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The Little Lady of the Big House
by Jack London
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"Not quite," Dick corrected. "The last holding is occupied, and we have only a little over eleven hundred on the land." He smiled whimsically. "But they promise, they promise. Several fat years and they'll average six to the family."

"Who is we?" Graham inquired.

"Oh, I have a committee of farm experts on it—my own men, with the exception of Professor Lieb, whom the Federal Government has loaned me. The thing is: they must farm, with individual responsibility, according to the scientific methods embodied in our instructions. The land is uniform. Every holding is like a pea in the pod to every other holding. The results of each holding will speak in no uncertain terms. The failure of any farmer, through laziness or stupidity, measured by the average result of the entire two hundred and fifty farmers, will not be tolerated. Out the failures must go, convicted by the average of their fellows.

"It's a fair deal. No farmer risks anything. With the food he may grow and he and his family may consume, plus a cash salary of a thousand a year, he is certain, good seasons and bad, stupid or intelligent, of at least a hundred dollars a month. The stupid and the inefficient will be bound to be eliminated by the intelligent and the efficient. That's all. It will demonstrate intensive farming with a vengeance. And there is more than the certain salary guaranty. After the salary is paid, the adventure must yield six per cent, to me. If more than this is achieved, then the entire hundred per cent, of the additional achievement goes to the farmer."

"Which means that each farmer with go in him will work nights to make good—I see," said the Gazette man. "And why not? Hundred- dollar jobs aren't picked up for the asking. The average farmer in the United States doesn't net fifty a month on his own land, especially when his wages of superintendence and of direct personal labor are subtracted. Of course able men will work their heads off to hold to such a proposition, and they'll see to it that every member of the family does the same."

"'Tis the one objection I have to this place," Terrence McFane, who had just joined the group, announced. "Ever one hears but the one thing—work. 'Tis repulsive, the thought of the work, each on his twenty acres, toilin' and moilin', daylight till dark, and after dark— an' for what? A bit of meat, a bit of bread, and, maybe, a bit of jam on the bread. An' to what end? Is meat an' bread an' jam the end of it all, the meaning of life, the goal of existence? Surely the man will die, like a work horse dies, after a life of toil. And what end has been accomplished? Bread an' meat an' jam? Is that it? A full belly and shelter from the cold till one's body drops apart in the dark moldiness of the grave?"

"But, Terrence, you, too, will die," Dick Forrest retorted.

"But, oh, my glorious life of loafing," came the instant answer. "The hours with the stars and the flowers, under the green trees with the whisperings of breezes in the grass. My books, my thinkers and their thoughts. Beauty, music, all the solaces of all the arts. What? When I fade into the dark I shall have well lived and received my wage for living. But these twenty-acre work-animals of two-legged men of yours! Daylight till dark, toil and moil, sweat on the shirts on the backs of them that dries only to crust, meat and bread in their bellies, roofs that don't leak, a brood of youngsters to live after them, to live the same beast-lives of toil, to fill their bellies with the same meat and bread, to scratch their backs with the same sweaty shirts, and to go into the dark knowing only meat and bread, and, mayhap, a bit of jam."

"But somebody must do the work that enables you to loaf," Mr. Wombold spoke up indignantly.

"'Tis true, 'tis sad 'tis true," Terrence replied lugubriously. Then his face beamed. "And I thank the good Lord for it, for the work- beasties that drag and drive the plows up and down the fields, for the bat-eyed miner-beasties that dig the coal and gold, for all the stupid peasant-beasties that keep my hands soft, and give power to fine fellows like Dick there, who smiles on me and shares the loot with me, and buys the latest books for me, and gives me a place at his board that is plenished by the two-legged work-beasties, and a place at his fire that is builded by the same beasties, and a shack and a bed in the jungle under the madroo trees where never work intrudes its monstrous head."

Evan Graham was slow in getting ready for bed that night. He was unwontedly stirred both by the Big House and by the Little Lady who was its mistress. As he sat on the edge of the bed, half-undressed, and smoked out a pipe, he kept seeing her in memory, as he had seen her in the flesh the past twelve hours, in her varied moods and guises—the woman who had talked music with him, and who had expounded music to him to his delight; who had enticed the sages into the discussion and abandoned him to arrange the bridge tables for her guests; who had nestled in the big chair as girlish as the two girls with her; who had, with a hint of steel, quelled her husband's obstreperousness when he had threatened to sing Mountain Lad's song; who, unafraid, had bestridden the half-drowning stallion in the swimming tank; and who, a few hours later, had dreamed into the dining room, distinctive in dress and person, to meet her many guests.

The Big House, with all its worthy marvels and bizarre novelties, competed with the figure of Paula Forrest in filling the content of his imagination. Once again, and yet again, many times, he saw the slender fingers of Dar Hyal weaving argument in the air, the black whiskers of Aaron Hancock enunciating Bergsonian dogmas, the frayed coat-cuffs of Terrence McFane articulating thanks to God for the two- legged work-beasties that enabled him to loaf at Dick Forrest's board and under Dick Forrest's madroo trees.

Graham knocked out his pipe, took a final sweeping survey of the strange room which was the last word in comfort, pressed off the lights, and found himself between cool sheets in the wakeful dark. Again he heard Paula Forrest laugh; again he sensed her in terms of silver and steel and strength; again, against the dark, he saw that inimitable knee-lift of her gown. The bright vision of it was almost an irk to him, so impossible was it for him to shake it from his eyes. Ever it returned and burned before him, a moving image of light and color that he knew to be subjective but that continually asserted the illusion of reality.

He saw stallion and rider sink beneath the water, and rise again, a flurry of foam and floundering of hoofs, and a woman's face that laughed while she drowned her hair in the drowning mane of the beast. And the first ringing bars of the Prelude sounded in his ears as again he saw the same hands that had guided the stallion lift the piano to all Rachmaninoff's pure splendor of sound.

And when Graham finally fell asleep, it was in the thick of marveling over the processes of evolution that could produce from primeval mire and dust the glowing, glorious flesh and spirit of woman.



CHAPTER XII



The next morning Graham learned further the ways of the Big House. Oh My had partly initiated him in particular things the preceding day and had learned that, after the waking cup of coffee, he preferred to breakfast at table, rather than in bed. Also, Oh My had warned him that breakfast at table was an irregular affair, anywhere between seven and nine, and that the breakfasters merely drifted in at their convenience. If he wanted a horse, or if he wanted a swim or a motor car, or any ranch medium or utility he desired, Oh My informed him, all he had to do was to call for it.

Arriving in the breakfast room at half past seven, Graham found himself just in time to say good-by to the Gazette man and the Idaho buyer, who, finishing, were just ready to catch the ranch machine that connected at Eldorado with the morning train for San Francisco. He sat alone, being perfectly invited by a perfect Chinese servant to order as he pleased, and found himself served with his first desire—an ice-cold, sherried grapefruit, which, the table-boy proudly informed him, was "grown on the ranch." Declining variously suggested breakfast foods, mushes, and porridges, Graham had just ordered his soft-boiled eggs and bacon, when Bert Wainwright drifted in with a casualness that Graham recognized as histrionic, when, five minutes later, in boudoir cap and delectable negligee, Ernestine Desten drifted in and expressed surprise at finding such a multitude of early risers.

Later, as the three of them were rising from table, they greeted Lute Desten and Rita Wainwright arriving. Over the billiard table with Bert, Graham learned that Dick Forrest never appeared for breakfast, that he worked in bed from terribly wee small hours, had coffee at six, and only on unusual occasions appeared to his guests before the twelve-thirty lunch. As for Paula Forrest, Bert explained, she was a poor sleeper, a late riser, lived behind a door without a knob in a spacious wing with a rare and secret patio that even he had seen but once, and only on infrequent occasion was she known to appear before twelve-thirty, and often not then.

"You see, she's healthy and strong and all that," he explained, "but she was born with insomnia. She never could sleep. She couldn't sleep as a little baby even. But it's never hurt her any, because she's got a will, and won't let it get on her nerves. She's just about as tense as they make them, yet, instead of going wild when she can't sleep, she just wills to relax, and she does relax. She calls them her 'white nights,' when she gets them. Maybe she'll fall asleep at daybreak, or at nine or ten in the morning; and then she'll sleep the rest of the clock around and get down to dinner as chipper as you please."

"It's constitutional, I fancy," Graham suggested.

Bert nodded.

"It would be a handicap to nine hundred and ninety-nine women out of a thousand. But not to her. She puts up with it, and if she can't sleep one time—she should worry—she just sleeps some other time and makes it up."

More and other things Bert Wainwright told of his hostess, and Graham was not slow in gathering that the young man, despite the privileges of long acquaintance, stood a good deal in awe of her.

"I never saw anybody whose goat she couldn't get if she went after it," he confided. "Man or woman or servant, age, sex, and previous condition of servitude—it's all one when she gets on the high and mighty. And I don't see how she does it. Maybe it's just a kind of light that comes into her eyes, or some kind of an expression on her lips, or, I don't know what—anyway, she puts it across and nobody makes any mistake about it."

"She has a ... a way with her," Graham volunteered.

"That's it!" Bert's face beamed. "It's a way she has. She just puts it over. Kind of gives you a chilly feeling, you don't know why. Maybe she's learned to be so quiet about it because of the control she's learned by passing sleepless nights without squealing out or getting sour. The chances are she didn't bat an eye all last night— excitement, you know, the crowd, swimming Mountain Lad and such things. Now ordinary things that'd keep most women awake, like danger, or storm at sea, and such things, Dick says don't faze her. She can sleep like a baby, he says, when the town she's in is being bombarded or when the ship she's in is trying to claw off a lee shore. She's a wonder, and no mistake. You ought to play billiards with her—the English game. She'll go some."

A little later, Graham, along with Bert, encountered the girls in the morning room, where, despite an hour of rag-time song and dancing and chatter, he was scarcely for a moment unaware of a loneliness, a lack, and a desire to see his hostess, in some fresh and unguessed mood and way, come in upon them through the open door.

Still later, mounted on Altadena and accompanied by Bert on a thoroughbred mare called Mollie, Graham made a two hours' exploration of the dairy center of the ranch, and arrived back barely in time to keep an engagement with Ernestine in the tennis court.

He came to lunch with an eagerness for which his keen appetite could not entirely account; and he knew definite disappointment when his hostess did not appear.

"A white night," Dick Forrest surmised for his guest's benefit, and went into details additional to Bert's of her constitutional inaptitude for normal sleep. "Do you know, we were married years before I ever saw her sleep. I knew she did sleep, but I never saw her. I've seen her go three days and nights without closing an eye and keep sweet and cheerful all the time, and when she did sleep, it was out of exhaustion. That was when the All Away went ashore in the Carolines and the whole population worked to get us off. It wasn't the danger, for there wasn't any. It was the noise. Also, it was the excitement. She was too busy living. And when it was almost all over, I actually saw her asleep for the first time in my life."

A new guest had arrived that morning, a Donald Ware, whom Graham met at lunch. He seemed well acquainted with all, as if he had visited much in the Big House; and Graham gathered that, despite his youth, he was a violinist of note on the Pacific Coast.

"He has conceived a grand passion for Paula," Ernestine told Graham as they passed out from the dining room.

Graham raised his eyebrows.

"Oh, but she doesn't mind," Ernestine laughed. "Every man that comes along does the same thing. She's used to it. She has just a charming way of disregarding all their symptoms, and enjoys them, and gets the best out of them in consequence. It's lots of fun to Dick. You'll be doing the same before you're here a week. If you don't, we'll all be surprised mightily. And if you don't, most likely you'll hurt Dick's feelings. He's come to expect it as a matter of course. And when a fond, proud husband gets a habit like that, it must hurt terribly to see his wife not appreciated."

"Oh, well, if I am expected to, I suppose I must," Graham sighed. "But just the same I hate to do whatever everybody does just because everybody does it. But if it's the custom—well, it's the custom, that's all. But it's mighty hard on one with so many other nice girls around."

There was a quizzical light in his long gray eyes that affected Ernestine so profoundly that she gazed into his eyes over long, became conscious of what she was doing, dropped her own eyes away, and flushed.

"Little Leo—the boy poet you remember last night," she rattled on in a patent attempt to escape from her confusion. "He's madly in love with Paula, too. I've heard Aaron Hancock chaffing him about some sonnet cycle, and it isn't difficult to guess the inspiration. And Terrence—the Irishman, you know—he's mildly in love with her. They can't help it, you see; and can you blame them?"

"She surely deserves it all," Graham murmured, although vaguely hurt in that the addle-pated, alphabet-obsessed, epicurean anarchist of an Irishman who gloried in being a loafer and a pensioner should even mildly be in love with the Little Lady. "She is most deserving of all men's admiration," he continued smoothly. "From the little I've seen of her she's quite remarkable and most charming."

"She's my half-sister," Ernestine vouchsafed, "although you wouldn't dream a drop of the same blood ran in our veins. She's so different. She's different from all the Destens, from any girl I ever knew— though she isn't exactly a girl. She's thirty-eight, you know—"

"Pussy, pussy," Graham whispered.

The pretty young blonde looked at him in surprise and bewilderment, taken aback by the apparent irrelevance of his interruption.

"Cat," he censured in mock reproof.

"Oh!" she cried. "I never meant it that way. You will find we are very frank here. Everybody knows Paula's age. She tells it herself. I'm eighteen—so, there. And now, just for your meanness, how old are you?"

"As old as Dick," he replied promptly.

"And he's forty," she laughed triumphantly. "Are you coming swimming? —the water will be dreadfully cold."

Graham shook his head. "I'm going riding with Dick."

Her face fell with all the ingenuousness of eighteen.

"Oh," she protested, "some of his eternal green manures, or hillside terracing, or water-pocketing."

"But he said something about swimming at five."

Her face brightened joyously.

"Then we'll meet at the tank. It must be the same party. Paula said swimming at five."

As they parted under a long arcade, where his way led to the tower room for a change into riding clothes, she stopped suddenly and called:

"Oh, Mr. Graham."

He turned obediently.

"You really are not compelled to fall in love with Paula, you know. It was just my way of putting it."

"I shall be very, very careful," he said solemnly, although there was a twinkle in his eye as he concluded.

Nevertheless, as he went on to his room, he could not but admit to himself that the Paula Forrest charm, or the far fairy tentacles of it, had already reached him and were wrapping around him. He knew, right there, that he would prefer the engagement to ride to have been with her than with his old-time friend, Dick.

As he emerged from the house to the long hitching-rails under the ancient oaks, he looked eagerly for his hostess. Only Dick was there, and the stable-man, although the many saddled horses that stamped in the shade promised possibilities. But Dick and he rode away alone. Dick pointed out her horse, an alert bay thoroughbred, stallion at that, under a small Australian saddle with steel stirrups, and double- reined and single-bitted.

"I don't know her plans," he said. "She hasn't shown up yet, but at any rate she'll be swimming later. We'll meet her then."

Graham appreciated and enjoyed the ride, although more than once he found himself glancing at his wrist-watch to ascertain how far away five o'clock might yet be. Lambing time was at hand, and through home field after home field he rode with his host, now one and now the other dismounting to turn over onto its feet rotund and glorious Shropshire and Ramboullet-Merino ewes so hopelessly the product of man's selection as to be unable to get off, of themselves, from their own broad backs, once they were down with their four legs helplessly sky-aspiring.

"I've really worked to make the American Merino," Dick was saying; "to give it the developed leg, the strong back, the well-sprung rib, and the stamina. The old-country breed lacked the stamina. It was too much hand-reared and manicured."

"You're doing things, big things," Graham assured him. "Think of shipping rams to Idaho! That speaks for itself."

Dick Forrest's eyes were sparkling, as he replied:

"Better than Idaho. Incredible as it may sound, and asking forgiveness for bragging, the great flocks to-day of Michigan and Ohio can trace back to my California-bred Ramboullet rams. Take Australia. Twelve years ago I sold three rams for three hundred each to a visiting squatter. After he took them back and demonstrated them he sold them for as many thousand each and ordered a shipload more from me. Australia will never be the worse for my having been. Down there they say that lucerne, artesian wells, refrigerator ships, and Forrest's rams have tripled the wool and mutton production."

Quite by chance, on the way back, meeting Mendenhall, the horse manager, they were deflected by him to a wide pasture, broken by wooded canyons and studded with oaks, to look over a herd of yearling Shires that was to be dispatched next morning to the upland pastures and feeding sheds of the Miramar Hills. There were nearly two hundred of them, rough-coated, beginning to shed, large-boned and large for their age.

"We don't exactly crowd them," Dick Forrest explained, "but Mr. Mendenhall sees to it that they never lack full nutrition from the time they are foaled. Up there in the hills, where they are going, they'll balance their grass with grain. This makes them assemble every night at the feeding places and enables the feeders to keep track of them with a minimum of effort. I've shipped fifty stallions, two-year- olds, every year for the past five years, to Oregon alone. They're sort of standardized, you know. The people up there know what they're getting. They know my standard so well that they'll buy unsight and unseen."

"You must cull a lot, then," Graham ventured.

"And you'll see the culls draying on the streets of San Francisco," Dick answered.

"Yes, and on the streets of Denver," Mr. Mendenhall amplified, "and of Los Angeles, and—why, two years ago, in the horse-famine, we shipped twenty carloads of four-year geldings to Chicago, that averaged seventeen hundred each. The lightest were sixteen, and there were matched pairs up to nineteen hundred. Lord, Lord, that was a year for horse-prices—blue sky, and then some."

As Mr. Mendenhall rode away, a man, on a slender-legged, head-tossing Palomina, rode up to them and was introduced to Graham as Mr. Hennessy, the ranch veterinary.

"I heard Mrs. Forrest was looking over the colts," he explained to his employer, "and I rode across to give her a glance at The Fawn here. She'll be riding her in less than a week. What horse is she on to-day?"

"The Fop," Dick replied, as if expecting the comment that was prompt as the disapproving shake of Mr. Hennessy's head.

"I can never become converted to women riding stallions," muttered the veterinary. "The Fop is dangerous. Worse—though I take my hat off to his record—he's malicious and vicious. She—Mrs. Forrest ought to ride him with a muzzle—but he's a striker as well, and I don't see how she can put cushions on his hoofs."

"Oh, well," Dick placated, "she has a bit that is a bit in his mouth, and she's not afraid to use it—"

"If he doesn't fall over on her some day," Mr. Hennessy grumbled. "Anyway, I'll breathe easier when she takes to The Fawn here. Now she's a lady's mount—all the spirit in the world, but nothing vicious. She's a sweet mare, a sweet mare, and she'll steady down from her friskiness. But she'll always be a gay handful—no riding academy proposition."

"Let's ride over," Dick suggested. "Mrs. Forrest'll have a gay handful in The Fop if she's ridden him into that bunch of younglings.—It's her territory, you know," he elucidated to Graham. "All the house horses and lighter stock is her affair. And she gets grand results. I can't understand it, myself. It's like a little girl straying into an experimental laboratory of high explosives and mixing the stuff around any old way and getting more powerful combinations than the graybeard chemists."

The three men took a cross-ranch road for half a mile, turned up a wooded canyon where ran a spring-trickle of stream, and emerged on a wide rolling terrace rich in pasture. Graham's first glimpse was of a background of many curious yearling and two-year-old colts, against which, in the middleground, he saw his hostess, on the back of the bright bay thoroughbred, The Fop, who, on hind legs, was striking his forefeet in the air and squealing shrilly. They reined in their mounts and watched.

"He'll get her yet," the veterinary muttered morosely. "That Fop isn't safe."

But at that moment Paula Forrest, unaware of her audience, with a sharp cry of command and a cavalier thrust of sharp spurs into The Fop's silken sides, checked him down to four-footedness on the ground and a restless, champing quietness.

"Taking chances?" Dick mildly reproached her, as the three rode up.

"Oh, I can manage him," she breathed between tight teeth, as, with ears back and vicious-gleaming eyes, The Fop bared his teeth in a bite that would have been perilously near to Graham's leg had she not reined the brute abruptly away across the neck and driven both spurs solidly into his sides.

The Fop quivered, squealed, and for the moment stood still.

"It's the old game, the white man's game," Dick laughed. "She's not afraid of him, and he knows it. She outgames him, out-savages him, teaches him what savagery is in its intimate mood and tense."

Three times, while they looked on, ready to whirl their own steeds away if he got out of hand, The Fop attempted to burst into rampage, and three times, solidly, with careful, delicate hand on the bitter bit, Paula Forrest dealt him double spurs in the ribs, till he stood, sweating, frothing, fretting, beaten, and in hand.

"It's the way the white man has always done," Dick moralized, while Graham suffered a fluttery, shivery sensation of admiration of the beast-conquering Little Lady. "He's out-savaged the savage the world around," Dick went on. "He's out-endured him, out-filthed him, out- scalped him, out-tortured him, out-eaten him—yes, out-eaten him. It's a fair wager that the white man, in extremis, has eaten more of the genus homo, than the savage, in extremis, has eaten."

"Good afternoon," Paula greeted her guest, the ranch veterinary, and her husband. "I think I've got him now. Let's look over the colts. Just keep an eye, Mr. Graham, on his mouth. He's a dreadful snapper. Ride free from him, and you'll save your leg for old age."

Now that The Fop's demonstration was over, the colts, startled into flight by some impish spirit amongst them, galloped and frisked away over the green turf, until, curious again, they circled back, halted at gaze, and then, led by one particularly saucy chestnut filly, drew up in half a circle before the riders, with alert pricking ears.

Graham scarcely saw the colts at first. He was seeing his protean hostess in a new role. Would her proteanness never end? he wondered, as he glanced over the magnificent, sweating, mastered creature she bestrode. Mountain Lad, despite his hugeness, was a mild-mannered pet beside this squealing, biting, striking Fop who advertised all the spirited viciousness of the most spirited vicious thoroughbred.

"Look at her," Paula whispered to Dick, in order not to alarm the saucy chestnut filly. "Isn't she wonderful! That's what I've been working for." Paula turned to Evan. "Always they have some fault, some miss, at the best an approximation rather than an achievement. But she's an achievement. Look at her. She's as near right as I shall probably ever get. Her sire is Big Chief, if you know our racing register. He sold for sixty thousand when he was a cripple. We borrowed the use of him. She was his only get of the season. But look at her! She's got his chest and lungs. I had my choices—mares eligible for the register. Her dam wasn't eligible, but I chose her. She was an obstinate old maid, but she was the one mare for Big Chief. This is her first foal and she was eighteen years old when she bred. But I knew it was there. All I had to do was to look at Big Chief and her, and it just had to be there."

"The dam was only half thoroughbred," Dick explained.

"But with a lot of Morgan on the other side," Paula added instantly, "and a streak along the back of mustang. This shall be called Nymph, even if she has no place in the books. She'll be my first unimpeachable perfect saddle horse—I know it—the kind I like—my dream come true at last."

"A hoss has four legs, one on each corner," Mr. Hennessy uttered profoundly.

"And from five to seven gaits," Graham took up lightly,

"And yet I don't care for those many-gaited Kentuckians," Paula said quickly, "—except for park work. But for California, rough roads, mountain trails, and all the rest, give me the fast walk, the fox trot, the long trot that covers the ground, and the not too-long, ground-covering gallop. Of course, the close-coupled, easy canter; but I scarcely call that a gait—it's no more than the long lope reduced to the adjustment of wind or rough ground."

"She's a beauty," Dick admired, his eyes warm in contemplation of the saucy chestnut filly, who was daringly close and alertly sniffing of the subdued Fop's tremulous and nostril-dilated muzzle.

"I prefer my own horses to be near thoroughbred rather than all thoroughbred," Paula proclaimed. "The running horse has its place on the track, but it's too specialized for mere human use."

"Nicely coupled," Mr. Hennessy said, indicating the Nymph. "Short enough for good running and long enough for the long trot. I'll admit I didn't have any faith in the combination; but you've got a grand animal out of it just the same."

"I didn't have horses when I was a young girl," Paula said to Graham; "and the fact that I can now not only have them but breed them and mold them to my heart's desire is always too good to be true. Sometimes I can't believe it myself, and have to ride out and look them over to make sure."

She turned her head and raised her eyes gratefully to Forrest; and Graham watched them look into each other's eyes for a long half- minute. Forrest's pleasure in his wife's pleasure, in her young enthusiasm and joy of life, was clear to Graham's observation. "Lucky devil," was Graham's thought, not because of his host's vast ranch and the success and achievement of it, but because of the possession of a wonder-woman who could look unabashed and appreciative into his eyes as the Little Lady had looked.

Graham was meditating, with skepticism, Ernestine's information that Paula Forrest was thirty-eight, when she turned to the colts and pointed her riding whip at a black yearling nibbling at the spring green.

"Look at that level rump, Dick," she said, "and those trotting feet and pasterns." And, to Graham: "Rather different from Nymph's long wrists, aren't they? But they're just what I was after." She laughed a little, with just a shade of annoyance. "The dam was a bright sorrel— almost like a fresh-minted twenty-dollar piece—and I did so want a pair out of her, of the same color, for my own trap. Well, I can't say that I exactly got them, although I bred her to a splendid, sorrel trotting horse. And this is my reward, this black—and, wait till we get to the brood mares and you'll see the other, a full brother and mahogany brown. I'm so disappointed."

She singled out a pair of dark bays, feeding together: "Those are two of Guy Dillon's get—brother, you know, to Lou Dillon. They're out of different mares, not quite the same bay, but aren't they splendidly matched? And they both have Guy Dillon's coat."

She moved her subdued steed on, skirting the flank of the herd quietly in order not to alarm it; but a number of colts took flight.

"Look at them!" she cried. "Five, there, are hackneys. Look at the lift of their fore-legs as they run."

"I'll be terribly disappointed if you don't get a prize-winning four- in-hand out of them," Dick praised, and brought again the flash of grateful eyes that hurt Graham as he noted it.

"Two are out of heavier mares—see that one in the middle and the one on the far left—and there's the other three to pick from for the leaders. Same sire, five different dams, and a matched and balanced four, out of five choices, all in the same season, is a stroke of luck, isn't it?"

She turned quickly to Mr. Hennessy: "I can begin to see the ones that will have to sell for polo ponies—among the two-year-olds. You can pick them."

"If Mr. Mendenhall doesn't sell that strawberry roan for a clean fifteen hundred, it'll be because polo has gone out of fashion," the veterinary approved, with waxing enthusiasm. "I've had my eye on them. That pale sorrel, there. You remember his set-back. Give him an extra year and he'll—look at his coupling!—watch him turn!—a cow-skin?— he'll turn on a silver dollar! Give him a year to make up, and he'll stand a show for the international. Listen to me. I've had my faith in him from the beginning. Cut out that Burlingame crowd. When he's ripe, ship him straight East."

Paula nodded and listened to Mr. Hennessy's judgment, her eyes kindling with his in the warmth of the sight of the abounding young life for which she was responsible.

"It always hurts, though," she confessed to Graham, "selling such beauties to have them knocked out on the field so quickly."

Her sheer absorption in the animals robbed her speech of any hint of affectation or show—so much so, that Dick was impelled to praise her judgment to Evan.

"I can dig through a whole library of horse practice, and muddle and mull over the Mendelian Law until I'm dizzy, like the clod that I am; but she is the genius. She doesn't have to study law. She just knows it in some witch-like, intuitional way. All she has to do is size up a bunch of mares with her eyes, and feel them over a little with her hands, and hunt around till she finds the right sires, and get pretty nearly what she wants in the result—except color, eh, Paul?" he teased.

She showed her laughing teeth in the laugh at her expense, in which Mr. Hennessy joined, and Dick continued: "Look at that filly there. We all knew Paula was wrong. But look at it! She bred a rickety old thoroughbred, that we wanted to put out of her old age, to a standard stallion; got a filly; bred it back with a thoroughbred; bred its filly foal with the same standard again; knocked all our prognostications into a cocked hat, and—well, look at it, a world- beater polo pony. There is one thing we have to take off our hats to her for: she doesn't let any woman sentimentality interfere with her culling. Oh, she's cold-blooded enough. She's as remorseless as any man when it comes to throwing out the undesirables and selecting for what she wants. But she hasn't mastered color yet. There's where her genius falls down, eh, Paul? You'll have to put up with Duddy and Fuddy for a while longer for your trap. By the way, how is Duddy?"

"He's come around," she answered, "thanks to Mr. Hennessy."

"Nothing serious," the veterinarian added. "He was just off his feed a trifle. It was more a scare of the stableman than anything else."



CHAPTER XIII



From the colt pasture to the swimming tank Graham talked with his hostess and rode as nearly beside her as The Fop's wickedness permitted, while Dick and Hennessy, on ahead, were deep in ranch business.

"Insomnia has been a handicap all my life," she said, while she tickled The Fop with a spur in order to check a threatened belligerence. "But I early learned to keep the irritation of it off my nerves and the weight of it off my mind. In fact, I early came to make a function of it and actually to derive enjoyment from it. It was the only way to master a thing I knew would persist as long as I persisted. Have you—of course you have—learned to win through an undertow?"

"Yes, by never fighting it," Graham answered, his eyes on the spray of color in her cheeks and the tiny beads of sweat that arose from her continuous struggle with the high-strung creature she rode. Thirty- eight! He wondered if Ernestine had lied. Paula Forrest did not look twenty-eight. Her skin was the skin of a girl, with all the delicate, fine-pored and thin transparency of the skin of a girl.

"Exactly," she went on. "By not fighting the undertow. By yielding to its down-drag and out-drag, and working with it to reach air again. Dick taught me that trick. So with my insomnia. If it is excitement from immediate events that holds me back from the City of Sleep, I yield to it and come quicker to unconsciousness from out the entangling currents. I invite my soul to live over again, from the same and different angles, the things that keep me from unconsciousness.

"Take the swimming of Mountain Lad yesterday. I lived it over last night as I had lived it in reality. Then I lived it as a spectator—as the girls saw it, as you saw it, as the cowboy saw it, and, most of all, as my husband saw it. Then I made up a picture of it, many pictures of it, from all angles, and painted them, and framed them, and hung them, and then, a spectator, looked at them as if for the first time. And I made myself many kinds of spectators, from crabbed old maids and lean pantaloons to girls in boarding school and Greek boys of thousands of years ago.

"After that I put it to music. I played it on the piano, and guessed the playing of it on full orchestras and blaring bands. I chanted it, I sang it-epic, lyric, comic; and, after a weary long while, of course I slept in the midst of it, and knew not that I slept until I awoke at twelve to-day. The last time I had heard the clock strike was six. Six unbroken hours is a capital prize for me in the sleep lottery."

As she finished, Mr. Hennessy rode away on a cross path, and Dick Forrest dropped back to squire his wife on the other side.

"Will you sport a bet, Evan?" he queried.

"I'd like to hear the terms of it first," was the answer.

"Cigars against cigars that you can't catch Paula in the tank inside ten minutes—no, inside five, for I remember you're some swimmer."

"Oh, give him a chance, Dick," Paula cried generously. "Ten minutes will worry him."

"But you don't know him," Dicked argued. "And you don't value my cigars. I tell you he is a swimmer. He's drowned kanakas, and you know what that means."

"Perhaps I should reconsider. Maybe he'll slash a killing crawl-stroke at me before I've really started. Tell me his history and prizes."

"I'll just tell you one thing. They still talk of it in the Marquesas. It was the big hurricane of 1892. He did forty miles in forty-five hours, and only he and one other landed on the land. And they were all kanakas. He was the only white man; yet he out-endured and drowned the last kanaka of them—"

"I thought you said there was one other?" Paula interrupted.

"She was a woman," Dick answered. "He drowned the last kanaka."

"And the woman was then a white woman?" Paula insisted.

Graham looked quickly at her, and although she had asked the question of her husband, her head turned to the turn of his head, so that he found her eyes meeting his straightly and squarely in interrogation. Graham held her gaze with equal straightness as he answered: "She was a kanaka."

"A queen, if you please," Dick took up. "A queen out of the ancient chief stock. She was Queen of Huahoa."

"Was it the chief stock that enabled her to out-endure the native men?" Paula asked. "Or did you help her?"

"I rather think we helped each other toward the end," Graham replied. "We were both out of our heads for short spells and long spells. Sometimes it was one, sometimes the other, that was all in. We made the land at sunset—that is, a wall of iron coast, with the surf bursting sky-high. She took hold of me and clawed me in the water to get some sense in me. You see, I wanted to go in, which would have meant finish.

"She got me to understand that she knew where she was; that the current set westerly along shore and in two hours would drift us abreast of a spot where we could land. I swear I either slept or was unconscious most of those two hours; and I swear she was in one state or the other when I chanced to come to and noted the absence of the roar of the surf. Then it was my turn to claw and maul her back to consciousness. It was three hours more before we made the sand. We slept where we crawled out of the water. Next morning's sun burnt us awake, and we crept into the shade of some wild bananas, found fresh water, and went to sleep again. Next I awoke it was night. I took another drink, and slept through till morning. She was still asleep when the bunch of kanakas, hunting wild goats from the next valley, found us."

"I'll wager, for a man who drowned a whole kanaka crew, it was you who did the helping," Dick commented.

"She must have been forever grateful," Paula challenged, her eyes directly on Graham's. "Don't tell me she wasn't young, wasn't beautiful, wasn't a golden brown young goddess."

"Her mother was the Queen of Huahoa," Graham answered. "Her father was a Greek scholar and an English gentleman. They were dead at the time of the swim, and Nomare was queen herself. She was young. She was beautiful as any woman anywhere in the world may be beautiful. Thanks to her father's skin, she as not golden brown. She was tawny golden. But you've heard the story undoubtedly—"

He broke off with a look of question to Dick, who shook his head.

Calls and cries and splashings of water from beyond a screen of trees warned them that they were near the tank.

"You'll have to tell me the rest of the story some time," Paula said.

"Dick knows it. I can't see why he hasn't told you."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Perhaps because he's never had the time or the provocation."

"God wot, it's had wide circulation," Graham laughed. "For know that I was once morganatic—or whatever you call it—king of the cannibal isles, or of a paradise of a Polynesian isle at any rate.—'By a purple wave on an opal beach in the hush of the Mahim woods,'" he hummed carelessly, in conclusion, and swung off from his horse.

"'The white moth to the closing vine, the bee to the opening clover,'" she hummed another line of the song, while The Fop nearly got his teeth into her leg and she straightened him out with the spur, and waited for Dick to help her off and tie him.

"Cigars!—I'm in on that!—you can't catch her!" Bert Wainwright called from the top of the high dive forty feet above. "Wait a minute! I'm coming!"

And come he did, in a swan dive that was almost professional and that brought handclapping approval from the girls.

"A sweet dive, balanced beautifully," Graham told him as he emerged from the tank.

Bert tried to appear unconscious of the praise, failed, and, to pass it off, plunged into the wager.

"I don't know what kind of a swimmer you are, Graham," he said, "but I just want in with Dick on the cigars."

"Me, too; me, too!" chorused Ernestine, and Lute, and Rita.

"Boxes of candy, gloves, or any truck you care to risk," Ernestine added.

"But I don't know Mrs. Forrest's records, either," Graham protested, after having taken on the bets. "However, if in five minutes—"

"Ten minutes," Paula said, "and to start from opposite ends of the tank. Is that fair? Any touch is a catch." Graham looked his hostess over with secret approval. She was clad, not in the single white silk slip she evidently wore only for girl parties, but in a coquettish imitation of the prevailing fashion mode, a suit of changeable light blue and green silk—almost the color of the pool; the skirt slightly above the knees whose roundedness he recognized; with long stockings to match, and tiny bathing shoes bound on with crossed ribbons. On her head was a jaunty swimming cap no jauntier than herself when she urged the ten minutes in place of five.

Rita Wainwright held the watch, while Graham walked down to the other end of the hundred-and-fifty-foot tank.

"Paula, you'll be caught if you take any chances," Dick warned. "Evan Graham is a real fish man."

"I guess Paula'll show him a few, even without the pipe," Bert bragged loyally. "And I'll bet she can out-dive him."

"There you lose," Dick answered. "I saw the rock he dived from at Huahoa. That was after his time, and after the death of Queen Nomare. He was only a youngster—twenty-two; he had to be to do it. It was off the peak of the Pau-wi Rock—one hundred and twenty-eight feet by triangulation. And he couldn't do it legitimately or technically with a swan-dive, because he had to clear two lower ledges while he was in the air. The upper ledge of the two, by their own traditions, was the highest the best of the kanakas had ever dared since their traditions began. Well, he did it. He became tradition. As long as the kanakas of Huahoa survive he will remain tradition—Get ready, Rita. Start on the full minute."

"It's almost a shame to play tricks on so reputable a swimmer," Paula confided to them, as she faced her guest down the length of the tank and while both waited the signal.

"He may get you before you can turn the trick," Dick warned again. And then, to Bert, with just a shade of anxiety: "Is it working all right? Because if it isn't, Paula will have a bad five seconds getting out of it."

"All O.K.," Bert assured. "I went in myself. The pipe is working. There's plenty of air."

"Ready!" Rita called. "Go!"

Graham ran toward their end like a foot-racer, while Paula darted up the high dive. By the time she had gained the top platform, his hands and feet were on the lower rungs. When he was half-way up she threatened a dive, compelling him to cease from climbing and to get out on the twenty-foot platform ready to follow her to the water. Whereupon she laughed down at him and did not dive. "Time is passing— the precious seconds are ticking off," Ernestine chanted.

When he started to climb, Paula again chased him to the half-way platform with a threat to dive. But not many seconds did Graham waste. His next start was determined, and Paula, poised for her dive, could not send him scuttling back. He raced upward to gain the thirty-foot platform before she should dive, and she was too wise to linger. Out into space she launched, head back, arms bent, hands close to chest, legs straight and close together, her body balanced horizontally on the air as it fell outward and downward.

"Oh you Annette Kellerman!" Bert Wamwright's admiring cry floated up.

Graham ceased pursuit to watch the completion of the dive, and saw his hostess, a few feet above the water, bend her head forward, straighten out her arms and lock the hands to form the arch before her head, and, so shifting the balance of her body, change it from the horizontal to the perfect, water-cleaving angle.

The moment she entered the water, he swung out on the thirty-foot platform and waited. From this height he could make out her body beneath the surface swimming a full stroke straight for the far end of the tank. Not till then did he dive. He was confident that he could outspeed her, and his dive, far and flat, entered him in the water twenty feet beyond her entrance.

But at the instant he was in, Dick dipped two flat rocks into the water and struck them together. This was the signal for Paula to change her course. Graham heard the concussion and wondered. He broke surface in the full swing of the crawl and went down the tank to the far end at a killing pace. He pulled himself out and watched the surface of the tank. A burst of handclapping from the girls drew his eyes to the Little Lady drawing herself out of the tank at the other end.

Again he ran down the side of the tank, and again she climbed the scaffold. But this time his wind and endurance enabled him to cut down her lead, so that she was driven to the twenty-foot platform. She took no time for posturing or swanning, but tilted immediately off in a stiff dive, angling toward the west side of the tank. Almost they were in the air at the same time. In the water and under it, he could feel against his face and arms the agitation left by her progress; but she led into the deep shadow thrown by the low afternoon sun, where the water was so dark he could see nothing.

When he touched the side of the tank he came up. She was not in sight. He drew himself out, panting, and stood ready to dive in at the first sign of her. But there were no signs.

"Seven minutes!" Rita called. "And a half! ... Eight!... And a half!"

And no Paula Forrest broke surface. Graham refused to be alarmed because he could see no alarm on the faces of the others.

"I lose," he announced at Rita's "Nine minutes!"

"She's been under over two minutes, and you're all too blessed calm about it to get me excited," he said. "I've still a minute—maybe I don't lose," he added quickly, as he stepped off feet first into the tank.

As he went down he turned over and explored the cement wall of tank with his hands. Midway, possibly ten feet under the surface he estimated, his hands encountered an opening in the wall. He felt about, learned it Was unscreened, and boldly entered. Almost before he was in, he found he could come up; but he came up slowly, breaking surface in pitchy blackness and feeling about him without splashing.

His fingers touched a cool smooth arm that shrank convulsively at contact while the possessor of it cried sharply with the startle of fright. He held on tightly and began to laugh, and Paula laughed with him. A line from "The First Chanty" flashed into his consciousness— "Hearing her laugh in the gloom greatly I loved her."

"You did frighten me when you touched me," she said. "You came without a sound, and I was a thousand miles away, dreaming..."

"What?" Graham asked.

"Well, honestly, I had just got an idea for a gown—a dusty, musty, mulberry-wine velvet, with long, close lines, and heavy, tarnished gold borders and cords and things. And the only jewelery a ring—one enormous pigeon-blood ruby that Dick gave me years ago when we sailed the All Away."

"Is there anything you don't do?" he laughed.

She joined with him, and their mirth sounded strangely hollow in the pent and echoing dark.

"Who told you?" she next asked.

"No one. After you had been under two minutes I knew it had to be something like this, and I came exploring."

"It was Dick's idea. He had it built into the tank afterward. You will find him full of whimsies. He delighted in scaring old ladies into fits by stepping off into the tank with their sons or grandsons and hiding away in here. But after one or two nearly died of shock—old ladies, I mean—he put me up, as to-day, to fooling hardier persons like yourself.—Oh, he had another accident. There was a Miss Coghlan, friend of Ernestine, a little seminary girl. They artfully stood her right beside the pipe that leads out, and Dick went off the high dive and swam in here to the inside end of the pipe. After several minutes, by the time she was in collapse over his drowning, he spoke up the pipe to her in most horrible, sepulchral tones. And right there Miss Coghlan fainted dead away."

"She must have been a weak sister," Graham commented; while he struggled with a wanton desire for a match so that he could strike it and see how Paula Forrest looked paddling there beside him to keep afloat.

"She had a fair measure of excuse," Paula answered. "She was a young thing—eighteen; and she had a sort of school-girl infatuation for Dick. They all get it. You see, he's such a boy when he's playing that they can't realize that he's a hard-bitten, hard-working, deep- thinking, mature, elderly benedict. The embarrassing thing was that the little girl, when she was first revived and before she could gather her wits, exposed all her secret heart. Dick's face was a study while she babbled her—"

"Well?—going to stay there all night?" Bert Wainwright's voice came down the pipe, sounding megaphonically close.

"Heavens!" Graham sighed with relief; for he had startled and clutched Paula's arm. "That's the time I got my fright. The little maiden is avenged. Also, at last, I know what a lead-pipe cinch is."

"And it's time we started for the outer world," she suggested. "It's not the coziest gossiping place in the world. Shall I go first?"

"By all means—and I'll be right behind; although it's a pity the water isn't phosphorescent. Then I could follow your incandescent heel like that chap Byron wrote about—don't you remember?"

He heard her appreciative gurgle in the dark, and then her: "Well, I'm going now."

Unable to see the slightest glimmer, nevertheless, from the few sounds she made he knew she had turned over and gone down head first, and he was not beyond visioning with inner sight the graceful way in which she had done it—an anything but graceful feat as the average swimming woman accomplishes it.

"Somebody gave it away to you," was Bert's prompt accusal, when Graham rose to the surface of the tank and climbed out.

"And you were the scoundrel who rapped stone under water," Graham challenged. "If I'd lost I'd have protested the bet. It was a crooked game, a conspiracy, and competent counsel, I am confident, would declare it a felony. It's a case for the district attorney."

"But you won," Ernestine cried.

"I certainly did, and, therefore, I shall not prosecute you, nor any one of your crooked gang—if the bets are paid promptly. Let me see— you owe me a box of cigars—"

"One cigar, sir!"

"A box! A box!" "Cross tag!" Paula cried. "Let's play cross-tag!— You're IT!"

Suiting action to word, she tagged Graham on the shoulder and plunged into the tank. Before he could follow, Bert seized him, whirled him in a circle, was himself tagged, and tagged Dick before he could escape. And while Dick pursued his wife through the tank and Bert and Graham sought a chance to cross, the girls fled up the scaffold and stood in an enticing row on the fifteen-foot diving platform.



CHAPTER XIV.



An indifferent swimmer, Donald Ware had avoided the afternoon sport in the tank; but after dinner, somewhat to the irritation of Graham, the violinist monopolized Paula at the piano. New guests, with the casual expectedness of the Big House, had drifted in—a lawyer, by name Adolph Well, who had come to confer with Dick over some big water- right suit; Jeremy Braxton, straight from Mexico, Dick's general superintendent of the Harvest Group, which bonanza, according to Jeremy Braxton, was as "unpetering" as ever; Edwin O'Hay, a red-headed Irish musical and dramatic critic; and Chauncey Bishop, editor and owner of the San Francisco Dispatch, and a member of Dick's class and frat, as Graham gleaned.

Dick had started a boisterous gambling game which he called "Horrible Fives," wherein, although excitement ran high and players plunged, the limit was ten cents, and, on a lucky coup, the transient banker might win or lose as high as ninety cents, such coup requiring at least ten minutes to play out. This game went on at a big table at the far end of the room, accompanied by much owing and borrowing of small sums and an incessant clamor for change.

With nine players, the game was crowded, and Graham, rather than draw cards, casually and occasionally backed Ernestine's cards, the while he glanced down the long room at the violinist and Paula Forrest absorbed in Beethoven Symphonies and Delibes' Ballets. Jeremy Braxton was demanding raising the limit to twenty cents, and Dick, the heaviest loser, as he averred, to the tune of four dollars and sixty cents, was plaintively suggesting the starting of a "kitty" in order that some one should pay for the lights and the sweeping out of the place in the morning, when Graham, with a profound sigh at the loss of his last bet—a nickel which he had had to pay double—announced to Ernestine that he was going to take a turn around the room to change his luck.

"I prophesied you would," she told him under her breath.

"What?" he asked.

She glanced significantly in Paula's direction.

"Just for that I simply must go down there now," he retorted.

"Can't dast decline a dare," she taunted.

"If it were a dare I wouldn't dare do it."

"In which case I dare you," she took up.

He shook his head: "I had already made up my mind to go right down there to that one spot and cut that fiddler out of the running. You can't dare me out of it at this late stage. Besides, there's Mr. O'Hay waiting for you to make your bet."

Ernestine rashly laid ten cents, and scarcely knew whether she won or lost, so intent was she on watching Graham go down the room, although she did know that Bert Wainwright had not been unobservant of her gaze and its direction. On the other hand, neither she nor Bert, nor any other at the table, knew that Dick's quick-glancing eyes, sparkling with merriment while his lips chaffed absurdities that made them all laugh, had missed no portion of the side play.

Ernestine, but little taller than Paula, although hinting of a plus roundness to come, was a sun-healthy, clear blonde, her skin sprayed with the almost transparent flush of maidenhood at eighteen. To the eye, it seemed almost that one could see through the pink daintiness of fingers, hand, wrist, and forearm, neck and cheek. And to this delicious transparency of rose and pink, was added a warmth of tone that did not escape Dick's eyes as he glimpsed her watch Evan Graham move down the length of room. Dick knew and classified her wild imagined dream or guess, though the terms of it were beyond his divination.

What she saw was what she imagined was the princely walk of Graham, the high, light, blooded carriage of his head, the delightful carelessness of the gold-burnt, sun-sanded hair that made her fingers ache to be into with caresses she for the first time knew were possible of her fingers.

Nor did Paula, during an interval of discussion with the violinist in which she did not desist from stating her criticism of O'Hay's latest criticism of Harold Bauer, fail to see and keep her eyes on Graham's progress. She, too, noted with pleasure his grace of movement, the high, light poise of head, the careless hair, the clear bronze of the smooth cheeks, the splendid forehead, the long gray eyes with the hint of drooping lids and boyish sullenness that fled before the smile with which he greeted her.

She had observed that smile often since her first meeting with him. It was an irresistible smile, a smile that lighted the eyes with the radiance of good fellowship and that crinkled the corners into tiny, genial lines. It was provocative of smiles, for she found herself smiling a silent greeting in return as she continued stating to Ware her grievance against O'Hay's too-complacent praise of Bauer.

But her engagement was tacitly with Donald Ware at the piano, and with no more than passing speech, she was off and away in a series of Hungarian dances that made Graham marvel anew as he loafed and smoked in a window-seat.

He marveled at the proteanness of her, at visions of those nimble fingers guiding and checking The Fop, swimming and paddling in submarine crypts, and, falling in swan-like flight through forty feet of air, locking just above the water to make the diver's head- protecting arch of arm.

In decency, he lingered but few minutes, returned to the gamblers, and put the entire table in a roar with a well-acted Yiddisher's chagrin and passion at losing entire nickels every few minutes to the fortunate and chesty mine superintendent from Mexico.

Later, when the game of Horrible Fives broke up, Bert and Lute Desten spoiled the Adagio from Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique by exaggeratedly ragging to it in what Dick immediately named "The Loving Slow-Drag," till Paula broke down in a gale of laughter and ceased from playing.

New groupings occurred. A bridge table formed with Weil, Rita, Bishop, and Dick. Donald Ware was driven from his monopoly of Paula by the young people under the leadership of Jeremy Braxton; while Graham and O'Hay paired off in a window-seat and O'Hay talked shop.

After a time, in which all at the piano had sung Hawaiian hulas, Paula sang alone to her own accompaniment. She sang several German love-songs in succession, although it was merely for the group about her and not for the room; and Evan Graham, almost to his delight, decided that at last he had found a weakness in her. She might be a magnificent pianist, horsewoman, diver, and swimmer, but it was patent, despite her singing throat, that she was not a magnificent singer. This conclusion he was quickly compelled to modify. A singer she was, a consummate singer. Weakness was only comparative after all. She lacked the magnificent voice. It was a sweet voice, a rich voice, with the same warm-fibered thrill of her laugh; but the volume so essential to the great voice was not there. Ear and voice seemed effortlessly true, and in her singing were feeling, artistry, training, intelligence. But volume—it was scarcely a fair average, was his judgment.

But quality—there he halted. It was a woman's voice. It was haunted with richness of sex. In it resided all the temperament in the world— with all the restraint of discipline, was the next step of his analysis. He had to admire the way she refused to exceed the limitations of her voice. In this she achieved triumphs.

And, while he nodded absently to O'Hay's lecturette on the state of the—opera, Graham fell to wondering if Paula Forrest, thus so completely the mistress of her temperament, might not be equally mistress of her temperament in the deeper, passional ways. There was a challenge there—based on curiosity, he conceded, but only partly so based; and, over and beyond, and, deeper and far beneath, a challenge to a man made in the immemorial image of man.

It was a challenge that bade him pause, and even look up and down the great room and to the tree-trunked roof far above, and to the flying gallery hung with the spoils of the world, and to Dick Forrest, master of all this material achievement and husband of the woman, playing bridge, just as he worked, with all his heart, his laughter ringing loud as he caught Rita in renig. For Graham had the courage not to shun the ultimate connotations. Behind the challenge in his speculations lurked the woman. Paula Forrest was splendidly, deliciously woman, all woman, unusually woman. From the blow between the eyes of his first striking sight of her, swimming the great stallion in the pool, she had continued to witch-ride his man's imagination. He was anything but unused to women; and his general attitude was that of being tired of the mediocre sameness of them. To chance upon the unusual woman was like finding the great pearl in a lagoon fished out by a generation of divers.

"Glad to see you're still alive," Paula laughed to him, a little later.

She was prepared to depart with Lute for bed. A second bridge quartet had been arranged—Ernestine, Bert, Jeremy Braxton, and Graham; while O'Hay and Bishop were already deep in a bout of two-handed pinochle.

"He's really a charming Irishman when he keeps off his one string," Paula went on.

"Which, I think I am fair, is music," Graham said.

"And on music he is insufferable," Lute observed. "It's the only thing he doesn't know the least thing about. He drives one frantic."

"Never mind," Paula soothed, in gurgling tones. "You will all be avenged. Dick just whispered to me to get the philosophers up to- morrow night. You know how they talk music. A musical critic is their awful prey."

"Terrence said the other night that there was no closed season on musical critics," Lute contributed.

"Terrence and Aaron will drive him to drink," Paula laughed her joy of anticipation. "And Dar Hyal, alone, with his blastic theory of art, can specially apply it to music to the confutation of all the first words and the last. He doesn't believe a thing he says about blastism, any more than was he serious when he danced the other evening. It's his bit of fun. He's such a deep philosopher that he has to get his fun somehow."

"And if O'Hay ever locks horns with Terrence," Lute prophesied, "I can see Terrence tucking arm in arm with him, leading him down to the stag room, and heating the argument with the absentest-minded variety of drinks that ever O'Hay accomplished."

"Which means a very sick O'Hay next day," Paula continued her gurgles of anticipation.

"I'll tell him to do it!" exclaimed Lute.

"You mustn't think we're all bad," Paula protested to Graham. "It's just the spirit of the house. Dick likes it. He's always playing jokes himself. He relaxes that way. I'll wager, right now, it was Dick's suggestion, to Lute, and for Lute to carry out, for Terrence to get O'Hay into the stag room. Now, 'fess up, Lute."

"Well, I will say," Lute answered with meticulous circumspection, "that the idea was not entirely original with me."

At this point, Ernestine joined them and appropriated Graham with:

"We're all waiting for you. We've cut, and you and I are partners. Besides, Paula's making her sleep noise. So say good night, and let her go."

Paula had left for bed at ten o'clock. Not till one did the bridge break up. Dick, his arm about Ernestine in brotherly fashion, said good night to Graham where one of the divided ways led to the watch tower, and continued on with his pretty sister-in-law toward her quarters.

"Just a tip, Ernestine," he said at parting, his gray eyes frankly and genially on hers, but his voice sufficiently serious to warn her.

"What have I been doing now?" she pouted laughingly.

"Nothing... as yet. But don't get started, or you'll be laying up a sore heart for yourself. You're only a kid yet—eighteen; and a darned nice, likable kid at that. Enough to make 'most any man sit up and take notice. But Evan Graham is not 'most any man—"

"Oh, I can take care of myself," she blurted out in a fling of quick resentment.

"But listen to me just the same. There comes a time in the affairs of a girl when the love-bee gets a buzzing with a very loud hum in her pretty noddle. Then is the time she mustn't make a mistake and start in loving the wrong man. You haven't fallen in love with Evan Graham yet, and all you have to do is just not to fall in love with him. He's not for you, nor for any young thing. He's an oldster, an ancient, and possibly has forgotten more about love, romantic love, and young things, than you'll ever learn in a dozen lives. If he ever marries again—"

"Again!" Ernestine broke in.

"Why, he's been a widower, my dear, for over fifteen years."

"Then what of it?" she demanded defiantly.

"Just this," Dick continued quietly. "He's lived the young-thing romance, and lived it wonderfully; and, from the fact that in fifteen years he has not married again, means—"

"That he's never recovered from his loss?" Ernestine interpolated. "But that's no proof—"

"—Means that he's got over his apprenticeship to wild young romance," Dick held on steadily. "All you have to do is look at him and realize that he has not lacked opportunities, and that, on occasion, some very fine women, real wise women, mature women, have given him foot-races that tested his wind and endurance. But so far they've not succeeded in catching him. And as for young things, you know how filled the world is with them for a man like him. Think it over, and just keep your heart-thoughts away from him. If you don't let your heart start to warm toward him, it will save your heart from a grievous chill later on."

He took one of her hands in his, and drew her against him, an arm soothingly about her shoulder. For several minutes of silence Dick idly speculated on what her thoughts might be.

"You know, we hard-bitten old fellows—" he began half-apologetically, half-humorously.

But she made a restless movement of distaste, and cried out:

"Are the only ones worth while! The young men are all youngsters, and that's what's the matter with them. They're full of life, and coltish spirits, and dance, and song. But they're not serious. They're not big. They're not—oh, they don't give a girl that sense of all- wiseness, of proven strength, of, of... well, of manhood."

"I understand," Dick murmured. "But please do not forget to glance at the other side of the shield. You glowing young creatures of women must affect the old fellows in precisely similar ways. They may look on you as toys, playthings, delightful things to whom to teach a few fine foolishnesses, but not as comrades, not as equals, not as sharers—full sharers. Life is something to be learned. They have learned it... some of it. But young things like you, Ernestine, have you learned any of it yet?"

"Tell me," she asked abruptly, almost tragically, "about this wild young romance, about this young thing when he was young, fifteen years ago."

"Fifteen?" Dick replied promptly. "Eighteen. They were married three years before she died. In fact—figure it out for yourself—they were actually married, by a Church of England dominie, and living in wedlock, about the same moment that you were squalling your first post-birth squalls in this world."

"Yes, yes—go on," she urged nervously. "What was she like?"

"She was a resplendent, golden-brown, or tan-golden half-caste, a Polynesian queen whose mother had been a queen before her, whose father was an Oxford man, an English gentleman, and a real scholar. Her name was Nomare. She was Queen of Huahoa. She was barbaric. He was young enough to out-barbaric her. There was nothing sordid in their marriage. He was no penniless adventurer. She brought him her island kingdom and forty thousand subjects. He brought to that island his fortune—and it was no inconsiderable fortune. He built a palace that no South Sea island ever possessed before or will ever possess again. It was the real thing, grass-thatched, hand-hewn beams that were lashed with cocoanut sennit, and all the rest. It was rooted in the island; it sprouted out of the island; it belonged, although he fetched Hopkins out from New York to plan it.

"Heavens! they had their own royal yacht, their mountain house, their canoe house—the last a veritable palace in itself. I know. I have been at great feasts in it—though it was after their time. Nomare was dead, and no one knew where Graham was, and a king of collateral line was the ruler.

"I told you he out-barbaricked her. Their dinner service was gold.— Oh, what's the use in telling any more. He was only a boy. She was half-English, half-Polynesian, and a really and truly queen. They were flowers of their races. They were a pair of wonderful children. They lived a fairy tale. And... well, Ernestine, the years have passed, and Evan Graham has passed from the realm of the young thing. It will be a remarkable woman that will ever infatuate him now. Besides, he's practically broke. Though he didn't wastrel his money. As much misfortune, and more, than anything else."

"Paula would be more his kind," Ernestine said meditatively.

"Yes, indeed," Dick agreed. "Paula, or any woman as remarkable as Paula, would attract him a thousand times more than all the sweet, young, lovely things like you in the world. We oldsters have our standards, you know."

"And I'll have to put up with the youngsters," Ernestine sighed.

"In the meantime, yes," he chuckled. "Remembering, always, that you, too, in time, may grow into the remarkable, mature woman, who can outfoot a man like Evan in a foot-race of love for possession."

"But I shall be married long before that," she pouted.

"Which will be your good fortune, my dear. And, now, good night. And you are not angry with me?"

She smiled pathetically and shook her head, put up her lips to be kissed, then said as they parted:

"I promise not to be angry if you will only show me the way that in the end will lead me to ancient graybeards like you and Graham."

Dick Forrest, turning off lights as he went, penetrated the library, and, while selecting half a dozen reference volumes on mechanics and physics, smiled as if pleased with himself at recollection of the interview with his sister-in-law. He was confident that he had spoken in time and not a moment too soon. But, half way up the book-concealed spiral staircase that led to his work room, a remark of Ernestine, echoing in his consciousness, made him stop from very suddenness to lean his shoulder against the wall.—"Paula would be more his kind."

"Silly ass!" he laughed aloud, continuing on his way. "And married a dozen years!"

Nor did he think again about it, until, in bed, on his sleeping porch, he took a glance at his barometers and thermometers, and prepared to settle down to the solution of the electrical speculation that had been puzzling him. Then it was, as he peered across the great court to his wife's dark wing and dark sleeping porch to see if she were still waking, that Ernestine's remark again echoed. He dismissed it with a "Silly ass!" of scorn, lighted a cigarette, and began running, with trained eye, the indexes of the books and marking the pages sought with matches.



CHAPTER XV



It was long after ten in the morning, when Graham, straying about restlessly and wondering if Paula Forrest ever appeared before the middle of the day, wandered into the music room. Despite the fact that he was a several days' guest in the Big House, so big was it that the music room was new territory. It was an exquisite room, possibly thirty-five by sixty and rising to a lofty trussed ceiling where a warm golden light was diffused from a skylight of yellow glass. Red tones entered largely into the walls and furnishing, and the place, to him, seemed to hold the hush of music.

Graham was lazily contemplating a Keith with its inevitable triumph of sun-gloried atmosphere and twilight-shadowed sheep, when, from the tail of his eye, he saw his hostess come in from the far entrance. Again, the sight of her, that was a picture, gave him the little catch-breath of gasp. She was clad entirely in white, and looked very young and quite tall in the sweeping folds of a holoku of elaborate simplicity and apparent shapelessness. He knew the holoku in the home of its origin, where, on the lanais of Hawaii, it gave charm to a plain woman and double-folded the charm of a charming woman.

While they smiled greeting across the room, he was noting the set of her body, the poise of head and frankness of eyes—all of which seemed articulate with a friendly, comradely, "Hello, friends." At least such was the form Graham's fancy took as she came toward him.

"You made a mistake with this room," he said gravely.

"No, don't say that! But how?"

"It should have been longer, much longer, twice as long at least."

"Why?" she demanded, with a disapproving shake of head, while he delighted in the girlish color in her cheeks that gave the lie to her thirty-eight years.

"Because, then," he answered, "you should have had to walk twice as far this morning and my pleasure of watching you would have been correspondingly increased. I've always insisted that the holoku is the most charming garment ever invented for women."

"Then it was my holoku and not I," she retorted. "I see you are like Dick—always with a string on your compliments, and lo, when we poor sillies start to nibble, back goes the compliment dragging at the end of the string.

"Now I want to show you the room," she hurried on, closing his disclaimer. "Dick gave me a free hand with it. It's all mine, you see, even to its proportions."

"And the pictures?"

"I selected them," she nodded, "every one of them, and loved them onto the walls myself. Although Dick did quarrel with me over that Vereschagin. He agreed on the two Millets and the Corot over there, and on that Isabey; and even conceded that some Vereschagins might do in a music room, but not that particular Vereschagin. He's jealous for our local artists, you see. He wanted more of them, wanted to show his appreciation of home talent."

"I don't know your Pacific Coast men's work very well," Graham said. "Tell me about them. Show me that—Of course, that's a Keith, there; but whose is that next one? It's beautiful."

"A McComas—" she was answering; and Graham, with a pleasant satisfaction, was settling himself to a half-hour's talk on pictures, when Donald Ware entered with questing eyes that lighted up at sight of the Little Lady.

His violin was under his arm, and he crossed to the piano in a brisk, business-like way and proceeded to lay out music.

"We're going to work till lunch," Paula explained to Graham. "He swears I'm getting abominably rusty, and I think he's half right. We'll see you at lunch. You can stay if you care, of course; but I warn you it's really going to be work. And we're going swimming this afternoon. Four o'clock at the tank, Dick says. Also, he says he's got a new song he's going to sing then.—What time is it, Mr. Ware?"

"Ten minutes to eleven," the musician answered briefly, with a touch of sharpness.

"You're ahead of time—the engagement was for eleven. And till eleven you'll have to wait, sir. I must run and see Dick, first. I haven't said good morning to him yet."

Well Paula knew her husband's hours. Scribbled secretly in the back of the note-book that lay always on the reading stand by her couch were hieroglyphic notes that reminded her that he had coffee at six-thirty; might possibly be caught in bed with proof-sheets or books till eight- forty-five, if not out riding; was inaccessible between nine and ten, dictating correspondence to Blake; was inaccessible between ten and eleven, conferring with managers and foremen, while Bonbright, the assistant secretary, took down, like any court reporter, every word uttered by all parties in the rapid-fire interviews.

At eleven, unless there were unexpected telegrams or business, she could usually count on finding Dick alone for a space, although invariably busy. Passing the secretaries' room, the click of a typewriter informed her that one obstacle was removed. In the library, the sight of Mr. Bonbright hunting a book for Mr. Manson, the Shorthorn manager, told her that Dick's hour with his head men was over.

She pressed the button that swung aside a section of filled book- shelves and revealed the tiny spiral of steel steps that led up to Dick's work room. At the top, a similar pivoting section of shelves swung obediently to her press of button and let her noiselessly into his room. A shade of vexation passed across her face as she recognized Jeremy Braxton's voice. She paused in indecision, neither seeing nor being seen.

"If we flood we flood," the mine superintendent was saying. "It will cost a mint—yes, half a dozen mints—to pump out again. And it's a damned shame to drown the old Harvest that way."

"But for this last year the books show that we've worked at a positive loss," Paula heard Dick take up. "Every petty bandit from Huerta down to the last peon who's stolen a horse has gouged us. It's getting too stiff—taxes extraordinary—bandits, revolutionists, and federals. We could survive it, if only the end were in sight; but we have no guarantee that this disorder may not last a dozen or twenty years."

"Just the same, the old Harvest—think of flooding her!" the superintendent protested.

"And think of Villa," Dick replied, with a sharp laugh the bitterness of which did not escape Paula. "If he wins he says he's going to divide all the land among the peons. The next logical step will be the mines. How much do you think we've coughed up to the constitutionalists in the past twelvemonth?"

"Over a hundred and twenty thousand," Braxton answered promptly. "Not counting that fifty thousand cold bullion to Torenas before he retreated. He jumped his army at Guaymas and headed for Europe with it—I wrote you all that."

"If we keep the workings afloat, Jeremy, they'll go on gouging, gouge without end, Amen. I think we'd better flood. If we can make wealth more efficiently than those rapscallions, let us show them that we can destroy wealth with the same facility."

"That's what I tell them. And they smile and repeat that such and such a free will offering, under exigent circumstances, would be very acceptable to the revolutionary chiefs—meaning themselves. The big chiefs never finger one peso in ten of it. Good Lord! I show them what we've done. Steady work for five thousand peons. Wages raised from ten centavos a day to a hundred and ten. I show them peons—ten-centavo men when we took them, and five-peso men when I showed them. And the same old smile and the same old itching palm, and the same old acceptability of a free will offering from us to the sacred cause of the revolution. By God! Old Diaz was a robber, but he was a decent robber. I said to Arranzo: 'If we shut down, here's five thousand Mexicans out of a job—what'll you do with them?' And Arranzo smiled and answered me pat. 'Do with them?' he said. 'Why, put guns in their hands and march 'em down to take Mexico City.'"

In imagination Paula could see Dick's disgusted shrug of shoulders as she heard him say:

"The curse of it is—that the stuff is there, and that we're the only fellows that can get it out. The Mexicans can't do it. They haven't the brains. All they've got is the guns, and they're making us shell out more than we make. There's only one thing for us, Jeremy. We'll forget profits for a year or so, lay off the men, and just keep the engineer force on and the pumping going."

"I threw that into Arranzo," Jeremy Braxton's voice boomed. "And what was his comeback? That if we laid off the peons, he'd see to it that the engineers laid off, too, and the mine could flood and be damned to us.—No, he didn't say that last. He just smiled, but the smile meant the same thing. For two cents I'd a-wrung his yellow neck, except that there'd have been another patriot in his boots and in my office next day proposing a stiffer gouge.

"So Arranzo got his 'bit,' and, on top of it, before he went across to join the main bunch around Juarez, he let his men run off three hundred of our mules—thirty thousand dollars' worth of mule-flesh right there, after I'd sweetened him, too. The yellow skunk!"

"Who is revolutionary chief in our diggings right now?" Paula heard her husband ask with one of his abrupt shifts that she knew of old time tokened his drawing together the many threads of a situation and proceeding to action.

"Raoul Bena."

"What's his rank?"

"Colonel—he's got about seventy ragamuffins."

"What did he do before he quit work?"

"Sheep-herder."

"Very well." Dick's utterance was quick and sharp. "You've got to play-act. Become a patriot. Hike back as fast as God will let you. Sweeten this Raoul Bena. He'll see through your play, or he's no Mexican. Sweeten him and tell him you'll make him a general—-a second Villa."

"Lord, Lord, yes, but how?" Jeremy Braxton demanded.

"By putting him at the head of an army of five thousand. Lay off the men. Make him make them volunteer. We're safe, because Huerta is doomed. Tell him you're a real patriot. Give each man a rifle. We'll stand that for a last gouge, and it will prove you a patriot. Promise every man his job back when the war is over. Let them and Raoul Bena depart with your blessing. Keep on the pumping force only. And if we cut out profits for a year or so, at the same time we are cutting down losses. And perhaps we won't have to flood old Harvest after all."

Paula smiled to herself at Dick's solution as she stole back down the spiral on her way to the music room. She was depressed, but not by the Harvest Group situation. Ever since her marriage there had always been trouble in the working of the Mexican mines Dick had inherited. Her depression was due to her having missed her morning greeting to him. But this depression vanished at meeting Graham, who had lingered with Ware at the piano and who, at her coming, was evidencing signs of departure.

"Don't run away," she urged. "Stay and witness a spectacle of industry that should nerve you up to starting on that book Dick has been telling me about."



CHAPTER XVI



On Dick's face, at lunch, there was no sign of trouble over the Harvest Group; nor could anybody have guessed that Jeremy Braxton's visit had boded anything less gratifying than a report of unfailing earnings. Although Adolph Weil had gone on the early morning train, which advertised that the business which had brought him had been transacted with Dick at some unheard of hour, Graham discovered a greater company than ever at the table. Besides a Mrs. Tully, who seemed a stout and elderly society matron, and whom Graham could not make out, there were three new men, of whose identity he gleaned a little: a Mr. Gulhuss, State Veterinary; a Mr. Deacon, a portrait painter of evident note on the Coast; and a Captain Lester, then captain of a Pacific Mail liner, who had sailed skipper for Dick nearly twenty years before and who had helped Dick to his navigation.

The meal was at its close, and the superintendent was glancing at his watch, when Dick said:

"Jeremy, I want to show you what I've been up to. We'll go right now. You'll have time on your way to the train."

"Let us all go," Paula suggested, "and make a party of it. I'm dying to see it myself, Dick's been so obscure about it."

Sanctioned by Dick's nod, she was ordering machines and saddle horses the next moment.

"What is it?" Graham queried, when she had finished.

"Oh, one of Dick's stunts. He's always after something new. This is an invention. He swears it will revolutionize farming—that is, small farming. I have the general idea of it, but I haven't seen it set up yet. It was ready a week ago, but there was some delay about a cable or something concerning an adjustment."

"There's billions in it... if it works," Dick smiled over the table. "Billions for the farmers of the world, and perhaps a trifle of royalty for me... if it works."

"But what is it?" O'Hay asked. "Music in the dairy barns to make the cows give down their milk more placidly?"

"Every farmer his own plowman while sitting on his front porch," Dick baffled back. "In fact, the labor-eliminating intermediate stage between soil production and sheer laboratory production of food. But wait till you see it. Gulhuss, this is where I kill my own business, if it works, for it will do away with the one horse of every ten-acre farmer between here and Jericho."

In ranch machines and on saddle animals, the company was taken a mile beyond the dairy center, where a level field was fenced squarely off and contained, as Dick announced, just precisely ten acres.

"Behold," he said, "the one-man and no-horse farm where the farmer sits on the porch. Please imagine the porch."

In the center of the field was a stout steel pole, at least twenty feet in height and guyed very low.

From a drum on top of the pole a thin wire cable ran to the extreme edge of the field and was attached to the steering lever of a small gasoline tractor. About the tractor two mechanics fluttered. At command from Dick they cranked the motor and started it on its way.

"This is the porch," Dick said. "Just imagine we're all that future farmer sitting in the shade and reading the morning paper while the manless, horseless plowing goes on."

Alone, unguided, the drum on the head of the pole in the center winding up the cable, the tractor, at the circumference permitted by the cable, turned a single furrow as it described a circle, or, rather, an inward trending spiral about the field.

"No horse, no driver, no plowman, nothing but the farmer to crank the tractor and start it on its way," Dick exulted, as the uncanny mechanism turned up the brown soil and continued unguided, ever spiraling toward the field's center. "Plow, harrow, roll, seed, fertilize, cultivate, harvest—all from the front porch. And where the farmer can buy juice from a power company, all he, or his wife, will have to do is press the button, and he to his newspaper, and she to her pie-crust."

"All you need, now, to make it absolutely perfect," Graham praised, "is to square the circle."

"Yes," Mr. Gulhuss agreed. "As it is, a circle in a square field loses some acreage."

Graham's face advertised a mental arithmetic trance for a minute, when he announced: "Loses, roughly, three acres out of every ten."

"Sure," Dick concurred. "But the farmer has to have his front porch somewhere on his ten acres. And the front porch represents the house, the barn, the chicken yard and the various outbuildings. Very well. Let him get tradition out of his mind, and, instead of building these things in the center of his ten acres, let him build them on the three acres of fringe. And let him plant his fruit and shade trees and berry bushes on the fringe. When you come to consider it, the traditionary method of erecting the buildings in the center of a rectangular ten acres compels him to plow around the center in broken rectangles."

Gulhuss nodded enthusiastically. "Sure. And there's always the roadway from the center out to the county road or right of way. That breaks the efficiency of his plowing. Break ten acres into the consequent smaller rectangles, and it's expensive cultivation."

"Wish navigation was as automatic," was Captain Lester's contribution.

"Or portrait painting," laughed Rita Wainwright with a significant glance at Mr. Deacon.

"Or musical criticism," Lute remarked, with no glance at all, but with a pointedness of present company that brought from O'Hay:

"Or just being a charming young woman."

"What price for the outfit?" Jeremy Braxton asked.

"Right now, we could manufacture and lay down, at a proper profit, for five hundred. If the thing came into general use, with up to date, large-scale factory methods, three hundred. But say five hundred. And write off fifteen per cent, for interest and constant, it would cost the farmer seventy dollars a year. What ten-acre farmer, on two- hundred-dollar land, who keeps books, can keep a horse for seventy dollars a year? And on top of that, it would save him, in labor, personal or hired, at the abjectest minimum, two hundred dollars a year."

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