"He seems in a bad way," Van Lennop said at last in a formal tone.
"It had to come—the clip he was going," she replied, seating herself on the edge of the bed and wiping the moisture from his forehead with the corner of the sheet.
The action was womanly, she herself looked softer, more womanly, than she had appeared to Van Lennop, yet he felt no relenting and wondered at himself.
She ended another silence by turning to him suddenly and asking with something of a child's blunt candor——
"You don't like me, do you?"
The awkward and unexpected question surprised him and he did not immediately reply. His first impulse was to answer with a bluntness equal to her own, but he checked it and said instead——
"One's first impressions are often lasting and you must admit, Dr. Harpe, that my first knowledge of you——"
"Was extremely unfavorable," she finished for him. "I know it." She laughed in embarrassment. "You thought, and still think, that I'm one of these medicine sharks—a regular money grabber."
Van Lennop replied dryly——
"I do not recollect ever having known another physician quite so keen about his fee."
She flushed, but went on determinedly—
"I know how it must have looked to you—I've thought of it a thousand times—but there were extenuating circumstances. I came here 'broke' with only a little black case of pills and a few bandages. My hotel bill was overdue and my little drug stock exhausted. I was 'up against it'—desperate—and I believed if that fellow got away I'd never see or hear of him again. I've had that experience and I was just in a position where I couldn't afford to take a chance. There isn't much practice here, it's a miserably healthful place, and necessity sometimes makes us seem sordid whether we are or not. I'd like your good opinion, Mr. Van Lennop. Won't you try and see my position from a more charitable point of view?"
He wanted to be fair to her, he intended to be just, and yet he found himself only able to say—
"I can't quite understand how you could find it in your heart even to hesitate in a case like that."
"I meant to do it in the end," she pleaded. "But I was wrong, I see that now, and I've been sorrier than you can know. Please be charitable."
She put out her hand impulsively and he took it—reluctantly. He wondered why she repelled him so strongly even while recognizing the odd charm of manner which was undoubtedly hers when she chose to display it.
"I hope we'll be good friends," she said earnestly.
"I trust so," he murmured, but in his heart he knew they never would be "good friends."
THEIR FIRST CLASH
The Symes Irrigation Company was now well under way. The application for segregation of 200,000 acres of irrigable land had been granted. The surveyors had finished and the line of stakes stretching away across the hills was a mecca for Sunday sight-seers. The contracts for the moving of dirt from the intake to the first station had been let and when the first furrow was turned and the first scoop of dirt removed from the excavation, Crowheart all but carried Andy P. Symes on its shoulders.
"Nothing succeeds like success," he was wont to tell himself frequently but without bitterness or resentment for previous lack of appreciation. He could let bygones be bygones, for it was easy enough to be generous in the hour of his triumph.
"He had it in him," one-time sceptics admitted.
"Blood will tell," declared his supporters emphatically and there was now no dissenting voice to the oft-repeated aphorism.
Symes moved among his satellites with that benign unbending which is a recognized attribute of the truly great. The large and opulent air which formerly he had assumed when most in need of credit was now habitual, but his patronage was regarded as a favor; indeed the Crowheart Mercantile Company considered it the longest step in its career when the commissary of the Symes Irrigation Company owed it nearly $7000.
Conditions changed rapidly in Crowheart once work actually began. The call for laborers brought a new and strange class of people to its streets—swarthy, chattering persons with long backs, and short legs, of frugal habits, yet, after all, leaving much silver in the town on the Saturday night which followed payday.
Symes's domestic life was moving as smoothly and as satisfactorily as his business affairs. A lifetime seemed to lie between that memorable journey on the "Main Line" with Augusta in her brown basque and dreadful hat, and the present. She was improving wonderfully. He had to admit that. "No, sir," he told himself occasionally, "Augusta isn't half bad." Her unconcealed adoration and devotion to himself had awakened affection in return, at least her gaucheries no longer exasperated him and they were daily growing less. Dr. Harpe had been right when she had told him that Augusta was as imitative as a parrot, and he often smiled to himself at her affectations, directly traceable to her diligent perusal of The Ladies' Own and the column devoted to the queries of troubled social aspirants. While it amused him he approved, for an imitation lady was better than the frankly impossible girl he had married. Something of this was in his mind while engaged one day in the absorbing occupation of buttoning Mrs. Symes's blouse up the back.
He raised his head at the sound of a step on the narrow porch.
There was a suspicion of irritation in his voice, for now that he came to think of it, he and Augusta had not dined alone a single evening that week.
"What of it? Do you mind, Phidias?"
"Oh, no; only isn't she crowding the mourners a little? Isn't she rather regular?"
"I asked her," Mrs. Symes replied uneasily.
"It's all right; I'm not complaining—only why don't you ask some one else occasionally?"
"I don't want them," she answered bluntly.
"The best of reasons, my dear," and Symes turned away to complete his own toilet while Augusta hastened out of the room to greet the Doctor.
Symes wondered if the installation of a meal ticket system at the Terriberry House had anything to do with the frequency with which he found Dr. Harpe at his table, and was immediately ashamed of himself for the thought. It recalled, however, an incident which had amused him, though it had since slipped his mind. He had found a pie in his writing desk and had asked Grandma Kunkel, who still formed a part of his unique menage, for an explanation.
"I'm hidin' it," she had answered shortly.
"Dr. Harpe. I have to do it if I want anything for the next meal. She helps herself. She's got an awful appetite."
He had laughed at the time at her injured tone and angry eyes and he smiled now at the recollection. It was obvious that she did not like Dr. Harpe, and he was not sure, he could not exactly say, that he liked her himself, or rather, he did not entirely like this sudden and violent intimacy between her and Augusta, which brought her so constantly to the house. Some time he meant to ask Grandmother Kunkel why she so resented Dr. Harpe's presence.
Dr. Harpe was seated in a porch chair, with one leg thrown over the arm, swinging her dangling foot, when Mrs. Symes appeared. She turned her head and eyed her critically, as she stood in the doorway.
"Gus, you're gettin' to be a looker."
Mrs. Symes smiled with pleasure at the compliment.
"You are for a fact; that's a nifty way you have of doin' your hair and you walk as if you had some gumption. Come here, Gus."
Dr. Harpe pushed her unpinned Stetson to the back of her head with a careless gesture; it was a man's gesture and her strong hand beneath the stiff cuff of her tailored shirtwaist strengthened the impression of masculinity.
She arose and motioned Mrs. Symes to take the chair she had vacated while she seated herself upon the arm.
"Where have you been all day?" There was reproach in Mrs. Symes's dark eyes as she raised them to the woman's face.
"Have you missed me?" A faint smile curved Dr. Harpe's lips.
"Missed you! I've been so nervous and restless all day that I couldn't sit still."
"Why didn't you come over to the hotel?" Dr. Harpe was watching her troubled face intently.
"I wanted to—I wanted to go so much that I determined not to give in to the feeling. Really it frightened me."
Dr. Harpe's eyes looked a muddy green, like the sea when it washes among the piling.
"Perhaps I was wishing for you—willing you to come."
"Were you? I felt as though something was making me go, making me almost against my will, and each time I started toward the door I simply had to force myself to go back. I can't explain exactly, but it was so strange."
"Very strange, Gus." Her eyes now held a curious gleam. "But the next time you want to come—come, do you hear? I shall be wishing for you."
"But why did you stay away all day?"
"I wanted to see if you would miss me—how much."
"I was miserably lonesome. Don't do it again—please!"
"You have your Phidias." There was a sneer in her voice.
"Oh, yes," Mrs. Symes responded simply, "but he has been gone all day."
"All day! Dreadful—how very sad!" She laughed disagreeably. "And are you still so desperately in love with Phidias?"
"Of course. Why not? He's very good to me. Did you imagine I was not?"
"Oh, no," the other returned carelessly.
"Then why did you ask?"
"No reason at all except that—I like you pretty well myself. Clothes have been the making of you, Gus. You're an attractive woman now."
Mrs. Symes flushed with pleasure at the unusual compliment from Doctor Harpe.
"Am I? Really?"
"You are. I like women anyhow; men bore me mostly. I had a desperate 'crush' at boarding-school, but she quit me cold when she married. I've taken a great shine to you, Gus; and there's one thing you mustn't forget."
"What's that?" Mrs. Symes asked, smiling.
"I'm jealous—of your Phidias."
"How absurd!" Mrs. Symes laughed aloud.
"I mean it." Dr. Harpe spoke lightly and there was a smile upon her straight lips, but earnestness, a kind of warning, was in her eyes.
A clatter of tinware at the kitchen window attracted Symes's attention as he came from the bedroom.
"What's the matter, grandmother?" he asked in the teasing tone he sometimes used in speaking to her. "Not the cooking sherry, I hope."
She did not smile at his badinage.
"There's enough drinkin' in this house without my help," she returned sharply.
"What do you mean?" Symes's eyes opened. "Are you serious?"
The question he saw was superfluous.
"It's nothin' I'd joke about."
"You amaze me. Do you mean Augusta—drinks?"
"No; always with Dr. Harpe. Dr. Harpe drinks like a man—that size." She held up significant fingers.
"I know that Dr. Harpe's sentiments are not—er—strictly temperance, but Augusta—this is news to me, and I don't like it." He thrust his hands deep in his trousers pockets and leaned his shoulder against the door jamb.
"When did this commence?"
"With the comin' of that woman to this house."
"It's curious—I've never noticed it."
"They've taken care of that. She's a—nuisance."
"You don't like Dr. Harpe?" Watching her face, Symes saw the change which flashed over it with his question.
"Like her! Like Dr. Harpe?" She took a step toward him, and the intensity in her voice startled him. Her little gray eyes seemed to dart sparks as she answered—"I come nearer hatin' her than I ever have any human bein'!"
"But why?" he persisted. Perhaps in her answer he would find an answer to the question he had but recently asked himself.
There was confusion in the old woman's eyes as they fell before his.
"Because," she answered finally, with a tightening of her lips.
"There's no definite reason? Nothing except your prejudice and this matter you've mentioned?"
A red spot burned on either withered cheek. She hesitated.
"No; I guess not," she said, and turned away.
"If I thought for a moment that her influence over Augusta was not good I'd put an end to this intimacy at once; but I suppose it's natural that she should desire some woman friend and it seems only reasonable to believe that a professional woman would be a better companion than that illiterate Parrott creature or the tittering Starrs." Symes shifted his broad shoulders to the opposite side of the door and his tone was the essence of complacency as he went on—
"Yes, if I had the shadow of a reason for forbidding this silly schoolgirl friendship I'd stop it quick."
The old woman's lips twisted in a faintly cynical smile.
"And could you?"
Symes laughed. Nothing could have been more preposterous than the suggestion that his control over Augusta was not absolute.
"Why, certainly. I mean to speak to Augusta at once in regard to this matter of drinking. I've never approved of it for women. There are two things that cannot be denied—Augusta is obedient and she's truthful." His good-nature restored by the contemplation of these facts, he turned away determined to demonstrate his control of the situation for his own and the old woman's benefit at the earliest opportunity. In fact, the present was as good as any.
He walked to the door opening upon the porch, where Dr. Harpe still sat on the arm of the chair, her hand resting upon Augusta's shoulder.
"One moment, Augusta, if you please."
She arose at once with a slightly inquiring look and followed him inside.
"I have reason to believe, or rather to know, that you have fallen into the way of doing something of which I do not at all approve," he began. "I mean drinking, Augusta. It's nothing serious, I am aware of that, it's only that I do not like it, so oblige me by not doing that sort of thing again." His tone was kindly but final.
He expected to see contrition in Augusta's face, her usual penitence for mistakes; instead of which there was a sullen resentment in the glance she flashed at him from her dark eyes.
"It's true, isn't it? You do not mean to deny it?"
"You intend to respect my wishes, of course?"
"Of course." She turned from him abruptly and went back to the porch.
The action was unlike her. He was still thinking of it when he put on his hat and went down town to attend to an errand before dinner.
As the gate swung behind him Dr. Harpe said unpleasantly—
"You were raked over the coals, eh, Gus?"
Mrs. Symes flushed in discomfiture.
"Oh, no—not exactly."
"Oh, yes, you were. Don't deny it; you're as transparent as a window-pane. What was it?"
"He has found out—some one has told him that we—that I have been drinking occasionally."
"That old woman." Dr. Harpe jerked her head contemptuously toward the kitchen.
"Probably it was grandma—she doesn't like it, I'm sure, for I never was allowed to do anything of the sort; in fact, I never thought of it or cared to."
"You are a free human being, aren't you? You can do what you like?"
"I've always preferred to do what Phidias liked since we've been married."
"Phidias! Phidias! You make me tired! You talk like a peon!"
Her hand rested heavily upon Mrs. Symes's shoulder. "Assert yourself—don't be a fool! Let's have a drink." Mrs. Symes winced under her tightening grip.
"Oh, no, no," she replied hastily. "Phidias would be furious. I—I wouldn't dare."
"Look here." She took Mrs. Symes's chin in her hand and raised her face, looking deep into her eyes. "Won't you do it for me? because I ask you?"
"I can't." There was an appeal in her eyes as she lifted them to the determined face above her.
"You can. You will. Do you want me to stay away again?"
"No, no, no!"
"Then do what I ask you—just this once, and I'll not ask it again." She saw the weakening in the other woman's face. "Come on," she urged.
Mrs. Symes rose mechanically with a doubting, dazed expression and Dr. Harpe followed her inside.
Throughout the constraint of the dinner Dr. Harpe sat with a lurking smile upon her face. The domestic storm she had raised had been prompted solely by one of those impulses of deviltry which she seemed sometimes unable to restrain. It was not the part of wisdom to antagonize Symes, but her desire to convince him, and Augusta, and herself, that hers was the stronger will when it came to a test, was greater than her discretion. This was an occasion when she could not resist the temptation to show her power, and Symes with his eyes shining ominously found her illy-concealed smirk of amusement and triumph far harder to bear than Augusta's tittering, half-hysterical defiance.
When she had gone and Symes had closed the door of their sleeping apartment behind him he turned to Augusta.
"Well, what explanation have you to make?"
The cold interrogation brought her to herself like a dash of water.
"Oh, Phidias!" she whimpered, and sank down upon the edge of the bed, rolling her handkerchief into a ball between her palms, like an abashed and frightened child.
Her uncertain dignity, her veneer of breeding dropped from her like a cloak and she was again the blacksmith's sister, self-conscious, awed and tongue-tied in the imposing presence of Andy P. Symes. Her prominent knees visible beneath her thin skirt, her flat feet sprawling at an awkward angle, unconsciously added to Symes's anger. She looked, he thought, like a terrified servant that has broken the cut-glass berry bowl. Yet subconsciously he was aware that he was wounded deeper than his vanity by her disregard of his wishes.
"I insist upon an answer."
"I—I haven't any answer except—that—that I'm sorry."
"Did you drink at Dr. Harpe's suggestion?" he demanded in growing wrath.
She wadded the handkerchief between her palms and swallowed hard before she shook her head.
"She should never come here again if I thought you were not telling me the truth."
Agitation leaped into her eyes beneath their lowered lids and she blurted in a kind of desperation—
"But I am—it was my fault—I suggested it—she had nothing to do with it!"
"Am I to understand that you have no intention of respecting my wishes in this matter?"
She arose suddenly and began weeping upon his shoulder. The action and her tears softened him a little.
"Am I, Augusta?"
"No; I'll never do it again—honest truly."
"That's enough, then—we'll say no more about it. This is a small matter comparatively, but it is our first clash and we must understand each other. Where questions arise which concern your welfare and mine you must abide by my judgment, and this is one of them. I am old-fashioned in my ideas concerning women, or, rather, concerning the woman that is my wife, and I do not like the notion of your drinking alone or with another woman; with anyone else, in fact, except when you are with me—and then moderately. Personally, I like a womanly woman; Dr. Harpe is—amusing—but I should not care to see you imitate her. One does not fancy eccentricity in one's wife. There, there," he kissed her magnanimously, "now we'll forget this ever happened."
ESSIE TISDALE'S COLORS
Essie Tisdale's ostracism was practically complete, her position was all that even Dr. Harpe could desire, yet it left that person unsatisfied. There was something in the girl she could not crush, but more disquieting than that was the fact that her isolation seemed only to cement the friendship between her and Van Lennop, while her own progressed no farther than a bowing acquaintance. His imperturbable politeness formed a barrier she was too wise to attempt to cross until another opportune time arrived. But she fretted none the less and her eagerness to know him better increased with the delay.
She had plenty of time, too, in which to fret, for her practice was far from what she desired, owing to the climate, the exasperating healthfulness of which she so frequently lamented, and the arrival of a pale personality named Lamb who somehow had managed to pass the State Board of Medical Examiners. The only gratifying feature of her present life was the belief that Essie Tisdale was feeling keenly her altered position in Crowheart. The girl gave no outward sign, yet Dr. Harpe knew that it must be so.
The change in people Essie Tisdale had known well was so gradual, so elusive, so difficult of description that in her brighter moments she told herself that it was imaginary and due to her own supersensitiveness. But it was not for long that she could so convince herself, for her intuitions were too sure to admit of her going far astray in her conclusions.
She detected the note of uneasiness in Mrs. Percy Parrott's hysterical mirth when they met in public, although she was entirely herself if no one was about. The Percy Parrotts, with nearly $400 in the bank to their credit, were climbing rapidly, and Mrs. Parrott lost no opportunity to explain how dreadfully shocked mamma was when she learned that her only daughter was doing her own work—Mrs. Parrott being still in ignorance of the fact that local sleuths had learned to a certainty that Mrs. Parrott formerly had lived on a street where the male residents left with their dinner pails when the whistle blew in the morning.
Essie Tisdale saw Mrs. Alva Jackson's furtive glances toward the Symes's home when they met for a moment on the street and she interpreted correctly the trend of events when Mrs. Abe Tutts ceased to invite her to "run in and set a spell."
Pearline and Planchette Starr no longer laid their arms about her shoulders and there was constraint in the voices of the younger sisters, Lucille and Camille when they sang out "Hullo" on their way to school.
The only persons in whom Essie could detect no change were "Hank" and Mrs. Terriberry, the latter herself clinging desperately to the fringe of Crowheart's social life, determined that no ordinary jar should shake her loose.
Van Lennop himself saw, since Essie had made the situation clear to him, the patronizing manner of her erstwhile friends, the small discourtesies, the petty slights, and he found springing up within him a feeling of partisanship so vigorous as frequently to surprise himself. Were they really so ignorant, so blind, he asked himself, as to be unable to see that the girl, regardless of her occupation or antecedents, had a distinction of mind and manner which they could never hope to achieve? Of her parentage he knew nothing, for she seldom talked of herself, but he felt there was breeding somewhere to account for her clean, bright mind, the shapeliness of her hands, the slender feet and ankles and that rare carriage of her head. Immigrant stock, he assured himself, did not produce small pink ears, short upper lips, and a grace as natural as an antelope's.
But it was a small thing in itself—it is nearly always small things which precipitate great ones—that at last stirred Van Lennop to his depth.
They were riding that afternoon and the saddle horses were at the long hitching post in front of the hotel when Symes came down the street as Essie stepped from the doorway. She bowed as he passed, while Van Lennop mechanically raised his hat. The half-burnt cigar stayed in the corner of Symes's mouth, his hands in his trousers pockets, and his grudging nod was an insult, the greater that a few steps on he lifted his hat with a sweeping bow to Mrs. Alva Jackson.
Van Lennop's face reddened under its tan.
"Does he—do that often?" His voice was quiet, but there was a quaver in it.
"Often," Essie Tisdale answered.
They galloped out of town in silence. The incident seemed to have robbed the day of its brightness for the girl and a frown rested upon Van Lennop's usually calm face. They often rode in silence, but it was the silence of comradeship and understanding; it was nothing like this which was lasting for a mile or more. She made an effort at speech after awhile, but it was plainly an effort, and he answered in monosyllables. She glanced at him sideways once or twice and she saw that his eyes were narrowed in thought and their grayness was steel.
When the town was lost to sight and their horses had dropped to a walk on the sandy road which stretched to the horizon, Essie turned in her saddle and looked behind her.
"I wish we were never going back!" she said impulsively. "I hate it all! I wish we were going on and on—anywhere—but back—don't you?"
His eyes were upon her as she spoke, and he had no notion how they softened, while her color rose at something in his voice as he answered—
"I can imagine worse things in life than riding 'on and on' with Essie Tisdale. But"—his tone took on a new and vigorous inflection—"I want to go back. I want to stay. As a matter of fact I'm just getting interested in Crowheart."
She looked at him questioningly and then explained—
"It couldn't be, of course; I was only wishing, but you don't understand quite—about things."
He spoke promptly—
"I think I do—far better than you believe—and I've about made up my mind to take a hand myself. I cannot well be less chivalrous, less loyal than you."
She looked puzzled, but he did not explain that he had overheard her valiant defence of himself to old Edouard Dubois.
"You're not vindictive, are you?"
She shook her head.
"I think not, but I am what is just as bad, perhaps—terribly unforgiving."
"Even your beloved Stevenson was not too meek," he reminded her. "Do you remember his essay 'Ordered South'?"
"If I am quoting correctly, he says in speaking of a man's duties: 'He, as a living man, has some to help, some to love, some to correct; it may be, some to punish.' And," he was speaking to himself now rather than to her, "the spirit of retaliation is strong within me."
She answered, "They've been very unjust to you, but I did not think you'd noticed."
He laughed aloud.
"To me? Do you think I'd trouble myself for anything they might say or do to me?"
Her eyes widened—
"You don't mean because of——"
"You? Exactly. Aren't we friends—the best of friends—Essie Tisdale?"
The quick tears filled her eyes.
"Sometimes," she answered chokingly, "I think you are my only friend." She continued, "And that's the reason I want you to be careful. Don't resent anything on my account——"
"That's the privilege of friendship," he answered with a reassuring smile. "But why be careful—of whom?" There was some curtness in his voice. "Symes?"
"And why Symes?"
"You must remember that you are in a country where the people are poor and struggling. Money is power, and influence, and friends. He has all, and we have neither. I appreciate your reasons, and am more grateful than I can tell you, but you would only hurt yourself, and Andy P. Symes cannot be—reached; is that the word?"
Van Lennop's lips twitched ever so slightly and he turned his head away that she might not see the betraying twinkle which he felt was in his eyes. When his face was quite grave again, he replied—
"Yes, 'reached' is the word, but there are few of us who cannot be reached when it comes to that, for somewhere there is some one who has the 'long arm.'" Once more the shadow of a smile rested upon his lips. "I still believe that Andy P. Symes might be 'reached.'"
"But," she argued, "it is his privilege to withdraw his friendship, if he likes."
"But not his privilege to treat you with disrespect—to insult you both openly and covertly. I like fair play, and Symes fights with a woman's weapons. Listen, Essie Tisdale. I mean from now on to wear your colors in the arena where men fight—the arena where I have moderately indulged my combative proclivities with the weapons I know best how to use—the arena where there is no quarter given or received. The most satisfying retaliation is to make money out of your enemies. Concentrate your energy; don't waste it in words. Allow me to add to my income."
He concluded with a whimsical smile, but she had been studying his face wonderingly as he talked, for it wore an expression which was new to her. The keen, worldly look of a man of affairs when his mind reverts to business had come into his eyes and his voice was curt, assured, containing the unconscious authority of one who knows his power.
Essie Tisdale's knowledge of the world was too limited for her to entirely grasp the significance of his words; she felt, rather, the chivalry which inspired them, that spirit of defence of the weaker which lies close to the surface in all good men.
She put out her hand with a gesture of protest.
"Don't antagonize him. Your friendship and your sympathy are enough. To know that you are too big, too strong, to be influenced by the reasons which have made cowards of those upon whom I counted, is all I want. You can't tell to what lengths these people here will go when their private interests are attacked, and that is what Andy P. Symes represents to them."
"You are not very complimentary," he laughed. "You don't think highly of my ability, I'm afraid. What you tell me is not news. Self-interest is the controlling factor in the affairs of human life. I've learned this largely by having my cuticle removed in many quarters of the globe. The methods here are rather raw and shameless, also more novel and picturesque. We accomplish the same result with more finesse in the East."
"I wasn't thinking of your ability, but of your safety," she said quickly. "I know this world out here as you know yours, and——"
"Remember this, Essie Tisdale," he interrupted, and unexpectedly he leaned and laid his gloved hand upon her fingers as they rested on the saddle horn, "whatever I may do, I do of my own volition, freely, gladly—yes, eagerly."
He spoke more lightly as he withdrew his hand and continued—
"The situation appeals to my sporting blood which I believe has been greatly underrated in Crowheart." He laughed as he remembered Dubois's complaints. "Whatever I may chose to do in the future, please consider that I regard it solely in the light of recreation. It's one's enemies that give a zest to life, you know, and if I choose to match my wits against the wits of Andy P. Symes—my wits and resources—don't grudge me the pleasure, for it is in much the same spirit in which I might play the races or work out a game of chess."
"But," she shook her head dubiously, "with less chance of success."
"THE ETHICS OF THE PROFESSION"
Andy P. Symes sat in his comfortable porch chair in the cool of the evening, at peace with all the world. His frame of mind was enviable; indeed, that person would be hard to please who could look down the vista of pleasant probabilities which stretched before his mental vision and not feel tolerably serene.
His enterprise had been singularly free from the obstacles, delays, and annoyances which so often attend the getting under way of a new undertaking. Mudge, the Chicago promoter, had been particularly successful in disposing of the Company's bonds, at least a sufficient number to keep the work going and meet the local obligations. Save in a few instances, the contractors had made money on their contracts and were eager for more. The commissary was a source of revenue and there were certain commissions and rebates in the purchase of equipment which he did not mention but which added materially to his income. His salary, thus far, had been ample and sure. Symes told himself, and sometimes others, that he had nothing in life to trouble him, that he was, in fact, that rare anomaly—a perfectly happy man.
This evening in the agreeable picture which he could see quite plainly by merely closing his eyes, there was an imposing residence that bore the same relation to Crowheart which the manor house does to the retainers upon a great English estate. He could see a touring car which sent the coyotes loping to their dens and made the natives gape; not so close, but equally distinct, a friendly hand was pointing the way to political honors whose only limit was his own desires. And Augusta—his smile of complacency did not fade—she was equal to any emergency now, he believed. She had not only changed amazingly but she was still changing and Symes watched the various stages of her development with quiet interest and approval. It is true he missed her former demonstrativeness and open admiration of himself, but he considered her self-repression a mark of advancement, an evidence of the repose of manner which she was cultivating. There were times, he thought, when she carried it a bit too far, when she seemed indifferent, unresponsive to his moods, but at such moments he would assure himself that not for the world would he have had her as she was in the beginning.
She was happy, too; he could hear her occasional laughter and the murmur of her voice as she swung in the hammock at the corner of the house with Dr. Harpe. On his right, he heard the unceasing click of Grandmother Kunkel's needles as they flew in and out upon the top row of the woollen stocking that was never done. It was a pleasing domestic scene and he opened his eyes lazily to enjoy it. They sought the hammock and their listlessness was gradually replaced by an intentness of gaze which became a stare.
"Grandmother," he said after a time, and he noticed that her mouth was a tight pucker of displeasure, though she seemed to have eyes only for her work. "You remember our conversation some time ago—have you changed your opinion in regard to the person we discussed?"
In the look she flashed at him he read not only the answer to his question but something of the fierce emotion which was finding vent in her flying needles.
"I haven't!" she snapped.
"You truly believe that her influence over Augusta is not good?"
She leaned toward him in quiet intensity—
"Believe it? I know it! I've been prayin' that you might see it yourself before it is too late."
"Too late? What do you mean?"
"Just what I say." Her old chin trembled. "Before Augusta has lost every spark of affection for you and me—before I am sent away."
He looked at her incredulously.
"You don't mean that?"
"I've been warned already. I'm in Dr. Harpe's way; she knows what I think of her, and she'd rather have some stranger here."
"You amaze me. Does she dominate Augusta to such an extent as that!"
His mind ran back over the events of the past few weeks and he could see that those occasions from which Dr. Harpe had been excluded had seemed flat, stale, footless to Augusta. She had been absent-minded, preoccupied, even openly bored. He recalled the fact now that it was only at this woman's coming that animation had returned and that she had hung absorbed, fascinated upon her words. She became alive in her presence as though she drew her very vitality from this stronger-willed woman.
"I've noticed a change—but I thought it was nerves—the altitude, perhaps—and I've intended taking her with me on my next trip East."
"She wouldn't go."
"I can't believe that."
"Ask her," was the grim reply.
"She obeyed me in that other matter," Symes argued.
"Because she was allowed to do so."
"I'm going to stop this intimacy; I'm tired of her interference—tired of seeing her around—tired of boarding her, as a matter of fact, and I will end it." He spoke in intense exasperation.
"Look out, Andy P., you'll make a mistake if you try in that way. You might have done it in the beginnin' or when I first warned you; but Augusta's like putty in her hands now. She don't seem to have any will of her own or gratitude—or affection. I'm tellin' you straight, Andy P."
"There is a way, if I could bring myself to do it."
"Make Augusta jealous. Touch her pride, wound her vanity by making love to Dr. Harpe. No," he put the thought from him vehemently, "I'm not that kind of a hypocrite. But she can't be invulnerable—tell me her weaknesses. You women know each other."
The old woman assented vigorously—
"I know her you kin be sure. For one thing she's a coward. She's brave only when she thinks she's safe. She's afraid of people—of what they'll say of her, and she's crazy for money."
They were getting up, the two in the hammock, and as Dr. Harpe sauntered to the porch, Andy P. Symes looked at her in a sudden and violent dislike which he took no pains to conceal. Her hands were shoved deep in her jacket pockets as she swaggered toward him, straight strands of hair hung in dishevelment about her colorless, immobile face, while her muddy hazel eyes became alternately shifting or bold as she noted the intentness of his gaze. No detail of her slovenly appearance, her strange personality, escaped him.
"I'll be goin', Gus; good-night," Dr. Harpe said shortly. She felt both uneasy and irritated by the expression on his face.
Symes watched her swaggering down the sidewalk to the gate, and when it had slammed behind her, he said, sharply—
"I'll be greatly obliged to you, Augusta, if you will ask Dr. Harpe not to abbreviate your name. It's vulgar and I detest it."
Mrs. Symes turned and regarded him coolly for a moment before answering.
"I do not in the least mind what Dr. Harpe calls me."
"That is obvious"—his voice was harsh—"but I do—most emphatically."
Her eyes flashed defiance.
"Then tell her yourself, for I have no notion of doing so," and she stalked inside the house.
The incident of the evening brought to a head certain plans which long had been formulating in Dr. Harpe's mind; and the result was a note which made his lip curl as he read and re-read it the next morning with various shadings of angry scorn.
MY DEAR MR. SYMES:
Kindly call at your earliest convenience, and oblige,
Faithfully yours, EMMA HARPE
Symes had spent a sleepless night and his mood was savage. Another defiant interview before leaving the house had not improved it and now this communication from Dr. Harpe came as a climax.
He swung in his office chair.
"'My earliest convenience!' If that isn't like her confounded impudence—her colossal nerve! When she's stalking past here every fifteen minutes all day long. 'My earliest convenience!' By gad!"—he struck the desk in sudden determination—"I'm just in the mood to humor her. Things have come to a pretty pass when Andy P. Symes can't say who and who not shall be admitted to his home. If she wants to know what's the matter with me, I'll tell her!"
He closed his desk with a slam and slung his broad-brimmed hat upon his head. Dr. Harpe, glancing through her window, read purpose in his stride as he came down the street. Her green eyes took on the gleam of battle and to doubly fortify herself she wrenched open her desk drawer and filled a whiskey glass to the brim. When she had drained it without removing it from her lips she drew her shirtwaist sleeve across her mouth to dry it, in a fashion peculiarly her own. Then she tilted her desk chair at a comfortable angle and her crossed legs displayed a stocking wrinkled in its usual mosquetaire effect. She was without her jacket but wore a man's starched pique waistcoat over her white shirtwaist, and from one pocket there dangled a man's watch-fob of braided leather. She threw an arm over the chair-back and toyed with a pencil on her desk, waiting in this studied pose of nonchalance the arrival of Symes.
The occasion when he had last climbed the stairs of the Terriberry House for the purpose of visiting Dr. Harp was unpleasantly vivid and the secret they had in common nettled him for the first time. But secret or no secret he was in no humor to temporize or conciliate and there were only harsh thoughts of the woman in his mind.
"How are you, Mr. Symes?" She greeted him carelessly as he opened the door, without altering her position.
"Good morning," he responded curtly. There was no trace of his usual urbanity and he chewed nervously upon the end of an unlighted cigar.
"Sit down." She waved him casually to a chair, and there was that in her impudent assurance which made him shut his teeth hard upon the mutilated cigar.
"Thanks," he said stiffly, and did as she bid him.
"Light up," she urged, and fumbled in a pocket of her waistcoat for a match which she handed him. "Guess I'll smoke myself. It helps me talk, and that's what we're here for."
He had not known that she smoked, and as he watched her roll a cigarette with the skill of much practice the action filled him with fresh repugnance. Through rings of smoke he regarded her with coldly quizzical eyes while he waited for her to open the conversation.
"I've got a proposition to put up to you," she began, "a scheme that I had in the back of my head ever since you started in to 'make the desert bloom like the rose.'"
Her covert sneer did not escape him, but he made no sign.
She went on—
"It's an easy graft; it's done everywhere, and I know it'll work here like a breeze."
Graft was a raw word and Symes's face hardened slightly, but he waited to hear her out.
"You're putting a big force of men on the ditch, I understand. How many?"
"About five hundred."
"Give me a medical contract."
So that was it? His eyes lit up with understanding. She wanted to make money—through him? Her tone and attitude was not exactly that of a person asking a favor. A faint smile of derision curved his lips. She saw it and added—
"I'll give you a rake-off."
He resented both the words and her tone, but she only laughed at the frown which appeared for a moment.
"You're 'out for the stuff,' aren't you?" she demanded. "Well, so am I."
He regarded her silently. Had she always been so coarse of speech, he wondered, or for some reason he could not divine was she merely throwing off restraint? Brushing the ashes from his cigar with deliberation, he inquired non-committally—
"Just what is your scheme?"
"It's simple enough, and customary. Take a dollar a month out of your employees' wages for medical services and I'll look after them and put up some kind of a jimcrow hospital in case they get too bad to lie in the bunk-house on the works. I can run in some kind of a cheap woman to cook and look after them and you bet the grub won't founder 'em. Why, there's nothin' to it, Mr. Symes—I can run the joint, give you two bits out of every dollar, and still make money."
Symes scarcely heard what she said for looking at her face. It seemed transformed by cupidity, a kind of mean penuriousness which he had observed in the faces of persons of small interests, but never to such a degree. "She's money mad," Grandmother Kunkel had said; the old woman was right.
He was not squeamish, Andy P. Symes, and it was true that he was "out for the stuff," but the woman's bald statement shocked him. Upon a few occasions Symes had been surprised to find that he had standards of conduct, unsuspected ideals, and somehow, her attitude toward her profession outraged his sense of decency. If a minister of the gospel had hung over his Bible and shouted from the pulpit "I'm out for the stuff!" the effect upon Symes would have been much the same.
Until she thrust her sordid views upon him he had not realized that he entertained for the medical profession any deeper respect than for any other class of persons engaged in earning a livelihood, but now he remembered that the best physicians he had known had seemed to look upon their life-work as a consecration of themselves to humanity and the most flippant among them, as men, had always a dignity apart from themselves when they became the physician, and he knew, too, that as a class they were jealous of the good name of their profession and sensitive to a degree where anything affected its honor. The viewpoint now presented was new to him and sufficiently interesting to investigate further; besides it shed a new light upon the woman's character.
"But supposing the men object to such a deduction," he said tentatively. "There's little sickness in this climate and the camps are sanitary."
"Object? What of it!" she argued eagerly. "They'll have to submit if you say so; certainly they're not goin' to throw up their jobs for a dollar. Work's too scarce for that. They can't kick and they won't kick if you give 'em to understand that they've got to dig up this dollar or quit."
"But," Symes evaded, "the most of this work is let to contractors and it's for them to determine; I don't feel like dictating to them."
"Why not?" Her voice quavered with impatience. "They want new contracts. They'd make the arrangement if they thought it would please you?"
"But," Symes answered coolly, "I don't know that it would please me."
He saw the quick, antagonistic glitter which leaped into her eyes, but he went on calmly—
"Where the work is dangerous and the force is large your scheme is customary and practicable, I know, but upon a project of this size where the conditions are healthy, there is nothing to justify me in demanding a compulsory contribution of $500 a month for your benefit."
She controlled her temper with visible effort.
"But there will be dangerous work," she urged. "I've been over the ground and I know. There'll be a tunnel, lots of rock-work, blasting, and, in consequence, accidents."
"That would be my chief objection to giving you the contract."
"What do you mean?"
His smile was ironical as he answered—
"You are not a surgeon."
"Hell! I can plaster 'em up somehow."
Symes stared. His expression quickly brought her to a realization of the mistake into which her angry vehemence had led her and she colored to the roots of her hair.
"Your confidence is reassuring," he said dryly at the end of an uncomfortable pause. "But tell me,"—her callousness aroused his curiosity—"would you, admittedly without experience or practical surgical knowledge, be willing to shoulder the responsibilities which would come to you in such a position?"
"I told you," she answered obstinately, "I can fix 'em up somehow; I can do the trick and get away with it. You needn't be afraid of me."
"What I'm afraid of isn't the question; but haven't you any feeling of moral responsibility when it comes to tinkering and experimenting with the lives and limbs of workingmen who have families dependent upon them?"
"What's the use of worryin' over what hasn't happened?" she asked evasively. "I'll do the best I can."
"But supposing 'the best you can' isn't enough? Supposing through inexperience or ignorance you blunder, unmistakably, palpably blunder, what then?"
"Well," she shrugged her shoulder, "I wouldn't be the first."
"But," he suggested ironically, "a victim has redress."
"Not a doctor's victim. Did you ever hear of a patient winnin' a case against a doctor? Did you ever hear of a successful malpractice suit?"
"I can't say that I've known the sort of doctors who figure in malpractice suits, but since I think of it I don't believe I ever read or heard of one who ever did."
"And you won't," she said tersely.
"Why not? The rest of the world must pay for the mistakes of incompetency."
"'The ethics of the profession,'" she quoted mockingly. "We protect each other. The last thing a doctor wants to do, or will do, is to testify against a fellow practitioner. He may despise him in his heart but he'll protect him on the witness stand. Besides, we're allowed a certain percentage of mistakes; the best are not infallible."
"That's true; but supposing," he persisted, "that the mistake to a competent surgeon was so obviously the result of ignorance that it could not be gotten around, would he still protect you?"
"Nine times in ten he would," she replied; "at least he'd be silent."
"And allow you to go on experimenting?"
He saw that she hesitated. She was thinking that she need not tell him she had known such a one.
"Of course there are high-brows who set the standards for themselves and others pretty high, and if I acted, or failed to act, in violation of all recognized methods of procedure, and with fatal results, they might make me trouble. But you can bet," she finished with a grin, "the ethics of the profession have saved many a poor quack's hide."
"Oh, they may have diplomas. A diploma doesn't mean so much in these days of cheap medical colleges where they grind 'em out by the hundreds; you need only know where to go and have the price."
"This is—illuminating." Symes wondered at her candor. She seemed very sure of her position with him, he thought.
"What difference does it make where your diploma's from to jays like these?" She waved her arm at Crowheart. "A little horse sense, a bold front, a hypodermic needle, and a few pills will put you a long way on your road among this class of people. I'm talkin' pretty free to an outsider, but," she looked at him significantly, "I know we can trust each other."
The implication irritated him, but he ignored it for the present.
"Do you mean to tell me," he demanded, "that there are medical schools where you can buy a diploma? Where anybody can get through?"
She laughed at his amazement.
"A quiz-compend and a good memory will put a farm-hand or a sheep-herder through if he can read and write; he doesn't have to have a High School education." She inquired jocularly, appearing to find enjoyment in shocking him: "You've seen my hated rival, haven't you—Lamb, the new M.D. that pulled in here the other day? His wife looks like a horse with a straw bonnet on and he ought to be jailed on sight if there's anything in Lombroso's theories. Have you noticed him?"
"He laid brick until he was thirty-five," she added nonchalantly. "I've thought some of taking him in with me on this contract, for some men, working men especially, are devilish prejudiced against women doctors."
Symes's eyes narrowed.
"Why share the—spoils?"
"It's a good thing to have somebody like him to slough the blame on in case of trouble."
"By gad!"—the exclamation burst from him involuntarily—"but you're a cold-blooded proposition."
She construed this as a compliment.
"Merely business foresight, my dear Mr. Symes," she smirked complacently. "Some fool, you know, might think he could get a judgment if he didn't like the way we handled him."
"And you're sure he couldn't?"
"Lord!—no. Not out here." Her leg slipped over her knee and her foot slumped to the floor. She slid lower in the chair, until her head rested on the back, her sprawling legs outstretched, her fingers clasped across her starched waistcoat, upon her face an expression of humorous disdain. "Let me tell you a story to illustrate what you can do and get away with it—to ease your mind if you're afraid of gettin' into trouble on my account. A friend of mine who had a diploma from my school came out West to practise and she had a case of a fellow with a slashed wrist—the tendons were plumb severed. She didn't know how to draw 'em together, so she just sewed up the outside skin. They shrunk, and he lost the use of his hand. Then he goes back East for treatment and comes home full of talk about damage suits and that sort of thing. Well, sir, she just bluffed him down. Told him she had fixed 'em all right, but when he was drunk he had torn the tendons loose and was tryin' to lay the blame on her. She made her bluff stick, too. Funny, wasn't it?"
"Excruciating," said Symes.
She seemed strangely indifferent to his sarcasm—to his opinion.
"I can promise you," she urged, "that I'll be equal to any emergency."
"I've no doubt of it," he returned.
Symes smoked hard; he was thinking, not of the contract which he intended to peremptorily refuse, but how best, in what words to tell this woman that now more than ever he wished the intimacy between her and his wife to end.
At the close of an impatient silence she demanded bluntly—
"Do I get the contract?"
With equal bluntness he responded—
"You do not."
She straightened herself instantly in the chair and he knew from the look in her eyes that the clash had come.
"Do you want a bigger rake-off?" she sneered offensively.
"Do you think I'm a petty thief?"
She shrugged her shoulder cynically, but answered—
"Perhaps; but I don't choose to do it. I refuse to force your confessedly inexperienced and incompetent services upon my men. What you ask is impossible."
He expected an outburst but none came; instead, she sat looking at him with a twisted smile.
"You'd better reconsider," she said at last, and there was in her voice and manner the taunting confidence of a "gun-man" who has his hand at his hip.
Symes spat out a particle of tobacco with angry vehemence and his ruddy face turned redder.
"My answer is final."
Her composure grew with his loss of it.
"I hoped it wouldn't be necessary to remind you of your first visit here, but it seems it is."
That was it then—the source of her assurance—she meant to trade upon, to make capital of a professional secret. It was like her to remind him of an obligation, to attain her ends.
"I've not forgotten," he answered with an effort, "but the favor you ask is one I cannot conscientiously grant."
She laughed disagreeably.
"Since when has your conscience become a factor in your affairs?"
He could have throttled her for her insolence, but she gave him no chance to reply.
"Supposing I insist?"
"Insist?" Was she threatening him?
She answered coldly—
"That's what I said."
"Do you mean"—his voice dropped to an incredulous whisper—"that you are threatening to betray Augusta to attain your end?"
"I don't like to be thwarted for a whim—a senseless piece of sentiment. This contract means too much to me."
"But do I understand aright?" She gloated as she saw his fading color. "Do you intend to say that the price of your silence is this contract?"
"Something of the sort," she replied in cold stubbornness.
The full knowledge of her power swept over him; the helplessness of his position filled him with sudden fury. He sprang to his feet and hurled his cigar through the open window. His thick fingers twitched to choke the insolent smile from her face.
"You traitor! You blackmailer!"
She arose leisurely.
"Unpleasant words—but there are others as unpleasant."
With his hands thrust deep in his trousers pockets Symes faced her, eyeing her with an expression which would have made most women wince but which she returned with absolute composure. She was in control of the situation and realized it to the full. Symes was speechless nearly in the face of such effrontery, such disloyalty, such ingratitude.
"You would sacrifice your best friend for money!"
"Business is business, and I'm out for the stuff, as I told you, but there's no sense in letting it come to that. I don't want to do it, so don't be a fool!"
Symes groaned; she had attacked him in his most vulnerable spot, namely, his horror of scandal, of anything which would besmirch the name of which he was so inordinately proud. This pride was at once his strength and his weakness.
"And if I permit myself to be blackmailed—there is no use in mincing words—if I give you this contract in exchange for my wife's good name are you willing to consider every obligation wiped out?"
Her eyes flashed their triumph at this quick collapse of his stand.
"And, furthermore, will you agree to discontinue your visits to my house?"
"Why?" There was hard bravado in the question.
"Your influence is not good, Dr. Harpe."
"What does Augusta say?"
"I've not consulted her."
"And the contract is mine?—that is settled?"
"So long as you keep your word."
She smiled enigmatically.
"I'll keep my word."
A fumbling at the door ended the interview, for it opened to admit a white-faced woman with a child moaning in her arms.
"Oh, Doctor, I'm so glad you're here!" she cried in relief. "He's been like this since early this morning and I brought him in town as quick as I could. Is it anything serious?"
"Come here, my little man."
Symes saw the reddening of the ranchwoman's eyelids at the sympathy in the Doctor's voice, at the gentleness with which she took the child from her arms. Symes paused in the doorway to look longer at the swift transition which made her the woman that her patients knew. There was a softly maternal look in her face as she hung brooding over the child, a look so genuine that it bewildered him in the light of what had just transpired. Was this another phase of the woman's character or was it assumed for his benefit?
The child's shawl slipped to the floor and, as the mother stooped for it, Dr. Harpe flashed him a mocking glance which left him in no doubt.
Symes descended the stairs of the Terriberry House in a frame of mind that was very different from the determined arrogance with which he had ascended them less than an hour before. He was filled with a humiliating sense of defeat, and of having acted weakly. He returned mechanically the salutations of those he passed upon the street and sunk into his office chair with his hat upon his head, a dazed sense of shock and humiliation still upon him.
He had been blind as a bat, he told himself, blinder even, for a bat has an instinct which warns it of danger. The interview which had revealed the woman's character came in the nature of a revelation in spite of that he already knew. The part he had been forced to play did not become more heroic by contemplation, and the only satisfaction he could wring from it was that he was rid of her—that she would never pollute his home again. It had cost him his pride and the sacrifice of his conscience, but he tried to make himself believe that it was worth the purchase price; yet the thought always came back that he, Andy P. Symes, had allowed himself to be blackmailed.
The knowledge of Dr. Harpe's unbelievable perfidy would be a shock to Augusta, but it would terminate the friendship, he told himself, and he would be relieved of the disagreeable necessity of asserting his authority too strongly.
Symes removed his hat and flung it upon a near-by chair, then turned to his desk. A telegram propped conspicuously upon the ink-well proved to be from Mudge, the promoter, and read:
Have possible investor who wants detailed information. Better come on at once.
S. L. MUDGE
Symes's face lighted.
"This is lucky! It couldn't have been more opportune! We'll go to-morrow and I'll tell Augusta while we're gone."
Thus the problem of abruptly ending the friendship without causing comment was solved. He had no misgivings as to the outcome when he issued his mandate concerning Dr. Harpe, but there might be a scene, and he had a man's instinctive dread of a family row in case that Augusta was loath to believe. She was loyal by nature and there was that possibility.
When his wife was removed from the influence which had undermined him in his own home, the old Augusta would return, he thought confidently; that adoring Augusta so flatteringly attentive to his opinions, so responsive to his moods. He wanted the old Augusta back more than he would have believed possible.
As his thoughts slipped in retrospect over the weeks past he could see that the change in her had come almost from the commencement of her friendship with Dr. Harpe. He shut his teeth hard as he thought of the banal influence she had exercised over a good woman; he always had considered Augusta that.
Well, it was ended. They would start once more with a better understanding of each other, in a clearer atmosphere. Something in the prospect made him glow; he felt a boyish eagerness to tell her of the proposed trip, but decided to wait until evening, as she would then have plenty of time to prepare.
The nervous strain of the day previous and the interview of the morning left Symes with a feeling of fatigue when evening came. As he stretched himself upon a couch watching Augusta moving to and fro freshly dressed for the dinner which had now wholly replaced the plebeian supper in the Symes household, he was again impressed by the improvement in her appearance.
The artificial wave in her straight, ash-blond hair softened greatly her prominent cheek bones, and a frill of lace partially hid the peasant hand that had so frequently distressed him. Her high-heeled slippers shortened and gave an instep to her long, flat foot. He smiled a little at the prim dignity which she unconsciously took on with her clothes; but that at which he did not smile was the air of cool toleration with which she listened to his few remarks. She seemed restless and went frequently to the door; when they faced each other at the dinner table he exerted himself to interest her and his reward was a shadowy smile. He was not at all sure that she was listening and he asked himself if this could be the woman who not so long ago had glowed with happiness merely to be noticed? As the meal progressed he became alternately chagrined and angry. Was the change in her more marked than usual, or was it only that he was awake? He felt that he could not endure her vacant, absent-minded stare much longer without comment, so it was a distinct relief when they arose from the table. He concluded to keep the pleasant surprise he had for her a little longer.
He felt something like a pang when she walked past the porch chair where he was sitting and went to the hammock at the corner of the house. She had a book and passed him without a glance, appearing not to notice the hand which he partially extended to detain her.
She looked often toward the street and he noticed that she only seemed to read. Would Dr. Harpe keep her word? Symes believed that she would.
The twilight deepened and he could plainly see her restlessness grow. She no longer made a pretence of reading but sat with her eyes upon the street. Symes remembered that it had been a long time since she had watched for him like that. Finally she threw down her book and stood up that she might have a better view of the door of the Terriberry House. When she started down the sidewalk toward the gate Symes called her.
"What is it?" She made no movement to return.
"If you please—one moment."
"I'll be back in a little while."
"But I want to speak to you now." His tone was a command.
"Pshaw!" She frowned in annoyance, but reluctantly obeyed.
"Where are you going?"
"Over to the hotel," she answered shortly.
"To look for Dr. Harpe?"
Resentment was in her curt answer—
"Don't go, Augusta."
"Because I want to talk to you."
"You can talk when I come back."
"I want to talk now; please sit down."
She made no motion to do so.
"What's the matter with you, Augusta?"
"Nothing,"—her face was sullen—"only I don't like to be ordered about."
"I'm not ordering you, as you put it, but I've a surprise for you and I want to tell you of it."
For answer she looked at him inquiringly.
"We're going to Chicago to-morrow."
Instead of the pleasure which he anticipated would light her dark eyes, there was a look rather of apprehension, of disapproval, of anything, in fact, but delight.
"Aren't you glad?" he asked in amazement.
"I'm not ready; I've no clothes."
"We can soon remedy that."
She stood before him in sullen silence and he finally asked—
"I don't want to go, if you must know!" She blurted the answer rudely and turned away.
"I'm going to the hotel," she flung over her shoulder.
She kept on walking.
Unlatching the gate she flung it open in defiance.
"No!" She seemed like a person obsessed.
Symes arose and walked quickly after her. She stopped then and Symes wondered at his own self-control as he faced her.
"Augusta," he said quietly, "Dr. Harpe is not coming here again."
He saw her face pale.
"Why not?" Her vehemence startled him.
"Because I have told her not to; she understands."
"How dare you?" Her voice rose shrill and her eyes blazed into his. "She's my friend!"
"No, she's not your friend or my friend." He grasped her wrist as she started to go. "You've got to listen; you've got to hear me out! I found her out to-day and I meant to tell you when we had gone from here, but you are forcing me to do it now." Still grasping her wrist he told her briefly of the interview and the price he had paid for her silence. When he had done she wrenched herself free.
"I don't believe it! Anyway, why shouldn't you give her the contract? Why shouldn't you? I tell you I'm going to her and you shan't stop me!"
"Augusta!" There was horror in his voice. "Do you realize what this means? Do you understand what you are doing—that you are choosing between this woman and me? Are you crazy? Are you mad?"
"Yes, yes, yes! Anything you like, but I'm going! I tell you, you shan't dictate who and who not shall be my friends!"
"But she isn't your friend!" he cried with savage bitterness. "She's your worst enemy. Augusta,"—the harshness went suddenly from his voice—"I beg of you don't let this woman come between us!"
"You're a nice one to criticise others."
He winced at the taunt.
"I've tried to make amends," he pleaded.
"Well—you haven't! And," she flung the challenge at him recklessly, "if you want to get a divorce, get it, for I'll quit you quick before I'll give up Dr. Harpe."
She stared into his eyes defiant, unabashed, and in her face he read his defeat—the utter uselessness and futility of commands, or threats, or appeals. He loosened his hold of her wrist without a word, and, flinging him a last glance of angry resentment and defiance, she walked swiftly toward the hotel.
THE TOP WAVE
Medical contracts between Drs. Harpe and Lamb, Andy P. Symes and the several contractors upon the project, were properly executed before Symes left for Chicago—alone. It entailed a delay, but Dr. Harpe insisted upon immediate action, and her covert threats had the desired result.
"I've kept my word," she said, "and it's up to you to keep yours. If Gus comes to see me that's your lookout, not mine." And since Symes could not help himself, he consented, although he knew that the delay might mean the loss of an investor.
Dr. Harpe quickly realized that she had assailed him in his most vulnerable spot and Symes realized as surely that she would use this knowledge to the limit to attain her ends.
"Am I a coward or a hero?" Symes sometimes asked himself in his hours of humiliation and ignominy.
The day Andy P. Symes left for Chicago Dr. Harpe celebrated the era of prosperity upon which she was about to enter, by the purchase of a "top-buggy," which is usually the first evidence of affluence in the West.
"Doc's all right—she's smart," chuckled the populace when they heard the news of the contract and watched her sitting up very straight in the new vehicle with its shining red wheels and neatly folded top.
"Moses!" Dr. Harpe told herself frequently and complacently, "'getting there' is easy enough if you've only the brains and the nerve to pull the right wire," and she considered that she had taken a turn around Opportunity's foretop in a manner which would have been creditable to a far more experienced hand than hers; also she had no reason to doubt that the "wire" upon which she now held an unshakable grip held manifold possibilities. By her astuteness and daring, she assured herself, she was in absolute control of a situation which promised as great a success as any person handicapped by petticoats could hope for. Assuredly the top wave made pleasant riding.
Lamb accepted her partnership proposition with an avidity which rather indicated that he needed the money. He had no objections to being a salaried scapegoat providing the pay was sure, but naturally it did not occur to Lamb to regard himself in any such light. If Dr. Harpe dubbed him her "peon," she took care to treat him and his opinions with flattering deference.
They rented a long, unpainted, one-story building which had been a boarding house, for hospital purposes. It was divided lengthwise by a narrow hall which ended in a dingy kitchen in the rear. Dr. Lamb who had some vague theories upon sanitation protested feebly when the operating room was located next to the kitchen, but the location was not changed on that account. The office in the front was furnished with a few imposing bottles and their combined display of cutlery was calculated to impress. Their ideas as to keeping expenses for equipment at a minimum were in perfect harmony, for Lamb as well as Dr. Harpe regarded it as a purely commercial venture. The latter, however, was disposed to regard the purchase of an X-ray machine as a profitable investment because of the impression it would make upon their private patients.
"Moses!" She chortled at the notion. "Wouldn't their eyes bung out if I showed 'em their own bones! I could soak 'em twice the fee and they'd never peep."
Lamb discouraged the idea for the present on the grounds of economy and advised a sterilizing apparatus instead, which Dr. Harpe opposed for the same reason.
If Dr. Harpe had been given the opportunity of selecting an associate from a multitude of practitioners, it is doubtful if she could have found another better suited to her purpose than the man Lamb. Although, by some means, he had succeeded in being graduated from an institution of good repute, he was a charlatan in every instinct—greedy, unscrupulous, covering the ignorance of an untrained mind with a cloak of solemn and pious pretence which served its purpose in the uncritical, unsuspicious western community where a profession is always regarded with more or less awe.
Lamb's colorless personality had made no great impression upon Crowheart and as yet he was known chiefly through his professional card which appeared among the advertisements in the Crowheart Courier. Dr. Harpe had not reckoned him a formidable rival, but she recognized in him an invaluable associate; and often as she contemplated his pasty face, his close, deep-set eyes and listened to his nasal voice she congratulated herself upon her choice, for he was what she needed most of all, a pliable partner.
"Be you goin' to put up a sign?" inquired Lamb.
"Sure; we want all the advertisin' we can get out of this, don't we?" And soon the day came when the two partners stood across the street and read proudly:
HARPE AND LAMB HOSPITAL
In her new buggy with its flashing wheels Dr. Harpe was soon driving through the different camps along the project, and the laborers rather enjoyed the novelty of visits from the "lady doc," as they called her, and consented good-naturedly enough to the deduction of monthly dues for hospital benefits from their wages.
While they regarded her professionally and personally in a humorous light and made her more or less the target of coarse jokes, as is any woman who leaves the beaten track, yet the general feeling toward her was one of friendliness.
They laughed at her swaggering stride, her masculine dress, the vernacular which was their own speech, but there was quickly established between them and her a good-humored familiarity which was greatly to her liking. They become "Bill" and "Pat" and "Tony" to her and she was "Doc" to them.
While her horses trotted briskly the length of the ditch and she was returning smiling nods and flinging retorts that were not too delicate over her shoulder, she began to feel herself a personage; she was filled with a growing sense of importance and power.
There was everything to indicate that the contract would prove all that she and Lamb had hoped for. The general health was exceptionally good and she urged sanitary precautions upon the men to prevent long and expensive fevers; as yet there was no dangerous rock-work entailing the use of explosives to imperil the lives and limbs of the men. The remedies required were of the simplest and the running expenses of the hospital were nil.
When they received their first checks from the Company and the contractors, Lamb's joy was almost tearful.
"It's easier than layin' bricks, Doc," he said as they wrung each other's hands in mutual congratulation.
Dr. Harpes' ambitions grew with her bank account, and among them there was one which began to take the shape of a fixed purpose. With her successful manipulations of conditions to further her own ends she came to believe herself in her small world invincible. The effect of this belief upon a nature like hers was to increase its natural arrogance and her tendency to domineer, while the strange, extravagant personal conceit which seemed so at variance with her practical nature became a paramount trait.
There was really no doubt in her mind that she could marry Ogden Van Lennop if she really set about doing so. It was only of late that she had given the thought words. In the beginning when she had discovered his identity, the most she had hoped for was to be friends, for a friend of Van Lennop's importance might be useful. She felt that there would be some way of turning his friendship to account. The fact that they were still only acquaintances did not discourage her, nor the fact that he seemed entirely satisfied with the companionship of the erstwhile belle of Crowheart.
Rich men and rich men's sons had a way of amusing themselves with the society of their inferiors where they were unknown, was her disdainful explanation to herself, but it piqued and irritated her even while it furnished the material for her sly innuendoes, for the insidious attacks which were fast completing what Andy P. Symes's social dictatorship had begun. With her mounting arrogance Dr. Harpe believed that if her ultimate success in her new ambition demanded the entire removal of Essie Tisdale from the field, this too she could accomplish. Her overweening confidence now was such that she was persuaded that she could shape events and mould the lives of others and her own as she willed.
She was resting one day in her new office in the hospital after a long drive along the ditch, and from her window she watched Van Lennop at the Kunkel blacksmith shop across the street. He gave his horse a friendly pat between the eyes before he swung into the saddle and she stood up to watch him gallop the length of the street with the lithe and confident grace which made him a noticeable figure in the saddle.
"Moses!" she observed aloud, "but he has improved in looks since he landed here—his looks, however, are a mere incident compared to the value of his name on the business end of a check. Harpe,"—she sniggered at a mental picture—"how will you look anyhow hanging to a man's arm? As a clingin' vine you'll never be a conspicuous success, but you could give a fair imitation if the game was worth the candle, and this happens to be an instance where it is. Let's have a look at you, my child."
She took a small hand-mirror from beneath the papers of a drawer and regarded her reflection with a critically humorous smile.
"You're not the dimpled darling you once were, Harpe," she said aloud. "You're tired now and not at your best, but all the same there's a kind of a hard-boiled look coming that's a warning, a hint from Father Time, that you've got to do something in the matrimonial line before it gets chronic."
Still viewing herself in the mirror she continued her soliloquy—
"By rights, Harpe, you ought to cut out these pique vests and manly shirt bosoms and take to ruches and frills and ruffles. It would be the quickest way to make a dent in his heart. He's that sort, I can see, but, Lord! how I hate such prissy clothes! Your chance will come, Harpe, you'll wear the orange blossoms now you've set your mind on it, and, if the chance doesn't come soon you'll have to make it."
THE POSSIBLE INVESTOR
The slender, mild-mannered young man to whom Symes was introduced in the office of Mudge, the promoter, was not a person Symes himself would have singled out as one entrusted with the handling and investment of the funds of a great estate. He had a slight impediment of speech, he was modest to diffidence, and modesty and money was a combination not easy for Symes to conceive, but Mudge had said anxiously upon Symes's arrival:
"I hope you make a good impression, Symes, and can put the proposition up to him right, because if we can land him at all we may be able to land him for the whole cheese, and it will take a load off me if we can. It's gettin' harder all the time to place these bonds; money is tighter and people seem leary of irrigation projects.
"I had no idea so many people had been pecked in the head until I began to handle this proposition. They're damned suspicious I can tell you. It's nearly as easy to sell mining stock and, compared to that, peddling needles and pins from door to door is a snap. Talk it up big but don't overdo it, for J. Collins Prescott is no yap."
"Leave him to me," Symes had replied confidently; "don't worry. If he has got real money and is looking for a place to put it, I'll see that he finds it." And Mudge, noting the warmth of his grasp, the heartiness of his big voice, the steady frankness of the look which the westerner sent into Prescott's eyes, felt that Symes was the man to do the trick and congratulated himself upon his wisdom in sending for him.
"I—I've been looking through your prospectus, Mr. Symes," said J. Collins Prescott after he had been duly presented with a cabana by that gentleman, "and it is v-very attractive, I might say a-alluring."
Symes beamed benignly.
"You think so? I tell Mudge there's one fault I have to find with it—it's too conservative."
"A good fault," commended Mr. Prescott.
"Yes, yes, of course, better that than overdrawn, and then it's always an agreeable surprise to investors when they come out and look the proposition over. If you are thinking seriously of this thing, Mr. Prescott, I wish you could arrange to return with me. I invariably advise it. Mr. Mudge tells me you have some idle money and I feel sure that you could not place it where you'd get bigger returns."
"W-western irrigated lands have a-always interested me c-considerably," admitted Mr. Prescott, "but heretofore the estate which I represent has confined itself chiefly to the acquirement of water-power sites and their development. They—they're good investments in your opinion?"
"Undoubtedly," was Mr. Symes's emphatic reply. "Very; but they're gettin' scarce, while the irrigating of arid lands is as yet in its infancy."
"E-exactly. I feel that we should begin reaching out along those lines, and although I am not greatly c-conversant with investments of this nature, I can readily see their possibilities."
"No limit!" declared Symes. "Nothin' but! Takes capital of course, but the returns are big and sure. That's what we are all looking for."
"I know little if anything of the actual construction of a ditch, but I should presume that the personnel of the m-management would count for much," ventured Mr. Prescott.
"Rather!" Symes replied abruptly, "and if I may say so—if you will pardon me—the name of Symes is a valuable asset to any enterprise—prestige, you know, and all that."
Prescott looked slightly mystified.
"The Symes of Maine—grandfather personal friend of Alexander Hamilton's—father one-time Speaker of the House; naturally the name of Symes stands for something."
Not a muscle of J. Collins Prescott's face moved, but Mudge, watching him keenly, felt uncomfortable and a sudden annoyance at Symes's childish boastings, for so they sounded in Prescott's presence. Symes seemed unable to realize the importance of the unassuming young man who listened so attentively but non-committally to all that he was saying, and in the light of their relative positions Mudge felt that Symes was making himself a trifle ridiculous.
"Ah, yes," Prescott replied courteously, "Symes is a notable name, but I was considering the management from a business rather than a social point of view. You have a w-wide experience in this line? You c-can, I presume, furnish credentials as to past successes, Mr. Symes?"
Symes's natural impulse was to reply, "Certainly, to be sure, years of experience, delighted to furnish anything you like," but something, the voice of caution or Mudge's warning look, induced him to say instead:
"I can't say a wide experience, Mr. Prescott, not truthfully a wide one, but some, of course, in fact considerable. Experience isn't really necessary; horse-sense is the thing, horse-sense, executive ability and large-mindedness—these qualifications I think I may conscientiously say I possess."
Mudge pulled nervously at his mustache.
"As a matter of fact," continued Mr. Symes, "I never permit myself to be identified with failures. When I see that things are shootin' the chutes I pull out." Mr. Symes laughed heartily. "I get from under."
"V-very wise." For an instant, the infinitessimal part of a second, there was a glint of amusement in Prescott's mild eyes and, as he added, Mudge once more felt that uncomfortable warmth under his collar, "Symes and success are synonymous terms, I infer."
Symes laughed modestly.
"But to get down to business,"—there was a suggestion of weariness in Prescott's tone—"the water supply is ample?"
"Oceans! Worlds of it, I might say."
"The water rights perfect—stand the severest legal scrutiny?"
"Only engineers of recognized ability consulted and employed upon a project of such magnitude, I infer?"
Mr. Symes's hesitation was so slight as to be scarcely perceptible.
"The best obtainable."
"And approximately 200,000 acres of segregated land can be reclaimed under your project?"
"Every foot of it."
"At an expense of $250,000, according to the figures in your prospectus?"
"That's our estimate and the amount of our bond issue."
"You believe you will have no difficulty in disposing of this land at $50 an acre?"
"Dispose of it? They'll fight for it! Why," declared Mr. Symes, striking at the air with a gesture of conviction, "the whole country is land hungry."
"It's a liberal return upon the investment," murmured Prescott.
"It's a big thing! And think of the Russian Jews."
"Colonization, you know, hundreds of Russian Jews out there raising sugar-beets for the sugar-beet factory, happy as larks."
"To be sure—I had forgotten." Mr. Prescott reached for a prospectus upon the table at his elbow and looked at the picture of a factory with smoke pouring from myriad chimneys and covering nothing short of an acre.
"The soil is deep then—strong enough to stand sugar-beets?"
"Rotation of crops—scientific farming," explained Symes, "gives it a chance to recover."
"I see. The length of the ditch is——"
"Thirty-five miles and a fraction."
"What is the normal width and what amount of water does it carry?"
"Sixty-five feet and it carries six feet of water."
"What is the slope?"
"Two and a half feet per mile."
"How much water to the acre is applied in your State?"
Symes was showing some surprise. For a man who was not familiar with irrigation projects Prescott was asking decidedly pertinent questions, but Symes answered glibly—
"A cubic foot per second to each seventy acres."
"And the yardage? What are your engineer's figures on the yardage?"
Symes cleared his throat—a habit which manifested itself when he was nervous—
"It can be moved for ten to fifteen cents a cubic yard."
"C-cheap enough." Prescott looked at him with interested intentness. "And the loose rock?"
"Twenty-five to thirty." Symes stirred uneasily in his chair.
"And the cuts? the solid rock?"
"Fifty to sixty cents," Symes replied after an instant's hesitation.
"Ah, soft rock. These are your engineer's figures, of course?"
"Of course," Symes answered curtly, and added: "I should say that you had a good deal of practical knowledge of such matters, Mr. Prescott."
Prescott answered easily—
"Superficial, v-very superficial, just a little I picked up in railroad construction."
There were more questions as to loss of water by seepage, air and subsoil drainage, drops, earth canals, character and depth of soil, possibilities of alkali, all of which questions Symes answered readily enough, but which at the conclusion left Symes with the exhausted feeling of a long session on the witness stand.
"There are still something like $150,000 worth of bonds in the market, I believe?"
"Approximately." It was Mudge who spoke up hopefully.
"And there is no doubt in your mind, Mr. Symes, but that with this amount you can finish the work at the specified time and in a manner satisfactory to the State engineers?"
Symes jingled the loose change in his trousers pockets and replied with a large air of confidence—
"None whatever, sir."
Mr. Prescott arose and stood for a moment thoughtfully stroking the back of one gray suede glove with the tips of the other.
"I—I will take the matter up with my p-people and give you their decision shortly."
His eyes were lowered so he did not see the look which made Symes's face radiant for an instant, but he may have imagined it was there, for his lips curved in ever so faint a smile.
"It has been a p-pleasure to meet you, Mr. Symes." Prescott extended a gray suede hand. "I do not feel that the hour has been wasted, since I have learned so m-much."
"Ask any question that occurs to you: my time is at your disposal as long as I am here." Symes shook his hand heartily in a strong western grip. "Great pleasure to converse with a gentleman again, I assure you."
Symes and Mudge looked at each other when the door had closed upon his back.
"Tractable as a kitten!" exclaimed Symes, beaming.
"Think so?" Mudge did not seem greatly elated.
"Why, yes; don't you?" Symes looked surprised.
"'Tractable' isn't just the word I'd ever apply to Prescott," he answered dryly. "You don't understand his kind."
"You're wrong there," Symes answered with asperity. "But don't you think we're goin' to land him?"
Mudge shrugged his shoulders.
"I'll bet you a hat!" cried Symes confidently. "I know the difference between a nibble and a bite. I tell you Prescott's hooked."
"I hope you're right"—Mudge's tone was doubtful—"but get it out of your head that he's an easy mark. I know that outfit; they're conservative as a country bank. Prescott didn't ask questions enough."
"Didn't ask questions enough? Lord amighty, he was cocked and primed."
Mudge smiled grimly.
"Not for Prescott. Besides, it's not like them to go into a proposition like this without further investigation. If they'd send an engineer back with you I'd begin to hope."
"Bosh!" Symes exclaimed impatiently. "My name counts for something in a game like this."
Mudge was unresponsive.
"Gentlemen understand each other," Symes went on complacently, "intuition—hunch—kind of a silent sympathy. I tell you, Mudge, I'm goin' to win a hat off you."
After leaving the office of Mudge, the promoter, J. Collins Prescott, sauntered into a secluded waiting room in a near-by hotel and sank into the depths of a huge leather chair. He took a voluminous type-written report from the pocket of his fashionable top-coat and fell to studying it with interest and care. He was engrossed in its contents for nearly an hour, and when he had finished he replaced it in his pocket. Then he sauntered to the telegrapher's station in the corner of the hotel office and wrote upon a blank with swift decision a telegram which seemed a trifle at variance with the almost foppish elegance of his appearance. The telegram read:
Crooked as a dog's hind leg. Buy.
"HER SUPREME MOMENT"
Dr. Harpe had surprisingly good shoulders for so slender a woman—white, well rounded, and with a gentle feminine slope. That she never had been given the opportunity of showing them to Crowheart had been a matter of some regret. Her chance came when Andy P. Symes celebrated the sale of $150,000 worth of bonds by an invitation ball in the dining-room of the Terriberry House.
Elation over the placing of these bonds with the estate represented by J. Collins Prescott mitigated in some slight degree the humiliation and bitterness of his feelings when, upon his return from his successful business trip, he found that not only had Grandmother Kunkel gone as she had foreseen she would go, but Dr. Harpe had resumed her visits as before and vouchsafed to him no word of explanation or apology at the deliberate violation of her promise.
In any case, as Symes saw clearly now, the fulfilment of it would have been futile so far as ending the intimacy was concerned, for the only result would have been that Augusta would have done the visiting. That he let the matter of Dr. Harpe's broken word pass without protest evidenced the completeness of his capitulation, his entire realization of the hopelessness of resistance to the situation, as did also the silence in which he accepted Augusta's cold explanation of Grandmother Kunkel's departure.
It is not likely that more time and care is devoted to the making up of the list for a court ball than Symes bestowed upon the selection of guests for the proposed function, which he intended should leave an indelible impression upon Crowheart. It was a difficult task, but when completed the result was gratifying.
No person whom Symes could even dimly foresee as being of future use to himself was omitted and with real astuteness he singled out those who had within themselves the qualities which made for future importance. Even Mrs. Abe Tutts, who, he had learned, was second cousin to a railroad president, was thrown into a state of emotional intoxication by receiving the first printed invitation of her life. Besides, Mrs. Tutts had turned her talents churchward and now ruled the church choir with an iron hand. While her husky rendition of the solo parts of certain anthems was strongly suggestive of the Bijou Theatre with its adjoining beer garden, her efforts were highly praised. This invitation demonstrated clearly that Mrs. Tutts was rising in the social scale.
It was due to a suggestion from Dr. Harpe, made through Augusta, that Van Lennop also received his first social recognition in Crowheart.
"I don't know who the fellow is," Symes demurred. In reality his reluctance was largely due to a secret resentment that Van Lennop had seemed to withstand so easily the influence of his genial personality. Their acquaintance never had passed the nodding stage and the fact had piqued Symes more than he cared to admit. "Besides, he has elected to identify himself with rather singular company."
"No doubt he has been lonely," defended Mrs. Symes mildly, "and of course Essie is pretty."
When Van Lennop found the invitation in the mail a couple of days later he frowned in mingled annoyance and amusement.
"Discovered," he said dryly, quickly guessing its import.
Dr. Harpe's increased friendliness had not escaped him and it had occurred to him that their frequent meetings were not entirely accidental. Past experiences had taught him the significance of certain signs, and when Dr. Harpe appeared with her hair curled and wearing a lingerie waist, the fact which roused the risibilities of her friends stirred in him a feeling which resembled the instinct of self-preservation.
Van Lennop's brow contracted as he re-read the invitation in his room.
"Confound it! I'm not ready to be discovered yet." Then he grinned, in spite of himself, at the hint in the corner—"full dress." He flung it contemptuously upon the washstand. "What an ass!" and it is to be feared he referred to the sole representative of the notable House of Symes.
The initial step in Crowheart toward preparing for any function was a hair washing, and the day following the mailing of the invitations saw the fortunate recipients drying their hair on their respective back steps or hanging over dividing fences with flowing locks in animated discussion of the coming event.
That there was some uncertainty as to the exact meaning of the request to wear "full dress" may be gathered from Mrs. Abe Tutts's observation, while drying a few dank hairs at Mrs. Jackson's front gate, that it was lucky she had not ripped up her accordion-pleated skirt which was as full as anybody could wear and hope to get around in!
"'Tain't that," Mrs. Jackson snorted in her face. "The fuller a dress is the less they is of it. You're thinkin' of a masquerade, maybe. Personally myself," declared Mrs. Jackson modestly, "I don't aim to expose my shoulder blades for nobody—not for nobody."
"I'd do it if I was you," replied Mrs. Tutts significantly.
"Why, if you was me?" inquired Mrs. Jackson, biting guilelessly.
"Because"—Mrs. Tutts backed out of reach.—"they's a law agin' carryin' concealed weapons."
Mrs. Tutts did not tarry to complete the drying of her hair, for Mrs. Jackson had succeeded in wrenching a paling from the fence and was fumbling at the catch on the gate.
The dining-room of the Terriberry House was a dazzling sight to the arriving guests, who were impressed to momentary speechlessness by such evidences of wealth and elegance as real carnations and smilax and a real orchestra imported from the nearest large town on the main line. The sight which held their eyes longest, however, was a large glass bowl on a table in an anteroom, beside which, self-conscious but splendid in new evening clothes, stood Mr. Symes urging an unknown but palatable beverage hospitably upon each arrival.
"This is cert'nly a swell affair," they confided to each other in whispers behind the back of their hands after the first formal greetings. "Trust Andy P. for doin' things right."
They frankly stared at each other in unaccustomed garb and sometimes as frankly laughed.
"Gosh!" said Mr. Terriberry as he sniffed the pungent atmosphere due to the odor of camphor emanating from clothing which had lain in the bottom of trunks since the wearers had "wagoned it" in from Iowa or Nebraska, "looks like you might call this here function a moth ball."
Mr. Terriberry himself gave distinction to the gathering by appearing in a dinner jacket, borrowed from the tailor, and his pearl gray wedding trousers, preserved sentimentally by Mrs. Terriberry.
Mr. Abe Tutts, in a frock coat of minstrel-like cut and plum-colored trousers of shiny diagonal cloth, claimed his share of public attention. For the sake of that peace which he had come to prize highly, Mr. Tutts had consented to make a "dude" of himself.