HotFreeBooks.com
The Readjustment
by Will Irwin
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"You poor, perplexed boy!" went on Kate's purring, caressing voice, "Then you need a confidant. Zinkand's at one—and I'll look my prettiest to draw you out!"

Mrs. Waddington, when her daughter was come back into the room, renewed her plaint:

"I wish you'd save for your parents a little of the graciousness you give your friends," she said. "I wouldn't mind so much if you were getting somewhere. But here you are, nearly twenty-four years old and goodness knows if you've had a young man, I don't hear about it. How can a respectable young man want to marry a girl like you, I'd like to know? Those they play with, they don't marry."

Kate's mood had changed completely. She advanced now with the prettiest caressing gesture in the world, threw one arm across the wrinkled skin and old lace of her mother's throat. Mrs. Waddington resisted for a moment, her head turned away; then, gradually, she let her being lap itself in this quieter air. Her head settled down on Kate's shoulder.

"Perhaps," said Kate, "I may."

"Well I wish you'd hurry up about it," said Mrs. Waddington. "Girls will be girls, I suppose, and they've got to learn for themselves. There, there—you're mussing my work."

Kate dropped a kiss on her mother's forehead and vanished up the stairs.

Bert Chester, waiting before Zinkand's an hour later, picked her a block away from the nooning crowd. Before he recognized the olive-green tailor suit which he had come to know, he noticed the firm yet gracile move of her. As she came nearer, he was aware of two loungers waiting, like himself, to keep appointments. He caught this exchange from them:

"Who? The girl in a kind of brownish green?"

"Yes. Isn't she a peach?"

Just then, it seemed to him, did the purely physical charm of her burst upon him for the first time. Supple and swaying, yet plump and round; her head set square with some of a man's strength, on exquisitely sloping shoulders: and the taste—he would have called it so—of her dress! A discriminating woman might have noticed that her costume bordered on ostentatious unostentation. For it was designed in every detail to frame the picture, to set off not only that figure but also the cream of her skin, the tawny hair, even those firm, plump hands.

He found himself remembering that he had just proposed to another girl. The thought flashed in, and flashed out as quickly.

* * * * *

The Cafe Zinkand formed, at the time, a social nodule in the metropolitan parish that San Francisco was. As the Palace Hotel was its Rialto, gathering-place for prosperous adventure, so the Zinkand was its bourne. In this mahoganied and mirrored restaurant with its generous fare, its atmosphere of comfortable extravagance, those who made the city go, who gave its peculiar Saxon-Latin move and glitter, were accustomed to gather and gossip. It blazed with special splendor on the nights when this or that "Eastern attraction" showed at the Columbia Theatre. To stand on such evenings at the Powell Street terminus, to watch those tripping, gaily-dressed, laughing Californian women thronging the belt of city light from the theatre canopy to the restaurant canopy—ah, that was San Francisco! Not Paris, not Buenos Ayres—they say who have travelled far—could show such a procession of Dianaides, such a Greek festival of joy in the smooth, vigorous body and the things which feed and clothe it. With that absence of public conventionality which was another ear-mark of the old city, all sorts and conditions of men and women sat side by side at the tables. Harlots, or those who might well pass as such, beside the best morale there is in women; daughters of washerwomen beside daughters of such proud blood as we have; bookmakers' wives, blazing with the jewels which will be pawned to-morrow, beside German housewives on a Saturday night revel; jockies and touts from the race tracks beside roistering students from Stanford and Berkeley; soldiers of fortune blown in by the Pacific winds, taking their first intoxicating taste of civilization after their play with death and wealth, beside stodgy burghers grown rich in real estate; clerks beside magnates—all united in the worship of the body.

At noon, however, its workaday aspect was on; it was no more than a lunching place. Chester and Kate found seats in a retired corner.

She looked him over with cool mischief while she drew off her gloves and let one white hand, still creased in pink with the pressure of the seams, drop toward him on the table.

"I am not exactly to congratulate you," she said, "but for a man who was turned down last night you don't seem exactly unhappy."

Bertram let several expressions chase themselves over his face before he blurted out:

"What's the matter with me?"

"Not a great deal. Has she so refused you as to make you conscious of sin?"

"It wasn't a cold turn-down. I'd like it better if it was. I'd have something to go on. It's—it's like trying to bite into a billiard ball. I—you know what I mean."

"You mean that she holds herself above you—that she feels superior to you?"

Bertram arrested all motion on that word, sat with the menu card, which he had been twirling, immovable between his hands.

"Yes. If you want to jolt it to me good and hard that way. I guess that is what it does mean."

"I suppose then that the crisis—last night—came about from your little passage with the Chinese waiter? It happened while you were out on the balcony didn't it?"

Bertram stared and glowed.

"Say, you're a wonder. You reach out and get things before they come to you at all. That's just what did happen."

"And then? Or pardon me, I don't want you to tell me any more than it's right for you to tell—any more than you feel like telling."

"Oh that's all right. Well, when we got outside it was the same old song. She didn't care enough even to call me down. And like a fool I came out with it. What's the use of telling what she said or what I said? It was just the same way. She kept me dancing. She wouldn't say yes and she wouldn't say no. She seemed anxious about only one thing. She wanted to know if she'd been fair to me."

"I suppose she has—!" Kate brought this out as though he had put a question to her. "And you want to know what I think?"

"I sure do."

"I think she cares—at least a little—shall I tell you all?"

Bertram, even in the hottest of this conversation, did not forget the needs of his body. The waiter stood at his elbow. He rushed through the order, and continued:

"I want to know everything."

"Well, to begin with—Bert Chester, you're a man."

"I didn't ask for hot air."

"That's all of that. You're an unfinished man. You—haven't had the chance to get all the refinements which people like Eleanor Gray have acquired. Do you see now? You've made it—you've been making it—all for yourself. You had no fortune. It's splendid the way you worked to get all these things. I know the story of how you got through college. Everyone who knows you is proud of that. But—well Eleanor's mother was rich and proud before she married, and her grandparents were richer and prouder. Then she's lived a great deal alone; and she never really blossomed out until she went abroad. So she learned her social ways from Europeans. She's got a lot of British and Continental ideas.

"With the rest of us, you know, it doesn't make any difference. You could perceive that by the way we've taken you in. Why, it's really a part of you. You're only two years out of college, hardly that; and you're still studying law; but think how people have taken you up! It is simply that Eleanor looks at it in a different way. It's a pretty peculiarity in one of the sweetest girls I know."

Kate paused. Bert made no move to answer. She went on:

"Now about the thing you can't grasp in Eleanor. It's this way. You can't see her nature as another girl can. She's just as sweet and tender and delicate as she can be, and she has high ideals—that's one result of her living away from the world. If she were a little warmer in temperament, it might be different, but—" Kate paused here as though pondering whether to reveal or to conceal the thought of her mind.

"But of course it is the coldness of a diamond or a sapphire or something else very pure and precious."

Bertram Chester pulled himself up at this point and plucked at a place away back in the conversation.

"What are these things that I don't know? Where is it that I fall down?"

"They are some of the finer points."

"Well tell me." Kate noticed that the color had risen in his cheeks and that his eyes drooped from hers.

"They must be corrected as we go on—provided you'll let me correct them."

"That's what I am asking for—but I'd blame well like an example."

"Well, now, we'll take that waiter episode. The kind of people she'd like to know treat servants impersonally. Servants are just conveniences to them, like dumb waiters. So of course,—even if it was only a Chinaman—she didn't like your noticing him and she came out of her shell for just a moment to say so. Do you see now?"

Bertram's dark complexion reddened with the rush of his shame.

"Oh, that's the idea is it? I thought from something she said that she was afraid I'd hurt his feelings. She wants me to put more front on before 'em, does she?"

"Just about that. She doesn't like to see you put yourself on a level with them."

"All right, that was straight over the plate and I got it."

Again Kate reached over to pat his hand.

"Now don't take it seriously; I know—she herself must know—how splendid and able and promising you are—how much of a man!"

Bert spoke in some irritation.

"I always knew I wasn't a gentleman," he said, "but this is the first time it was ever shot straight at me that way."

"Bert Chester, as long as I'm a friend of yours don't you ever dare say to me that you're not a gentleman. You're one of the biggest and strongest gentlemen I ever knew. Anyone need only see you for five minutes to know you're that. But some people have certain things which they attribute to a gentleman—notions, as I've said. And Eleanor from her European experiences has some of these notions. Don't you see?"

The smile, which always broke so suddenly, came back to Bert Chester's face.

"Well, of course that's why I broke loose from the ranch and went to college in the first place. I wanted to be as good, every way, as the best there is!"

"And you are already!"

He shook his head.

"No, or this wouldn't have happened. I want to be good enough to marry any girl, no matter who. I'm going to amount to something. I'm going to be rich, too—and a darn sight quicker than most people know. I don't know that we came here to talk about that, though."

"Please go on. We came here to talk about you—anything about yourself."

"That part of it has something to do with the main issue. I'm going to pull out from Judge Tiffany as soon as I go up against the bar examinations next month. At least, I want to pull out, and I'm only wondering how the Judge will take it and how she will take it. You see, I might just as well get admitted, and then it is good-bye to law for me afterwards unless I use it in politics. Law—" Bertram rammed his finger on the table with each word that followed "law is too blame slow. Anyone could see that I couldn't be chasing about as I'm doing if I had to depend on what Judge Tiffany is paying me as a clerk. Why, I've made twice as much already whirling at business. I'll always have my admission to the bar, too. If I want to settle down on a law practice after I get rich, I can do it."

"That seems very promising to me."

"But here's the question. Is the Judge going to take it for a throw-down, and how is Eleanor going to like the program?"

Kate appeared to be considering. In fact, she was considering a great many more things than Bertram knew.

"I'm pretty sure Eleanor wouldn't care," she said at length. "Hers isn't a very practical mind. It's impossible to say about Judge Tiffany. He's crotchety. The right's on your side, for a man has a right to change his employment, hasn't he? And I'm sure you have more than returned your little salary. On the whole, I don't know but it would be better for you with Eleanor if the Judge did get angry with you. A girl with ideals like hers rather likes to have a man persecuted. And you can't let it stand in the way of your career."

"But—"

"Oh, it isn't as though it were a choice between the girl and the career. It isn't at all. The best way to win her is to build yourself up to the big, splendid man she'd like you to be. If you stay a little law clerk for five years or so, you won't have much inducement to offer her! When you consider marriage, you have to remember that a girl like Eleanor can't live on a trifle. I'd follow my own career. It isn't, you see, as though there were anyone else in the field. Other men come to the house, of course—men she's met at the Masters, old friends of the family—but I don't consider any of them as rivals. I did think for a time that Ned Greene was attracted, but he's crazy now over Katherine Herbert. So it isn't a case for immediate action."

"Do you think—have you ever heard her speak of me?"

Kate's answer came readily.

"She has spoken to me of you—the way women do, so that you see under what they say. We women are devils"—she smiled—"no, I can't tell you what she said. I'm in a peculiar position about it. You see, her talk, as it happens, is all twisted up in a confidence she made to me—something else in her life—nothing to do with you—and I can't break it. But I can do something without breaking any confidence. I can tell you what I think you ought to do."

"Well, I guess that's what I want—" with the air of one who would have liked a great deal more.

"The man who gets Eleanor Gray—and especially if Bertram Chester is the man—cannot take her by assault. If you reach out to grasp her—you who are so strong—it will only break something in that delicate nature of hers. Don't woo. Serve. Don't even see her too often. Don't renew that scene on the balcony—never make that mistake again. When you are with her, show by your attitude how you feel, and show her—well, that you're learning the things you've asked me to teach you—the things I'm going to teach you."

"It's sure a pink tea program," said Bertram. Kate laughed.

"Bert Chester, when you make your dying speech from the scaffold you're going to say something original and funny. You can't help it. Now can you?"

The smile broke again on Bertram's face.

"Well, it has its funny side," he admitted. "All right. If refinement's the game, me to it." His smile had caught Kate's laugh, and there came between them a kind of mental click. Soft gratitude sprang into his heart and quivered on his lips.

"You're a bully girl! I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have you to talk it over with. And you really do understand lots about women and those things—where did you learn it?"

The smile went out of Kate. She drooped her eyes and let her pink nails flutter on the tablecloth.

"Suffering and experience, I suppose."

"Could I—would you tell me about it?"

She looked up with an air of sweet sincerity.

"I should like very much to tell you. You could help me as much as you say I'm helping you. Some other time, we'll have that all out together. You see, when one has held a thing in her heart for a long time—well, it's a struggle at first to get it out. But sometime when I'm in the mood!"

And then he discovered that an appointment at the office was overdue. While they went through the formalities of checks and wraps, she talked foolish nothings. He parted with her hurriedly to run after a Market Street cable car.

"We're going to be the best chums in the world," he said as he shook hands.

"Indeed we are!"

She watched him as he ran after the car, swung on the platform with the easy economy of motion which belongs to the athlete. But just before he set his foot on the platform and looked back at her, she herself whirled and started down the street, so that he saw only her trim back-figure, the glint of her bronze hair, the easy grace of her walk.



CHAPTER XI

So Bertram Chester went on, the easy familiar of the Tiffany establishment, the contriver of Mrs. Tiffany's household assistances, and the devoted follower of Eleanor. He never referred in any way to the scene on the restaurant balcony; he did nothing formally to press his suit. Indeed, his occasional air of gentle diffidence puzzled and amused her. She had a queer sense, when she beheld him so, that she liked it in him less than some of his old uncouthness, and only a trifle better than such roughness of the heart as that passage with the Chinese waiter. This new attitude was loose in the back, tight across the shoulders, short in the seams—it was not made to fit Bertram Chester. When he launched out into rudimentary art criticism, stringing together the stock slang which he had picked up in the studios, when he tried to impress her with his refined acquaintance, his progress toward "society" of the conventional kind, her amusement took another turn in the circle of emotion, and became annoyance.

In general company, he reverted to type. At their home dinners, when wine and good fare had lit the fires of his animal spirits, he still told his rambling, half-boastful stories of the cow country and of College times, or laid before these home-stayers the gossip of the town. That manner of his, always more compelling than either his substance or his words, carried the plainest story; and he had at least the art of brevity. One laughed when he laughed, catching from his spirit the humorous idea, even when its expression failed on the tongue. Voice and gesture and an inner appreciation which he could flash instantly to his tongue contributed to these dazzling effects. His new-made friends of the artistic set used to tell him, "If you could only write down your stories—what humor, what action!" Mark Heath, with the information of a room mate, the judging eye of a half-disillusionized friend and the cynicism of a young journalist, was first to perceive that a stenographer concealed to transcribe his talk would get only barren words.

In his fading and declining years, Judge Tiffany leaned more and more upon Eleanor, his business partner. Now it had come spring. The trees were in bud along the Santa Clara. They must begin preparing for the season. The family did not move to the ranch until apricot picking was afoot; but from now on either Judge Tiffany or Eleanor would run down every week to watch the trees and to oversee the Olsen preparations for harvest time. Purchase of supplies and the business of selling last year's stock, held over for a rise in German prices, kept Eleanor busy.

She dragged the Judge out of his library one March afternoon, that he might inspect with her a new set of sprayers which she was considering. The Judge went to his office all too seldom nowadays; Eleanor and Mrs. Tiffany used continually all kinds of diplomacies to keep him at his business, from which he stubbornly refused to retire. When they had driven their bargain, Eleanor guided and wheedled him to the office. The methodical Attwood, having his man there, thumped a pile of papers down before the Judge, representing that this demurrer must be in on Tuesday, that case tried or continued next week. The Judge sighed as he pulled the papers toward him.

"They've nailed me, Nell," he said. "Here, I'll appoint a substitute. Send for Mr. Chester, Attwood—dining anywhere, Chester? Then take pot luck with us and pay me by escorting my business conscience home. I'll overwork myself if someone doesn't carry her away!"

* * * * *

The afternoon fog, forerunner of another rain, floated in lances above Montgomery Street. The interior valleys had felt their first touch of baking summer, had issued their first call on their cooling plant—the Golden Gate, funnel for mist and rain-winds. The moisture fell in sleety drops; yet only the stranger and pilgrim took protection of raincoat or umbrella. The native knew well enough that it would go no further. On these afternoons, neither cold nor hot, wet nor wholly dry, the blood is champagne and the heart a dancing-floor.

At the moment when Eleanor stepped out into the home-going crowd, she, an instrument tuned to catch delicate vibrations from earth and sea and air, felt all this exhilaration. Life was right; the future was right; the display of a young female creature before the male—that most of all was right. And Bertram Chester, talking for the moment like his old, natural self, was a main eddy in the currents of joy-in-youth.

"You are bonny to-day!" she said quite naturally as she looked him over.

He blushed happily. And the blush helped restore him in her eyes as the natural Bertram Chester.

"And you're the bonniest of the bonny. I never saw you look so full of ginger except—" he hesitated there, and her words rushed in to meet the emergency.

"Thank you! Though I wasn't fishing, I am grateful just the same."

"Then you do find something now and then that you can stand for in me?"

"I find a great deal—when you are Bert Chester." He seemed to puzzle over this, to ponder it; so that she added:

"Let's not talk conundrums in this air and this crowd! We're not blue-nosed, self-searching New Englanders. Let's keep away from Market Street and walk through the Quarter. They haven't yet taken the Easter things from the shop windows, and there's a darling atrocious group of statuary next door to The Fior d'Italia which you must see!" And then, as they turned the corner—

"What's the crowd? I'm for disremembering that I'm refined. I want to be curious!"

"Looks like a scrap—do you—"

"Nonsense! Come on. I divide women into those who would like to see a prize fight and admit it, and those who would like to see a prize fight and deny it!"

"Gee whiz!" said Bertram. They had reached the edge of the crowd, which circled about some knot of violent struggle and gesture. "Excuse me!" He had sprung from her side and was breaking his way through. By instinct, she followed into the hole back of him, so that she found herself in the second row of spectators to a curious struggle, the details of which flashed in upon her all at once.

Two laborers, gross, tanned, dirty, were fighting. They had swung side-on as the hole opened, and her glance focused itself upon the smaller of the two. He was an old man, quite gray; and down his scalp ran a stream of bright blood which trickled upon his ear. The thing which puzzled her was the action of the older man. He seemed to be hanging to the arms of his younger and sturdier opponent; also he was talking rapidly, excitedly; and she caught only one phrase.

"Hit me with a nail, will you?"

And just then the younger man got his arm free, and dove for the pavement—dove at precisely the same instant with Bertram Chester. Apparently, the younger fighter arrived first; he backed off from the scuffle brandishing a piece of packing box. Then she saw what the old man meant. Pointing the weapon was a nail, stained red.

As this rough fury poised himself for the stroke, she took in the whole picture—a young, tall, brute man, one eye puffing from a new blow, the other blood-shot, the mouth open and dripping, the right arm raised for the murderer's blow.

Bertram Chester came between as though he had risen out of the earth. His left hand, with a trained aptitude which made the motion seem the easiest thing in the world, caught the upraised wrist. The laborer ripped out an unconsidered oath and struck with his free fist at Bertram's face. Bertram evaded the blow, slipped in close. And then—in a lightning flash of speed, Bertram's right hand, which had been resting loosely by his side, shot upward. His whole body seemed to spring up behind it. The blow struck under the point of the chin. The head of the young bruiser dropped, then his shoulders, then his arms; his body sagged down upon Bertram. The champion of age shook him off; he dropped to the sidewalk. All this in a flash, in a wink.

The crowd, curiously inert, as all city crowds are until the leader appears, now followed this leader. A clamor of many tongues arose—"Get a cop!" "He's killed him!" "Do him up!" A short rush of half a dozen boys toward the fallen bully met the resistance of Bertram, who had turned as though anticipating such a movement. He shoved them back and raised his hand. His eyes were bright, his face flushed, and that smile which won and commanded men had broken out on his lips.

"Say," he said, "you all saw me do this man fair and square. He isn't dead. He's only put out. He'll be all right in five minutes. You know it was coming to him. Now, I've got a lady with me, and I don't want her dragged into the police station. The cops will be here in a minute. I'd like to show this thing up in court, but we don't want to trouble the lady, do we? If I beat it, how many of you will witness to the cops just what happened?"

"I!" and "I!" and "I!" from the crowd and "Me! God bless ye!" from the elder warrior, who stood wiping the blood from his ear. Bertram gave them no chance for reconsideration. "All right!" he said, "here I go!" He pushed his way out as he pushed it in, swept Eleanor along with him. The spectators lifted a cheer; but only a mob of small boys followed.

"Beat it, kids, or the bulls will pipe me!" called Bertram over his shoulder. At this magic formula, the boys fell out. A half a block away, Eleanor dared look back. A policeman had just arrived; he was clubbing his way stupidly through the crowd. Bertram looked back too.

"All right," he announced, "now don't appear to hurry." At Kearney Street, he swung her aboard an electric car.

"Victory!" she cried as the conductor rang his two bells and the car gathered headway. "It was perfect!"

He stared down at her.

"Well, I just had to put it through once I got started, but say—I thought you'd sure be sore on me." His voice took on an apologetic tone. "It seems to me when I see a scrap, I constitutionally can't keep out of it."

"No more should you—such fights as that."

"Then you make distinctions?" he asked.

"If you mean that I distinguish between fighting just for the lust of it and fighting to protect the helpless, I may say that I do. You did well."

"Thank you!" he said, half-earnestly. "I'd have thought you wouldn't like to see me muss things up, that way." He was letting his voice slip away from him, both in volume and in manner, and the car was crowded. A panic necessity for concealment took possession of her.

"Surely we've evaded the police—let's get out and have our walk through the Quarter."

"I'm with you." Kearney Street, that thoroughfare which gathered into its two miles every element in American life, here struck its hill rise. Sheer above them hung Telegraph Hill, attained by latticed sidewalks, half stairs. The Latin quarter thronged and played all about them in the dusk and the fresh lamplight. And again, mood and spirits rose in her. The event whose swift, kaleidoscopic action still danced on her retina, the very stimulus of brutal youth in action, had conspired with the perfect night to raise her above herself.

"Oh, talk to me about it!" she said. "How did you do it—what do you call it—I want to hear you tell about it."

"I guess you saw it all—just a plain uppercut. Those blame city crowds would see a man killed before they'd think of anything but the show. I've always said that, and now I know it. I caught sight of the old man side-on and I saw he was hurt by something more than a punch. Far be it from me to spoil a good scrap, but that wasn't a fair shake. So I dropped you and started in. And then I saw that nail. I made a slip there," he let his voice fall in self-depreciation—"I should have kicked that chunk of board away, instead of diving for it. He beat me to it. The rest was so easy it was a shame to take the money. Up comes his head and up comes my guard"—he stopped in the street to illustrate—"and he couldn't use his club any more than a kitten. I'd have let him go, if he hadn't hit at me—and clipped me. For a second, I could have bit nails in two. When I pulled myself in close, there was his chin just above me—a be-auty target. And an uppercut was his medicine." Bertram jerked his right hand up from his hip to illustrate the uppercut. Then he screwed up his face and felt of his right shoulder. "He marked me some," he said in explanation.

"Did he hurt you?" she asked with real concern. It ran into her mind that the conventional hero of romance makes his wound a scratch before his lady. If she expected that from Bertram Chester, he disillusionized her.

"Well, you don't take a punch like that, even glancing on your shoulder, without something getting loose," he replied. "I shouldn't be surprised if I'd slipped a cog or a tendon or something."

"Why—let's go home and see about it."

"Oh, it isn't bad enough for that!" Then he fell into reminiscences. In their toilsome passage up the hen-coop sidewalks of Broadway, he gesticulated—with constrained motions of his right arm—loosed the sparkle of his energetic, magnetic talk upon her. She drew close to him. Gradually, as the steps became steep, her hand slipped under his arm. She was only half-conscious of this motion; her consciousness was full of a softening toward him, a leaning upon that strength which she had seen in action. On his side, he did not fail to notice it—this first movement in her which had seemed like an advance. He stopped his buzz of talk at one moment and all the lines of his face relaxed as though he were about to say something softer and deeper. But he only caught his breath and changed to another story. He had remembered—and just in time, he thought—the advice of Kate Waddington.

But in spite of that remembrance, he permitted himself the luxury of being natural; and he talked continually until they were within the Tiffany doors.

Mrs. Tiffany must hear all about it from both of them. When they came to the hero's injury, she dismissed Eleanor, made him strip his massy shoulder, and got out her pet liniment. The Judge, coming home in the midst of these surgical cares, heard the story retold with heroic additions by his wife. Dinner that night was a merry, a happy, an intimate party.

When Bertram left, Mrs. Tiffany did not follow him to the door, as was her old-fashioned custom. He waited a moment, as though expecting something. His eyes were on Eleanor. She did not move. She only bade him a simple and easy good night over her shoulder.

The old couple sat for a long time before the fire. Eleanor was gone—not to bed, could they but have known it, but to sit by her window and breathe bay-fragrance and drink the foggy night air off the Gate.

The Judge smiled down on that faded daintiness at his feet.

"Are we now to consider him in the light of a nephew-in-law?" he asked.

"It has bothered me a good deal," said Mattie Tiffany. "What do you think I ought to do?"

"If that frightful social responsibility of yours drives you to anything," responded the Judge, "I should say you'd best leave it alone."

"But Edward, dear, I'm just like a mother to her—and goodness knows I haven't always been the best of mothers. There was her father—you know how long I shirked that—"

"The sin of omission that you will carry to your grave—"

"And somehow this is so like Billy Gray! It was just this way in her mother's case. When Billy came around—you remember how bonny a boy he was then, Edward—I, her own sister, could never tell how she felt toward him. I've always told you that Eleanor has slipped a generation. She's her grandmother, not her mother, in mind. But she's just like her mother in one thing. You can't ever tell what she's thinking about, and the deeper her thoughts go the harder it is to tell! That's why I'm considering all this so carefully—she doesn't commit herself in one way or the other. It's a sign."

"Knowing you, Mattie, I presume that you've conducted researches into his desirability as a nephew-in-law?"

"Well, shouldn't I? Goodness knows, we don't lead a conventional life in this family, and I don't chaperone her. I reproach myself a little with that. When Mrs. Goodyear wanted to take her up and put her into the Fortnightly, it wasn't so much Eleanor's disinclination as my own laziness about getting up gowns and paddling about paying calls which kept me back—and that's God's truth."

"And these penitential exercises in detective work—what have they brought forth?"

"He's a little careless morally, I think. He's had too much conviviality about the Club. I'm afraid he's blossoming over young. They can say all they want about wild oats, but in this city it's a mistake to sow them all at once. That's one reason why I've been so good to him. I flatter myself that a house like this is a moral influence on him."

"It's all a concern for his soul with you, then?"

"No. Frankly, I like him. Everyone likes him. He's a dear. But as to Eleanor—"

The Judge had risen and taken off his skull cap.

"Well, she has run a ranch and she's travelled alone to Europe and back, and she's saved the soul if not the body of a father. And I wonder whether a girl who's all that to her credit can't be trusted to deal with the problem of an undesirable though attractive young man—"

"If I were only sure he was undesirable!"

"It is according," responded the Judge, "to your definition of undesirability. If you mean worldly circumstances, you needn't fear for Bertram Chester. He resigns from my firm this month."

"What for?"

"Attwood brought me news of it. I don't know where he's going. I'm not supposed to know anything. But for to get rich, for one thing." He closed his book and restored it to its place on the shelves. "He took the left-hand road, you see. It was manifest destiny; and you and I and Eleanor cannot move one whit the career of that young man."



CHAPTER XII

When Kate called him up over the telephone, inviting him, second-hand, to join a Masters party at Sanguinetti's restaurant, Bertram interrupted his banter to ask if Eleanor were going.

"I'm sure I don't know what her plans are," said Kate. "Why don't you ask her?" The tone was a little cold.

Remembering his duty, Bertram did ask Eleanor over the telephone.

"I'm sorry," answered Eleanor, "but I had to decline."

"Oh, duck your engagement if you have any!" he said, pleading like a boy. "It'll do you good to jolly up!" But she was firm. He matched the cool tone of Kate with the equally cool tone of Eleanor, and wondered, as he hung up the telephone, whether anything had gone wrong between those girls. He remembered now that he had not seen Kate at the Tiffany's since the expedition into Chinatown. Had he but known it, he was perceiving late a thing of which others were making gossip already.

While Bertram freshened up his toilet in his room and thought hard on this, Kate Waddington, at home in the Mission, was making certain special preparations of her own. Mrs. Waddington could measure the importance of her daughter's engagements by the care she took with her toilet. Fresh lace indicated the first degree of importance, her latest pair of shoes the second degree, and perfectly fresh white gloves raised the engagement to the highest degree of all. To-night, all these omens served.

Further, Mrs. Waddington saw that Kate was rummaging through the unanswered letters in her writing desk, saw that she was comparing two of them. Kate picked up the larger one. She was wearing furs, since the April night was chilly. This letter she tucked carefully into her muff.

"Why in the name of common sense are you taking that letter along to a dinner party?"

"Oh, something I want to show someone," answered Kate after a momentary pause. Mrs. Waddington knew from old times the hidden meaning of that pause. Just so, when at the age of seven they had caught her in the sugar-bowl, Kate had paused before starting her ready explanation. She had never overcome it; and her mother was the last person likely to acquaint her with that flaw of method.

"It's from Alice Johnstone, I judge by the handwriting," continued Mrs. Waddington.

"Oh, I guess so," responded Kate. She made rapidly for the door. "Good night, mother. I'll be home to-night, but rather late."

"Thank you for small favors—" but Kate was gone.

Sanguinetti's held a place in the old city no less definite than that of Zinkand's or the Poodle Dog. In the beginning a plain Italian restaurant, frequented by the Italian fishermen whose sashes made so bright the water front and whose lateen sails, shaped by the swelling wind like a horse's ear, gave delight to the bay, it had existed since the Neapolitans came to drag the Pacific with their nets. Painters and art students from the attics of the Quarter "discovered" it. When they made a kind of Bohemia about it, "the gang" of tawdry imitators and posing professional Bohemians followed as a matter of course. That invasion put it on the fair way toward failure. But Sanguinetti's saved itself by dropping one degree lower. "South of Market" discovered it. That district is somewhat to San Francisco as the East Side to New York, though with an indescribable difference. Then came the milliner's apprentice who slaved all the week that she might brighten the "line" on Saturday afternoon, with the small clerk, her companion or the butcher-boy her beau. There came also the little people of the race track, as jockies out of a job, touts, bookmakers' apprentices—tawdry people mainly, but ever good-humored and ready to loosen restraint of custom after the second quart of Steve Sanguinetti's red wine. So this place came to have an air of loose, easy, half-drunken camaraderie, which seldom fell into roughness. It was the home of noise and song and easy flirtations which died at the door. When this transformation was fully accomplished, the painters and art students and seekers after "life" came back again. This time, they did not spoil its flavor. The fishermen had been shy folk who fled from the alien invasion; no shyness about South-of-Market people on a holiday!

This Sanguinetti dinner party of Sydney Masters's differed but slightly, after all, from other slumming parties in the hostelry of touch-and-go familiarities. Amused outsiders, they watched the growth of swift flirtations, passed comments on the overdressed women, joined in the latest Orpheum songs which started when the cheap wine made music in the throat, chucked quarters into the banjoes of the two negro minstrels who came in at eight o'clock to stimulate merriment. Bertram, in his position as jester to King Masters, went a little further than the others. It was he who bought out the stock of a small Italian flower-vendor, that he might present a bouquet "to every lady in the place." His attention brought from the ladies varying degrees of gratitude, and from their escorts degrees of resentment which varied still more. Running out of flowers before he had gone clear around the room, he built up on toothpicks bouquets of celery and radishes, which he fastened to the corks of empty claret bottles and gave, with elaborate presentation speeches, to the merrier and prettier of the neglected ladies.

From this expedition, he returned leading a little, sad man, who had the look of a boy grown old by troubles. A bleached-blonde woman followed them half-way across, but centre room she turned back with a stamp of her foot and a flourish of her shoulders.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Bertram announced, "I desire the privilege of introducing Teddy Murphy, California's premier jockey, lately set down on an outrageously false charge of pulling a horse. He is here, ladies and gentlemen, to tell you his troubles!"

A moment of silent embarrassment on both sides.

"Here—take my chair, Mr. Murphy!" spoke Kate from the foot of the table. The next table, set a deux, had just become vacant. Kate slipped into its nearest chair. Bertram's seat was back by the wall; to reach it, he must step over feet and so interrupt Mr. Murphy's tale of wrong. Nothing was more natural than that he should take the seat opposite Kate. And instantly—he having heard the story already—Bertram lost interest.

"Would you mind getting my muff?" asked Kate. "I think my handkerchief is in it."

As Bertram handed over the muff, she was smiling up at him. She did not look down until she had taken out her handkerchief, flirted out its folds. Then a little, disconcerted "oh!" escaped her.

"What is it?"

Kate was shaking out her skirt, was glancing rapidly to right and left. "Goodness!" she cried.

"What's the matter?"

"A letter. Have you seen it?"

Bertram looked under the table. There it lay, by his chair. He picked it up and passed it over.

"Oh!" she cried again, this time in a tone balanced between relief and embarrassment. She tucked it back into her muff, and her eyes avoided his. He noted all this pantomime, and he was about to speak, when Mrs. Masters touched Kate on the shoulder. "My dear, you're missing this!" she whispered.

Kate put all her attention upon Mr. Murphy and his burning story about the pulling of Candlestick. Mr. Murphy grew a little too broad; Mrs. Masters, as the easiest way rid of him, rose and asked for her wraps. As Bertram assisted Kate, he saw her reach an anxious hand into her muff.

Outside, she contrived a loose shoe lace, so that she and Bertram fell behind. She did not approach the subject of the letter; that came up later and, of course, quite incidentally.

"Anything to confide in me to-night?" she began.

"Oh, nothing much. Gee, you can't tell about her, can you? Say, are you sure about your system? She was with me last Tuesday when I punched the jaw off a man, and she hasn't treated me so well since I knew her as she did after that. I was blame near opening on her again. Blame near. What's the answer?"

"A passing mood, perhaps."

"Well, I'd like to get her in that mood often."

"And you'll find that she's furthest from you in those moods—it's in them that she's least herself."

"This general girl proposition is a tough one," commented Bertram. "All right. You know the dope."

"You poor, perplexed boy!"

"Say, isn't it time you began confiding?"

"Oh, you caught it—the letter I mean—There are few things those eyes of yours don't see!"

"Man?" he continued, ignoring the compliment.

"Yes. It's a dreadful perplexity."

"Tell your old uncle!"

"Perhaps."

"You're in love?"

"I—I was. You see—ah, it's gone past the place where it should have ended!"

"Then why don't you break it off?"

"That's all very well to say, but he's a good man, and he says he's crazy about me. Do I seem happy to you?"

"Middling."

"I am—sometimes. Then something like to-day comes, and it puts me clear down in the heart. I have to keep up laughing and being gay when I'm all torn to pieces. I feel that I oughtn't to keep him in suspense this way. He's young, he's fairly rich—if that counted. When he's here, I often think I do—love him. When he writes, I know I don't."

"Poor little girl!" said Bert, catching sympathetically at the half-sob in her voice.

"Thank you," answered Kate on an indrawn breath. And then, "What would you do? I'm only a girl after all, am I not? Here I'm leaning on you, asking for advice."

Bertram did not answer for a time. Then:

"Sure you don't love him?"

"Not—not entirely. I might if he made me."

Bertram was looking straight down on her. His mouth was pursed up.

"Suppose he made you—and after you'd married him you got to feeling again as you do now. That wouldn't be square to him, would it?"

"I—perhaps not. But oh, it would hurt him so!"

"I guess he could live through it. They usually do, and don't lose many meals at that. I think he's running a bluff, myself."

Kate drew slightly away from him.

"That's a poor compliment."

Bertram studied her meaning.

"What?"

"To say that a man couldn't get crazy over me."

"Oh! Not on your life. Sure thing no. I don't know a girl anywhere that a man has more license to get crazy over. You're a beauty and you're just about the best fellow I know."

"I suppose you had to say that!"

"I figure that I wanted to. If I haven't said it before, it's because—" he stopped; Kate, as though it were an actual presence, could see the figure of Eleanor rising between them.

"Yes, I know—" she said quickly. "You do think I'm attractive then—cross your heart."

"Cross my heart, you're a beaut."

"But that doesn't get me any further with my troubles."

"What are his bad points that make you hold off?"

"Nothing more than a feeling, I suppose. No, it's more than that—something definite. It's—I find this thing hard to say. Not exactly weakness in him—more a lack of proved strength. He inherited his money; he's had the regular Eastern education. He's at work, managing his properties. But I'd feel so much more secure of his strength if he had made it for himself. That is the thing I could admire most in a man; more even than kindness. To have him succeed from nothing because his strength was in it. I don't care how unfinished he might be—that would show he was a man!"

Bertram was still pausing on this, when Kate touched his arm.

"I'm afraid," she said, "that we must join the others. They'll be talking about us if we don't, and we mustn't have that—for Eleanor's sake if for no other!" They hurried ahead, therefore, and walked beside Mr. and Mrs. Masters all the way in.

At the studio door, Kate declined a half-accepted invitation to remain for the night.

"Mother isn't wholly well," she said, "and I can be fearfully domestic in emergency! It's only a step to the Valencia Street cars, and Mr. Bertram will get me home."

It was still too early for the theatre crowd; they found themselves alone on the outer seat of a "dummy" car, one of those rapid transit conveyances by which San Francisco of old let the passenger decide whether that amorphic climate was summer or winter.

He had, it seemed, to shake her back into the story of her love-affair. Three times he approached the subject, and each time she fended it off. They had passed clear into the Mission, were more than three-quarters of the way home, before he launched one of his frontal assaults.

"You might give me some more work at my job of confidant," he said.

She began again, then; a story without detail; more a sentimental exposure of her feelings. The thing was growing like a canker; she fought it, but the decision, the feeling of his unhappiness should she give him final rejection, roosted on her pillow. It had never come to an engagement; it had been only an understanding; but she thought of dreadful things, even of his possible suicide, whenever she contemplated giving him the final blow.

The old-fashioned Waddington house stood on a big Spanish lot far out in the Mission. There was ground to spare; enough so that its original owners had room to plant trees without shading light from the windows. As they walked into the deep shadows, her voice took on an intonation like a suppressed sob.

"It is a comfort now to have said it, and it's a new life to have you for support. Oh, Bertram, what a big, strong friend you are! Be good to me, won't you?"

She had stopped; in the shadows the clouded moon of her face looked up into his.

"Oh, won't you be good to me?"

He slipped his arm about her; and suddenly he kissed her.

She suffered his kiss for only a moment; then she moved away. He let her go, and she rushed ahead to the door. When he reached the step, she had faced about.

"Consider my feelings, Bert Chester," she said; and the screen door slammed.



CHAPTER XIII

Just where the Santa Eliza trail commanded sight of the main travelled road, Eleanor sat on a rock watching the hill-shadows lengthen on the valley below, watching a mauve haze deepen on the dark-green tops of redwood trees. The time was approaching when she must hurry back to Mrs. Goodyear's bungalow for a dinner which she dreaded. Three weeks of perplexity had bred in her a shrinking from people. She had found excuse to wander away alone.

That lazy spring of the North woods, so like to early fall in other climates, had given her at first the healing of spirit which she needed. She wandered hither and yon as her fancy led her, following this trail, pushing into that opening in the chapparal. She had come out upon the Santa Eliza trail and gained sight of the road before she realized with a kind of inner shame the way in which her feet of flesh had been tending, the direction in which she had been turning her eyes of the spirit.

Three miles away on the summit of the next ridge was the Masters ranch, and there rested the centre of her soul-storm. Bertram Chester, she knew by chance, was spending the week-end with the Masters.

She stopped by the rock, then; and immediately nature went out of her heart and the world entered. For three intolerable weeks, this heaviness had been descending upon her as by a whimsy of its own. Like the water of those cupped wheels in her little irrigation plant at the ranch, this black liquid, when it had filled its vessel to the brim, would empty automatically without touch on the spring of her will. When this came, she would feel rested, healed, in a state of dull peace. Now the struggle of thought was on her again. As always before, it began with an arraignment of the facts in the case, a search of memory for any forgotten data which might lead to a conclusion.

The first crisis arrived on the evening when Judge Tiffany came home in a plain mood of disgust, and announced baldly:

"Well, Mattie; our young friend did everything I expected of him."

He went on quite simply with the news. Bertram Chester had left him almost without notice. But that was to be expected. The rest was the worst. Bertram had gone to Senator Northrup—as manager of his real estate interests. The name Northrup was as the name of the devil in that household. Northrup's operations included not only law and politics but latterly speculative and unprincipled ventures in business. A dying flash of his old fire woke in Judge Tiffany when he spoke as he felt about this young cub who had bitten his caressing hand.

Eleanor left the dinner table as soon as she had a fair excuse. She found herself unable to bear it. Had she remained, she must have defended him. But alone in her living room she look counsel of this treason and agreed in her heart with her uncle. The very manner in which he had done it—never a hint, never a preliminary mention of Northrup—appealed to her as the deepest treason of all.

The next evening, Bertram Chester had the superb impudence to call. Eleanor was alone in the house that night. She hesitated when the maid brought in his name, then shook herself together and went out to face him.

He met her with an imitation of his old manner, an assumption that his change in employment would make no difference in his social relations with the Tiffanys. What words had she used to let him know her feelings? She could not remember now. But it had come hard; for the unmoral half of her perceptions was noting how big and beautiful he looked, how his blush, as of a stripling facing reproof, became him.

He pleaded, he stormed, he presumed, he passed in and out of sulky moods, he began to defend himself against the silent attack of her look. Why hadn't he a right to do it? A man should look out for himself. But he'd have stayed and rotted with the old law office if he'd felt that she would take it that way.

"You mean more to me than success!" he said.

"No more of that, please!" she cried. After that cry, she fell into dignified silence as the only defence against the double attack from him and from the half of her that yearned for him. From her silence he himself grew silent until, with a boyish shake of his shoulders—lovable but comically inadequate—he bade her good night.

"You'll cool off!" he said at the door.

"Good bye," she responded simply.

"No, it's good night," he answered.

She woke next morning with a sense of vacancy in heart and mind. Something was gone. She did nothing for a week but justify herself for calling that something back, or nerve herself to let it go.

On the one hand, her mind told her that he had done the ungrateful, the treasonable thing. It did not matter that he might have done it through mere lack of finer perception. That was part of his intolerability. On the other hand, her heart ran like a shuttle through a web of his smiles, his illuminations, the shiver, as from a weapon suddenly drawn, of his unexpected presence, even his look when he stood at the door to receive her final good bye. The woof of that web was the sense of vacancy in her—the unconquerable feeling that a thing by which she had lived was utterly lost.

And where would he go if she let him go? Ah, the inn was ready, the room was swept. He would go inevitably to Kate Waddington. That would be hard to bear. Sense of justice was strong in Eleanor; she realized the ungenerosity of this emotion while she continued to harbor it. But was there not justice in it after all? Kate Waddington could grasp, could guide, only the worst part of him. Kate Waddington had in her no guidance for the better Bertram Chester, who must be in him somewhere. She hugged this justification to herself. Perhaps it was not right to let him go; perhaps her heart and her duty were as one.

A cock quail came out from the chapparal, saw her, and bobbed back; the feet of his flock rustled the twigs. Now he was raising his spring call—"muchacho!" "muchacho!" Clearer and slighter came the call of his mate—"muchacho!" "muchacho!" A ground squirrel shook the laurel-bush at her side, so that its buds brushed her shoulder. The cock quail came back into the pathway, slanted his wise head, plumed in splendor, to find whether she were friend or enemy, saw that she made no move, and fell to foraging among the leaves. She had sat so long and so quietly that the little people of the ground were accepting her as part of the landscape. She began dimly to perceive these things, to take joy in them. And then they colored her mood.

What was she but a young, female thing, a vessel of life universal? What was her attraction toward Bertram Chester but a part of the great, holy force which made and moved hills, trees, the little people of hills and trees? What was she, to have resisted the impulse in her because of a few imperfections, a little lack of development in civilized morals?

Her perception of nature died away, but the slant which it had given her thoughts persisted.

When she felt and spoke as she had done that night in the Man Far Low, she was unwholesome, super-refined, super-civilized—she was proceeding by the hothouse morals which she had learned in books and in European studios. When she felt as she did on that first night under the bay tree, she was wholesome and eternally right.

How much greater in her, after all, if she had followed the call, had taken him for the man in him, to develop, to guide as a woman may guide! Ah, by what token could she call him back?

Her gaze of meditation had been fixed on the road below. She had been half-consciously aware for some time of a figure which lost itself behind one of the hill-turns, reappeared again, became wholly visible in a band of late afternoon sunshine.

It was Bertram Chester. The vision came without any shock of first surprise. He had been so much part of her thoughts that it seemed the most natural presence in the world. He was swinging along the road in her direction, heaving his massive shoulders with every stride; he stopped, took off his cap, wiped his forehead with a motion which, seen even at that distance, conveyed all his masculinity, and strode on again.

Would he keep on along the road, or would he turn toward her up the Santa Eliza trail? And if he did keep on, would those roving eyes of his perceive her sitting there? Why not leave everything to that chance? If he looked up and saw her there on her rock, if he turned into the trail and passed her—that was a sign. She found herself, nevertheless, humanly striving to cheat fortune and the gods by fixing all her mind and eyes upon him, as though she would hypnotize him into looking up.

But her mind and eyes had no power over him. He kept on with his even gait until he was lost behind the clump of trees which marked the branching of the trail. One chance was gone; she might not know the issue of the other until time and waiting informed her. How long before she should know? She crouched low on the rock and tried not to think.

The twigs and pebbles crunched under heavy feet; the branches shook and rustled; a blue sweater became visible in the shadows. She looked away.

"Well, I'll be—eternally blowed!" His voice came out like an explosion. Much as she expected it, she started. When, after a moment, she dared look up, he stood over her.

"Are you going to run away?" he asked. His voice, with its ripple like laughter, showed that he expected nothing of the kind.

"No," she answered, superfluously.

He seemed, then, to feel the necessity for explanation.

"I hadn't an idea—"

"Neither had I." She broke in to anticipate his thought. Each was lying a little; and both knew it. She rushed to commonplaces.

"Uncle Edward and I are at Mrs. Goodyear's bungalow over Sunday. It's our last expedition out of town before we go down to the ranch."

"Well, I must have had a hunch! I'm at the Masters ranch over Sunday. I got a freak idea to take a walk alone. It sure was a hunch!" Soft sentiment tinged his voice. She answered nothing.

"A hunch that you were alone here, nobody to interrupt—say, are you still sore on me?"

"I—I didn't run away—"

"Oh, I knew you'd get over it. I think even the Judge will get over it. I don't believe he'd care anyhow, if it wasn't for his old grouch on Senator Northrup."

"Perhaps. He's said nothing—to me—"

"But it's you I care about. Only you. I told you that and I mean it. I don't want you to be sore—I'd go back and bury myself in the old office for life if I thought it would make it different with you."

"Would you, Bertram?"

He leaned close to her; she could feel his compelling eyes burning into her averted face. With one part of her, she was conscious that here was a crisis too great for her fully to feel; with the other part, she was aware that an ant, dragging a ridiculously heavy straw, was toiling up her rock.

Now he had her hand, which lay inert in his; now his arm was about her shoulder; and now he was speaking again:

"Can't you? Can't you stop looking down on me and believe I'm going to be good enough for you?"

She found power of speech.

"I never—I don't think that I'm too good for you!" Her Rubicon was crossed. It was a strangely long time before he kissed her, but the silent interval after the kiss was stranger and longer still.

"Tell me what you plan for our future, Bertram, for I am afraid!" she whispered at length.

"It's got to be a wait—that's the risk you take with a comer. I'll go on twice as fast for you. What do you want—shall we tell about it, girlikins?"

"As you wish, Bertram."

"I guess we'd better not, then—not until the old Judge gets his back down. Let's have it just between me and my little girl.

"Say!" he added, the sentiment blowing out of his tone, "what was the matter, anyhow, that night on the restaurant balcony? Why did you turn me down then, and what made you so sore? I've never quite got to your thoughts, you know. But I'm going to!" He drew her closer. "Every one of them!"

She dropped her face on his shoulder.

"Ah, we've so many things to talk about, Bertram, and there's so much time! I've been a girl that didn't know her mind. Shan't we let that rest now? Shan't we be contented with what to-day has brought you and me?"

A film clouded his face.

"Yes—if you want it that way."

"Hoo-ooo-ooo!" Clear and high, but quavering, a masculine voice was calling across the ridge. Eleanor sprang up.

"That's Uncle Edward—it's dinner-time—do you want him to find you—you'd better go!"

He stood as though considering.

"All right. When are you going back?"

"We catch the seven train to-morrow afternoon at Santa Eliza."

"Darn! I'd engaged to take on the five-ten at Las Olivas. I've half a notion to change and join you and see what the old man says—"

"No, Bertram, it's better not. We'll find a way. Go now!"

"You bet we will—good bye, girlikins!" He made no move to kiss her again; he turned and crashed down the trail.

Eleanor sped up the trail. Safe on the summit of the ridge, her secret hidden behind her, she answered the call. Then she dared look back at the figure vanishing in deep shadow below. Her expression and attitude, soft-eyed and drooping though they were, showed other emotions than unmixed happiness.



CHAPTER XIV

Judge Tiffany turned from a consideration of the hillside to a closer consideration of Eleanor, who rode beside him in the Goodyear trap. She sat very straight, her hands folded in her lap, her grave, grey eyes staring not at hillsides nor spring skies, but into the far horizons.

Since he recovered from that purely human rage against this youth who had betrayed him to his dearest enemy, the Judge had been watching, with all his old interest, the surface indications of Eleanor's moods. Last night, it had been a kind of gaiety; to-day the mood was quiet, but not at all despondent; there was life in it. Judge Tiffany held his own views on the relations between his niece and Bertram Chester, and on the right or convenience of interfering. Twice he had been on the point of telling her that his feeling toward Bertram Chester should not color hers; that his house was still open to the young man. But the curiosity of philosophical age to see how things will turn out had prevented him.

It was just as well. They were on the eve of their summer flight to the ranch, where she would have other things to think about than young men. That was his half-expressed theme when he spoke:

"Well, girl, will you be glad to get back to work again? You missed last summer."

Eleanor started as out of sleep.

"I think I am glad of everything!" she said cryptically. As though to turn the subject, she indicated a buckboard which was coming down an intersecting by-road at crazy speed.

"Why are they driving so fast?"

The Goodyear driver turned with the familiarity of a country henchman.

"That's the doctor's rig from Las Olivas," he said, "and he's sure going some!" Followed a monologue on the doctor and his habits.

About the next bend of the road, a little boy rushed from a wayside camp which looked strangely deserted for supper-time of Sunday afternoon. He waved both arms before his face.

"Hey, mister, take me to the wreck!"

"What wreck, kid?"

"The five-ten is over the trestle, and they went off and left me!"

Judge Tiffany took the information calmly, even selfishly. "I wonder if we'd better turn back and give it up to-night, or go on?"

Eleanor spoke with a catch of the breath, a drawn-in tone.

"Go on! Oh, tell him to go on!"

The Judge peered at her. She was pale, but, as always in her crises, the curtain of inscrutability made her face a mask. "Oh, do go on!" she repeated. Then, as though it all needed explanation, she added:

"We might be able to help!"

"Drive on, then—fast!"

Absolutely passive, Eleanor swayed a little with the trap, but made no motion of her own. Indeed, there was little motion within. The train had gone over the trestle, that was all. Bertram Chester was on that train. She must not try to think it out—must only hold tight to herself until she found how God had decided for her. Once it did occur that she had fretted her heart away over shadowy ills, toy troubles, while Bertram walked the earth free and healthy. How trivial those troubles seemed beside this real apprehension! Once again, she wondered how she had been cruel enough to hold him at arm's length so long. Was this to be the punishment for her folly?

A buckboard, driven furiously, came over the hill-rise before them—the doctor's rig.

"Ask him—ask him!" she called to her driver. As they drew up alongside, the doctor's driver began talking without need for inquiries.

"Spread rail! The rear car just bucked over the trestle—"

"Anybody dead?"

"Two that I saw—and everybody in the rear car hurt. They're loading 'em on the front car to take 'em to town. Good bye—I've got to bring back medicine before they start!"

The chances were even—the chances were even. If he had been in the front car—relief. If he had been in the rear car—

The thing opened before them like a panorama as they topped the hill. The engine puffing regularly, normally, the baggage car and one coach on the rails behind it; a little crowd buzzing and rushing up and down the trestle; a black, distorted mass of iron and splinters at the edge of the water below. Three or four heads appeared above the trestle, and the people swarmed in that direction. The heads grew to four men, carrying between them a bundle covered by a red blanket.

Judge Tiffany spoke for the first time.

"You'd better not see it, Nell!"

His words seemed to draw the curtain away from her self-control.

"Oh, go on—for God's sake, go on!"

As they drew up beside the undamaged coach, the bearers had just arrived with another body. Eleanor jumped down, rushed to the platform. The thing under the blanket was a woman. She turned into the coach, apprehension growing into certainty. She had not seen him in the crowd. If he were unhurt, he must be first and foremost among the workers.

The coach was a hospital—limp, bandaged people propped up on every seat; in a little space by the further door, a row of quiet figures which lay as though sleeping. Above them bent two men. Their business-like calm showed that they were physicians. The half of her which stood aloof, observing all things, wondering at all things, the half whose influence kept her now so calm and sane, marvelled that she heard no moaning, tormented sounds. They were in the second stage of injury; the blessed anaesthesia of nature was upon them. For human speech, she heard only the low, quick voices of those who healed and nursed.

She saw a bare arm lifted from the press of huddled forms, saw that a physician had pressed a black bulb to it. The hand—the inevitable configuration of that arm which she had never seen bare—and she knew him.

Bertram lay on his side. His eyes were closed, his whole figure huddled; yet something more than the quiver of his body at the prick of the syringe told her that he was alive. His color had changed but little; hovering death showed mainly by a sharpening of all the lines of his face. Yet it did not seem to be Bertram, but rather some statue, some ghastly replica of him.

The physician stood up and stretched his back. She came close.

"Will he live?"

He turned impatiently, but he caught her eyes.

"He has a chance. He's young and strong—Is he—yours?"

"Yes—yes! What shall I do for him?"

"Are you sure you're strong enough—you won't faint nor carry on?"

"No—no! I'm sure of that. What may I do?" Judge Tiffany was beside her now. He looked, understood, and said nothing.

"Thank God for you, then! With all the crowd we haven't sane people enough to nurse one baby! Everything's the matter with him—broken arm, broken collar-bone, shock, and maybe he's injured internally. We can't be sure about that yet. I'm trying to make him comfortable, but"—here the agitated man broke through the calm physician for a moment—"No braces, no slings, no anything! We're going to town as soon as this company will let us. And he must be held. It's the only way to keep him comfortable. Come!"

Judge Tiffany touched the doctor's arm, but he spoke to Eleanor.

"Nell—you'd better let a man do that."

"No. You may help. How shall I hold him?"

All her will concentrated on obedience to direction, she followed the doctor while he drew Bertram's bare arm over her shoulder, set a cushion at his back, showed her how she must support his neck with her right hand.

"Hold him as long as you can, then have your friend relieve you. But change no more often than you find necessary. He'll get jostled enough before we reach town."

The Judge seated himself calmly. She was alone with the care of her dying. The necessity for comforting and reassuring him came into her mind.

"It's all right, Bertram; it's all right!" she whispered. He returned no answer, even of a flickering eyelash. He lay still, inert, a great bulk that tugged at the muscles of her arms.

After a time, her frame adjusted itself to the position. Her perceptions, still keenly alive, told her that her doctor was working over a woman in the corner. Just as the train started, she saw him rise, wipe his hands on his handkerchief, and motion calmly to two of the men. They lifted the woman. Eleanor realized all at once what the motion signified. They had taken her to join the dead in the baggage car.

Next to Bertram lay an old man, his head so wrapped in bandages that she could see only the tip of his grey beard. A middle-aged woman—Eleanor recognized her as a camper whom they had passed on the road but yesterday—knelt beside him, talking into his ear about his soul. "Do you lean on your Savior?" she whispered. A kind of passing impatience touched Eleanor. So much had her sympathetic spirit absorbed the feelings of these dying ones, that she resented this as an intrusion, an unwelcome distraction from the business of sloughing off the flesh.

A little sag of Bertram's body, which alarmed her for a moment until she saw that the movement came from relaxation of her own arms, called her back to responsibility. The realization that it had called her back brought with it the amazing, shameful realization that it had ever wandered away.

Why—

From the moment when she took him into her arms, she had never thought of him as her dying lover—never as her lover at all!

A man in extremis, a thing so beaten and suffering that she called for it on her Christ—he was all that, in common with the other beaten and battered and senseless wrecks about them. But the feeling that he was her own, about to go from her, had never entered her heart. She was ashamed while she thought of it; but it persisted. Not hers? Why, she had suffered him to kiss her only yesterday! Must she think of such things with a life to save?

Now, her body was giving way with weariness; it seemed that she could hold him no longer. She nodded to Judge Tiffany, therefore; the old man rose and gently took her burden from her. She sank back on the empty seat. When the faintness of fatigue had passed, she fixed her eyes on the still face of him who had been her lover.

Why was it? The clear-cut profile, so refined and beautiful since suffering gave it the final touch, had thrilled her only yesterday and through a succession of yesterdays. It had no power to thrill her now. She tried to put back this unworthy thought, but it persisted. In spite of pity and all decency of the heart, that outer self of hers kept saying it to her like an audible voice. Were he to die now, in her arms, she should work and weep and pray over his passing—but only as she would work and weep and pray over that alien old man who lay beside him, that woman whom they had just carried away.

The Judge was flagging. He glanced wearily over his shoulder, as though he hesitated to ask for relief. She rose; and without a word she took his place. And now, as she knelt with Bertram's slight yet heavy breathing in her ear, her thoughts became uncontrollable nightmare—scattered visions and memories of old horrors, as when she saw her father drunk on the pavement; a multitude of those little shames which linger so long. One incident which was not quite a shame thrust itself forward most insistently of all. It was that episode under the bay tree, when she was only a little girl. Why did that memory start to the surface those tears which had been falling so long within? Her weeping seemed to lift her to a tremendous height of perception, as though that outer self had flowed in upon her.

That which had lured her and dragged her to him in the end, was the life in him, the strong, vigorous body, the gestures, the smiles. That which had held her away from him was the soul within him—high and clean enough as souls go, but not one which she could ever know, and not one which could ever know hers. In this struggle of passing, he was all soul; the body was not in it.

She held the plan of her puzzle; it was necessary only to set the scattered blocks into place.

She found herself whispering to him; she checked herself until she remembered that he could not hear:

"O Bertram, you are not mine! O Bertram, you could never be mine!"

Now she could look straight at the possibility of his death or recovery. And she could weigh and choose, in case it was life, between telling him what she felt, or going on with him to the end—walking with a soul apart, yet choosing paths for it, too. That last might be the road of honor. That fine and heroic course, indeed, came to her with a high appeal. She had made her one resolve of duty. Perhaps it was her destiny to immolate herself for duty to the end.

The train bowled on, stopping for no stations. The old man in the corner was unconscious or asleep; the woman who tended him had stopped her spiritual ministrations. A child, propped up in one of the rear seats, had awakened to cry, fallen asleep, awakened and wept again. She had in her voice a thick, mucous note, which became to Eleanor the motif in that symphony of misery. Otherwise, no one seemed to be making sound except the two physicians. Her own doctor came up once, pressed a syringe again into the bare arm, whispered that it was all going well.

A whistle came muffled through the fog; they were slowing down. It was a station; the lights, the clamor of human voices, proved it. Eleanor looked out of the window. A knot of young men had broken for the platform; and she could distinguish the black boxes of cameras. There arose a sharp parley at the rear door; her doctor muttered "reporters—damn!" and hurried back. Judge Tiffany rose and followed him. Over her shoulder Eleanor caught the white, intent face of Mark Heath. "He knows; they have told him," she thought.

Judge Tiffany, his mind on the practical necessities of the case, still had it in him to admire the control of that good soldier, the modern reporter. When he told simply what had happened, how the issue lay balanced between life and death, Mark only said:

"My God!—and me with the story to do!" Then his eye caught Eleanor.

"Did she—has she been nursing him?"

Judge Tiffany glanced at the other reporters, clustered about the conductor, at the photographers, holding animated wrangle with the physicians about flashlights.

"Keep her out of your story—you can do that. Say I found him on the train—put me in—that's a good story enough. Keep my niece out. Keep the others off. Keep those flashlights muffled!"

Mark hurried forward. One look, a look which contorted his face, he bent on Bertram. Then he spoke puzzles to Eleanor.

"You're Miss Brown, a camper at Santa Eliza, if anyone asks you—and when we leave this train you stay by me and do everything I tell you."

"Very well."

Mark touched Bertram's face with a tenderness almost feminine. "Poor old man!" he whispered; and he hurried back.

A shock-headed youth accosted him.

"What's up there?" he asked.

"Good story," answered Mark. "I've got it all—don't you fellows bother. Bertram Chester, old California Varsity tackle, real estate manager for Northrup and Co., seriously injured, may not recover. Get his injuries from the doctor. His late employer, Judge Edward C. Tiffany, reached this train at Santa Eliza and has been taking care of him."

A voice came from the group of reporters:

"Why, he's your roommate!"

"I know it—damn it! Keep on. Judge Tiffany has been caring for him, holding him up so he could bear it, assisted by Miss Sadie Brown, a camper at Santa Eliza. She's the one I was talking to."

"Who is she? Any chance for a photograph?"

"I braced her for a picture. She wouldn't stand for it."

"Let me try! I'll get it."

"See here, you fellows, I'll attend to that. I'll let you all in if she gives up. I'll play you square. He's my roommate—can't you trust me to handle it? Keep on. Miss Sadie Brown, works at the Emporium, lives 2196 Valencia—" Mark was reading from a perfectly blank sheet of copy paper—"Judge Tiffany will take him home. He wired ahead for a private ambulance from Havens. That's all of that. Now what have you fellows got? Help me out; it's none too easy for me."

As he took notes, asked questions, formed his "story" in his mind, Mark never took his eyes off that group in the corner.

Now they were racing down the last stage of the trip, with full freeway. Now they were drawing into the ferry station. Under the lights stood a buzzing crowd, its blacks shot with the white coats of hospital orderlies. A dozen ambulances, their doors open, stood backed to the platform. Eleanor sagged down on the floor with a sigh as two orderlies lifted Bertram's arms from her shoulders, made shift to get him upon their stretcher.

But the doctor stopped them.

"Get this old man first," he said, "and be careful. That young fellow ought to pull through."



CHAPTER XV

Toward morning, Eleanor managed to get a little sleep. When full daylight wakened her to the dull realization of her situation and burdens, she hurried into clothes, crept to the solid, old-fashioned best bedroom where they had put Bertram, and took counsel of the nurse. Everything was hopeful; she got that from the professional patter of temperatures and reactions. It seemed that there might be no internal hurt. He had roused from his shock in the night; had seemed to know where he was and what had happened. He lay now in a natural sleep, but he must be kept very quiet.

On the way downstairs, Eleanor met face to face with her aunt. Mrs. Tiffany had been awake since the ambulance brought responsibility; but her eyes showed more than want of sleep. The two women stopped, looked long at each other; then Mrs. Tiffany took Eleanor tenderly in her arms and kissed her.

"Don't you worry, dear," she whispered, "he will get well, and everything will be all right with Edward and me."

Eleanor did not answer at first. She drew a little away from her aunt's embrace, before she found tongue to say:

"Please don't speak of that, Aunt Mattie—oh, not of that now!"

As she made her way out to the piazza, in an instinctive search for air and room, she was crying.

In the limpness of reaction, she sank into a chair. Every joint and muscle, she realized now, ached and creaked. She could lift her arms only after taking long thought with herself; and the soul within was as burned paper.

The front gate clicked. The first, doubtless, of those inquiring visitors who would read a meaning into the adventures of last night. That, too, was to be faced this day! The pattering, hurrying footsteps sounded near to her before she looked up and recognized Kate Waddington.

If Kate had been crying, the only evidence was a hasty powdering which left streaks of white and pink before her ears. On first glance, Eleanor marvelled at her appearance of control, at the lack of emotion in her face. But insight rather than conscious vision told Eleanor of the currents which were running under that mask. At the bottom Eleanor detected a fear which was not only apprehension of the news from Bertram Chester, but also a cowardly shrinking from the situation. She fancied that she could even trace Kate's consideration of the proper shade of acting in the circumstances. All this in the moment before Kate sprang up the steps and asked:

"Oh, will he live?"

A baser nerve in Eleanor quivered with the desire to be cruel. She had to put it down before she could tell the simple truth. One little corner of Kate's mouth quivered and jerked for a second under her teeth before she caught herself and resumed the impersonation of a solicitous friend.

"Tell me all about it," she said.

"Ah, I am too tired!" Nevertheless, Eleanor did manage a plain tale, ending with the nurse's report and with her own conviction that he would live.

"Oh, of course he will live!" And then—"Who is nursing him?"

She looked up on this question, which was also an appeal, a begging.

"We have a nurse," answered Eleanor shortly. It gratified her a little, in her low state of consciousness, to be thus abrupt. The better part of her realized this; saw how she was wreaking the revenge of an old emotion. A reaction of generosity prompted her next words; but she spoke with an effort.

"You may help if you want to. Uncle Edward must go to the ranch this week—unless—don't you want to come here and stay in my spare room?" It seemed to Eleanor that she had never made a harder sacrifice than the one which she sealed with that invitation.

This, too, brought Kate out of her impersonation. Her whole figure straightened for a second, and—

"Oh, might I?" she said.

"I should be very glad. Will you come up to see him—one may look in at the door. He is in Uncle Edward's spare chamber."

As they threaded the involved halls of that rambling dwelling, Kate hurried on ahead. Eleanor, from the rear, threw out a word or two by way of direction. At the door, opened to get air of a dull and heavy morning, they peered into the grim order of the sick room. The nurse had already stripped it to hospital equipment. His face, refined almost into beauty by pain and low-running blood, lay tilted to one side as he slept. The nurse touched her lips. Eleanor nodded. The nurse turned back toward her patient. Eleanor dared look at Kate.

Her color had changed from pale, back to the pink of life; now it was turning pale again. She noticed neither Eleanor nor the nurse; she stood as one in a universe unpeopled save by herself and another. Once, her two arms quivered with an involuntary outward motion, and once she swayed against the lintel.

And Eleanor, watching her through this wordless passage, gathered all the currents that had been running through her will into an indeterminate determination. In that moment she realized the full bitterness of a renunciation that does not mean renouncing a wholly dear and desired thing, but does mean renouncing the beloved thing which one is better without.

Kate turned at length. Eleanor, as their eyes met, could read in her face and body the change as the actress took command once more. Kate flew at once to her hollow conventional phrases.

"The poor, poor boy!" she said. "Oh, we must all help!"

Eleanor turned away with the feeling that this made it harder for her to perform her renunciation—if real renunciation it were.

The day brought too much work, activity, purely material anxiety, for a great deal of thought. They had cut off the telephone in the main wing of the Tiffany house and switched the current to the instrument in Eleanor's living-room. Most of the day she spent answering that telephone. People of whom she had never even heard, made anxious inquiries about the condition of Mr. Chester. Before night the newspapers became a plague. For in the afternoon, winged reporters, shot out in volleys for a "second day story," had called at 2196 Valencia and found there no Sadie Brown. Hurrying down the back trail to the Emporium, they did discover an indignant little shop-girl of that name. Those reporters who had been with the wreck the night before found no resemblance in her to the mysterious lady. Then came a bombardment, in person and by telephone, of the Tiffany house. The Judge, meeting all callers at the front door, lied tactfully. The city editors gave up sending reporters and took to bullying over the telephone; so that the burden of an unaccustomed lying fell upon Eleanor. At eleven o'clock, and after one voice had declared that the Journal had the whole account and would make it pretty peppery if the Tiffanys did not confirm it, Eleanor took the telephone off the hook and went to bed.

The morning papers did pretty well with what they had. "Mysterious Woman Nurses Prominent Varsity Athlete"—"Who Is The Pretty Girl that Nursed Society Man in Las Olivas Horror?"—"Modest Heroine of Las Olivas Holocaust." But the secret, thanks to Mark Heath, was safe.

* * * * *

She slept that night. Far along in the morning she awoke to the delicious sense of physical renewal. The situation crept into her mind stage by stage, as such things do arrive in the awakening consciousness. She was calm now, what with her rest of body, her decision of soul. She could think it out; her course of action and how she might accomplish it.

A knock at her door roused her from half-sleep and meditation to full wakening. Kate Waddington had entered—Kate, transformed into a picturesque imitation of a nurse. She was all in grass linen, the collar rolled away to show her round, golden throat. Her flowing tie was blue, and a blue bow completed the knot of her hair. She looked cool, efficient, domestically business-like.

"He's better!" Kate burst out with the news as Eleanor turned her head. "There's really no danger now. The nurse says that he roused this morning and showed a positively vicious temper because they would not let him see anyone."

"That's pleasant news. I was sure that he would recover." Eleanor caught an unconsidered expression, no more than a glint and a drooping, in Kate's eyes. This answer, so calm, so entirely unemotional, had touched curiosity if nothing more. But Kate chirped on:

"I'm playing Mama's little household fairy—how do you like the way I dress the part? I sent for these clothes last night. Now you're to lie abed and let me bring you your breakfast. Are you rested, dear? It was enough to kill two women!"

"Quite rested, I think."

Kate opened the window, bustled about putting the room to rights.

"Shall I bring your coffee now?" she asked at last.

"Yes, thank you."

Kate was back in ten minutes with table and tray. Whatever she did had an individuality, a touch. That tray, for example—nothing could have been better conceived to tempt the appetite. She set out the breakfast and remained to pour coffee and to talk.

"And isn't it good—mustn't you be thankful—that it won't leave him lame or disfigured or anything like that! His shoulder may be weak, but what does a man need of shoulders after he's quit football?"

Eleanor just glanced over her coffee-cup, but she made no answer. Kate turned her course.

"Won't you let me open your egg for you?"

"No, thank you." Then, "You're very kind, Kate."

"I am the original ray of light. Do let me fix those pillows. You're going to lie in bed all the morning, you know. Shall I bring you the papers? You should see them! They've got you a heroine."

"Me!" Now Eleanor showed animation.

"Oh, not you. We've all kept the secret well. You're a mystery, a pretty shop-girl to the rescue. I hope the weeklies don't find the real story."

"I hope so."

Kate rose, made another pretense at setting things right in the room, and moved toward the door. A relief, a lowering of tension, came over Eleanor. But at the threshold, Kate turned.

"Oh, I nearly forgot! They sent up from Mr. Northrup's office this morning for some documents or deeds or something which they thought Mr. Chester might have in his pockets. The nurse brought out his clothes so that Mrs. Tiffany and I might go through them—I felt like a pickpocket. And we came across a package of proofs—photographs of him. We opened it to see if the old deeds might be in there. And they're such stunning likenesses—Muller, you know—that I thought it would do you good to see them."

"Thank you, I should like to."

Kate drew the photographs from her bosom and handed them over. As Eleanor took them and began mechanically to inspect them, she caught an unconsidered trifle. Kate was not leaving the room. She had stepped over to the cheval-mirror, which faced the bed, and was adjusting the ribbon in her hair. Looking across the photographs through her lashes, Eleanor saw that the counterfeit eyes of Kate in the mirror were trained dead upon her.

She examined them, therefore, with indifference; she stopped in the middle of her inspection to ask if Judge Tiffany were up yet.

"They're excellent likenesses," she went on indifferently. "That's a good composition. I don't care so much for this one. That's a poor pose." She had come now to the bottom of the pile. This last print was one of those spirited profiles by which Muller, master-photographer, so illuminates character.

"Oh, that's a wonder," cried Eleanor. "Such a profile!" Then, at the thought how Kate might misinterpret this purely artistic enthusiasm, she dropped her voice to indifference again.

"Won't you please tell Aunt Mattie that I will get up if I can be of any use?" And she held out the package.

Kate packed up the tray and withdrew. Eleanor heard the muffled tap of her heels in the hall. The sound stopped abruptly. It was fully a minute before they went on again.

Kate, in fact, had rested the tray on a hall table, drawn out the photographs, and run over them, looking at them with all her eyes. The profile was at the bottom of the package. When she reached that, she hesitated a moment; then, with a quivering motion that ran from her fingers over her whole body, she tore it in two. Short as this explosion was, her recovery was quicker. She glanced with apprehension over her shoulder at the door of Eleanor's room, tucked the photographs back in her bosom, and took up the tray again.

Eleanor, when the sound of the tapping heels had quite died away, turned her face toward the wall and gave herself to thought. She had gathered up the last strand of the tangled web. Nothing was left but the unweaving.

First, his soul was not hers, as her soul was not his. That impression, received in a crisis which, she felt, was to be the crisis of her life, had grown to be an axiom. His youth, his vigor, the pull of a stalwart vitality which made his coarseness almost beauty—that had been the attraction. His spirit, so blazing but so full of flaws—that had been the repulsion.

Did not her own spirit have its flaws? Doubtless. Who was she, then, to judge him? Ah, but they did not fit into her flaws!

Kate Waddington now—Eleanor turned her thoughts in that direction with difficulty—her flaws were akin to his. Kate could tolerate and admire the whole of him. His lapses in finer standards, such as that desertion to Northrup—did they not fit like the segments of a broken coin with Kate's diplomacies of that very day, her subtle reaching to discover if Eleanor were really a rival? Kate would weigh his compromises with honor as lightly as he would weigh those pretty treacheries. He would be successful; everyone had felt that in him from his very first flash on the horizon. Kate would help him to the kind of success he wanted. Her tact, her diplomacies, her flair for engrafting herself, would be the very best support to his direct methods of assault. They belonged to each other; and since now Kate's desires in the matter had become manifest, only one thing remained.

All this allowed, what should her own line of conduct be? How should she bear herself in the days and weeks when pure human kindness must inhibit her from delivering a shock? Would it be necessary to commit the inner treason of posing to him as a secret fiancee? Well, that must be lived out, step by step. She could at least take all possible means, within the bounds of kindness, of withdrawing herself gradually from him, of paving the way for the ultimate confession. Kate Waddington would help in that. There, her own game and Kate's ran parallel.

This discovery of Kate at the end of the tangled strings brought a tug at her heart, a black cloud to her spirit. She hated Kate Waddington. It made her grip the pillows to think how much she hated. Her mood descending into a bitter, morbid jealousy which had no reason for being, but which momentarily swept all her resolutions away, sent her mind and body whirling back toward Bertram Chester.

That passed. The last trace of her wild animal hatred for Kate Waddington was borne away on a prayer of the old faith which held her instincts. She rose from her bed in a state of fixed determination that never faltered again.

When Eleanor was dressed, she turned not to the front of the house where the business of drawing back a life was afoot, but to the fresh silences of her garden. She walked to the lattice whose view commanded the bay and the distant Gate. It was a quiet, dull-gold morning on the Roads. A tug fussed about the quarantine wharf; the lateen fisher-boats were slipping out towards the Sacramento. And white and stately, between the pillars of the Gate, a full-rigged ship was making out to sea on a favoring breeze.

Eleanor watched the sea-birds bending toward it, the mists creeping down to cover it. The soul within her leaped toward it and seized it as a symbol.

"O ship," she whispered, "take this too away with you! I give it to the pure seas. Take this little love away with you!"

That rite, with its poetry and its self-pity, brought exaltation into her resolution. The sacrifice was complete.



CHAPTER XVI

Life and spirit came back to Bertram Chester with a sudden bound. By the fourth day, he was so much alive, so insistent for company, that it became a medical necessity to break the conventional regulations for invalids, and let him see people. As it happened, his father was the first visitor. Judge Tiffany, who thought of everything, had telegraphed on the night of the accident, and had followed this dispatch, as Bertram improved, with reassuring messages. Bert Chester the elder, it appeared, was off on a long drive into Modoc; two days elapsed before his vaqueros, left on the ranch, could reach him.

He arrived with his valise on the morning of that fourth day when Bertram roared for company. He was a tall, calm man, with a sea-lion mustache, a weather-beaten complexion and the Chester smile in grave duplicate. He was obviously uncomfortable in his town clothes; and, even at the moment when they were leading him solemnly to the sick room, he stepped in awe through the Tiffany splendors. When Mrs. Tiffany told him that Bert was doing well, would doubtless recover and without disability, he said "That's good!" and never changed expression. Mrs. Tiffany, lingering at the door, saw and heard their greeting.

"How are you, Bert?" said Chester senior.

"Pretty well, Dad," said Bertram. Then awkwardly, with embarrassed self-consciousness of the rite which he was performing, Mr. Chester shook his son's hand.

After their short interview, Mr. Chester, a cat—or a bear rather—in a strange garret, roamed the Tiffany home and entertained her who would listen. He warmed to Kate especially, and that household fairy, in her flights between errands of mercy, played him with all the prettiness of her coquetry. At luncheon he quite lost his embarrassment and responded to the advances of three friendly humans. Yes ma-am, he had been glad to learn that Bertram was doing well in the city. He had five sons, all doing well. He'd risked letting Bert try college, and it had turned out all right. There wasn't much more left in the cattle business; but he was an old dog to learn new tricks. If he had it to do over again, he'd try fruit in the Santa Clara Valley, just like they had done.

As the afternoon wore away bringing its callers, its telephone messages and its consultations of doctors, his mood shifted to uneasiness. He spent an hour walking back and forth in the garden. Just before dinner-time he approached Mrs. Tiffany and Kate, who were sewing in the living-room, and said simply:

"Well, I guess I've got to be going."

"Why, we're just getting acquainted!" cried Kate.

Mrs. Tiffany merely flickered an eyelash at the assumption of privilege which this implied. But she answered, after a moment, "We should like to have you stay. Even at that, don't consider us when it is a case of being near your son."

"Well," answered the older Chester, ponderously, "you see it ain't like I had only this one son and hadn't been through trouble. There's Bob now. I worried quite a lot more than was necessary when the Artiguez outfit shot him up, but he pulled through. And after Pete got scrambled by a riata, and a few more things of that kind happened, I stopped worrying any more than was necessary. He'll get well, and you're handling him fine. You've been blame good to the boy," he said; and the touch of sentimental softness in his voice showed how genuine was his hardly expressed gratitude. He began talking rapidly, as though ashamed of it. He hoped they all could come to see him on the ranch some time, though there wasn't much there to attract a lady. Still, the boys had pretty good times now and then. If the Tiffanys liked fresh venison, the boys always got some deer in the season.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse