His adventures did not harm him. Even when he consorted with jail- birds in jungle camps, and listened to their codes of conduct and measurements of life, he was not affected. He was a traveler, and they were alien breeds. Secure in the knowledge of his twenty millions, there was neither need nor temptation for him to steal or rob. All things and all places interested him, but he never found a place nor a situation that could hold him. He wanted to see, to see more and more, and to go on seeing.
At the end of three years, nearly sixteen, hard of body, weighing a hundred and thirty pounds, he judged it time to go home and open the books. So he took his first long voyage, signing on as boy on a windjammer bound around the Horn from the Delaware Breakwater to San Francisco. It was a hard voyage, of one hundred and eighty days, but at the end he weighed ten pounds the more for having made it.
Mrs. Summerstone screamed when he walked in on her, and Ah Sing had to be called from the kitchen to identify him. Mrs. Summerstone screamed a second time. It was when she shook hands with him and lacerated her tender skin in the fisty grip of his rope-calloused palms.
He was shy, almost embarrassed, as he greeted his guardians at the hastily summoned meeting. But this did not prevent him from talking straight to the point.
"It's this way," he said. "I am not a fool. I know what I want, and I want what I want. I am alone in the world, outside of good friends like you, of course, and I have my own ideas of the world and what I want to do in it. I didn't come home because of a sense of duty to anybody here. I came home because it was time, because of my sense of duty to myself. I'm all the better from my three years of wandering about, and now it's up to me to go on with my education—my book education, I mean."
"The Belmont Academy," Mr. Slocum suggested. "That will fit you for the university—"
Dick shook his head decidedly.
"And take three years to do it. So would a high school. I intend to be in the University of California inside one year. That means work. But my mind's like acid. It'll bite into the books. I shall hire a coach, or half a dozen of them, and go to it. And I'll hire my coaches myself—hire and fire them. And that means money to handle."
"A hundred a month," Mr. Crockett suggested.
Dick shook his head.
"I've taken care of myself for three years without any of my money. I guess. I can take care of myself along with some of my money here in San Francisco. I don't care to handle my business affairs yet, but I do want a bank account, a respectable-sized one. I want to spend it as I see fit, for what I see fit."
The guardians looked their dismay at one another.
"It's ridiculous, impossible," Mr. Crockett began. "You are as unreasonable as you were before you went away."
"It's my way, I guess," Dick sighed. "The other disagreement was over my money. It was a hundred dollars I wanted then."
"Think of our position, Dick," Mr. Davidson urged. "As your guardians, how would it be looked upon if we gave you, a lad of sixteen, a free hand with money."
"What's the Freda worth, right now?" Dick demanded irrelevantly.
"Can sell for twenty thousand any time," Mr. Crockett answered.
"Then sell her. She's too large for me, and she's worth less every year. I want a thirty-footer that I can handle myself for knocking around the Bay, and that won't cost a thousand. Sell the Freda and put the money to my account. Now what you three are afraid of is that I'll misspend my money—taking to drinking, horse-racing, and running around with chorus girls. Here's my proposition to make you easy on that: let it be a drawing account for the four of us. The moment any of you decide I am misspending, that moment you can draw out the total balance. I may as well tell you, that just as a side line I'm going to get a business college expert to come here and cram me with the mechanical side of the business game."
Dick did not wait for their acquiescence, but went on as from a matter definitely settled.
"How about the horses down at Menlo?—never mind, I'll look them over and decide what to keep. Mrs. Summerstone will stay on here in charge of the house, because I've got too much work mapped out for myself already. I promise you you won't regret giving me a free hand with my directly personal affairs. And now, if you want to hear about the last three years, I'll spin the yarn for you."
Dick Forrest had been right when he told his guardians that his mind was acid and would bite into the books. Never was there such an education, and he directed it himself—but not without advice. He had learned the trick of hiring brains from his father and from John Chisum of the Jingle-bob. He had learned to sit silent and to think while cow men talked long about the campfire and the chuck wagon. And, by virtue of name and place, he sought and obtained interviews with professors and college presidents and practical men of affairs; and he listened to their talk through many hours, scarcely speaking, rarely asking a question, merely listening to the best they had to offer, content to receive from several such hours one idea, one fact, that would help him to decide what sort of an education he would go in for and how.
Then came the engaging of coaches. Never was there such an engaging and discharging, such a hiring and firing. He was not frugal in the matter. For one that he retained a month, or three months, he discharged a dozen on the first day, or the first week. And invariably he paid such dischargees a full month although their attempts to teach him might not have consumed an hour. He did such things fairly and grandly, because he could afford to be fair and grand.
He, who had eaten the leavings from firemen's pails in round-houses and "scoffed" mulligan-stews at water-tanks, had learned thoroughly the worth of money. He bought the best with the sure knowledge that it was the cheapest. A year of high school physics and a year of high school chemistry were necessary to enter the university. When he had crammed his algebra and geometry, he sought out the heads of the physics and chemistry departments in the University of California. Professor Carey laughed at him... at the first.
"My dear boy," Professor Carey began.
Dick waited patiently till he was through. Then Dick began, and concluded.
"I'm not a fool, Professor Carey. High school and academy students are children. They don't know the world. They don't know what they want, or why they want what is ladled out to them. I know the world. I know what I want and why I want it. They do physics for an hour, twice a week, for two terms, which, with two vacations, occupy one year. You are the top teacher on the Pacific Coast in physics. The college year is just ending. In the first week of your vacation, giving every minute of your time to me, I can get the year's physics. What is that week worth to you?"
"You couldn't buy it for a thousand dollars," Professor Carey rejoined, thinking he had settled the matter.
"I know what your salary is—" Dick began.
"What is it?" Professor Carey demanded sharply.
"It's not a thousand a week," Dick retorted as sharply. "It's not five hundred a week, nor two-fifty a week—" He held up his hand to stall off interruption. "You've just told me I couldn't buy a week of your time for a thousand dollars. I'm not going to. But I am going to buy that week for two thousand. Heavens!—I've only got so many years to live—"
"And you can buy years?" Professor Carey queried slyly.
"Sure. That's why I'm here. I buy three years in one, and the week from you is part of the deal."
"But I have not accepted," Professor Carey laughed.
"If the sum is not sufficient," Dick said stiffly, "why name the sum you consider fair."
And Professor Carey surrendered. So did Professor Barsdale, head of the department of chemistry.
Already had Dick taken his coaches in mathematics duck hunting for weeks in the sloughs of the Sacramento and the San Joaquin. After his bout with physics and chemistry he took his two coaches in literature and history into the Curry County hunting region of southwestern Oregon. He had learned the trick from his father, and he worked, and played, lived in the open air, and did three conventional years of adolescent education in one year without straining himself. He fished, hunted, swam, exercised, and equipped himself for the university at the same time. And he made no mistake. He knew that he did it because his father's twenty millions had invested him with mastery. Money was a tool. He did not over-rate it, nor under-rate it. He used it to buy what he wanted.
"The weirdest form of dissipation I ever heard," said Mr. Crockett, holding up Dick's account for the year. "Sixteen thousand for education, all itemized, including railroad fares, porters' tips, and shot-gun cartridges for his teachers."
"He passed the examinations just the same," quoth Mr. Slocum.
"And in a year," growled Mr. Davidson. "My daughter's boy entered Belmont at the same time, and, if he's lucky, it will be two years yet before he enters the university."
"Well, all I've got to say," proclaimed Mr. Crockett, "is that from now on what that boy says in the matter of spending his money goes."
"And now I'll have a snap," Dick told his guardians. "Here I am, neck and neck again, and years ahead of them in knowledge of the world. Why, I know things, good and bad, big and little, about men and women and life that sometimes I almost doubt myself that they're true. But I know them.
"From now on, I'm not going to rush. I've caught up, and I'm going through regular. All I have to do is to keep the speed of the classes, and I'll be graduated when I'm twenty-one. From now on I'll need less money for education—no more coaches, you know—and more money for a good time."
Mr. Davidson was suspicious.
"What do you mean by a good time?"
"Oh, I'm going in for the frats, for football, hold my own, you know— and I'm interested in gasoline engines. I'm going to build the first ocean-going gasoline yacht in the world—"
"You'll blow yourself up," Mr. Crockett demurred. "It's a fool notion all these cranks are rushing into over gasoline."
"I'll make myself safe," Dick answered, "and that means experimenting, and it means money, so keep me a good drawing account—same old way— all four of us can draw."
Dick Forrest proved himself no prodigy at the university, save that he cut more lectures the first year than any other student. The reason for this was that he did not need the lectures he cut, and he knew it. His coaches, while preparing him for the entrance examinations, had carried him nearly through the first college year. Incidentally, he made the Freshman team, a very scrub team, that was beaten by every high school and academy it played against.
But Dick did put in work that nobody saw. His collateral reading was wide and deep, and when he went on his first summer cruise in the ocean-going gasoline yacht he had built no gay young crowd accompanied him. Instead, his guests, with their families, were professors of literature, history, jurisprudence, and philosophy. It was long remembered in the university as the "high-brow" cruise. The professors, on their return, reported a most enjoyable time. Dick returned with a greater comprehension of the general fields of the particular professors than he could have gained in years at their class-lectures. And time thus gained, enabled him to continue to cut lectures and to devote more time to laboratory work.
Nor did he miss having his good college time. College widows made love to him, and college girls loved him, and he was indefatigable in his dancing. He never cut a smoker, a beer bust, or a rush, and he toured the Pacific Coast with the Banjo and Mandolin Club.
And yet he was no prodigy. He was brilliant at nothing. Half a dozen of his fellows could out-banjo and out-mandolin him. A dozen fellows were adjudged better dancers than he. In football, and he gained the Varsity in his Sophomore year, he was considered a solid and dependable player, and that was all. It seemed never his luck to take the ball and go down the length of the field while the Blue and Gold host tore itself and the grandstand to pieces. But it was at the end of heart-breaking, grueling slog in mud and rain, the score tied, the second half imminent to its close, Stanford on the five-yard line, Berkeley's ball, with two downs and three yards to gain—it was then that the Blue and Gold arose and chanted its demand for Forrest to hit the center and hit it hard.
He never achieved super-excellence at anything. Big Charley Everson drank him down at the beer busts. Harrison Jackson, at hammer- throwing, always exceeded his best by twenty feet. Carruthers out- pointed him at boxing. Anson Burge could always put his shoulders to the mat, two out of three, but always only by the hardest work. In English composition a fifth of his class excelled him. Edlin, the Russian Jew, out-debated him on the contention that property was robbery. Schultz and Debret left him with the class behind in higher mathematics; and Otsuki, the Japanese, was beyond all comparison with him in chemistry.
But if Dick Forrest did not excel at anything, he failed in nothing. He displayed no superlative strength, he betrayed no weakness nor deficiency. As he told his guardians, who, by his unrelenting good conduct had been led into dreaming some great career for him; as he told them, when they asked what he wanted to become:
"Nothing. Just all around. You see, I don't have to be a specialist. My father arranged that for me when he left me his money. Besides, I couldn't be a specialist if I wanted to. It isn't me."
And thus so well-keyed was he, that he expressed clearly his key. He had no flare for anything. He was that rare individual, normal, average, balanced, all-around.
When Mr. Davidson, in the presence of his fellow guardians, stated his pleasure in that Dick had shown no wildness since he had settled down, Dick replied:
"Oh, I can hold myself when I want to."
"Yes," said Mr. Slocum gravely. "It's the finest thing in the world that you sowed your wild oats early and learned control."
Dick looked at him curiously.
"Why, that boyish adventure doesn't count," he said. "That wasn't wildness. I haven't gone wild yet. But watch me when I start. Do you know Kipling's 'Song of Diego Valdez'? Let me quote you a bit of it. You see, Diego Valdez, like me, had good fortune. He rose so fast to be High Admiral of Spain that he found no time to take the pleasure he had merely tasted. He was lusty and husky, but he had no time, being too busy rising. But always, he thought, he fooled himself with the thought, that his lustiness and huskiness would last, and, after he became High Admiral he could then have his pleasure. Always he remembered:
"'—comrades— Old playmates on new seas— When as we traded orpiment Among the savages— A thousand leagues to south'ard And thirty years removed— They knew not noble Valdez, But me they knew and loved.
"'Then they that found good liquor They drank it not alone, And they that found fair plunder, They told us every one, Behind our chosen islands Or secret shoals between, When, walty from far voyage, We gathered to careen.
"'There burned our breaming-fagots, All pale along the shore: There rose our worn pavilions— A sail above an oar: As flashed each yearning anchor Through mellow seas afire, So swift our careless captains Rowed each to his desire.
"'Where lay our loosened harness? Where turned our naked feet? Whose tavern mid the palm-trees? What quenchings of what heat? Oh fountain in the desert! Oh cistern in the waste! Oh bread we ate in secret! Oh cup we spilled in haste!
"'The youth new-taught of longing, The widow curbed and wan— The good wife proud at season, And the maid aware of man; All souls, unslaked, consuming, Defrauded in delays, Desire not more than quittance Than I those forfeit days!'
"Oh, get him, get him, you three oldsters, as I've got him! Get what he saws next:
"'I dreamed to wait my pleasure, Unchanged my spring would bide: Wherefore, to wait my pleasure, I put my spring aside, Till, first in face of Fortune, And last in mazed disdain, I made Diego Valdez High Admiral of Spain!'
"Listen to me, guardians!" Dick cried on, his face a flame of passion. "Don't forget for one moment that I am anything but unslaked, consuming. I am. I burn. But I hold myself. Don't think I am a dead one because I am a darn nice, meritorious boy at college. I am young. I am alive. I am all lusty and husky. But I make no mistake. I hold myself. I don't start out now to blow up on the first lap. I am just getting ready. I am going to have my time. I am not going to spill my cup in haste. And in the end I am not going to lament as Diego Valdez did:
"'There walks no wind 'neath heaven Nor wave that shall restore The old careening riot And the clamorous, crowded shore— The fountain in the desert, The cistern in the waste, The bread we ate in secret, The cup we spilled in haste.'
"Listen, guardians! Do you know what it is to hit your man, to hit him in hot blood—square to the jaw—and drop him cold? I want that. And I want to love, and kiss, and risk, and play the lusty, husky fool. I want to take my chance. I want my careening riot, and I want it while I am young, but not while I am too young. And I'm going to have it. And in the meantime I play the game at college, I hold myself, I equip myself, so that when I turn loose I am going to have the best chance of my best. Oh, believe me, I do not always sleep well of nights."
"You mean?" queried Mr. Crockett.
"Sure. That's just what I mean. I haven't gone wild yet, but just watch me when I start."
"And you will start when you graduate?"
The remarkable youngster shook his head.
"After I graduate I'm going to take at least a year of post-graduate courses in the College of Agriculture. You see, I'm developing a hobby—farming. I want to do something ... something constructive. My father wasn't constructive to amount to anything. Neither were you fellows. You struck a new land in pioneer days, and you picked up money like a lot of sailors shaking out nuggets from the grass roots in a virgin placer—"
"My lad, I've some little experience in Californian farming," Mr. Crockett interrupted in a hurt way.
"Sure you have, but you weren't constructive. You were—well, facts are facts—you were destructive. You were a bonanza farmer. What did you do? You took forty thousand acres of the finest Sacramento Valley soil and you grew wheat on it year after year. You never dreamed of rotation. You burned your straw. You exhausted your humus. You plowed four inches and put a plow-sole like a cement sidewalk just four inches under the surface. You exhausted that film of four inches and now you can't get your seed back.
"You've destroyed. That's what my father did. They all did it. Well, I'm going to take my father's money and construct. I'm going to take worked-out wheat-land that I can buy as at a fire-sale, rip out the plow-sole, and make it produce more in the end than it did when you fellows first farmed it."
It was at the end of his Junior year that Mr. Crockett again mentioned Dick's threatened period of wildness.
"Soon as I'm done with cow college," was his answer. "Then I'm going to buy, and stock, and start a ranch that'll be a ranch. And then I'll set out after my careening riot."
"About how large a ranch will you start with?" Mr. Davidson asked.
"Maybe fifty thousand acres, maybe five hundred thousand. It all depends. I'm going to play unearned increment to the limit. People haven't begun to come to California yet. Without a tap of my hand or a turn over, fifteen years from now land that I can buy for ten dollars an acre will be worth fifty, and what I can buy for fifty will be worth five hundred."
"A half million acres at ten dollars an acre means five million dollars," Mr. Crockett warned gravely.
"And at fifty it means twenty-five million," Dick laughed.
But his guardians never believed in the wild oats pilgrimage he threatened. He might waste his fortune on new-fangled farming, but to go literally wild after such years of self-restraint was an unthinkable thing.
Dick took his sheepskin with small honor. He was twenty-eighth in his class, and he had not set the college world afire. His most notable achievement had been his resistance and bafflement of many nice girls and of the mothers of many nice girls. Next, after that, he had signalized his Senior year by captaining the Varsity to its first victory over Stanford in five years. It was in the day prior to large- salaried football coaches, when individual play meant much; but he hammered team-work and the sacrifice of the individual into his team, so that on Thanksgiving Day, over a vastly more brilliant eleven, the Blue and Gold was able to serpentine its triumph down Market Street in San Francisco.
In his post-graduate year in cow college, Dick devoted himself to laboratory work and cut all lectures. In fact, he hired his own lecturers, and spent a sizable fortune on them in mere traveling expenses over California. Jacques Ribot, esteemed one of the greatest world authorities on agricultural chemistry, who had been seduced from his two thousand a year in France by the six thousand offered by the University of California, who had been seduced to Hawaii by the ten thousand of the sugar planters, Dick Forrest seduced with fifteen thousand and the more delectable temperate climate of California on a five years' contract.
Messrs. Crockett, Slocum, and Davidson threw up their hands in horror and knew that this was the wild career Dick Forrest had forecast.
But this was only one of Dick Forrest's similar dissipations. He stole from the Federal Government, at a prodigal increase of salary, its star specialist in livestock breeding, and by similar misconduct he robbed the University of Nebraska of its greatest milch cow professor, and broke the heart of the Dean of the College of Agriculture of the University of California by appropriating Professor Nirdenhammer, the wizard of farm management.
"Cheap at the price, cheap at the price," Dick explained to his guardians. "Wouldn't you rather see me spend my money in buying professors than in buying race horses and actresses? Besides, the trouble with you fellows is that you don't know the game of buying brains. I do. That's my specialty. I'm going to make money out of them, and, better than that, I'm going to make a dozen blades of grass grow where you fellows didn't leave room for half a blade in the soil you gutted."
So it can be understood how his guardians could not believe in his promise of wild career, of kissing and risking, and hitting men hot on the jaw. "One year more," he warned, while he delved in agricultural chemistry, soil analysis, farm management, and traveled California with his corps of high-salaried experts. And his guardians could only apprehend a swift and wide dispersal of the Forrest millions when Dick attained his majority, took charge of the totality of his fortune, and actually embarked on his agricultural folly.
The day he was twenty-one the purchase of his principality, that extended west from the Sacramento River to the mountain tops, was consummated.
"An incredible price," said Mr. Crockett.
"Incredibly cheap," said Dick. "You ought to see my soil reports. You ought to see my water-reports. And you ought to hear me sing. Listen, guardians, to a song that is a true song. I am the singer and the song."
Whereupon, in the queer quavering falsetto that is the sense of song to the North American Indian, the Eskimo, and the Mongol, Dick sang:
"Hu'-tim yo'-kim koi-o-di'! Wi'-hi yan'-ning koi-o-di'! Lo'-whi yan'-ning koi-o-di'! Yo-ho' Nai-ni', hal-u'-dom yo nai, yo-ho' nai-nim'!"
"The music is my own," he murmured apologetically, "the way I think it ought to have sounded. You see, no man lives who ever heard it sung. The Nishinam got it from the Maidu, who got it from the Konkau, who made it. But the Nishinam and the Maidu and the Konkau are gone. Their last rancheria is not. You plowed it under, Mr. Crockett, with you bonanza gang-plowing, plow-soling farming. And I got the song from a certain ethnological report, volume three, of the United States Pacific Coast Geographical and Geological Survey. Red Cloud, who was formed out of the sky, first sang this song to the stars and the mountain flowers in the morning of the world. I shall now sing it for you in English."
And again, in Indian falsetto, ringing with triumph, vernal and bursting, slapping his thighs and stamping his feet to the accent, Dick sang:
"The acorns come down from heaven! I plant the short acorns in the valley! I plant the long acorns in the valley! I sprout, I, the black-oak acorn, sprout, I sprout!"
Dick Forrest's name began to appear in the newspapers with appalling frequency. He leaped to instant fame by being the first man in California who paid ten thousand dollars for a single bull. His livestock specialist, whom he had filched from the Federal Government, in England outbid the Rothschilds' Shire farm for Hillcrest Chieftain, quickly to be known as Forrest's Folly, paying for that kingly animal no less than five thousand guineas.
"Let them laugh," Dick told his ex-guardians. "I am importing forty Shire mares. I'll write off half his price the first twelvemonth. He will be the sire and grandsire of many sons and grandsons for which the Californians will fall over themselves to buy of me at from three to five thousand dollars a clatter."
Dick Forrest was guilty of many similar follies in those first months of his majority. But the most unthinkable folly of all was, after he had sunk millions into his original folly, that he turned it over to his experts personally to develop along the general broad lines laid down by him, placed checks upon them that they might not go catastrophically wrong, bought a ticket in a passenger brig to Tahiti, and went away to run wild.
Occasionally his guardians heard from him. At one time he was owner and master of a four-masted steel sailing ship that carried the English flag and coals from Newcastle. They knew that much, because they had been called upon for the purchase price, because they read Dick's name in the papers as master when his ship rescued the passengers of the ill-fated Orion, and because they collected the insurance when Dick's ship was lost with most of all hands in the great Fiji hurricane. In 1896, he was in the Klondike; in 1897, he was in Kamchatka and scurvy-stricken; and, next, he erupted with the American flag into the Philippines. Once, although they could never learn how nor why, he was owner and master of a crazy tramp steamer, long since rejected by Lloyd's, which sailed under the aegis of Siam.
From time to time business correspondence compelled them to hear from him from various purple ports of the purple seas. Once, they had to bring the entire political pressure of the Pacific Coast to bear upon Washington in order to get him out of a scrape in Russia, of which affair not one line appeared in the daily press, but which affair was secretly provocative of ticklish joy and delight in all the chancellories of Europe.
Incidentally, they knew that he lay wounded in Mafeking; that he pulled through a bout with yellow fever in Guayaquil; and that he stood trial for brutality on the high seas in New York City. Thrice they read in the press dispatches that he was dead: once, in battle, in Mexico; and twice, executed, in Venezuela. After such false flutterings, his guardians refused longer to be thrilled when he crossed the Yellow Sea in a sampan, was "rumored" to have died of beri-beri, was captured from the Russians by the Japanese at Mukden, and endured military imprisonment in Japan.
The one thrill of which they were still capable, was when, true to promise, thirty years of age, his wild oats sown, he returned to California with a wife to whom, as he announced, he had been married several years, and whom all his three guardians found they knew. Mr. Slocum had dropped eight hundred thousand along with the totality of her father's fortune in the final catastrophe at the Los Cocos mine in Chihuahua when the United States demonetized silver. Mr. Davidson had pulled a million out of the Last Stake along with her father when he pulled eight millions from that sunken, man-resurrected, river bed in Amador County. Mr. Crockett, a youth at the time, had "spooned" the Merced bottom with her father in the late 'fifties, had stood up best man with him at Stockton when he married her mother, and, at Grant's Pass, had played poker with him and with the then Lieutenant U.S. Grant when all the little the western world knew of that young lieutenant was that he was a good Indian fighter but a poor poker player.
And Dick Forrest had married the daughter of Philip Desten! It was not a case of wishing Dick luck. It was a case of garrulous insistence on the fact that he did not know how lucky he was. His guardians forgave him all his wildness. He had made good. At last he had performed a purely rational act. Better; it was a stroke of genius. Paula Desten! Philip Desten's daughter! The Desten blood! The Destens and the Forrests! It was enough. The three aged comrades of Forrest and Desten of the old Gold Days, of the two who had played and passed on, were even severe with Dick. They warned him of the extreme value of his treasure, of the sacred duty such wedlock imposed on him, of all the traditions and virtues of the Desten and Forrest blood, until Dick laughed and broke in with the disconcerting statement that they were talking like a bunch of fanciers or eugenics cranks—which was precisely what they were talking like, although they did not care to be told so crassly.
At any rate, the simple fact that he had married a Desten made them nod unqualified approbation when he showed them the plans and building estimates of the Big House. Thanks to Paula Desten, for once they were agreed that he was spending wisely and well. As for his farming, it was incontestible that the Harvest Group was unfalteringly producing, and he might be allowed his hobbies. Nevertheless, as Mr. Slocum put it: "Twenty-five thousand dollars for a mere work-horse stallion is a madness. Work-horses are work-horses; now had it been running stock...."
While Dick Forrest scanned the pamphlet on hog cholera issued by the State of Iowa, through his open windows, across the wide court, began to come sounds of the awakening of the girl who laughed from the wooden frame by his bed and who had left on the floor of his sleeping porch, not so many hours before, the rosy, filmy, lacy, boudoir cap so circumspectly rescued by Oh My.
Dick heard her voice, for she awoke, like a bird, with song. He heard her trilling, in and out through open windows, all down the long wing that was hers. And he heard her singing in the patio garden, where, also, she desisted long enough to quarrel with her Airedale and scold the collie pup unholily attracted by the red-orange, divers-finned, and many-tailed Japanese goldfish in the fountain basin.
He was aware of pleasure that she was awake. It was a pleasure that never staled. Always, up himself for hours, he had a sense that the Big House was not really awake until he heard Paula's morning song across the patio.
But having tasted the pleasure of knowing her to be awake, Dick, as usual, forgot her in his own affairs. She went out of his consciousness as he became absorbed again in the Iowa statistics on hog cholera.
"Good morning, Merry Gentleman," was the next he heard, always adorable music in his ears; and Paula flowed in upon him, all softness of morning kimono and stayless body, as her arm passed around his neck and she perched, half in his arms, on one accommodating knee of his. And he pressed her, and advertised his awareness of her existence and nearness, although his eyes lingered a full half minute longer on the totals of results of Professor Kenealy's hog inoculations on Simon Jones' farm at Washington, Iowa.
"My!" she protested. "You are too fortunate. You are sated with riches. Here is your Lady Boy, your 'little haughty moon,' and you haven't even said, 'Good morning, Little Lady Boy, was your sleep sweet and gentle?'"
And Dick Forrest forsook the statistical columns of Professor Kenealy's inoculations, pressed his wife closer, kissed her, but with insistent right fore-finger maintained his place in the pages of the pamphlet.
Nevertheless, the very terms of her "reproof prevented him from asking what he should have asked—the prosperity of her night since the boudoir cap had been left upon his sleeping porch. He shut the pamphlet on his right fore-finger, at the place he intended to resume, and added his right arm to his left about her.
"Oh!" she cried. "Oh! Oh! Listen!"
From without came the flute-calls of quail. She quivered against him with the joy she took in the mellow-sweet notes.
"The coveys are breaking up," he said.
"It means spring," Paula cried.
"And the sign that good weather has come."
"And nest-building and egg-laying," Dick laughed. "Never has the world seemed more fecund than this morning. Lady Isleton is farrowed of eleven. The angoras were brought down this morning for the kidding. You should have seen them. And the wild canaries have been discussing matrimony in the patio for hours. I think some free lover is trying to break up their monogamic heaven with modern love-theories. It's a wonder you slept through the discussion. Listen! There they go now. Is that applause? Or is it a riot?"
Arose a thin twittering, like elfin pipings, with sharp pitches and excited shrillnesses, to which Dick and Paula lent delighted ears, till, suddenly, with the abruptness of the trump of doom, all the microphonic chorus of the tiny golden lovers was swept away, obliterated, in a Gargantuan blast of sound—no less wild, no less musical, no less passionate with love, but immense, dominant, compelling by very vastitude of volume.
The eager eyes of the man and woman sought instantly the channel past open French windows and the screen of the sleeping porch to the road through the lilacs, while they waited breathlessly for the great stallion to appear who trumpeted his love-call before him. Again, unseen, he trumpeted, and Dick said:
"I will sing you a song, my haughty moon. It is not my song. It is the Mountain Lad's. It is what he nickers. Listen! He sings it again. This is what he says: 'Hear me! I am Eros. I stamp upon the hills. I fill the wide valleys. The mares hear me, and startle, in quiet pastures; for they know me. The grass grows rich and richer, the land is filled with fatness, and the sap is in the trees. It is the spring. The spring is mine. I am monarch of my kingdom of the spring. The mares remember my voice. They know me aforetime through their mothers before them. Hear me! I am Eros. I stamp upon the hills, and the wide valleys are my heralds, echoing the sound of my approach.'"
And Paula pressed closer to her husband, and was pressed, as her lips touched his forehead, and as the pair of them, gazing at the empty road among the lilacs, saw it filled with the eruptive vision of Mountain Lad, majestic and mighty, the gnat-creature of a man upon his back absurdly small; his eyes wild and desirous, with the blue sheen that surfaces the eyes of stallions; his mouth, flecked with the froth and fret of high spirit, now brushed to burnished knees of impatience, now tossed skyward to utterance of that vast, compelling call that shook the air.
Almost as an echo, from afar off, came a thin-sweet answering whinney.
"It is the Fotherington Princess," Paula breathed softly.
Again Mountain Lad trumpeted his call, and Dick chanted:
"Hear me! I am Eros! I stamp upon the hills!"
And almost, for a flash of an instant, circled soft and close in his arms, Paula knew resentment of her husband's admiration for the splendid beast. And the next instant resentment vanished, and, in acknowledgment of due debt, she cried gaily:
"And now, Red Cloud! the Song of the Acorn!" Dick glanced half absently to her from the pamphlet folded on his finger, and then, with equal pitch of gaiety, sang:
"The acorns come down from heaven! I plant the short acorns in the valley! I plant the long acorns in the valley! I sprout, I, the black-oak acorn, sprout, I sprout!"
She had impressed herself very close against him during his moment of chanting, but, in the first moments that succeeded she felt the restless movement of the hand that held the finger-marked hog-pamphlet and caught the swift though involuntary flash of his eye to the clock on his desk that marked 11:25. Again she tried to hold him, although, with equal involuntariness, her attempt was made in mild terms of resentment.
"You are a strange and wonderful Red Cloud," she said slowly. "Sometimes almost am I convinced that you are utterly Red Cloud, planting your acorns and singing your savage joy of the planting. And, sometimes, almost you are to me the ultramodern man, the last word of the two-legged, male human that finds Trojan adventures in sieges of statistics, and, armed with test tubes and hypodermics, engages in gladiatorial contests with weird microorganisms. Almost, at times, it seems you should wear glasses and be bald-headed; almost, it seems...."
"That I have no right of vigor to possess an armful of girl," he completed for her, drawing her still closer. "That I am a silly scientific brute who doesn't merit his 'vain little breath of sweet rose-colored dust.' Well, listen, I have a plan. In a few days...."
But his plan died in birth, for, at their backs, came a discreet cough of warning, and, both heads turning as one they saw Bonbright, the assistant secretary, with a sheaf of notes on yellow sheets in his hand.
"Four telegrams," he murmured apologetically. "Mr. Blake is confident that two of them are very important. One of them concerns that Chile shipment of bulls...."
And Paula, slowly drawing away from her husband and rising to her feet, could feel him slipping from her toward his tables of statistics, bills of lading, and secretaries, foremen, and managers.
"Oh, Paula," Dick called, as she was fading through the doorway; "I've christened the last boy—he's to be known as 'Oh Ho.' How do you like it?"
Her reply began with a hint of forlornness that vanished with her smile, as she warned:
"You will play ducks and drakes with the house-boys' names."
"I never do it with pedigreed stock," he assured her with a solemnity belied by the challenging twinkle in his eyes.
"I didn't mean that," was her retort. "I meant that you were exhausting the possibilities of the language. Before long you'll have to be calling them Oh Bel, Oh Hell, and Oh Go to Hell. Your 'Oh' was a mistake. You should have started with 'Red.' Then you could have had Red Bull, Red Horse, Red Dog, Red Frog, Red Fern—and, and all the rest of the reds."
She mingled her laughter with his, as she vanished, and, the next moment, the telegram before him, he was immersed in the details of the shipment, at two hundred and fifty dollars each, F. O. B., of three hundred registered yearling bulls to the beef ranges of Chile. Even so, vaguely, with vague pleasure, he heard Paula sing her way back across the patio to her long wing of house; though he was unaware that her voice was a trifle, just the merest trifle, subdued.
Five minutes after Paula had left him, punctual to the second, the four telegrams disposed of, Dick was getting into a ranch motor car, along with Thayer, the Idaho buyer, and Naismith, the special correspondent for the Breeders' Gazette. Wardman, the sheep manager, joined them at the corrals where several thousand young Shropshire rams had been assembled for inspection.
There was little need for conversation. Thayer was distinctly disappointed in this, for he felt that the purchase of ten carloads of such expensive creatures was momentous enough to merit much conversation.
"They speak for themselves," Dick had assured him, and turned aside to give data to Naismith for his impending article on Shropshires in California and the Northwest.
"I wouldn't advise you to bother to select them," Dick told Thayer ten minutes later. "The average is all top. You could spend a week picking your ten carloads and have no higher grade than if you had taken the first to hand."
This cool assumption that the sale was already consummated so perturbed Thayer, that, along with the sure knowledge that he had never seen so high a quality of rams, he was nettled into changing his order to twenty carloads.
As he told Naismith, after they had regained the Big House and as they chalked their cues to finish the interrupted game:
"It's my first visit to Forrest's. He's a wizard. I've been buying in the East and importing. But those Shropshires won my judgment. You noticed I doubled my order. Those Idaho buyers will be wild for them. I only had buying orders straight for six carloads, and contingent on my judgment for two carloads more; but if every buyer doesn't double his order, straight and contingent, when he sees them rams, and if there isn't a stampede for what's left, I don't know sheep. They're the goods. If they don't jump up the sheep game of Idaho ... well, then Forrest's no breeder and I'm no buyer, that's all."
As the warning gong for lunch rang out—a huge bronze gong from Korea that was never struck until it was first indubitably ascertained that Paula was awake—Dick joined the young people at the goldfish fountain in the big patio. Bert Wainwright, variously advised and commanded by his sister, Rita, and by Paula and her sisters, Lute and Ernestine, was striving with a dip-net to catch a particularly gorgeous flower of a fish whose size and color and multiplicity of fins and tails had led Paula to decide to segregate him for the special breeding tank in the fountain of her own secret patio. Amid high excitement, and much squealing and laughter, the deed was accomplished, the big fish deposited in a can and carried away by the waiting Italian gardener.
"And what have you to say for yourself?" Ernestine challenged, as Dick joined them.
"Nothing," he answered sadly. "The ranch is depleted. Three hundred beautiful young bulls depart to-morrow for South America, and Thayer— you met him last night—is taking twenty carloads of rams. All I can say is that my congratulations are extended to Idaho and Chile."
"Plant more acorns," Paula laughed, her arms about her sisters, the three of them smilingly expectant of an inevitable antic.
"Oh, Dick, sing your acorn song," Lute begged.
He shook his head solemnly.
"I've got a better one. It's purest orthodoxy. It's got Red Cloud and his acorn song skinned to death. Listen! This is the song of the little East-sider, on her first trip to the country under the auspices of her Sunday School. She's quite young. Pay particular attention to her lisp."
And then Dick chanted, lisping:
"The goldfish thwimmeth in the bowl, The robin thiths upon the tree; What maketh them thit so eathily? Who stuckth the fur upon their breasths? God! God! He done it!"
"Cribbed," was Ernestine's judgment, as the laughter died away.
"Sure," Dick agreed. "I got it from the Rancher and Stockman, that got it from the Swine Breeders' Journal, that got it from the Western Advocate, that got it from Public Opinion, that got it, undoubtedly, from the little girl herself, or, rather from her Sunday School teacher. For that matter I am convinced it was first printed in Our Dumb Animals."
The bronze gong rang out its second call, and Paula, one arm around Dick, the other around Rita, led the way into the house, while, bringing up the rear, Bert Wainwright showed Lute Ernestine a new tango step.
"One thing, Thayer," Dick said in an aside, after releasing himself from the girls, as they jostled in confusion where they met Thayer and Naismith at the head of the stairway leading down to the dining room. "Before you leave us, cast your eyes over those Merinos. I really have to brag about them, and American sheepmen will have to come to them. Of course, started with imported stock, but I've made a California strain that will make the French breeders sit up. See Wardman and take your pick. Get Naismith to look them over with you. Stick half a dozen of them in your train-load, with my compliments, and let your Idaho sheepmen get a line on them."
They seated at a table, capable of indefinite extension, in a long, low dining room that was a replica of the hacienda dining rooms of the Mexican land-kings of old California. The floor was of large brown tiles, the beamed ceiling and the walls were whitewashed, and the huge, undecorated, cement fireplace was an achievement in massiveness and simplicity. Greenery and blooms nodded from without the deep- embrasured windows, and the room expressed the sense of cleanness, chastity, and coolness.
On the walls, but not crowded, were a number of canvases—most ambitious of all, in the setting of honor, all in sad grays, a twilight Mexican scene by Xavier Martinez, of a peon, with a crooked- stick plow and two bullocks, turning a melancholy furrow across the foreground of a sad, illimitable, Mexican plain. There were brighter pictures, of early Mexican-Californian life, a pastel of twilight eucalyptus with a sunset-tipped mountain beyond, by Reimers, a moonlight by Peters, and a Griffin stubble-field across which gleamed and smoldered California summer hills of tawny brown and purple- misted, wooded canyons.
"Say," Thayer muttered in an undertone across to Naismith, while Dick and the girls were in the thick of exclamatory and giggling banter, "here's some stuff for that article of yours, if you touch upon the Big House. I've seen the servants' dining room. Forty head sit down to it every meal, including gardeners, chauffeurs, and outside help. It's a boarding house in itself. Some head, some system, take it from me. That Chiney boy, Oh Joy, is a wooz. He's housekeeper, or manager, of the whole shebang, or whatever you want to call his job—and, say, it runs that smooth you can't hear it."
"Forrest's the real wooz," Naismith nodded. "He's the brains that picks brains. He could run an army, a campaign, a government, or even a three-ring circus."
"Which last is some compliment," Thayer concurred heartily.
"Oh, Paula," Dick said across to his wife. "I just got word that Graham arrives to-morrow morning. Better tell Oh Joy to put him in the watch-tower. It's man-size quarters, and it's possible he may carry out his threat and work on his book."
"Graham?—Graham?" Paula queried aloud of her memory. "Do I know him?"
"You met him once two years ago, in Santiago, at the Caf Venus. He had dinner with us."
"Oh, one of those naval officers?"
Dick shook his head.
"The civilian. Don't you remember that big blond fellow—you talked music with him for half an hour while Captain Joyce talked our heads off to prove that the United States should clean Mexico up and out with the mailed fist."
"Oh, to be sure," Paula vaguely recollected. "He'd met you somewhere before... South Africa, wasn't it? Or the Philippines?"
"That's the chap. South Africa, it was. Evan Graham. Next time we met was on the Times dispatch boat on the Yellow Sea. And we crossed trails a dozen times after that, without meeting, until that night in the Caf Venus.
"Heavens—he left Bora-Bora, going east, two days before I dropped anchor bound west on my way to Samoa. I came out of Apia, with letters for him from the American consul, the day before he came in. We missed each other by three days at Levuka—I was sailing the Wild Duck then. He pulled out of Suva as guest on a British cruiser. Sir Everard Im Thurm, British High Commissioner of the South Seas, gave me more letters for Graham. I missed him at Port Resolution and at Vila in the New Hebrides. The cruiser was junketing, you see. I beat her in and out of the Santa Cruz Group. It was the same thing in the Solomons. The cruiser, after shelling the cannibal villages at Langa-Langa, steamed out in the morning. I sailed in that afternoon. I never did deliver those letters in person, and the next time I laid eyes on him was at the Caf Venus two years ago."
"But who about him, and what about him?" Paula queried. "And what's the book?"
"Well, first of all, beginning at the end, he's broke—that is, for him, he's broke. He's got an income of several thousand a year left, but all that his father left him is gone. No; he didn't blow it. He got in deep, and the 'silent panic' several years ago just about cleaned him. But he doesn't whimper.
"He's good stuff, old American stock, a Yale man. The book—he expects to make a bit on it—covers last year's trip across South America, west coast to east coast. It was largely new ground. The Brazilian government voluntarily voted him a honorarium of ten thousand dollars for the information he brought out concerning unexplored portions of Brazil. Oh, he's a man, all man. He delivers the goods. You know the type—clean, big, strong, simple; been everywhere, seen everything, knows most of a lot of things, straight, square, looks you in the eyes—well, in short, a man's man."
Ernestine clapped her hands, flung a tantalizing, man-challenging, man-conquering glance at Bert Wainwright, and exclaimed: "And he comes tomorrow!"
Dick shook his head reprovingly.
"Oh, nothing in that direction, Ernestine. Just as nice girls as you have tried to hook Evan Graham before now. And, between ourselves, I couldn't blame them. But he's had good wind and fast legs, and they've always failed to run him down or get him into a corner, where, dazed and breathless, he's mechanically muttered 'Yes' to certain interrogatories and come out of the trance to find himself, roped, thrown, branded, and married. Forget him, Ernestine. Stick by golden youth and let it drop its golden apples. Pick them up, and golden youth with them, making a noise like stupid failure all the time you are snaring swift-legged youth. But Graham's out of the running. He's old like me—just about the same age—and, like me, he's run a lot of those queer races. He knows how to make a get-away. He's been cut by barbed wire, nose-twitched, neck-burnt, cinched to a fare-you-well, and he remains subdued but uncatchable. He doesn't care for young things. In fact, you may charge him with being wobbly, but I plead guilty, by proxy, that he is merely old, hard bitten, and very wise."
"Where's my Boy in Breeches?" Dick shouted, stamping with jingling spurs through the Big House in quest of its Little Lady.
He came to the door that gave entrance to her long wing. It was a door without a knob, a huge panel of wood in a wood-paneled wall. But Dick shared the secret of the hidden spring with his wife, pressed the spring, and the door swung wide.
"Where's my Boy in Breeches?" he called and stamped down the length of her quarters.
A glance into the bathroom, with its sunken Roman bath and descending marble steps, was fruitless, as were the glances he sent into Paula's wardrobe room and dressing room. He passed the short, broad stairway that led to her empty window-seat divan in what she called her Juliet Tower, and thrilled at sight of an orderly disarray of filmy, pretty, lacy woman's things that he knew she had spread out for her own sensuous delight of contemplation. He fetched up for a moment at a drawing easel, his reiterant cry checked on his lips, and threw a laugh of recognition and appreciation at the sketch, just outlined, of an awkward, big-boned, knobby, weanling colt caught in the act of madly whinneying for its mother.
"Where's my Boy in Breeches?" he shouted before him, out to the sleeping porch; and found only a demure, brow-troubled Chinese woman of thirty, who smiled self-effacing embarrassment into his eyes.
This was Paula's maid, Oh Dear, so named by Dick, many years before, because of a certain solicitous contraction of her delicate brows that made her appear as if ever on the verge of saying, "Oh dear!" In fact, Dick had taken her, as a child almost, for Paula's service, from a fishing village on the Yellow Sea where her widow-mother earned as much as four dollars in a prosperous year at making nets for the fishermen. Oh Dear's first service for Paula had been aboard the three-topmast schooner, All Away, at the same time that Oh Joy, cabin-boy, had begun to demonstrate the efficiency that enabled him, through the years, to rise to the majordomoship of the Big House.
"Where is your mistress, Oh Dear?" Dick asked.
Oh Dear shrank away in an agony of bashfulness.
"She maybe with 'm young ladies—I don't know," Oh Dear stammered; and Dick, in very mercy, swung away on his heel.
"Where's my Boy in Breeches?" he shouted, as he stamped out under the porte cochre just as a ranch limousine swung around the curve among the lilacs.
"I'll be hanged if I know," a tall, blond man in a light summer suit responded from the car; and the next moment Dick Forrest and Evan Graham were shaking hands.
Oh My and Oh Ho carried in the hand baggage, and Dick accompanied his guest to the watch tower quarters.
"You'll have to get used to us, old man," Dick was explaining. "We run the ranch like clockwork, and the servants are wonders; but we allow ourselves all sorts of loosenesses. If you'd arrived two minutes later there'd have been no one to welcome you but the Chinese boys. I was just going for a ride, and Paula—Mrs. Forrest—has disappeared."
The two men were almost of a size, Graham topping his host by perhaps an inch, but losing that inch in the comparative breadth of shoulders and depth of chest. Graham was, if anything, a clearer blond than Forrest, although both were equally gray of eye, equally clear in the whites of the eyes, and equally and precisely similarly bronzed by sun and weather-beat. Graham's features were in a slightly larger mold; his eyes were a trifle longer, although this was lost again by a heavier droop of lids. His nose hinted that it was a shade straighter as well as larger than Dick's, and his lips were a shade thicker, a shade redder, a shade more bowed with fulsome-ness.
Forrest's hair was light brown to chestnut, while Graham's carried a whispering advertisement that it would have been almost golden in its silk had it not been burned almost to sandiness by the sun. The cheeks of both were high-boned, although the hollows under Forrest's cheek- bones were more pronounced. Both noses were large-nostriled and sensitive. And both mouths, while generously proportioned, carried the impression of girlish sweetness and chastity along with the muscles that could draw the lips to the firmness and harshness that would not give the lie to the square, uncleft chins beneath.
But the inch more in height and the inch less in chest-girth gave Evan Graham a grace of body and carriage that Dick Forrest did not possess. In this particular of build, each served well as a foil to the other. Graham was all light and delight, with a hint—but the slightest of hints—of Prince Charming. Forrest's seemed a more efficient and formidable organism, more dangerous to other life, stouter-gripped on its own life.
Forrest threw a glance at his wrist watch as he talked, but in that glance, without pause or fumble of focus, with swift certainty of correlation, he read the dial.
"Eleven-thirty," he said. "Come along at once, Graham. We don't eat till twelve-thirty. I am sending out a shipment of bulls, three hundred of them, and I'm downright proud of them. You simply must see them. Never mind your riding togs. Oh Ho—fetch a pair of my leggings. You, Oh Joy, order Altadena saddled.—What saddle do you prefer, Graham?"
"Oh, anything, old man."
"English?—Australian?—McClellan?—Mexican?" Dick insisted.
"McClellan, if it's no trouble," Graham surrendered.
They sat their horses by the side of the road and watched the last of the herd beginning its long journey to Chili disappear around the bend.
"I see what you're doing—it's great," Graham said with sparkling eyes. "I've fooled some myself with the critters, when I was a youngster, down in the Argentine. If I'd had beef-blood like that to build on, I mightn't have taken the cropper I did."
"But that was before alfalfa and artesian wells," Dick smoothed for him. "The time wasn't ripe for the Shorthorn. Only scrubs could survive the droughts. They were strong in staying powers but light on the scales. And refrigerator steamships hadn't been invented. That's what revolutionized the game down there."
"Besides, I was a mere youngster," Graham added. "Though that meant nothing much. There was a young German tackled it at the same time I did, with a tenth of my capital. He hung it out, lean years, dry years, and all. He's rated in seven figures now."
They turned their horses back for the Big House. Dick flirted his wrist to see his watch.
"Lots of time," he assured his guest. "I'm glad you saw those yearlings. There was one reason why that young German stuck it out. He had to. You had your father's money to fall back on, and, I imagine not only that your feet itched, but that your chief weakness lay in that you could afford to solace the itching."
"Over there are the fish ponds," Dick said, indicating with a nod of his head to the right an invisible area beyond the lilacs. "You'll have plenty of opportunity to catch a mess of trout, or bass, or even catfish. You see, I'm a miser. I love to make things work. There may be a justification for the eight-hour labor day, but I make the work- day of water just twenty-four hours' long. The ponds are in series, according to the nature of the fish. But the water starts working up in the mountains. It irrigates a score of mountain meadows before it makes the plunge and is clarified to crystal clearness in the next few rugged miles; and at the plunge from the highlands it generates half the power and all the lighting used on the ranch. Then it sub- irrigates lower levels, flows in here to the fish ponds, and runs out and irrigates miles of alfalfa farther on. And, believe me, if by that time it hadn't reached the flat of the Sacramento, I'd be pumping out the drainage for more irrigation."
"Man, man," Graham laughed, "you could make a poem on the wonder of water. I've met fire-worshipers, but you're the first real water- worshiper I've ever encountered. And you're no desert-dweller, either. You live in a land of water—pardon the bull—but, as I was saying..."
Graham never completed his thought. From the right, not far away, came the unmistakable ring of shod hoofs on concrete, followed by a mighty splash and an outburst of women's cries and laughter. Quickly the cries turned to alarm, accompanied by the sounds of a prodigious splashing and floundering as of some huge, drowning beast. Dick bent his head and leaped his horse through the lilacs, Graham, on Altadena, followed at his heels. They emerged in a blaze of sunshine, on an open space among the trees, and Graham came upon as unexpected a picture as he had ever chanced upon in his life.
Tree-surrounded, the heart of the open space was a tank, four-sided of concrete. The upper end of the tank, full width, was a broad spillway, sheened with an inch of smooth-slipping water. The sides were perpendicular. The lower end, roughly corrugated, sloped out gently to solid footing. Here, in distress that was consternation, and in fear that was panic, excitedly bobbed up and down a cowboy in bearskin chaps, vacuously repeating the exclamation, "Oh God! Oh God!"—the first division of it rising in inflection, the second division inflected fallingly with despair. On the edge of the farther side, facing him, in bathing suits, legs dangling toward the water, sat three terrified nymphs.
And in the tank, the center of the picture, a great horse, bright bay and wet and ruddy satin, vertical in the water, struck upward and outward into the free air with huge fore-hoofs steel-gleaming in the wet and sun, while on its back, slipping and clinging, was the white form of what Graham took at first to be some glorious youth. Not until the stallion, sinking, emerged again by means of the powerful beat of his legs and hoofs, did Graham realize that it was a woman who rode him—a woman as white as the white silken slip of a bathing suit that molded to her form like a marble-carven veiling of drapery. As marble was her back, save that the fine delicate muscles moved and crept under the silken suit as she strove to keep her head above water. Her slim round arms were twined in yards of half-drowned stallion-mane, while her white round knees slipped on the sleek, wet, satin pads of the great horse's straining shoulder muscles. The white toes of her dug for a grip into the smooth sides of the animal, vainly seeking a hold on the ribs beneath.
In a breath, or the half of a breath, Graham saw the whole breathless situation, realized that the white wonderful creature was a woman, and sensed the smallness and daintiness of her despite her gladiatorial struggles. She reminded him of some Dresden china figure set absurdly small and light and strangely on the drowning back of a titanic beast. So dwarfed was she by the bulk of the stallion that she was a midget, or a tiny fairy from fairyland come true.
As she pressed her cheek against the great arching neck, her golden- brown hair, wet from being under, flowing and tangled, seemed tangled in the black mane of the stallion. But it was her face that smote Graham most of all. It was a boy's face; it was a woman's face; it was serious and at the same time amused, expressing the pleasure it found woven with the peril. It was a white woman's face—and modern; and yet, to Graham, it was all-pagan. This was not a creature and a situation one happened upon in the twentieth century. It was straight out of old Greece. It was a Maxfield Parrish reminiscence from the Arabian Nights. Genii might be expected to rise from those troubled depths, or golden princes, astride winged dragons, to swoop down out of the blue to the rescue.
The stallion, forcing itself higher out of water, missed, by a shade, from turning over backward as it sank. Glorious animal and glorious rider disappeared together beneath the surface, to rise together, a second later, the stallion still pawing the air with fore-hoofs the size of dinner plates, the rider still clinging to the sleek, satin- coated muscles. Graham thought, with a gasp, what might have happened had the stallion turned over. A chance blow from any one of those four enormous floundering hoofs could have put out and quenched forever the light and sparkle of that superb, white-bodied, fire-animated woman.
"Ride his neck!" Dick shouted. "Catch his foretop and get on his neck till he balances out!"
The woman obeyed, digging her toes into the evasive muscle-pads for the quick effort, and leaping upward, one hand twined in the wet mane, the other hand free and up-stretched, darting between the ears and clutching the foretop. The next moment, as the stallion balanced out horizontally in obedience to her shiftage of weight, she had slipped back to the shoulders. Holding with one hand to the mane, she waved a white arm in the air and flashed a smile of acknowledgment to Forrest; and, as Graham noted, she was cool enough to note him on his horse beside Forrest. Also, Graham realized that the turning of her head and the waving of her arm was only partly in bravado, was more in aesthetic wisdom of the picture she composed, and was, most of all, sheer joy of daring and emprise of the blood and the flesh and the life that was she.
"Not many women'd tackle that," Dick said quietly, as Mountain Lad, easily retaining his horizontal position once it had been attained, swam to the lower end of the tank and floundered up the rough slope to the anxious cowboy.
The latter swiftly adjusted the halter with a turn of chain between the jaws. But Paula, still astride, leaned forward, imperiously took the lead-part from the cowboy, whirled Mountain Lad around to face Forrest, and saluted.
"Now you will have to go away," she called. "This is our hen party, and the stag public is not admitted."
Dick laughed, saluted acknowledgment, and led the way back through the lilacs to the road.
"Who ... who was it?" Graham queried.
"Paula—Mrs. Forrest—the boy girl, the child that never grew up, the grittiest puff of rose-dust that was ever woman."
"My breath is quite taken away," Graham said. "Do your people do such stunts frequently?"
"First time she ever did that," Forrest replied. "That was Mountain Lad. She rode him straight down the spill-way—tobogganed with him, twenty-two hundred and forty pounds of him."
"Risked his neck and legs as well as her own," was Graham's comment.
"Thirty-five thousand dollars' worth of neck and legs," Dick smiled. "That's what a pool of breeders offered me for him last year after he'd cleaned up the Coast with his get as well as himself. And as for Paula, she could break necks and legs at that price every day in the year until I went broke—only she doesn't. She never has accidents."
"I wouldn't have given tuppence for her chance if he'd turned over."
"But he didn't," Dick answered placidly. "That's Paula's luck. She's tough to kill. Why, I've had her under shell-fire where she was actually disappointed because she didn't get hit, or killed, or near- killed. Four batteries opened on us, shrapnel, at mile-range, and we had to cover half a mile of smooth hill-brow for shelter. I really felt I was justified in charging her with holding back. She did admit a 'trifle.' We've been married ten or a dozen years now, and, d'ye know, sometimes it seems to me I don't know her at all, and that nobody knows her, and that she doesn't know herself—just the same way as you and I can look at ourselves in a mirror and wonder who the devil we are anyway. Paula and I have one magic formula: Damn the expense when fun is selling. And it doesn't matter whether the price is in dollars, hide, or life. It's our way and our luck. It works. And, d'ye know, we've never been gouged on the price yet."
It was a stag lunch. As Forrest explained, the girls were "hen- partying."
"I doubt you'll see a soul of them till four o'clock, when Ernestine, that's one of Paula's sisters, is going to wallop me at tennis—at least so she's threatened and pledged."
And Graham sat through the lunch, where only men sat, took his part in the conversation on breeds and breeding, learned much, contributed a mite from his own world-experiences, and was unable to shake from his eyes the persistent image of his hostess, the vision of the rounded and delicate white of her against the dark wet background of the swimming stallion. And all the afternoon, looking over prize Merinos and Berkshire gilts, continually that vision burned up under his eyelids. Even at four, in the tennis court, himself playing against Ernestine, he missed more than one stroke because the image of the flying ball would suddenly be eclipsed by the image of a white marble figure of a woman that strove and clung on the back of a great horse.
Graham, although an outlander, knew his California, and, while every girl of the swimming suits was gowned for dinner, was not surprised to find no man similarly accoutered. Nor had he made the mistake of so being himself, despite the Big House and the magnificent scale on which it operated.
Between the first and second gongs, all the guests drifted into the long dining room. Sharp after the second gong, Dick Forrest arrived and precipitated cocktails. And Graham impatiently waited the appearance of the woman who had worried his eyes since noon. He was prepared for all manner of disappointment. Too many gorgeous stripped athletes had he seen slouched into conventional garmenting, to expect too much of the marvelous creature in the white silken swimming suit when it should appear garbed as civilized women garb.
He caught his breath with an imperceptible gasp when she entered. She paused, naturally, for just the right flash of an instant in the arched doorway, limned against the darkness behind her, the soft glow of the indirect lighting full upon her. Graham's lips gasped apart, and remained apart, his eyes ravished with the beauty and surprise of her he had deemed so small, so fairy-like. Here was no delicate midget of a child-woman or boy-girl on a stallion, but a grand lady, as only a small woman can be grand on occasion.
Taller in truth was she, as well as in seeming, than he had judged her, and as finely proportioned in her gown as in her swimming suit. He noted her shining gold-brown hair piled high; the healthy tinge of her skin that was clean and clear and white; the singing throat, full and round, incomparably set on a healthy chest; and the gown, dull blue, a sort of medieval thing with half-fitting, half-clinging body, with flowing sleeves and trimmings of gold-jeweled bands.
She smiled an embracing salutation and greeting. Graham recognized it as kin to the one he had seen when she smiled from the back of the stallion. When she started forward, he could not fail to see the inimitable way she carried the cling and weight of her draperies with her knees—round knees, he knew, that he had seen press desperately into the round muscle-pads of Mountain Lad. Graham observed, also, that she neither wore nor needed corseting. Nor could he fail, as she crossed the floor, to see two women: one, the grand lady, the mistress of the Big House; one, the lovely equestrienne statue beneath the dull-blue, golden-trimmed gown, that no gowning could ever make his memory forget.
She was upon them, among them, and Graham's hand held hers in the formal introduction as he was made welcome to the Big House and all the hacienda in a voice that he knew was a singing voice and that could proceed only from a throat that pillared, such as hers, from a chest deep as hers despite her smallness.
At table, across the corner from her, he could not help a surreptitious studying of her. While he held his own in the general fun and foolishness, it was his hostess that mostly filled the circle of his eye and the content of his mind.
It was as bizarre a company as Graham had ever sat down to dinner with. The sheep-buyer and the correspondent for the Breeders' Gazette were still guests. Three machine-loads of men, women, and girls, totaling fourteen, had arrived shortly before the first gong and had remained to ride home in the moonlight. Graham could not remember their names; but he made out that they came from some valley town thirty miles away called Wickenberg, and that they were of the small-town banking, professional, and wealthy-farmer class. They were full of spirits, laughter, and the latest jokes and catches sprung in the latest slang.
"I see right now," Graham told Paula, "if your place continues to be the caravanserai which it has been since my arrival, that I might as well give up trying to remember names and people."
"I don't blame you," she laughed concurrence. "But these are neighbors. They drop in any time. Mrs. Watson, there, next to Dick, is of the old land-aristocracy. Her grandfather, Wicken, came across the Sierras in 1846. Wickenberg is named after him. And that pretty dark- eyed girl is her daughter...."
And while Paula gave him a running sketch of the chance guests, Graham heard scarce half she said, so occupied was he in trying to sense his way to an understanding of her. Naturalness was her keynote, was his first judgment. In not many moments he had decided that her key-note was joy. But he was dissatisfied with both conclusions, and knew he had not put his finger on her. And then it came to him—pride. That was it! It was in her eye, in the poise of her head, in the curling tendrils of her hair, in her sensitive nostrils, in the mobile lips, in the very pitch and angle of the rounded chin, in her hands, small, muscular and veined, that he knew at sight to be the hard-worked hands of one who had spent long hours at the piano. Pride it was, in every muscle, nerve, and quiver of her—conscious, sentient, stinging pride.
She might be joyous and natural, boy and woman, fun and frolic; but always the pride was there, vibrant, tense, intrinsic, the basic stuff of which she was builded. She was a woman, frank, outspoken, straight- looking, plastic, democratic; but toy she was not. At times, to him, she seemed to glint an impression of steel—thin, jewel-like steel. She seemed strength in its most delicate terms and fabrics. He fondled the impression of her as of silverspun wire, of fine leather, of twisted hair-sennit from the heads of maidens such as the Marquesans make, of carven pearl-shell for the lure of the bonita, and of barbed ivory at the heads of sea-spears such as the Eskimos throw.
"All right, Aaron," they heard Dick Forrest's voice rising, in a lull, from the other end of the table. "Here's something from Phillips Brooks for you to chew on. Brooks said that no man 'has come to true greatness who has not felt in some degree that his life belongs to his race, and that what God gives him, he gives him for mankind.'"
"So at last you believe in God?" the man, addressed Aaron, genially sneered back. He was a slender, long-faced olive-brunette, with brilliant black eyes and the blackest of long black beards.
"I'm hanged if I know," Dick answered. "Anyway, I quoted only figuratively. Call it morality, call it good, call it evolution."
"A man doesn't have to be intellectually correct in order to be great," intruded a quiet, long-faced Irishman, whose sleeves were threadbare and frayed. "And by the same token many men who are most correct in sizing up the universe have been least great."
"True for you, Terrence," Dick applauded.
"It's a matter of definition," languidly spoke up an unmistakable Hindoo, crumbling his bread with exquisitely slender and small-boned fingers. "What shall we mean as great?"
"Shall we say beauty?" softly queried a tragic-faced youth, sensitive and shrinking, crowned with an abominably trimmed head of long hair.
Ernestine rose suddenly at her place, hands on table, leaning forward with a fine simulation of intensity.
"They're off!" she cried. "They're off! Now we'll have the universe settled all over again for the thousandth time. Theodore"—to the youthful poet—"it's a poor start. Get into the running. Ride your father ion and your mother ion, and you'll finish three lengths ahead."
A roar of laughter was her reward, and the poet blushed and receded into his sensitive shell.
Ernestine turned on the black-bearded one:
"Now, Aaron. He's not in form. You start it. You know how. Begin: 'As Bergson so well has said, with the utmost refinement of philosophic speech allied with the most comprehensive intellectual outlook that....'"
More laughter roared down the table, drowning Ernestine's conclusion as well as the laughing retort of the black-bearded one.
"Our philosophers won't have a chance to-night," Paula stole in an aside to Graham.
"Philosophers?" he questioned back. "They didn't come with the Wickenberg crowd. Who and what are they? I'm all at sea."
"They—" Paula hesitated. "They live here. They call themselves the jungle-birds. They have a camp in the woods a couple of miles away, where they never do anything except read and talk. I'll wager, right now, you'll find fifty of Dick's latest, uncatalogued books in their cabins. They have the run of the library, as well, and you'll see them drifting in and out, any time of the day or night, with their arms full of books—also, the latest magazines. Dick says they are responsible for his possessing the most exhaustive and up-to-date library on philosophy on the Pacific Coast. In a way, they sort of digest such things for him. It's great fun for Dick, and, besides, it saves him time. He's a dreadfully hard worker, you know."
"I understand that they... that Dick takes care of them?" Graham asked, the while he pleasured in looking straight into the blue eyes that looked so straight into his.
As she answered, he was occupied with noting the faintest hint of bronze—perhaps a trick of the light—in her long, brown lashes. Perforce, he lifted his gaze to her eyebrows, brown, delicately stenciled, and made sure that the hint of bronze was there. Still lifting his gaze to her high-piled hair, he again saw, but more pronounced, the bronze note glinting from the brown-golden hair. Nor did he fail to startle and thrill to a dazzlement of smile and teeth and eye that frequently lived its life in her face. Hers was no thin smile of restraint, he judged. When she smiled she smiled all of herself, generously, joyously, throwing the largess of all her being into the natural expression of what was herself and which domiciled somewhere within that pretty head of hers.
"Yes," she was saying. "They have never to worry, as long as they live, over mere bread and butter. Dick is most generous, and, rather immoral, in his encouragement of idleness on the part of men like them. It's a funny place, as you'll find out until you come to understand us. They... they are appurtenances, and—and hereditaments, and such things. They will be with us always until we bury them or they bury us. Once in a while one or another of them drifts away—for a time. Like the cat, you know. Then it costs Dick real money to get them back. Terrence, there—Terrence McFane—he's an epicurean anarchist, if you know what that means. He wouldn't kill a flea. He has a pet cat I gave him, a Persian of the bluest blue, and he carefully picks her fleas, not injuring them, stores them in a vial, and turns them loose in the forest on his long walks when he tires of human companionship and communes with nature.
"Well, only last year, he got a bee in his bonnet—the alphabet. He started for Egypt—without a cent, of course—to run the alphabet down in the home of its origin and thereby to win the formula that would explain the cosmos. He got as far as Denver, traveling as tramps travel, when he mixed up in some I. W. W. riot for free speech or something. Dick had to hire lawyers, pay fines, and do just about everything to get him safe home again.
"And the one with a beard—Aaron Hancock. Like Terrence, he won't work. Aaron's a Southerner. Says none of his people ever did work, and that there have always been peasants and fools who just couldn't be restrained from working. That's why he wears a beard. To shave, he holds, is unnecessary work, and, therefore, immoral. I remember, at Melbourne, when he broke in upon Dick and me, a sunburnt wild man from out the Australian bush. It seems he'd been making original researches in anthropology, or folk-lore-ology, or something like that. Dick had known him years before in Paris, and Dick assured him, if he ever drifted back to America, of food and shelter. So here he is."
"And the poet?" Graham asked, glad that she must still talk for a while, enabling him to study the quick dazzlement of smile that played upon her face.
"Oh, Theo—Theodore Malken, though we call him Leo. He won't work, either. His people are old Californian stock and dreadfully wealthy; but they disowned him and he disowned them when he was fifteen. They say he is lunatic, and he says they are merely maddening. He really writes some remarkable verse... when he does write; but he prefers to dream and live in the jungle with Terrence and Aaron. He was tutoring immigrant Jews in San Francisco, when Terrence and Aaron rescued him, or captured him, I don't know which. He's been with us two years now, and he's actually filling out, despite the facts that Dick is absurdly generous in furnishing supplies and that they'd rather talk and read and dream than cook. The only good meals they get is when they descend upon us, like to-night."
"And the Hindoo, there—who's he?"
"That's Dar Hyal. He's their guest. The three of them invited him up, just as Aaron first invited Terrence, and as Aaron and Terrence invited Leo. Dick says, in time, three more are bound to appear, and then he'll have his Seven Sages of the Madroo Grove. Their jungle camp is in a madroo grove, you know. It's a most beautiful spot, with living springs, a canyon—but I was telling you about Dar Hyal.
"He's a revolutionist, of sorts. He's dabbled in our universities, studied in France, Italy, Switzerland, is a political refugee from India, and he's hitched his wagon to two stars: one, a new synthetic system of philosophy; the other, rebellion against the tyranny of British rule in India. He advocates individual terrorism and direct mass action. That's why his paper, Kadar, or Badar, or something like that, was suppressed here in California, and why he narrowly escaped being deported; and that's why he's up here just now, devoting himself to formulating his philosophy.
"He and Aaron quarrel tremendously—that is, on philosophical matters. And now—" Paula sighed and erased the sigh with her smile—"and now, I'm done. Consider yourself acquainted. And, oh, if you encounter our sages more intimately, a word of warning, especially if the encounter be in the stag room: Dar Hyal is a total abstainer; Theodore Malken can get poetically drunk, and usually does, on one cocktail; Aaron Hancock is an expert wine-bibber; and Terrence McFane, knowing little of one drink from another, and caring less, can put ninety-nine men out of a hundred under the table and go right on lucidly expounding epicurean anarchy."
One thing Graham noted as the dinner proceeded. The sages called Dick Forrest by his first name; but they always addressed Paula as "Mrs. Forrest," although she called them by their first names. There was nothing affected about it. Quite unconsciously did they, who respected few things under the sun, and among such few things not even work— quite unconsciously, and invariably, did they recognize the certain definite aloofness in Dick Forrest's wife so that her given name was alien to their lips. By such tokens Evan Graham was not slow in learning that Dick Forrest's wife had a way with her, compounded of sheerest democracy and equally sheer royalty.
It was the same thing, after dinner, in the big living room. She dared as she pleased, but nobody assumed. Before the company settled down, Paula seemed everywhere, bubbling over with more outrageous spirits than any of them. From this group or that, from one corner or another, her laugh rang out. And her laugh fascinated Graham. There was a fibrous thrill in it, most sweet to the ear, that differentiated it from any laugh he had ever heard. It caused Graham to lose the thread of young Mr. Wombold's contention that what California needed was not a Japanese exclusion law but at least two hundred thousand Japanese coolies to do the farm labor of California and knock in the head the threatened eight-hour day for agricultural laborers. Young Mr. Wombold, Graham gleaned, was an hereditary large land-owner in the vicinity of Wickenberg who prided himself on not yielding to the trend of the times by becoming an absentee landlord.
From the piano, where Eddie Mason was the center of a group of girls, came much noise of ragtime music and slangtime song. Terrence McFane and Aaron Hancock fell into a heated argument over the music of futurism. And Graham was saved from the Japanese situation with Mr. Wombold by Dar Hyal, who proceeded to proclaim Asia for the Asiatics and California for the Californians.
Paula, catching up her skirts for speed, fled down the room in some romp, pursued by Dick, who captured her as she strove to dodge around the Wombold group.
"Wicked woman," Dick reproved her in mock wrath; and, the next moment, joined her in persuading Dar Hyal to dance.
And Dar Hyal succumbed, flinging Asia and the Asiatics to the winds, along with his arms and legs, as he weirdly parodied the tango in what he declared to be the "blastic" culmination of modern dancing.
"And now, Red Cloud, sing Mr. Graham your Acorn Song," Paula commanded Dick.
Forrest, his arm still about her, detaining her for the threatened punishment not yet inflicted, shook his head somberly.
"The Acorn Song!" Ernestine called from the piano; and the cry was taken up by Eddie Mason and the girls.
"Oh, do, Dick," Paula pleaded. "Mr. Graham is the only one who hasn't heard it."
Dick shook his head.
"Then sing him your Goldfish Song."
"I'll sing him Mountain Lad's song," Dick bullied, a whimsical sparkle in his eyes. He stamped his feet, pranced, nickered a not bad imitation of Mountain Lad, tossed an imaginary mane, and cried:
"Hear me! I am Eros! I stamp upon the hills!"
"The Acorn Song," Paula interrupted quickly and quietly, with just the hint of steel in her voice.
Dick obediently ceased his chant of Mountain Lad, but shook his head like a stubborn colt.
"I have a new song," he said solemnly. "It is about you and me, Paula. I got it from the Nishinam."
"The Nishinam are the extinct aborigines of this part of California," Paula shot in a swift aside of explanation to Graham.
Dick danced half a dozen steps, stiff-legged, as Indians dance, slapped his thighs with his palms, and began a new chant, still retaining his hold on his wife.
"Me, I am Ai-kut, the first man of the Nishinam. Ai-kut is the short for Adam, and my father and my mother were the coyote and the moon. And this is Yo-to-to-wi, my wife. She is the first woman of the Nishinam. Her father and her mother were the grasshopper and the ring- tailed cat. They were the best father and mother left after my father and mother. The coyote is very wise, the moon is very old; but who ever heard much of anything of credit to the grasshopper and the ring- tailed cat? The Nishinam are always right. The mother of all women had to be a cat, a little, wizened, sad-faced, shrewd ring-tailed cat."
Whereupon the song of the first man and woman was interrupted by protests from the women and acclamations from the men.
"This is Yo-to-to-wi, which is the short for Eve," Dick chanted on, drawing Paula bruskly closer to his side with a semblance of savage roughness. "Yo-to-to-wi is not much to look at. But be not hard upon her. The fault is with the grasshopper and the ring-tailed cat. Me, I am Ai-kut, the first man; but question not my taste. I was the first man, and this, I saw, was the first woman. Where there is but one choice, there is not much to choose. Adam was so circumstanced. He chose Eve. Yo-to-to-wi was the one woman in all the world for me, so I chose Yo-to-to-wi."
And Evan Graham, listening, his eyes on that possessive, encircling arm of all his hostess's fairness, felt an awareness of hurt, and arose unsummoned the thought, to be dismissed angrily, "Dick Forrest is lucky—too lucky."
"Me, I am Ai-kut," Dick chanted on. "This is my dew of woman. She is my honey-dew of woman. I have lied to you. Her father and her mother were neither hopper nor cat. They were the Sierra dawn and the summer east wind of the mountains. Together they conspired, and from the air and earth they sweated all sweetness till in a mist of their own love the leaves of the chaparral and the manzanita were dewed with the honey-dew.
"Yo-to-to-wi is my honey-dew woman. Hear me! I am Ai-kut. Yo-to-to-wi is my quail woman, my deer-woman, my lush-woman of all soft rain and fat soil. She was born of the thin starlight and the brittle dawn- light before the sun . . .
"And," Forrest concluded, relapsing into his natural voice and enunciation, having reached the limit of extemporization,—"and if you think old, sweet, blue-eyed Solomon has anything on me in singing the Song of Songs, just put your names down for the subscription edition of my Song of Songs."
It was Mrs. Mason who first asked that Paula play; but it was Terrence McFane and Aaron Hancock who evicted the rag-time group from the piano and sent Theodore Malken, a blushing ambassador, to escort Paula.
"'Tis for the confounding of this pagan that I'm askin' you to play 'Reflections on the Water,'" Graham heard Terrence say to her.
"And 'The Girl with Flaxen Hair,' after, please," begged Hancock, the indicted pagan. "It will aptly prove my disputation. This wild Celt has a bog-theory of music that predates the cave-man—and he has the unadulterated stupidity to call himself ultra-modern."
"Oh, Debussy!" Paula laughed. "Still wrangling over him, eh? I'll try and get around to him. But I don't know with what I'll begin."
Dar Hyal joined the three sages in seating Paula at the concert grand which, Graham decided, was none too great for the great room. But no sooner was she seated than the three sages slipped away to what were evidently their chosen listening places. The young poet stretched himself prone on a deep bearskin forty feet from the piano, his hands buried in his hair. Terrence and Aaron lolled into a cushioned embrasure of a window seat, sufficiently near to each other to nudge the points of their respective contentions as Paula might expound them. The girls were huddled in colored groups on wide couches or garlanded in twos and threes on and in the big koa-wood chairs.
Evan Graham half-started forward to take the honor of turning Paula's music, but saw in time that Dar Hyal had already elected to himself that office. Graham glimpsed the scene with quiet curious glances. The grand piano, under a low arch at the far-end of the room, was cunningly raised and placed as on and in a sounding board. All jollity and banter had ceased. Evidently, he thought, the Little Lady had a way with her and was accepted as a player of parts. And from this he was perversely prepared for disappointment.
Ernestine leaned across from a chair to whisper to him:
"She can do anything she wants to do. And she doesn't work . . . much. She studied under Leschetizky and Madame Carreno, you know, and she abides by their methods. She doesn't play like a woman, either. Listen to that!"
Graham knew that he expected disappointment from her confident hands, even as she rippled them over the keys in little chords and runs with which he could not quarrel but which he had heard too often before from technically brilliant but musically mediocre performers. But whatever he might have fancied she would play, he was all unprepared for Rachmaninoff's sheerly masculine Prelude, which he had heard only men play when decently played.
She took hold of the piano, with the first two ringing bars, masterfully, like a man; she seemed to lift it, and its sounding wires, with her two hands, with the strength and certitude of maleness. And then, as only he had heard men do it, she sank, or leaped—he could scarcely say which—to the sureness and pureness and ineffable softness of the Andante following.
She played on, with the calm and power of anything but the little, almost girlish woman he glimpsed through half-closed lids across the ebony board of the enormous piano, which she commanded, as she commanded herself, as she commanded the composer. Her touch was definite, authoritative, was his judgment, as the Prelude faded away in dying chords hauntingly reminiscent of its full vigor that seemed still to linger in the air.
While Aaron and Terrence debated in excited whispers in the window seat, and while Dar Hyal sought other music at Paula's direction, she glanced at Dick, who turned off bowl after bowl of mellow light till Paula sat in an oasis of soft glow that brought out the dull gold lights in her dress and hair.
Graham watched the lofty room grow loftier in the increasing shadows. Eighty feet in length, rising two stories and a half from masonry walls to tree-trunked roof, flung across with a flying gallery from the rail of which hung skins of wild animals, hand-woven blankets of Oaxaca and Ecuador, and tapas, woman-pounded and vegetable-dyed, from the islands of the South Pacific, Graham knew it for what it was—a feast-hall of some medieval castle; and almost he felt a poignant sense of lack of the long spread table, with pewter below the salt and silver above the salt, and with huge hound-dogs scuffling beneath for bones.
Later, when Paula had played sufficient Debussy to equip Terrence and Aaron for fresh war, Graham talked with her about music for a few vivid moments. So well did she prove herself aware of the philosophy of music, that, ere he knew it, he was seduced into voicing his own pet theory.
"And so," he concluded, "the true psychic factor of music took nearly three thousand years to impress itself on the Western mind. Debussy more nearly attains the idea-engendering and suggestive serenity—say of the time of Pythagoras—than any of his fore-runners—"
Here, Paula put a pause in his summary by beckoning over Terrence and Aaron from their battlefield in the windowseat.
"Yes, and what of it?" Terrence was demanding, as they came up side by side. "I defy you, Aaron, I defy you, to get one thought out of Bergson on music that is more lucid than any thought he ever uttered in his 'Philosophy of Laughter,' which is not lucid at all."
"Oh!—listen!" Paula cried, with sparkling eyes. "We have a new prophet. Hear Mr. Graham. He's worthy of your steel, of both your steel. He agrees with you that music is the refuge from blood and iron and the pounding of the table. That weak souls, and sensitive souls, and high-pitched souls flee from the crassness and the rawness of the world to the drug-dreams of the over-world of rhythm and vibration—"
"Atavistic!" Aaron Hancock snorted. "The cave-men, the monkey-folk, and the ancestral bog-men of Terrence did that sort of thing—"
"But wait," Paula urged. "It's his conclusions and methods and processes. Also, there he disagrees with you, Aaron, fundamentally. He quoted Pater's 'that all art aspires toward music'—"
"Pure prehuman and micro-organic chemistry," Aaron broke in. "The reactions of cell-elements to the doggerel punch of the wave-lengths of sunlight, the foundation of all folk-songs and rag-times. Terrence completes his circle right there and stultifies all his windiness. Now listen to me, and I will present—"
"But wait," Paula pleaded. "Mr. Graham argues that English puritanism barred music, real music, for centuries...."
"True," said Terrence.
"And that England had to win to its sensuous delight in rhythm through Milton and Shelley—"
"Who was a metaphysician." Aaron broke in.
"A lyrical metaphysician," Terrence defined instantly. "That you must acknowledge, Aaron."
"And Swinburne?" Aaron demanded, with a significance that tokened former arguments.
"He says Offenbach was the fore-runner of Arthur Sullivan," Paula cried challengingly. "And that Auber was before Offenbach. And as for Wagner, ask him, just ask him—"
And she slipped away, leaving Graham to his fate. He watched her, watched the perfect knee-lift of her draperies as she crossed to Mrs. Mason and set about arranging bridge quartets, while dimly he could hear Terrence beginning:
"It is agreed that music was the basis of inspiration of all the arts of the Greeks...."
Later, when the two sages were obliviously engrossed in a heated battle as to whether Berlioz or Beethoven had exposited in their compositions the deeper intellect, Graham managed his escape. Clearly, his goal was to find his hostess again. But she had joined two of the girls in the whispering, giggling seclusiveness of one of the big chairs, and, most of the company being deep in bridge, Graham found himself drifted into a group composed of Dick Forrest, Mr. Wombold, Dar Hyal, and the correspondent of the Breeders' Gazette.
"I'm sorry you won't be able to run over with me," Dick was saying to the correspondent. "It would mean only one more day. I'll take you tomorrow."
"Sorry," was the reply. "But I must make Santa Rosa. Burbank has promised me practically a whole morning, and you know what that means. Yet I know the Gazette would be glad for an account of the experiment. Can't you outline it?—briefly, just briefly? Here's Mr. Graham. It will interest him, I am sure."
"More water-works?" Graham queried.
"No; an asinine attempt to make good farmers out of hopelessly poor ones," Mr. Wombold answered. "I contend that any farmer to-day who has no land of his own, proves by his lack of it that he is an inefficient farmer."
"On the contrary," spoke up Dar Hyal, weaving his slender Asiatic fingers in the air to emphasize his remarks. "Quite on the contrary. Times have changed. Efficiency no longer implies the possession of capital. It is a splendid experiment, an heroic experiment. And it will succeed."
"What is it, Dick?" Graham urged. "Tell us."
"Oh, nothing, just a white chip on the table," Forrest answered lightly. "Most likely it will never come to anything, although just the same I have my hopes—"
"A white chip!" Wombold broke in. "Five thousand acres of prime valley land, all for a lot of failures to batten on, to farm, if you please, on salary, with food thrown in!"
"The food that is grown on the land only," Dick corrected. "Now I will have to put it straight. I've set aside five thousand acres midway between here and the Sacramento River."
"Think of the alfalfa it grew, and that you need," Wombold again interrupted.
"My dredgers redeemed twice that acreage from the marshes in the past year," Dick replied. "The thing is, I believe the West and the world must come to intensive farming. I want to do my share toward blazing the way. I've divided the five thousand acres into twenty-acre holdings. I believe each twenty acres should support, comfortably, not only a family, but pay at least six per cent."
"When it is all allotted it will mean two hundred and fifty families," the Gazette man calculated; "and, say five to the family, it will mean twelve hundred and fifty souls."