Paula's encouragement to Graham to stay on—mere stereotyped, uninterested phrases—was music to Dick. His heart leapt. After all, might he not be entirely mistaken? For two such mature, wise, middle- aged individuals as Paula and Graham any such foolishness was preposterous and unthinkable. They were not young things with their hearts on their sleeves.
"To the book!" he toasted. He turned to Paula. "A good cocktail," he praised. "Paul, you excel yourself, and you fail to teach Oh Joy the art. His never quite touch yours.—Yes, another, please."
Graham, riding solitary through the redwood canyons among the hills that overlooked the ranch center, was getting acquainted with Selim, the eleven-hundred-pound, coal-black gelding which Dick had furnished him in place of the lighter Altadena. As he rode along, learning the good nature, the roguishness and the dependableness of the animal, Graham hummed the words of the "Gypsy Trail" and allowed them to lead his thoughts. Quite carelessly, foolishly, thinking of bucolic lovers carving their initials on forest trees, he broke a spray of laurel and another of redwood. He had to stand in the stirrups to pluck a long- stemmed, five-fingered fern with which to bind the sprays into a cross. When the patteran was fashioned, he tossed it on the trail before him and noted that Selim passed over without treading upon it. Glancing back, Graham watched it to the next turn of the trail. A good omen, was his thought, that it had not been trampled.
More five-fingered ferns to be had for the reaching, more branches of redwood and laurel brushing his face as he rode, invited him to continue the manufacture of patterans, which he dropped as he fashioned them. An hour later, at the head of the canyon, where he knew the trail over the divide was difficult and stiff, he debated his course and turned back.
Selim warned him by nickering. Came an answering nicker from close at hand. The trail was wide and easy, and Graham put his mount into a fox trot, swung a wide bend, and overtook Paula on the Fawn.
"Hello!" he called. "Hello! Hello!"
She reined in till he was alongside.
"I was just turning back," she said. "Why did you turn back? I thought you were going over the divide to Little Grizzly."
"You knew I was ahead of you?" he asked, admiring the frank, boyish way of her eyes straight-gazing into his.
"Why shouldn't I? I had no doubt at the second patteran."
"Oh, I'd forgotten about them," he laughed guiltily. "Why did you turn back?"
She waited until the Fawn and Selim had stepped over a fallen alder across the trail, so that she could look into Graham's eyes when she answered:
"Because I did not care to follow your trail.—To follow anybody's trail," she quickly amended. "I turned back at the second one."
He failed of a ready answer, and an awkward silence was between them. Both were aware of this awkwardness, due to the known but unspoken things.
"Do you make a practice of dropping patterans?" Paula asked.
"The first I ever left," he replied, with a shake of the head. "But there was such a generous supply of materials it seemed a pity, and, besides, the song was haunting me."
"It was haunting me this morning when I woke up," she said, this time her face straight ahead so that she might avoid a rope of wild grapevine that hung close to her side of the trail.
And Graham, gazing at her face in profile, at her crown of gold-brown hair, at her singing throat, felt the old ache at the heart, the hunger and the yearning. The nearness of her was a provocation. The sight of her, in her fawn-colored silk corduroy, tormented him with a rush of visions of that form of hers—swimming Mountain Lad, swan- diving through forty feet of air, moving down the long room in the dull-blue dress of medieval fashion with the maddening knee-lift of the clinging draperies.
"A penny for them," she interrupted his visioning. His answer was prompt.
"Praise to the Lord for one thing: you haven't once mentioned Dick."
"Do you so dislike him?"
"Be fair," he commanded, almost sternly. "It is because I like him. Otherwise..."
"What?" she queried.
Her voice was brave, although she looked straight before her at the Fawn's pricking ears.
"I can't understand why I remain. I should have been gone long ago."
"Why?" she asked, her gaze still on the pricking ears.
"Be fair, be fair," he warned. "You and I scarcely need speech for understanding."
She turned full upon him, her cheeks warming with color, and, without speech, looked at him. Her whip-hand rose quickly, half way, as if to press her breast, and half way paused irresolutely, then dropped down to her side. But her eyes, he saw, were glad and startled. There was no mistake. The startle lay in them, and also the gladness. And he, knowing as it is given some men to know, changed the bridle rein to his other hand, reined close to her, put his arm around her, drew her till the horses rocked, and, knee to knee and lips on lips, kissed his desire to hers. There was no mistake—pressure to pressure, warmth to warmth, and with an elate thrill he felt her breathe against him.
The next moment she had torn herself loose. The blood had left her face. Her eyes were blazing. Her riding-whip rose as if to strike him, then fell on the startled Fawn. Simultaneously she drove in both spurs with such suddenness and force as to fetch a groan and a leap from the mare.
He listened to the soft thuds of hoofs die away along the forest path, himself dizzy in the saddle from the pounding of his blood. When the last hoof-beat had ceased, he half-slipped, half-sank from his saddle to the ground, and sat on a mossy boulder. He was hard hit—harder than he had deemed possible until that one great moment when he had held her in his arms. Well, the die was cast.
He straightened up so abruptly as to alarm Selim, who sprang back the length of his bridle rein and snorted.
What had just occurred had been unpremeditated. It was one of those inevitable things. It had to happen. He had not planned it, although he knew, now, that had he not procrastinated his going, had he not drifted, he could have foreseen it. And now, going could not mend matters. The madness of it, the hell of it and the joy of it, was that no longer was there any doubt. Speech beyond speech, his lips still tingling with the memory of hers, she had told him. He dwelt over that kiss returned, his senses swimming deliciously in the sea of remembrance.
He laid his hand caressingly on the knee that had touched hers, and was grateful with the humility of the true lover. Wonderful it was that so wonderful a woman should love him. This was no girl. This was a woman, knowing her own will and wisdom. And she had breathed quickly in his arms, and her lips had been live to his. He had evoked what he had given, and he had not dreamed, after the years, that he had had so much to give.
He stood up, made as if to mount Selim, who nozzled his shoulder, then paused to debate.
It was no longer a question of going. That was definitely settled. Dick had certain rights, true. But Paula had her rights, and did he have the right to go, after what had happened, unless ... unless she went with him? To go now was to kiss and ride away. Surely, since the world of sex decreed that often the same men should love the one woman, and therefore that perfidy should immediately enter into such a triangle—surely, it was the lesser evil to be perfidious to the man than to the woman.
It was a real world, he pondered as he rode slowly along; and Paula, and Dick, and he were real persons in it, were themselves conscious realists who looked the facts of life squarely in the face. This was no affair of priest and code, of other wisdoms and decisions. Of themselves must it be settled. Some one would be hurt. But life was hurt. Success in living was the minimizing of pain. Dick believed that himself, thanks be. The three of them believed it. And it was nothing new under the sun. The countless triangles of the countless generations had all been somehow solved. This, then, would be solved. All human affairs reached some solution.
He shook sober thought from his brain and returned to the bliss of memory, reaching his hand to another caress of his knee, his lips breathing again to the breathing of hers against them. He even reined Selim to a halt in order to gaze at the hollow resting place of his bent arm which she had filled.
Not until dinner did Graham see Paula again, and he found her the very usual Paula. Not even his eye, keen with knowledge, could detect any sign of the day's great happening, nor of the anger that had whitened her face and blazed in her eyes when she half-lifted her whip to strike him. In everything she was the same Little Lady of the Big House. Even when it chanced that her eyes met his, they were serene, untroubled, with no hint of any secret in them. What made the situation easier was the presence of several new guests, women, friends of Dick and her, come for a couple of days.
Next morning, in the music room, he encountered them and Paula at the piano.
"Don't you sing, Mr. Graham?" a Miss Hoffman asked.
She was the editor of a woman's magazine published in San Francisco, Graham had learned.
"Oh, adorably," he assured her. "Don't I, Mrs. Forrest?" he appealed.
"It is quite true," Paula smiled, "if for no other reason that he is kind enough not to drown me quite."
"And nothing remains but to prove our words," he volunteered. "There's a duet we sang the other evening—" He glanced at Paula for a sign. "—Which is particularly good for my kind of singing." Again he gave her a passing glance and received no cue to her will or wish. "The music is in the living room. I'll go and get it."
"It's the 'Gypsy Trail,' a bright, catchy thing," he heard her saying to the others as he passed out.
They did not sing it so recklessly as on that first occasion, and much of the thrill and some of the fire they kept out of their voices; but they sang it more richly, more as the composer had intended it and with less of their own particular interpretation. But Graham was thinking as he sang, and he knew, too, that Paula was thinking, that in their hearts another duet was pulsing all unguessed by the several women who applauded the song's close.
"You never sang it better, I'll wager," he told Paula.
For he had heard a new note in her voice. It had been fuller, rounder, with a generousness of volume that had vindicated that singing throat.
"And now, because I know you don't know, I'll tell you what a patteran is," she was saying....
"Dick, boy, your position is distinctly Carlylean," Terrence McFane said in fatherly tones.
The sages of the madrono grove were at table, and, with Paula, Dick and Graham, made up the dinner party of seven.
"Mere naming of one's position does not settle it, Terrence," Dick replied. "I know my point is Carlylean, but that does not invalidate it. Hero-worship is a very good thing. I am talking, not as a mere scholastic, but as a practical breeder with whom the application of Mendelian methods is an every-day commonplace."
"And I am to conclude," Hancock broke in, "that a Hottentot is as good as a white man?"
"Now the South speaks, Aaron," Dick retorted with a smile. "Prejudice, not of birth, but of early environment, is too strong for all your philosophy to shake. It is as bad as Herbert Spencer's handicap of the early influence of the Manchester School."
"And Spencer is on a par with the Hottentot?" Dar Hyal challenged.
Dick shook his head.
"Let me say this, Hyal. I think I can make it clear. The average Hottentot, or the average Melanesian, is pretty close to being on a par with the average white man. The difference lies in that there are proportionately so many more Hottentots and negroes who are merely average, while there is such a heavy percentage of white men who are not average, who are above average. These are what I called the pace- makers that bring up the speed of their own race average-men. Note that they do not change the nature or develop the intelligence of the average-men. But they give them better equipment, better facilities, enable them to travel a faster collective pace.
"Give an Indian a modern rifle in place of his bow and arrows and he will become a vastly more efficient game-getter. The Indian hunter himself has not changed in the slightest. But his entire Indian race sported so few of the above-average men, that all of them, in ten thousand generations, were unable to equip him with a rifle."
"Go on, Dick, develop the idea," Terrence encouraged. "I begin to glimpse your drive, and you'll soon have Aaron on the run with his race prejudices and silly vanities of superiority."
"These above-average men," Dick continued, "these pace-makers, are the inventors, the discoverers, the constructionists, the sporting dominants. A race that sports few such dominants is classified as a lower race, as an inferior race. It still hunts with bows and arrows. It is not equipped. Now the average white man, per se, is just as bestial, just as stupid, just as inelastic, just as stagnative, just as retrogressive, as the average savage. But the average white man has a faster pace. The large number of sporting dominants in his society give him the equipment, the organization, and impose the law.
"What great man, what hero—and by that I mean what sporting dominant— has the Hottentot race produced? The Hawaiian race produced only one— Kamehameha. The negro race in America, at the outside only two, Booker T. Washington and Du Bois—and both with white blood in them...."
Paula feigned a cheerful interest while the exposition went on. She did not appear bored, but to Graham's sympathetic eyes she seemed inwardly to droop. And in an interval of tilt between Terrence and Hancock, she said in a low voice to Graham:
"Words, words, words, so much and so many of them! I suppose Dick is right—he so nearly always is; but I confess to my old weakness of inability to apply all these floods of words to life—to my life, I mean, to my living, to what I should do, to what I must do." Her eyes were unfalteringly fixed on his while she spoke, leaving no doubt in his mind to what she referred. "I don't know what bearing sporting dominants and race-paces have on my life. They show me no right or wrong or way for my particular feet. And now that they've started they are liable to talk the rest of the evening....
"Oh, I do understand what they say," she hastily assured him; "but it doesn't mean anything to me. Words, words, words—and I want to know what to do, what to do with myself, what to do with you, what to do with Dick."
But the devil of speech was in Dick Forrest's tongue, and before Graham could murmur a reply to Paula, Dick was challenging him for data on the subject from the South American tribes among which he had traveled. To look at Dick's face it would have been unguessed that he was aught but a carefree, happy arguer. Nor did Graham, nor did Paula, Dick's dozen years' wife, dream that his casual careless glances were missing no movement of a hand, no change of position on a chair, no shade of expression on their faces.
What's up? was Dick's secret interrogation. Paula's not herself. She's positively nervous, and all the discussion is responsible. And Graham's off color. His brain isn't working up to mark. He's thinking about something else, rather than about what he is saying. What is that something else?
And the devil of speech behind which Dick hid his secret thoughts impelled him to urge the talk wider and wilder.
"For once I could almost hate the four sages," Paula broke out in an undertone to Graham, who had finished furnishing the required data.
Dick, himself talking, in cool sentences amplifying his thesis, apparently engrossed in his subject, saw Paula make the aside, although no word of it reached his ears, saw her increasing nervousness, saw the silent sympathy of Graham, and wondered what had been the few words she uttered, while to the listening table he was saying:
"Fischer and Speiser are both agreed on the paucity of unit-characters that circulate in the heredity of the lesser races as compared with the immense variety of unit-characters in say the French, or German, or English...."
No one at the table suspected that Dick deliberately dangled the bait of a new trend to the conversation, nor did Leo dream afterward that it was the master-craft and deviltry of Dick rather than his own question that changed the subject when he demanded to know what part the female sporting dominants played in the race.
"Females don't sport, Leo, my lad," Terrence, with a wink to the others, answered him. "Females are conservative. They keep the type true. They fix it and hold it, and are the everlasting clog on the chariot of progress. If it wasn't for the females every blessed mother's son of us would be a sporting dominant. I refer to our distinguished breeder and practical Mendelian whom we have with us this evening to verify my random statements."
"Let us get down first of all to bedrock and find out what we are talking about," Dick was prompt on the uptake. "What is woman?" he demanded with an air of earnestness.
"The ancient Greeks said woman was nature's failure to make a man," Dar Hyal answered, the while the imp of mockery laughed in the corners of his mouth and curled his thin cynical lips derisively.
Leo was shocked. His face flushed. There was pain in his eyes and his lips were trembling as he looked wistful appeal to Dick.
"The half-sex," Hancock gibed. "As if the hand of God had been withdrawn midway in the making, leaving her but a half-soul, a groping soul at best."
"No I no!" the boy cried out. "You must not say such things!—Dick, you know. Tell them, tell them."
"I wish I could," Dick replied. "But this soul discussion is vague as souls themselves. We all know, of our selves, that we often grope, are often lost, and are never so much lost as when we think we know where we are and all about ourselves. What is the personality of a lunatic but a personality a little less, or very much less, coherent than ours? What is the personality of a moron? Of an idiot? Of a feeble- minded child? Of a horse? A dog? A mosquito? A bullfrog? A woodtick? A garden snail? And, Leo, what is your own personality when you sleep and dream? When you are seasick? When you are in love? When you have colic? When you have a cramp in the leg? When you are smitten abruptly with the fear of death? When you are angry? When you are exalted with the sense of the beauty of the world and think you think all inexpressible unutterable thoughts?
"I say think you think intentionally. Did you really think, then your sense of the beauty of the world would not be inexpressible, unutterable. It would be clear, sharp, definite. You could put it into words. Your personality would be clear, sharp, and definite as your thoughts and words. Ergo, Leo, when you deem, in exalted moods, that you are at the summit of existence, in truth you are thrilling, vibrating, dancing a mad orgy of the senses and not knowing a step of the dance or the meaning of the orgy. You don't know yourself. Your soul, your personality, at that moment, is a vague and groping thing. Possibly the bullfrog, inflating himself on the edge of a pond and uttering hoarse croaks through the darkness to a warty mate, possesses also, at that moment, a vague and groping personality.
"No, Leo, personality is too vague for any of our vague personalities to grasp. There are seeming men with the personalities of women. There are plural personalities. There are two-legged human creatures that are neither fish, flesh, nor fowl. We, as personalities, float like fog-wisps through glooms and darknesses and light-flashings. It is all fog and mist, and we are all foggy and misty in the thick of the mystery."
"Maybe it's mystification instead of mystery—man-made mystification," Paula said.
"There talks the true woman that Leo thinks is not a half-soul," Dick retorted. "The point is, Leo, sex and soul are all interwoven and tangled together, and we know little of one and less of the other."
"But women are beautiful," the boy stammered.
"Oh, ho!" Hancock broke in, his black eyes gleaming wickedly. "So, Leo, you identify woman with beauty?"
The young poet's lips moved, but he could only nod.
"Very well, then, let us take the testimony of painting, during the last thousand years, as a reflex of economic conditions and political institutions, and by it see how man has molded and daubed woman into the image of his desire, and how she has permitted him—"
"You must stop baiting Leo," Paula interfered, "and be truthful, all of you, and say what you do know or do believe."
"Woman is a very sacred subject," Dar Hyal enunciated solemnly.
"There is the Madonna," Graham suggested, stepping into the breach to Paula's aid.
"And the crbrale," Terrence added, winning a nod of approval from Dar Hyal.
"One at a time," Hancock said. "Let us consider the Madonna-worship, which was a particular woman-worship in relation to the general woman- worship of all women to-day and to which Leo subscribes. Man is a lazy, loafing savage. He dislikes to be pestered. He likes tranquillity, repose. And he finds himself, ever since man began, saddled to a restless, nervous, irritable, hysterical traveling companion, and her name is woman. She has moods, tears, vanities, angers, and moral irresponsibilities. He couldn't destroy her. He had to have her, although she was always spoiling his peace. What was he to do?"
"Trust him to find a way—the cunning rascal," Terrence interjected.
"He made a heavenly image of her," Hancock kept on. "He idealized her good qualities, and put her so far away that her bad qualities couldn't get on his nerves and prevent him from smoking his quiet lazy pipe of peace and meditating upon the stars. And when the ordinary every-day woman tried to pester, he brushed her aside from his thoughts and remembered his heaven-woman, the perfect woman, the bearer of life and custodian of immortality.
"Then came the Reformation. Down went the worship of the Mother. And there was man still saddled to his repose-destroyer. What did he do then?"
"Ah, the rascal," Terrence grinned.
"He said: 'I will make of you a dream and an illusion.' And he did. The Madonna was his heavenly woman, his highest conception of woman. He transferred all his idealized qualities of her to the earthly woman, to every woman, and he has fooled himself into believing in them and in her ever since... like Leo does."
"For an unmarried man you betray an amazing intimacy with the pestiferousness of woman," Dick commented. "Or is it all purely theoretical?" Terrence began to laugh.
"Dick, boy, it's Laura Marholm Aaron's been just reading. He can spout her chapter and verse."
"And with all this talk about woman we have not yet touched the hem of her garment," Graham said, winning a grateful look from Paula and Leo.
"There is love," Leo breathed. "No one has said one word about love."
"And marriage laws, and divorces, and polygamy, and monogamy, and free love," Hancock rattled off.
"And why, Leo," Dar Hyal queried, "is woman, in the game of love, always the pursuer, the huntress?"
"Oh, but she isn't," the boy answered quietly, with an air of superior knowledge. "That is just some of your Shaw nonsense."
"Bravo, Leo," Paula applauded.
"Then Wilde was wrong when he said woman attacks by sudden and strange surrenders?" Dar Hyal asked.
"But don't you see," protested Leo, "all such talk makes woman a monster, a creature of prey." As he turned to Dick, he stole a side glance at Paula and love welled in his eyes. "Is she a creature of prey, Dick?"
"No," Dick answered slowly, with a shake of head, and gentleness was in his voice for sake of what he had just seen in the boy's eyes. "I cannot say that woman is a creature of prey. Nor can I say she is a creature preyed upon. Nor will I say she is a creature of unfaltering joy to man. But I will say that she is a creature of much joy to man— "
"And of much foolishness," Hancock added.
"Of much fine foolishness," Dick gravely amended.
"Let me ask Leo something," Dar Hyal said. "Leo, why is it that a woman loves the man who beats her?"
"And doesn't love the man who doesn't beat her?" Leo countered.
"Well, Dar, you are partly right and mostly wrong.—Oh, I have learned about definitions from you fellows. You've cunningly left them out of your two propositions. Now I'll put them in for you. A man who beats a woman he loves is a low type man. A woman who loves the man who beats her is a low type woman. No high type man beats the woman he loves. No high type woman," and all unconsciously Leo's eyes roved to Paula, "could love a man who beats her."
"No, Leo," Dick said, "I assure you I have never, never beaten Paula."
"So you see, Dar," Leo went on with flushing cheeks, "you are wrong. Paula loves Dick without being beaten."
With what seemed pleased amusement beaming on his face, Dick turned to Paula as if to ask her silent approval of the lad's words; but what Dick sought was the effect of the impact of such words under the circumstances he apprehended. In Paula's eyes he thought he detected a flicker of something he knew not what. Graham's face he found expressionless insofar as there was no apparent change of the expression of interest that had been there.
"Woman has certainly found her St. George tonight," Graham complimented. "Leo, you shame me. Here I sit quietly by while you fight three dragons."
"And such dragons," Paula joined in. "If they drove O'Hay to drink, what will they do to you, Leo?"
"No knight of love can ever be discomfited by all the dragons in the world," Dick said. "And the best of it, Leo, is in this case the dragons are more right than you think, and you are more right than they just the same."
"Here's a dragon that's a good dragon, Leo, lad," Terrence spoke up. "This dragon is going to desert his disreputable companions and come over on your side and be a Saint Terrence. And this Saint Terrence has a lovely question to ask you."
"Let this dragon roar first," Hancock interposed. "Leo, by all in love that is sweet and lovely, I ask you: why do lovers, out of jealousy, so often kill the woman they love?"
"Because they are hurt, because they are insane," came the answer, "and because they have been unfortunate enough to love a woman so low in type that she could be guilty of making them jealous."
"But, Leo, love will stray," Dick prompted. "You must give a more sufficient answer."
"True for Dick," Terrence supplemented. "And it's helping you I am to the full stroke of your sword. Love will stray among the highest types, and when it does in steps the green-eyed monster. Suppose the most perfect woman you can imagine should cease to love the man who does not beat her and come to love another man who loves her and will not beat her—what then? All highest types, mind you. Now up with your sword and slash into the dragons."
"The first man will not kill her nor injure her in any way," Leo asserted stoutly. "Because if he did he would not be the man you describe. He would not be high type, but low type."
"You mean, he would get out of the way?" Dick asked, at the same time busying himself with a cigarette so that he might glance at no one's face.
Leo nodded gravely.
"He would get out of the way, and he would make the way easy for her, and he would be very gentle with her."
"Let us bring the argument right home," Hancock said. "We'll suppose you're in love with Mrs. Forrest, and Mrs. Forrest is in love with you, and you run away together in the big limousine—"
"Oh, but I wouldn't," the boy blurted out, his cheeks burning.
"Leo, you are not complimentary," Paula encouraged.
"It's just supposing, Leo," Hancock urged.
The boy's embarrassment was pitiful, and his voice quivered, but he turned bravely to Dick and said:
"That is for Dick to answer."
"And I'll answer," Dick said. "I wouldn't kill Paula. Nor would I kill you, Leo. That wouldn't be playing the game. No matter what I felt at heart, I'd say, 'Bless you, my children.' But just the same—" He paused, and the laughter signals in the corners of his eyes advertised a whimsey—"I'd say to myself that Leo was making a sad mistake. You see, he doesn't know Paula."
"She would be for interrupting his meditations on the stars," Terrence smiled.
"Never, never, Leo, I promise you," Paula exclaimed.
"There do you belie yourself, Mrs. Forrest," Terrence assured her. "In the first place, you couldn't help doing it. Besides, it'd be your bounden duty to do it. And, finally, if I may say so, as somewhat of an authority, when I was a mad young lover of a man, with my heart full of a woman and my eyes full of the stars, 'twas ever the dearest delight to be loved away from them by the woman out of my heart."
"Terrence, if you keep on saying such lovely things," cried Paula," I'll run away with both you and Leo in the limousine."
"Hurry the day," said Terrence gallantly. "But leave space among your fripperies for a few books on the stars that Leo and I may be studying in odd moments."
The combat ebbed away from Leo, and Dar Hyal and Hancock beset Dick.
"What do you mean by 'playing the game'?" Dar Hyal asked.
"Just what I said, just what Leo said," Dick answered; and he knew that Paula's boredom and nervousness had been banished for some time and that she was listening with an interest almost eager. "In my way of thinking, and in accord with my temperament, the most horrible spiritual suffering I can imagine would be to kiss a woman who endured my kiss."
"Suppose she fooled you, say for old sake's sake, or through desire not to hurt you, or pity for you?" Hancock propounded.
"It would be, to me, the unforgivable sin," came Dick's reply. "It would not be playing the game—for her. I cannot conceive the fairness, nor the satisfaction, of holding the woman one loves a moment longer than she loves to be held. Leo is very right. The drunken artisan, with his fists, may arouse and keep love alive in the breast of his stupid mate. But the higher human males, the males with some shadow of rationality, some glimmer of spirituality, cannot lay rough hands on love. With Leo, I would make the way easy for the woman, and I would be very gentle with her."
"Then what becomes of your boasted monogamic marriage institution of Western civilization?" Dar Hyal asked.
And Hancock: "You argue for free love, then?"
"I can only answer with a hackneyed truism," Dick said. "There can be no love that is not free. Always, please, remember the point of view is that of the higher types. And the point of view answers you, Dar. The vast majority of individuals must be held to law and labor by the monogamic institution, or by a stern, rigid marriage institution of some sort. They are unfit for marriage freedom or love freedom. Freedom of love, for them, would be merely license of promiscuity. Only such nations have risen and endured where God and the State have kept the people's instincts in discipline and order."
"Then you don't believe in the marriage laws for say yourself," Dar Hyal inquired, "while you do believe in them for other men?"
"I believe in them for all men. Children, family, career, society, the State—all these things make marriage, legal marriage, imperative. And by the same token that is why I believe in divorce. Men, all men, and women, all women, are capable of loving more than once, of having the old love die and of finding a new love born. The State cannot control love any more than can a man or a woman. When one falls in love one falls in love, and that's all he knows about it. There it is— throbbing, sighing, singing, thrilling love. But the State can control license."
"It is a complicated free love that you stand for," Hancock criticised. "True, and for the reason that man, living in society, is a most complicated animal."
"But there are men, lovers, who would die at the loss of their loved one," Leo surprised the table by his initiative. "They would die if she died, they would die—oh so more quickly—if she lived and loved another."
"Well, they'll have to keep on dying as they have always died in the past," Dick answered grimly. "And no blame attaches anywhere for their deaths. We are so made that our hearts sometimes stray."
"My heart would never stray," Leo asserted proudly, unaware that all at the table knew his secret. "I could never love twice, I know."
"True for you, lad," Terrence approved. "The voice of all true lovers is in your throat. 'Tis the absoluteness of love that is its joy—how did Shelley put it?—or was it Keats?—'All a wonder and a wild delight.' Sure, a miserable skinflint of a half-baked lover would it be that could dream there was aught in woman form one-thousandth part as sweet, as ravishing and enticing, as glorious and wonderful as his own woman that he could ever love again."
* * * * *
And as they passed out from the dining room, Dick, continuing the conversation with Dar Hyal, was wondering whether Paula would kiss him good night or slip off to bed from the piano. And Paula, talking to Leo about his latest sonnet which he had shown her, was wondering if she could kiss Dick, and was suddenly greatly desirous to kiss him, she knew not why.
There was little talk that same evening after dinner. Paula, singing at the piano, disconcerted Terrence in the midst of an apostrophe on love. He quit a phrase midmost to listen to the something new he heard in her voice, then slid noiselessly across the room to join Leo at full length on the bearskin. Dar Hyal and Hancock likewise abandoned the discussion, each isolating himself in a capacious chair. Graham, seeming least attracted, browsed in a current magazine, but Dick observed that he quickly ceased turning the pages. Nor did Dick fail to catch the new note in Paula's voice and to endeavor to sense its meaning.
When she finished the song the three sages strove to tell her all at the same time that for once she had forgotten herself and sung out as they had always claimed she could. Leo lay without movement or speech, his chin on his two hands, his face transfigured.
"It's all this talk on love," Paula laughed, "and all the lovely thoughts Leo and Terrence ... and Dick have put into my head."
Terrence shook his long mop of iron-gray hair.
"Into your heart you'd be meaning," he corrected. "'Tis the very heart and throat of love that are yours this night. And for the first time, dear lady, have I heard the full fair volume that is yours. Never again plaint that your voice is thin. Thick it is, and round it is, as a great rope, a great golden rope for the mooring of argosies in the harbors of the Happy Isles."
"And for that I shall sing you the Gloria," she answered, "to celebrate the slaying of the dragons by Saint Leo, by Saint Terrence ... and, of course, by Saint Richard."
Dick, missing nothing of the talk, saved himself from speech by crossing to the concealed sideboard and mixing for himself a Scotch and soda.
While Paula sang the Gloria, he sat on one of the couches, sipping his drink and remembering keenly. Once before he had heard her sing like that—in Paris, during their swift courtship, and directly afterward, during their honeymoon on the All Away.
A little later, using his empty glass in silent invitation to Graham, he mixed highballs for both of them, and, when Graham had finished his, suggested to Paula that she and Graham sing the "Gypsy Trail."
She shook her head and began Das Kraut Ver-gessenheit.
"She was not a true woman, she was a terrible woman," the song's close wrung from Leo. "And he was a true lover. She broke his heart, but still he loved her. He cannot love again because he cannot forget his love for her."
"And now, Red Cloud, the Song of the Acorn," Paula said, smiling over to her husband. "Put down your glass, and be good, and plant the acorns."
Dick lazily hauled himself off the couch and stood up, shaking his head mutinously, as if tossing a mane, and stamping ponderously with his feet in simulation of Mountain Lad.
"I'll have Leo know that he is not the only poet and love-knight on the ranch. Listen to Mountain Lad's song, all wonder and wild delight, Terrence, and more. Mountain Lad doesn't moon about the loved one. He doesn't moon at all. He incarnates love, and rears right up in meeting and tells them so. Listen to him!"
Dick filled the room and shook the air with wild, glad, stallion nickering; and then, with mane-tossing and foot-pawing, chanted:
"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 aforetimes 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."
It was the first time the sages of the madrono grove had heard Dick's song, and they were loud in applause. Hancock took it for a fresh start in the discussion, and was beginning to elaborate a biologic Bergsonian definition of love, when he was stopped by Terrence, who had noticed the pain that swept across Leo's face.
"Go on, please, dear lady," Terrence begged. "And sing of love, only of love; for it is my experience that I meditate best upon the stars to the accompaniment of a woman's voice."
A little later, Oh Joy, entering the room, waited till Paula finished a song, then moved noiselessly to Graham and handed him a telegram. Dick scowled at the interruption.
"Very important—I think," the Chinese explained to him.
"Who took it?" Dick demanded.
"Me—I took it," was the answer. "Night clerk at Eldorado call on telephone. He say important. I take it."
"It is, fairly so," Graham spoke up, having finished reading the message. "Can I get a train out to-night for San Francisco, Dick?"
"Oh Joy, come back a moment," Dick called, looking at his watch. "What train for San Francisco stops at Eldorado?"
"Eleven-ten," came the instant information. "Plenty time. Not too much. I call chauffeur?"
"You really must jump out to-night?" he asked Graham.
"Really. It is quite important. Will I have time to pack?"
Dick gave a confirmatory nod to Oh Joy, and said to Graham:
"Just time to throw the needful into a grip." He turned to Oh Joy. "Is Oh My up yet?"
"Send him to Mr. Graham's room to help, and let me know as soon as the machine is ready. No limousine. Tell Saunders to take the racer."
"One fine big strapping man, that," Terrence commented, after Graham had left the room.
They had gathered about Dick, with the exception of Paula, who remained at the piano, listening.
"One of the few men I'd care to go along with, hell for leather, on a forlorn hope or anything of that sort," Dick said. "He was on the Nethermere when she went ashore at Pango in the '97 hurricane. Pango is just a strip of sand, twelve feet above high water mark, a lot of cocoanuts, and uninhabited. Forty women among the passengers, English officers' wives and such. Graham had a bad arm, big as a leg— snake bite.
"It was a thundering sea. Boats couldn't live. They smashed two and lost both crews. Four sailors volunteered in succession to carry a light line ashore. And each man, in turn, dead at the end of it, was hauled back on board. While they were untying the last one, Graham, with an arm like a leg, stripped for it and went to it. And he did it, although the pounding he got on the sand broke his bad arm and staved in three ribs. But he made the line fast before he quit. In order to haul the hawser ashore, six more volunteered to go in on Evan's line to the beach. Four of them arrived. And only one woman of the forty was lost—she died of heart disease and fright.
"I asked him about it once. He was as bad as an Englishman. All I could get out of the beggar was that the recovery was uneventful. Thought that the salt water, the exercise, and the breaking of the bone had served as counter-irritants and done the arm good."
Oh Joy and Graham entered the room from opposite ends. Dick saw that Graham's first questing glance was for Paula.
"All ready, sir," Oh Joy announced.
Dick prepared to accompany his guest outside to the car; but Paula evidenced her intention of remaining in the house. Graham started over to her to murmur perfunctory regrets and good-by.
And she, warm with what Dick had just told of him, pleasured at the goodly sight of him, dwelling with her eyes on the light, high poise of head, the careless, sun-sanded hair, and the lightness, almost debonaireness, of his carriage despite his weight of body and breadth of shoulders. As he drew near to her, she centered her gaze on the long gray eyes whose hint of drooping lids hinted of boyish sullenness. She waited for the expression of sullenness to vanish as the eyes lighted with the smile she had come to know so well.
What he said was ordinary enough, as were her regrets; but in his eyes, as he held her hand a moment, was the significance which she had unconsciously expected and to which she replied with her own eyes. The same significance was in the pressure of the momentary handclasp. All unpremeditated, she responded to that quick pressure. As he had said, there was little need for speech between them.
As their hands fell apart, she glanced swiftly at Dick; for she had learned much, in their dozen years together, of his flashes of observance, and had come to stand in awe of his almost uncanny powers of guessing facts from nuances, and of linking nuances into conclusions often startling in their thoroughness and correctness. But Dick, his shoulder toward her, laughing over some quip of Hancock, was just turning his laughter-crinkled eyes toward her as he started to accompany Graham.
No, was her thought; surely Dick had seen nothing of the secret little that had been exchanged between them. It had been very little, very quick—a light in the eyes, a muscular quiver of the fingers, and no lingering. How could Dick have seen or sensed? Their eyes had certainly been hidden from Dick, likewise their clasped hands, for Graham's back had been toward him.
Just the same, she wished she had not made that swift glance at Dick. She was conscious of a feeling of guilt, and the thought of it hurt her as she watched the two big men, of a size and blondness, go down the room side by side. Of what had she been guilty? she asked herself. Why should she have anything to hide? Yet she was honest enough to face the fact and accept, without quibble, that she had something to hide. And her cheeks burned at the thought that she was being drifted into deception.
"I won't be but a couple of days," Graham was saying as he shook hands with Dick at the car.
Dick saw the square, straight look of his eyes, and recognized the firmness and heartiness of his gripping hand. Graham half began to say something, then did not; and Dick knew he had changed his mind when he said:
"I think, when I get back, that I'll have to pack."
"But the book," Dick protested, inwardly cursing himself for the leap of joy which had been his at the other's words.
"That's just why," Graham answered. "I've got to get it finished. It doesn't seem I can work like you do. The ranch is too alluring. I can't get down to the book. I sit over it, and sit over it, but the confounded meadowlarks keep echoing in my ears, and I begin to see the fields, and the redwood canyons, and Selim. And after I waste an hour, I give up and ring for Selim. And if it isn't that, it's any one of a thousand other enchantments."
He put his foot on the running-board of the pulsing car and said, "Well, so long, old man."
"Come back and make a stab at it," urged Dick. "If necessary, we'll frame up a respectable daily grind, and I'll lock you in every morning until you've done it. And if you don't do your work all day, all day you'll stay locked in. I'll make you work.—Got cigarettes?—matches?"
"Let her go, Saunders," Dick ordered the chauffeur; and the car seemed to leap out into the darkness from the brilliantly lighted porte cochre.
Back in the house, Dick found Paula playing to the madrono sages, and ensconced himself on the couch to wait and wonder if she would kiss him good night when bedtime came. It was not, he recognized, as if they made a regular schedule of kissing. It had never been like that. Often and often he did not see her until midday, and then in the presence of guests. And often and often, she slipped away to bed early, disturbing no one with a good night kiss to her husband which might well hint to them that their bedtime had come.
No, Dick concluded, whether or not she kissed him on this particular night it would be equally without significance. But still he wondered.
She played on and sang on interminably, until at last he fell asleep. When he awoke he was alone in the room. Paula and the sages had gone out quietly. He looked at his watch. It marked one o'clock. She had played unusually late, he knew; for he knew she had just gone. It was the cessation of music and movement that had awakened him.
And still he wondered. Often he napped there to her playing, and always, when she had finished, she kissed him awake and sent him to bed. But this night she had not. Perhaps, after all, she was coming back. He lay and drowsed and waited. The next time he looked at his watch, it was two o'clock. She had not come back.
He turned off the lights, and as he crossed the house, pressed off the hall lights as he went, while the many unimportant little nothings, almost of themselves, ranged themselves into an ordered text of doubt and conjecture that he could not refrain from reading.
On his sleeping porch, glancing at his barometers and thermometers, her laughing face in the round frame caught his eyes, and, standing before it, even bending closer to it, he studied her long.
"Oh, well," he muttered, as he drew up the bedcovers, propped the pillows behind him and reached for a stack of proofsheets, "whatever it is I'll have to play it."
He looked sidewise at her picture.
"But, oh, Little Woman, I wish you wouldn't," was the sighed good night.
As luck would have it, beyond chance guests for lunch or dinner, the Big House was empty. In vain, on the first and second days, did Dick lay out his work, or defer it, so as to be ready for any suggestion from Paula to go for an afternoon swim or drive.
He noted that she managed always to avoid the possibility of being kissed. From her sleeping porch she called good night to him across the wide patio. In the morning he prepared himself for her eleven o'clock greeting. Mr. Agar and Mr. Pitts, with important matters concerning the forthcoming ranch sale of stock still unsettled, Dick promptly cleared out at the stroke of eleven. Up she was, he knew, for he had heard her singing. As he waited, seated at his desk, for once he was idle. A tray of letters before him continued to need his signature. He remembered this morning pilgrimage of hers had been originated by her, and by her, somewhat persistently, had been kept up. And an adorable thing it was, he decided—that soft call of "Good morning, merry gentleman," and the folding of her kimono-clad figure in his arms.
He remembered, further, that he had often cut that little visit short, conveying the impression to her, even while he clasped her, of how busy he was. And he remembered, more than once, the certain little wistful shadow on her face as she slipped away.
Quarter past eleven, and she had not come. He took down the receiver to telephone the dairy, and in the swift rush of women's conversation, ere he hung up, he caught Paula's voice:
"—Bother Mr. Wade. Bring all the little Wades and come, if only for a couple of days—"
Which was very strange of Paula. She had invariably welcomed the intervals of no guests, when she and he were left alone with each other for a day or for several days. And now she was trying to persuade Mrs. Wade to come down from Sacramento. It would seem that Paula did not wish to be alone with him, and was seeking to protect herself with company.
He smiled as he realized that that morning embrace, now that it was not tendered him, had become suddenly desirable. The thought came to him of taking her away with him on one of their travel-jaunts. That would solve the problem, perhaps. And he would hold her very close to him and draw her closer. Why not an Alaskan hunting trip? She had always wanted to go. Or back to their old sailing grounds in the days of the All Away—the South Seas. Steamers ran direct between San Francisco and Tahiti. In twelve days they could be ashore in Papeete. He wondered if Lavaina still ran her boarding house, and his quick vision caught a picture of Paula and himself at breakfast on Lavaina's porch in the shade of the mango trees.
He brought his fist down on the desk. No, by God, he was no coward to run away with his wife for fear of any man. And would it be fair to her to take her away possibly from where her desire lay? True, he did not know where her desire lay, nor how far it had gone between her and Graham. Might it not be a spring madness with her that would vanish with the spring? Unfortunately, he decided, in the dozen years of their marriage she had never evidenced any predisposition toward spring madness. She had never given his heart a moment's doubt. Herself tremendously attractive to men, seeing much of them, receiving their admiration and even court, she had remained always her equable and serene self, Dick Forrest's wife—
"Good morning, merry gentleman."
She was peeping in on him, quite naturally from the hall, her eyes and lips smiling to him, blowing him a kiss from her finger tips.
"And good morning, my little haughty moon," he called back, himself equally his natural self.
And now she would come in, he thought; and he would fold her in his arms, and put her to the test of the kiss.
He opened his arms in invitation. But she did not enter. Instead, she startled, with one hand gathered her kimono at her breast, with the other picked up the trailing skirt as if for flight, at the same time looking apprehensively down the hall. Yet his keen ears had caught no sound. She smiled back at him, blew him another kiss, and was gone.
Ten minutes later he had no ears for Bonbright, who, telegrams in hand, startled him as he sat motionless at his desk, as he had sat, without movement, for ten minutes.
And yet she was happy. Dick knew her too long in all the expressions of her moods not to realize the significance of her singing over the house, in the arcades, and out in the patio. He did not leave his workroom till the stroke of lunch; nor did she, as she sometimes did, come to gather him up on the way. At the lunch gong, from across the patio, he heard her trilling die away into the house in the direction of the dining room.
A Colonel Harrison Stoddard—colonel from younger service in the National Guard, himself a retired merchant prince whose hobby was industrial relations and social unrest—held the table most of the meal upon the extension of the Employers' Liability Act so as to include agricultural laborers. But Paula found a space in which casually to give the news to Dick that she was running away for the afternoon on a jaunt up to Wickenberg to the Masons.
"Of course I don't know when I'll be back—you know what the Masons are. And I don't dare ask you to come, though I'd like you along."
Dick shook his head.
"And so," she continued, "if you're not using Saunders—"
Dick nodded acquiescence.
"I'm using Callahan this afternoon," he explained, on the instant planning his own time now that Paula was out of the question. "I never can make out, Paul, why you prefer Saunders. Callahan is the better driver, and of course the safest."
"Perhaps that's why," she said with a smile. "Safety first means slowest most."
"Just the same I'd back Callahan against Saunders on a speed-track," Dick championed.
"Where are you bound?" she asked.
"Oh, to show Colonel Stoddard my one-man and no-horse farm—you know, the automatically cultivated ten-acre stunt I've been frivoling with. A lot of changes have been made that have been waiting a week for me to see tried out. I've been too busy. And after that, I'm going to take him over the colony—what do you think?—five additions the last week."
"I thought the membership was full," Paula said.
"It was, and still is," Dick beamed. "But these are babies. And the least hopeful of the families had the rashness to have twins."
"A lot of wiseacres are shaking their heads over that experiment of yours, and I make free to say that I am merely holding my judgment— you've got to show me by bookkeeping," Colonel Stoddard was saying, immensely pleased at the invitation to be shown over in person.
Dick scarcely heard him, such was the rush of other thoughts. Paula had not mentioned whether Mrs. Wade and the little Wades were coming, much less mentioned that she had invited them. Yet this Dick tried to consider no lapse on her part, for often and often, like himself, she had guests whose arrival was the first he knew of their coming.
It was, however, evident that Mrs. Wade was not coming that day, else Paula would not be running away thirty miles up the valley. That was it, and there was no blinking it. She was running away, and from him. She could not face being alone with him with the consequent perils of intimacy—and perilous, in such circumstances, could have but the significance he feared. And further, she was making the evening sure. She would not be back for dinner, or till long after dinner, it was a safe wager, unless she brought the whole Wickenberg crowd with her. She would be back late enough to expect him to be in bed. Well, he would not disappoint her, he decided grimly, as he replied to Colonel Stoddard:
"The experiment works out splendidly on paper, with decently wide margins for human nature. And there I admit is the doubt and the danger—the human nature. But the only way to test it is to test it, which is what I am doing."
"It won't be the first Dick has charged to profit and loss," Paula said.
"But five thousand acres, all the working capital for two hundred and fifty farmers, and a cash salary of a thousand dollars each a year!" Colonel Stoddard protested. "A few such failures—if it fails—would put a heavy drain on the Harvest."
"That's what the Harvest needs," Dick answered lightly.
Colonel Stoddard looked blank.
"Precisely," Dick confirmed. "Drainage, you know. The mines are flooded—the Mexican situation."
It was during the morning of the second day—the day of Graham's expected return—that Dick, who, by being on horseback at eleven, had avoided a repetition of the hurt of the previous day's "Good morning, merry gentleman" across the distance of his workroom, encountered Ah Ha in a hall with an armful of fresh-cut lilacs. The house-boy's way led toward the tower room, but Dick made sure.
"Where are you taking them, Ah Ha?" he asked.
"Mr. Graham's room—he come to-day."
Now whose thought was that? Dick pondered. Ah Ha's?—Oh Joy's—or Paula's? He remembered having heard Graham more than once express his fancy for their lilacs.
He deflected his course from the library and strolled out through the flowers near the tower room. Through the open windows of it came Paula's happy humming. Dick pressed his lower lip with tight quickness between his teeth and strolled on.
Some great, as well as many admirable, men and women had occupied that room, and for them Paula had never supervised the flower arrangement, Dick meditated. Oh Joy, himself a master of flowers, usually attended to that, or had his house-staff ably drilled to do it.
Among the telegrams Bonbright handed him, was one from Graham, which Dick read twice, although it was simple and unmomentous, being merely a postponement of his return.
Contrary to custom, Dick did not wait for the second lunch-gong. At the sound of the first he started, for he felt the desire for one of Oh Joy's cocktails—the need of a prod of courage, after the lilacs, to meet Paula. But she was ahead of him. He found her—who rarely drank, and never alone—just placing an empty cocktail glass back on the tray.
So she, too, had needed courage for the meal, was his deduction, as he nodded to Oh Joy and held up one finger.
"Caught you at it!" he reproved gaily. "Secret tippling. The gravest of symptoms. Little I thought, the day I stood up with you, that the wife I was marrying was doomed to fill an alcoholic's grave."
Before she could retort, a young man strolled in whom she and Dick greeted as Mr. Winters, and who also must have a cocktail. Dick tried to believe that it was not relief he sensed in Paula's manner as she greeted the newcomer. He had never seen her quite so cordial to him before, although often enough she had met him. At any rate, there would be three at lunch.
Mr. Winters, an agricultural college graduate and special writer for the Pacific Rural Press, as well as a sort of protg of Dick, had come for data for an article on California fish-ponds, and Dick mentally arranged his afternoon's program for him.
"Got a telegram from Evan," he told Paula. "Won't be back till the four o'clock day after to-morrow."
"And after all my trouble!" she exclaimed. "Now the lilacs will be wilted and spoiled."
Dick felt a warm glow of pleasure. There spoke his frank, straightforward Paula. No matter what the game was, or its outcome, at least she would play it without the petty deceptions. She had always been that way—too transparent to make a success of deceit.
Nevertheless, he played his own part by a glance of scarcely interested interrogation.
"Why, in Graham's room," she explained. "I had the boys bring a big armful and I arranged them all myself. He's so fond of them, you know."
Up to the end of lunch, she had made no mention of Mrs. Wade's coming, and Dick knew definitely she was not coming when Paula queried casually:
He shook his head, and asked, "Are you doing anything this afternoon?"
"Haven't thought about anything," she answered. "And now I suppose I can't plan upon you with Mr. Winters to be told all about fish."
"But you can," Dick assured her. "I'm turning him over to Mr. Hanley, who's got the trout counted down to the last egg hatched and who knows all the grandfather bass by name. I'll tell you what—" He paused and considered. Then his face lighted as with a sudden idea. "It's a loafing afternoon. Let's take the rifles and go potting squirrels. I noticed the other day they've become populous on that hill above the Little Meadow."
But he had not failed to observe the flutter of alarm that shadowed her eyes so swiftly, and that so swiftly was gone as she clapped her hands and was herself.
"But don't take a rifle for me," she said.
"If you'd rather not—" he began gently.
"Oh, I want to go, but I don't feel up to shooting. I'll take Le Gallienne's last book along—it just came in—and read to you in betweenwhiles. Remember, the last time I did that when we went squirreling it was his 'Quest of the Golden Girl' I read to you."
Paula on the Fawn, and Dick on the Outlaw, rode out from the Big House as nearly side by side as the Outlaw's wicked perversity permitted. The conversation she permitted was fragmentary. With tiny ears laid back and teeth exposed, she would attempt to evade Dick's restraint of rein and spur and win to a bite of Paula's leg or the Fawn's sleek flank, and with every defeat the pink flushed and faded in the whites of her eyes. Her restless head-tossing and pitching attempts to rear (thwarted by the martingale) never ceased, save when she pranced and sidled and tried to whirl.
"This is the last year of her," Dick announced. "She's indomitable. I've worked two years on her without the slightest improvement. She knows me, knows my ways, knows I am her master, knows when she has to give in, but is never satisfied. She nourishes the perennial hope that some time she'll catch me napping, and for fear she'll miss that time she never lets any time go by."
"And some time she may catch you," Paula said.
"That's why I'm giving her up. It isn't exactly a strain on me, but soon or late she's bound to get me if there's anything in the law of probability. It may be a million-to-one shot, but heaven alone knows where in the series of the million that fatal one is going to pop up."
"You're a wonder, Red Cloud," Paula smiled.
"You think in statistics and percentages, averages and exceptions. I wonder, when we first met, what particular formula you measured me up by."
"I'll be darned if I did," he laughed back. "There was where all signs failed. I didn't have a statistic that applied to you. I merely acknowledged to myself that here was the most wonderful female woman ever born with two good legs, and I knew that I wanted her more than I had ever wanted anything. I just had to have her—"
"And got her," Paula completed for him. "But since, Red Cloud, since. Surely you've accumulated enough statistics on me."
"A few, quite a few," he admitted. "But I hope never to get the last one—"
He broke off at sound of the unmistakable nicker of Mountain Lad. The stallion appeared, the cowboy on his back, and Dick gazed for a moment at the perfect action of the beast's great swinging trot.
"We've got to get out of this," he warned, as Mountain Lad, at sight of them, broke into a gallop.
Together they pricked their mares, whirled them about, and fled, while from behind they heard the soothing "Whoas" of the rider, the thuds of the heavy hoofs on the roadway, and a wild imperative neigh. The Outlaw answered, and the Fawn was but a moment behind her. From the commotion they knew Mountain Lad was getting tempestuous.
Leaning to the curve, they swept into a cross-road and in fifty paces pulled up, where they waited till the danger was past.
"He's never really injured anybody yet," Paula said, as they started back.
"Except when he casually stepped on Cowley's toes. You remember he was laid up in bed for a month," Dick reminded her, straightening out the Outlaw from a sidle and with a flicker of glance catching the strange look with which Paula was regarding him.
There was question in it, he could see, and love in it, and fear—yes, almost fear, or at least apprehension that bordered on dismay; but, most of all, a seeking, a searching, a questioning. Not entirely ungermane to her mood, was his thought, had been that remark of his thinking in statistics.
But he made that he had not seen, whipping out his pad, and, with an interested glance at a culvert they were passing, making a note.
"They missed it," he said. "It should have been repaired a month ago."
"What has become of all those Nevada mustangs?" Paula inquired.
This was a flyer Dick had taken, when a bad season for Nevada pasture had caused mustangs to sell for a song with the alternative of starving to death. He had shipped a trainload down and ranged them in his wilder mountain pastures to the west.
"It's time to break them," he answered. "And I'm thinking of a real old-fashioned rodeo next week. What do you say? Have a barbecue and all the rest, and invite the country side?"
"And then you won't be there," Paula objected.
"I'll take a day off. Is it a go?"
They reined to one side of the road, as she agreed, to pass three farm tractors, all with their trailage of ganged discs and harrows.
"Moving them across to the Rolling Meadows," he explained. "They pay over horses on the right ground."
Rising from the home valley, passing through cultivated fields and wooded knolls, they took a road busy with many wagons hauling road- dressing from the rock-crusher they could hear growling and crunching higher up.
"Needs more exercise than I've been giving her," Dick remarked, jerking the Outlaw's bared teeth away from dangerous proximity to the Fawn's flank.
"And it's disgraceful the way I've neglected Duddy and Fuddy," Paula said. "I've kept their feed down like a miser, but they're a lively handful just the same."
Dick heard her idly, but within forty-eight hours he was to remember with hurt what she had said.
They continued on till the crunch of the rock-crusher died away, penetrated a belt of woodland, crossed a tiny divide where the afternoon sunshine was wine-colored by the manzanita and rose-colored by madronos, and dipped down through a young planting of eucalyptus to the Little Meadow. But before they reached it, they dismounted and tied their horses. Dick took the .22 automatic rifle from his saddle- holster, and with Paula advanced softly to a clump of redwoods on the edge of the meadow. They disposed themselves in the shade and gazed out across the meadow to the steep slope of hill that came down to it a hundred and fifty yards away.
"There they are—three—four of them," Paula whispered, as her keen eyes picked the squirrels out amongst the young grain.
These were the wary ones, the sports in the direction of infinite caution who had shunned the poisoned grain and steel traps of Dick's vermin catchers. They were the survivors, each of a score of their fellows not so cautious, themselves fit to repopulate the hillside.
Dick filled the chamber and magazine with tiny cartridges, examined the silencer, and, lying at full length, leaning on his elbow, sighted across the meadow. There was no sound of explosion when he fired, only the click of the mechanism as the bullet was sped, the empty cartridge ejected, a fresh cartridge flipped into the chamber, and the trigger re-cocked. A big, dun-colored squirrel leaped in the air, fell over, and disappeared in the grain. Dick waited, his eye along the rifle and directed toward several holes around which the dry earth showed widely as evidence of the grain which had been destroyed. When the wounded squirrel appeared, scrambling across the exposed ground to safety, the rifle clicked again and he rolled over on his side and lay still.
At the first click, every squirrel but the stricken one, had made into its burrow. Remained nothing to do but wait for their curiosity to master caution. This was the interval Dick had looked forward to. As he lay and scanned the hillside for curious heads to appear, he wondered if Paula would have something to say to him. In trouble she was, but would she keep this trouble to herself? It had never been her way. Always, soon or late, she brought her troubles to him. But, then, he reflected, she had never had a trouble of this nature before. It was just the one thing that she would be least prone to discuss with him. On the other hand, he reasoned, there was her everlasting frankness. He had marveled at it, and joyed in it, all their years together. Was it to fail her now?
So he lay and pondered. She did not speak. She was not restless. He could hear no movement. When he glanced to the side at her he saw her lying on her back, eyes closed, arms outstretched, as if tired.
A small head, the color of the dry soil of its home, peeped from a hole. Dick waited long minutes, until, assured that no danger lurked, the owner of the head stood full up on its hind legs to seek the cause of the previous click that had startled it. Again the rifle clicked.
"Did you get him?" Paula queried, without opening her eyes.
"Yea, and a fat one," Dick answered. "I stopped a line of generations right there."
An hour passed. The afternoon sun beat down but was not uncomfortable in the shade. A gentle breeze fanned the young grain into lazy wavelets at times, and stirred the redwood boughs above them. Dick added a third squirrel to the score. Paula's book lay beside her, but she had not offered to read.
"Anything the matter?" he finally nerved himself to ask.
"No; headache—a beastly little neuralgic hurt across the eyes, that's all."
"Too much embroidery," he teased.
"Not guilty," was her reply.
All was natural enough in all seeming; but Dick, as he permitted an unusually big squirrel to leave its burrow and crawl a score of feet across the bare earth toward the grain, thought to himself: No, there will be no talk between us this day. Nor will we nestle and kiss lying here in the grass.
His victim was now at the edge of the grain. He pulled trigger. The creature fell over, lay still a moment, then ran in quick awkward fashion toward its hole. Click, click, click, went the mechanism. Puffs of dust leaped from the earth close about the fleeing squirrel, showing the closeness of the misses. Dick fired as rapidly as he could twitch his forefinger on the trigger, so that it was as if he played a stream of lead from a hose.
He had nearly finished refilling the magazine when Paula spoke.
"My! What a fusillade.—Get him?"
"Yea, grandfather of all squirrels, a mighty graineater and destroyer of sustenance for young calves. But nine long smokeless cartridges on one squirrel doesn't pay. I'll have to do better."
The sun dropped lower. The breeze died out. Dick managed another squirrel and sadly watched the hillside for more. He had arranged the time and made his bid for confidence. The situation was as grave as he had feared. Graver it might be, for all he knew, for his world was crumbling about him. Old landmarks were shifting their places. He was bewildered, shaken. Had it been any other woman than Paula! He had been so sure. There had been their dozen years to vindicate his surety....
"Five o'clock, sun he get low," he announced, rising to his feet and preparing to help her up.
"It did me so much good—just resting," she said, as they started for the horses. "My eyes feel much better. It's just as well I didn't try to read to you."
"And don't be piggy," Dick warned, as lightly as if nothing were amiss with him. "Don't dare steal the tiniest peek into Le Gallienne. You've got to share him with me later on. Hold up your hand.—Now, honest to God, Paul."
"Honest to God," she obeyed.
"And may jackasses dance on your grandmother's grave—"
"And may jackasses dance on my grandmother's grave," she solemnly repeated.
The third morning of Graham's absence, Dick saw to it that he was occupied with his dairy manager when Paula made her eleven o'clock pilgrimage, peeped in upon him, and called her "Good morning, merry gentleman," from the door. The Masons, arriving in several machines with their boisterous crowd of young people, saved Paula for lunch and the afternoon; and, on her urging, Dick noted, she made the evening safe by holding them over for bridge and dancing.
But the fourth morning, the day of Graham's expected return, Dick was alone in his workroom at eleven. Bending over his desk, signing letters, he heard Paula tiptoe into the room. He did not look up, but while he continued writing his signature he listened with all his soul to the faint, silken swish of her kimono. He knew when she was bending over him, and all but held his breath. But when she had softly kissed his hair and called her "Good morning, merry gentleman," she evaded the hungry sweep of his arm and laughed her way out. What affected him as strongly as the disappointment was the happiness he had seen in her face. She, who so poorly masked her moods, was bright-eyed and eager as a child. And it was on this afternoon that Graham was expected, Dick could not escape making the connection.
He did not care to ascertain if she had replenished the lilacs in the tower room, and, at lunch, which was shared with three farm college students from Davis, he found himself forced to extemporize a busy afternoon for himself when Paula tentatively suggested that she would drive Graham up from Eldorado.
"Drive?" Dick asked.
"Duddy and Fuddy," she explained. "They're all on edge, and I just feel like exercising them and myself. Of course, if you'll share the exercise, we'll drive anywhere you say, and let him come up in the machine."
Dick strove not to think there was anxiety in her manner while she waited for him to accept or decline her invitation.
"Poor Duddy and Fuddy would be in the happy hunting grounds if they had to cover my ground this afternoon," he laughed, at the same time mapping his program. "Between now and dinner I've got to do a hundred and twenty miles. I'm taking the racer, and it's going to be some dust and bump and only an occasional low place. I haven't the heart to ask you along. You go on and take it out of Duddy and Fuddy."
Paula sighed, but so poor an actress was she that in the sigh, intended for him as a customary reluctant yielding of his company, he could not fail to detect the relief at his decision.
"Whither away?" she asked brightly, and again he noticed the color in her face, the happiness, and the brilliance of her eyes.
"Oh, I'm shooting away down the river to the dredging work—Carlson insists I must advise him—and then up in to Sacramento, running over the Teal Slough land on the way, to see Wing Fo Wong."
"And in heaven's name who is this Wing Fo Wong?" she laughingly queried, "that you must trot and see him?"
"A very important personage, my dear. Worth all of two millions—made in potatoes and asparagus down in the Delta country. I'm leasing three hundred acres of the Teal Slough land to him." Dick addressed himself to the farm students. "That land lies just out of Sacramento on the west side of the river. It's a good example of the land famine that is surely coming. It was tule swamp when I bought it, and I was well laughed at by the old-timers. I even had to buy out a dozen hunting preserves. It averaged me eighteen dollars an acre, and not so many years ago either.
"You know the tule swamps. Worthless, save for ducks and low-water pasturage. It cost over three hundred an acre to dredge and drain and to pay my quota of the river reclamation work. And on what basis of value do you think I am making a ten years' lease to old Wing Fo Wong? TWO thousand an acre. I couldn't net more than that if I truck-farmed it myself. Those Chinese are wizards with vegetables, and gluttons for work. No eight hours for them. It's eighteen hours. The last coolie is a partner with a microscopic share. That's the way Wing Fo Wong gets around the eight hour law."
* * * * *
Twice warned and once arrested, was Dick through the long afternoon. He drove alone, and though he drove with speed he drove with safety. Accidents, for which he personally might be responsible, were things he did not tolerate. And they never occurred. That same sureness and definiteness of adjustment with which, without fumbling or approximating, he picked up a pencil or reached for a door-knob, was his in the more complicated adjustments, with which, as instance, he drove a high-powered machine at high speed over busy country roads.
But drive as he would, transact business as he would, at high pressure with Carlson and Wing Fo Wong, continually, in the middle ground of his consciousness, persisted the thought that Paula had gone out of her way and done the most unusual in driving Graham the long eight miles from Eldorado to the ranch.
"Phew!" he started to mutter a thought aloud, then suspended utterance and thought as he jumped the racer from forty-five to seventy miles an hour, swept past to the left of a horse and buggy going in the same direction, and slanted back to the right side of the road with margin to spare but seemingly under the nose of a run-about coming from the opposite direction. He reduced his speed to fifty and took up his thought:
"Phew! Imagine little Paul's thoughts if I dared that drive with some charming girl!"
He laughed at the fancy as he pictured it, for, most early in their marriage, he had gauged Paula's capacity for quiet jealousy. Never had she made a scene, or dropped a direct remark, or raised a question; but from the first, quietly but unmistakably, she had conveyed the impression of hurt that was hers if he at all unduly attended upon any woman.
He grinned with remembrance of Mrs. Dehameny, the pretty little brunette widow—Paula's friend, not his—who had visited in the long ago in the Big House. Paula had announced that she was not riding that afternoon and, at lunch, had heard him and Mrs. Dehameny arrange to ride into the redwood canyons beyond the grove of the philosophers. And who but Paula, not long after their start, should overtake them and make the party three! He had smiled to himself at the time, and felt immensely tickled with Paula, for neither Mrs. Dehameny nor the ride with her had meant anything to him.
So it was, from the beginning, that he had restricted his attentions to other women. Ever since he had been far more circumspect than Paula. He had even encouraged her, given her a free hand always, had been proud that his wife did attract fine fellows, had been glad that she was glad to be amused or entertained by them. And with reason, he mused. He had been so safe, so sure of her—more so, he acknowledged, than had she any right to be of him. And the dozen years had vindicated his attitude, so that he was as sure of her as he was of the diurnal rotation of the earth. And now, was the form his fancy took, the rotation of the earth was a shaky proposition and old Oom Paul's flat world might be worth considering.
He lifted the gauntlet from his left wrist to snatch a glimpse at his watch, In five minutes Graham would be getting off the train at Eldorado. Dick, himself homeward bound west from Sacramento, was eating up the miles. In a quarter of an hour the train that he identified as having brought Graham, went by. Not until he was well past Eldorado did he overtake Duddy and Fuddy and the trap. Graham sat beside Paula, who was driving. Dick slowed down as he passed, waved a hello to Graham, and, as he jumped into speed again, called cheerily:
"Sorry I've got to give you my dust. I'll beat you a game of billiards before dinner, Evan, if you ever get in."
"This can't go on. We must do something—at once."
They were in the music room, Paula at the piano, her face turned up to Graham who stood close to her, almost over her.
"You must decide," Graham continued.
Neither face showed happiness in the great thing that had come upon them, now that they considered what they must do.
"But I don't want you to go," Paula urged. "I don't know what I want. You must bear with me. I am not considering myself. I am past considering myself. But I must consider Dick. I must consider you. I... I am so unused to such a situation," she concluded with a wan smile.
"But it must be settled, dear love. Dick is not blind."
"What has there been for him to see?" she demanded. "Nothing, except that one kiss in the canyon, and he couldn't have seen that. Do you think of anything else—I challenge you, sir."
"Would that there were," he met the lighter touch in her mood, then immediately relapsed. "I am mad over you, mad for you. And there I stop. I do not know if you are equally mad. I do not know if you are mad at all."
As he spoke, he dropped his hand to hers on the keys, and she gently withdrew it.
"Don't you see?" he complained. "Yet you wanted me to come back?"
"I wanted you to come back," she acknowledged, with her straight look into his eyes. "I wanted you to come back," she repeated, more softly, as if musing.
"And I'm all at sea," he exclaimed impatiently. "You do love me?"
"I do love you, Evan—you know that. But..." She paused and seemed to be weighing the matter judicially.
"But what?" he commanded. "Go on."
"But I love Dick, too. Isn't it ridiculous?"
He did not respond to her smile, and her eyes delightedly warmed to the boyish sullenness that vexed his own eyes. A thought was hot on his tongue, but he restrained the utterance of it while she wondered what it was, disappointed not to have had it.
"It will work out," she assured him gravely. "It will have to work out somehow. Dick says all things work out. All is change. What is static is dead, and we're not dead, any of us... are we?"
"I don't blame you for loving Dick, for... for continuing to love Dick," he answered impatiently. "And for that matter, I don't see what you find in me compared with him. This is honest. He is a great man to me, and Great Heart is his name—" she rewarded him with a smile and nod of approval. "But if you continue to love Dick, how about me?"
"But I love you, too."
"It can't be," he cried, tearing himself from the piano to make a hasty march across the room and stand contemplating the Keith on the opposite wall as if he had never seen it before.
She waited with a quiet smile, pleasuring in his unruly impetuousness.
"You can't love two men at once," he flung at her.
"Oh, but I do, Evan. That's what I am trying to work out. Only I don't know which I love more. Dick I have known a long time. You... you are a—"
"Recent acquaintance," he broke in, returning to her with the same angry stride.
"Not that, no, not that, Evan. You have made a revelation to me of myself. I love you as much as Dick. I love you more. I—I don't know."
She broke down and buried her face in her hands, permitting his hand to rest tenderly on her shoulder.
"You see it is not easy for me," she went on. "There is so much involved, so much that I cannot understand. You say you are all at sea. Then think of me all at sea and worse confounded. You—oh, why talk about it—you are a man with a man's experiences, with a man's nature. It is all very simple to you. 'She loves me, she loves me not.' But I am tangled, confused. I—and I wasn't born yesterday—have had no experience in loving variously. I have never had affairs. I loved only one man... and now you. You, and this love for you, have broken into a perfect marriage, Evan—"
"I know—" he said.
"—I don't know," she went on. "I must have time, either to work it out myself or to let it work itself out. If it only weren't for Dick..." her voice trailed off pathetically.
Unconsciously, Graham's hand went farther about her shoulder.
"No, no—not yet," she said softly, as softly she removed it, her own lingering caressingly on his a moment ere she released it. "When you touch me, I can't think," she begged. "I—I can't think."
"Then I must go," he threatened, without any sense of threatening. She made a gesture of protest. "The present situation is impossible, unbearable. I feel like a cur, and all the time I know I am not a cur. I hate deception—oh, I can lie with the Pathan, to the Pathan—but I can't deceive a man like Great Heart. I'd prefer going right up to him and saying: 'Dick, I love your wife. She loves me. What are you going to do about it?'"
"Do so," Paula said, fired for the moment.
Graham straightened up with resolution.
"I will. And now."
"No, no," she cried in sudden panic. "You must go away." Again her voice trailed off, as she said, "But I can't let you go."
* * * * *
If Dick had had any reason to doubt his suspicion of the state of Paula's heart, that reason vanished with the return of Graham. He need look nowhere for confirmation save to Paula. She was in a flushed awakening, burgeoning like the full spring all about them, a happier tone in her happy laugh, a richer song in her throat, a warmness of excitement and a continuous energy of action animating her. She was up early and to bed late. She did not conserve herself, but seemed to live on the champagne of her spirits, until Dick wondered if it was because she did not dare allow herself time to think.
He watched her lose flesh, and acknowledged to himself that the one result was to make her look lovelier than ever, to take on an almost spiritual delicacy under her natural vividness of color and charm.
And the Big House ran on in its frictionless, happy, and remorseless way. Dick sometimes speculated how long it would continue so to run on, and recoiled from contemplation of a future in which it might not so run on. As yet, he was confident, no one knew, no one guessed, but himself. But how long could that continue? Not long, he was certain. Paula was not sufficiently the actress. And were she a master at concealment of trivial, sordid detail, yet the new note and flush of her would be beyond the power of any woman to hide.
He knew his Asiatic servants were marvels of discernment—and discretion, he had to add. But there were the women. Women were cats. To the best of them it would be great joy to catch the radiant, unimpeachable Paula as clay as any daughter of Eve. And any chance woman in the house, for a day, or an evening, might glimpse the situation—Paula's situation, at least, for he could not make out Graham's attitude yet. Trust a woman to catch a woman.
But Paula, different in other ways, was different in this. He had never seen her display cattishness, never known her to be on the lookout for other women on the chance of catching them tripping— except in relation to him. And he grinned again at the deliciousness of the affair with Mrs. Dehameney which had been an affair only in Paula's apprehension.
Among other things of wonderment, Dick speculated if Paula wondered if he knew.
And Paula did wonder, and for a time without avail. She could detect no change in his customary ways and moods or treatment of her. He turned off his prodigious amount of work as usual, played as usual, chanted his songs, and was the happy good fellow. She tried to imagine an added sweetness toward her, but vexed herself with the fear that it was imagined.
But it was not for long that she was in doubt. Sometimes in a crowd, at table, in the living room in the evening, or at cards, she would gaze at him through half-veiled lashes when he was unaware, until she was certain she saw the knowledge in his eyes and face. But no hint of this did she give to Graham. His knowing would not help matters. It might even send him away, which she frankly admitted to herself was the last thing she should want to happen.
But when she came to a realization that she was almost certain Dick knew or guessed, she hardened, deliberately dared to play with the fire. If Dick knew—since he knew, she framed it to herself—why did he not speak? He was ever a straight talker. She both desired and feared that he might, until the fear faded and her earnest hope was that he would. He was the one who acted, did things, no matter what they were. She had always depended upon him as the doer. Graham had called the situation a triangle. Well, Dick could solve it. He could solve anything. Then why didn't he?
In the meantime, she persisted in her ardent recklessness, trying not to feel the conscience-pricks of her divided allegiance, refusing to think too deeply, riding the top of the wave of her life—as she assured herself, living, living, living. At times she scarcely knew what she thought, save that she was very proud in having two such men at heel. Pride had always been one of her dominant key-notes—pride of accomplishment, achievement, mastery, as with her music, her appearance, her swimming. It was all one—to dance, as she well knew, beautifully; to dress with distinction and beauty; to swan-dive, all grace and courage, as few women dared; or, all fragility, to avalanche down the spill-way on the back of Mountain Lad and by the will and steel of her swim the huge beast across the tank.
She was proud, a woman of their own race and type, to watch these two gray-eyed blond men together. She was excited, feverish, but not nervous. Quite coldly, sometimes, she compared the two when they were together, and puzzled to know for which of them she made herself more beautiful, more enticing. Graham she held, and she had held Dick and strove still to hold him.
There was almost a touch of cruelty in the tingles of pride that were hers at thought of these two royal men suffering for her and because of her; for she did not hide from herself the conviction that if Dick knew, or, rather, since he did know, he, too, must be suffering. She assured herself that she was a woman of imagination and purpose in sex matters, and that no part of her attraction toward Graham lay merely in his freshness, newness, difference. And she denied to herself that passion played more than the most minor part. Deep down she was conscious of her own recklessness and madness, and of an end to it all that could not but be dreadful to some one of them or all of them. But she was content willfully to flutter far above such deeps and to refuse to consider their existence. Alone, looking at herself in her mirror, she would shake her head in mock reproof and cry out, "Oh, you huntress! You huntress!" And when she did permit herself to think a little gravely, it was to admit that Shaw and the sages of the madrono grove might be right in their diatribes on the hunting proclivities of women.
She denied Dar Hyal's statement that woman was nature's failure to make a man; but again and again came to her Wilde's, "Woman attacks by sudden and strange surrenders." Had she so attacked Graham? she asked herself. Sudden and strange, to her, were the surrenders she had already made. Were there to be more? He wanted to go. With her, or without her, he wanted to go. But she held him—how? Was there a tacit promise of surrenders to come? And she would laugh away further consideration, confine herself to the fleeting present, and make her body more beautiful, and mood herself to be more fascinating, and glow with happiness in that she was living, thrilling, as she had never dreamed to live and thrill.
But it is not the way for a man and a woman, in propinquity, to maintain a definite, unwavering distance asunder. Imperceptibly Paula and Graham drew closer. From lingering eye-gazings and hand-touchings the way led to permitted caresses, until there was a second clasping in the arms and a second kiss long on the lips. Nor this time did Paula flame in anger. Instead, she commanded:
"You must not go."
"I must not stay," Graham reiterated for the thousandth time. "Oh, I have kissed behind doors, and been guilty of all the rest of the silly rubbish," he complained. "But this is you, and this is Dick."
"It will work out, I tell you, Evan."
"Come with me then and of ourselves work it out. Come now."
"Remember," Graham encouraged, "what Dick said at dinner the night Leo fought the dragons—that if it were you, Paula, his wife, who ran away, he would say 'Bless you, my children.'"
"And that is just why it is so hard, Evan. He is Great Heart. You named him well. Listen—you watch him now. He is as gentle as he said he would be that night—gentle toward me, I mean. And more. You watch him—"
"He knows?—he has spoken?" Graham broke in.
"He has not spoken, but I am sure he knows, or guesses. You watch him. He won't compete against you—"
"Just that. He won't compete. Remember at the rodeo yesterday. He was breaking mustangs when our party arrived, but he never mounted again. Now he is a wonderful horse-breaker. You tried your hand. Frankly, while you did fairly well, you couldn't touch him. But he wouldn't show off against you. That alone would make me certain that he guesses.
"Listen. Of late haven't you noticed that he never questions a statement you make, as he used to question, as he questions every one else. He continues to play billiards with you, because there you best him. He fences and singlesticks with you—there you are even. But he won't box or wrestle with you."
"He can out-box and out-wrestle me," Graham muttered ruefully.
"You watch and you will see what I mean by not competing. He is treating me like a spirited colt, giving me my head to make a mess of things if I want to. Not for the world would he interfere. Oh, trust me, I know him. It is his own code that he is living up to. He could teach the philosophers what applied philosophy is.
"No, no; listen," she rushed over Graham's attempt to interrupt. "I want to tell you more. There is a secret staircase that goes up from the library to Dick's work room. Only he and I use it, and his secretaries. When you arrive at the head of it, you are right in his room, surrounded by shelves of books. I have just come from there. I was going in to see him when I heard voices. Of course it was ranch business, I thought, and they would soon be gone. So I waited. It was ranch business, but it was so interesting, so, what Hancock would call, illuminating, that I remained and eavesdropped. It was illuminating of Dick, I mean.