HotFreeBooks.com
The Little Lady of the Big House
by Jack London
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"But what guides it?" Rita asked.

"The drum on the post. The drum is graduated for the complete radius— which took some tall figuring, I assure you—and the cable, winding around the drum and shortening, draws the tractor in toward the center."

"There are lots of objections to its general introduction, even among small farmers," Gulhuss said.

Dick nodded affirmation.

"Sure," he replied. "I have over forty noted down and classified. And I've as many more for the machine itself. If the thing is a success, it will take a long time to perfect it and introduce it."

Graham found himself divided between watching the circling tractor and casting glances at the picture Paula Forrest was on her mount. It was her first day on The Fawn, which was the Palomina mare Hennessy had trained for her. Graham smiled with secret approval of her femininity; for Paula, whether she had designed her habit for the mare, or had selected one most peculiarly appropriate, had achieved a triumph.

In place of a riding coat, for the afternoon was warm, she wore a tan linen blouse with white turnback collar. A short skirt, made like the lower part of a riding coat, reached the knees, and from knees to entrancing little bespurred champagne boots tight riding trousers showed. Skirt and trousers were of fawn-colored silk corduroy. Soft white gauntlets on her hands matched with the collar in the one emphasis of color. Her head was bare, the hair done tight and low around her ears and nape of neck.

"I don't see how you can keep such a skin and expose yourself to the sun this way," Graham ventured, in mild criticism.

"I don't," she smiled with a dazzle of white teeth. "That is, I don't expose my face this way more than a few times a year. I'd like to, because I love the sun-gold burn in my hair; but I don't dare a thorough tanning."

The mare frisked, and a breeze of air blew back a flap of skirt, showing an articulate knee where the trouser leg narrowed tightly over it. Again Graham visioned the white round of knee pressed into the round muscles of the swimming Mountain Lad, as he noted the firm knee- grip on her pigskin English saddle, quite new and fawn-colored to match costume and horse.

When the magneto on the tractor went wrong, and the mechanics busied themselves with it in the midst of the partly plowed field, the company, under Paula's guidance, leaving Dick behind with his invention, resolved itself into a pilgrimage among the brood-centers on the way to the swimming tank. Mr. Crellin, the hog-manager, showed them Lady Isleton, who, with her prodigious, fat, recent progeny of eleven, won various nave encomiums, while Mr. Crellin warmly proclaimed at least four times, "And not a runt, not a runt, in the bunch."

Other glorious brood-sows, of Berkshire, Duroc-Jersey, and O. I. C. blood, they saw till they were wearied, and new-born kids and lambs, and rotund does and ewes. From center to center, Paula kept the telephones warning ahead of the party's coming, so that Mr. Manson waited to exhibit the great King Polo, and his broad-backed Shorthorn harem, and the Shorthorn harems of bulls that were only little less than King Polo in magnificence and record; and Parkman, the Jersey manager, was on hand, with staffed assistants, to parade Sensational Drake, Golden Jolly, Fontaine Royal, Oxford Master, and Karnak's Fairy Boy—blue ribbon bulls, all, and founders and scions of noble houses of butter-fat renown, and Rosaire Queen, Standby's Dam, Golden Jolly's Lass, Olga's Pride, and Gertie of Maitlands—equally blue-ribboned and blue-blooded Jersey matrons in the royal realm of butter-fat; and Mr. Mendenhall, who had charge of the Shires, proudly exhibited a string of mighty stallions, led by the mighty Mountain Lad, and a longer string of matrons, headed by the Fotherington Princess of the silver whinny. Even old Alden Bessie, the Princess's dam, retired to but part-day's work, he sent for that they might render due honor to so notable a dam.

As four o'clock approached, Donald Ware, not keen on swimming, returned in one of the machines to the Big House, and Mr. Gulhuss remained to discuss Shires with Mr. Mendenhall. Dick was at the tank when the party arrived, and the girls were immediately insistent for the new song.

"It isn't exactly a new song," Dick explained, his gray eyes twinkling roguery, "and it's not my song. It was sung in Japan before I was born, and, I doubt not, before Columbus discovered America. Also, it is a duet—a competitive duet with forfeit penalties attached. Paula will have to sing it with me.—I'll teach you. Sit down there, that's right.—Now all the rest of you gather around and sit down."

Still in her riding habit, Paula sat down on the concrete, facing her husband, in the center of the sitting audience. Under his direction, timing her movements to his, she slapped her hands on her knees, slapped her palms together, and slapped her palms against his palms much in the fashion of the nursery game of "Bean Porridge Hot." Then he sang the song, which was short and which she quickly picked up, singing it with him and clapping the accent. While the air of it was orientally catchy, it was chanted slowly, almost monotonously, but it was quickly provocative of excitement to the spectators:

"Jong-Keena, Jong-Keena, Jong-Jong, Keena-Keena, Yo-ko-ham-a, Nag-a-sak-i, Kobe-mar-o—hoy!!!"

The last syllable, hoy, was uttered suddenly, explosively, and an octave and more higher than the pitch of the melody. At the same moment that it was uttered, Paula's and Dick's hands were abruptly shot toward each other's, either clenched or open. The point of the game was that Paula's hands, open or closed, at the instant of uttering hoy, should match Dick's. Thus, the first time, she did match him, both his and her hands being closed, whereupon he took off his hat and tossed it into Lute's lap.

"My forfeit," he explained. "Come on, Paul, again." And again they sang and clapped:

"Jong-Keena, Jong-Keena, Jong-Jong, Keena-Keena, Yo-ko-ham-a, Nag-a-sak-i, Kobe-mar-o—hoy!!!"

This time, with the hoy, her hands were closed and his were open.

"Forfeit!—forfeit!" the girls cried.

She looked her costume over with alarm, asking, "What can I give?"

"A hair pin," Dick advised; and one of her turtleshell hair pins joined his hat in Lute's lap.

"Bother it!" she exclaimed, when the last of her hair pins had gone the same way, she having failed seven times to Dick's once. "I can't see why I should be so slow and stupid. Besides, Dick, you're too clever. I never could out-guess you or out-anticipate you."

Again they sang the song. She lost, and, to Mrs. Tully's shocked "Paula!" she forfeited a spur and threatened a boot when the remaining spur should be gone. A winning streak of three compelled Dick to give up his wrist watch and both spurs. Then she lost her wrist watch and the remaining spur.

"Jong-Keena, Jong-Keena," they began again, while Mrs. Tully remonstrated, "Now, Paula, you simply must stop this.—Dick, you ought to be ashamed of yourself."

But Dick, emitting a triumphant "Hoy!" won, and joined in the laughter as Paula took off one of her little champagne boots and added it to the heap in Lute's lap.

"It's all right, Aunt Martha," Paula assured Mrs. Tully. "Mr. Ware's not here, and he's the only one who would be shocked.—Come on, Dick. You can't win every time."

"Jong-Keena, Jong-Keena," she chanted on with her husband. The repetition, at first slow, had accelerated steadily, so that now they fairly rippled through with it, while their slapping, striking palms made a continuous patter. The exercise and excitement had added to the sun's action on her skin, so that her laughing face was all a rosy glow.

Evan Graham, a silent spectator, was aware of hurt and indignity. He knew the "Jong-Keena" of old time from the geishas of the tea houses of Nippon, and, despite the unconventionality that ruled the Forrests and the Big House, he experienced shock in that Paula should take part in such a game. It did not enter his head at the moment that he would have been merely curious to see how far the madness would go had the player been Lute, or Ernestine, or Rita. Not till afterward did he realize that his concern and sense of outrage were due to the fact that the player was Paula, and that, therefore, she was bulking bigger in his imagination than he was conscious of. What he was conscious of at the moment was that he was growing angry and that he had deliberately to check himself from protesting.

By this time Dick's cigarette case and matches and Paula's second boot, belt, skirt-pin, and wedding ring had joined the mound of forfeits. Mrs. Tully, her face set in stoic resignation, was silent.

"Jong-Keena, Jong-Keena," Paula laughed and sang on, and Graham heard Ernestine laugh to Bert, "I don't see what she can spare next."

"Well, you know her," he heard Bert answer. "She's game once she gets started, and it certainly looks like she's started."

"Hoy!" Paula and Dick cried simultaneously, as they thrust out their hands.

But Dick's were closed, and hers were open. Graham watched her vainly quest her person for the consequent forfeit.

"Come on, Lady Godiva," Dick commanded. "You hae sung, you hae danced; now pay the piper."

"Was the man a fool?" was Graham's thought. "And a man with a wife like that."

"Well," Paula sighed, her fingers playing with the fastenings of her blouse, "if I must, I must."

Raging inwardly, Graham averted his gaze, and kept it averted. There was a pause, in which he knew everybody must be hanging on what she would do next. Then came a giggle from Ernestine, a burst of laughter from all, and, "A frame-up!" from Bert, that overcame Graham's resoluteness. He looked quickly. The Little Lady's blouse was off, and, from the waist up, she appeared in her swimming suit. It was evident that she had dressed over it for the ride.

"Come on, Lute—you next," Dick was challenging.

But Lute, not similarly prepared for Jong-Keena, blushingly led the retreat of the girls to the dressing rooms.

Graham watched Paula poise at the forty-foot top of the diving scaffold and swan-dive beautifully into the tank; heard Bert's admiring "Oh, you Annette Kellerman!" and, still chagrined by the trick that had threatened to outrage him, fell to wondering about the wonder woman, the Little Lady of the Big House, and how she had happened so wonderfully to be. As he fetched down the length of tank, under water, moving with leisurely strokes and with open eyes watching the shoaling bottom, it came to him that he did not know anything about her. She was Dick Forrest's wife. That was all he knew. How she had been born, how she had lived, how and where her past had been—of all this he knew nothing.

Ernestine had told him that Lute and she were half sisters of Paula. That was one bit of data, at any rate. (Warned by the increasing brightness of the bottom that he had nearly reached the end of the tank, and recognizing Dick's and Bert's legs intertwined in what must be a wrestling bout, Graham turned about, still under water, and swam back a score or so of feet.) There was that Mrs. Tully whom Paula had addressed as Aunt Martha. Was she truly an aunt? Or was she a courtesy Aunt through sisterhood with the mother of Lute and Ernestine?

He broke surface, was hailed by the others to join in bull-in-the- ring; in which strenuous sport, for the next half hour, he was compelled more than once to marvel at the litheness and agility, as well as strategy, of Paula in her successful efforts at escaping through the ring. Concluding the game through weariness, breathing hard, the entire party raced the length of the tank and crawled out to rest in the sunshine in a circle about Mrs. Tully.

Soon there was more fun afoot, and Paula was contending impossible things with Mrs. Tully.

"Now, Aunt Martha, just because you never learned to swim is no reason for you to take such a position. I am a real swimmer, and I tell you I can dive right into the tank here, and stay under for ten minutes."

"Nonsense, child," Mrs. Tully beamed. "Your father, when he was young, a great deal younger than you, my dear, could stay under water longer than any other man; and his record, as I know, was three minutes and forty seconds, as I very well know, for I held the watch myself and kept the time when he won against Harry Selby on a wager."

"Oh, I know my father was some man in his time," Paula swaggered; "but times have changed. If I had the old dear here right now, in all his youthful excellence, I'd drown him if he tried to stay under water with me. Ten minutes? Of course I can do ten minutes. And I will. You hold the watch, Aunt Martha, and time me. Why, it's as easy as—"

"Shooting fish in a bucket," Dick completed for her.

Paula climbed to the platform above the springboard.

"Time me when I'm in the air," she said.

"Make your turn and a half," Dick called.

She nodded, smiled, and simulated a prodigious effort at filling her lungs to their utmost capacity. Graham watched enchanted. A diver himself, he had rarely seen the turn and a half attempted by women other than professionals. Her wet suit of light blue and green silk clung closely to her, showing the lines of her justly proportioned body. With what appeared to be an agonized gulp for the last cubic inch of air her lungs could contain, she sprang up, out, and down, her body vertical and stiff, her legs straight, her feet close together as they impacted on the springboard end. Flung into the air by the board, she doubled her body into a ball, made a complete revolution, then straightened out in perfect diver's form, and in a perfect dive, with scarcely a ripple, entered the water.

"A Toledo blade would have made more splash," was Graham's verdict.

"If only I could dive like that," Ernestine breathed her admiration. "But I never shall. Dick says diving is a matter of timing, and that's why Paula does it so terribly well. She's got the sense of time—"

"And of abandon," Graham added.

"Of willed abandon," Dick qualified.

"Of relaxation by effort," Graham agreed. "I've never seen a professional do so perfect a turn and a half."

"And I'm prouder of it than she is," Dick proclaimed. "You see, I taught her, though I confess it was an easy task. She coordinates almost effortlessly. And that, along with her will and sense of time— why her first attempt was better than fair."

"Paula is a remarkable woman," Mrs. Tully said proudly, her eyes fluttering between the second hand of the watch and the unbroken surface of the pool. "Women never swim so well as men. But she does.— Three minutes and forty seconds! She's beaten her father!"

"But she won't stay under any five minutes, much less ten," Dick solemnly stated. "She'll burst her lungs first."

At four minutes, Mrs. Tully began to show excitement and to look anxiously from face to face. Captain Lester, not in the secret, scrambled to his feet with an oath and dived into the tank.

"Something has happened," Mrs. Tully said with controlled quietness. "She hurt herself on that dive. Go in after her, you men."

But Graham and Bert and Dick, meeting under water, gleefully grinned and squeezed hands. Dick made signs for them to follow, and led the way through the dark-shadowed water into the crypt, where, treading water, they joined Paula in subdued whisperings and gigglings.

"Just came to make sure you were all right," Dick explained. "And now we've got to beat it.—You first, Bert. I'll follow Evan."

And, one by one, they went down through the dark water and came up on the surface of the pool. By this time Mrs. Tully was on her feet and standing by the edge of the tank.

"If I thought this was one of your tricks, Dick Forrest," she began.

But Dick, paying no attention, acting preternaturally calmly, was directing the men loudly enough for her to hear.

"We've got to make this systematic, fellows. You, Bert, and you, Evan, join with me. We start at this end, five feet apart, and search the bottom across. Then move along and repeat it back."

"Don't exert yourselves, gentlemen," Mrs. Tully called, beginning to laugh. "As for you, Dick, you come right out. I want to box your ears."

"Take care of her, you girls," Dick shouted. "She's got hysterics."

"I haven't, but I will have," she laughed.

"But damn it all, madam, this is no laughing matter!" Captain Lester spluttered breathlessly, as he prepared for another trip to explore the bottom.

"Are you on, Aunt Martha, really and truly on?" Dick asked, after the valiant mariner had gone down.

Mrs. Tully nodded. "But keep it up, Dick, you've got one dupe. Elsie Coghlan's mother told me about it in Honolulu last year."

Not until eleven minutes had elapsed did the smiling face of Paula break the surface. Simulating exhaustion, she slowly crawled out and sank down panting near her aunt. Captain Lester, really exhausted by his strenuous exertions at rescue, studied Paula keenly, then marched to the nearest pillar and meekly bumped his head three times against the concrete.

"I'm afraid I didn't stay down ten minutes," Paula said. "But I wasn't much under that, was I, Aunt Martha?"

"You weren't much under at all," Mrs. Tully replied, "if it's my opinion you were asking. I'm surprised that you are even wet.—There, there, breathe naturally, child. The play-acting is unnecessary. I remember, when I was a young girl, traveling in India, there was a school of fakirs who leaped into deep wells and stayed down much longer than you, child, much longer indeed."

"You knew!" Paula charged.

"But you didn't know I did," her Aunt retorted. "And therefore your conduct was criminal. When you consider a woman of my age, with my heart—"

"And with your blessed, brass-tack head," Paula cried.

"For two apples I'd box your ears."

"And for one apple I'd hug you, wet as I am," Paula laughed back. "Anyway, we did fool Captain Lester.—Didn't we, Captain?"

"Don't speak to me," that doughty mariner muttered darkly. "I'm busy with myself, meditating what form my vengeance shall take.—As for you, Mr. Dick Forrest, I'm divided between blowing up your dairy, or hamstringing Mountain Lad. Maybe I'll do both. In the meantime I am going out to kick that mare you ride."

Dick on The Outlaw, and Paula on The Fawn, rode back side by side to the Big House.

"How do you like Graham?" he asked.

"Splendid," was her reply. "He's your type, Dick. He's universal, like you, and he's got the same world-marks branded on him—the Seven Seas, the books, and all the rest. He's an artist, too, and pretty well all-around. And he's good fun. Have you noticed his smile? It's irresistible. It makes one want to smile with him."

"And he's got his serious scars, as well," Dick nodded concurrence.

"Yes—right in the corners of the eyes, just after he has smiled, you'll see them come. They're not tired marks exactly, but rather the old eternal questions: Why? What for? What's it worth? What's it all about?"

* * * * *

And bringing up the rear of the cavalcade, Ernestine and Graham talked.

"Dick's deep," she was saying. "You don't know him any too well. He's dreadfully deep. I know him a little. Paula knows him a lot. But very few others ever get under the surface of him. He's a real philosopher, and he has the control of a stoic or an Englishman, and he can play- act to fool the world."

* * * * *

At the long hitching rails under the oaks, where the dismounting party gathered, Paula was in gales of laughter.

"Go on, go on," she urged Dick, "more, more."

"She's been accusing me of exhausting my vocabulary in naming the house-boys by my system," he explained.

"And he's given me at least forty more names in a minute and a half.— Go on, Dick, more."

"Then," he said, striking a chant, "we can have Oh Sin and Oh Pshaw, Oh Sing and Oh Song, Oh Sung and Oh Sang, Oh Last and Oh Least, Oh Ping and Oh Pong, Oh Some, Oh More, and Oh Most, Oh Naught and Oh Nit..."

And Dick jingled away into the house still chanting his extemporized directory.



CHAPTER XVII



A week of dissatisfaction and restlessness ensued for Graham. Tom between belief that his business was to leave the Big House on the first train, and desire to see, and see more of Paula, to be with her, and to be more with her—he succeeded in neither leaving nor in seeing as much of her as during the first days of his visit.

At first, and for the five days that he lingered, the young violinist monopolized nearly her entire time of visibility. Often Graham strayed into the music room, and, quite neglected by the pair, sat for moody half-hours listening to their "work." They were oblivious of his presence, either flushed and absorbed with the passion of their music, or wiping their foreheads and chatting and laughing companionably in pauses to rest. That the young musician loved her with an ardency that was almost painful, was patent to Graham; but what hurt him was the abandon of devotion with which she sometimes looked at Ware after he had done something exceptionally fine. In vain Graham tried to tell himself that all this was mental on her part—purely delighted appreciation of the other's artistry. Nevertheless, being man, it hurt, and continued to hurt, until he could no longer suffer himself to remain.

Once, chancing into the room at the end of a Schumann song and just after Ware had departed, Graham found Paula still seated at the piano, an expression of rapt dreaming on her face. She regarded him almost unrecognizingly, gathered herself mechanically together, uttered an absent-minded commonplace or so, and left the room. Despite his vexation and hurt, Graham tried to think it mere artist-dreaming on her part, a listening to the echo of the just-played music in her soul. But women were curious creatures, he could not help moralizing, and were prone to lose their hearts most strangely and inconsequentially. Might it not be that by his very music this youngster of a man was charming the woman of her?

With the departure of Ware, Paula Forrest retired almost completely into her private wing behind the door without a knob. Nor did this seem unusual, Graham gleaned from the household.

"Paula is a woman who finds herself very good company," Ernestine explained, "and she often goes in for periods of aloneness, when Dick is the only person who sees her."

"Which is not flattering to the rest of the company," Graham smiled.

"Which makes her such good company whenever she is in company," Ernestine retorted.

The driftage through the Big House was decreasing. A few guests, on business or friendship, continued to come, but more departed. Under Oh Joy and his Chinese staff the Big House ran so frictionlessly and so perfectly, that entertainment of guests seemed little part of the host's duties. The guests largely entertained themselves and one another.

Dick rarely appeared, even for a moment, until lunch, and Paula, now carrying out her seclusion program, never appeared before dinner.

"Rest cure," Dick laughed one noon, and challenged Graham to a tournament with boxing gloves, single-sticks, and foils.

"And now's the time," he told Graham, as they breathed between bouts, "for you to tackle your book. I'm only one of the many who are looking forward to reading it, and I'm looking forward hard. Got a letter from Havely yesterday—he mentioned it, and wondered how far along you were."

So Graham, in his tower room, arranged his notes and photographs, schemed out the work, and plunged into the opening chapters. So immersed did he become that his nascent interest in Paula might have languished, had it not been for meeting her each evening at dinner. Then, too, until Ernestine and Lute left for Santa Barbara, there were afternoon swims and rides and motor trips to the pastures of the Miramar Hills and the upland ranges of the Anselmo Mountains. Other trips they made, sometimes accompanied by Dick, to his great dredgers working in the Sacramento basin, or his dam-building on the Little Coyote and Los Cuatos creeks, or to his five-thousand-acre colony of twenty-acre farmers, where he was trying to enable two hundred and fifty heads of families, along with their families, to make good on the soil.

That Paula sometimes went for long solitary rides, Graham knew, and, once, he caught her dismounting from the Fawn at the hitching rails.

"Don't you think you are spoiling that mare for riding in company?" he twitted.

Paula laughed and shook her head.

"Well, then," he asserted stoutly, "I'm spoiling for a ride with you."

"There's Lute, and Ernestine, and Bert, and all the rest."

"This is new country," he contended. "And one learns country through the people who know it. I've seen it through the eyes of Lute, and Ernestine and all the rest; but there is a lot I haven't seen and which I can see only through your eyes."

"A pleasant theory," she evaded. "A—a sort of landscape vampirism."

"But without the ill effects of vampirism," he urged quickly.

Her answer was slow in coming. Her look into his eyes was frank and straight, and he could guess her words were weighed and gauged.

"I don't know about that," was all she said finally; but his fancy leaped at the several words, ranging and conjecturing their possible connotations.

"But we have so much we might be saying to each other," he tried again. "So much we... ought to be saying to each other."

"So I apprehend," she answered quietly; and again that frank, straight look accompanied her speech.

So she did apprehend—the thought of it was flame to him, but his tongue was not quick enough to serve him to escape the cool, provoking laugh as she turned into the house.

Still the company of the Big House thinned. Paula's aunt, Mrs. Tully, much to Graham's disappointment (for he had expected to learn from her much that he wanted to know of Paula), had gone after only a several days' stay. There was vague talk of her return for a longer stay; but, just back from Europe, she declared herself burdened with a round of duty visits which must be performed before her pleasure visiting began.

O'Hay, the critic, had been compelled to linger several days in order to live down the disastrous culmination of the musical raid made upon him by the philosophers. The idea and the trick had been Dick's. Combat had joined early in the evening, when a seeming chance remark of Ernestine had enabled Aaron Hancock to fling the first bomb into the thick of O'Hay's deepest convictions. Dar Hyal, a willing and eager ally, had charged around the flank with his blastic theory of music and taken O'Hay in reverse. And the battle had raged until the hot-headed Irishman, beside himself with the grueling the pair of skilled logomachists were giving him, accepted with huge relief the kindly invitation of Terrence McFane to retire with him to the tranquillity and repose of the stag room, where, over a soothing highball and far from the barbarians, the two of them could have a heart to heart talk on real music. At two in the morning, wild-eyed and befuddled, O'Hay had been led to bed by the upright-walking and unshakably steady Terrence.

"Never mind," Ernestine had told O'Hay later, with a twinkle in her eye that made him guess the plot. "It was only to be expected. Those rattle-brained philosophers would drive even a saint to drink."

"I thought you were safe in Terrence's hands," had been Dick's mock apology. "A pair of Irishmen, you know. I'd forgot Terrence was case- hardened. Do you know, after he said good night to you, he came up to me for a yarn. And he was steady as a rock. He mentioned casually of having had several sips, so I... I... never dreamed ... er... that he had indisposed you."

When Lute and Ernestine departed for Santa Barbara, Bert Wainwright and his sister remembered their long-neglected home in Sacramento. A pair of painters, proteges of Paula, arrived the same day. But they were little in evidence, spending long days in the hills with a trap and driver and smoking long pipes in the stag room.

The free and easy life of the Big House went on in its frictionless way. Dick worked. Graham worked. Paula maintained her seclusion. The sages from the madrono grove strayed in for wordy dinners—and wordy evenings, except when Paula played for them. Automobile parties, from Sacramento, Wickenberg, and other valley towns, continued to drop in unexpectedly, but never to the confusion of Oh Joy and the house boys, whom Graham saw, on occasion, with twenty minutes' warning, seat a score of unexpected guests to a perfect dinner. And there were even nights—rare ones—when only Dick and Graham and Paula sat at dinner, and when, afterward, the two men yarned for an hour before an early bed, while she played soft things to herself or disappeared earlier than they.

But one moonlight evening, when the Watsons and Masons and Wombolds arrived in force, Graham found himself out, when every bridge table was made up. Paula was at the piano. As he approached he caught the quick expression of pleasure in her eyes at sight of him, which as quickly vanished. She made a slight movement as if to rise, which did not escape his notice any more than did her quiet mastery of the impulse that left her seated.

She was immediately herself as he had always seen her—although it was little enough he had seen of her, he thought, as he talked whatever came into his head, and rummaged among her songs with her. Now one and now another song he tried with her, subduing his high baritone to her light soprano with such success as to win cries of more from the bridge players.

"Yes, I am positively aching to be out again over the world with Dick," she told him in a pause. "If we could only start to-morrow! But Dick can't start yet. He's in too deep with too many experiments and adventures on the ranch here. Why, what do you think he's up to now? As if he did not have enough on his hands, he's going to revolutionize the sales end, or, at least, the California and Pacific Coast portion of it, by making the buyers come to the ranch."

"But they do do that," Graham said. "The first man I met here was a buyer from Idaho."

"Oh, but Dick means as an institution, you know—to make them come en masse at a stated time. Not simple auction sales, either, though he says he will bait them with a bit of that to excite interest. It will be an annual fair, to last three days, in which he will be the only exhibitor. He's spending half his mornings now in conference with Mr. Agar and Mr. Pitts. Mr. Agar is his sales manager, and Mr. Pitts his showman."

She sighed and rippled her fingers along the keyboard.

"But, oh, if only we could get away—Timbuctoo, Mokpo, or Jericho."

"Don't tell me you've ever been to Mokpo," Graham laughed.

She nodded. "Cross my heart, solemnly, hope to die. It was with Dick in the All Away and in the long ago. It might almost be said we honeymooned in Mokpo."

And while Graham exchanged reminiscences of Mokpo with her, he cudgeled his brain to try and decide whether her continual reference to her husband was deliberate.

"I should imagine you found it such a paradise here," he was saying.

"I do, I do," she assured him with what seemed unnecessary vehemence. "But I don't know what's come over me lately. I feel it imperative to be up and away. The spring fret, I suppose; the Red Gods and their medicine. And if only Dick didn't insist on working his head off and getting tied down with projects! Do you know, in all the years of our marriage, the only really serious rival I have ever had has been this ranch. He's pretty faithful, and the ranch is his first love. He had it all planned and started before he ever met me or knew I existed."

"Here, let us try this together," Graham said abruptly, placing the song on the rack before her.

"Oh, but it's the 'Gypsy Trail,'" she protested. "It will only make my mood worse." And she hummed:

"'Follow the Romany patteran West to the sinking sun, Till the junk sails lift through the homeless drift, And the East and the West are one.'

"What is the Romany patteran?" she broke off to ask. "I've always thought of it as patter, or patois, the Gypsy patois, and somehow it strikes me as absurd to follow a language over the world—a sort of philological excursion."

"In a way the patteran is speech," he answered. "But it always says one thing: 'This way I have passed.' Two sprigs, crossed in certain ways and left upon the trail, compose the patteran. But they must always be of different trees or shrubs. Thus, on the ranch here, a patteran could be made of manzanita and madrono, of oak and spruce, of buckeye and alder, of redwood and laurel, of huckleberry and lilac. It is a sign of Gypsy comrade to Gypsy comrade, of Gypsy lover to Gypsy lover." And he hummed:

"'Back to the road again, again, Out of a clear sea track; Follow the cross of the Gypsy trail, Over the world and back.'"

She nodded comprehension, looked for a moment with troubled eyes down the long room to the card-players, caught herself in her momentary absentness, and said quickly:

"Heaven knows there's a lot of Gypsy in some of us. I have more than full share. In spite of his bucolic proclivities, Dick is a born Gypsy. And from what he has told of you, you are hopelessly one."

"After all, the white man is the real Gypsy, the king Gypsy," Graham propounded. "He has wandered wider, wilder, and with less equipment, than any Gypsy. The Gypsy has followed in his trails, but never made trail for him.—Come; let us try it."

And as they sang the reckless words to their merry, careless lilt, he looked down at her and wondered—wondered at her—at himself. This was no place for him by this woman's side, under her husband's roof- tree. Yet here he was, and he should have gone days before. After the years he was just getting acquainted with himself. This was enchantment, madness. He should tear himself away at once. He had known enchantments and madnesses before, and had torn himself away. Had he softened with the years? he questioned himself. Or was this a profounder madness than he had experienced? This meant the violation of dear things—things so dear, so jealously cherished and guarded in his secret life, that never yet had they suffered violation.

And still he did not tear himself away. He stood there beside her, looking down on her brown crown of hair glinting gold and bronze and bewitchingly curling into tendrils above her ears, singing a song that was fire to him—that must be fire to her, she being what she was and feeling what she had already, in flashes, half-unwittingly, hinted to him.

She is a witch, and her voice is not the least of her witchery, he thought, as her voice, so richly a woman's voice, so essentially her voice in contradistinction to all women's voices in the world, sang and throbbed in his ear. And he knew, beyond shade of doubt, that she felt some touch of this madness that afflicted him; that she sensed, as he sensed, that the man and the woman were met.

They thrilled together as they sang, and the thought and the sure knowledge of it added fuel to his own madness till his voice warmed unconsciously to the daring of the last lines, as, voices and thrills blending, they sang:

"'The wild hawk to the wind-swept sky, The deer to the wholesome wold, And the heart of a man to the heart of a maid As it was in the days of old— The heart of a man to the heart of a maid, Light of my tents be fleet, Morning waits at the end of the world, And the world is all at our feet.'"

He looked for her to look up as the last notes died away, but she remained quiet a moment, her eyes bent on the keys. And then the face that was turned to his was the face of the Little Lady of the Big House, the mouth smiling mischievously, the eyes filled with roguery, as she said:

"Let us go and devil Dick—he's losing. I've never seen him lose his temper at cards, but he gets ridiculously blue after a long siege of losing.

"And he does love gambling," she continued, as she led the way to the tables. "It's one of his modes of relaxing. It does him good. About once or twice a year, if it's a good poker game, he'll sit in all night to it and play to the blue sky if they take off the limit."



CHAPTER XVIII



Almost immediately after the singing of the "Gypsy Trail," Paula emerged from her seclusion, and Graham found himself hard put, in the tower room, to keep resolutely to his work when all the morning he could hear snatches of song and opera from her wing, or laughter and scolding of dogs from the great patio, or the continuous pulse for hours of the piano from the distant music room. But Graham, patterning after Dick, devoted his mornings to work, so that he rarely encountered Paula before lunch.

She made announcement that her spell of insomnia was over and that she was ripe for all gaieties and excursions Dick had to offer her. Further, she threatened, in case Dick grudged these personal diversions, to fill the house with guests and teach him what liveliness was. It was at this time that her Aunt Martha—Mrs. Tully— returned for a several days' visit, and that Paula resumed the driving of Duddy and Fuddy in the high, one-seated Stude-baker trap. Duddy and Fuddy were spirited trotters, but Mrs. Tully, despite her elderliness and avoirdupois, was without timidity when Paula held the reins.

As Mrs. Tully told Graham: "And that is a concession I make to no woman save Paula. She is the only woman I can trust myself to with horses. She has the horse-way about her. When she was a child she was wild over horses. It's a wonder she didn't become a circus rider."

More, much more, Graham learned about Paula in various chats with her aunt. Of Philip Desten, Paula's father, Mrs. Tully could never say enough. Her eldest brother, and older by many years, he had been her childhood prince. His ways had been big ways, princely ways—ways that to commoner folk had betokened a streak of madness. He was continually guilty of the wildest things and the most chivalrous things. It was this streak that had enabled him to win various fortunes, and with equal facility to lose them, in the great gold adventure of Forty-nine. Himself of old New England stock, he had had for great grandfather a Frenchman—a trifle of flotsam from a mid- ocean wreck and landed to grow up among the farmer-sailormen of the coast of Maine.

"And once, and once only, in each generation, that French Desten crops out," Mrs. Tully assured Graham. "Philip was that Frenchman in his generation, and who but Paula, and in full measure, received that same inheritance in her generation. Though Lute and Ernestine are her half- sisters, no one would imagine one drop of the common blood was shared. That's why Paula, instead of going circus-riding, drifted inevitably to France. It was that old original Desten that drew her over."

And of the adventure in France, Graham learned much. Philip Desten's luck had been to die when the wheel of his fortune had turned over and down. Ernestine and Lute, little tots, had been easy enough for Desten's sisters to manage. But Paula, who had fallen to Mrs. Tully, had been the problem—"because of that Frenchman."

"Oh, she is rigid New England," Mrs. Tully insisted, "the solidest of creatures as to honor and rectitude, dependableness and faithfulness. As a girl she really couldn't bring herself to lie, except to save others. In which case all her New England ancestry took flight and she would lie as magnificently as her father before her. And he had the same charm of manner, the same daring, the same ready laughter, the same vivacity. But what is lightsome and blithe in her, was debonaire in him. He won men's hearts always, or, failing that, their bitterest enmity. No one was left cold by him in passing. Contact with him quickened them to love or hate. Therein Paula differs, being a woman, I suppose, and not enjoying man's prerogative of tilting at windmills. I don't know that she has an enemy in the world. All love her, unless, it may well be, there are cat-women who envy her her nice husband."

And as Graham listened, Paula's singing came through the open window from somewhere down the long arcades, and there was that ever-haunting thrill in her voice that he could not escape remembering afterward. She burst into laughter, and Mrs. Tully beamed to him and nodded at the sound.

"There laughs Philip Desten," she murmured, "and all the Frenchwomen behind the original Frenchman who was brought into Penobscot, dressed in homespun, and sent to meeting. Have you noticed how Paula's laugh invariably makes everybody look up and smile? Philip's laugh did the same thing."

"Paula had always been passionately fond of music, painting, drawing. As a little girl she could be traced around the house and grounds by the trail she left behind her of images and shapes, made in whatever medium she chanced upon—drawn on scraps of paper, scratched on bits of wood, modeled in mud and sand.

"She loved everything, and everything loved her," said Mrs. Tully. "She was never timid of animals. And yet she always stood in awe of them; but she was born sense-struck, and her awe was beauty-awe. Yes, she was an incorrigible hero-worshiper, whether the person was merely beautiful or did things. And she never will outgrow that beauty—awe of anything she loves, whether it is a grand piano, a great painting, a beautiful mare, or a bit of landscape.

"And Paula had wanted to do, to make beauty herself. But she was sorely puzzled whether she should devote herself to music or painting. In the full swing of work under the best masters in Boston, she could not refrain from straying back to her drawing. From her easel she was lured to modeling.

"And so, with her love of the best, her soul and heart full of beauty, she grew quite puzzled and worried over herself, as to which talent was the greater and if she had genius at all. I suggested a complete rest from work and took her abroad for a year. And of all things, she developed a talent for dancing. But always she harked back to her music and painting. No, she was not flighty. Her trouble was that she was too talented—"

"Too diversely talented," Graham amplified.

"Yes, that is better," Mrs. Tully nodded. "But from talent to genius is a far cry, and to save my life, at this late day, I don't know whether the child ever had a trace of genius in her. She has certainly not done anything big in any of her chosen things."

"Except to be herself," Graham added.

"Which is the big thing," Mrs. Tully accepted with a smile of enthusiasm. "She is a splendid, unusual woman, very unspoiled, very natural. And after all, what does doing things amount to? I'd give more for one of Paula's madcap escapades—oh, I heard all about swimming the big stallion—than for all her pictures if every one was a masterpiece. But she was hard for me to understand at first. Dick often calls her the girl that never grew up. But gracious, she can put on the grand air when she needs to. I call her the most mature child I have ever seen. Dick was the finest thing that ever happened to her. It was then that she really seemed for the first time to find herself. It was this way."

And Mrs. Tully went on to sketch the year of travel in Europe, the resumption of Paula's painting in Paris, and the conviction she finally reached that success could be achieved only by struggle and that her aunt's money was a handicap.

"And she had her way," Mrs. Tully sighed. "She—why, she dismissed me, sent me home. She would accept no more than the meagerest allowance, and went down into the Latin Quarter on her own, batching with two other American girls. And she met Dick. Dick was a rare one. You couldn't guess what he was doing then. Running a cabaret—oh, not these modern cabarets, but a real students' cabaret of sorts. It was very select. They were a lot of madmen. You see, he was just back from some of his wild adventuring at the ends of the earth, and, as he stated it, he wanted to stop living life for a while and to talk about life instead.

"Paula took me there once. Oh, they were engaged—the day before, and he had called on me and all that. I had known 'Lucky' Richard Forrest, and I knew all about his son. From a worldly standpoint, Paula couldn't have made a finer marriage. It was quite a romance. Paula had seen him captain the University of California eleven to victory over Stanford. And the next time she saw him was in the studio she shared with the two girls. She didn't know whether Dick was worth millions or whether he was running a cabaret because he was hard up, and she cared less. She always followed her heart. Fancy the situation: Dick the uncatchable, and Paula who never flirted. They must have sprung forthright into each other's arms, for inside the week it was all arranged, and Dick made his call on me, as if my decision meant anything one way or the other.

"But Dick's cabaret. It was the Cabaret of the Philosophers—a small pokey place, down in a cellar, in the heart of the Quarter, and it had only one table. Fancy that for a cabaret! But such a table! A big round one, of plain boards, without even an oil-cloth, the wood stained with the countless drinks spilled by the table-pounding of the philosophers, and it could seat thirty. Women were not permitted. An exception was made for Paula and me.

"You've met Aaron Hancock here. He was one of the philosophers, and to this day he swaggers that he owed Dick a bigger bill that never was paid than any of his customers. And there they used to meet, all those wild young thinkers, and pound the table, and talk philosophy in all the tongues of Europe. Dick always had a penchant for philosophers.

"But Paula spoiled that little adventure. No sooner were they married than Dick fitted out his schooner, the All Away, and away the blessed pair of them went, honeymooning from Bordeaux to Hongkong."

"And the cabaret was closed, and the philosophers left homeless and discussionless," Graham remarked.

Mrs. Tully laughed heartily and shook her head.

"He endowed it for them," she gasped, her hand to her side. "Or partially endowed it, or something. I don't know what the arrangement was. And within the month it was raided by the police for an anarchist club."

After having learned the wide scope of her interests and talents, Graham was nevertheless surprised one day at finding Paula all by herself in a corner of a window-seat, completely absorbed in her work on a piece of fine embroidery.

"I love it," she explained. "All the costly needlework of the shops means nothing to me alongside of my own work on my own designs. Dick used to fret at my sewing. He's all for efficiency, you know, elimination of waste energy and such things. He thought sewing was a wasting of time. Peasants could be hired for a song to do what I was doing. But I succeeded in making my viewpoint clear to him.

"It's like the music one makes oneself. Of course I can buy better music than I make; but to sit down at an instrument and evoke the music oneself, with one's own fingers and brain, is an entirely different and dearer satisfaction. Whether one tries to emulate another's performance, or infuses the performance with one's own personality and interpretation, it's all the same. It is soul-joy and fulfilment.

"Take this little embroidered crust of lilies on the edge of this flounce—there is nothing like it in the world. Mine the idea, all mine, and mine the delight of giving form and being to the idea. There are better ideas and better workmanship in the shops; but this is different. It is mine. I visioned it, and I made it. And who is to say that embroidery is not art?"

She ceased speaking and with her eyes laughed the insistence of her question.

"And who is to say," Graham agreed, "that the adorning of beautiful womankind is not the worthiest of all the arts as well as the sweetest?"

"I rather stand in awe of a good milliner or modiste," she nodded gravely. "They really are artists, and important ones, as Dick would phrase it, in the world's economy."

* * * * *

Another time, seeking the library for Andean reference, Graham came upon Paula, sprawled gracefully over a sheet of paper on a big table and flanked by ponderous architectural portfolios, engaged in drawing plans of a log bungalow or camp for the sages of the madroo grove.

"It's a problem," she sighed. "Dick says that if I build it I must build it for seven. We've got four sages now, and his heart is set on seven. He says never mind showers and such things, because what philosopher ever bathes? And he has suggested seriously seven stoves and seven kitchens, because it is just over such mundane things that philosophers always quarrel."

"Wasn't it Voltaire who quarreled with a king over candle-ends?" Graham queried, pleasuring in the sight of her graceful abandon. Thirty-eight! It was impossible. She seemed almost a girl, petulant and flushed over some school task. Then he remembered Mrs. Tully's remark that Paula was the most mature child she had ever known.

It made him wonder. Was she the one, who, under the oaks at the hitching rails, with two brief sentences had cut to the heart of an impending situation? "So I apprehend," she had said. What had she apprehended? Had she used the phrase glibly, without meaning? Yet she it was who had thrilled and fluttered to him and with him when they had sung the "Gypsy Trail." That he knew. But again, had he not seen her warm and glow to the playing of Donald Ware? But here Graham's ego had its will of him, for he told himself that with Donald Ware it was different. And he smiled to himself and at himself at the thought.

"What amuses you?" Paula was asking.

"Heaven knows I am no architect. And I challenge you to house seven philosophers according to all the absurd stipulations laid down by Dick."

Back in his tower room with his Andean books unopened before him, Graham gnawed his lip and meditated. The woman was no woman. She was the veriest child. Or—and he hesitated at the thought—was this naturalness that was overdone? Did she in truth apprehend? It must be. It had to be. She was of the world. She knew the world. She was very wise. No remembered look of her gray eyes but gave the impression of poise and power. That was it—strength! He recalled her that first night when she had seemed at times to glint an impression of steel, of thin and jewel-like steel. In his fancy, at the time, he remembered likening her strength to ivory, to carven pearl shell, to sennit twisted of maidens' hair.

And he knew, now, ever since the brief words at the hitching rails and the singing of the "Gypsy Trail," that whenever their eyes looked into each other's it was with a mutual knowledge of unsaid things.

In vain he turned the pages of the books for the information he sought. He tried to continue his chapter without the information, but no words flowed from his pen. A maddening restlessness was upon him. He seized a time table and pondered the departure of trains, changed his mind, switched the room telephone to the house barn, and asked to have Altadena saddled.

It was a perfect morning of California early summer. No breath of wind stirred over the drowsing fields, from which arose the calls of quail and the notes of meadowlarks. The air was heavy with lilac fragrance, and from the distance, as he rode between the lilac hedges, Graham heard the throaty nicker of Mountain Lad and the silvery answering whinney of the Fotherington Princess.

Why was he here astride Dick Forrest's horse? Graham asked himself. Why was he not even then on the way to the station to catch that first train he had noted on the time table? This unaccustomed weakness of decision and action was a new rle for him, he considered bitterly. But—and he was on fire with the thought of it—this was his one life, and this was the one woman in the world.

He reined aside to let a herd of Angora goats go by. Each was a doe, and there were several hundred of them; and they were moved slowly by the Basque herdsmen, with frequent pauses, for each doe was accompanied by a young kid. In the paddock were many mares with new- born colts; and once, receiving warning in time, Graham raced into a crossroad to escape a drove of thirty yearling stallions being moved somewhere across the ranch. Their excitement was communicated to that entire portion of the ranch, so that the air was filled with shrill nickerings and squealings and answering whinneys, while Mountain Lad, beside himself at sight and sound of so many rivals, raged up and down his paddock, and again and again trumpeted his challenging conviction that he was the most amazing and mightiest thing that had ever occurred on earth in the way of horse flesh.

Dick Forrest pranced and sidled into the cross road on the Outlaw, his face beaming with delight at the little tempest among his many creatures.

"Fecundity! Fecundity!"—he chanted in greeting, as he reined in to a halt, if halt it might be called, with his tan-golden sorrel mare a-fret and a-froth, wickedly reaching with her teeth now for his leg and next for Graham's, one moment pawing the roadway, the next moment, in sheer impotence of resentfulness, kicking the empty air with one hind leg and kicking the air repeatedly, a dozen times.

"Those youngsters certainly put Mountain Lad on his mettle," Dick laughed. "Listen to his song:

"'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 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 knew 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.'"



CHAPTER XIX



After Mrs. Tully's departure, Paula, true to her threat, filled the house with guests. She seemed to have remembered all who had been waiting an invitation, and the limousine that met the trains eight miles away was rarely empty coming or going. There were more singers and musicians and artist folk, and bevies of young girls with their inevitable followings of young men, while mammas and aunts and chaperons seemed to clutter all the ways of the Big House and to fill a couple of motor cars when picnics took place.

And Graham wondered if this surrounding of herself by many people was not deliberate on Paula's part. As for himself, he definitely abandoned work on his book, and joined in the before-breakfast swims of the hardier younger folk, in the morning rides over the ranch, and in whatever fun was afoot indoors and out.

Late hours and early were kept; and one night, Dick, who adhered to his routine and never appeared to his guests before midday, made a night of it at poker in the stag-room. Graham had sat in, and felt well repaid when, at dawn, the players received an unexpected visit from Paula—herself past one of her white nights, she said, although no sign of it showed on her fresh skin and color. Graham had to struggle to keep his eyes from straying too frequently to her as she mixed golden fizzes to rejuvenate the wan-eyed, jaded players. Then she made them start the round of "jacks" that closed the game, and sent them off for a cold swim before breakfast and the day's work or frolic.

Never was Paula alone. Graham could only join in the groups that were always about her. Although the young people ragged and tangoed incessantly, she rarely danced, and then it was with the young men. Once, however, she favored him with an old-fashioned waltz. "Your ancestors in an antediluvian dance," she mocked the young people, as she stepped out; for she and Graham had the floor to themselves.

Once down the length of the room, the two were in full accord. Paula, with the sympathy Graham recognized that made her the exceptional accompanist or rider, subdued herself to the masterful art of the man, until the two were as parts of a sentient machine that operated without jar or friction. After several minutes, finding their perfect mutual step and pace, and Graham feeling the absolute giving of Paula to the dance, they essayed rhythmical pauses and dips, their feet never leaving the floor, yet affecting the onlookers in the way Dick voiced it when he cried out: "They float! They float!" The music was the "Waltz of Salom," and with its slow-fading end they postured slower and slower to a perfect close.

There was no need to speak. In silence, without a glance at each other, they returned to the company where Dick was proclaiming:

"Well, younglings, codlings, and other fry, that's the way we old folks used to dance. I'm not saying anything against the new dances, mind you. They're all right and dandy fine. But just the same it wouldn't injure you much to learn to waltz properly. The way you waltz, when you do attempt it, is a scream. We old folks do know a thing or two that is worth while."

"For instance?" queried one of the girls.

"I'll tell you. I don't mind the young generation smelling of gasoline the way it does—"

Cries and protests drowned Dick out for a moment.

"I know I smell of it myself," he went on. "But you've all failed to learn the good old modes of locomotion. There isn't a girl of you that Paula can't walk into the ground. There isn't a fellow of you that Graham and I can't walk into a receiving hospital.—Oh, I know you can all crank engines and shift gears to the queen's taste. But there isn't one of you that can properly ride a horse—a real horse, in the only way, I mean. As for driving a smart pair of roadsters, it's a screech. And how many of you husky lads, hell-scooting on the bay in your speed-boats, can take the wheel of an old-time sloop or schooner, without an auxiliary, and get out of your own way in her?"

"But we get there just the same," the same girl retorted.

"And I don't deny it," Dick answered. "But you are not always pretty. I'll tell you a pretty sight that no one of you can ever present— Paula, there, with the reins of four slashing horses in her hands, her foot on the brake, swinging tally-ho along a mountain road."

On a warm morning, in the cool arcade of the great patio, a chance group of four or five, among whom was Paula, formed about Graham, who had been reading alone. After a time he returned to his magazine with such absorption that he forgot those about him until an awareness of silence penetrated to his consciousness. He looked up. All the others save Paula had strayed off. He could hear their distant laughter from across the patio. But Paula! He surprised the look on her face, in her eyes. It was a look bent on him, concerning him. Doubt, speculation, almost fear, were in her eyes; and yet, in that swift instant, he had time to note that it was a look deep and searching—almost, his quick fancy prompted, the look of one peering into the just-opened book of fate. Her eyes fluttered and fell, and the color increased in her cheeks in an unmistakable blush. Twice her lips moved to the verge of speech; yet, caught so arrantly in the act, she was unable to phrase any passing thought. Graham saved the painful situation by saying casually:

"Do you know, I've just been reading De Vries' eulogy of Luther Burbank's work, and it seems to me that Dick is to the domestic animal world what Burbank is to the domestic vegetable world. You are life- makers here—thumbing the stuff into new forms of utility and beauty."

Paula, by this time herself again, laughed and accepted the compliment.

"I fear me," Graham continued with easy seriousness, "as I watch your achievements, that I can only look back on a misspent life. Why didn't I get in and make things? I'm horribly envious of both of you."

"We are responsible for a dreadful lot of creatures being born," she said. "It makes one breathless to think of the responsibility."

"The ranch certainly spells fecundity," Graham smiled. "I never before was so impressed with the flowering and fruiting of life. Everything here prospers and multiplies—"

"Oh!" Paula cried, breaking in with a sudden thought. "Some day I'll show you my goldfish. I breed them, too—yea, and commercially. I supply the San Francisco dealers with their rarest strains, and I even ship to New York. And, best of all, I actually make money—profits, I mean. Dick's books show it, and he is the most rigid of bookkeepers. There isn't a tack-hammer on the place that isn't inventoried; nor a horse-shoe nail unaccounted for. That's why he has such a staff of bookkeepers. Why, do you know, calculating every last least item of expense, including average loss of time for colic and lameness, out of fearfully endless columns of figures he has worked the cost of an hour's labor for a draught horse to the third decimal place."

"But your goldfish," Graham suggested, irritated by her constant dwelling on her husband.

"Well, Dick makes his bookkeepers keep track of my goldfish in the same way. I'm charged every hour of any of the ranch or house labor I use on the fish—postage stamps and stationery, too, if you please. I have to pay interest on the plant. He even charges me for the water, just as if he were a city water company and I a householder. And still I net ten per cent., and have netted as high as thirty. But Dick laughs and says when I've deducted the wages of superintendence—my superintendence, he means—that I'll find I am poorly paid or else am operating at a loss; that with my net I couldn't hire so capable a superintendent.

"Just the same, that's why Dick succeeds in his undertakings. Unless it's sheer experiment, he never does anything without knowing precisely, to the last microscopic detail, what it is he is doing."

"He is very sure," Graham observed.

"I never knew a man to be so sure of himself," Paula replied warmly; "and I never knew a man with half the warrant. I know him. He is a genius—but only in the most paradoxical sense. He is a genius because he is so balanced and normal that he hasn't the slightest particle of genius in him. Such men are rarer and greater than geniuses. I like to think of Abraham Lincoln as such a type."

"I must admit I don't quite get you," Graham said.

"Oh, I don't dare to say that Dick is as good, as cosmically good, as Lincoln," she hurried on. "Dick is good, but it is not that. It is in their excessive balance, normality, lack of flare, that they are of the same type. Now I am a genius. For, see, I do things without knowing how I do them. I just do them. I get effects in my music that way. Take my diving. To save my life I couldn't tell how I swan-dive, or jump, or do the turn and a half.

"Dick, on the other hand, can't do anything unless he clearly knows in advance how he is going to do it. He does everything with balance and foresight. He's a general, all-around wonder, without ever having been a particular wonder at any one thing.—Oh, I know him. He's never been a champion or a record-breaker in any line of athletics. Nor has he been mediocre in any line. And so with everything else, mentally, intellectually. He is an evenly forged chain. He has no massive links, no weak links."

"I'm afraid I'm like you," Graham said, "that commoner and lesser creature, a genius. For I, too, on occasion, flare and do the most unintentional things. And I am not above falling on my knees before mystery."

"And Dick hates mystery—or it would seem he does. Not content with knowing how—he is eternally seeking the why of the how. Mystery is a challenge to him. It excites him like a red rag does a bull. At once he is for ripping the husks and the heart from mystery, so that he will know the how and the why, when it will be no longer mystery but a generalization and a scientifically demonstrable fact."

Much of the growing situation was veiled to the three figures of it. Graham did not know of Paula's desperate efforts to cling close to her husband, who, himself desperately busy with his thousand plans and projects, was seeing less and less of his company. He always appeared at lunch, but it was a rare afternoon when he could go out with his guests. Paula did know, from the multiplicity of long, code telegrams from Mexico, that things were in a parlous state with the Harvest Group. Also, she saw the agents and emissaries of foreign investors in Mexico, always in haste and often inopportune, arriving at the ranch to confer with Dick. Beyond his complaint that they ate the heart out of his time, he gave her no clew to the matters discussed.

"My! I wish you weren't so busy," she sighed in his arms, on his knees, one fortunate morning, when, at eleven o'clock, she had caught him alone.

It was true, she had interrupted the dictation of a letter into the phonograph; and the sigh had been evoked by the warning cough of Bonbright, whom she saw entering with more telegrams in his hand.

"Won't you let me drive you this afternoon, behind Duddy and Fuddy, just you and me, and cut the crowd?" she begged.

He shook his head and smiled.

"You'll meet at lunch a weird combination," he explained. "Nobody else needs to know, but I'll tell you." He lowered his voice, while Bonbright discreetly occupied himself at the filing cabinets. "They're Tampico oil folk. Samuels himself, President of the Nacisco; and Wishaar, the big inside man of the Pearson-Brooks crowd—the chap that engineered the purchase of the East Coast railroad and the Tiuana Central when they tried to put the Nacisco out of business; and Matthewson—he's the hi-yu-skookum big chief this side the Atlantic of the Palmerston interests—you know, the English crowd that fought the Nacisco and the Pearson-Brooks bunch so hard; and, oh, there'll be several others. It shows you that things are rickety down Mexico way when such a bunch stops scrapping and gets together.

"You see, they are oil, and I'm important in my way down there, and they want me to swing the mining interests in with the oil. Truly, big things are in the air, and we've got to hang together and do something or get out of Mexico. And I'll admit, after they gave me the turn-down in the trouble three years ago, that I've sulked in my tent and made them come to see me."

He caressed her and called her his armful of dearest woman, although she detected his eye roving impatiently to the phonograph with its unfinished letter.

"And so," he concluded, with a pressure of his arms about her that seemed to hint that her moment with him was over and she must go, "that means the afternoon. None will stop over. And they'll be off and away before dinner."

She slipped off his knees and out of his arms with unusual abruptness, and stood straight up before him, her eyes flashing, her cheeks white, her face set with determination, as if about to say something of grave importance. But a bell tinkled softly, and he reached for the desk telephone.

Paula drooped, and sighed inaudibly, and, as she went down the room and out the door, and as Bonbright stepped eagerly forward with the telegrams, she could hear the beginning of her husband's conversation:

"No. It is impossible. He's got to come through, or I'll put him out of business. That gentleman's agreement is all poppycock. If it were only that, of course he could break it. But I've got some mighty interesting correspondence that he's forgotten about.... Yes, yes; it will clinch it in any court of law. I'll have the file in your office by five this afternoon. And tell him, for me, that if he tries to put through this trick, I'll break him. I'll put a competing line on, and his steamboats will be in the receiver's hands inside a year.... And... hello, are you there?... And just look up that point I suggested. I am rather convinced you'll find the Interstate Commerce has got him on two counts...."

Nor did Graham, nor even Paula, imagine that Dick—the keen one, the deep one, who could see and sense things yet to occur and out of intangible nuances and glimmerings build shrewd speculations and hypotheses that subsequent events often proved correct—was already sensing what had not happened but what might happen. He had not heard Paula's brief significant words at the hitching post; nor had he seen Graham catch her in that deep scrutiny of him under the arcade. Dick had heard nothing, seen little, but sensed much; and, even in advance of Paula, had he apprehended in vague ways what she afterward had come to apprehend.

The most tangible thing he had to build on was the night, immersed in bridge, when he had not been unaware of the abrupt leaving of the piano after the singing of the "Gypsy Trail"; nor when, in careless smiling greeting of them when they came down the room to devil him over his losing, had he failed to receive a hint or feeling of something unusual in Paula's roguish teasing face. On the moment, laughing retorts, giving as good as she sent, Dick's own laughing eyes had swept over Graham beside her and likewise detected the unusual. The man was overstrung, had been Dick's mental note at the time. But why should he be overstrung? Was there any connection between his overstrungness and the sudden desertion by Paula of the piano? And all the while these questions were slipping through his thoughts, he had laughed at their sallies, dealt, sorted his hand, and won the bid on no trumps.

Yet to himself he had continued to discount as absurd and preposterous the possibility of his vague apprehension ever being realized. It was a chance guess, a silly speculation, based upon the most trivial data, he sagely concluded. It merely connoted the attractiveness of his wife and of his friend. But—and on occasional moments he could not will the thought from coming uppermost in his mind—why had they broken off from singing that evening? Why had he received the feeling that there was something unusual about it? Why had Graham been overstrung?

* * * * *

Nor did Bonbright, one morning, taking dictation of a telegram in the last hour before noon, know that Dick's casual sauntering to the window, still dictating, had been caused by the faint sound of hoofs on the driveway. It was not the first of recent mornings that Dick had so sauntered to the window, to glance out with apparent absentness at the rush of the morning riding party in the last dash home to the hitching rails. But he knew, on this morning, before the first figures came in sight whose those figures would be.

"Braxton is safe," he went on with the dictation without change of tone, his eyes on the road where the riders must first come into view. "If things break he can get out across the mountains into Arizona. See Connors immediately. Braxton left Connors complete instructions. Connors to-morrow in Washington. Give me fullest details any move— signed."

Up the driveway the Fawn and Altadena clattered neck and neck. Dick had not been disappointed in the figures he expected to see. From the rear, cries and laughter and the sound of many hoofs tokened that the rest of the party was close behind.

"And the next one, Mr. Bonbright, please put in the Harvest code," Dick went on steadily, while to himself he was commenting that Graham was a passable rider but not an excellent one, and that it would have to be seen to that he was given a heavier horse than Altadena. "It is to Jeremy Braxton. Send it both ways. There is a chance one or the other may get through..."



CHAPTER XX



Once again the tide of guests ebbed from the Big House, and more than one lunch and dinner found only the two men and Paula at the table. On such evenings, while Graham and Dick yarned for their hour before bed, Paula no longer played soft things to herself at the piano, but sat with them doing fine embroidery and listening to the talk.

Both men had much in common, had lived life in somewhat similar ways, and regarded life from the same angles. Their philosophy was harsh rather than sentimental, and both were realists. Paula made a practice of calling them the pair of "Brass Tacks."

"Oh, yes," she laughed to them, "I understand your attitude. You are successes, the pair of you—physical successes, I mean. You have health. You are resistant. You can stand things. You have survived where men less resistant have gone down. You pull through African fevers and bury the other fellows. This poor chap gets pneumonia in Cripple Creek and cashes in before you can get him to sea level. Now why didn't you get pneumonia? Because you were more deserving? Because you had lived more virtuously? Because you were more careful of risks and took more precautions?"

She shook her head.

"No. Because you were luckier—I mean by birth, by possession of constitution and stamina. Why, Dick buried his three mates and two engineers at Guayaquil. Yellow fever. Why didn't the yellow fever germ, or whatever it is, kill Dick? And the same with you, Mr. Broad- shouldered Deep-chested Graham. In this last trip of yours, why didn't you die in the swamps instead of your photographer? Come. Confess. How heavy was he? How broad were his shoulders? How deep his chest?—wide his nostrils?—tough his resistance?"

"He weighed a hundred and thirty-five," Graham admitted ruefully. "But he looked all right and fit at the start. I think I was more surprised than he when he turned up his toes." Graham shook his head. "It wasn't because he was a light weight and small. The small men are usually the toughest, other things being equal. But you've put your finger on the reason just the same. He didn't have the physical stamina, the resistance,—You know what I mean, Dick?"

"In a way it's like the quality of muscle and heart that enables some prizefighters to go the distance—twenty, thirty, forty rounds, say," Dick concurred. "Right now, in San Francisco, there are several hundred youngsters dreaming of success in the ring. I've watched them trying out. All look good, fine-bodied, healthy, fit as fiddles, and young. And their spirits are most willing. And not one in ten of them can last ten rounds. I don't mean they get knocked out. I mean they blow up. Their muscles and their hearts are not made out of first- grade fiber. They simply are not made to move at high speed and tension for ten rounds. And some of them blow up in four or five rounds. And not one in forty can go the twenty-round route, give and take, hammer and tongs, one minute of rest to three of fight, for a full hour of fighting. And the lad who can last forty rounds is one in ten thousand—lads like Nelson, Gans, and Wolgast.

"You understand the point I am making," Paula took up. "Here are the pair of you. Neither will see forty again. You're a pair of hard- bitten sinners. You've gone through hardship and exposure that dropped others all along the way. You've had your fun and folly. You've roughed and rowdied over the world—"

"Played the wild ass," Graham laughed in.

"And drunk deep," Paula added. "Why, even alcohol hasn't burned you. You were too tough. You put the other fellows under the table, or into the hospital or the grave, and went your gorgeous way, a song on your lips, with tissues uncorroded, and without even the morning-after headache. And the point is that you are successes. Your muscles are blond-beast muscles, your vital organs are blond-beast organs. And from all this emanates your blond-beast philosophy. That's why you are brass tacks, and preach realism, and practice realism, shouldering and shoving and walking over lesser and unluckier creatures, who don't dare talk back, who, like Dick's prizefighting boys, would blow up in the first round if they resorted to the arbitrament of force."

Dick whistled a long note of mock dismay.

"And that's why you preach the gospel of the strong," Paula went on. "If you had been weaklings, you'd have preached the gospel of the weak and turned the other cheek. But you—you pair of big-muscled giants— when you are struck, being what you are, you don't turn the other cheek—"

"No," Dick interrupted quietly. "We immediately roar, 'Knock his block off!' and then do it.—She's got us, Evan, hip and thigh. Philosophy, like religion, is what the man is, and is by him made in his own image."

And while the talk led over the world, Paula sewed on, her eyes filled with the picture of the two big men, admiring, wondering, pondering, without the surety of self that was theirs, aware of a slipping and giving of convictions so long accepted that they had seemed part of her.

Later in the evening she gave voice to her trouble.

"The strangest part of it," she said, taking up a remark Dick had just made, "is that too much philosophizing about life gets one worse than nowhere. A philosophic atmosphere is confusing—at least to a woman. One hears so much about everything, and against everything, that nothing is sure. For instance, Mendenhall's wife is a Lutheran. She hasn't a doubt about anything. All is fixed, ordained, immovable. Star-drifts and ice-ages she knows nothing about, and if she did they would not alter in the least her rules of conduct for men and women in this world and in relation to the next.

"But here, with us, you two pound your brass tacks, Terrence does a Greek dance of epicurean anarchism, Hancock waves the glittering veils of Bergsonian metaphysics, Leo makes solemn obeisance at the altar of Beauty, and Dar Hyal juggles his sophistic blastism to no end save all your applause for his cleverness. Don't you see? The effect is that there is nothing solid in any human judgment. Nothing is right. Nothing is wrong. One is left compassless, rudderless, chartless on a sea of ideas. Shall I do this? Must I refrain from that? Will it be wrong? Is there any virtue in it? Mrs. Mendenhall has her instant answer for every such question. But do the philosophers?"

Paula shook her head.

"No. All they have is ideas. They immediately proceed to talk about it, and talk and talk and talk, and with all their erudition reach no conclusion whatever. And I am just as bad. I listen and listen, and talk and talk, as I am talking now, and remain convictionless. There is no test—"

"But there is," Dick said. "The old, eternal test of truth—Will it work?"

"Ah, now you are pounding your favorite brass tack," Paula smiled. "And Dar Hyal, with a few arm-wavings and word-whirrings, will show that all brass tacks are illusions; and Terrence, that brass tacks are sordid, irrelevant and non-essential things at best; and Hancock, that the overhanging heaven of Bergson is paved with brass tacks, only that they are a much superior article to yours; and Leo, that there is only one brass tack in the universe, and that it is Beauty, and that it isn't brass at all but gold."

* * * * *

"Come on, Red Cloud, go riding this afternoon," Paula asked her husband. "Get the cobwebs out of your brain, and let lawyers and mines and livestock go hang."

"I'd like to, Paul," he answered. "But I can't. I've got to rush in a machine all the way to the Buckeye. Word came in just before lunch. They're in trouble at the dam. There must have been a fault in the under-strata, and too-heavy dynamiting has opened it. In short, what's the good of a good dam when the bottom of the reservoir won't hold water?"

Three hours later, returning from the Buckeye, Dick noted that for the first time Paula and Graham had gone riding together alone.

* * * * *

The Wainwrights and the Coghlans, in two machines, out for a week's trip to the Russian River, rested over for a day at the Big House, and were the cause of Paula's taking out the tally-ho for a picnic into the Los Baos Hills. Starting in the morning, it was impossible for Dick to accompany them, although he left Blake in the thick of dictation to go out and see them off. He assured himself that no detail was amiss in the harnessing and hitching, and reseated the party, insisting on Graham coming forward into the box-seat beside Paula.

"Just must have a reserve of man's strength alongside of Paula in case of need," Dick explained. "I've known a brake-rod to carry away on a down grade somewhat to the inconvenience of the passengers. Some of them broke their necks. And now, to reassure you, with Paula at the helm, I'll sing you a song:

"What can little Paula do? Why, drive a phaeton and two. Can little Paula do no more? Yes, drive a tally-ho and four."

All were in laughter as Paula nodded to the grooms to release the horses' heads, took the feel of the four mouths on her hands, and shortened and slipped the reins to adjustment of four horses into the collars and taut on the traces.

In the babel of parting gibes to Dick, none of the guests was aware of aught else than a bright morning, the promise of a happy day, and a genial host bidding them a merry going. But Paula, despite the keen exhilaration that should have arisen with the handling of four such horses, was oppressed by a vague sadness in which, somehow, Dick's being left behind figured. Through Graham's mind Dick's merry face had flashed a regret of conscience that, instead of being seated there beside this one woman, he should be on train and steamer fleeing to the other side of the world.

But the merriness died on Dick's face the moment he turned on his heel to enter the house. It was a few minutes later than ten when he finished his dictation and Mr. Blake rose to go. He hesitated, then said a trifle apologetically:

"You told me, Mr. Forrest, to remind you of the proofs of your Shorthorn book. They wired their second hurry-up yesterday."

"I won't be able to tackle it myself," Dick replied. "Will you please correct the typographical, submit the proofs to Mr. Manson for correction of fact—tell him be sure to verify that pedigree of King of Devon—and ship them off."

Until eleven Dick received his managers and foremen. But not for a quarter of an hour after that did he get rid of his show manager, Mr. Pitts, with the tentative make-up of the catalogue for the first annual stock-sale on the ranch. By that time Mr. Bonbright was on hand with his sheaf of telegrams, and the lunch-hour was at hand ere they were cleaned up.

For the first time alone since he had seen the tally-ho off, Dick stepped out on his sleeping porch to the row of barometers and thermometers on the wall. But he had come to consult, not them, but the girl's face that laughed from the round wooden frame beneath them.

"Paula, Paula," he said aloud, "are you surprising yourself and me after all these years? Are you turning madcap at sober middle age?"

He put on leggings and spurs to be ready for riding after lunch, and what his thoughts had been while buckling on the gear he epitomized to the girl in the frame.

"Play the game," he muttered. And then, after a pause, as he turned to go: "A free field and no favor ... and no favor."

* * * * *

"Really, if I don't go soon, I'll have to become a pensioner and join the philosophers of the madroo grove," Graham said laughingly to Dick.

It was the time of cocktail assembling, and Paula, in addition to Graham, was the only one of the driving party as yet to put in an appearance.

"If all the philosophers together would just make one book!" Dick demurred. "Good Lord, man, you've just got to complete your book here. I got you started and I've got to see you through with it."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse