AUTHOR OF "THE CITY THAT WAS," ETC.
B. W. HUEBSCH
Copyright, 1910, by
B. W. HUEBSCH
PRINTED IN U. S. A.
After luncheon they walked over from the ranch-house—more indeed a country villa, what with its ceiled redwood walls, its prints, its library, than the working house of a practical farm—and down the dusty, sun-beaten lane to the apricot orchard. Picking was on full blast, against the all too fast ripening of that early summer.
Judge Tiffany, pattern of a vigorous age, seemed to lean a little upon his wife as she walked beside him, her arm tucked confidently into his; but it was a leaning of the spirit rather than of the flesh. She, younger than he by fifteen years, was a tiny woman, her hair white but her waist still slim. She seemed to tinkle and twinkle. Her slight hands,—the nail of the little finger was like a grain of popcorn—moved with swift, accurate bird-motions. As she chattered of the ranch and the picking, her voice, still sweet and controlled, came from her lips like the pleasant music of a tea bell. He was mainly silent; although he threw in a quiet, controlled answer here and there. One could read, in the shadowy solicitude with which she regarded him now and then, the relation between that welded old couple—she the entertainer, the hoarder of trivial detail from her days; he the fond, indulgent listener.
"I think Eleanor must be back from the city," Mrs. Tiffany was saying, "I notice smoke from the big chimney; and I suppose she'll be over before noon with the sulphur samples. It's amusing and homey in her—her habit of flying to her own little nest before she comes to us. She'll inspect the house, have dinner ordered, and know every blessed detail of the picking before we catch a glimpse of her." Mrs. Tiffany smiled sadly, as though this industry were somewhat tragic.
"I wonder how long Eleanor will be contented with such a way of life?" put in Judge Tiffany.
"I've worried over that," answered his wife. "Suppose she should settle down to it? It isn't as though Eleanor hadn't her chance at travel and society and the things a girl of her breeding should have. This is all her deliberate choice, and I've done nothing to help her choose. Perhaps I should have decided for her. It's curious the guard that girl keeps over her deeper feelings. How unlike she is to her mother—and yet how like—" Her thought shifted suddenly with the direction of her eyes. "Hasn't Olsen overloaded that little team?" she said.
The cutting-shed stood midway of their course. Twenty women and girls, their lips going as rapidly as their knives, sat on fruit crates at long tables, slicing the red-and-gold balls apart, flicking out the stones, laying the halves to dry in wooden trays. A wagon had just arrived from the orchard. Olsen, the Swedish foreman, was heaving the boxes to his Portuguese assistant, who passed them on into the cutting shed. Further on stood the bleaching kilns; still further, the bright green trees with no artistic irregularities of outline—trees born, like a coolie, to bear burdens. Now the branches bent in arcs under loads of summer-gilded fruit.
Long step-ladders straddling piles of boxes, beside this row or that, showed where picking was going forward. Mrs. Tiffany halted under one tree to call pleasantries up to a Portuguese, friend of many a harvest before. Judge Tiffany proceeded on down the row, pausing to inspect the boxes for any fruit gathered before it was ripe.
The first picker was a Chinese. His box, of course, showed only perfection of workmanship. The Judge called up familiarly:
A yellow face grinned through the branches; the leaves rustled as though some great bird were foraging, and the answer came back:
"Hello you Judge!" The Judge picked over the next two boxes without comment; at the third, he stopped longer.
"Too much greenery, young man!" he cried at length. The branches of this tree rustled, and a pair of good, sturdy legs, clad in corduroys, appeared on the ladder; then the owner of the legs vaulted from four feet high in the air, and hit the ground beside his box.
He was a stalwart boy of perhaps two and twenty, broad, though a bit over-heavy, in the shoulders. That approach to over-heaviness characterized his face, otherwise clean-cut and fair. His eyes, long, brown and ingenuous, rather went to redeem this quality of face. Under his wide and flapping sombrero peered the front lock of his straight, black hair. Even before he smiled, Judge Tiffany marked him as a pleasing youth withal; and when he did smile, eyes and mouth so softened with good humor that stern authority went from the face of Judge Tiffany. He stood in that embarrassment which an old man feels sometimes in the presence of a younger one, struggled for a word to cover his slight confusion, and said:
"You are one of the college outfit camped down by the arroyo, aren't you?"
"I am," said the youth. "I also picked the fruit too green. I am here to take my beating."
Judge Tiffany, who held (he thought) an old-fashioned distaste for impudence, smiled back in spite of himself.
"If you don't attend to business in small matters, how can you hope to succeed when you go out into life?" he asked with some pomposity. He had intended, when he opened his mouth, to say something very different. His pomposity, he felt, grew out of his embarrassment; he had a dim feeling that he was making himself ridiculous.
"I can't," said the youth with mock meekness; and he smiled again. At that moment, while the Judge struggled for a reply and while the youth was turning back to the ladder as though to mount it and be done with the conversation, two things happened. Up from one side came Mrs. Tiffany; and from the other, where ran a road dividing the Tiffany orchard from the next, approached a buckboard driven by a lolling Portuguese. Beside him sat a girl all in brown, dust-resistant khaki, who curtained her face with a parasol. Mrs. Tiffany ran, light as an elderly fairy, down the rows.
"Eleanor!" she called.
"Dear, dear Aunt Mattie!" cried the girl. Judge Tiffany, too, was hurrying forward to the road. The youth had his hand on the ladder, prepared to mount, when the parasol dropped. He stopped short with some nervous interruption in his breathing—which might have been a catch in his throat—at the sight of her great, grey eyes; stood still, watching. Mrs. Tiffany was greeting the girl with the pats and caresses of aged fondness. Out of their chatter, presently, this came in the girl's voice:
"And I was so excited about getting back that when Antonio left the corral gate open I never thought to speak to him. And Ruggles's Dynamo—they've let him run away again—just walked in and butted open the orchard bars and he's loose now eating the prune trees!"
"Edward, you must go right over!" cried Mrs. Tiffany; and then stopped on the thought of an old man trying to subdue a Jersey bull, good-natured though that bull might be. The same thought struck Judge Tiffany. Antonio, the Portuguese, lolling half-asleep against the dashboard, was worse than useless; the nearest visible help was a Chinaman, incompetent against horned cattle, and another Portuguese, and—
"Let me corral your bull," said the easy, thrilling voice of the boy who stood beside the step-ladder. Judge Tiffany turned in reproof, his wife in annoyance, the girl in some surprise. The youth was already walking toward the buckboard.
"I guess that lets you out, John," he said to the Portuguese.
Something in him, the same quality which had made the Judge smile back through his rebuke concerning the green apricots, held them all. The Judge spoke first:
"Very well, Mr.—"
"Chester—Bertram Chester," said the youth, throwing his self-introduction straight at the girl.
"Mr. Chester is one of the University boys who are picking for us this summer," said Judge Tiffany.
"Yes?" replied the girl in a balanced, incurious tone. Her eyes followed Mr. Chester, while he took the reins from the deposed Antonio and waited for her to mount the buckboard. As she sprang up, after a final caution from Mrs. Tiffany, she perceived that he was going to "help her in." With a motion both quick and slight, she evaded his hand and sprang to the seat unaided.
Mr. Chester slapped the reins, clucked to the horse, and bent his gaze down upon the girl. He had seated himself all too close. She crowded herself against the iron seat-rail. It annoyed her a little; it embarrassed her still more. She was slightly relieved when he made a beginning of conversation.
"So you're Judge Tiffany's niece, the girl who runs her ranch herself. I've heard heaps about you."
"Yes?" Embarrassment came back with the sound of her own voice. She could talk to Judge Tiffany or to any man of Judge Tiffany's age, but with her male contemporaries she felt always this same constraint. And this young man was looking on her insistently, as though demanding answers.
"They say you're one of the smartest ranchers in these parts," he went on.
"Do they?" Her tone was even and inexpressive. But Mr. Chester kept straight along the path he was treading.
"And that you're also the prettiest girl around Santa Lucia."
"That's very kind of them."
"I haven't seen your ranch, but about the rest of it they're dead right."
To this, she made no answer.
"I'm just down for a few weeks," he went on, changing the subject when he perceived that he had drawn no reply. "I'm a Senior next year at Berkeley. Ever been over to Berkeley?"
"Ever go to any of the class dances?"
"Thought you might, being in the city winters. I'm not much on dances myself. I'm a barb."
He peered, as though expecting that this last statement would evoke some answer. But her eyes were fixed on the little group of buildings—a bungalow, a barn and a corral—which had just come in sight around a turn of the orchard road. For the first time, she spoke with animation.
"There's the house—and there he is, just back of the stable!"
Dynamo, the bull, a black and tan patch amidst the greenery, stood reaching with his tongue at an overhanging prune branch, bowed to the breaking point with green beads of fruit. As they watched, he sucked its tip between his blue lips, pulled at it with a twist of his head; the branch cracked and broke. Dynamo, his eyes closed in meditative enjoyment, started to absorb it from end to end.
"Oh, dear, he'll ruin it!" she cried. "Do hurry! Hadn't you better send for help?"
"I figure I can handle him," said Bertram Chester, bristling at the imputation. "Just give me that halter and drive in back of the corral, will you?"
"Please don't let him trample any trees!" she called after her champion as he vaulted the fence.
Dynamo, seeing the end of his picnic at hand, galloped awkwardly a few rods, the branch trailing from his mouth. Then, with the ponderous but sudden shift of bull psychology, indignation rose in his bosom. He stopped himself so short that his fore-hoofs plowed two long furrows in the soft earth; whirled, lifted his muzzle, and bellowed. One fore-hoof tore up the dirt and showered it over his back. He dropped to his knees and rubbed the ground with his neck in sheer abandonment to the joy of his own abandoned wickedness. He rose up in the hollow which he had dug, lowered his horns, and glowered at the youth, who advanced with a kind of awkward bull-strength of his own.
"Chase yourself!" cried Bertram Chester, flicking the halter. For a second, Dynamo's eyelids fluttered; then, unaccountably, his bull pride rose up in him. He stopped midway of a bellow; his head went down, his tail rose up—and he charged. The girl across the fence gave a little scream. The youth, stepping aside with a quickness marvelous considering the size of his frame, avoided the charge. As Dynamo tore past him, he struck out—a mighty lash—with the halter. The bull tore on until he smashed into a prune tree. The green fruit flew like water splashing from a stone; and Dynamo checked his course, turned again, began to paw and challenge as the preliminary to another charge.
"Oh, let him go—please!" cried Eleanor. Whether he heard her or not made little difference to the youth. Taking advantage of Dynamo's slight hesitation, he sprang in close, caught him by the horn and the tender, black nose; and back and forth, across the ruins of the prune tree, which went flat at the first rally, they fought and tugged and tossed. Through the agonized half-bellows of Dynamo, Eleanor caught a slighter sound. Her champion was swearing! Raised a little above her fears by the vicarious joy of fight, she took no offence at this; it seemed part of the picture.
No one can account for the emotional processes of a bull. Just as suddenly as it rose, Dynamo's courage evaporated. Once more was he brother to the driven ox. He ceased to plant his fore feet; his bellow became a moan; he gave backward; in one mighty toss, he threw off his conqueror, turned, and galloped down the orchard with his tail curved like a pretzel across his back. Behind him followed the youth, lashing him with the halter as long as he could keep it up, pelting him with rocks and clods as the retreat gained. So, in a cloud of dust, they vanished into the Santa Clara road.
When Bertram Chester came back panting, to return the halter, Antonio had arrived and was unhitching the bay mare from the buckboard. Eleanor stood by the corral gate, her Panama hat fallen back from her brown hair and a little of the excitement left in her grey eyes. Bertram approached, grinning; he wore a swagger like that of a little boy who has just turned a series of somersaults before the little girls. Eleanor noticed this. Faintly—and in spite of the gratitude she owed him for turning a neighborly service into a heroic deed—she resented it. Also, Dynamo and Mr. Chester, between them, had wholly ruined a good prune tree in the prime of bearing.
"Say, we didn't do a thing to that tree," said Bertram Chester, with the air of one who deprecates himself that he may leave the road wide open for praise.
"It doesn't matter. It—it was very brave of you. Thank you very much—are you hurt?"
"Only mussed up a little." He blinked perceptibly at the coolness in her tone. Then he leaned back against a fence-post with the settled air of one who expects to continue the conversation. She swayed slightly away from him.
"Kind of nice place," he said, sweeping his eye over the shingled cottage whose rose-bushes were making a brave fight against the dry summer dust, over the tiny lawn, over the Lombardy poplars.
"It's nice of you to say so."
Bertram turned his eye upon her again.
"Say," said he, "I don't believe the Judge expects me back right away! Anything more I can do around the place?"
Eleanor smiled through her slight resentment.
"I don't think I care to take the responsibility." In that moment, the butcher-wagon, making the rounds from farm-house to farm-house, appeared quite suddenly at the bend of the road. Maria, wife of Antonio and cook for Eleanor's haciendetta, ran out to meet it.
"Oh, Maria—tell Mr. Bowles I want to see him!" cried Eleanor, and hurried toward the house. Bertram Chester stood deserted for a moment, and then;
"Good bye!" he called after her.
"Good bye and thank you so much!" she answered over her shoulder.
* * * * *
Two minutes later, Mr. Bowles, driver of the meat wagon, was saying to Eleanor:
"Which was it—rib or loin for Saturday, Miss Gray?"
"Was it?" said Eleanor, absently; and she fell to silence. Maria and Mr. Bowles, waiting respectfully for her decision, followed her eyes. She was looking at a dust cloud which trailed down the lane. When she came out of her revery and beheld them both watching, silent and open-mouthed, she flushed violently.
Bertram Chester, swinging between the green rows, was whistling blithely:
"Say coons have you ebber ebber seen ma Angeline? She am de swetes' swetes' coon you ebber seen."
Every Sunday afternoon during the picking season, Mrs. Tiffany served tea on the lawn for the half-dozen familiar households on the Santa Lucia tract. That was the busy time of all the year, affording no leisure for those dinners and whist parties which came in the early season, when the country families had just arrived from town, or in the late season, when prune picking grew slack. Night finds one weary in the country, even when his day has brought only supervision of labor. These town-bred folk, living from the soil and still but half welded to it, fell unconsciously into farmer habits in this working period.
The Goodyears and the Morses, more formal than their neighbors, did indeed give a dinner once or twice a summer to this or that visitor from San Francisco or San Jose. Otherwise, the colony gathered only at this Sunday afternoon tea of Mrs. Tiffany's. Her place lay about midway of the colony, her lawn, such as it was—no lawn flourishes greatly in that land of dry summers—was the oldest and best kept of all; further, they had acquired the habit. Already, these Californians were beginning a country life remotely like that of England; a country life made gracious by all the simple refinements, from bathtubs to books. They had settled, too, into the ways of a clique; small and informal as their entertainments were, minor jealousies of leadership had developed already.
By a kind of consent never yet made law by any contest, the Goodyears were leaders and dictators. He, Raleigh Goodyear, was passably rich; his wife was by birth of that old Southern set which dominated the society of San Francisco from its very beginning. Until their only daughter married into the army and, by her money and connections, advanced her husband to a staff position in Washington, Mrs. Goodyear had figured among the patrons to those cotillions and assemblies by which the elect, under selection of a wine agent, set themselves off from the aspiring. Them the colony treated with familiar deference.
Mrs. Tiffany, whose native desire to please and accommodate had grown with her kind of matrimony, held social leadership of a different kind. Her summer house was the boudoir of this colony, as her town house was the centre for quiet and informal entertainment just tinged with Bohemia. Hers was the gate at which one stopped for a greeting and a chat as one drove past on the road; she was forever running to that gate. She knew the troubles of all her neighbors, both the town dwellers of her set and the humbler folk who made fruit farming more of a business. That rather silent husband of hers—a man getting an uncomfortable peace from the end of a turbulent and disappointing life which had just escaped great success—told her that she had one great fault of the head. She must always make a martyr of herself by bearing the burdens of her world.
The Judge and Mrs. Tiffany sat now, in the early afternoon of a summer Sunday, under the gigantic live-oak which shadowed their piazza. She was crocheting a pink scarf, through which her tiny fingers flew like shuttles; he was reading. Out beyond their hacienda, the American "hands," fresh-shaved for Sunday, lolled on the ground over a lazy game of cards. From the creek bottom further on, came a sound which, in the distance, resembled the drumming of cicadas—a Chinese workman was lulling his ease with a moon-fiddle. Near at hand stood the tea things, all prepared before Molly, the maid, started for her Sunday afternoon visit to the camp of the women cutters. Factory girls from the city, these cutters, making a vacation of the summer work.
Mrs. Tiffany glanced up from her yarns at the leonine head of her husband, bent above "The History of European Morals," opened her mouth as though to speak; thought better of it, apparently. Twice she looked up like this, her air showing that she was not quite confident of his sympathy in that which she meant to bring forward.
"Edward!" she said at length, quite loud. He lowered the book and removed his reading glasses, held them poised—a characteristic gesture with him. He said no word; between them, a glance was enough.
"You remember the young man who went over with Eleanor to drive away the Ruggles bull?"
Judge Tiffany gave assent by a slight inclination of his head.
"I went over to the camp of those University boys yesterday," she went on, running loops with incredible speed, "and I don't quite like the way they are living there. They associate too much with the cutting-women. You know, Edward, that isn't good for boys of their age—and they must be nice at bottom or they wouldn't be trying to work their way through college—"
She stopped as though to note the effect. The ripple of a smile played under Judge Tiffany's beard. She caught at her next words a little nervously.
"You know we have a responsibility for the people about the place, Edward—I couldn't bear to think we'd let any nice college boy degenerate because we employed him—and it is so easy at their age."
"Which means," broke in the Judge, "that you have asked this Mr. Chester up here to tea."
"If—if you wish it, Edward."
"I can't very well countermand your invitation and tell him by the foreman not to come. But I warn you that this social recognition will serve as no excuse if I catch him picking any more green apricots."
Mrs. Tiffany, unturned by this breeze of criticism, ran along on her own tack.
"His manners are a little forward, but he has a nice way of speaking. I'm sure he is a gentleman, at bottom. You can't expect such a young man, who has been obliged to work his way, to have all the graces at once. They've brought down their town clothes—I saw them last Sunday—so you needn't be afraid of that. I've asked Mr. Heath, too."
"Is that by way of another introduction?" asked Judge Tiffany. His eyes looked at her severely, but his beard showed that he was smiling gently again. Half his joy in a welded marriage lay in his appreciation of her humors, as though one should laugh at himself.
"Oh, there's no doubt that he's a gentleman. He is less loud, somehow, than Mr. Chester, though he hasn't his charm. It seems there is the most wonderful boy friendship between them."
"Where did you get all this insight into the social life of our employees?" asked Judge Tiffany; and then, "Mattie, you've been exposing yourself to the night air again."
"Over at their camp last evening," said Mrs. Tiffany. "Well, and isn't it my business to look after—after that side of the ranch?" she added.
The Judge had dropped the book now; his senses were alert to the game which never grew old to him—"Mattie-baiting" he had named it.
"Mattie," he said, "with a pretty and marriageable, dowered and maiden niece on your hands, a new era is opening in your life of passionate self-sacrifice. It used to be orphan children and neglected wives of farm hands. Now it is presentable but neglected bachelors. Your darling match for Eleanor, I suppose, would be some young soul snatched from evil courses, pruned, trimmed, and delivered at the altar with 'Made by Mattie Tiffany' branded on his wings. Spare, O spare your innocent niece!"
"Edward, I never thought of it in that light!" cried Mrs. Tiffany; and she bent herself to furious crocheting. After a time, and when the Judge had resumed his book, she looked up and added:
"It might be worse, though, than a young man who had made it all himself."
Judge Tiffany burst into laughter. Then, seeing her bend closer over her pink yarns, he grew grave, reached for the hand which held the needles, and kissed it.
That was her reward of childless matrimony, as the appreciation of her humors was his.
* * * * *
While they sat thus, in one of their comfortable hours, the guests were come. The Morses appeared first. He was a pleasant, hollow-chested little man; his delicacy of lung gave him his excuse for playing gentleman farmer. She, half-Spanish, carried bulk for the family and carried it well. The Andalusian showed in her coy yet open air, in her small, broad hand and foot, in a languorous liquidity of eye. Their son, a well-behaved and pretty youth of twelve, and their daughter, two years older, rode behind them on the back seat. The daughter bore one of those mosaic names with which the mixed race has sprinkled California—Teresa del Vinal Morse. A pretty, delicate tea-rose thing, she stood at an age of divided appreciations. In the informal society of the Santa Lucia colony, she was listening half the time to her elders, taking a shadowy interest in their sayings and opinions; for the rest, she was turning on Theodore, that childish brother, an illuminated understanding.
The Goodyears arrived with a little flourish. Their trap, which she drove herself and which was perhaps a little too English to be useful or appropriate on a Californian road, the straight, tailor lines of her suit—all displayed that kind of quiet, refined ostentation which, very possibly, shrieks as loud to God as the diamond rings on a soiled finger. Mrs. Tiffany, who had met the Morses on the lawn, tripped clear across the rose-border to meet the Goodyears; did it with entire unconsciousness of drawing any distinction. As by right, Mrs. Goodyear appropriated the great green arm-chair under the oak tree, from which throne she radiated a delicate patronage upon the company.
The others followed by twos and threes. Montgomery Lee, fresh-faced English University man, raising prunes on his patrimony of a younger son; the Roach girls, plump Californian old maids, and their pleasant little Yankee mother; the Ruggleses, a young married couple. Careless farmers, Mr. and Mrs. Ruggles; but they had the good nature which is the virtue of that defect. This, and the common interest in their three plump, mischievous babies, gave them general popularity in the colony.
Within five minutes, the company had followed the law of such middle-aged groups of familiars, and separated by sexes. The men drifted over to the piazza, lit cigars, hoisted their knees, and talked, first, of the prune picking, their trouble with help, the rather bootless effort of a group in San Jose to form a Growers' Association; then of that city where lay their more vital interests.
Goodyear had just been to San Francisco on a flying trip; he brought back fresh gossip: The Bohemian Club had the "Jinks" in rehearsal; a new-discovered poet had written the book; it was to be (so the Sire declared) the greatest in club history.
"As usual," smiled Judge Tiffany.
They were saying about the Pacific Union Club that the Southern Pacific had raised its rates to Southern points. One might have sensed that shadow which hangs always over commercial California in the sombreness which froze the group at this news. From five minutes of pessimistic discussion, Goodyear led them by a scattered fire of personalities. Billy Darnton was going to give a bull's head breakfast at San Jacinto. Al Hemphill was coming to it all the way from New York. Charlie Bates had pulled out for the new gold diggings in the Mojave desert, rich again in anticipation, although he had to leave San Francisco secretly to escape the process servers.
"Tea, gentlemen!" called Mrs. Tiffany, from her nasturtium bower in the shadow of the great oak.
"Just when we are getting comfortable," her husband growled pleasantly; and he made no move to rise. The women sat at ease about the tea-table. Their talk, beginning with the marvelous Ruggles babies, had run lightly past clothes and help, and fallen into the hands of Mrs. Goodyear. She, too, was full of San Francisco. Apart, under the grape arbor, Teresa Morse and her brother were snaring lizards—playing like two well-behaved babies miraculously grown tall.
"There's Eleanor," suddenly spoke Teresa. At the word, she dropped her lizard, started forward; and stopped as she came out into full view of the road.
Eleanor, in fresh white, bareheaded under her parasol, was approaching between two young men. The slighter of the two men moved a little apart; the heavier, in whom Mrs. Tiffany recognized with some apprehension the new protege, Mr. Bertram Chester, walked very close up. He was peering under the parasol, which Eleanor dropped in his direction from time to time without visibly effecting his removal. It seemed from his wide gestures, from the smile which became apparent as he drew nearer, that he was talking ardently.
In the other man, Mrs. Tiffany recognized that Mr. Heath who had the boy friendship with Bertram Chester. He was putting in a word now and then, it appeared. When he spoke, Eleanor turned polite attention upon him; and then resumed her guarded attitude toward that dynamo buzzing at her left. Insensible of the company on the lawn, they passed behind the grape arbor which fringed the gate and which hid them temporarily from view; and the one-sided conversation became audible.
"It wasn't a patch on fights I've had with 'em. Down home, I used to fight steers right along. That's nothing to a nigger who used to work for us in Tulare. He'd jump on their backs and reach over and bite their noses till they hollered quits. Sure thing he did!" It died out as they turned in at the gate and faced the group about the trees.
Mrs. Goodyear made a gesture of an imaginary lorgnette toward her high-bridged nose. Mrs. Tiffany gathered herself and ran over to the gate. It was Mr. Heath—she noticed as she advanced—who was blushing. Bertram Chester stood square on his two feet smiling genially. As for Eleanor, she maintained that sweet inscrutability of face which became, as years and trouble came on, her great and unappreciated personal asset.
Young Chester spoke first:
"I knew Miss Gray was coming down this afternoon—so I laid for her on the road—didn't I, Miss Gray?"
"Very nice of you, I'm sure," murmured Mrs. Tiffany, though she bit her lip before she spoke—"won't you come over to meet our friends?" Eleanor had darted ahead, to the pats of the women and the adoring hugs of Teresa Morse.
Mrs. Tiffany saw with relief that her disgraced protege managed his end of the introduction very well, although he did make a slight advance to shake hands with the critical Mrs. Goodyear. He gave no sign to show that he perceived the men over on the piazza. Mr. Heath, his Fidus Achates, cast a slight glance in their direction; then, seeing Bertram settle himself down in an arm-chair and begin at once to address Mrs. Goodyear, he sat down likewise, suffused with an air of young embarrassment. Mrs. Ruggles, seated next to him, began with visible tact the effort to put him at his ease.
Mr. Chester, as he talked to Mrs. Goodyear, looked always toward Eleanor. She, helping Mrs. Tiffany with the tea things, turning a caressing word now and then toward Teresa Morse, might not have noticed, for all her expression showed.
The men came over for tea, were introduced. Mrs. Tiffany, in her foolish anxiety for the manners and appearance of her protege, noted that he was at home with men, at least.
Mr. Goodyear, indeed, clutched with his eye at the blue-and-gold button in the lapel of Bertram's coat, at the figure of him, and at the name.
"You aren't Chester who played tackle on the Berkeley Varsity last season?" he asked. An old Harvard oar, Goodyear kept up his interest in athletics.
"Tackle and half," said the youth. "Yes, sir."
"Well, well, I remember you in the game!" said Goodyear.
Mrs. Tiffany, now that her protege no longer needed watching, had returned to her tea things.
"Eleanor," she called. "Will you run into the house and get that box of chocolate wafers that's over the ice chest?"
"Let me carry 'em for you, Miss Gray," put in Chester, breaking through a college reminiscence of Goodyear's.
Eleanor never flicked an eyelash as she announced:
"I should be very glad."
Tiffany, glancing over the group, noted with comparative relief that none but she, Goodyear, and the young persons involved, had heard this passage.
As they moved toward the house, Bertram opened upon Miss Gray at once.
"This is the second chance I've had alone at you," he said.
"We are rather conspicuous," she burst out.
"Oh, nobody'll mind. A girl always thinks everybody is looking at her. Besides, I wouldn't care if they were. I've wanted to tell you something, and I couldn't with Heath trailing us. You've got awfully nice eyes."
Eleanor seemed to see neither the necessity nor the convenience of an answer.
"But you have!" he persisted. "They're better than pretty. They're nice."
Again Eleanor said nothing. It seemed to her that there was nothing to say.
"I know why you've got it in for me," he burst out. "You have, you know. When I speak to you, you never talk back, and yesterday you wouldn't let me stay after I had corralled the bull. It's because I'm working for your uncle. It's because I'm making a living, not eating what someone else made for me like—" he swept his hand backward toward the company on the lawn—"like those people out there."
Stung, for a second, to a visible emotion, Eleanor raised her grey eyes and regarded him.
"You are assuming a little, aren't you?" said she.
"Then why can't I come to see you sometime in the evening if that isn't so? I don't ask it of many nice girls."
She caught at the delimiting phrase, "nice girls," and glanced up again. By this time, they had passed through the living room; and he had awkwardly opened the door into the kitchen.
"I haven't known you very long," she said.
"There isn't a lot to know about me," he grumbled. Then his face cleared like the sunshine breaking through. "I could teach you to savvey the whole works in an evening."
"There are the chocolate wafers up over the ice-chest—that brown tin box." He reached up and heaved the package down, putting into that simple and easy operation the energy of one lifting a trunk.
Annoyed, and a little amused, Eleanor watched him. All at once, she felt a catch in her throat, was aware of a vague, uncomprehended fear—fear of him, of her loneliness with him, of something further and greater which she could not understand, did not try to understand. She wanted air; wanted to get away. When he turned about, she stood holding open the kitchen door, her eyes averted.
She felt that he was standing over her; she felt his smile as he looked down.
"You needn't be in such a terrible hurry," he said.
"They'll be waiting for us on the lawn," she forced herself to answer. It required all her energy to keep her voice clear and firm. Then she hurried ahead into the open air. Once in sight of the lawn party, she made herself walk beside him, even smile up at him.
"It's just as I said—" he had gone back to his grumbling voice and his wholly presumptuous manner—"Either you don't like me, or you're sore on me because I'm working for your uncle."
To the great relief of Eleanor, Mrs. Tiffany came out to meet them, took the box from Bertram and accompanied them back to the tea table. For the rest of the afternoon, Eleanor managed by one device or another to save the situation. When, in the shifting of group and group, she had no one else for protection, Teresa Morse, following her like a dog, ready to come to her side at a glance, played the involuntary chaperone.
Judge Tiffany had no word alone with his wife until the sun slanted low across the orchard and the company broke up. When he met her apart, he said:
"He ought to be a success, that protege of yours!"
"I have been dreadfully mortified!"
"Oh, not a social success, though that may come too, if he ever perceives the necessity for it. But a general success. Such simple and unturned directness as his ought to win out anywhere. It is more than enchanting. It is magnificent. I'm willing to risk discipline on the place just to study a specimen so unusual. Mattie, this time I am going to assist. I'm going to ask him to supper."
"Edward, are you laughing at me again?"
"For once, my dear, no; not at least on the main line. You'd better ask that Mr. Heath, too."
The Judge looked across to the oak tree, where Eleanor was ostentatiously tying up the brown braids of Teresa Morse. Bertram, talking athletics with Goodyear, had her under fire of his eyes.
"If any young person was ever capable to make that choice, it is your niece Eleanor," he said. "It might afford study. Yes, ask her, too."
Mr. Chester and Mr. Heath were delighted; though Mr. Chester said that he had an engagement for the evening. ("What engagement except with the cutting-women?" thought Mattie Tiffany.) But Eleanor declined. Some of the chickens were sick; she was afraid that it might be the pip; she doubted if Antonio or Maria would attend to it; she would sup at home. Mrs. Tiffany, anticipating the intention which she saw in Bertram's eyes, made a quick draft on her tact and asked:
"Mr. Chester, would you mind helping me in with the chairs?"
Seated at the supper table, Bertram Chester expanded. The Judge took him in hand at once; led him on into twenty channels of introspective talk. Presently, they were speaking direct to one another, the gulf that separates youth from age, employer from employed, bridged by interest on one side and supreme confidence on the other. This grouping left Mrs. Tiffany free to study Heath. It grew upon her that she had overlooked him and his needs through her interest in the more obvious Chester. She noticed with approval his finished table manners. Mr. Chester, though he understood the proper use of knife and fork and napkin, paid slight attention to "passing things"; Heath, on the contrary, was alert always, and especially to her needs. "He had a careful mother," she thought. Gently, and with a concealed approach, she led him on to his family and his worldly circumstances. He spoke freely and simply, and with a curious frank assumption that anything his people chose to do was right, because they did it. He had come down to the University from Tacoma; his father kept a wagon repair shop. His people had gone too heavily into the land boom, and lost everything.
"I felt that I could work my way through Berkeley or Stanford more easily than through an Eastern college," he said simply.
"And then I shouldn't be so far away from home. Mother likes to see me at least once a year."
He was going home after the apricot picking was over; he felt that in vacation he should earn at least his fare to Washington and back.
"I'm sure she must be a very good mother to deserve that devotion," said Mrs. Tiffany, warming to him.
"She deserves more," he said, a kind of inner glow rising to his white-and-pink boyish face. That same glow,—Mrs. Tiffany might have noticed this and did not—illuminated him whenever, from across the table, Chester's laugh or his energetic crack on a sentence called a forced attention. Mr. Heath deferred always to this louder personality; kept for him the anxious and eager interest of a mother toward her young. Gradually, this interest absorbed both Mr. Heath and Mrs. Tiffany. The table talk became a series of monologues by young Bertram Chester, Judge Tiffany throwing in just enough replies to spur and guide him.
"No, I don't belong to any fraternity," said the confident youth, "don't believe in them. They plenty beat me for football captain last year too. When I came to college, they didn't want me. After I made the team and got prominent, they began to rush me. Then I didn't want them."
"It might have been easier for Bert if he had joined them," said Heath. "They don't like to have their members working at—with their hands; they always find them snap jobs if they are poor and prominent."
"Oh, I don't know," said Bertram. "The barbs elected me business manager of the Occident last season—I didn't make the team until I was a Sophomore, you know—and that more than paid my way. This year I've got a billiard hall with Sandy McCusick.
"He used to be a trainer for the track team," explained Bertram. "I steer him custom and he runs it. Ought to get me through next year over and above. That's one reason I'm picking fruit and resting my mind this summer instead of hustling for money in the city."
"And then?" asked the Judge.
"Law, I guess."
"I am an attorney myself."
"I guess I know that!"
"What school have you chosen?"
"None, I guess. I don't want to afford the time. Yes, I know you want good preparation, but I'd rather be preparing in an office, making a little and keeping my eye open for chances. I may find, before my three years are up, that it isn't law I want, but business."
"I'm not a college man myself," said the Judge, "I got my education by reading nights on the farm, and pounded out what law I knew in an office at Virginia City. One didn't need a great deal of law to practice in Comstock days—more nerve and mining sense. But I've regretted always that I didn't have a more thorough preparation. Still, every man to his own way. This may be best for you."
"That's what I think," said Bertram Chester. "When I got through High School in Tulare, Dad said, 'Unless you want to stay on the ranch, you'd better foot it for college.' I didn't want to ranch it, and I saw that college must be the best place for a start. Dad put up for the first year. I might have stretched it out to cover a little of my Sophomore year if I'd been careful. I was a pretty fresh Freshman," he added.
"And your mother?" asked Mrs. Tiffany. "I suppose she was crazy for you to go."
"Yes, I suppose she would have been. She's been dead ten years. How hard is it to get into a law office in San Francisco?" he added, shifting.
Judge Tiffany met the direct hint with a direct parry.
"We have five thousand attorneys in San Francisco and only five hundred of them are making a living."
"Yes, I know it is overcrowded," said Bertram Chester, not a particle abashed.
After black coffee on the piazza, the two college boys swung off down the lane, Bertram smoking rapidly at one of the Judge's cigars.
"He can be almost anything," said the Judge, meditatively.
"Even a gentleman?" gently inquired Mrs. Tiffany.
"Perhaps that isn't necessary in our Western way of life. Thank God, we haven't come yet to the point where the caste of Vere de Vere is necessary to us."
"I wish I had it," he went on, a little wistfully.
"Gentility? why Edward, if anyone—"
"Oh no, my dear. I may say that was half the trouble. So many considerations came up; so many things I didn't want to do, so many it didn't seem right to do. I was forever turning aside to wrestle with my feelings on those things, and forever hesitating. Half the time, after the opportunity was gone by, I discovered that my scruples had been foolish; but I always discovered afterward. I don't believe that success lies that way in a new world."
He had risen; and now his wife rose and stood beside him.
"You are forever talking as though you were a failure. I know you're not. Everyone knows you're not."
"The parable of the ten talents, Mattie. Not how much we've got, but how much interest we've earned on our powers. However, we had that out long ago, my dear. Yes, I know. I promised not to talk and think this way. But if I'd been like this boy! He'll seize the thing before him. No side considerations in his mind!"
"It is a policy," said Mrs. Tiffany in a tone of injured partisanship, "that will land him in jail."
"No," said the Judge, "success does not lead towards jails. He'll look out for that."
In that immortal "middle period" of San-Francisco, when the gay mining camp was building toward a stable adjustment of society, when the wild, the merry, the dissolute and the brave who built the city were settling down to found houses and cultivate respectability in face of a constantly resurgent past—in those days none who pretended to eminence in the city but knew the sisters Sturtevant. Members of that aristocracy which dwelt on Rincon Hill, their names and fames quite eclipsed those of their quiet, self-effacing parents. Although they never called it that, their establishment amounted to a salon. Also, they never called their circle Bohemian, yet it was tinged with an easy view on the conventionalities, a leaning toward art and the things of art, which meant Bohemia in the time when that word was of good repute. Spain, perpetual spring, the flare of adventure in the blood, the impulse of men who packed Virgil with their bean-bags on the Overland journey, conspired already to make San Francisco a city of artists. She had developed her two poets, singers whose notes had sounded round the world; the painters had followed. The stir of a new life in art, a life which was never quite to reach fulfilment, blew in the bay air.
Centre for those awakening young painters, those minor poets who carried in weaker hands the torches of the two giant pioneers, was the house of the Sturtevant sisters, the one a wit, the other a beauty. Heaven was not grudging with gifts to these two. Alice, the wit, had also a hidden kind of beauty which was not to be taken in on first sight, but which, perceived by the painters of that set, made some of them swear that she was the real beauty of the two. Matilda, the beauty, had if not wit a sprightly feminine fancy. Then, too, her gentleness of judgment, her sweetness of intention, and her illogic of loyalty, gave her point of view a humorous quality. Her circle, confident in her good-nature, was forever leading her on, by this device or that, to exhibit what John Stallard, the novelist, called her "comedy of charity." O'Ryan, that great, glowing failure whose name will outlive the fame of the successful in San Francisco, used to play ingenious jokes upon it. O'Ryan was possibly the only man of any time who could draw the sting of a practical joke.
They dwelt, twin-regnant over this world of theirs, in sisterly harmony. Stallard declared always that a final gift of fate and the gods preserved them to harmony: their tastes in men differed. They had choice enough, God wot—poets and novelists struggling on the verge of fame; attractive, irresponsible, magnetic journalists, destined never to arrive anywhere, but following a flowery path along which a woman might smile; sons of new-rich millionaires who followed and backed and corrupted the artists of that budding Paris which never blossomed; two painters, among many, who got both fame and wealth before they were done.
In his later years, one asked Tyson the English novelist, connoisseur of women if there ever was one, whom he esteemed the prettiest and whom the wittiest among the women he had known and studied.
"For wit, Lady Vera Loudon," he said, "and after her, a quite remarkable woman I met in San Francisco out on the West Coast of America—of all places." Tradition has enlarged this reply to make Matilda Sturtevant his prettiest as Alice was his wittiest.
Matilda's fresh beauty of the devil, her full yet delicate beauty of the twenties and early thirties, live in the galleries of Europe. The painters all had their try at her; she lived in creation which ran the line between miniatures and heroic canvases. Lars Wark, perhaps the least considered of all her painter friends, is the one that triumphed most of all. Who does not know his Launcelot and Enid? The Enid, of a beauty so intelligent, so wistful and so good—she is Matilda Sturtevant, hardly idealized.
These twin graces married within two years of each other. Of course, they chose strangely. Matilda, whose beauty might have graced the head of the table in any one of three gaudy mansions on Nob Hill, chose Edward C. Tiffany, attorney, politician in a small but honorable way, man about town—and much older than she. Alice, following quietly, accepted Billy Gray, journalist—a clever reporter with no possibilities beyond that; a gentleman, it is true, and a man of likeable disposition, but on the whole the least desirable of all her followers.
Billy and Alice Gray lived out the three years which were all they ever had of matrimony, in a Latin quarter garret, transformed into a studio. The intellectual centre of San Francisco shifted to that garret; the gay, the witty and the brilliant still followed wherever Alice Gray might go. Billy, a type of the journalist in the time when journalism meant the careless life, left her a great deal alone after the honeymoon. On his side, there was no conscious neglect in this; on her side, there was no reproach. It was just their way of living. He adored her with a quiet, steady flame of affection which was too fine to degenerate into mere uxoriousness. Already, he was a little too fond of his liquor—a peccadillo which attracted little attention in that age of the careless city. This troubled Alice Gray less than it would have troubled her mother. In the periods when she pulled herself up, she worried to think how little she did care about it. In fact, his remorseful recovery from his debauches had become her occasion for pouring out upon him the mother in her. She reveled guiltily in this singular sacrament of her singular love.
After three years Alice Gray gave birth to a daughter—and died within a fortnight afterward. In all truth, I may say that life, for Billy Gray, ended that day. To lose this tenth muse—I can think of nothing more complete in tragedy except the loss of her father of Marjorie Fleming. And he, like Marjorie Fleming's father, spoke her name no more—until near the end. When after twenty years, his own time came, Stallard, LeBrun the poet and Lars Wark gathered to pay him their last respects. LeBrun came all the way from New Orleans, and Stallard delayed his journey to the South Seas. They had drifted away from him, such had become his ways and habits; they came back in honor of the woman who illuminated their youth. So long and so powerful was the influence of her who never wrote a line except in air and memory.
Billy Gray went on living for the sake of his daughter; but he lived like a man driven of the furies. He became one of those restless, wandering journalists whose virtue to their newspapers is their utter abandonment of courage and enterprise, whose defect is their love of drink.
Eleanor, they called the baby—Alice had chosen that name "in case it is a girl." Mrs. Tiffany, childless herself, played second mother during the first three years of Eleanor's healthy and contented little life. Perceiving the growth of bad habits in that broken brother-in-law, strong and generous enough to face her perceptions, she called him back from a desk in Los Angeles, where, gossip said, he was drinking himself to death, and gave him over his daughter to keep. From that time on, during a succession of removes which took him from Vancouver on the north to Los Angeles on the south, Billy Gray had establishment after establishment, housekeeper after housekeeper for this daughter. Her face and ways, the dim shadowing of her mother's, were the only hold on reality which he kept.
She grew up a rather grave little thing, hardly pretty at all until she turned fifteen, when she showed signs that the beauty of her aunt, if not the wit of her mother, might live again in her. Of wit, it seemed, she had little; neither did she show any great talents in her irregular schooling. Her longest term at any one school was three years with the Franciscan Sisters in Santa Barbara. They, Spanish gentlewomen mainly, are the arbiters and conservators of old fashioned manners on the West Coast. Of them it is said, as it is said of certain sisterhoods in France, that one may know their graduates by the way they keep their combs and brushes. In two years Eleanor absorbed something of their grave gentility from these Spanish women. Little else she got from that education, seeing that she was a Protestant and studied neither catechism nor church doctrine. She did, indeed, totter once on the brink of Rome—even dared speak to her father about it. He accepted the situation so carelessly and gave his assent so easily that she was a little hurt. But the next day, he quizzed her about the church and its doctrines. Like a good lawyer, he slipped in the crucial question of his cross-examination between two blind ones.
"All who die outside of the church go to Hell, don't they?" he asked.
"Sister Sulpicia says so."
"Then your grandmother" (Mrs. Sturtevant had just died) "is in Hell?"
He pursued the line no further; he never needed to; and after a time the storm of doctrine died down in her. That phase of life left another effect on her beside her manners—a mark common enough among Protestant women reared in the shadow of the Catholic Church. Outside its pale by belief, she clung to a few of its sacramentals for pet superstitions, and to a few of its observances for her consolation in trouble and her expression in happiness.
She was sixteen, and about to graduate from a Seminary in Oakland, when her call came to her. In one moment, the secret of her father's long absence became plain; and her whole way of life changed.
Billy Gray had drifted back to the city of his beginnings and happiness; was writing hack editorials and paragraphs for the little weeklies which so infested San Francisco. She knew that their fortunes were low, that only her inheritance, left in trust by her grandparents, kept them moving. Also, a dim suspicion which she had held of her father for years was taking shape in her mind—too young that mind, yet, for any very strong belief in human conduct not written in the tables of the law or in the Etiquette Book.
The current which fused these amorphic thoughts was generated in the most commonplace manner. By custom, she went to the seminary on Monday morning, staying there until Friday evening. It happened that the death of a teacher made Friday an unexpected holiday. Returning on Thursday afternoon, she found the house locked. She remembered that this was "make-up day" at the weekly which took most of her father's work; he must be in the office. She hesitated, wondering whether to telephone for the key; decided to walk down town, since it was a beaming, windless afternoon.
She came about a corner of Montgomery Street, turned in toward the office of The Whale, and ran into the environs of a gathering city crowd. The men were straining over backs and shoulders to see; the women were pressing their hands convulsively to their faces with pity and disgust.
"What's the answer?" some one called from the fringe.
"A drunk," came a voice from within, "plain drunk." The police arrived just then, and cleared a way; through the rift they made, she saw them lift—Billy Gray, her father.
In the limpness and horror of this, her first crisis, she did nothing, said nothing; only stood there. Presently, she was aware that a workman in soiled overalls had joined the policemen.
"Now that's all right," he was saying, "he's only dead to the world, making no trouble for nobody. He works for The Whale up above; what's the good to pinch him?" "The Whale?" asked one of the policemen; and hesitated on the word. In quick decision, then, he whirled upon the crowd, pushed it back, cleared a space. The other policeman and the man in the soiled overalls—he was foreman of The Whale—picked up Billy Gray, who was turning and mumbling feebly, and started to carry him upstairs. A sudden impulse of her limbs, an instinct independent of her will, drew her toward them. The policeman, clearing away the crowd, laid hand upon her.
"You'll have to get back little girl!" he said.
She looked him in the eye; the sudden abandonment to her shame seemed to lift and to exalt her; afterward, shuddering over that day, she still remembered a certain perverse pleasure in this moment. And she spoke loud, so loud that all the crowd might hear.
"He is my father!"
The policeman gave way; she hurried up the stairs. The bearers of Billy Gray were resting on the top of the first flight. They had braced him up against the banisters and were trying to rub sense back into him. She addressed herself straight to the foreman.
"Does this happen often?" she asked.
A good natured and communicative person, he was also enough touched by his importance as Good Samaritan to answer the question of a stray little girl.
"Lord yes!" he replied. "Every pay day nowadays. Used to be the brightest man in the business, too."
Then as she stood there, blown by all the strong cross-winds of the world, Marshall the editor, who knew Eleanor, came hurrying down the stairs. He saw that wreckage, grown familiar now to them all, saw the girl standing white of face beside the balustrade; the situation came over him at once. He opened the door, drew in both the intoxicated Billy Gray and his daughter. Half an hour later, when Billy could walk a little—it was a dead, nerveless intoxication with him nowadays—Eleanor and the foreman took him home in a cab.
In that long day and night, Eleanor strung together a thousand half-forgotten incidents, neglects and irregularities of life, and perceived the truth which her whole world had been in conspiracy to keep from her. Out of the cross-blowing impulses of an immaturity which was still half childhood—self pity, shame, heroic pride in her own tragedy, passionate hatreds of a world which harbors such things—she came to a resolve in whose very completeness she was happy for a time. When, before breakfast, she burst into Mattie Tiffany's boudoir, she had a saintly radiance in her face. The elder woman, advised by the first words that Eleanor knew, took the little, cold body into bed with her, petted her back to something like calm. Storm followed the calm; Eleanor went all to pieces in a burst of passionate crying.
After she had recovered a little, her purpose came out of her. Considering her years, she said it all quite simply and undramatically. It was her business to be with her father. Her mother would have wished it so. She was going to leave school. That was her work.
Mattie Tiffany, with her passion for picturesque philanthropies, knew right well that she had neglected somewhat the plain, unpicturesque philanthropy which lay close to her hand. She had neither the heart nor the conscience to deny Eleanor this sacrifice. In that hour, there grew up between the childless aunt and the motherless niece an understanding which those three years of first infancy, when Eleanor had lain on her breast like a daughter, had never brought at all.
In three months more, during which time Billy Gray reformed, lapsed, reformed, lapsed again, the wiser head of Judge Tiffany found the way. The Sturtevant estate, nearly fifty thousand dollars in all, lay in his hands as trustee. Upon Eleanor's majority, it was to be divided, one third accruing to her, the surviving grandchild, and two-thirds to Mattie Tiffany.
Of late, Judge Tiffany had been turning his mind toward the Santa Clara Valley fruit farms, and especially toward the Santa Lucia tract. He had made the struggle with his own world and lost; that is another story. At sixty-eight, life held little for him except an easy descent into the grave after a career in which he had played only too little. That leisurely style of farming, which would permit him to keep an eye on his dwindling law practice, attracted him. And nothing, it seemed to him, would better further the intention, now awakened in all of them, to do something for Billy Gray. He bought, therefore, two tracts, already planted and bearing in diversified fruits; one of forty acres, with a little cottage home, for Eleanor; the other of eighty acres, with a large bungalow, for himself.
So far as his intentions toward Billy Gray went, Judge Tiffany made this venture with little hope. Billy Gray had tried the Keeley Cure twice. After each course of treatment, he had "beaten it," although he must gargle whisky, through a deadly sickness, in order to get back into the habit again. His was that variety of drunkenness which is not only an unnatural thirst, but also a mania to forget. There on the Santa Lucia tract, Billy Gray, sure of a living, might tilt at happiness and success with that independent writing which is the chimera of all newspaper men until the end of their days; and Eleanor might help him make the fight.
The next four years—they were a monotony of variety. For her broken, incompetent father, Eleanor learned the art and practice of growing apricots and prunes. Lady of her small manor, she made a business of it; got it to pay after the second year. Billy Gray never reformed; no one but Eleanor ever expected that he would. He smuggled whisky in; he stole away to get it; once he led the Judge and Eleanor a chase through his old haunts in San Francisco until they found him, broken all to pieces, in the county hospital.
That incident—it appeared that he had been beaten by a squad of drunken soldiers from the Presidio—was the breaking strain. His constitution gone, his mind and body weakened. For twenty years, no one had ever heard him speak the name of that Saxon Alice whose death was the death of his soul. Now, he began suddenly to babble to his daughter of her mother. In his last delirium, he called her "Alice."
When he was dead and buried, Eleanor went on for a year through her accustomed routine of the ranch, letting life flow in again. Tired at twenty-two, she overstated the feeling to herself after the manner of youth, and thought that heart and sense and feeling were dead in her.
In all the years of passage from girlhood to womanhood, she had lived alone with that dipsomaniac, seeing only such society as frequented her aunt's lawn, and little of that. Books, and such training in life as they give, she had known; but she had never known a flirtation, a follower or a lover. On the day when Bertram Chester went with her to tame the bull, she was as one who steps from the door of a convent.
As she left the Tiffany gate and emerged into the main road between Santa Clara and Los Gatos, Eleanor raised her serviceable khaki-brown parasol. She was walking directly toward the setting sun, which poured into her eyes; yet she dropped the sunshade behind her head as though to shield herself against an approach from the rear. No one followed; she had walked to the next fence corner before she assured herself of that, dared to shift that feminine buckler against the eye of the sun, to slacken her pace, and to muse on an afternoon whose events, so quiet, so undramatic, and yet so profoundly significant, buzzed still in her head. As she thought on them, other things came into her mind as momentous and worthy of attention before the jump of the great event—that moment alone with Bertram Chester, that panic of unaccountable fear. Slow to anger as much by a native and hidden sweetness as by that surface control which puzzled her demonstrative Aunt Matilda, she surprised her cheeks burning and her blood beating in her throat.
With this physical agitation came an army of disagreeable and disturbing thoughts. At first they were only recollections of irritations past; the tiny maladjustments of her life; things by which she owed vengeance of slight wrongs. They came together at length, into one great, sore grievance—the forwardness, the utter, mortifying impudence, of Mr. Chester. It was long before she admitted this as a cause of irritation; once admitted, it overshadowed all her other complaints against life.
Timidly, she approached stage by stage that scene on the lawn, that unaccountable moment in the kitchen. Again she saw his great shoulders heave with unnecessary strength at the ridiculous cracker box; again she caught the sense of confinement with a machine of crushing strength and power. It seemed to her that her retina still danced with the impression of him as he turned to face her, as he flashed upon her like a drawn weapon. She found herself looking down at the dusty road; suddenly she grew so sick and faint that the breath deserted her body and she had to lean against the gate post for support. The touch of it against her body revived her with a start, and brought to her mind the extent and folly of her own imaginings. She pulled herself together and dropped her parasol to shield her face from Maria, who was hurrying over from the kitchen garden.
* * * * *
Life flowed in immediately. A hundred details of a household, of a fruit farm in the picking season, awaited her attention. Her orchard and the Tiffany orchard were conducted together on a kind of a loose co-operative system devised by the Judge to give her the greatest amount of freedom with just as much responsibility as would be good for her. Foreseeing that Alice Sturtevant's daughter would never live on a farm indefinitely, that marriage or her own kind would claim her in the end, he arranged everything so that her oversight might pass on short notice to Olsen or to himself. In this harvest season, for example, he secured for both farms the cutters and pickers—the hardest problem for the Californian farmer. Also, the fruit went to his own sheds and yards for cutting and drying. He was among the sturdy minority who stood out against the co-operative driers which had absorbed most of the fruit crop in the Santa Clara Valley. The detail work about her place—such as setting out the fruit boxes, selecting the moment when apricots or pears were ripe for the picking, seeing that the trees, her permanent investment, were not injured by wagon or picker, keeping her own accounts in balance with those of Judge Tiffany—these and a hundred other little things she did herself and did them well. Especially was the up-keep of the orchard her special care; and this she managed with such native mother-sense that one learned in trees might have told just when he crossed the unfenced line from the Gray orchard to the Tiffany orchard.
To-night, Olsen was waiting to know whether she thought that the ten rows of Moor Parks were ready for picking; he had just finished the first crop of the Judge's Royals and a small gang would be without pressing work on Monday morning. So they walked over the orchard together, pressing a golden ball here and there, and decided that the fruit was ripe and ready. Eleanor summoned Antonio for directions about boxes and ladders. The hen-house had to be inspected, for Eleanor was fumigating against the pip, brought into the Santa Lucia by an importation of fancy Eastern chickens. To-morrow's menu of the housekeeper was to be looked after. The things kept her busy until her solitary Sunday evening supper.
Eleanor had dined alone so much that she had quite recovered from any self-pity on that score. Like the daughter of convent manners that she was, she kept up her self-respect by a little ceremony at this meal. She dressed for it usually; at least she put on fresh ribbons and flowers, gave a touch here and there to the table, held Maria to the refinements of service.
However, as she opened her napkin that evening the rush and emotional strain of the day brought a certain flash of introspection. It came first when she lifted her eyes and caught sight of herself in the mirror—dewy eyed, fresh, a pink rose in her hair, a pink ribbon at her throat. What was she, so young, so feminine, doing there, supping alone in state? She remembered the invitation of Lars Wark in Munich; he and his wife, living the life artistic away over there, had sent to ask her that she visit them and share their winter in the studio or their summer on the coast of Brittany. Why, in the face of that alluring invitation, did she suffer her soul to keep her in such prisons as this? She could afford it; there was no question of money. According to the books she had read, that solitary state belonged to old, disappointed bachelors, old maids, faded people generally. Here she sat, a picture unseen, playing at age—and she less than twenty-two. There was a kind of delicate incongruity about it all. And watching her own grey eyes, as they faced her in the mirror, she half comprehended why she continued to live so, even after her father died and took away the reason for her old solitude. She had been under the hypnotic suggestion of an event, an impression. That moment on Montgomery street, when she found her father lying drunk, when tragedy and responsibility came together—that moment had stretched itself out to six years. She had lived by it; was living by it now.
In some unaccountable fashion, that picture would intertwine itself with the impression, so new and vivid, which she had received that afternoon. Momentarily, both united to produce one emotion—profound disgust and dislike for the coarseness, the brutality, of male humanity, which had laid her father out on the pavement for the sport of a mob, which had made this perturbing young man trample on all considerations and delicacies.
"You need not mind about dessert, Maria," she called out suddenly. She rose, hurried out of doors, tore into the inspection of fruit crates for to-morrow's picking.
Night, falling with little twilight, as always in those climes, found her still ranging the house and barnyard, the rose incongruously in her hair, the ribbon at her throat. When it was too dark to find employment out of doors, she hurried back to the house, tried to read. But a sense of confinement drove her forth. She started out toward the road, stopped by the hedge gate, sat down finally on a bench under her grape arbor. The leaves and the bunches of swelling fruit hid her from sight of the highway, overshadowed at that point by a great bay tree.
A confusion of voices, masculine and feminine, sounded in the distance. She caught a shrill, rowdy laugh. "The cutting-women and their men," she thought dimly. That social phenomenon of the picking season, grown accustomed by six years of passing summers and winters, drew no special attention from her. But the noise continued; it became plain that these reveling laborers were making in her direction. Doubtless, they came from the women's camp at Judge Tiffany's. The night was bringing her peace and sleep of the soul after a disturbing day; alone, that raucous noise marred the calm.
She peered idly through the leaves. A half a dozen women, their white dresses making them visible in the dusk, a few men whose forms loomed indistinctly against the edge of the sky, noised past her and were gone down the road. One couple, she perceived, lingered behind. They had reached the shade of the bay tree, were so close that she might have reached out and touched them, before she realized the situation. She was about to call out, to cough, when the man spoke.
"No, I won't hurt you," he said, "I'm as gentle a little kisser as you ever saw." The voice was that of Bert Chester.
"Aw, you're too fresh," came the voice of the girl. But as they drew into deeper shadow, she was not pulling away from him.
"Fresh as a daisy!" said the voice of Bertram Chester. Followed a struggle, a faint "stop, stop!" in the voice of the girl, the sound of gross and heavy kissing. In a moment, the white form of the girl broke down the road, the greater, darker form of the man lumbering after. He caught her, held her for a longer time and a lesser struggle. She came out of this one laughing, and down the road they went, his arm a black shadow about her waist.
Eleanor's deeper and higher self—the self that lay like a filmy, impalpable wrapper about her conscious mind, so that at times she appeared to herself as two persons—that consciousness stood aloof in expectation of disgust, revulsion, horror. It came as a confused surprise that she felt nothing of the kind. A cloying sweetness, a sensation purely physical, as though a syrup had been poured into all the channels of her nerves, began in her throat, rushed through body and limbs. The sweet tide surged backward, beat in a wave of faintness upon her heart. Shame, like air into a vacuum, followed with a rush. She sank to the ground, clinging to the bench.
When she had so far mastered herself that she could feel her own senses, she was praying aloud—praying in the rite which held her emotions while it failed with her reason.
"Ave Maria Sanctissima!" she was saying over and over again.
"Match you to see whether it's good, old fifteen cent feed at the Marseillaise or a four bit bust at the Nevada," said Bertram Chester.
"I'll take you," responded Mark Heath, flipping a silver dollar as he spoke. "Heads the Nevada; tails the croutons and Dago red."
"Tails it is—aw, let's make it the Nevada to show there's nothing in luck."
"All right; but I hate to look cabbage soup in the face," grumbled Bertram. He resumed, then, his languid occupation which this parley had interrupted, and continued to review, from an angle of Moe's cigar stand, the passing matinee parade.
The time was late afternoon of a fog-scented October day. Through the wet air, street lamps and electric signs had begun to twinkle. Under the cross-light of retreating day and incandescent globes, the parade of women, all in bright-colored silks and gauds, moved solid, unbroken. Opera bags marked off those who had really attended the matinees; but only one in five wore this badge of sincerity. The rest had dressed and painted and gone abroad to display themselves just because it was the fashion in their circles so to dress and paint and display. Women of Greek perfection in body and feature, free-stepping Western women who met the gaze of men directly and fearlessly, their costumes ran through all the exaggerations of Parisian mode and tint. Toilettes whose brilliancy would cause heads to turn and necks to crane on the streets of an Eastern city, drew here no tribute of comment. It had gone on all the afternoon. From the Columbia Theatre corner, which formed one boundary of "the line," to the Sutler Street corner of Kearney, five blocks away, certain of these peacocks had been strutting back and forth since two o'clock. The men who corresponded in the social organization to these paraders of vanity lined the sidewalks or lolled in the open-air cigar stands, as did these two young adventurers in life—Bertram Chester, now a year and a half out of college, and Mark Heath, cub reporter on the Herald.
When the homefarers from office and factory had begun to tarnish the brilliance of this show, when the women had begun to scatter—this one to dinner with her man, that one back to the hall-room supper by whose economies she saved for her Saturday afternoon vanities—Bertram and Mark drifted with the current up Kearney street toward the Hotel Marseillaise. In their blood, a little whipped already by the two cocktails which they had felt able to afford even while they debated over the price of dinner, ran all the sparkling currents of youth. They drew on past Sutler Street to Adventurer's Lane, the dingy section of that street wherein walked the treasure-farers of all the seven seas; and as they walked, Bertram began to speak of the things which lay close to his heart.
"I guess I'll chuck the law," he said. "Maybe I'll stay with Judge Tiffany a year or so longer—until I get admitted anyway. A bar admission might count if I wanted to go into politics."
"Politics is a pretty poor kind of business," responded Mark Heath. Old enough in journalism to have recovered somewhat from his first enchantment with the rush of life, he was only just beginning to acquire the cynical pose.
"Hell, it's all according to how you play it," said Bertram. "When you get to be Lincoln, nobody calls it poor business. Do they think any the worse of my old man because he played politics to be sheriff of Tulare? If I should go into the game down there, his pull would help me a lot. But it's me for this." His sweeping gesture took in the whole city.
He had missed Mark's point. The latter felt within him a little recoil from that loyalty for his greater, more ready, more popular friend, which had carried him, a blind slave, through college, and which had helped him make him settle in San Francisco instead of Tacoma. Through his four years at the University, Mark had shared his crusts with Bertram Chester, yelled for him from the bleachers, played his fag at class elections. Now Mark was out in the world, practising the profession of lost illusions; and a new vision had been growing within him for many days. He turned a grave face toward his chum, and his lips opened on the impulse of a criticism. But he thought better of it. His mouth closed without sound.
"The real chances for a lawyer, though, are in business," Bertram went on. "Judge Tiffany never grabbed half his chances. Attwood in the office, says so."
"He surely didn't keep out of politics, that Judge," said Mark, remembering the turns of fate which had almost—and ever not quite—made the old Judge a congressman, a mayor, and a Justice of the California State Supreme Court.
"Oh, he had no call to be in politics. He hasn't the sand. Attwood says so. And he stuck at his desk and let his business chances go by. Myself, I'm keeping my lamps open. Just because the Judge doesn't watch his chances, that office is a great place to pick things up. Look at those tidewater cases of ours over in Richmond. I know, from the inside, that we're going to lose our case, and lots will go whooping up. I've written to Bob for a thousand dollars to invest. I'll double that in a year and have my first thousand ahead. Say, why don't you try something in business instead of sticking to newspapers? Let's go in together. Reporting is a rotten kind of business."
"Oh, I don't know, I like it. I think I'll stay with it for a while." Again Mark had put back the thought of his heart. Like so many of the loyal and devoted, he could hardly bring himself to speak of his own deeper motives and ambitions. Least of all could he reveal them in this moment of disillusion. He had never told Bertram about the four-act comedy hidden in the writing desk of their common room, to be mulled over during the mornings of his leisure. "I think I'll stay with it for a while, anyway," he added simply.
They had turned out of Kearney Street and were mounting the hill-rise toward the Hotel Marseillaise. These fringes and environments of Chinatown had been residences for the newly affluent in the days when the Poodle Dog flourished and flaunted in the hull of a wreck, in the days when that Chinatown site was Rialto and Market-place for the overgrown mining camp. The wall moss which blew in with the trade winds, and the semi-tropic growth of old ivies and rose-bushes, had given to these houses the seasoning of two centuries. Unpretentious hovels beside the structures of stone turrets and mill-work fronts by which later millionaires shamed California Street and Van Ness Avenue, they had the simple dignity of a mission, a colonial farm-house, or any other structure wherein love of craft has supplanted scanty materials. Innumerable additions of sheds and boxes, the increment of their fallen social condition, broke their severe lines. A massive door, a carriage entrance, the remains of a balcony faced to catch wind and air of the great bay, recalled what they had been; as though a washerwoman should wear on her tattered waist some jewel of a wealth long past.
The Hotel Marseillaise occupied one of these houses. Where it stood, the hill rose steep. One might enter a narrow alley, skirt a board fence, dodge into a box hall, seasoned with dinners long past, and mount by a steep staircase to the dining room; or he might enter that dining room directly from the street, such was the slope of the hill. A row of benches parked the front door. On the fine, out-of-doors evenings which came too seldom in the City of Fogs, French waiters out of work, French deserters from merchantmen in the harbor below, French cabmen waiting for night and fares, lolled on these benches while they smoked their black cigarettes and chattered in their heavy, peasant accent.
Within, Madame Loisel ruled with her cash register at the cigar counter. She, bursting with sweet inner fatness like a California nectarine, kept in her middle age the everlasting charm and chic of the Frenchwoman. This Madame Loisel was a dual personality. She of the grave mouth, the considering eye, the business manner, who rung up dinner fees on the cash register and bargained with the Chinamen for vegetables at the back door, seemed hardly even sister to the Madame Loisel of Saturday afternoon on "the line" or Sunday morning at the French Church. By what process man may not imagine, this second Madame Loisel took six inches from her girth, fifty pounds from her weight, fifteen years from her age. Her step was like a dancer's; her figure was no more than comfortably plump; her Sunday complexion brought the best out of her alluring eyes and her black, ungrizzled hair; her hands, in their perfect gloves, bore no resemblance to the hands which had scraped pots for Louis Loisel in the time before he could flaunt the luxury of a cashier.
In Madame Loisel's background lay the ramblings of a house built for comfort and large hospitalities. Gone were the folding doors, bare the niches, empty the window-seats. The old drawing-rooms, music-room, dining-room, had become one apartment of a sanded floor and many long tables. Through this background of his wife moved Louis Loisel, grizzled, fat and gay; never too busy at his serving to exchange flamboyant banter with a patron.
Hither the peasant French of San Francisco, menials most of them, came for luncheons and dinners of thick, heavy vegetable soup, coarse fish, boiled joint, third-class fruit and home-made claret, vinted by Louis himself in a hand press during those September days when the Latin quarter ran purple—and all for fifteen cents! Thither, too, came young apprentices of the professions, working at wages to shame a laborer, who had learned how much more one got for his money at Louis's than at the white-tiled American places further down town. It stood for ten years, this Hotel Marseillaise, the hope of the impecunious. How many careers did it preserve, how many old failures from the wreckage of Kearney Street did it console!
Madame Loisel stood at her cash register as the two young men entered. A fresh waist, a ribbon at her throat, a slimness of her waist and an artificial freshness in her complexion showed that she had been parading that afternoon.
"Bonsoir Madame—la la la-la-la!" called Bertram.
Her face blossomed with coquetry, her teeth gleamed, and:
"Bonsoir—diable!" she smiled back at him. Mark Heath had greeted her more soberly. Her eyes followed Chester's big, square frame as he moved with lumbering grace to a corner table.
There he sat at the beginning of his career, such as it was, this Bertram Chester—a completed piece of work, fresh, unused, from the mills of the gods. His strong frame was beginning to fill out, what with the abandonment of training for a year. He was a pretty figure of a man in his clothes; and those clothes were so woven and cut as to be in contrast with his surroundings. A tailor of San Francisco, building toward fashionable patronage, had made him suits free during his last year in college. Varsity man and public character about the campus, Chester paid him back in advertising of mouth. Guided by that instinct of vanity and personal display which runs in those who have to do with the cattle range, he had learned to dress well before he was really sure-mouthed in English grammar.
His face, still, as when we first saw him, a little over-heavy, had lightened with the growth of spirit within him. This increase of spirit and expression manifested itself in his rolling and merry eye, which travelled over all humanity in his path with an air of possession, in the mobility of his rather thick-lipped mouth. For the rest, the face was all solidity and strength. His neck rose big and straight from his collar, a sign of the power which infused the figure below; his square chin, in repose, set itself at a most aggressive angle; his nose was low-bridged and straight and solid. From any company which he frequented, an attraction deeper than his obviously regular and animal beauty brought him notice and attention.
The son of Louis, a small, cheerful imitation of his father, slammed a bowl of cabbage soup down before them. Bertram, sighing his young, ravenous satisfaction, sank the ladle deep and stopped, his hand poised, his eyes fixed. Mark followed the direction of his glance. Louis Loisel, wearing his best air of formal politeness, was bowing a party of women to a table by the door.
"Slummers!" said Mark under his breath. A habitue of the place, he had already developed a resentment of outsiders.
Louis pulled out chairs, wiped the table mightily; the French cabmen, the Barbary Coast flotsam and jetsam, gazed over their soup-spoons in silent, furtive interest.
"It's her!" said Bertram, lapsing into his native speech. Heath flashed a glance of recognition at the same moment.
"Miss Gray—sure—Mrs. Tiffany's niece. I thought she was in Europe—didn't she start a week or two after we left the ranch?"
"Oh, I knew she was coming back. Mrs. Tiffany told me. The Mrs. Boss isn't so sweet on me as she used to be, but I see her in the office now and then."
Bertram resumed his ladling. Both watched furtively. It was a balanced party—three men and three women. Among the men, Mark Heath recognized him of the pointed beard as Masters, the landscape painter. The little, brown woman who sat with her back to them must be his wife. The other girl, a golden, full-blown Californian thing—her, too, they marked and noted with their eyes.
Recognition of a sort had come meanwhile from the party at the guest table. Miss Waddington, the full-blown golden girl, had seated herself and cooed an appreciative word or two about the quaintness and difference of the Marseillaise, when her eyes clutched at the two young men in the corner, whose dress made them stand out so queerly among the lost and soiled. As Bertram looked up with his glance of recognition, her eyes caught his. She glanced down at her plate.