PLAY THE GAME!
RUTH COMFORT MITCHELL
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
NEW YORK :: LONDON :: 1924
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Copyright, 1920, by The Crowell Publishing Company
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
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TO MY BROTHERS
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RUTH COMFORT MITCHELL
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NARRATIVES IN VERSE
JANE JOURNEYS ON
PLAY THE GAME
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D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
New York London
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PLAY THE GAME!
There was no denying the fact that Honor Carmody liked the boys. No one ever attempted to deny it, least of all Honor herself.
When she finished grammar school her mother and her gay young stepfather told her they had decided to send her to Marlborough rather than to the Los Angeles High School.
The child looked utterly aghast. "Oh," she said, "I wouldn't like that at all. I don't believe I could. I couldn't bear it!"
"My dear," her mother chided, "don't be silly! It's a quite wonderful school, known all over the country. Girls are sent there from Chicago and New York, and even Boston. You'll be with the best girls, the very nicest——"
"That's just it," Honor interrupted, forlornly.
"What do you mean?"
"Girls. Just girls. Oodles and oodles of nothing but girls. Honestly, Muzzie, I don't think I could stand it." She was a large, substantial young creature with a broad brow and hearty coloring and candid eyes. Her stepfather was sure she would never have her mother's beauty, but he was almost equally sure that she would never need it. He studied her closely and her actions and reactions intrigued him. He laughed, now, and his wife turned mildly shocked eyes on him.
"Stephen, dear! Don't encourage her in being queer. I don't like her to be queer." Mrs. Lorimer was not in the least queer herself, unless, indeed, it was queer to be startlingly lovely and girlish and appealing at forty-one, with a second husband and six children. She was not an especially motherly person except in moments of reproof and then she always spoke in a remote third person. "Honor, Mother wants you to be more with girls." Then, as if to make it clear that she was not merely advancing a personal whim,—"You need to be more with girls."
"Why—why because Mother says you do." Mrs. Lorimer did not like to argue. She always got out of breath and warm-looking.
Her daughter dropped on the floor at her feet. Mrs. Lorimer had small, happy-looking, lily-of-the-field hands and Honor took one of them between her hard brown paws and squeezed it. "I know, but—why do you say so? I don't know anything about girls. Why should I, when I've had eight boy cousins and five boy brothers and"—she gave Stephen Lorimer a brief, friendly grin—"and two boy fathers!" Her stepfather was not really younger than his wife but he was incurably boyish. The girl grew earnest. "Please, pretty-please, let me go to L. A. High! I've counted on it so! And"—she was as intent and free from self-consciousness as a terrier at a rat hole—"all the boys I know are going to L. A. High! And Jimsy's going, and he'll need me!"
Her stepfather laughed again and lighted a cigarette. "She has you there, Mildred. He will need her."
"Of course he will." Honor turned a grateful face to him. "I'll have to do all his English and Latin for him, so he can get signed up every week and play football!"
Mrs. Lorimer did not see why her daughter's finishing need be curtailed by young James King's athletic activities and she started in to say so with vigor and emphasis, but her husband held up his long beautifully modeled hand rather in the manner of a traffic policeman and stopped her.
"Look here, Mildred," he said, "suppose you and I convene in special session and consider this thing from all angles and then let her know what it comes to,—shall we? Run along, Top Step!"
"All right, Stepper," said the child, relievedly. "You explain it to her." She went contentedly away and a moment later they heard her robust young voice lifted on the lawn next door,—"Jim-zee! Oh, Jimsy! Come-mawn-out!"
"You see?" Mrs. Lorimer wanted rather inaccurately to know. "That's what we've got to stop, Stephen."
He smiled. "But—as your eldest offspring just now inquired—why?"
"Why?" She lifted her hands and let them fall into her lap again, palm upward, and regarded him in gentle exasperation. "Stephen, you know, really, sometimes I feel that you are not a bit of help to me with the children."
"Sometimes you do, I daresay," he granted her, serenely, "but most of the time you must be simply starry-eyed with gratitude over the brilliant way I manage them. Come along over here and we'll talk it over!" He patted the place beside him on the couch.
"You mean," said his wife a little sulkily, going, nevertheless, "that you'll talk me over!"
"That is my secret hope," said Stephen Lorimer.
It was all quite true. He did manage her children and their children—there were three of each—with astonishing ease and success. They amused him, and adored him. He understood them utterly. Honor was seven when her own father died and nine when her mother married again. Stephen Lorimer would never forget her first inspection of him. Nursemaids had done their worst on the subject of stepfathers; fairy tales had presented the pattern. He knew exactly what was going on in her mind, and—quite as earnestly beneath his persiflage as he had set himself to woo the widow—he set himself to win her daughter. It was a matter of moments only before he saw the color coming back into her square little face and the horror seeping out of her eyes. It was a matter of days only until she sought him out and told him, in her mother's presence, that she believed she liked him better than her first father.
"Honor, dear! You—you mustn't, really——" Mildred Lorimer insisted with herself on being shocked.
"Don't you, Muzzie? Don't you like him better?" the child wanted persistently to know. "He was very nice, of course; I did like him awfully. But he was always 'way off Down Town ... at The Office. We didn't have any fun with him. Stepper's always home. I'm glad we married a newspaper one this time."
"Stephen, that dreadful name.... What will people think?"
Her new husband didn't in the least care. He and Honor had gravely considered on that first day what they should call each other. It seemed to Stephen Lorimer that it was hardly fair to the gentleman who had stayed so largely at The Office to have his big little daughter and his tiny sons calling his successor Father or Dad, and Papa with all its shades and shifts of accent left him cold. "Let's see, Honor. 'Stepfather' as a salutation sounds rather accusing, doesn't it? 'Step-pa,' now, is less austere, but——"
"Oh, Stephen, dear!" They were not consulting Mrs. Lorimer at all.
"I've got it! It's an inspiration! 'Stepper!' Neat, crisp, brisk. Means, if any one should ask you, 'Step-pa' and also, literally, stepper; a stepper; one who steps—into another's place."
"Well, haven't I, my dear?" He considered the three young Carmodys, nine, seven, and five. "Steps yourselves, aren't you? Honor's the top step and——"
"Oh, Stepper, call me Top Step! I like that."
"Right. And Billy's Bottom Step and Ted's the Tweeny! Now we're all set!"
"Yes," said Honor, contentedly. She herded her little brothers out of the room and came back alone. "But—what'll I tell people you are?"
"Why, I think," he considered, "you're young enough and trusting enough to call me A Writer."
"I mean, are you Muzzie's step-husband, too?"
It was the first time she had seen the lightness leave his eyes. "No. No. I am your moth—I am her husband. There is no step there." He got up and walked over to where his wife was sitting and towered over her. He was a tall man and he looked especially tall at that moment. "Her plain—husband. Extremely plain, as it happens"—he was himself again for an instant—"but—her husband." It seemed to the child that he had forgotten which one of them had asked him the question and was addressing himself to her mother by mistake. He seemed at once angry and demanding and anxious, and she had never seen her mother so pink. However, her question had been answered and she had affairs of her own. She went away without a backward glance so she did not see her stepfather drop to his knees beside the chair and gather the quiet woman roughly into his arms, nor hear his insistent voice. "Her husband. The first—husband—she—ever had. Say it, Mildred. Say it."
And now Honor was thirteen and a half, and tardily ready for High School, and there were three little Lorimers, twins and a six months' old single. Stephen Lorimer, who had been a singularly footloose world rover, had settled down securely in the old Carmody house on South Figueroa Street. He was intensely proud of his paternity, personal and vicarious, and took it not seriously but joyously. He was dramatic critic and special writer for the leading newspaper of Los Angeles, and theoretically he worked by night and slept by day, but as a matter of puzzling fact he did not sleep at all, unless one counted his brief morning naps. His eyes, in consequence, seemed never to be quite open, but nothing, nevertheless, escaped them.
An outsider, looking in on them now, the erect, hot-cheeked, imperious woman, a little insolent always of her beauty, and the lolling, lounging man with the drooping lids, would have placed his odds unhesitatingly on her winning of any point she might have in mind. Even Mildred Lorimer herself, after four years and a half of being married to him, thought she would win out over him this time. Honor was the only daughter she had, the only daughter she would ever have, for she had definitely decided, at forty-one, to cease her dealings with the long-legged bird who had flapped six times to her roof, and it seemed intolerable to her that—with five boys—her one girl should be so robustly ungirlish.
"Now, then, let's have it. You want Honor to go to Marlborough. As she herself asked and I myself repeated,—why?"
"And as I answered you both," said his wife, trying hard to keep the conversation spinning lightly in the air as he did, "it's because I want her to be more like other girls."
"And I," said her husband, "do not." This was the place for Mildred Lorimer to fling her own why but her husband was too quick for her. "Because she is so much finer and sounder and saner and sweeter as she is. Mildred, I have never seen any living creature so selfless. What was the word they coined in that play about Mars?—'Otherdom?' That's it, yes; otherdom. That's Honor Carmody. She could have finished grammar school at twelve, but Jimsy needed her help."
"That's just it! Can't you see how wrong that is?"
"No. I'm too much occupied with seeing how right it is. Good Lord, my dear, in a world given over to the first person perpendicular, can't you see the amazing beauty and rarity of your child's soul? Every day and all day long she gives herself,—to you, to me, to the kiddies, to her friends. She is the eternal mother." Mildred Lorimer was not the eternal mother. She was not in fact a mother at all. The physical fact of motherhood had six times descended upon her and she was doing her gentle, well-bred, conscientious best in six lively directions, but under it all she was forever Helen, forever the best beloved. She was getting rather beyond her depth but she was not giving up. Stephen, in discussion, had an elusive way of soaring into hazy generalities. She brought him down.
"I can't see why it should make her any less unselfish to attend the best girls' school than to—to run with the boys." She brought out the little vulgarism with a faint curl of her lovely lip.
"'Run with the boys!' That has a positively Salem flavor, hasn't it? Almost as deadly, that 'with,' as 'after,'" He loved words, Stephen Lorimer; he played with them and juggled them. "Yet isn't that exactly what the girls of to-day must and should do? Isn't it what the girls of to-morrow—naturally, unrebuked—will do? Not running after them, slyly or brazenly; not sitting at home, crimped and primped and curled, waiting to be run after. No," he said hotly, getting up and beginning to swallow up the room from wall to wall with his long strides, "no! With them. Running with them, chin in, chest out, sound, conditioned, unashamed!" He believed that he meant to write a tremendous book, one day, Honor's stepfather. He often reeled off whole chapters in his mind, warm and glowing. It was only when he got it down on paper that it cooled and congealed. "Running with them in the race—for the race——" his hurtling promenade took him to the window and he paused for an instant. "Come here, Mildred. Look at her!"
Mildred Lorimer came to join him. On the shabby, rusty lawn of the King place, next door, all the rustier for its nearness to their own emerald turf, sat Honor Carmody and Jimsy King, jointly and severally lacing up a football.
"Yes, look at her!" said her mother with feeling.
"Leave her alone, Mildred. Leave her alive!"
The two children were utterly absorbed. The boy was half a head taller than the girl, heavier, sturdier, of a startling beauty. There was a stubborn, much reviled wave in his bronze hair and his eyes were a dark hazel flecked with black. His skin was bronze, too, bronzed by many Catalina summer and winter swims at Ocean Park. It made his teeth seem very white and flashing.
The window was open to the soft Southern California air, and the voices came across to the watchers.
"I am holding it!"
A handsome man of forty came up the tree-shaded street, not quite steadily, and turned into the King's walk. His hat was pulled low over his eyes and the collar of his coat was turned up in spite of the mildness of the day. He nodded to the boy and girl as he went past them and on into the house.
"Again!" said Mrs. Lorimer, tragically. "That's the second time this week!"
"Rough on the kid," said her husband. "See him now."
Jimsy King had turned his head and was following his father's slow progress up the steps and across the porch and into the house. "Be in in a minute, Dad!" he called after him.
"Loyal little beggar. I saw him steering him up Broadway one morning, just at school time. Pluck."
Honor had looked after James King, the elder, too, and then at his son, and then at the football in her hands again. "Hurry up," she commanded. "Pull it tighter! Tighter! Do you call that pulling?" Inexorably she got his attention back to the subject in hand.
"That makes it all the worse," said Mrs. Lorimer. "Of course they're only children—babies, really—but I couldn't have anything.... It's bad blood, Stephen. I couldn't have my child interested in one of the 'Wild Kings'!"
"Well, you won't have, if you're wise. Let 'em alone. Let 'em lace footballs on the front lawn ... and they won't hold hands on the side porch! Why, woman dear, like the well-known Mr. Job, the thing you greatly fear you'll bring to pass! Shut her up in a girls' school—even the best and sanest—and you'll make boys suddenly into creatures of romance, remote, desirable. Don't emphasize and underline for her. She's as clean as a star and as unself-conscious as a puppy! Don't hurry her into what one of those English play-writing chaps calls—Granville Barker, isn't it?—Yes,—Madras House—'the barnyard drama of sex.... Male and female created He them ... but men and women are a long time in the making!'"
The lacing of the football was finished. The boy lifted his head and looked soberly at the door through which his father had entered, not quite steadily. Then he drew a long breath, threw back his shining bronze head, said something in a low tone to the girl, and ran into the house.
Honor Carmody got to her feet and stood looking after him, the odd mothering look in her square child's face. She stood so for long moments, without moving, and her mother and her stepfather watched her.
Suddenly Stephen Lorimer flung the window up as far as it would go and leaned out.
"It's all right, Top Step," he called, meeting the leaping gladness of her glance. "We've decided, your mother and I. You're going to L. A. High! You're going——" but now he dropped his voice and spoke only for the woman beside him, slipping a penitent and conciliatory arm about her, his eyes impish, "you're going to run with the boys!"
The "Wild Kings" had lived in their fine old house ever since the neighborhood could remember. The first and probably the wildest of them had come out from Virginia when Los Angeles was still a drowsing Spanish village, bringing with him an aged and excellent cellar and a flock of negro servants. Honor's Carmody grandmother could remember the picturesqueness of his entourage, of James King himself, the hard-riding, hard-drinking, soft-spoken cavalier with his proud, pale wife and his slim, high-stepping horses and his grinning blacks. The general conviction was, Grandmother Carmody said, that he had come—or been sent—west to make a fresh start. There was something rather pathetically naive about that theory. There could never be a fresh start for the "Wild Kings" in a world of excellent cellars and playing cards. In a surprisingly short time he had re-created his earlier atmosphere for himself—an atmosphere of charm and cheer and color ... and pride and shame and misery, in which his wife and children lived and moved and had their being. In the early eighties he built the big beautiful house on South Figueroa Street, moved the last of his negro servitors and the last of his cellar and his young family into it and died. Since that day Kings had come and gone in it, big, bonny creatures, liked and sighed over, and the house was shabby now, cracked and peeling for the want of paint, the walks grass-grown, the lawn frowzy, lank and stringy curtains at the dim windows. There were only three bottles of the historic cellar left now, precious, cob-webbed; there was only one of the blacks, an ancient, crabbed crone of the second generation, with a witch's hand at cookery and a witch's temper. And there were only James King III and James King IV, his son, Honor's Jimsy, left of the line in the old home. The negress fed and mended them; an infrequent Japanese came in to make futile efforts on house and garden.
The neighbors said, "How do you do, Mr. King? Like summer, really, isn't it?" and looked hastily away. One never could be sure of finding him quite himself. Even if he walked quite steadily he might not be able to talk quite steadily, but he was always a King, always sure of his manner, be he ever so unsure of his feet or his tongue. He had been worse since his wife died, when the boy was still a toddler. She was a slim, sandy-haired Scotch girl with steady eyes and a prominent chin, who had married him to reform him, and the neighbors were beginning to think she was in a fair way to compass it when she died. No one had ever been able to pity Jeanie King; she had been as proud as the pale lady who came with the first "Wild King" from Virginia. There was that about the Kings; it had to be granted that their women always stuck; they must have had compensating traits and graces. No King wife ever gave up or deserted save by death, and no King wife ever wept on a neighbor's shoulder.
And now they had all wandered back to Virginia or up to Alaska or down to Mexico, and there was not an uncle or cousin of his tribe left in Los Angeles for Jimsy King; only his bad, beloved father, coming home at noon in rumpled evening dress, but wearing it better and more handily, for all that, than any other man on the block.
It was agreed that there was no chance for Jimsy to escape the heritage of his blood. People were kind about it, but very firm. "If his mother had lived he might have had a chance, the poor boy," Mrs. Lorimer would sigh, "but with that father, and that home life, and that example——"
"My dear," said Stephen Lorimer, "can't you see what you are doing? By you I mean the neighborhood. You are holding his heredity up like a hoop for him to jump through!"
Honor's stepfather held that there might be a generous share of the firm-chinned Scotch mother in Jimsy. Certainly it was a fighting chance; he was living in a day of less warmth and color than his father and his forbears; there were more outlets for his interest and his energy. His father, for instance, had not played football. Jimsy had played as soon as he could walk alone—football, baseball, basketball, handball, water polo; life was a hard and tingling game to him. "It's an even chance," said Stephen Lorimer, "and if Honor's palling with him can swing it, can we square it with ourselves to take her away from him?" He carried his point, as usual, and the boy and the girl started in at Los Angeles High on the same day. Honor decided on the subjects which Jimsy could most safely take—the things he was strongest in, the weak subjects in which she was strong. There was an inexorable rule about being signed up by every teacher for satisfactory work on Friday afternoon before a Saturday football game; it was as a law of the Medes and Persians; even the teachers who adored him most needs must abide by it. There was no cajoling any of them; even the pretty, ridiculously young thing who taught Spanish maintained a Gibraltar-like firmness.
"You'll simply have to study, Jimsy, that's all," said Honor.
"Study, yes, but that's not learning, Skipper!" (She had been that ever since her first entirely seaworthy summer at Catalina.) "I can study, if I have to, but that's not saying I'll get anything into my sconce! I'm pretty slow in the head!"
"I know you are," said Honor, sighing. "Of course, you've been so busy with other things. Think what you've done in athletics!"
"Fast on the feet and slow in the head," he grinned. "Well, I'll die trying. But you've got to stand by, Skipper."
"Of course. I'll do your Latin and English and part of your Spanish."
"Gee, you're a brick."
"It's nothing." She dismissed it briefly. "It's my way of doing something, Jimsy, that's all. It's the only way I can be on the team." She glowed pinkly at the thought. "When I sit up on the bleachers and see you make a touchdown and hear 'em yell—why I'm there! I'm on the team because I've helped a little to keep you on the team! It almost makes up for having to be a girl. Just for the moment, I'm not sitting up high, clean and starched and safe; I'm on the field, hot and muddy and with my nose bleeding, doing something for L. A.! I'm there!"
Jimsy slapped her on the shoulder like a man and brother. "You're there all the time, Skipper! You're there a million!"
He made the first team the first day he went out to practice. There was no denying him. He captained the team the second year and every year until he graduated, a year late for all his friend's unwearying toil. As a matter of fact they did not make a special effort to get him through on time; the team needed him, the squad needed him, L. A. needed him. It was more like a college than a High School in those days, with its numbers and its spirit, that strong, intangible evidence of things not seen. There was something about it, a concentrated essence of Jimsy King and hundreds of lesser Jimsy Kings, which made it practically unconquerable. In the year before his final one the team reached its shining perfection and held it to the end. It is still a name to conjure with at the school on the hill, Jimsy King's. The old teachers remember; the word comes down. "A regular old-time L. A. team—the fighting spirit. Like the days of Jimsy King!"
Other teams might score on them; frequently they could not, but when they did the rooting section was not dashed. It lifted up its multiple voice, young, insolent, unafraid, in mocking song, and Honor Carmody, just on the edge of the section, beside her stepfather, sang with them:
You can't beat L. A. High! You can't beat L. A. High! Use your team to get up steam But you can't beat L. A. High!
It rolled out over the football field and echoed away in the soft Southern California air. It was gay, inexorable; you couldn't beat L. A. High, field or bleachers.
Stephen Lorimer never missed a game. His wife went once and never again.
"I suppose I am too sensitive," she said, "but I can't help it. It's the way I'm made. I simply cannot endure seeing anything so brutal. I can't understand those young girls ... and the mothers!" Two of her own were on the second team, now, but she never saw them play, and they came in the back way, after games and practice, sneaking up to Honor's room with their black eyes and their gory noses for her capable first aid. She was not one, Mildred Lorimer, into whose blood something of the iron had entered. Her boys bewildered her as they grew and toughened out of baby fiber. She was a little unhappy about it, but she was more beautiful than she had ever been in her life, and freer, with the last little Lorimer shifting sturdily for himself and his father more in love with her than ever. She had more or less resigned her active motherhood to him. The things she might have done for Honor, the selection of her frocks and hats, the color scheme of her room, her parties, the girl at seventeen did efficiently for herself. Her childish squareness of face and figure was rounding out rather splendidly and she had a sure and dependable sense of what to wear. Her things were good in line and color, smartly simple. She had thick braids of honey-colored hair wound round her head; her brow was broad and calm, her gray eyes serene; she had a fresh and hearty color. Stephen Lorimer believed that she had a voice. She sang like one of the mocking birds in her garden, joyously, radiantly, riotously, and her stepfather, who knew amazingly many great persons, persuaded a famous artist to hear her when she gave her concert in Los Angeles.
"Yes," she said, nodding her head, "it is a voice. It is a voice. A little teaching, yes; this Barrett woman who was once my pupil, she will be safe with her. Not too much; not too much singing. Finish your school, my little one. Then you shall come over to me for a year, yes? We shall see what we shall see!" She patted her cheek and sent her out of the room ahead of Stephen.
"Well?" he wanted to know.
"But yes, a voice, as I have said. Send her to me when her schooling is over."
"She has a future?"
The great contralto shrugged her thick shoulders. "I fear not. I think not."
His face lengthened. "Why?"
"Because, my friend, she will care more for living. She will not care so greatly to get, that large child. She will only give. She has not the fine relentless selfishness to make the artist. Well, we shall see. Life may break her. Send her to me. In two years, yes? No, no, I will have no thanks. It is so small a thing to do.... One grows fat and old; it is good to have youngness near. Now, go, my friend. I shall gargle my throat and sleep." She gave him a hot, plump hand to kiss.
Honor was not especially impressed. She rather thought, when the time came, she should prefer to go to Stanford, but she liked her music lessons, meanwhile. It filled up her time, the business of singing, in that last year when she was more or less marking time and helping Jimsy through.
Her stepfather watched her with growing amazement. So far as any one might judge, and to Mrs. Lorimer's tearful relief, Honor's attitude toward the last of the "Wild Kings" was at seventeen what it had been at twelve, at six.
"I was right, wasn't I?" Stephen wanted to know.
"Well ... if you can only keep on being right about it! I'm so thankful about her singing. That year abroad will be wonderful. She'll meet new people ... real men."
"Young Jimsy is exhibiting every known symptom of becoming a real man."
"Yes, but he's a King."
"That appears to be the universal opinion regarding him."
"Stephen dear, don't be ridiculous! You've always been as bewitched about the boy as Honor herself." Mrs. Lorimer was dressed for a luncheon and her husband, heavy-eyed and flushed of face, had cut short his late morning sleep to drive her. She was still for him the everlasting Helen.
"Mildred," he said, quitting the battlefield for the eternal balcony, "do you know that you are lovelier this instant than you were the day I married you?"
Mrs. Lorimer knew it quite well. It was due somewhat to good management as well as luck, and she liked having the results appreciated. She let him kiss her, carefully, because she had her hat on.
The elder James King did not seem to age with the years. "He is," Stephen Lorimer said facetiously, "only too well preserved!" His manner and mode of life remained the same, save that he lost more heavily at cards. For the first time in its history the old King place was mortgaged. In a day when every one who was any one, as Honor's mother put it, was getting a motor car, the Kings had none. Jimsy, of course, rode regally in every one else's. The Lorimers had two, an electric in which Honor's mother glided softly with her little whirring bell from clubs to luncheons and from luncheons to teas, and a rough and ready seven-passenger affair into which the whole tribe might be piled, and which Honor Carmody drove better than her stepfather, who was apt to dream at the wheel. On Sundays Stephen Lorimer took them all, Jimsy, Honor, Billy and Ted Carmody, the Lorimer twins and the last little Lorimer, on motor picnics to the beach. They drove to Santa Monica, down the Palisades, up the narrow, winding, wave-washed road to the Malibou Ranch and built a fire and broiled chops and made coffee and baked potatoes, after their swim, ate like refugees and slept like puppies on the sand. In the afternoon, when they came back to the gracious old house in its wide garden on South Figueroa Street Mildred Lorimer would be waiting, in a frock he loved, to give her husband his tea, cool, lovely, remote from the rougher fun of life.
In the evenings—Sunday evenings—Honor held her joyous At Homes. Three or four favored girls and a dozen boys came to supper, a loud, hilarious meal. Takasugi, the cook, and Kada, the second boy, were given their freedom. Honor, in the quaint aprons her stepfather had picked up here and there over the world, pink, capable, with the assistance of Jimsy and her biggest brothers, got supper.
It was a lively feast. Jimsy King, in one of Kada's white jackets, waited on the table. They ate enormously, and when they had finished they pronounced their ungodly grace—a thunderous tattoo on the table edge, begun with palms and finished with elbows—
followed, while the cups and plates were still leaping and shuddering, with its secular second verse—
"Well, Top Step," said Stephen one of those evenings, "eleven boys beside the stand-by Jimsy. Fair to middling popularity, I should say!"
"Popularity?" She opened her candid eyes wide at him. "Why, Stepper, you know it's not that! They don't come to see me! They don't mind me, of course, but it's the eats, and meeting each other,—and mostly Jimsy, I guess! Mercy,—the chocolate's boiling over!"
She clearly believed it, and it was more or less true. The Carmody home of a Sunday night was a sort of glorified club house without rules or dues or by-laws. It was the thing to do, if one were so lucky. It rather placed a boy in the scheme of things to be one of "the Sunday-night bunch." Jimsy was the Committee on Membership.
"Let's have that Burke boy out to supper Sunday, shan't we?" Honor would say. "He's doing so well on the team."
"No," Jimsy would answer, definitely. "Not at the house, Skipper." Honor accepted his judgments unquestioningly. Some way, with the deep wisdom of boys, he knew, better than she could, that the young Burke person was better on the field than in the drawing-room. There was nothing snobbish in their gatherings; shabby boys came, girls who had made their own little dimity dresses. It was the intangible, inexorable caste of the best boyhood, and Honor knew, comfortably, that her particular King could do no wrong.
The rooting section had a special yell for Jimsy, when he had sped down the field to a touchdown or kicked a difficult goal. It followed the regular High School yell, hair-lifting in its fierceness:
King! King! King! K-I-N-G, King! G-I-N-K, Gink! He's the King Gink! He's the King Gink! He's the King Gink! K-I-N-G, King! KING!
and Honor utterly agreed with them.
The house across the street from the Carmody place was suddenly sold. People were curious and a little anxious. Every one on that block had been there for a generation or so; there was a sense of permanence about them all—even the Kings.
"Eastern people," said Mrs. Lorimer. "A mother, rather delicate-looking, and one son, eighteen or nineteen I should say. He's frail-looking, too, and he limps a little. I imagine they're very nice. Everything about them"—her magazine reading had taken her quite reasonably to a front window the day the newcomers' furniture was uncrated and carried in—"seems very nice." She hoped, if it developed that they really were desirable that they would be permanent. Los Angeles was coming to have such a floating population....
Honor and Jimsy observed the boy from across the street, a slim, modish person. "Gee," said Jimsy, "it must be fierce to be lame!—to have your body not—not do what you tell it to! I wonder what he does? He can't do anything, can he?" His eyes were deep with honest pity.
"Oh, I suppose he sort of fills in with other things," Honor conceded. "I expect, if people can't do the things that count most, they go in for other things. He seems awfully keen about his two cars."
"They're peaches, both of 'em," said Jimsy without envy.
"And of course he has time to be a wonder at school, if he wants to be."
"Yep. Looks as if he might be a shark at it." He grinned. "Slow on his feet but fast in the head."
"Muzzie's going to call on his mother, and then we'd better ask him to supper, hadn't we? He must be horribly lonesome."
"I'll float over and see him," the last King suggested, "and sort of size him up. Give him the once-over. We don't want to start anything unless he's O. K. Might as well go now, I guess."
"All right. Come in afterward and tell me what you think of him."
He nodded and swung off across the street. It was an hour before he came back, glowing. "Gee, Skipper, I'm strong for that kid! Name's Van Meter, Carter Van Meter. He's got a head on him, that boy! He's been everywhere and seen everything—three times abroad—Canada, Mexico! You ought to hear him talk—not a bit up-stagy, no side at all, but interesting! I asked him for supper, Sunday night. You'll be crazy about him—all the bunch will!" Thus Jimsy King on the day Carter Van Meter limped into his life; thus Jimsy King through the years which followed, worshiping humbly the things he did not have in himself, belittling his own gifts, enlarging his own lacks, glorifying his friend. He had never had a deeply intimate boy friend before; the team was his friend, the squad; Honor had sufficed for a nearer tie. It was to be different, now; a sharing. She was to resent a little in the beginning, before she, too, came under the spell of the boy from the East.
Mrs. Lorimer came smiling back from her call. "Very nice," she told her husband and her daughter, "really charming. And her things are quite wonderful ... rare rugs ... portraits of ancestors. A widow. Here for her health, and the boy's health; he's never been strong. All she has in the world ... wrapped up in him. Very Eastern!"—she laughed at the memory. "She said, 'And from what part of the East do you come, Mrs. Lorimer?' When I said I was born here in Los Angeles she almost gasped, and then she flushed and said, 'Oh, really? Is it possible? But I met some people on shipboard, once—the time before last when I was crossing—who were natives, and they were quite delightful.'"
"The word 'native' intrigues them," said Stephen, drawing off her long, limp suede gloves and smoothing them. "I daresay she'll be looking for war whoops and tomahawks. And if it comes to that, we can furnish the former, especially Sunday night."
"Muzzie, did you meet the boy?" Honor wanted to know.
"Yes. He came in for tea with us. A beautifully mannered boy. Very much at ease. We must have him here, Honor."
"Yes, Jimsy's already asked him for Sunday night, Muzzie. Jimsy likes him."
"Well, he may. He has a something ... I don't know what it is, exactly, but he will be good for all of you."
"We'll be good for him, too," said her daughter, calmly. "It must be fearfully dull for him, not knowing any one, and being lame."
He came to supper, a trim young glass of fashion, and it was he, the stranger, who was entirely at his ease, and the "bunch," the gay, accustomed bunch, which was a little shy and constrained. Jimsy stood sponsor for him and Honor was an earnest hostess. He said he enjoyed himself; certainly he made himself gently agreeable to Mrs. Lorimer, to the girls. Honor's stepfather observed him with his undying curiosity. He was a plain boy with a look of past pain in his colorless face, a shadowed bitterness in his eyes, a droop at the corners of his mouth when he was not speaking. For all his two motor cars and his rare old rugs and the portraits of ancestors and his idolized only sonship, life had clearly withheld from him the things he had wanted most. There was a baffled imperiousness about him, Stephen decided.
"A clever youngster," he told his wife, watching him from across the room. "Brains. But I don't like him."
"Stephen! Why not?"
He shook his head. "I don't know yet. But I know. I had a curious sense, as he came limping into the room to-night, of 'Enter the villain.'"
"My dear,—that poor, frail boy, with his lovely, gentle manners!"
"I know. It does sound rather piffle. Daresay I'm wrong. The kids will size him up."
When Carter Van Meter came to tell his hostess good-by, he smiled winningly. "This has been very jolly, Mrs. Lorimer. It was good of you to let me come. Mother asked me to say how much she appreciated it. But"—he hesitated—"May I come in some afternoon when—just you and Miss Honor are here?" He looked wistful, and frailer at the end of the evening than he had at the beginning.
"Of course you may, my dear boy!" Mrs. Lorimer gave him the glory of her special smile. "Come soon!"
He came the next day but one, and as her mother was at a bridge afternoon it was Honor who entertained him. She had just come home from High School and she wore a middy blouse and a short skirt and looked less than her years. "Let's sit in the garden, shan't we?—I hate being indoors a minute more than I can help!" She led the way across the green, springy lawn to the little rustic building over which the vivid Bougainvillaea climbed and swarmed, and he followed at his halted pace. "Besides, we can see Jimsy from here when he comes by from football practice, and call him in. I just didn't happen to go to watch practice to-day, and now"—she smiled at him,—"I'm glad I didn't." There was something intensely pitiful about this lad to her mothering young heart, for all his poise and pride.
He waited gravely until she had established herself on a bench before he sat. "Tell me about this fellow King. Every one seems very keen about him."
Honor leaned back and took a serge-clad knee between two tanned hands. "Well, I don't know how to begin! He's—well, he's just Jimsy King, that's all! But it's more than any other boy in the world."
"You're great friends, aren't you?"
"Jimsy and I? I should say we are! We've known each other ever since—well, before we could walk or talk! Our nurses used to take us out together in our buggies. We were born next door—in these two houses, on the same day. Jimsy's just about an hour older than I am!"
"I have never had many friends," said Carter Van Meter. "I've been moving about so much, traveling ... other things have interfered." He never referred, directly or indirectly, to his ill health or his limp.
"Well, you can have all you want now," said Honor, generously. "And Jimsy likes you!" She bestowed that like a decoration. "Honestly, I never knew him to take such a fancy to any one before in all his life. He likes every one, you know,—I mean, he never dislikes anybody, but he never gets crushes. So, it means something to have him keen about you. If he's for you, everybody will be for you."
"Why do people like him so?"
"Can't help it," said Honor, briefly. "Even teachers. He's not terribly clever at school, and of course he doesn't have as much time to study as some do, but the teachers are all keen about him. They know what he is. I expect that's what counts, don't you? Not what people have, or do, or know; what they are. Why, one time I happened to be in the Vice-Principal's office about something, and it was a noontime, and there was a wild rough-house down in the yard. Honestly, you couldn't hear yourself think! The Principal—he was a new man, just come—kept looking out of the window, and getting more and more nervous, and finally he said, 'Shouldn't we stop that, Mrs. Dalton?' And she looked out and laughed and said, 'Jimsy King's in it, and he'll stop it before we need to notice it!' That's what teachers think of him, and the boys—I believe they'd cut up into inch pieces for him."
"I suppose it's a good deal on account of his football. He's on the team, isn't he?" His eyes disdained teams.
"On the team? He is the team! Captain last year and this,—and next! Wait till you see him play. He's the fastest full back we've ever had, since anybody can remember. There'll be a game Saturday. We play Redlands. Will you come, and sit with Stepper and me?"
"Thanks. I don't care very much for——" he stopped, held up by the growing amaze in her face. "Yes, I'd like very much to go with you and Mr. Lorimer. I don't care much about watching games where I don't know the people"—he retrieved and amended his earlier sentence—"but you'll explain everything to me."
She grinned. "I'm afraid I won't be very nice about talking to you. I get simply wild, at games. I'm right down there, in it. I've never gotten over not being a boy! But Jimsy's wonderful about letting me have as much share in it as I can. You'll hear all sorts of tales about him, when you come to know people,—plays he's made and games he's won, and how he never, never loses his head or his temper, no matter what the other team does. If we should ever have another war, I expect he'd be a great general." Her face broke into mirth again at a memory. "Once, we were playing Pomona—imagine a high school playing a college and beating them!—and somebody was out for a minute, and Jimsy was standing waiting, with his arms folded across his chest, and he had on a head guard, and it was very still, and suddenly a girl's voice piped up—'Oh, doesn't he look just like Napoleon?' He's never heard the last of it; it fusses him awfully. I never knew anybody so modest. I suppose it's because he's always been the leader, the head of things, ever since he started kindergarten. He's used to it; it seems just natural to him."
The new boy shifted his position uneasily.
Honor thought perhaps he was suffering; his face looked pinched. "Shall we go in the house? Would you be more comf"—she caught herself up—"perhaps you're not used to being out of doors all the time? Eastern people find this glaring sun tiresome sometimes."
"It's very nice here. You go to Los Angeles High School, too?" He didn't care about changing his position but he wanted intensely to change the subject, even if he had started it by his query. "Odd, isn't it, that you don't go to a girls' school?"
Honor laughed. "That's what Muzzie thinks. She did want me to go, but I didn't want to, and Stepper—my stepfather, you know,—stood up for me. I never liked girls very much when I was little. I do now, of course. I've two or three girl friends who are wonders. I adore them. But I still like boys best. I suppose"—he saw that her mind came back like a needle to the pole—"it's on account of Jimsy. Wait till you really know him! You will be just the same. Honestly, he's the bravest, gamest person in the world. Once, a couple of years ago, Stepper noticed that he was limping, and he made him go to see the doctor. The doctor told us about it afterwards—he's the doctor who took care of our mothers when we were born. Jimsy came in and said, 'Doc, I've got a kind of a sore leg.' And the doctor looked at it and said, 'You've got a broken leg, that's what you've got! Go straight home and I'll come out and put it in a plaster cast.' You see"—she illustrated by putting the tips of her two forefingers together—"it was really broken, cracked through, but it hadn't slipped by. Well, the doctor had to stay and finish his office hours, and about an hour later he looked up and there was Jimsy, and he said, 'Say, Doc, would you just as soon set this leg to-morrow? You see, I've got a date to take Skipper—he always calls me Skipper—to a dance to-night. I won't dance, but I'll just——' and the doctor just roared at him and told him to go home that instant, and Jimsy went out, but when the doctor got to his house he wasn't there, and he had to wait about half an hour for him, and he was furious—he's got a terrible temper but he's the dearest old thing, really. Pretty soon Jimsy came wandering in with his arms full of books and games and puzzles and things he'd got to amuse himself while he was laid up! Of course the doctor expected him to keep perfectly still in bed, but he found he could make a sort of a raft of two table extension boards and slide downstairs to his meals. He had an awful time getting up again, but he didn't care. The first day he was laid up he had exactly nineteen people to see him, and he took the bandages off the leg and all the boys and teachers wrote their autographs and sentiments on the cast. He called it his Social Register and his Guest Book!" Honor was too happily deep in her reminiscences to see that her new friend was a little bored.
He got suddenly to his feet. "Yes. He must be an unusual fellow. But I'd like to hear you sing. Won't you come into the house and sing something for me?"
"All right," said Honor. "I love to sing, but I haven't studied very much yet, and I haven't any decent songs. Why doesn't somebody write some?—Songs about something? Not just maudling along about 'heart' and 'part' and that kind of stuff! Come on! There's Stepper at the piano now. He'll play for me."
It was mellow in the long living-room after the brazen afternoon sun outside, a livable, lovable room. Stephen Lorimer had an open book on the music rack and he was thumping some rather stirring chords.
"Stepper," said Honor, "here's Carter Van Meter, and he wants me to sing for him, and I was just saying how I hated all these mushy old songs. Can't you find me something different?"
"I have," said her stepfather. "I've got the words here and I'm messing about for some music to go with them."
Honor looked out as she passed the window on her way to the piano. "Wait a minute! Here's Jimsy! I'll call him!" She sped to the door and hailed him, and he came swiftly in. "Hello! How was practice?"
"Fair. Burke was better. Tried him on the end. 'Lo, Mr. Lorimer. 'Lo, Carter!"
"I've got a poem here you'll all like," said Stephen Lorimer. "No, you needn't shuffle your feet, Jimsy. It's your kind. Sit down, all of you. I'll read it."
"So long as it hasn't got any 'whate'ers' and yestereves' and 'beauteous,'" the last King grinned. "Shoot!"
"It's an English thing, by Henry Newbolt,—about cricket, but that doesn't matter. It's the thing itself. I may not have the words exactly,—I read it over there, and copied it down in my diary, from memory." He looked at the boys and the girl; Honor was waiting eagerly, sure of anything he might bring her; Jimsy King, fresh from the sweating realities of the gridiron, was good-humoredly tolerant; Carter Van Meter was courteously attentive, with his oddly mature air of social poise. He began to read, to recite, rather, his eyes on their faces:
There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night, Ten to make and the match to win; A bumping pitch and a blinding light, An hour to play and the last man in, And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat Or the selfish hope of a season's fame, But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote— Play up! Play up! and—Play the Game!
Jimsy King, who was lolling on the couch, sat up, his eyes kindling. "Gee...." he breathed. Honor's cheeks were scarlet and she was breathing hard and fast. Only the new boy was unmoved, his pale face still pale, his shadowed eyes calm. Stephen Lorimer kept that picture of them always in his heart; it was, he came to think, symbol and prophecy. He swung into the second verse, his voice warming:
The sand of the desert is sodden red; Red with the wreck of a square that broke; The gatling's jammed and the colonel dead, And the regiment blind with dust and smoke: The River of Death has brimmed his banks; And England's far, and Honor a name, But the voice of a school boy rallies the ranks— Play up! Play up! and—Play the Game!
His own voice shook a little on the last line and he was a trifle amused at his emotionalism. He tried to bring the moment sanely back to the commonplace. "Corking for a song, Top Step. I'll hammer out some chords ... doesn't need much." He looked again through the strangely charged atmosphere of the quiet room, at the three big children. Jimsy King was on his feet, shaken out of the serene insolence of his young stoicism, his hands opening and shutting, swallowing hard, and Honor, the boy-girl, Jimsy's sturdy Skipper, was crying, frankly, unashamed, unaware, the tears welling up out of her wide eyes, rolling down her bright cheeks. Only Carter Van Meter sat as before, a little withdrawn, a little aloof, in the shadow.
When they told Marcia Van Meter (Mrs. Horace Flack) that her little boy would always be lame, that not one of the great surgeon-wizards on either side of the Atlantic—not all the king's horses and all the king's men could ever weight or wrench or force the small, thin left leg down to the length of the right, she vowed to herself that she would make it up to him. She was a pretty thing, transparently frail and ethereal-looking, who had always projected herself passionately into the lives of those about her—her father's and mother's—the young husband's who had died soon after her son was born—and now her boy's. While he was less than ten years old it seemed to her that she compassed it; if he could not race and run with his contemporaries he rode the smartest of ponies and drove clever little traps; if he might not join in the rough sports out of doors he had a houseful of brilliant mechanical toys; he lived like a little Prince—like a little American Prince with a magic bottomless purse at his command. But when he left his little boyhood behind she discovered her futility; she discovered the small, pitiful purchasing power of money, after all. She could not buy him bodily strength and beauty; she could not buy him fellowship in the world of boys; he was forever looking out at it, wistfully, disdainfully, bitterly, through his plate glass window.
She spent herself untiringly for him,—playmates, gifts, tutors, journeys. Her happiest moments were those in which he said, "Mother, I'd like one of those wireless jiggers,"—or a new saddle-horse, or a new roadster—and she was able to answer, "Dearest, I'll get it for you! Mother'll get it for you to-morrow!"
But the days when she could spell omnipotence for him were fading away. He wanted now, increasingly, things beyond her gift. He was a clever boy, proud, poised. He learned early to wear a mask of indifference about his lameness, to affect a coolness for sports which came, eventually, to be genuine. He studied easily and well; he could talk with a brilliancy beyond his years. He learned—astonishingly, at his age—to get his deepest satisfactions from creature comforts—his quietly elegant clothes, his food, his surroundings. Mrs. Van Meter had high hopes of the move to Los Angeles; he was to be benefited, body and brain. She was a little anxious at finding they had moved into a neighborhood of boys and girls; Carter was happier with older people, but he seemed to like these lively, robust creatures surprisingly. Weeks, months, a year, went by. Carter, less than a year older than Jimsy King but two years ahead of him in his studies, was doing some special work at the University of Southern California, but his time was practically his own—to spend with Honor and Jimsy. Honor and Jimsy showed, each of them, the imprint of their association with him. They had come to care more for the things he held high ... books ... theaters ... dinners at the Crafts Alexandria ... Grand Opera records on the victrola ... more careful dress.
"Carter has really done a great deal for those children," Mildred Lorimer told her husband, complacently.
"Yes," Stephen admitted. "It's true. He has. And"—he sighed—"they haven't done a thing for him."
"Stephen dear,—what could they do—crude children that they are, beside a boy with his advantages? What could they do for him?—Make him play football? What did you expect them to do?"
"I don't know," he said, moodily, "but at any rate they haven't done it."
Jimsy King was going—by the grace of his own frantic eleventh hour efforts and his teachers' clemency and Honor Carmody—to graduate. Barring calamities, he would possess a diploma in February. Honor was tremendously earnest about it; Carter, to whom learning came as easily as the air he breathed, faintly amused. She thought, sometimes, for brief, traitorous moments, that Carter wasn't always good for Jimsy.
"You see," she explained to her stepfather, "Carter doesn't realize how hard Jimsy has to grind for all he gets. Even now, Stepper, after being here a year, he actually doesn't realize the importance of Jimsy's getting signed up to play. It's a strange thing, with all his cleverness, but he doesn't, and he's always taking Jimsy out on parties and rides and things, and he gets behind in everything. I think I'll just have to speak to him about it."
He nodded. "That's a good idea, Top Step. Do that."
She grew still more sober. "Another thing, Stepper ... about—about Mr. King's—trouble. Of course, you and I have never believed that Jimsy had to inherit it, have we?"
"No. Not if people let him alone. His life, his training, his environment, are very different—more wholesome, vital. The energy which his grandfather and his uncles and his father had to find a vent for in cards and drink Jimsy's sweated out in athletics."
"Yes. But—just the same—isn't it better for Jimsy to keep away from—from those things?"
"Naturally. Better for anybody."
She sighed. "Carter doesn't think so. He says the world is full of it—Jimsy must learn to be near it and let it alone."
"That's true, in a sense, T. S...."
"I know. But—sometimes I think Carter deliberately takes Jimsy places to—test him. Of course he thinks he's doing right, but it worries me."
Stephen Lorimer smoked in silence. He had his own ideas. "Better have that talk with him," he said.
Honor found the talk oddly disturbing. Carter was very sweet about it as he always was with her, but he held stubbornly to his own opinion.
"Look here, Honor, you can't follow Jimsy through the world like a nursemaid, you know."
"Carter! I don't mean——"
"He's got to meet and face these things, to fight what somebody calls 'the battle of his blood.' You mustn't wrap him up in cotton wool. If he's going, to be bowled over he might as well find it out. He must take his chances—just as any other fellow—just as I must."
"Oh, but, Carter, you know you're strong, and——"
Suddenly his pale face was stung with hot color. "Honor," he leaned forward, "you think I'm strong, in any way? You don't consider me an—utter weakling?"
She looked with comprehending tenderness at his crimson face. "Why, Carter, dear! You know I've never thought you that! There are more ways of being—being strong than—than just with muscles and bones!"
He reached out and took one of her firm, tanned hands in his, and she had never seen him so winningly wistful, so wistfully winning. "I thought," he said, very low, "that was the only kind of strength that counted with you. Then—I do count with you, Honor? I do?"
She was a little startled, a little frightened, wholly uncomfortable. There was something in Carter's voice she didn't understand ... something she didn't want to understand. She pulled her hand away and managed her boyish grin. "Of course you do,—goose! And you'll count more if you'll help me to look after Jimsy and have him graduate on time!" She got up quickly as her stepfather came into the room, and Carter went home, crossing the street with the rather pathetic arrogance of his halting gait, his head held high, tilted a little back, which gave him the expression of looking down on a world of swift striders.
He found his mother reading before a low fire. "Well, dearest?" She smiled up at him, yearningly.
He stood looking down at her, his face working. "Mother, I want Honor Carmody."
"I want Honor Carmody." He rode over her murmured protests. "I know I'm only nineteen. I know I'm too young—she's too young. I'd expect to wait, of course. But—I want her."
Marcia Van Meter's heart cried out to her to say again as she had said all through his little-boy days, "Dearest, Mother'll get her for you! Mother'll get her for you to-morrow!" But instead her gaze went down to the page she had been reading ... the last scene in "Ghosts," where Oswald Alving says:
"Mother, give me the sun! The sun!! The Sun!!!" She shivered and shut the book with emphasis and threw it on a near-by chair. She spoke brightly, reassuringly. "I'm sure she's devoted to you, dear. You are the best of friends, and that's enough for the present, isn't it?"
"Dearest, you've said yourself that you realize you're too young for anything serious, yet. Why can't you wait contentedly, until——"
"There's some one else. There's Jimsy."
"Carter, I'm sure they're like brother and sister. They have been playmates all their lives. That sort of thing rarely merges into romance."
"Doesn't it?" His voice was seeking, hungry. "Honestly?"
"Very rarely, dear, believe me!" She sped to comfort him. "Besides, her people, her mother, would never want anything of that sort ... the taint in his blood ... the reputation of his family.... Mrs. Lorimer says they've always been called the 'Wild Kings.' Of course Jimsy seems quite all right, so far, and I hope and pray he always may be—he's a dear boy and I'm very fond of him—but, as he grows older and is beset by more temptations——"
The boy relaxed a little from his pale rigidity and sat down opposite his mother. He held out his hands to the fire and she saw that they were trembling. "Yes," he said, "I've thought of that. I've thought of that. Perhaps, when he gets to college—up at Stanford, away from Honor—I've thought of that!" He bent his head, staring into the fire.
His mother did not see the expression on his face. "Besides, dear, Honor's going abroad next year, for her voice. She'll meet new people, form new ties——"
"That doesn't cheer me up very much, Mother."
"I mean," she hastened, "it will break up the life-long intimacy with Jimsy. And perhaps you and I can go over for the summer, and take her to Switzerland with us. Wouldn't that be jolly? You know, dear," she hesitated, delicately, "while we know that money isn't everything, you are going to have far more to offer a girl, some day, than poor Jimsy King."
"And less," said Carter Van Meter.
He found Honor a little constrained at their next meeting and he hurried to put her at her old time ease with him. He steered the talk on to the coming football game and Honor was herself. Los Angeles High School, champion of Southern California, was to meet Greenmount, the northern champion, and nothing else in the world mattered very much to her and to Jimsy.
"It's so perfect, Carter, to have it come in Jimsy's last year,—to win the State Championship for L. A. just before he leaves."
"Sure of winning?"
"It will be pretty stiff going. They're awfully good, Greenmount. Not as good as we are, on the whole, but they've got a punter—Gridley—who's a perfect wizard! If they can get within a mile of our goal, he can put it over! But—we've got to win. We've simply got to—and 'You can't beat L. A. High!'"
She went to watch football practice every afternoon and Carter nearly always went with her. In the evenings Jimsy came over for her help with his lessons. He had studied harder and better, this last year; his fine brain was waking, catching up with his body, but he was busier than ever, too, and his "Skipper" had still to be on deck. He was discovered, that last year, to have an unsuspected talent, Jimsy King. He could act. His class-play was an ambitious one, a late New York success, a play of sport and youngness, and Jimsy played the lead. "No," the pretty Spanish teacher said, "he didn't play that part; he was it!" It was going to be fine for him at Stanford, Honor's mothering thought raced ahead. The more he had to do, the more things he was interested in....
He came in grinning a few nights before the championship game. "Say, Skipper, what do you think they gave me on that essay? A B. A measly B. Made me so sore I darn near told 'em who wrote it!"
"Jimsy! You wrote it yourself, really. I just smoothed it up a little."
"Yep, just a little! Well, either they're wise, or they just figured it couldn't be a top-notcher if I'd written it!" He cast himself on the couch. "Gee, Skipper, I can't work to-night! I'm a dying man! That dinner Carter bought me last night——"
"Jimsy! You didn't—break training?"
"No. But I skated pretty close to the edge. You know, it's funny, but when I'm out with Carter I feel like such a boob, not daring to eat this or that, or smoke or—or anything." Heresy this, from the three years' captain of L. A. High who had never considered any sacrifice worth a murmur which kept him fit for the real business of life. "Somehow, he's so keen, he makes me wish I had more in my head and—and less in my heels! You know what I mean, Skipper. He does make me look like a simp, doesn't he?"
"No," said Honor, definitely. "Why, Jimsy, you're a million times bigger person than Carter. Everybody knows that. Knowing things isn't everything—knowing what to wear and how to order meals at the Alexandria and reading all the new books and having been to Europe. Those things just fill in for him; they make up—a little—for the things you've had."
"Do you mean that, Skipper? Is that straight?"
"Of course, Jimsy—cross my heart!" It was curious, the way she was having to comfort Jimsy for not being Carter, and Carter for not being Jimsy.
It rained the day of the game. It had been sulking and threatening for twenty-four hours, and Honor wakened to the sound of a sluicing downpour. She ran to her window, which looked out on the garden. The long leaves of the banana tree were flapping wetly and the Bougainvillaea on the summerhouse looked soaked and sodden. Somewhere a mocking bird was singing deliriously, making his tuneful fun of the weather. Honor went down to breakfast with a sober face.
They had a house-guest, a friend of her stepfather's, an Englishwoman, a novelist. She was a brisk, ruddy-skinned creature, with crisp sentences and sturdy legs in thick stockings, and she was taking a keen interest in American sport. "Oh, I say," she greeted Honor, "isn't this bad for your match?"
"Yes, Miss Bruce-Drummond, it is. We were hoping for a dry field. They're more used to playing in the mud than we are. But it'll be all right."
"I'm fearfully keen about it.—No, thank you—my mother was Scotch, you see, and I don't take sugar to my porridge. Salt, please!" She turned to Stephen Lorimer. "I've been meaning to ask you what you think of Arnold Bennett over here?"
Honor's stepfather flung himself zestfully into the discussion. He liked clever women and he knew a lot of them, but he had been at some pains not to marry one. Mildred Lorimer, beside the shining copper coffee percolator, looked a lovely Vesta of the hearth and home.
Honor wished she might take a pleat in the fore-noon. She didn't see how she was going to get through the hours between breakfast and the time to start for the game. It was a relief to see Jimsy coming across the lawn at ten o'clock. She ran out to meet him.
"'Lo, Skipper. Isn't this weather the deuce?"
"Beastly, but it doesn't really matter. We're certain to——" she broke off and looked closely at him. "Jimsy, what's the matter?"
"Oh ... nothing."
"Yes, there is! Come on in the house. There's no one home. Stepper's driving Miss Bruce-Drummond and Muzzie's being marcelled." She did not speak again until they were in the living room. "Now, tell me."
"Why—it's nothing, really. Feeling kind of seedy, that's all. Didn't have much sleep."
"Jimsy! You didn't—you weren't out with Carter?"
"Just for a little while. We went to a Movie. Coach told us to—keep our minds off the game. But I was home and in the house at nine-thirty. It was—Dad. He came in about midnight. I—I didn't go to bed at all."
"Oh...." Her eyes yearned over him, over them both. "Jimsy, I'm so terribly sorry. Is he—how is he now?"
"Sleeping. I guess he'll sleep all day. Gee—I wish I could!" His young face looked gray and strained.
The girl drew a long breath. "Jimsy, you've got to sleep now. You've got to put it—you've got to put your father away—out of your mind. You don't belong to him to-day; you belong to the team; you belong to L. A.... No matter what's happening to you, you've got to do your best—and—and be your best."
"If I can," he said, haggardly.
"Lie down on the couch."
"Oh, I don't want to lie down, Skipper—I'll just——"
"Lie down on the couch, Jimsy!" She herded him firmly to the couch, tucked a soft, flat pillow under his head, threw a light afghan over him. Then she opened a window wide to the wet sweet air and drew the other shades down, and came to sit on the floor beside him, talking all the time, softly, lazily, about the English lady novelist who didn't take sugar "to" her porridge ... about the giddy mocking bird, singing in the rain ... about a new book which Carter thought was wonderful and which she couldn't see through at all ... until his quick, burdened breathing yielded to a long relaxing sigh like that of a tired puppy, and the hope of L. A. High and the last of the "Wild Kings" slept. She mounted rigid guard over him for three hours, banishing the returned stepfather and house-guest, keeping her noisy little brothers at bay. She had ordered a strictly training-table luncheon for one o'clock for her charge, and while the clock was striking the hour Kada brought the tray. Jimsy was still sleeping. Honor looked at him, hesitating, then she ran to the piano and struck her stepfather's rousing chords and began to sing:
There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night, Ten to make and the match to win—
At the first line he stirred, at the second he rubbed his eyes, and at the third he was sitting up and listening. She swung into the finish, and as always, it ran away with her. She had never gotten over the first choking thrill at the words:
Play up! Play up! and—Play the Game!
Jimsy King came to stand beside her. His hair was mussed and his face flushed, and there was a sleep-crease on one cheek, but his eyes were clear and steady. "It's O. K., Skipper," he said. "I can. I'm going to. I will."
Carter Van Meter drove Honor and Stephen Lorimer and Miss Bruce-Drummond in his newest car and the four of them sat together on the edge of the rooting section.
It was still raining a little, teasingly, reluctant to leave off altogether, and the field was a batter of mud. The rooting section of L. A. High was damp but undaunted. The yell leaders, vehement, piercingly vocal, conducted them into thunderous challenges:
Ali beebo! Ali by-bo! Ali beebo by-bo bum! Catch 'em in a rat trap, Put 'em in a cat trap, Catch 'em in a cat trap, Put 'em in a rat trap! Ali beebo! Ali by-bo! Ali beebo by-bo bum!
The bleachers rocked and creaked and swayed with the rhythm of it. "My word!" said Miss Bruce-Drummond. She listened fascinatedly to their deafening repertoire. Greenmount's supporters, a rather forlorn little group of substitutes, with the coach and trainer and a teacher or two, and a pert fox terrier wearing their colors on his collar, elicitated a brief, passing pity from Honor. They looked strange and friendless, these smart Northern prep-schoolers. The L. A. rooters conscientiously gave their opponents' yell and received a spatter of applause. The Northerners trotted out on the field and were hospitably cheered.
"There, Stepper," said Honor, tensely, "that's Gridley—the tallest one,—see? Last on the right?"
"So, that's the boy with the beamish boot, eh?"
"Yes. He mustn't get a chance. He mustn't."
Miss Bruce-Drummond looked at her friend's stepdaughter. "You're frightfully keen about it, aren't you?"
"Yes," said Honor, briefly.
"I daresay I shall find it very different from Rugby, but I expect I shall be able to follow it if you'll explain a bit."
Honor did not answer. She was standing up, yelling with all the strength of her lusty young lungs, as the Southern champions came out. Then the rooting section made everything that they had said and done before seem like a lullaby; it seemed to the Englishwoman she had never known there could be such noise. Her head hummed with it:
King! King! King! K-I-N-G, King! G-I-N-K, Gink! He's the King Gink! He's the King Gink! He's the King Gink! K-I-N-G, King! KING!
Honor sat down again, her fists clenched, her lower lip between her teeth. If only it were time to begin ... time for the kick-off! This was always the worse part, just before.... It was L. A.'s kick-off. The whistle sounded, mercifully, and with the solid, satisfying impact of leather against leather she relaxed. It was on. It had started. All the weeks of waiting for the championship game were over. This was the game, and it was just like any other game; Jimsy was there—here, there, everywhere, and they would fight, fight. And you couldn't beat L. A. High. The mud was horrible. It took grace and fleetness and made a mock of them; both teams were playing raggedly. Well, of course they would, at first; it was so frightfully important. They would shake down into form in a moment.
"I don't believe," cut in the fresh, crisp voice of Miss Bruce-Drummond, "that I quite understand what a 'down' is. Would you mind explaining it to me?"
"Why," said Honor, without turning her head, "they have three downs in which to make——" she was on her feet again, screaming, "Come on! Come on! Come—oh——"
Jimsy King, with the mud-smeared ball under his arm, had made fifteen precious yards before he was tackled. He was up in a flash, wiping the mud off his face, grinning. The rooters split the soft air asunder.
Stephen Lorimer looked at Honor and at Carter Van Meter. He always felt sorry for the boy at a game; he looked paler and frailer than ever in contrast with the hearty young savages on the field, and he was never able really to give himself to the agony and wild joy of it.
Honor forced herself to sit still, her elbows on her knees, her hot face propped on her clenched hands. They were playing better now, all of them, but it wasn't brilliant football; it couldn't be. It would be a battle of dogged endurance.
"I say, my dear, is that a down?" the English novelist wanted to know.
"Yes," said Honor, patiently. "That's a down, and now there'll be another because they have——" again she cut short her explanation and caught hold of her stepfather's arm. "Stepper! Look! Gridley isn't playing!"
He stared. "Really, Top Step? Why, they surely——"
"I tell you he isn't playing. See,—there he is, on the side-lines, in the purple sweater!"
"Well, so much the better for L. A.," said Carter, easily.
Honor shook her head. "I don't understand it." She began, oddly, to feel herself enveloped in a fog of depression, of foreboding. Again and again her eyes left the play to rest unhappily on the silent figure in the purple sweater. Jimsy was playing well; every man on the team was playing well; but they were not gaining. Jimsy King, on whose heels were always the wings of Mercury, could not get up speed in that mud,—a brief flash, no more. She began to bargain with the gods of the gridiron; at first she had been concerned with scoring in the first five minutes of play; then she had remodeled her petition ... to score in the first half. Now, her throat dry, she was aching with the fear of being scored upon ... counting the minutes yet to play, speeding them in her heart. It was raining hard again. The rooting section, in spite of the frantic effort of the hoarse yell leaders, was slowing down. What was it?—The rain? The mud? Was Jimsy not himself, not the King Gink? Was his heart with his father in the darkened room in the old King house?
"Of course, I'm not up on this at all, but I'm rather afraid your young friends are getting the worst of it, my dear!" said Miss Bruce-Drummond, cheerily.
"It's the longest first half I ever saw in my life," said Honor, between clenched teeth.
"Ah, yes,—I daresay it does seem so to you, but I expect they keep the time very carefully, don't you?" She looked the girl over interestedly. "The psychology of this sort of thing is ver-r-ry entertaining," she said to Stephen Lorimer.
"Less than five minutes, T. S.," said her stepfather, comfortingly.
"You know, I'm afraid you'll think me fearfully dull," said the Englishwoman, conversationally, "but I'm still not quite clear about a 'down.' Would you mind telling me the next time they do one?—Just when it begins, and when it ends?"
"One's ended now," said Honor, bitterly, "and we've lost the ball,—on our twenty yard line. We've lost the ball."
"Ah, well, my dear, I daresay you'll soon get it back!"
Honor sprang to her feet with a cry which made people turn and look at her. "Look there! Look! See what they're doing?" One of the Greenmount players had been called out by the coach and had splashed his way to the side-lines, to be patted wetly on the back and wrapped in a damp blanket. That was well enough. That was the usual thing. But the unusual, the astounding thing was that two of the Greenmount team had slopped to the side-lines and picked up Gridley, divested now of his purple sweater, bodily, in their arms, and carried him, dry-shod, over the slithering mud. Honor gave a gasping moan. "I knew...." There was a dead, sick silence on the bleachers. The rain sluiced down. Somewhere in a near-by garden another giddy mocking bird sang deliriously in the stillness. Tenderly as two nurses with a sick man, the bearers set Gridley down. Slowly, solemnly, he stepped off the distance to the quarter back; briskly, but with dreadful thoroughness, the men who had carried him wiped the mud from his feet with a towel and took their places to defend him from the wild-eyed L. A. men, poised, breathless, menacing. There was a muttering roar from the bleachers, hoarsely pleading, commanding—"Block-that-kick! Block-that-kick! BLOCK-THAT-KICK!" The kneeling quarter back opened his muddy hands; the muddied oval came sailing lazily into them.... There was the gentle thud of Gridley's toe against the leather, and then—unbelievably, unbearably, it was an accomplished fact, a finished thing. Gridley had executed his place kick. They were scored on. It stood there on the board, glaring white letters and figures on black:
GREENMOUNT 4 L. A. HIGH 0
At first Honor's own woe engulfed her utterly. For the first instant she wasn't even aware of Jimsy King, standing alone, his arms folded across his chest, staring down the field; of his men, wiping the mud out of their eyes and looking at him, looking to him; of the stunned rooters. But at the second breath she was awake, alive again, tense, tingling, bursting with her message for them all, keeping herself by main force in her place. Jimsy King never saw any one in a game; he never knew any one in a game; people ceased to exist for him while he was on the field. But to-day, in this difficult hour, she was to see him turn and face the bleachers and rake them with his aghast and startled eyes until he found her. She was on her feet, in her white jersey suit and her blue hat and scarf—L. A.'s colors—waving to him, looking down at him with all her gallant soul in her eyes. It seemed to her as if she must be saying it aloud; as if she must be singing it:
Play up! Play up! and—Play the Game!
Then the bleachers and the players saw the Captain of the L. A. team turn and wade briskly down the field to Gridley. They saw him hold out his muddy hand; they heard his clear, "Peach of a kick!" They saw him give the Northerner's hand a hearty shake; they saw him fling up his head, and grin, and face the grandstand for a second, his eyes seeking.... They saw him rally his men with a snapped-out order,—and then they were on their feet, shouting, screaming, stamping, cheering:
KING! KING! KING!
The yell leaders couldn't get hold of them; there was no need. Every man was his own yell leader. They yelled for Gridley and for Greenmount (why worry, when Jimsy clearly wasn't worried?) and for their own team, man by man, and the call of time for the first half failed to make the faintest dent in their enthusiasm.
"But"—said Miss Bruce-Drummond, her mouth close to Honor's ear—"you haven't won, have you?"
"Not yet!" Honor shouted. "Wait!" She began to sing with the rest:
You can't beat L. A. High! You can't beat L. A. High! Use your team to get up steam, But you can't beat L. A. High!
It was gay, mocking, scatheless, inexorable. You couldn't beat L. A. High. Honor swayed and swung to it. Use your team and your tricks and your dry-shod men to kick, but you couldn't beat L. A. High. And it appeared, in fact, that you couldn't, for Jimsy King's team went into the second half like happy young tigers, against men who were a little tired, a little overconfident, and in the first ten minutes of play the King Gink, mud-smeared beyond recognition, grinning, went over the line for a touchdown, and nobody minded much Burke's missing the goal because they had won anyway:
GREENMOUNT 4 L. A. HIGH 5
and the championship, the state championship, stayed south, and it suddenly stopped raining and the sun came out gloriously after the reckless manner of Southern California suns, and everything was for the best in the best of all possible worlds.
Honor, star-eyed, more utterly and completely happy and content than she had ever been in her life, turned penitently to Miss Bruce-Drummond. "When we get home," she said, "I'll explain to you exactly what a 'down' is!"
They waited to see the joyous serpentine, to watch Jimsy's struggles to get down from the shoulders of his adorers who bore him the length of the field and back, and then Carter drove them home and went back for the Captain, who would be showered and dressed by that time. They were both dining with Honor, but Jimsy looked in on his father first.
"Gusty says he's slept all day," he reported to Honor. He kept looking at her, with an odd intensity, all through the lively meal. She had changed her wet white jersey for one of her long-lined, cleverly simple frocks of L. A. blue, and her honey-colored braids were like a crown above her serene forehead.
"You know, Stephen," said Miss Bruce-Drummond while they were having their coffee in the living room, "of course you know that both those lads are in love with your nice girl."
"Do you see it, too?"
She laughed. "I may not know what a 'down' is, but I've still reasonably sharp eyes in my head. And the odd thing is that she doesn't know it."
"Isn't it amazing? I'm watching, and wondering."
"It's a pretty time o' life, Stephen," said one of the clever women he hadn't wanted to marry.
"'Youth's sweet-scented manuscript,' Ethel," said Honor's stepfather.
"Jimsy, will you come here a minute?" Honor called from the dining-room door.
"Yes, Skipper!" He was there at a bound.
"Don't you think your father would like this water-ice? I think he could—I believe he might enjoy it."
He took the little covered tray out of her hands. "I'll bet he will, Skipper. You're a brick. Come on over with me, will you—and wait on the porch?"
She looked back into the roomful. "Had I better? I don't suppose they'll miss me for a minute——"
But Carter Van Meter was coming toward them, threading his way among people and furniture with his slight, halting limp. He looked from one to the other, questioningly.
"Taking this over to my Dad," Jimsy explained. "Back in a shake."
"I see. How about a ride to the beach? Supper at the ship-hotel? Celebrate a little?"
"Deuce of a lot of work for Monday," Jimsy frowned. "Haven't studied a lick this week."
Carter laughed. "Oh, Monday's—Monday! Come along! We can't"—he turned to Honor—"be by ourselves to-night, with the celeb. here. Honor has to stay and play-pretty with her."
"Well ... if we don't make it too late——"
Jimsy turned and sped away with Honor's offering for James King.
Honor looked at Carter. His eyes were very bright; he looked more excited, now, some way, than he had at the game. Poor old Carter. He wanted, she supposed, to do something for Jimsy ... to give him a wonderful party ... to spend money on him ... to excel and to shine in his way. But—the ship-hotel—and his father over there all day in the darkened room—For the first time in her honest life she stooped to guile. "I'll be down in a minute, Carter," she said and ran upstairs, through the hall, down the backstairs, cut through the kitchen and across the wet and springy lawn to the King place.
She waited in the shadow of the house until he came out.
"I slipped out—sh ... Jimsy, I—please don't go with Carter to-night! I don't mean to interfere or—or nag, Jimsy,—you know that, don't you?" She slipped a little on the wet grass in her thin slippers, and laid hold of his arm to steady herself. "But—it worries me. You're the finest, the most wonderful person in the world, and I trust you more than I trust myself, but—I know how boys are about—things—and—" she turned her face to the dark house where so many "Wild Kings" had lived and moved and had their unhappy being—"I couldn't bear it if——"
It began to rain again, softly, and they moved unconsciously toward the shelter of the porch.
"You were so splendid to-day! I haven't had a chance to tell you ... shaking hands with him, being so——"
"You made me," said Jimsy King. Then, at her murmured protest. "You did. You made me, just as you've made me do every decent thing I've ever done. I'm just beginning to see it. I guess I'm the blindest bat that ever lived. Of course I won't go with Cart' to-night. I won't do anything you don't——"
Honor had mounted two steps, to be under the roof of the porch, and now, turning sharply in her gladness, the wet slipper slipped again, and she would have fallen if he had not caught her.
"It's—it's all right!" said Honor in a breathless whisper. "I'm all right, Jimsy. Let me——"
But Jimsy King would not let her go. He held her fast with all his football strength and all his eighteen years of living and loving, and he said over and over in the new, strange voice she had never heard before, "Skipper! Skipper! Skipper!"
"Jimsy ... what—what is happening to us? Jimsy, dear, we never before—Jimsy, are we—are we—Is this being—in love?"
And the mocking-bird of the morning, mounted on the wet Bougainvillaea on the summerhouse in Honor's garden, explained to them in a mad, exultant, thrilling burst of song.
"At least," Mildred Lorimer wept, "at least, Stephen, make them keep it a secret! Make them promise not to tell a living soul—and not to act in such a way as to let people suspect! I think"—she lifted tragic, reproachful eyes to him—"you ought to do what you can, now, considering that it's all your fault."
"Some day," said her husband, sturdily, "it will be all my cleverness ... all my glory. I did honestly believe it was a cradle chumship which wouldn't last, Mildred. I thought it would break of its own length. But I'm glad it hasn't."
"Stephen, how can you? One of the 'Wild Kings'—I cannot bear it. I simply cannot bear it." She clutched at her hope. "She must go abroad even sooner than we planned—and stay abroad. Stephen, you will make them keep it a secret from every one?"
"They've already told Carter. Told him just after they'd told me."
"Oh, poor, poor Carter!" There was a note of fresh woe in her voice.
He turned sharply to look at her. "So, that's where the pointed patent leather pinches, Mildred?"
"What do you mean?"
"You've been hoping it would be Carter?"
"Dearest, I've looked upon them all as children.... It was the merest ... idea ... thought. Mrs. Van Meter is devoted to Honor, Carter is an unusual boy, and they're exceptional people. And he—of course, I mean in his boyish way—adores Honor. This will be a cruel blow for him." She grieved. "Poor, frail boy...."
Stephen Lorimer smoked in silence for a moment. "I fancy Carter will not give up hope. There's nothing frail about his disposition. His will doesn't limp."
"Well, I certainly hope he doesn't consider it final. I don't. I consider it a silly boy-and-girl piece of sentimental nonsense, and I shall do everything in my power to break it up. I consider that my child's happiness is at stake."
"Yes," said her husband, "so do I." He got up and went round to his wife's chair and put penitent arms about her and comforted her. After all, he could afford to be magnanimous. He was going to win his point in the end, and meanwhile it would be an excellent thing for the youngsters to have Mildred doing everything in her pretty power to break it up. She might just as well, he believed, try to put out the hearth fire with the bellows.
With her daughter she became motherly and admonitory in her official third person. "Mother wants only your happiness; you know that, dear."
"Well, then, there's nothing to worry about," said Honor, comfortably, "for you want me to be happy and I can't be happy unless it's with Jimsy, so you'll have to want me to have Jimsy, Muzzie!"
"Mother wants real happiness for you, Honor, genuine, lasting happiness. That's why she wants you to be sure. And you cannot possibly be sure at your age."
"Yes, I can, Muzzie," said Honor, patiently. "Surer than sure. Why,—haven't I always had Jimsy,—ever since I can remember? Before I can remember? He's part of everything that's ever happened to me. I can't imagine what things would be like without him. I won't imagine it!" Her eyes darkened and her mouth grew taut.
"But you'll promise Mother to keep it a secret? You'll promise me faithfully?"
"Of course, Muzzie, if you want me to, but I can't see what difference it makes. I'll never be any surer than I am now,—and I can't ever know Jimsy any better than I do now. Why"—she laughed—"it isn't as if I had fallen in love at eighteen, with a new person, some one I'd just met, or some one I'd known only a little while, like Carter! If I felt like this about Carter I'd think it was reasonable to 'wait' and be 'sure.'" She was aware of a new expression on her mother's lovely face and interpreted it in her own fashion. "I'm sorry if you don't like our telling Carter, Muzzie. We did it before you asked us not to, you know. He's always with us and I'm sure he'd have found out, anyway." She smiled. "Carter's funny about it. He acts—amused—as if he were years and years older, and we were babies playing in a sand box or making mud pies." It was clear that his amusement amused her, just as her mother's admonition amused her: nothing annoyed or disturbed her,—her serenity was too deep for that. Her fine placidity was lighted now with an inner flame, but she was very quiet about her happiness; she was not very articulate in her joy.
"Mother cannot let you go about unchaperoned with Jimsy, Honor. People would very soon suspect——"
"I don't think they would, Muzzie," said Honor, calmly. "None of the other mothers are so particular, you know. Most of the girls go on walks and rides alone. But we won't, if you'd rather not. Stepper will go with us, or Billy, or Ted."
Mrs. Lorimer sighed. She could envisage just how much efficient, deterrent chaperonage her husband would supply.
She watched them set off for the Malibou Ranch the next Sunday morning rather complacently, however. She had seen to it that Carter was of the party. To be sure, he was in the tonneau with Stephen Lorimer and the young Carmodys and Lorimers and the heroic-sized lunch box and the thermos case, while Jimsy and Honor sat in front, but at least he was there. There would be no ignoring Carter, as they might well ignore her husband and sons.
Carter, talking easily and intelligently to his host about the growing problem of Mexico, quietly watched the two in front. They were not talking very much. Jimsy was driving and he kept his eyes on the road for the most part, and Honor sat very straight, her hands in her lap. Only once Carter saw, from the line of his arm, that Jimsy had put his left hand over hers, and when it happened he stopped short in the middle of his neat sentence and an instant later he said, coloring faintly,—"I beg your pardon, Mr. Lorimer,—you were saying?"
Stephen Lorimer felt an intense pity for him but he did not see any present or future help for his misery. Therefore, when they had finished their gypsy luncheon and the younger boys were settling it by a wild rough-house before their swim and Jimsy rose and said, "Want to walk up the coast, Skipper?" and Honor said, "Yes,—just as soon as I've put these things away," he went deliberately and seated himself beside Carter and began to read aloud to him from the Sunday paper.
He looked up from the sheet to watch the boy's face as the others set off. Carter pulled himself to his feet. He ran his tongue over his lips in rare embarrassment. "I—don't you feel like a stroll, too, Mr. Lorimer? After that enormous lunch, I——"
Honor's stepfather grinned. "Well, I don't feel like a stroll in that direction, Carter. Let 'em alone,—shan't we?" He included him in the attitude of affectionate indulgence. "I've been there myself, and you will be there—if you haven't been already." He patted the sand beside him. "Sit down, old man. This editorial sounds promising."
But Carter would not be denied. "Mr. Lorimer, you don't consider it—serious, do you?"
"About the most serious matter in the world, I should say, Carter."
The boy refused the generalization. "I mean, between Honor and Jimsy?" He was visibly expecting a negative answer. "I know that Mrs. Lorimer doesn't."
"Well, I disagree with her. I should say, with average youngsters of their age that it was as transient as—as the measles. But they aren't average, Carter."
"I know that. At least, Honor isn't."
"Nor Jimsy. I sometimes think, Carter, that fellows of our type, yours and mine," he was not looking at him now, he was running his long fingers lazily through the hot and shining sand, "are apt to be a little contemptuous in our minds of his sort. Being rather long on brain, we fancy, we allow ourselves a scorn of the more or less unadorned brawn. And yet,—they're the salt of the earth, Carter; they're the cities set on hills. They do the world's red-blooded vital jobs while we—think. And Honor's not clever either; you know that, Carter. All the sense and balance and character in the world, Top Step, God love her, but not a flash of brilliancy. They're capitally suited. Sane, sound, sweet; gloriously fit and healthy young animals—" this was calculated cruelty; Carter might as well face things; there would be a girl, waiting now somewhere, no doubt, who wouldn't mind his limp, but Honor must have a mate of her own vigorous breed,—Honor who had always and would always "run with the boys,"—"who will produce their own sort again."
The boy's mouth was twisted. "And—and how about his blood—his heredity? Isn't he one of the 'Wild Kings'?"
"You know," Stephen lighted a cigarette, "I don't believe he is! He's got their looks and their charm, but I'm convinced he's two-thirds Scotch mother,—that sturdy soul who would have saved his father if death hadn't tricked her. And I'm rather a radical about heredity, anyway, Carter. It's gruesomely overrated, I think. What is it?—Clammy hands reaching out from the grave to clutch at warm young flesh—and pollute it? Not while there are living hands to beat them off!" He began to get vehement and warm. There was to be a chapter on heredity in that book of his, one day. "It's a bogy. It goes down before environment as the dark before the dawn. Why, environment's a vital, flesh and blood thing, fighting with and for us every instant! I could take the offspring of Philip the Second and Great Catherine and make a—a Frances Willard or a Jane Addams of her,—if people didn't sit about like crows, cawing about her parents and her blood and her heritage. Even dry, statistical scientists are beginning——"
And while like the Ancient Mariner he held Carter Van Meter on the sunny sand Honor and Jimsy walked sedately up the shore. They were a little ill at ease, both of them. It was the first time since—as Honor put it to herself—"it had happened" that they had been quite alone with each other in the hard, bright daylight. There had been delectable moments on the stairs, on the porch, stolen seconds in the summerhouse, but here they were on a blazing Sunday afternoon under a turquoise sky, with a salt and hearty wind stinging their faces, all by themselves. They would not be quite out of sight of the rest, though, until they rounded the next turn in the curving road. Jimsy looked back over his shoulder, obviously taking note of the fact. He knew that Honor knew it, too, and the sight of her hot cheeks, her resolute avoidance of his eyes put him suddenly at ease.
"I guess," he said, casually, "this is kind of like Italy. Fair enough, isn't it?"
"Heavenly," said Honor, a little breathlessly. "Italy! Just think, Jimsy,—next year at this time I'll be in Italy!"
"Gee," he said, solemn and aghast, "gee!" They had passed the turn and instantly he had her in a tense, vise-like hug. "No, you won't. No, you won't. I won't let you. I won't let you go 'way off there, alone, without me. I won't let you, Skipper, do you hear?" Suddenly he stopped talking and began to kiss her. Presently he laughed. "I've always known I was a poor nut, Skipper, but to think it took me eighteen years to discover what it would be like to kiss you!" He took up his task again.
"Oh," said Honor, gasping, pushing him away with her hands against his chest—"you wouldn't have had time!"
"I could have dropped Spanish or Math'," he grinned. "Come on,—let's go further up the coast. Some of those kids will be tagging after us, or Carter."
"Not Carter. Stepper's reading to him. He won't let him come."
"One peach of a scout, Stephen Lorimer is," said the boy, warmly. "Best scout in the world."
"He's the best friend we've got in the world, Jimsy," she said gravely.
"I know it. Your mother's pretty much peeved about it, Skipper."
"Yes, she is, just now. Poor Muzzie! I'm afraid I've never pleased her very much. But she gets over things. She'll get over it when—when she finds that we don't get over it!" She held out her hand to him and he took it in a hard grip, and they swung along at a fine stride, up the twisting shore road. They came at last to the great gate which led into the Malibou Ranch and they halted there and went down into a little pocket of rocks and sand and sun and sat down with their faces to the shining sea.