[Frontispiece: "He was flailing right and left with a huge pine knot in either hand."]
THE SHE BOSS
A WESTERN STORY
ARTHUR PRESTON HANKINS
THE HERITAGE OF THE HILLS, THE JUBILEE GIRL, ETC.
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS ————— NEW YORK
By CHELSEA HOUSE
The She Boss
(Printed In the United States of America)
All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian.
I. BEAR VALLEY'S DRONE II. OUT OF THE WOODS III. SAN FRANCISCO IV. TWITTER OR TWEET V. A RIVAL VI. THE FIRE VII. HIRAM, THE BUTTERFLY VIII. LUCY'S AMBITIONS IX. HIRAM WAKES UP X. JERKLINE JO XI. THE RETURN OF JERKLINE JO XII. SKINNERS FROM FRISCO XIII. THE START FOR JULIA XIV. A WIRE TO JULIA XV. MR. TWEET NEGOTIATES A LOAN XVI. TEHACHAPI HANK XVII. IN LETTERS OF BLACK XVIII. GREATER RAGTOWN XIX. WHAT MADE THE WILD CAT XX. DRUMMOND'S PASSENGER XXI. LUCY SEES A PROSPECT XXII. JERKLINE JO'S SURPRISE XXIII. DRUMMOND WEAVES A DREAM XXIV. WHAT HAPPENED AT THE LAKE XXV. JO LOSES HER SUPPORT XXVI. AT THE HAIRPIN CURVE XXVII. UNDER THE DRIPPING TREES XXVIII. FOUR-UP FOR HELP XXIX. THE GENTLE WILD CAT RETURNS XXX. HIRAM TAKES THE TRAIL XXXI. A TALE OF THE DESERT'S DEAD XXXII. LUCY PLANS A COUNTER-ATTACK XXXIII. POCKETED XXXIV. WHILE SPRING APPROACHED XXXV. THE WAY OF LIFE
The She Boss
BEAR VALLEY'S DRONE
Spring was manifest in the vast big-timber country of Mendocino County. "Uncle" Sebastian Burris felt the moist warmth of it oozing from the slowly drying road as he trudged along. The smell of it emanated from the white, pale-yellow, and pink fungi that flourished on the soaked and ancient logs along the way. He heard the voice of it in the soft murmuring of the South Fork of the Eel, which went twinkling down Bear Valley through firs and redwoods straight as telegraph poles; in the caress of the soft south wind soughing in the tree-tops. Chipmunks and gray squirrels darted across his path.
A quarter of a mile from Wharton Bixler's store he turned off on a narrow road which led into the deeper forest. He passed through groves of redwoods which towered three hundred feet above him, and whose girth was over sixty feet. A half mile more the old man trudged on sturdily, muttering occasionally to himself. Then he struck a cross trail which paralleled Ripley Creek, and this he followed into the sunshine of an open spot.
Across this, through thickets of whitethorn, manzanita, alder, and bay he limped along, following deer trails. The deeper forest was left behind in the lowlands. A grass-grown bark road, which he eventually found, followed the creek, ascending sharply through shade and sunshine, crossing and recrossing the creek on wooden bridges, twisting, always climbing.
On one of the bridges Uncle Sebastian Burris halted. A great snarl of bleached driftwood had collected just above the bridge, and through it the clear water roared in a dozen tiny cataracts. Beyond the drift Uncle Sebastian had caught a glimpse of some living, moving object. He wiped his watery blue eyes with a red handkerchief, looked once more, then crossed the bridge and wound through a thicket of huckleberry bushes till abreast the drift.
A little later he was peering down a steep bank into the boulder-studded bottom of Ripley Creek, where lay a fine young specimen of the genus homo idly tossing pebbles into the crystal water. A smile half sardonic grew in the features of Uncle Sebastian as he stood looking down at him.
The youth, unconscious of the presence of another, kept on idly tossing the pebbles, recumbent on one elbow. His long sinewy legs were incased in slick jean trousers of stovepipe lines and stiffness. He wore no coat. A faded blue shirt covered his barrel of a body, and his slouch hat was off, exposing long, light, wiry hair and a freckled neck. His lean jaws were covered by a two weeks' growth of beard. About him drooped hazels and alders. From one end to the other Ripley Creek was beautiful; there was no lovelier spot in all of California.
"Hello, Hiram!" Sebastian Burris called at last.
The youth started perceptibly and sat up. He turned his head over his left shoulder. Big, bulging blue eyes laughed back at Sebastian. The good-naturedly twisted mouth that grinned at him was suggestive of a sluggish drawl. The long legs twined themselves, and Hiram Hooker flopped over on his stomach, facing his friend.
"Why, hello, Uncle Sebastian!" he cried in a tone which bore true welcome. "What're you doin' 'way up here? Come on down an' look at the young trout!"
Without remark, Uncle Sebastian, grasping roots and low-hanging branches, clambered stiffly down the bank. He sat down by the side of Hiram Hooker and glanced at three old, dirty backless magazines that lay on the pebbles and smiled.
"Ain't seen ye down to th' store at stage time in I dunno when, Hiram," he remarked, surveying the handsome young Hercules with admiration.
Hiram skimmed a flat piece of slate across a riffle.
"I never get any mail, Uncle Sebastian," he drawled.
"They's a heap o' us don't go to Bixler's fer th' mail, Hiram."
"Heaven knows there's nothin' else to take me there," and there was just a shade of bitterness in the twist of Hiram's good-natured mouth.
In place of tossing pebbles, Uncle Sebastian chose to pick up a redwood splinter on which to whittle. He took out a slick-handled jackknife, blew a clot of pocket lint from the springs, opened a whetted pruning blade, and began shaving the brittle wood. His watery blue eyes were far-off and thoughtful.
"Jest come from there," he resumed. "We was talkin' about ye down there, Hiram. Put me in mind to come up an' see ye. Hiram, ye ain't any too popular in Bear Valley—d'ye know it?"
"You know I do," promptly replied Hiram.
"D'ye know what they're sayin' agin' ye?" Uncle Sebastian continued after a long pause.
"Don't know as I'm carin'."
"Yes, ye are, Hiram," said Uncle Sebastian positively. "Don't tell me that. Ye c'n tell yerself ye don't keer, Hiram, but ye're lyin' to yerself. It ain't in human nature not to keer what folks thinks about a fella. Gosh! where'd we be if it wasn't so?"
Hiram flipped a pebble. "I reckon you're right, Uncle Sebastian, and I reckon I know you're aimin' at somethin'. You came 'way up here to spring somethin' on me, didn't you? Well, le's have it."
"Ye're right, Hiram—I did. In the first place, then, they're sayin' ye're the laziest fella in Bear Valley."
Hiram laughed mirthlessly. "There's nothin' new in that, Uncle Sebastian. They've said the same since paw died. I reckon I am, maybe."
"Hiram," patiently persisted the old man, "I didn't walk 'way up here to listen to such talk. I tell ye, ye're playin' insincere, Hiram. Down in yer heart ye know as well as anythin' it makes ye hot to be talked about an' called th' laziest man in Bear Valley. I'd druther see ye hoppin' mad ner takin' it that a way.
"Now, Hiram, listen to me: I've known ye sence ye was knee-high to a duck, ain't I? Yer paw an' me was thicker ner molasses. Yer paw would 'a' made a brilliant man, Hiram, if he'd 'a' had th' chanct. You've inherited yer paw's brains.
"When ye was a kid ye was a little devil, I'll admit. Still, givin' myself credit fer a set o' brains a leetle above th' average o' Bear Valley, I made allowances. Ye was mean because yer head was full o' ideas; an' in Bear Valley they's so blamed little to use them ideas on that ye jest naturally had to turn to meanness. Ye wasn't really bad; ye was jest alive. All yer life ye been hankerin' fer sumpin that Bear Valley couldn't give, but ye didn't even know what 'twas ye was hankerin' fer. How could ye? A man's gotta taste olives before he c'n tell if he likes 'em, ain't he? Yer paw taught ye to read." Uncle Sebastian glanced once more, half pityingly, half resentfully, at the backless magazines. "Readin's put notions into yer head an' set ye to hankerin'.
"Then as ye grew up th' Valley folks begun to shun ye, didn't they?" he continued. "They called ye queer. Then when yer paw died they dropped ye altogether. It hurt ye, an' ye jest drew aloof an' went to shakes.
"D'ye know, Hiram, sometimes I find myself not blamin' ye like I oughta. They called ye no good before ye really was so, an' practically driv ye to it. Then ye was too proud to brace up an' give 'em th' satisfaction o' thinkin' their treatment o' ye had made ye turn over a new leaf. If they'd gone on treatin' ye decent ye'd likely come out all right o' yer own hook. Hiram, pride's put a heap o' men in th' penitentiary. Pride's stubborn, Hiram. But layin' aside th' root o' th' trouble, an' lookin' at th' matter through their eyes, it's really a shame th' way yer paw's place has gone to ruin—th' way you've gone th' same route. I'd druther see ye plumb bad ern so all-fired no-good all round. Ye had jobs a number o' times drivin' eight an' ten on jerkline, freightin' tanbark from Longport. Ye're a good jerkline skinner, Hiram—no better in the country—but ye won't stick no more'n a month or two outa each year.
"But I'm makin' allowances fer ye—I always have—I'm th' only one that ever has. I been watchin' an' waitin' fer ye to right yerself an' get at sumpin; but this mornin', down to th' store, it come over me that ye'll never do it in Bear Valley.
"Consequently, Hiram," Uncle Sebastian resumed, "ye've gotta move."
Hiram glanced at him with wide-opened eyes. "Move! Where to?"
"Out into th' world, Hiram, to strike yer gait. Ye gotta hit th' hard places an' git experience. Ye gotta taste olives to see if ye c'n stummick 'em. Ye'll get an awful batterin'-up, I reckon, but ye'll likely learn if they's anything in ye. At first ye'll probably go to th' bad an' get a heap worse ern ye was in Bear Valley. That's neither here ner there. Th' point is, if they's a gait in ye ye'll eventually strike it. If not—well, then, what's th' difference? I'm goin' to pay up fer ye down to th' store an' give ye enough to land ye in Frisco. Then th' good Lord an' what He put into that head o' yers must look after ye. I'm gonta foreclose on ye, Hiram."
Hiram was not looking at Uncle Sebastian, but the old man saw his slight start and the red creep down his columnar neck as the last sentence came out. One great toe protruded from the upper of one of Hiram's shoes. Uncle Sebastian saw it twitching.
"You're foreclosin' on me?" The words came slowly and with a hollow gulp.
Uncle Sebastian's lips went straight and hard. "Unless ye'll deed th' place to me, Hiram."
Another pause, while the low wind whined in the treetops and Ripley Creek went gurgling and sucking through the latticed trunks in the pile of drift.
"What did you tell me when I gave the mortgage, Uncle Sebastian?"
The reproach in Hiram's voice did not move the arbiter. "I know what I told ye, Hiram. I told ye, ye needn't worry—that I wouldn't foreclose—that I wasn't speculatin' when I lent th' money on th' place. Jest th' same, Hiram, I'm foreclosin' on ye."
Uncle Sebastian eyed the young man keenly. The first shock past, Hiram seemed now to be turning the matter over with just deliberation.
"I reckon I know what you're up to, Uncle Sebastian," he said at last. "We've talked the matter over too many times for me to misconstrue your motives. You're thinkin' that I'll amount to somethin' if I get away from here."
"I reckon ye've said it, Hiram." Uncle Sebastian voiced this with great relief.
"And you're foreclosin' on me to force me to go."
"Eggzackly, Hiram. I'm proud that ye interpret my motive."
Hiram was silent another long minute. Then, with a hollow laugh: "I reckon you'll be tolerably disappointed, Uncle Sebastian. There was a time when I'd 'a' looked forward to leavin' Mendocino. I've had hankerin's, and I've got 'em yet—but I'm scared. I've never been outa the country but once. What c'n I do away from here? What d'ye expect of me, anyway?"
"Ye c'n certainly do as much out o' here as ye're doin' here, Hiram."
"I don't know about that. It don't take much to live here. I've got about all I want, I reckon. If I had more books to read I'd be pretty near content. There was a time, as I said, when it was different; but now I don't reckon I care. But what particular thing d'ye expect me to excel in, Uncle Sebastian?"
"Excel's a tol'able big word, Hiram. I can't tell ye any more. Ye've wanted to be a poet, an' ye've wanted to be an officer in th' army, an' this an' that an' th' other—ye've wanted to be pretty near everythin' ye read about last. When ye git in touch with these things, Hiram, ye may be able to choose—though they's a heap o' 'em ain't that's in constant touch. I know ye've got imagination. I know it's wasted here in th' backwoods; an' I know ye gotta git."
Uncle Sebastian had risen to emphasize this ultimatum. Now, standing and looking down, he finished:
"Whether ye'll bless me or curse me remains to be seen."
Hiram made no reply—he did not even look up.
"So be down to Wharton Bixler's by stage time to-morrow, Hiram, an' be ready to take th' stage to Brown's Corner. I'll go with ye that far, an' ye c'n deed me th' prop'ty before a notary, so's I won't be obliged to foreclose. Then I'll come back an' pay yer bill at Bixler's, an' ye'll have one hundred dollars to take ye down to Frisco. Will ye be at th' store at half past nine?"
A wait, then a short nod.
Uncle Sebastian half turned, paused, cleared his throat, and for the first time lost his high-handed control of the situation.
"Hiram," he said in a lower tone, "I reckon I'm a fool, but I hope ye ain't holdin' anything agin' me. So help me, boy, I believe I'm doin' ye a turn. Do—d'ye believe it or not?"
"Wait'll to-morrow, Uncle Sebastian," came Hiram's pleading voice. "Le'me think it over all to-night. You've plumb knocked the props from under me."
Without another word, Uncle Sebastian climbed up the bank and strode off through the huckleberries.
OUT OF THE WOODS
For over an hour Hiram Hooker lay perfectly still at the creekside. His wide-open eyes stared dreamily into the water. His mind was stunned by the present situation. Feverishly and against his will his thoughts went hurrying back over the years which had led up to this momentous climax.
A woman moved frequently across the picture—a bent, tired, work-warped woman—his mother. The pitiable leanness of the life of Hiram's mother had been appalling. One word stood for the tenor of her days from sun to sun—nothing. She had never seen a piano or a typewriter, or even a washing machine. Silent, unmurmuring, she had given her life for nothing and gone.
Swiftly came in the picture the likeness of Hiram's father—tall, bewhiskered, strong as an ox, soft-voiced, and easy-going. Nothing but kindness had emanated from the father to his wife and child. Foster Hooker, too, had slaved his life away for nothing. The rocky land had claimed him and held him down. They had had enough to eat and to keep them warm—beyond that, nothing. Now he lay with Hiram's mother between the big bull pines on Wild-cat Hill.
There was in Hiram's thoughts no bitterness against his parents. They had been always kind and had given their best to him. The rocky land had held them chained. It offered sustenance, and of the big progressing world beyond they had lived afraid. In the early days they had buried themselves in the big woods to make their fortune. But the fortune was not there, and old age crept on. Old age told them that the world outside had passed beyond them, and they were afraid.
After all, had they given Hiram nothing? In his bitter moments he had thought so, but to-day his thoughts were mellowed. He was on the eve of leaving everything that held memories of them. Had they not given him of themselves a love for the grandeur of these woods which touched no other soul, save Uncle Sebastian's, perhaps, in all the valley? Hiram saw more in a redwood tree than the natives did; saw the beauty of contrast in the open spots in the forest, where the others saw only grazing ground for cattle; saw wonders in the rioting streams without a thought of miners' inches. His father had taught him the love of books, but there had been so few to love. He had taught him to think. Hiram was weird, queer, a "leetle cracked" to the others of Bear Valley. Uncle Sebastian alone had understood him—had sympathized with him and helped him.
Now, though, it was over. He was leaving forever. One hundred dollars! He had never possessed so much in his twenty-six starved years! An exultation seized him which beat throbbingly in his temples and fired his soul with recklessness. He was bound out into the Great Unknown, where the promises of his dreams would be fulfilled. He would do great things, live great adventures, then come back to scoff at them!
He sprang to his feet, collected the backless magazines, and climbed the bank. With long strides he hurried along the bark road which wound round the contour of the hills. An hour later he was trotting down a manzanita slope to his cabin, nestled in the cup of the hills, surrounded by the whispering firs.
Just within he paused and looked about as if seeing the sordidness of his home for the first time. All the way up the hill the exultation of impending departure had thrilled him. It thrilled him still, and a new feeling of contempt of what he saw came over him.
A panther skin hung on the rough, unpainted wall above the black and cheerless fireplace, three sets of antlers surrounding it. Near the fireplace lay an unsightly pile of wood and chips. The doors of the cracked and rusty stove were gaping wide. The remains of his breakfast were on the clothless, homemade table. His rifle, the only thing well kept, stood in a corner.
He passed through into the other room, separated from this by a thin board partition. There, in oval walnut frames, hung the pictures of the two who lay between the big bull pines on Wild-cat Hill. A slight sense of depression seized him. The bed unmade, brought a sparkle of anger to his eyes. He was disgusted with himself, but it did not last. The thought of the adventures that lay beyond and beckoned came uppermost once more. "The girl" beckoned, too.
Yes, there was a girl. Hiram had seen her only in his dreams. She was not like Bear Valley girls. She was large and sturdy and strong, and her hair was of such dark brown as to seem almost black, her eyes dark and large and lustrous. She was a queen among women, this girl of his dreams. About her hung some great mystery, and adventure followed in her footsteps. Out there somewhere beyond Bear Valley she stood beckoning him to come!
He went to bed early, to toss for hours and at last to drop into fretful, torturing dreams. The scream of a panther awoke him once.
He was up before sunrise, cooking his bacon and coffee and frying slices of cold biscuit in the bacon grease.
The east was pink when he left the cabin, carrying the rifle, which he meant to give to Uncle Sebastian. Everything else he left behind. He took a short cut over Wild-cat Hill. On its crest, between the two bull pines, he stopped before two graces.
The red sun was peering through the saddle of Signal Hill. Cold mists rose from the forest. In the air was the breath of the morning. Weirdly the early wind moaned through the needles of the tall bull pines. Up from the canon came the roaring of Ripley Creek as it raced to the sea.
A lump came in Hiram's throat that he could not down. At his feet lay those who had lived and starved for him through the countless denials of this wilderness. Below him lay the cabin which he had known as home for twenty-six long years. About him stretched the grandeur of this untarnished land. Scalding tears burst from his eyes. Some monstrous ogre had arisen to crush him. They were driving him from his home, from the land of his birth, from the spots he loved! No bitterer period ever came in Hiram's life than when he stood that misty morning and watched the sun rise on the turning point of his career. Blindly he stumbled down Wild-cat Hill and took up the long road to Bixler's store. They were driving him, like Hagar, from all that he held dear, and there was hatred in his heart.
The train that carried Hiram Hooker to San Francisco was late. Thirty miles from the bay it began making up for lost time. Through the falling dusk it roared toward the metropolis. Slowly the landscape faded. Vineyards and chicken ranches and orchards and rolling hills studded with live oaks gave place to the electric-lighted tentacles of the city. The lights blinked by at Hiram. They helped depress him, for they were a part of the modernity that he feared. Suburbs grew to a continuous stretch of lighted streets and houses. Always those lights blinked on every side. There was witchery in all of it—in the smell of the city close at hand, in the cold salt air from the bay, in the chunk-a-lunk, chunk-a-lunk of the speeding locomotive.
Hiram sat forward on the seat, eager, shrinking, exultant, always straining while he shrank. He tried to plan, but could not. Night closed in, and all that he saw now were the blinking lights that raced astern. Off in the black sky to the southward a rosy light suffused the night—San Francisco.
"Saus-a-lito! Everybody change! Don't forget yer baggage!"
Hiram was swept out with the crowd, swept through the chute to the ferryboat, swept aboard. He followed the crowd forward and stood in the bow. Black as ink the Bay of San Francisco stretched before him. Like fireflies the lights of vessels scurried through the blackness. Beyond the black water blinked the countless eyes of San Francisco, above these the rosy glow which had beckoned since the fall of dusk.
The boat had started before Hiram was aware. Smoothly it slipped along toward the beacons on the other shore. Hiram breathed the keen salt breeze in gulps and looked steadily and curiously at the world that waited for him. Somewhere there, perhaps, the girl of his dreams was beckoning, and begging him not to be afraid. The boat nosed into her slip and the crowd swept him ashore, swept him through the Ferry Building, and, as it went its thousand ways, left him stranded, staring unbelievingly up Market Street.
Ten minutes he stood there. Thousands pressed by him. The laughter and grumblings of life buzzed in his uncomprehending ears. No one noticed him. The continuous clang-clang-clang of the street cars grew to a rhythmic roar. Strange odors filled his nostrils. What held him most was the lights—the myriad lights that blinked away in perspective up Market Street, clusters of them, pillars of them, wheels of them, stars and squares of them. They all blended into a shower of diamonds and held him spellbound. Then the clang of the street cars, the clatter of hoofs on cobbles, the crunch of wheels, the raucous toots of automobile horns and the purring of the engines, the ceaseless laughing and murmuring of the crowds, the unfamiliar odors all blended with the lights, and Hiram Hooker was breathing life, and knew that it was warm, knew that he loved it, and was unafraid!
At last he sighed and began warily crossing the street from the Ferry Building to Market Street. He had read of country boys in the city. He knew enough not to stand in the street and stare. He wisely kept with a crowd while crossing, and made their experience in braving the dangers of traffic protect him. He reached the other curb in safety and started up the long, broad street.
Hiram Hooker will never forget that night. Not once after leaving the water front did he know his location, and it would have mattered little if he had. He walked on and on untiringly through an entrancing dream. He was alone in a great museum—the other human beings were not fellow spectators, but specimens on exhibition.
The beauty of the women fascinated him. Never in his wildest imaginings had he fancied such forms and faces. The most beautiful girl in Bear Valley bore the face of a gargoyle compared with the soft, creamy faces he saw that night. The flashing, long-lashed eyes, the red lips, the coils on coils of fluffy hair, the swishing silk, unfamiliar furs, sparkling jewels, and the slender French heels were stupefying.
He was growing hungry. He had not eaten a bite since early morning, and now it was eleven o'clock at night. It appalled him to think of entering a restaurant and being confronted by one of those white-skinned, slim-formed divinities he saw flitting from table to table. He did not know what to order nor how to order it. Even the smallest places looked imposing with their myriad lights and fixtures of gilt and white and glittering glass. But he knew he must screw his courage to it.
There seemed to be a restaurant nearly every other door in the locality he was now passing through. Not only that, but many electric letters blazing down the street notified him that he would have no trouble in finding rooms; rooms by the day or week; rooms and board; rooms 15 cents and up; lodging; rooms with or without board; beds 10 cents and up. He was on Kearny Street, he knew, but he did not know where Kearny Street was in relation to the rest of the city.
He strolled along, staring through the windows at the appetizing displays and searching for a restaurant where none of those creamy-skinned beings that caused him so much uneasiness were employed. At last he found one where, it seemed, only smooth-faced men in short black coats and low-cut vests were serving. His abused stomach goaded him to slink through the doorway and seek a table.
Just within the door he paused. The place seemed crowded. He was about to slink out again when a woman's voice said in his ear: "This side, please—all full here."
He turned quickly, with a gulp, to see a slim, black-clad girl, with one of those appalling piles of fluffy hair topping her head, whisking past behind him. Now he noticed that the restaurant was divided in half by a screen which ran the length of the building, and that one side—the side he had seen through the window—was for men, and the other for women. The tables on the men's side were filled. The girl stood beckoning from a table on the women's side. Other waitresses he had not seen before were working here. Hiram could not back out now. His legs trembled as he obeyed the girl's beckoning finger.
He reached the table and stumbled noisily into a seat. The girl, now holding out a menu card, was looking at him curiously, he felt. The blood rushed to his face; he dared not look at her. Fumblingly he took the card and straightway dropped it on the floor.
Together they bent over to regain it. Their bodies touched. Hiram grew sick. She recovered the card and was standing erect when he crawfished up from the floor. He was burning up with shame. Again he took the card, but his glazed eyes could not read a word.
Suddenly he knew that she was speaking.
"I think you'd like a ribber, medium," she was saying, "with French fries and a dish of peas."
Hiram's head nodded without command. He knew she was leaving the table, and something forced his eyes to her. She was turning, but her eyes were looking back into his. In those eyes, big and brown beneath dark, arched brows and long lashes, there was a look that thrilled him to his soul. She was more beautiful than any woman he had seen through all the splendor of the night, and she had flashed to him a spark of kindness in a maelstrom of misery! Was this the girl who had been beckoning him on?
She was coming back. She paused beside him and placed a napkin, silver, bread and butter, and a glass of water before him. He tried to look up, but could not. He felt her close to him as she arranged the things before him.
She was speaking again, low, soothingly.
"Awful crowd to-night. We don't usually put single gentlemen on this side, but I guess you won't mind. Your ribber'll be here in a minute."
She was gone again. He saw her brown hair bobbing toward the kitchen. He watched the swing doors, eager for her return.
They burst open at last and she came forward and placed a big platter before him, on which steamed an enormous rib steak, beside this a dish of French-fried potatoes and a dish of peas.
She glided away once more and did not again come near his table while he ate. He kept his eyes on her throughout the meal, and continued to lower them when he thought her about to look toward him. His "ribber" was good, and he ate the last scrap. Then he paid his bill and hurried out.
Through the window he looked back for her. She was nowhere in sight.
In a miserable hallway on the second floor of a dingy brick building, he obeyed the legend over a button in the wall, which read: "Landlord—push the button." The result was that a squint-eyed man came from a door marked "office" and yawningly asked him his business. Hiram wished a twenty-five-cent room, he said. He was taken to one, which was not a room at all, but a stall—that is, the thin board partitions did not connect with the ceiling by three feet. The bed was a single one, and the sheets had brought the proprietor many a twenty-five-cent piece since coming from the laundry. The additional furnishings of the "room" were six nails driven in the board wall to hold one's clothes. From all over the floor came lusty snores and the mutterings of world-worn men.
With the city smells still in his nostrils, the buzz of city life still in his ears, and the countless lights twinkling in a frame about the white face of a brown-haired, red-lipped girl, he fell asleep from sheer fatigue. But with unaccountable perversity his dreaming mind dwelt not upon the beautiful vision he had come to love in fifteen seconds, but on the whispering firs and twinkling streams of Mendocino, and on a plodding ten-horse jerkline team hauling tanbark over the mountains to the coast.
TWITTER OR TWEET
Hiram Hooker washed in the community lavatory in the hall next morning. Then he sought the squint-eyed landlord and paid a week's room rent in advance, thereby saving fifty cents.
He wished to strike out at once after breakfast to begin justifying Uncle Sebastian's faith in him, but so far he had not laid a plan. He noticed lettering on a door in the hall which dignified what lay beyond as a "lounging room." The door stood ajar, and he saw that the room was empty. He decided to go in and think. A thousand and one wonders awaited his curious eyes, but they must wait. His hundred dollars had dwindled perceptibly; it was time to give his future a practical thought or two.
In the "lounging room" were a long plain board writing-table, ten yellow kitchen chairs. Hiram took a seat by a window overlooking Kearny Street.
He could not plan, he found, for his ideas of seeking employment were of the vaguest; he did not know where to look for it, nor what duties he should state that he could perform. Dreaming of it up there in Mendocino County, climbing up in the world from the bottom rung had seemed so easy.
He began feeling a little lonesome. He had resolved to brave the fascinating eyes of the girl of the restaurant again, and perhaps speak to her if occasion offered, when the door opened and three men came into the lounging room.
Two of them scraped chairs to the table and from a drawer took a dirty pack of cards and a homemade cribbage board, with headless matches for markers. The third took from his pocket a folded newspaper and sat down at the window opposite Hiram. He at once began reading, and seemed not to be a companion of the other two. Hiram took note that he perused the want-ad sheets.
Hiram studied the two at cards. He resolved that he did not like their unkempt looks, so turned his attention to the man with the paper.
In dress this man was in a class with the other two, though perhaps a little better groomed. But a careful observer would have taken note of certain finer characteristics in the face. It was the face of a man in the thirties, robust and good-natured, with bushy brows, slate-blue eyes, and a nose that would have been termed Grecian if it had not been for a semiconical twist to the left. He was of stalky build, carefully shaved that morning, and wore a dingy turndown collar. His shoes, though scuffed with wear, were polished.
In the midst of this scrutiny the man suddenly lowered the paper and leveled his eyes at Hiram. The look almost said "What do you want?" in a disinterested though not antagonistic way. Hiram was caught unawares. He felt the question and had answered it, to cover his embarrassment, before he knew the words were coming.
"D'ye find any jobs in the paper?"
The two at cards looked quickly at Hiram and shrugged, and the game went on in silence, as before.
"What d'ye follow?" asked the man with the twisted nose in a sort of rollicking voice by no means unpleasant.
"D'ye mean what c'n I do?"
The man with the paper nodded.
Hiram scraped his chair a foot closer. "Why, I don't exactly know. I'm willin' to do anything—that is, try."
The slate-blue eyes quizzically studied Hiram a little longer, then settled on the paper once more.
A few moments they scanned the column. Then:
"Maybe some o' these'll look attractive ol'-timer. 'Wanted three bushelmen; one coat-maker; first-class pants operator; shoe shiner; two farm carpenters, Arizona, four dollars a day, fare refunded; two carpenters, city, five dollars a day; one hundred muckers, New Mexico, two-fifty day; one trammer, three-fifty day; one hundred laborers, New Mexico, three dollars day; porter in bakery, city, must be sober; boy, sixteen years old, make himself generally useful in pickle plant; two jerkline drivers—must be good, southern California; cooks, waiters, teamsters, muckers galore. Call and see us. Morgan & Stroud, Four-hundred-and-fifteen Clay Street.'"
He lowered the paper and once more fixed the slate-blue eyes on Hiram. "There you are, ol'-timer—pick yer road to wealth and prominence."
His smile brought Hiram's chair closer.
"How d'ye get any o' these jobs?" he asked.
"Part with two dollars to Morgan & Stroud for the address o' the advertiser, then beat the other fella to it," was the reply.
"But they wanted a hundred muckers, you read."
"Oh, that's different. They ship you out for two dollars to where the job is. The contractor deducts your fare from your first month's pay and refunds it to the railroad company, or sticks it in his pocket if he's wise. Le's see—where they shippin'?" He glanced at the column again. "N' Mexico, eh? Yes, they'll ship you down there for two dollars, and you c'n go to work and grow up with the country. C'n you drive a team?"
"Sure," said Hiram. "I c'n drive eight or ten, or even sixteen jerkline, too. You read something about jerkline skinners."
"Then I'd go as a jerkline skinner at—what is it?—fifty-five and found. Found means board, you know."
"And you're sure they'll send me down to southern California for two dollars and gi' me a job drivin' mules?"
"They'll be tickled to death to do it. Where you from?"
Hiram heaved a sigh. "Mendocino County," he replied.
"Hittin' the trail for the first time, eh?"
The questioner evidently knew it, so Hiram did not reply.
"M'm-m! Fine big country—Mendocino. You oughta stayed there. That country'll go to work and come out with a loud report some day."
"You've been there?" asked Hiram eagerly.
"What do you follow?" Hiram used the new expression almost unconsciously.
"I'm a promoter and capitalist."
"A promoter and capitalist," Hiram repeated vaguely.
"Yep. At present, though, I ain't workin' at the capitalist end. But I'm always a promoter."
Hiram was growing uncomfortable. He had been warming toward this genial stranger; now he felt he was being ridiculed. He kept silent and looked out the window.
The other nonchalantly resumed his paper as if the conversation were over.
But Hiram did not wish it to end here. Despite the stranger's fantastic statement, there was that in his bearing which told Hiram he meant what he said, and that, furthermore, it was with him a matter of indifference whether any one believed him or not. He wished the two tramps would leave. He felt that then he could talk to the other man with less reserve.
As he sat there silently thinking, this wish was granted. A third unkempt individual thrust his head in at the door and remarked, "Hey, youse!"
The cribbage players looked up.
In explanation the man in the door held up a quarter between a calloused forefinger and thumb.
A broad grin broke on the face of one of the players as he scraped back his chair and rose. "Cheese, Thumbscrew, where'd youse glom it?" he gasped ecstatically.
"Never mind w'ere I glommed it, Scully," was the retort. "De point is, are youse guys in on helpin' me lick up a growler?"
The other tramp had risen, and spoke for both as he strode toward the door. "Lead us to it, Thumbscrew," he swaggered portentously; "lead us to it, ol'-timer!" And the door slammed behind the three.
Hiram glanced back at the man behind the newspaper. He had not so much as slanted a look toward the door.
Hiram's chance had come. After a silent minute he essayed:
"But I didn't come to the city to leave it right away and go to drivin' mules. I came here to get a start."
The other politely lowered his paper. "What're you doin'—breakin' loose from home to make yer fortune?" he asked.
Hiram nodded and smiled.
The man surveyed him for the first time from head to foot. "Been a farmer up in Mendocino?" he queried.
"Sorta," Hiram admitted. Then in a low voice: "To tell the truth, this is my first time in a city. I got in last night. I've never been out o' Mendocino County but once before."
A few wrinkles of puzzlement came between the other's brows. "How old are you?"
"Twenty-six," was Hiram's meek confession.
The stranger studied, a whimsical smile twisting his lips, a far-away look in the slate-blue eyes. With a little jerk he emerged from reverie and asked:
"And what d'ye expect to take up here in Frisco?"
Hiram scraped his chair still closer. "I don't know," he acknowledged. "To tell the truth, I'm pretty green. I don't know anybody here and don't know where to begin."
"Don't say green," corrected the other. "That's obsolete. Say raw, or that you're a hick, or a come-on. Well, what d'ye want to follow?"
"I thought if I could get into some big man's office and work up, I might reach——"
The other man raised his hand protestingly and his face assumed a sick expression.
"Forget it! Forget it!" he cried. "Say, that's the biggest mistake a fella like you could make. Your feet are too big for an office. Say, take this from me: An office man is always an office man. He knows the figgers—nothing else. The fella out on the works is the lad that knows the fundamentals of the job. Take this railroad-construction business, for instance: When the contractor wants a new general superintendent he don't make him out of an office man. He goes out on the job and gets him. You get offices outa your head, and get out and learn something." He was thoughtful a minute, then finished with the question: "How long are you on cash?"
"I haven't got much," Hiram confessed—"sixty some dollars."
"M'm-m," the other said musingly. Then, after another thoughtful pause: "Say, I suppose you're a little shy about bracin' these employment men, ain't you?"
"Then I'll tell you what I'll do: You go to work and dig up my fee, and I'll go down to southern California with you on the jerkline job. I been wantin' to get outa Frisco for a week, but couldn't raise the price. Anywhere'll suit me, where there's a chance o' makin' a little stake. That's what you wanta do—go to work and make a stake. Then look about for something you c'n float for yourself. There's nothin' in working for somebody else. Work for yourself if it's only running a peanut stand. Southern California'll do. What d'ye say?"
"D'ye mean you're broke?"
"Broke! I'm ruined!"
"How did you lose your money?" Hiram asked innocently.
"You're askin' for the story o' my life. What d'ye say, now? Le's go to work and get breakfast, then enter Morgan & Stroud's in our usual graceful manner and tell 'em we've decided to accept their kind offer and let 'em ship us south. You'll probably learn a few things on that trip."
"Are you a jerkline skinner?"
"I dunno. Maybe I am. I never tried. But if that's what you wanta hit—me, too. Say, what's your name?"
"That's a peach, all right. They sure labeled you for the part. Mine ain't much better though. They call me Twitter-or-Tweet."
"Proves I'm a bird, don't it? My name is Orr Tweet. Can you beat it? So they call me Twitter-or-Tweet, or just Twitter—or sometimes Playmate. I'm gregarious. I gotta have a partner all the time. I'll play with any o' the little boys so long as they're nice to me."
He handed Hiram a card. It read:
REPRESENTING THE CUCAMONGA DEVELOPMENT COMPANY Cerro Gordo, Mexico
THE HOMESEEKERS' PROMISED LAND OF MILK AND HONEY
"That Cucamonga Development Company and the milk-and-honey business is passe," explained Mr. Tweet, "but I've got no other card. They pinched the owners, and I flew the coop before they could lay it onto me. Crooked deal."
"What was it?" Hiram asked vaguely.
"Banana plantation," Tweet replied lightly. "At least they called it that—I never saw it. I was just promotin' the deal. Well, what d'ye say?" he persisted. "I'm broke and I need a little cash. But I'm a money getter! You tide me over this little depression and I'll remember you. We may strike somethin' that'll look good anywhere between here and there. If so, we'll drop off and look into it."
Hiram did not know what to say. He had no experience in reading human nature, and Mr. Tweet would have appeared as an enigma to many more astute than Hiram.
"What do you want me to do?" he hedged.
"Hold me up, if your coin lasts, till I hit the ball—that's all. You'll never regret it." Tweet sat pulling his twisted nose from side to side, as if trying to straighten it.
"But I don't understand. You seem to be—that is, you call yourself a capitalist, and you're only—I mean it seems funny——"
"I get you. I talk like a millionaire and travel with tramps." Tweet sighed. "Well, my faculty for breedin' confidence in others is one o' the big secrets o' my success. Success, I say—get that? If this faculty won't work on you, then I lose this time. I'll say no more. Think it over."
He yawned, rose, and started for the door.
"Are—are you goin' down on the street?" Hiram asked timidly.
"Yes, I thought I'd stroll about a bit."
"I—I guess I'll go with you, if you don't mind."
"Sure not—come on."
Hiram rose quickly and followed him out. Even though he were to distrust this man, in the end, the thought of losing him now was appalling.
Down on the street he thought of breakfast and paused before the restaurant.
"Have you had breakfast, Mr. Tweet?" he asked.
Tweet stopped and looked at him soberly. "Are you invitin' me to dine?" he said quizzically.
"Well, kinda that way," admitted Hiram with a foolish grin. "I haven't eaten myself, and——"
"I haven't eaten myself either, nor anybody else since yesterday mornin'. I accept."
And promptly Mr. Tweet pushed ahead through the swinging doors.
The restaurant was all but deserted at the late breakfast hour when Hiram Hooker and Mr. Tweet entered. Hiram timidly wished that the men's side were filled, so that he would be obliged to eat on the ladies' side again. A waiter was beckoning them to the men's side, however, and Hiram meekly led the way, though casting a quick, expectant glance down the long row of tables beyond the screen.
Waitresses were dallying about, but he did not see the girl with the cords of fluffy hair. He was halfway through breakfast before it occurred to him that, as she was at work at eleven the night before, he scarce could expect her at nine in the morning. He was glad she was not there to tantalize him, and at the same time deeply disappointed.
Hiram's new acquaintance changed perceptibly as the food began to warm him. Mildly loquacious before, he now became voluble.
"I wanta tell you this," he remarked finally, "you're in luck to strike me when I'm crippled for cash. A week from now, perhaps, you'd never met me at all. And if you had, there'd 'a' been nothin' to connect us. But right now I'm up against it and forced to sleep in a twenty-five-cent lodgin' house. Therefore we met and found out each of us had somethin' the other wanted. You're lucky, Hooker—that's all there is to it. You'd 'a' drifted about for years and never got the chance to hook up with Twitter-or-Tweet. And here you are, right from the backwoods, makin' yourself solid the first crack outa the box with the original money-getter. Stay by me till I get a toehold, and I'll make you."
Hiram was at a loss how to take him. He had not agreed to tide him over, had not even made up his mind that Tweet was not a rank faker; yet Tweet seemed to be taking it for granted that his case was won, and that they were to go from the breakfast table to Morgan & Stroud's to enter the road to competence.
As if answering his thoughts, Tweet said:
"I'm a mystery to you, ain't I? I don't use very good grammar, but I talk sense. I'm talkin' about makin' piles o' money, and I'm gettin' my breakfast off o' you, ain't I? If I really was the heavy hitter I'm advertisin' myself to be I wouldn't condescend to take you on, would I? That's what you been thinkin', ain't it?
"Take those hobos up in the lodgin' house, for instance. Curiosity's eatin' their hearts out in regard to me. They know I ain't a tramp, yet they see me float smoothly along among 'em and never strike a discord. I don't seem to mix with 'em, neither do I seem to keep aloof from 'em. I'm there and I ain't there—see? If they only knew it, I've tramped miles to their feet. Yet I never was a regular tramp.
"On the other hand, when I'm hob-nobbin' with the upper class I keep them guessin'. I talk kinda crude, yet what I say seems to be worth listenin' to. I go into a flash hotel or cafe and never stumble over anything, or knock the carafe off the table, or order corned-beef hash when the menu card looks like an advanced lesson in parlez vous. They take me to the circus to amuse me, and I come back at 'em with grand opera.
"So that's the way it goes, and you'll savvy more about it when you see more o' me. At present I'm goin' to take you away from Frisco and, if somethin' turns up, give you a start. I'm doin't this principally because I need your little roll to tide me over till I get a workin' stake. I'm frank about it. But I may learn to like you. You appear to be sorta bright."
Tweet pushed back his chair. "Now we'll go down to Morgan & Stroud's and get out where we c'n go to work and do somethin', and have a chance to look about and think."
Protestations died on Hiram's lips, and he dutifully rose and followed.
There was a cigar case on the cashier's counter, and Tweet leaned over it, looking down at the contents, while Hiram laid his check beside the cash register and fumbled for his pocketbook. He produced a dollar and laid it on the check, then looked about for some one to receive them. The space behind the counter was empty, but from a little inclosed portion of the window came the slow, labored clicking of typewriter keys.
"Tap the dollar on the show case," suggested Tweet.
Hiram tapped the glass.
Instantly, in the window room, the clicking keys were hushed. Hiram heard the squeak of a swivel chair. He heard the swish and caught the gleam of a white skirt. The next moment she was standing before him.
His breathing checked itself, and his knees began that sickening tattoo. He was instantly so miserable that he longed to die. Yet he faced her big eyes, brown and good-natured and smiling with recognition, and dumbly pushed the check and the dollar across the counter.
"Why, hello!" she said lightly.
"Hello," came a quavering echo.
The drawer of the cash register shot out with a metallic clang. Hiram's dollar jingled in among its kind. The girl's slim fingers were suspending a quarter to be dropped into his palm, suggesting to Hiram's abnormal mind the fear of contamination. He feebly put out his hand, and she dropped the coin.
"Thank you," she acknowledged in a light, professional tone, raising her voice on the "you."
She was turning away, when Tweet looked up from the cigars.
"Since when, Lucy?" came his rollicking voice. She turned back, smiling. "Oh, since just this morning," she replied. "The boss fired the cashier just before I went off watch last night. He said he was going to call up the employment agency and get another the first thing this morning.
"'What's the matter with giving some one here a chance?' I says. 'That's the way with you fellows,' I says. 'A girl can work her fingers off for you for years, then when the chance comes for something better, why, you telephone an employment agency and give it to a perfect stranger. You give me a pain!' I says.
"'But you ain't a cashier—you're a waitress,' he says.
"'I'm not speaking about myself in particular,' I says. 'I'm speaking about all of us who are working for you. Then,' I says, 'how do you know I can't make change? When there's an opening for better pay and easier work,' I says, 'why don't you come to us and see if any of us think we can hold it down? You know us and can trust us, and instead of giving us a look-in, you go and hire an outsider.'"
"Good stuff!" commented Tweet. "And he fell for it, did he?"
She flipped out her palms in a little gesture. "I'm here, ain't I? Waited table from seven to three last night, and came behind the counter here at five-thirty this morning. The boss'll relieve me at twelve o'clock. Guess I'll sleep some to-night!"
"Fine business! Makin' good, eh?"
"I'm not fired yet, am I?" Her white teeth flashed.
"But c'n you keep the books?"
She sniffed. "I certainly can. I haven't been a waitress all my life. These books are nothing."
Here the gigantic Hiram caught his lower lip sagging and resolutely lifted it to dignity.
"Well, I like your style," Tweet was telling her. "Tell 'em about it, every time—that's the way to get a toehold. But you're not much of a stenog, Lucy—was that you peckin' away in there?"
A shade of pink swept her face.
"I used to operate a machine a little with one finger of each hand," she explained, "but I'm all out of practice. I don't have to use a typewriter on this job though. It's an old one the boss took for a bill."
"Just practicin' up again, eh?"
"Ye-yes," she hesitated. Again her skin grew faintly pink.
"Good business! Go to it! Every little bit helps. Well, congratulations, Lucy. So long! C'm on, Hiram."
"Thanks." Lucy laughed, and went into her little room.
Hiram sighed boyishly, upset the toothpick holder at his elbow, and fled in Mr. Tweet's wake.
"Pretty nifty little kid," Tweet remarked, as Hiram joined him.
"You know her—wh-what's her name?"
Tweet turned and looked at Hiram's red face in mild surprise.
"Wh-what's wrong with you?" he queried.
"Well, I'll be dog-goned if I don't believe you're gun shy on the female question!" was Tweet's conviction. "These frisky Frisco pullets goin' to your head, Hooker. A little paint and a little powder and a frowsy topknot seems to sorta touched some new funny bone in you, eh? Heavens, I remember how I fell for it years ago!"
Hiram closed his lips tight. He hated Tweet.
Tweet slapped him on the back and laughed.
"Forget it, Hiram," he advised familiarly. "It ain't like me to roast anybody when I see it hurts. Why, le's see now—I don't know the kid's name. I've heard the men call her Lucy—that's all. I been eatin' there right along—that is, up till yesterday mornin'. She seems to be popular with the fellas. Not a bad little kid, though, I take it. Got some savvy, at any rate. Ain't content with her lowly lot—and that's my kind. Oughtn't to make customers have to call her away from that typewriter, though—I don't like that. Well," he switched abruptly, "what you been thinkin' about our little deal?"
"Nothing," Hiram retorted resentfully.
They had been slowly walking down the street. Tweet stopped short and looked at him.
"That means what? That you don't care to consider it further?"
It had meant just that when Hiram said it. There was now in Tweet's question a tone of finality. Hiram felt that his reply would end the matter. Swiftly his mind grasped for a judicious rejoinder and settled on "No." He could not bring himself to part with this semblance of friendship just yet.
"All right, then," Tweet returned. "You're just not through considerin', eh? Well, I'll tell you: We'll break away and give you a chance to think. There's a man down California Street I wanta see before I leave and I'll stroll down that way. You think it over, and meet me at eleven-thirty up in that disfiguration old Squinty calls a loungin' room. So long."
He turned abruptly and strode away.
Hiram watched his erect figure and firm step till the crowd hid him, then followed more slowly in the same direction. His feet were carrying him toward the restaurant, and he was guiltily permitting them. He saw a shining drab automobile drawn up at the curb before the restaurant door. He walked slower and slower as he neared the door, paused, and looked within.
Lucy was leaning on the counter negligently collecting scattered toothpicks, and conversing laughingly with a carefully dressed middle-aged man with a handsome face and curly brown hair. His hair and Lucy's fluffy topknot were almost touching. Hiram saw him grasp playfully at Lucy's hand, saw her jerk it away with a flirtatious laugh.
Then Hiram bolted, half blind with pain.
Hiram did not take note of much till he was three blocks from the restaurant. There was a dull pain somewhere within him, but when his thinking apparatus began shaking off its stunned condition he found it difficult to analyze this pain.
The girl had done practically nothing. In fact, but for her laughter, her attitude toward the well-dressed man would have showed righteous displeasure. The thought that this might be a common occurrence did not enter his head. He was distressed now; he found, only with a keen feeling of utter alienation, he was one lone backwoodsman against San Francisco, scorning him, ready to trample him under foot.
A sign over the window of a store cleared this mystery. Hiram stopped and stared up at it. In a flash he knew what was the matter with him, and that he hated the stranger for his clothes—that he hated everybody because this man wore good clothes. He squeezed his pocketbook and read and reread the painted words in their painted circles:
"O'coat, $40, no more; Coat, $20, no more; Pants, $5, no more; Hat, $3, no more."
His mind was adding twenty, five, and three. The total was twenty-eight. He could get along without an overcoat, though in San Francisco, even in summer, an overcoat is comfortable at night. Should he or should he not? His rusty old clothes were torturing him. Twenty-eight dollars! And perhaps only four or five more for extras—a tie, collars, suspenders, and—oh, yes! shoes. He had forgotten the shoes. His were brogans. He must have shoes, too. Perhaps five for shoes. He had barely sixty-seven dollars. Should he? Was it foolish, or——
Reflected in the show window he saw a drab automobile flash behind him. At the wheel he saw, erect, forceful, jaunty, and well-dressed, with a black cigar gripped in his teeth, the man who had snatched at Lucy's hand. Clinching his pocketbook, Hiram entered the store.
A half hour later he came out, poorer by some thirty-eight dollars, but rich in the self-esteem which the bright, stiff garments gave him.
He left his bundle in his stall at the lodging house, criticized himself before the cracked mirror in the hall, and went down on the street. He bought three five-cent cigars and lighted one. He gripped it in his teeth and let it protrude from the left-hand corner of his mouth. Then he started for the restaurant.
Long before he reached it panic was upon him. He had absolutely no pretext on which to enter. It was then only ten-thirty, and he had breakfasted at nine. To enter boldly and begin a conversation with Lucy—which he had all along boastfully promised himself he would do—he now knew to be the last thing on earth he would dare.
Besides, though the garments he wore were new and bright and stiff, those two brief glimpses of his rival's clothes now tardily showed him that there was a difference. His coat, for instance, seemed a bit angular—there seemed to be corners he had not noticed in the store. It did not snuggle down to his neck and shoulders just right. Hiram thought that perhaps the linen collar was a trifle too large.
Thus criticizing, and walking slower and slower, he neared the restaurant. Now it was impossible to take another step without coming abreast of it. He stopped and looked in a jeweler's window next door.
He stood there fifteen minutes. Time and again he nerved himself up to entering the restaurant, only to feel cold sweat break out on his forehead as he lifted his foot. He would return to the lodging house, change his clothes, and see her when he ate at noon. He would never let her see him in those now hated new clothes. He had squandered thirty-eight dollars for her, and he had only twenty-nine left.
Down the street from the heart of the city came a sudden clangor. Vehicles were rushed close to the curbs. Up a side street a new jangle of bells broke out. Never had Hiram seen a city fire, but at once he knew that such was happening.
A hook-and-ladder company rattled past with clamor and gongs and clatter of hoofbeats. People poured from the doors of buildings to watch. Men rushed to the curb and looked after the firemen; the women stood near the buildings, under the awnings, shading their eyes and standing on tiptoes. Quickly the sidewalk filled. A chemical engine passed, clouds of black smoke rolling in its wake. Across the street a pillar of black smoke burst from a third-story window.
"It's across the street! Across the street!" shouted the crowd.
A hose cart rumbled up. The men on the curb grew frantic, yelling and pointing to the smoke. The hose cart was stopped.
A little later the chief's automobile came. Then the apparatus that had passed down the street came back. Flames and smoke were bursting from three windows now. The street and the sidewalk were filled with the crowd.
Hiram had not moved a muscle. People elbowed him on both sides, but he paid no attention. The rapid operations of the fire fighters held him spell-bound.
"Oo-oo-oo! Look there!" suddenly came a shrill familiar voice at his side.
A sputter of sparks had shot from the roof of the building, and a man had emerged from a trap-door, it seemed, and darted from sight. But the fire and every new phase of it had lost all holding power over Hiram Hooker. Pressed to his elbow, wedged in by the crowd, stood Lucy.
"Oh, I love a fire!" she was ecstatically informing some one on her other side—a waitress.
Hiram stood there sick with her proximity. She had not recognized him—she was engrossed with the clouds of black smoke, the intermittent red gleam of blaze, and the crackling streams of water. Her tongue was wagging rapidly, and she seemed not to care to whom she spoke or whether that fortunate person were listening.
Suddenly, through the scurrying firemen in the street, a big red automobile came slowly. It was filled with men and women. Its horn was honking perpetually. Besides the fire apparatus, no other vehicles were allowed in the street, yet no one seemed to interfere with this machine.
"Oh, it's the Samax Company!" exclaimed Lucy, dancing up and down. "They're going to take a fire picture. Look, Minnie! There's Mr. Kenoke—the director! I never thought of it—right here at my very door, too! If I only could see him, Minnie. What a chance for the fire scene in 'The Crowning Defeat!' Oh, why didn't I think of it, Minnie? Mr. Kenoke! Mr. Kenoke! Oh, dear, he wouldn't hear me in a thousand years!"
She was waving over the heads of the crowd at some one in the red automobile, it seemed. There seemed even less likelihood now of her taking note of Hiram. He watched her furtively and wondered.
"Oh, I must see him!" she went on excitedly. "Say, mister"—she suddenly turned a flushed face to Hiram—"won't you—— Why, hello!" she broke off. "I didn't know it was you. Oh, you will, I know! You're big—you can do it! Won't you try to get to that heavy-set man in the machine for me? Please—won't you?"
She was looking eagerly up at him. Hiram rose to the situation like a man. For her he felt he would have cheerfully entered a beehive should she command him. Was not this the adventure girl of whom he had dreamed?
"What'll I do?"
"Oh, will you? Good! Listen: Tell him to have Mr. Blair carry Miss Worthington out the door. And listen: Miss Worthington has fainted—see? Mr. Blair faints then, and staggers and falls down with her. Then Mr. Speed rushes up and takes a letter from Mr. Blair's pocket and runs out of the picture. And listen: Mr. Blair and Miss Worthington still lie there. Tell him there's no makeup. And tell him Miss Lucy Dalles wants him to do that, and that he won't regret it. Tell him I said it was a peach—see? But listen: Don't say anything about me being in a restaurant, though. Oh, can you? Will you?"
Hiram was stunned. Had the girl gone crazy?
"Go on, please, before the fire's out! I can't explain now—wait. I'll tell you later. He'll know, though. Go on, now—try!"
Without the faintest notion of what it was all about—with only the thrilling thought that he was serving her—Hiram's big figure began pushing through the crowd, dazedly repeating her queer message and the names.
He was tall, strong, and angular. Shoving this way and that, he fought his way to the curb. Here he encountered a rope stretched lengthwise of the street. The crowd was now confined to the sidewalk. Hiram crawled under the rope. A policeman shouted at him and started toward him. Hiram ran, tripped over a slippery hose, caught himself, and plunged on through the knots of struggling, dripping firemen.
The automobile had stopped. The occupants were clambering to the wet pavement. One man was hurriedly setting up a peculiar-shaped camera directly opposite the entrance of the burning building. Another, a heavy-set man, was bobbing about, shouting orders to men and women, who listened, then ran toward the door.
Everybody was crazy, it seemed, but this had nothing to do with Hiram in carrying out his mission. He ran up to this heavy-set man and cried:
"Are you Mr. Kenoke?"
"Sure! Get out the way! What d'ye want? Now, Miss Worthington, run for the ladder. Hurry up, girlie! Come on, Blair! Quick! Quick! What d'ye want—you?"
Hiram gulped and searched his brains. "Miss Lucy Dalles says to tell you to have Mr. Blair carry Miss Worthington out of the door. She's fainted, she said, and then he faints and falls. They lay there, and another fella—I forget that name—takes a letter from Mr. Blair's pocket and runs away. Mr. What's-his-name and Miss Worthington still lie there. Mr.—er—let's see—there's no makeup. And it's a peach, and you won't regret it."
"Humph! All right; I get you. I'll take a chance. Lucy Dalles, you say? Thanks. Get that, Collins? 'Bout ten feet, I guess. After this. Now, out of the way, please. All ready, there! Let her go! Now, up with that ladder, deary! Get in there! Get in the picture Worthington!"
Hiram stepped back. The man with the camera began turning a crank on one side, and a low whirring noise blended softly with the roar of the rushing water. Hiram saw dripping men and women dancing about like maniacs before the smoking door.
He did not wait for more. He had done his duty, and he hurried back for his reward.
"Did you do it? Did you see him?"
Lucy Dalles, with parted lips, was straining toward him as he cleaved his way back to her.
"Oh, what did he say?"
"He said: 'All right. I'll risk it.' He said a lot more, but I guess it wasn't to me."
"Well, you're all right," she said, with a beaming smile. "D'ye hear, Minnie? Mr. Kenoke's going to take it!"
Minnie, a freckle-faced girl, was busily chewing gum and watching the spectacle. She indifferently replied, "Yea," and craned her neck away to focus some new development in the fire fight.
Lucy at once ignored her.
"Say, that was great, all right! I'm much obliged, I'm sure. That'll mean something to me." She was looking straight at Hiram. Now she hesitated, then, a bit flustered, concluded, "That was all right."
Hiram grinned and bobbed his head.
She looked at him in confusion a little longer, then turned to Minnie.
"Goodness! I must get back in," she said hurriedly.
Still Minnie gave no heed, and Lucy faced Hiram once more.
"I said I'd tell you about it, didn't I? Well, I will—that is, if you care?"
Hiram bobbed his head again.
She looked through the jeweler's window at a small brass clock.
"Gracious! Can that clock be right? It's after eleven! Say, listen: I'm going off watch at twelve. If you'll be here I'll tell you then."
"Yes, ma'am—I'll be here."
"All right. Good-by. Much obliged, I'm sure."
She squeezed back of Minnie, and scampered through the restaurant door.
Hiram stood watching the streams of water—that is, he looked that way.
HIRAM, THE BUTTERFLY
"Mother, I've come home to die!" gasped Playmate Tweet.
He was seated in one of the yellow chairs near a window of the lounging room. He had dropped his newspaper and was staring at Hiram Hooker as he strode through the door.
Hiram seated himself on the edge of a chair and grinned uncomfortably.
The ordeal of appearing before Tweet in his new clothes, at first poignantly dreaded, had been absent from his thoughts for the past hour. Standing there before the jeweler's store after Lucy Dalles had left him, tingling blissfully in every vein, the mundane thought that Tweet was probably awaiting him in the lodging house had obtruded itself and hurried him up the street. As he opened the lounging-room door he thought once more of his clothes.
Tweet rubbed his eyes and looked again. "Christopher Columbus!" he added in an undertone. He blinked his eyes three times, then threw himself back and laughed uproariously.
For a half minute he shook in his chair, then got up, wiped his twisted nose with his handkerchief, and came over to his half resentful charge.
"Well, Hiram," he said with a chuckle, "how much did they set us back?"
"Set us back?"
"I mean, how poor are we now?"
"How poor are we?"
"Sure—Tweet, Hooker & Co. pays the bills."
"I guess I c'n do what I want to with my own money, can't I?"
"Sure—sure! Don't get your shirt off. I don't mean to insinuate that you're not capable o' judiciously handlin' the firm's money. I just want you to read me the balance sheet."
"Well, then, I spent thirty-eight dollars, and I've got twenty-nine dollars left."
Hiram did so.
Hiram wheeled slowly.
Tweet studied him from every angle, and as Hiram turned he noted the twinkles which came and went in his slate-blue eyes. Without another word Tweet left him standing there, went back and sat down, and hid his face behind his paper.
Hiram waited a minute, then slowly sank to the edge of his chair. After a little he asked pleadingly:
"Ain't they all right?"
Tweet's paper trembled. A bit of this, then Tweet lowered it and presented a countenance which seemed never to have known a smile.
"Hiram," he remarked, "I don't wanta hurt your feelin's, but the part o' true friendship calls for me to use the surgeon's knife. Hiram, I wouldn't wear that outfit to a funeral. D'ye get me?"
Hiram's blue eyes blazed. "Yes, I get you," he began coldly, then curbed a threatening outburst. "I know they're not the best in the land," he concluded sensibly, "but I feel better in 'em."
"There's somethin' in that," Tweet propounded sagely. "There's a whole lot in gettin' that feel. Good clothes kinda brace a fella up and give him the nerve to buck on in the big game. Hiram, if your new outfit gives you the feel, it's the goods. When you get next a little it'll cost you more money to get that feel outa clothes. After all, now, when that tin-roof look wears off of 'em you won't appear so whittled-out in that suit. But now, layin' all jokes aside, are they just the thing for drivin' old Jack and Ned on the railroad grade? And didn't this sudden lavishness kinda set the company back on its haunches?"
Hiram looked out the window. "Did you see the fire?" he asked absently.
"Yes—walked round the block to get outa the crowd. But——"
"I just had to kinda spruce up a bit, Mr. Tweet. I felt so kinda—well, kinda countrified and—and lost, you might say."
"What's the fire got to do with that? And call me Playmate, too."
"Nothin', I suppose."
"Right across from the restaurant wasn't it?"
"M'm-m—I'd 'a' made a good lawyer, wouldn't I, Hiram?"
"I don't know—why?"
"Why, talkin' about sprucin' up, as you call it, you drift to a fire that occurred across the street from the place where there's a frowsy-topped waitress that's got you goin'. Well, le's foget it. Do we go to southern California together, or not? Our pile's dwindlin' on account o' this butterfly life you're leadin'."
"I—I'd like to, but—— Well, I left home to get a start in the city, and I think I oughta—— Really, I wanta go, but——" Hiram gave it up, and his lean face flushed.
"Go on—I didn't interrupt you."
"Well, I—that's all. I want to go to work here."
Tweet laughed with a little snort. "Now looky here," he said, "I think I savvy you pretty well. If I was to go to work and tell you outright that you couldn't win Lucy, you'd get bull-headed and try to show me. But le'me tell you this: You ain't goin' to win her till you get next to yourself. Now, Lucy's a pretty popular dame with the fellas about the restaurant. I've seen her joy-ridin' with fellas I know are there with the coin, and savvy more in a minute than you ever knew. Now, wait a minute!—don't get excited. All this ain't your fault. It's the fault o' your past environment. You're a hick, and you can't help it. You get out and learn somethin' and gather up a few beans. Then come back and, if you still want the kid, go get her.
"Now, you see this Lucy this afternoon and tell her you're bound out into the Great Unknown to make your fortune, but that you're comin' back to see her. Put emphasis on who you're comin' back to see. Then flee from temptation. Come now—le's swallow this awful pill like a man."
Hiram thought a long time, looking out the window. In the midst of this Tweet resumed his paper.
The sensible thing to do was for Hiram to sacrifice love to the friendship that promised him a start, in order to gain love back more conclusively in the end. Yes, he loved her—he loved her madly!
Boiling the present situation right down to facts, he had little confidence in Tweet's boasted powers. He could not reconcile Tweet's present impecunious condition with his hints of past affluence. But he liked him instinctively, which, after all, is more human and satisfactory than liking a person after analyzing him and weighing his good qualities against his shortcomings. So it was the thought of Tweet's friendship which finally prompted him to say: "I guess I'll go with you."
"Good!" Tweet dropped his paper. "This afternoon?"
"Not on your life! This afternoon."
"Well, I'll tell you in an hour or so. Now—now it's about noon. You wait here a little, while I go down in the street. Then I'll come back, and we'll go eat."
Tweet looked at him long and steadily. "Got a date with Lucy, eh?" he said at last.
"Ye-yes—I saw her at the fire this morning. She said she wanted to see me when she went off watch at noon—I'll be right back—probably."
Tweet frowned, then laughed. "Go ahead, Hooker," he relented testily; "go ahead. Got a date with her, eh? I thought maybe you'd just go down there and gape at her through the window. Go to it—but don't forget!"
Hiram hurried out.
Again his feet seemed palsied as he neared the restaurant. Was he to suffer such pangs of stage fright always when about to meet her?
He had not long to dwell on the query. Before he knew it he was face to face with her. She had been looking in the jeweler's window while she waited for him, and had turned as he came abreast.
She was smiling. "You're a minute late," she scolded, pointing to the jeweler's brass clock.
"Yes, ma'am—I was kept."
"Oh, don't look so serious. A minute's nothing."
"No, ma'am—not much."
Silence claimed them for a time.
"Well, what'll we do?" she finally asked a little petulantly, and turned her back on him to look into the window.
"I dunno," he began; then a sudden wild idea struck him. He had seen along the curbs automobiles bearing signs which read "For Hire—Four Dollars an Hour." It was worth it, if only to break this humiliating situation. "We might take a little spin in a machine," he finished with a tottery tone of indifference.
"Oh, I'd like that," she said instantly. "But I gotta dress. We'll get a car and ride 'round to where I room."
They walked to the corner, where was a taxi stand. Hiram engaged a car by the hour, and they entered. She directed the driver to her rooming house, and they were off.
The car presently drew up to the curb, and the driver swung the door open for his passengers. Into a dark, musty little parlor the girl led Hiram of the butterfly life.
"Sit down," she invited; "and excuse me a minute."
She went back into the hall, and Hiram heard the tattoo of her feet on the stairs.
It was a grand parlor, Hiram thought. There was a piano, a phonograph, a whatnot filled with specimens of quartz, and four cloth-covered cushion rockers. With rattlesnake fairness the one Hiram chose squeaked a warning before it tried to land him on the back of his neck.
Hiram sat there round-eyed and dreaming, while outside the hired car purred on, indifferent to the flight of time.
Twenty minutes later Hiram's dream was broken by the clatter of Lucy's high heels on the stairs. Lucy entered, dressed in silk and furs and wearing a large picture hat. The savings of many months were on Lucy's back, and Hiram felt further removed from her than ever.
"Where'll we go?" he asked miserably as he clumsily helped her into the car.
"Golden Gate Park, Mr. Hooker," she said.
The driver, having heard, touched his cap, and they rolled away.
"How'd you know my name?" The burden of keeping this question had been overriding Hiram's bashfulness since she had spoken it.
Lucy laughed. "You didn't think I'd go so far as to invite you home with me if I didn't know you, did you? At least kinda know you?"
"I hadn't thought about that at all, ma'am. But when you said 'Mr. Hooker' it gave me a jolt."
"I'll bet it did. Well, didn't you stand in front of the jewelry shop for over a quarter of an hour before the fire this morning?"
"And you didn't see your friend come out of the restaurant while you were there?"
"Who, Tweet? No, ma'am—I didn't."
"Well, he did. He'd been in talking with me. I didn't know his name, though. Is that it? Tweet? Heavens above! Say, he's a funny guy. Well, he'd been in talking about you. He said you were out in front of the jeweler's shop and wondered if he could get out without you seeing him."
Hiram only stared and waited.
"He told me your name was Hiram Hooker, and that you had just come from Mendocino County. That's how I knew."
For quite a time she was silent. Then she said:
"He appears to be sort of butting in, it seems to me."
Hiram waited again.
"He came in and says: 'Say, Lucy, your lifeline and mine are getting tangled. You're crossing my path and frustrating my plans.' You know how he talks!
"'How d'ye get that way?' I says. 'Spring it.'
"'Why, your many charms are leading my business partner from the path of duty,' he says.
"'Go on,' I told him, 'and talk sense, if you've got anything to say.'
"Then he told me that you two were partners, and were going down to southern California together to 'get a toehold,' he said; and that you were keeping the thing back by—by—by wanting to hang around Frisco. He said you two had a good thing and that you were spoiling it, and that you were nearly broke and getting more so every minute.
"I kind of like him. He's funny, but I'll bet he's right. And he said for me to give you the cold shoul—well, what he meant was for me to advise you to hurry up and get out with him.
"But now listen: If I'd intended to do that I wouldn't have told you that he told me to, would I? Of course not. I wanted to see you about something else. Two things: First, I promised to tell you about the moving picture you helped me with this morning. Then the other thing is Mendocino." She leaned forward and lowered her voice. "Listen, I'm from Mendocino County," she finished. "I've been away three years. I'm nearly dying to talk to some one from up there!"
Learning that Lucy Dalles was from Mendocino County was startling, but surprise over this took second place in Hiram Hooker's thoughts. He was stricken with consternation to think that all the time he had been before the jeweler's window, trying to nerve himself up to enter the restaurant, she had known he was there.
"After your friend left the restaurant," she was saying, "I thought I'd go out and tell you about me being from Mendocino. Just as I left the door the hook-and-ladder came by. Then I stood by you watching the fire, you know, till the Samax people drove up. Then I forgot everything but getting the picture for the fire scene in 'The Crowning Defeat.' I asked you to see Mr. Kenoke for me, and you did—and it was dandy of you, too. Now I'll tell you about my scenarios; then I want to talk about nothing but Mendocino County.
"Well, I write scenarios for moving-picture production," she went on. "That's one reason why I wanted the cashier's job—so I could have the use of the boss' old typewriter. I've been paying a public stenographer fifty cents a thousand words to copy my work, and it cuts into the profits when you get so little for a scenario.
"I've been writing them a year now. I've sold ten. That's not very many, is it?—when you know; that I have written over fifty. I've sold most of mine to this Samax Company, through the mail; and one day I went to their Western studio, here in the city, and told them who I was and got acquainted with Mr. Kenoke. He's their best producer, I think.
"As it happened, I am now working on a play that calls for a big fire scene. I was worried about it, because they send so many of my scenarios back with the comment that they are too difficult to produce. It's a dandy plot, and I hated to give it up just because it would require a burning building. They would hardly buy a building and burn it down just to please me, you know.
"But when they hear of a fire they get right to it, if they can, and take rescue scenes, and so forth, then have their contract writers work up a scenario in which the scenes can be used. But that's hack work. Mine is different, you see. My scenario called for a fire, and couldn't be produced without it. Quite different from having a fire call for a scenario.
"Well, now you know. I couldn't explain then, you see. There wasn't time, and, besides, I was too excited. I doubted if you would have understood, either—you just from the country.
"Now don't think I'm making fun of you. But it's the truth, isn't it? And it was certainly great of you to go the way you did, not having the least idea of what you were up against."
"It wasn't much," Hiram said in his unassuming way.
"Yes, it was," the girl said with a lack of the enthusiasm which had marked her former grateful utterances. Her eyes were far away, and it was apparent that another matter held precedence in her mind. "You just got into Frisco last night, your partner said."
"I could see that when you came in the restaurant. Your new suit looks fairly nice." She scanned him frankly.
Hiram squirmed. "Tweet said I looked whittled out in it," he said truthfully.
"You don't any such thing! You don't mind my being so personal, do you? I've taken quite an interest in you since Mr. Tweet talked about you—especially as you are from Mendocino. You looked so forlorn and scared last night when you came in the restaurant. I could see that you didn't know what to order or how to order it, and that you were half starved. I remembered my first day in the city. Honestly, I was scared blue! But tell me—what part of the country are you from?"
"I'm from Bear Valley," Hiram told her.
"Bear Valley! Why, our old place is just on the other side of the range. I've been in Bear Valley lots of times. Our place is in Temple Valley."
"I know Temple Valley," Hiram put in quickly.
"Of course you do! Why did you come down here?"
"I was gettin' tired of the backwoods—been there all my life," said Hiram lamely.
Lucy's eyes grew dreamy. "I thought the same," she said pensively at last. "I was born there in Temple Valley. I was content, too, till I was about twenty; then I got to mixing with the summer boarders that came to the Mills place for the trout season. They'd have something on every night, and I got acquainted and was always invited. I got to wanting to go to the city, and I hated Temple Valley.
"Then my folks died. I didn't get along the best in the world with Emma—that's by [Transcribers' note: my?] brother's wife. So I pulled out the day after my twentieth birthday and came to Frisco—and I've been here ever since. But there was another reason why I left."
She sighed and leaned back.
"You've heard of Mrs. Cummings, the writer, haven't you? She was up at Mills' place one summer, and I got acquainted with her. I told her I'd always had the writing bug, and she encouraged me. I had no education but what I'd got in the Temple district school, but I'd read a lot.
"So I wanted to write, and finally I left and came to Frisco, and I had an awful time. Finally I got a job in a cheap restaurant and had to wait table, and when I got the cashier's job last night I got out of the rut for the first time in three years. I quit two or three times, thinking I could make a living writing scenarios, but I always had to go back to the beaneries.
"I'm going to hold down the restaurant job till things come my way. I've given up the idea that I'm a genius. My clothes cost a lot. Things will break for me some day. Maybe I'll get in the pictures. I want to go to Los Angeles and try, when I can save a little jack. I left the woods to win out, and I'm going to do it by fair means or foul. I'm ambitious. I'm determined to be rich some day."
Hiram drank in her chatter for two hours more, and when they returned to her rooming house he paid the driver of the car thirteen dollars and fifty cents, and now had only fifteen-fifty to his name. He was horrified at the prospects, but blissfully conscious that he had given Lucy Dalles an afternoon of pleasure.
"I want to show you my room," she said, as the car departed. "Come in. Don't make any noise going upstairs."
She led the way in, and he followed her softly. She opened a door on the second floor and stood back for him to look.
"I furnished my own room," she said proudly. "It's all mine, and paid for—pretty nearly."
Hiram stood aghast in the doorway. Never, except in the show windows, had his eye rested on such splendor.
There was a rug on the floor, soft and thick, which Lucy told him was a genuine Smyrna. There was a leopard skin, with stuffed head and red, gaping jaws. There were two handsome overstuffed leather chairs, and the bedroom set was Circassian walnut, so Lucy said.
She closed the door and hurried him below.
"You see, I've realized part of my ambition," she said, sinking into the squeaky rocker. "I'm not so clever or so cultured and all that, but I came from the backwoods to be somebody and have something, and I'll make good one way or another. What you saw is just a beginner. I might have bought a typewriter instead, but—well, I just didn't."'
"They're mighty nice," commented Hiram, as she paused.
"Yes, they made a fool out of me when I hit Frisco," she continued absently, "but my day's coming. I'm getting a toehold, as your Mr. Tweet says. I've rubbed off some of the Mendocino moss." She glanced a little vainly at her slim, well-garbed figure. "I'm after the money now—and I'll get it!
"But tell me about your partner," she continued. "Who is he, anyway?"
"I can't tell you."
"M'm-m!" She pursed her lips and frowned thoughtfully. "And he just wants you to go out with him, hit or miss?"
"That seems to be it, ma'am. And I don't think I'll go—now."
"Now? What do you mean, now?"
A wave of red ran over Hiram's face, and he began stammering.
The hint of a smile flickered across Lucy's lips as she hurried on without his answer. Hiram was a big man, ruggedly handsome. It pleased Lucy's vanity to have him gawk at her as he did.
"I think I can find out something about this gentleman," she said. "He came in the restaurant a few days ago, and I noticed two business men I know quite well talking about him. I'll find out something about this Tweet for you, and let you know. You don't want to let anybody play you for a sucker."
"Oh, I can take care of myself when it comes to that."
"Yes, you can!" She laughed. "You'll lose some of that confidence before you've been here many days. Now don't be offended. Shall I get this dope on him, if I can?"
"I'd thank you kindly, ma'am."
"Well, I will, then. Now let's forget it and talk about Mendocino. Go on—you talk so little."
HIRAM WAKES UP
Hiram walked with an elastic step from Lucy Dalles' rooming house. It was hard to believe that all that was happening to him was true. In a sort of haze that floated before him as he walked along hung Lucy's face. He wished to go on forever thus. He found no fault in her—he refused to. Some imp whispered to him that his fifteen dollars and fifty cents would last forever. He did not actually believe this, but he refused to worry over the matter. Fate was kind. He was living a dream—and who needs money in Dreamland?
It was like the slap of a cold towel when Tweet's face suddenly displaced Lucy's in the haze. Up there in the lounging room Tweet had been waiting for him four hours! Tweet was doubtless hungry—he, Hiram, had been to a feast of love!
He felt like sneaking away to another lodging house till Tweet had disappeared. But he did not. Instead he sneaked up the dusty stairs and through the door of the lounging room.
Tweet was there, half hidden behind his paper. Hiram sidled into a seat, swallowed twice, and said "Hello."
Tweet at once lowered the paper and looked at him at if he did not quite recall his face.
"Why, hello there!" he returned carelessly. "Back, eh? Here's somethin' may int'rest you."
He got up, folding the paper, and carried it over to Hiram, pointing to an article headed:
"New Ditch Digger Makes Good."
Hiram stared at the heading in dire confusion. He had been half prepared for a rating; Tweet's complete disregard of his remissness was distressing.
"Mr. Tweet, I've got to apologize," he began.
"Bad practice," Tweet interrupted. "The better way is to never do anythin' that calls for an apology. Can't say that I live up to it, but I do my darnedest—and angels can do no more. After the first half hour I knew you wouldn't show up, so I went down and had lunch. More'n you've had, I'll bet. Just glance over that article and see what you think of it."
"I thought you were broke."
"Oh, they can't keep a good man down. The friend I went to see insisted that I take a dollar he had that wasn't workin'. Don't suppose I'll be with you for dinner, either, as I've got an engagement at about that hour. But read that article."
It told of a ditch digger that had recently been enlarged from the inventor's model, and which, at the first trial, was proving a decided success in moving earth more rapidly than any previously invented. With only his model to prove his claims, the inventor had managed to sell all the stock; and from the very beginning the operations would be carried out by a closed corporation. The question before the directors was whether to have machines manufactured and hire them out, or to construct a plant and manufacture them for the trade.
To Hiram it was dull and incomprehensible, and after finishing it he looked up at Tweet for an explanation.
"I got a sixth int'rest in her, Hooker," Tweet carelessly informed him. "My pay for sellin' the stock for 'em."