dead," she went on hurriedly, as though wishing to place before him a quick digest of the family affairs, "and we keep up the home by living on with mother as boarders; that is, Grace and I do. Hubert is still in high school. Won't you come in?"
He followed her up the path and into a little hall, lighted only by chance rays falling through a half-opened door. She did not switch on the current, and Grant was aware of a comfortable sense of her nearness, quite distinct from any office experience, as she took his hat. In the living-room her mother received him with visible surprise. She was not old, but widowhood and the cares of a young family had whitened her hair before its time.
"We are glad to see you, Mr. Grant," she said. "It is an unexpected pleasure. Big business men do not often—"
"Mr. Grant is different," her daughter interrupted, lightly. "I found him wandering the streets and I just—retrieved him."
"I think I AM different," he admitted, as his eye took in the surroundings, which he appraised quickly as modest comfort, attained through many little economies and makeshifts. "You are very happy here," he went on, frankly. "Much more so, I should say, than in many of the more pretentious homes. I have always contended that, beyond the margin necessary for decent living, the possession of money is a burden and a handicap, and I see no reason to change my opinion."
"Phyllis is a great help to me—and Grace," the mother observed. "I hope she is a good girl in the office."
Grant was hurrying an assent but the girl interrupted, perhaps wishing to relieve him of the necessity of an answer.
"'Decent living' is a very elastic term," she remarked. "There are so many standards. Some women think they must have maids and social status—whatever that is—and so on. It can't be done on mother's income."
"That quality is not confined to women," Grant said. "I know I am regarded as something of a freak because I prefer to live simply. They can't understand my preference for a plain room to read and sleep in, for quiet walks by myself when I might be buzzing around in big motor cars or revelling with a bunch at the club. I suppose it's a puzzle to them."
Miss Bruce had seated herself near him. "They are beginning to offer explanations," she said. "I hear them—such things always filter down. They say you are mean and niggardly—that you're afraid to spend a dollar. The fact that you have raised the wages of your staff doesn't seem to answer them; they rather hold that against you, because it has a tendency to make them do the same. Other office staffs are going to their heads and saying, 'Grant is paying his help so much.' That doesn't popularize you. To be a good fellow you should hold your staff down to the lowest wages at which you can get service, and the money you save in this way should be spent with gusto and abandon at expensive hotels and other places designed to keep rich people from getting too rich."
"I am afraid you are satirizing them a little, but there is a good deal in what you say. They think I'm mean because they don't understand me, and they can't understand my point of view. I believe that money was created as a medium for the exchange of value. I think they will all agree with me there. If that is so, then I have no right to money unless I have given value for it, and that is where they part company with me; but surely we can't accept the one fact without the other."
Grant found himself thumbing his pockets. "You may smoke, if you have tobacco," said Mrs. Bruce. "My husband smoked, and although I did not approve of it then, I think I must have grown to like it."
He lighted a cigarette, and continued. "Not all the moral law was given on Mount Sinai. It seems to me that the supernaturalism which has been introduced into the story of the Ten Commandments is most unfortunate. It seems to remove them out of the field of natural law, whereas they are, really, natural law itself. No social state can exist where they are habitually ignored. But of course these natural laws existed long before Moses. He did not make the law; he discovered it, just as Newton discovered the law of gravitation. Well—there must be many other natural laws, still undiscovered, or at least unaccepted. The thing is to discover them, to obey them, and, eventually, to compel others to obey them. I am no Moses, but I think I have the germ of the law which would cure our economic ills—that no person should be allowed to receive value without earning it. Because I believed in that I gave up a fortune and went to work as a laborer on a ranch, but Fate has forced wealth upon me, doubtless in order that I may prove out my own theories. Well, that is what I am doing."
"It shouldn't be hard to get rid of money if you don't want it," Mrs. Bruce ventured.
"But it is. It is the hardest kind of thing. You see, I am limited by my principles. I believe it is morally wrong to receive money without earning it; consequently I cannot give it away, as by doing so I would place the recipient in that position. I believe it is morally wrong to spend on myself money which I have not earned; consequently I can spend only what I conceive to be a reasonable return for my services. Meanwhile, my wealth keeps rolling up."
"It's a knotty problem," said Phyllis. "I think there is only one solution."
"And that is?—"
"Marry a woman who is a good spender."
At this moment Grace and Hubert came in from the picture-show together, and the conversation turned to lighter topics. Mrs. Bruce insisted on serving tea and cake, and when Grant found that he must go Phyllis accompanied him to the gate.
"This all seems so funny," she was saying. "You are a very remarkable man."
"I think I once passed a similar opinion about you."
She extended her hand, and he held it for a moment. "I have not changed my first opinion," he said, as he released her fingers and turned quickly down the pavement.
Grant's first visit to the home of his private stenographer was not his last, and the news leaked out, as it is sure to do in such cases. The social set confessed to being on the point of being shocked. Two schools of criticism developed over the five o'clock tea tables; one held that Grant was a gay dog who would settle down and marry in his class when he had had his fling, and the other that Phyllis Bruce was an artful hussy who was quite ready to sell herself for the Grant millions. And there were so many eligible young women on the market, although none of them were described as artful hussies!
Grant's behavior, however, placed him under no cloud in so far as social opportunities were concerned; on the contrary, he found himself being showered with invitations, most of which he managed to decline on the grounds of pressure of business. When such an excuse would have been too transparent he accepted and made the best of it, and he found no lack of encouragement in the one or two incipient amorous flurries which resulted. From such positions he always succeeded in extricating himself, with a quiet smile at the vagaries of life. He had to admit that some of the young women whom he had met had charms of more than passing moment; he might easily enough find himself chasing the rainbow....
Mrs. LeCord carried the warfare into his own office. The late Mr. LeCord had left her to face the world with a comfortable fortune and three daughters, of whom the youngest was now married and the oldest was a forlorn hope. To place the second was now her purpose, and the best bargain on the market was young Grant. Caroline, she was sure, would make a very acceptable wife, and the young lady herself confessed a belief that she could love even a bold Westerner whose bank balance was expressed in seven figures.
The fact that Grant avoided social functions only added zest to the determination with which Mrs. LeCord carried the war into his own office. She chose to consult him for advice on financial matters and she came accompanied by Caroline, a young woman rather prepossessing in her own right. The two were readily admitted into Grant's private office, where they had opportunity not only to meet the young man in person, but to satisfy their curiosity concerning the Bruce girl.
"I am Mrs. LeCord, Mr. Grant," the lady introduced herself. "This is my daughter Caroline. We wish to consult you on certain financial matters, privately, if you please."
Grant received them cordially. "I shall be glad to advise you, if I can," he said.
Mrs. LeCord cast a significant glance at Phyllis Bruce.
"Miss Bruce is my private stenographer. You may speak with perfect freedom."
Mrs. LeCord took up her subject after a moment's silence. "Mr. LeCord left me not entirely unprovided for," she explained. "Almost a million dollars in bonds and real estate made a comfortable protection for me and my three daughters against the buffetings of a world which, as you may have found, Mr. Grant, is not over-considerate."
"The buffetings of the world are an excellent training for the world's affairs."
"Maybe so, maybe so," his visitor conceded. "However, there are other trainings—trainings of finer quality, Mr. Grant—than those which have to do with subsistence. I have been able to give my daughters the best education that money could command, and, if I do say it, I permit myself some gratification over the result. Gretta is comfortably and happily married,—a young man of some distinction in the financial world—a Mr. Powers, Mr. Newton Powers—you may happen to know him; Madge, I think, is always going to be her mother's girl; Caroline is still heart-free, although one can never tell—"