Blix by Frank Norris - HTML preview
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Chapter I ............................................................................................................................ 3Chapter II ........................................................................................................................... 9Chapter III......................................................................................................................... 17Chapter IV........................................................................................................................ 24Chapter V......................................................................................................................... 37Chapter VI........................................................................................................................ 47Chapter VII ....................................................................................................................... 59Chapter VIII ...................................................................................................................... 68Chapter IX ........................................................................................................................ 78Chapter X ......................................................................................................................... 84Chapter XI ........................................................................................................................ 95Chapter XII .....................................................................................................................104 Chapter XIII ....................................................................................................................111
Chapter XIV ...................................................................................................................118
IT had just struck nine from the cuckoo clock that hung over the mantelpiece in the dining-room, when Victorine brought in the halved watermelon and set it in front of Mr. Bessemer's plate. Then she went down to the front door for the damp, twisted roll of the Sunday morning's paper, and came back and rang the breakfast- bell for the second time.
As the family still hesitated to appear, she went to the bay window at the end of the room, and stood there for a moment looking out. The view was wonderful. The Bessemers lived upon the Washington Street hill, almost at its very summit, in a flat in the third story of the building. The contractor had been clever enough to reverse the position of kitchen and dining-room, so that the latter room was at the rear of the house. From its window one could command a sweep of San Francisco Bay and the Contra Costa shore, from Mount Diablo, along past Oakland, Berkeley, Sausalito, and Mount Tamalpais, out to the Golden Gate, the Presidio, the ocean, and even--on very clear days--to the Farrallone islands.For some time Victorine stood looking down at the great expanse of land and sea, then faced about with an impatient exclamation.
On Sundays all the week-day regime of the family was deranged, and breakfast was a movable feast, to be had any time after seven or before half-past nine. As Victorine was pouring the ice-water, Mr. Bessemer himself came in, and addressed himself at once to his meal, without so much as a thought of waiting for the others.
He was a little round man. He wore a skull-cap to keep his bald spot warm, and read his paper through a reading-glass. The expression of his face, wrinkled and bearded, the eyes shadowed by enormous gray eyebrows, was that of an amiable gorilla.
Bessemer was one of those men who seem entirely disassociated from their families. Only on rare and intense occasions did his paternal spirit or instincts assert themselves. At table he talked but little. Though devotedly fond of his eldest daughter, she was a puzzle and a stranger to him. His interests and hers were absolutely dissimilar. The children he seldom spoke to but to reprove; while Howard, the son, the ten-year-old and terrible infant of the household, he always referred to as "that boy."
He was an abstracted, self-centred old man, with but two hobbies-- homoeopathy and the mechanism of clocks. But he had a strange way of talking to himself in a low voice, keeping up a running, half- whispered comment upon his own doings and actions; as, for instance, upon this occasion: "Nine o'clock--the clock's a little fast. I think I'll wind my watch. No, I've forgotten my watch. Watermelon this morning, eh? Where's a knife? I'll have a little salt. Victorine's forgot the spoons--ha, here's a spoon! No, it's a knife I want."
After he had finished his watermelon, and while Victorine was pouring his coffee, the two children came in, scrambling to their places, and drumming on the table with their knife-handles.
The son and heir, Howard, was very much a boy. He played baseball too well to be a very good boy, and for the sake of his own self- respect maintained an attitude of perpetual revolt against his older sister, who, as much as possible, took the place of the mother, long since dead. Under her supervision, Howard blacked his own shoes every morning before breakfast, changed his underclothes twice a week, and was dissuaded from playing with the dentist's son who lived three doors below and who had St. Vitus' dance.
His little sister was much more tractable. She had been christened Alberta, and was called Snooky. She promised to be pretty when she grew up, but was at this time in that distressing transitional stage between twelve and fifteen; was long-legged, and endowed with all the awkwardness of a colt. Her shoes were still innocent of heels; but on those occasions when she was allowed to wear her tiny first pair of corsets she was exalted to an almost celestial pitch of silent ecstasy. The clasp of the miniature stays around her small body was like the embrace of a little lover, and awoke in her ideas that were as vague, as immature and unformed as the straight little figure itself.When Snooky and Howard had seated themselves, but one chair--at the end of the breakfast-table, opposite Mr. Bessemer--remained vacant.
"Is your sister--is Miss Travis going to have her breakfast now? Is she got up yet?" inquired Victorine of Howard and Snooky, as she pushed the cream pitcher out of Howard's reach. It was significant of Mr. Bessemer's relations with his family that Victorine did not address her question to him."Yes, yes, she's coming," said both the children, speaking together; and Howard added: "Here she comes now."
Travis Bessemer came in. Even in San Francisco, where all women are more or less beautiful, Travis passed for a beautiful girl. She was young, but tall as most men, and solidly, almost heavily built. Her shoulders were broad, her chest was deep, her neck round and firm. She radiated health; there were exuberance and vitality in the very touch of her foot upon the carpet, and there was that cleanliness about her, that freshness, that suggested a recent plunge in the surf and a "constitutional" along the beach. One felt that here was stamina, good physical force, and fine animal vigor. Her arms were large, her wrists were large, and her fingers did not taper. Her hair was of a brown so light as to be almost yellow. In fact, it would be safer to call it yellow from the start--not golden nor flaxen, but plain, honest yellow. The skin of her face was clean and white, except where it flushed to a most charming pink upon her smooth, cool cheeks. Her lips were full and red, her chin very round and a little salient. Curiously enough, her eyes were small--small, but of the deepest, deepest brown, and always twinkling and alight, as though she were just ready to smile or had just done smiling, one could not say which. And nothing could have been more delightful than these sloe-brown, glinting little eyes of hers set off by her white skin and yellow hair.
She impressed one as being a very normal girl: nothing morbid about her, nothing nervous or false or overwrought. You did not expect to find her introspective. You felt sure that her mental life was not at all the result of thoughts and reflections germinating from within, but rather of impressions and sensations that came to her from without. There was nothing extraordinary about Travis. She never had her vagaries, was not moody-- depressed one day and exalted the next. She was just a good, sweet, natural, healthy-minded, healthy-bodied girl, honest, strong, self-reliant, and good-tempered.
Though she was not yet dressed for church, there was style in her to the pointed tips of her patent-leather slippers. She wore a heavy black overskirt that rustled in delicious fashion over the colored silk skirt beneath, and a white shirt-waist, striped black, and starched to a rattling stiffness. Her neck was swathed tight and high with a broad ribbon of white satin, while around her waist, in place of a belt, she wore the huge dog-collar of a St. Bernard--a chic little idea which was all her own, and of which she was very proud.
She was as trig and trim and crisp as a crack yacht: not a pin was loose, not a seam that did not fall in its precise right line; and with every movement there emanated from her a barely perceptible delicious feminine odor--an odor that was in part perfume, but mostly a subtle, vague smell, charming beyond words, that came from her hair, her neck, her arms--her whole sweet personality. She was nineteen years old.
She sat down to breakfast and ate heartily, though with her attention divided between Howard--who was atrociously bad, as usual of a Sunday morning--and her father's plate. Mr. Bessemer was as like as not to leave the table without any breakfast at all unless his fruit, chops, and coffee were actually thrust under his nose.
"Papum," she called, speaking clear and distinct, as though to the deaf, "there's your coffee there at your elbow; be careful, you'll tip it over. Victorine, push his cup further on the table. Is it strong enough for you, Papum'"
"Eh? Ah, yes--yes--yes," murmured the old man, looking vaguely about him; "coffee, to be sure"--and he emptied the cup at a single draught, hardly knowing whether it was coffee or tea. "Now I'll take a roll," he continued, in a monotonous murmur. "Where are the rolls? Here they are. Hot rolls are bad for my digestion-- I ought to eat bread. I think I eat too much. Where's my place in the paper?--always lose my place in the paper. Clever editorials this fellow Eastman writes, unbiassed by party prejudice--unbiassed-unbiassed." His voice died to a whisper.
The breakfast proceeded, Travis supervising everything that went forward, even giving directions to Victorine as to the hour for serving dinner. It was while she was talking to Victorine as to this matter that Snooky began to whine.
"Stop!" "And tell Maggie," pursued Travis, "to fricassee her chicken, and not to have it too well done--""Sto-o-op!" whined Snooky again. "And leave the heart out for Papum. He likes the heart--" "Sto-o-op!" "Unbiassed by prejudice," murmured Mr. Bessemer, "vigorous and to the point. I'll have another roll." "Pa, make Howard stop!" "Howard!" exclaimed Travis; "what is it now?" "Howard's squirting watermelon-seeds at me," whined Snooky, "and Pa won't make him stop." "Oh, I didn't so!" vociferated Howard. "I only held one between my fingers, and it just kind of shot out." "You'll come upstairs with me in just five minutes," announced Travis, "and get ready for Sunday-school."
Howard knew that his older sister's decisions were as the laws of the Persians, and found means to finish his breakfast within the specified time, though not without protest. Once upstairs, however, the usual Sunday morning drama of despatching him to Sunday-school in presentable condition was enacted. At every moment his voice could be heard uplifted in shrill expostulation and debate. No, his hands were clean enough, and he didn't see why he had to wear that little old pink tie; and, oh! his new shoes were too tight and hurt his sore toe; and he wouldn't, he wouldn't--no, not if he were killed for it, change his shirt. Not for a moment did Travis lose her temper with him. But "very well," she declared at length, "the next time she saw that little Miner girl she would tell her that he had said she was his beau- heart. NOW would he hold still while she brushed his hair?"
At a few minutes before eleven Travis and her father went to church. They were Episcopalians, and for time out of mind had rented a half-pew in the church of their denomination on California Street, not far from Chinatown. By noon the family reassembled. at dinner-table, where Mr. Bessemer ate his chicken- heart--after Travis had thrice reminded him of it--and expressed himself as to the sermon and the minister's theology: sometimes to his daughter and sometimes to himself. After dinner Howard and Snooky foregathered in the nursery with their beloved lead soldiers; Travis went to her room to write letters; and Mr. Bessemer sat in the bay window of the dining-room reading the paper from end to end.
At five Travis bestirred herself. It was Victorine's afternoon out. Travis set the table, spreading a cover of blue denim edged with white braid, which showed off the silver and the set of delft--her great and never-ending joy--to great effect. Then she tied her apron about her, and went into the kitchen to make the mayonnaise dressing for the potato salad, to slice the ham, and to help the cook (a most inefficient Irish person, taken on only for that month during the absence of the family's beloved and venerated Sing Wo) in the matter of preparing the Sunday evening tea.
Tea was had at half-past five. Never in the history of the family had its menu varied: cold ham, potato salad, pork and beans, canned fruit, chocolate, and the inevitable pitcher of ice-water.
In the absence of Victorine, Maggie waited on the table, very uncomfortable in her one good dress and stiff white apron. She stood off from the table, making awkward dabs at it from time to time. In her excess of deference she developed a clumsiness that was beyond all expression. She passed the plates upon the wrong side, and remembered herself with a broken apology at inopportune moments. She dropped a spoon, she spilled the ice-water. She handled the delft cups and platters with an exaggerated solicitude, as though they were glass bombs. She brushed the crumbs into their laps instead of into the crumb-tray, and at last, when she had sat even Travis' placid nerves in a jangle, was dismissed to the kitchen, and retired with a gasp of unspeakable relief.Suddenly there came a prolonged trilling of the electric bell, and Howard flashed a grin at Travis. Snooky jumped up and pushed back, crying out: "I'll go! I'll go!" Mr. Bessemer glanced nervously at Travis. "That's Mr. Rivers, isn't it, daughter?" Travis smiled. "Well, I think I'll--I think I'd better--" he began. "No," said Travis, "I don't want you to, Papum; you sit right where you are. How absurd!" The old man dropped obediently back into his seat. "That's all right, Maggie," said Travis as the cook reappeared from the pantry. "Snooky went." "Huh!" exclaimed Howard, his grin widening. "Huh!" And remember one thing, Howard," remarked Travis calmly, "don't you ever again ask Mr. Rivers for a nickel to put in your bank."
Mr. Bessemer roused up. "Did that boy do that?" he inquired sharply of Travis. "Well, well, he won't do it again," said Travis soothingly. The old man glared for an instant at Howard, who shifted uneasily in his seat. But meanwhile Snooky had clambered down to the outside door, and before anything further could be said young Rivers came into the dining-room.
FOR some reason, never made sufficiently clear, Rivers' parents had handicapped him from the baptismal font with the prenomen of Conde, which, however, upon AngloSaxon tongues, had been promptly modified to Condy, or even, among his familiar and intimate friends, to Conny. Asked as to his birthplace--for no Californian assumes that his neighbor is born in the State--Condy was wont to reply that he was "bawn 'n' rais'" in Chicago; "but," he always added, "I couldn't help that, you know." His people had come West in the early eighties, just in time to bury the father in alien soil. Condy was an only child. He was educated at the State University, had a finishing year at Yale, and a few months after his return home was taken on the staff of the San Francisco "Daily Times" as an associate editor of its Sunday supplement. For Condy had developed a taste and talent in the matter of writing. Short stories were his mania. He had begun by an inoculation of the Kipling virus, had suffered an almost fatal attack of Harding Davis, and had even been affected by Maupassant. He "went in" for accuracy of detail; held that if one wrote a story involving firemen one should have, or seem to have, every detail of the department at his fingers' ends, and should "bring in" to the tale all manner of technical names and cant phrases.
Much of his work on the Sunday supplement of "The Times" was of the hack order-special articles, write-ups, and interviews. About once a month, however, he wrote a short story, and of late, now that he was convalescing from Maupassant and had begun to be somewhat himself, these stories had improved in quality, and one or two had even been copied in the Eastern journals. He earned $100 a month.
When Snooky had let him in, Rivers dashed up the stairs of the Bessemers' flat, two at a time, tossed his stick into a porcelain cane-rack in the hall, wrenched off his overcoat with a single movement, and precipitated himself, panting, into the dining-room, tugging at his gloves.
He was twenty-eight years old--nearly ten years older than Travis; tall and somewhat lean; his face smooth-shaven and pink all over, as if he had just given it a violent rubbing with a crash towel. Unlike most writing folk, he dressed himself according to prevailing custom. But Condy overdid the matter. His scarfs and cravats were too bright, his colored shirt-bosoms were too broadly barred, his waistcoats too extreme. Even Travis, as she rose to his abrupt entrance? told herself that of a Sunday evening a pink shirt and scarlet tie were a combination hardly to be forgiven.
Condy shook her hand in both of his, then rushed over to Mr. Bessemer, exclaiming between breaths: "Don't get up, sir--don't THINK of it! Heavens! I'm disgustingly late. You're all through. My watch--this beastly watch of mine--I can't imagine how I came to be so late. You did quite right not to wait."
Then as his morbidly keen observation caught a certain look of blankness on Travis' face, and his rapid glance noted no vacant chair at table, he gave a quick gasp of dismay.
"Heavens and earth! didn't you EXPECT me?" he cried. "I thought you said--I thought--I must have forgotten--I must have got it mixed up somehow. What a hideous mistake, what a blunder! What a fool I am!"He dropped into a chair against the wall and mopped his forehead with a blue-bordered handkerchief. "Well, what difference does it make, Condy?" said Travis quietly. "I'll put another place for you." "No, no!" he vociferated, jumping up. "I won't hear of it, I won't permit it! You'll think I did it on purpose!" Travis ignored his interference, and made a place for him opposite the children, and had Maggie make some more chocolate. Condy meanwhile covered himself with opprobrium. "And all this trouble--I always make trouble everywhere I go. Always a round man in a square hole, or a square man in a round hole."
He got up and sat down again, crossed and recrossed his legs, picked up little ornaments from the mantelpiece, and replaced them without consciousness of what they were, and finally broke the crystal of his watch as he was resetting it by the cuckoo clock."Hello!" he exclaimed suddenly, "where did you get that clock? Where did you get that clock? That's new to me. Where did that come from?"
"That cuckoo clock?" inquired Travis, with a stare. "Condy Rivers, you've been here and in this room at least twice a week for the last year and a half, and that clock, and no other, has always hung there."But already Condy had forgotten or lost interest in the clock. "Is that so? is that so?" he murmured absent-mindedly, seating himself at the table.
Mr. Bessemer was murmuring: "That clock's a little fast. I can not make that clock keep time. Victorine has lost the key. I have to wind it with a monkey-wrench. Now I'll try some more beans. Maggie has put in too much pepper. I'll have to have a new key made to-morrow."
"Hey? Yes--yes. Is that so?" answered Condy Rivers, bewildered, wishing to be polite, yet unable to follow the old man's mutterings.
"He's not talking to you," remarked Travis, without lowering her voice. "You know how Papum goes on. He won't hear a word you say. Well, I read your story in this morning's 'Times.'"
A few moments later, while Travers and Condy were still discussing this story, Mr. Bessemer rose. "Well, Mr. Rivers," he announced, "I guess I'll say good-night. Come, Snooky.""Yes, take her with you, Papum," said Travis. "She'll go to sleep on the lounge here if you don't. Howard, have you got your lessons for to-morrow?"
It appeared that he had not. Snooky whined to stay up a little longer, but at last consented to go with her father. They all bade Condy good-night and took themselves away, Howard lingering a moment in the door in the hope of the nickel he dared not ask for. Maggie reappeared to clear away the table."Let's go in the parlor," suggested Travis, rising. "Don't you want to?"
The parlor was the front room overlooking the street, and was reached by the long hall that ran the whole length of the flat, passing by the door of each one of its eight rooms in turn.Travis preceded Condy, and turned up one of the burners in colored globe of the little brass chandelier.
The parlor was a small affair, peopled by a family of chairs and sofas robed in white drugget. A gold-and-white effect had been striven for throughout the room. The walls had been tinted instead of papered, and bunches of hand-painted pink flowers tied up with blue ribbons straggled from one corner of the ceiling. Across one angle of the room straddled a brass easel upholding a crayon portrait of Travis at the age of nine, "enlarged from a photograph." A yellow drape ornamented one corner of the frame, while another drape of blue depended from one end of the mantelpiece.
The piano, upon which nobody ever played, balanced the easel in an opposite corner. Over the mantelpiece hung in a gilded frame a steel engraving of Priscilla and John Alden; and on the mantel itself two bisque figures of an Italian fisher boy and girl kept company with the clock, a huge timepiece, set in a red plush palette, that never was known to go. But at the right of the fireplace, and balancing the tuft of pampa-grass to the left, was an inverted section of a sewer-pipe painted blue and decorated with daisies. Into it was thrust a sheaf of cat-tails, gilded, and tied with a pink ribbon.
Travis dropped upon the shrouded sofa, and Condy set himself carefully down on one of the frail chairs with its spindling golden legs, and they began to talk. Condy had taken her to the theatre the Monday night of that week, as had been his custom ever since he had known her well, and there was something left for them to say on that subject. But in ten minutes they had exhausted it. An engagement of a girl known to both of them had just been announced. Condy brought that up, and kept conversation going for another twenty minutes, and then filled in what threatened to be a gap by telling her stories of the society reporters, and how they got inside news by listening to telephone party wires for days at a time. Travis' condemnation of this occupied another five or ten minutes; and so what with this and with that they reached nine o'clock. Then decidedly the evening began to drag. It was too early to go. Condy could find no good excuse for takng himself away, and, though Travis was good-natured enough, and met him more than half-way, their talk lapsed, and lapsed, and lapsed. The breaks became more numerous and lasted longer. Condy began to wonder if he was boring her. No sooner had the suspicion entered his head than it hardened into a certainty, and at once what little fluency and freshness he yet retained forsook him on the spot. What made matters worse was his recollection of other evenings that of late he had failed in precisely the same manner. Even while he struggled to save the situation Condy was wondering if they two were talked out--if they had lost charm for each other. Did he not know Travis through and through by now--her opinions, her ideas, her convictions? Was there any more freshness in her for him? Was their little flirtation of the last eighteen months, charming as it had been, about to end? Had they played out the play, had they come to the end of each other's resources? He had never considered the possibility of this before, but all at once as he looked at Travis--looked fairly into her little brown-black eyes--it was borne in upon him that she was thinking precisely the same thing.
Condy Rivers had met Travis at a dance a year and a half before this, and, because she was so very pretty, so unaffected, and so good-natured, had found means to see her three or four times a week ever since. They two "went out" not a little in San Francisco society, and had been in a measure identified with what was known as the Younger Set; though Travis was too young to come out, and Rivers too old to feel very much at home with girls of twenty and boys of eighteen.
They had known each other in the conventional way (as conventionality goes in San Francisco); during the season Rivers took her to the theatres Monday nights, and called regularly Wednesdays and Sundays. Then they met at dances, and managed to be invited to the same houses for teas and dinners. They had flirted rather desperately, and at times Condy even told himself that he loved this girl so much younger than he-this girl with the smiling eyes and robust figure and yellow hair, who was so frank, so straightforward, and so wonderfully pretty.
But evidently they had come to the last move in the game, and as Condy reflected that after all he had never known the real Travis, that the girl whom he told himself he knew through and through was only the Travis of dinner parties and afternoon functions, he was suddenly surprised to experience a sudden qualm of deep and genuine regret. He had never been NEAR to her, after all. They were as far apart as when they had first met. And yet he knew enough of her to know that she was "worth while." He had had experience--all the experience he wanted--with other older women and girls of society. They were sophisticated, they were all a little tired, they had run the gamut of amusements--in a word, they were jaded. But Travis, this girl of nineteen, who was not yet even a debutante, had been fresh and unspoiled, had been new and strong and young."Of course, you may call it what you like. He was nothing more nor less than intoxicated--yes, drunk." "Hah! who--what--wh--what are you talking about?" gasped Condy sitting bolt upright.
"Jack Carter," answered Travis. "No," she added. shaking her head at him helplessly, "he hasn't been listening to a word. I'm talking about Jack Carter and the 'Saturday Evening' last night.""No, no, I haven't heard. Forgive me; I was thinking--thinking of something else. Who was drunk?" Travis paused a moment, settling her side-combs in her hair; then:
"If you will try to listen, I'll tell it all over again, because it's serious with me, and I'm going to take a very decided stand about it. You know," she went on--"you know what the 'Saturday Evening' is. Plenty of the girls who are not 'out' belong, and a good many of last year's debutantes come, as well as the older girls of three or four seasons' standing. You could call it representative couldn't you? Well, they always serve punch; and you know yourself that you have seen men there who have taken more than they should.""Yes, yes," admitted Condy. "I know Carter and the two Catlin boys always do." "It gets pretty bad sometimes, doesn't it?" she said. "It does, it does--and it's shameful. But most of the girls-- MOST of them don't seem to mind."
Miss Bessemer stiffened a bit. "There are one or two girls that do," she said quietly. "Frank Catlin had the decency to go home last night," she continued; "and his brother wasn't any worse than usual. But Jack Carter must have been drinking before he came. He was very bad indeed--as bad," she said between her teeth, "as he could be and yet walk straight. As you say, most of the girls don't mind. They say, 'It's only Johnnie Carter; what do you expect?' But one of the girls--you know her, Laurie Flagg--cut a dance with him last night and told him exactly why. Of course, Carter was furious. He was sober enough to think he had been insulted; and what do you suppose he did?"
"What? what?" exclaimed Condy, breathless, leaning toward her. "Went about the halls and dressing-rooms circulating some dirty little lie about Laurie. Actually trying to--to"--Travis hesitated--"to make a scandal about her."Condy bounded in his seat. "Beast, cad, swine!" he exclaimed. "I didn't think," said Travis, "that Carter would so much as dare to ask me to dance with him--" "Did he? did--did--"
"Wait," she interrupted. "So I wasn't at all prepared for what happened. During the german, before I knew it, there he was in front of me. It was a break, and he wanted it. I hadn't time to think. The only idea I had was that if I refused him he might tell some dirty little lie about me. I was all confused--mixed up. I felt just as though it were a snake that I had to humor to get rid of. I gave him the break."Condy sat speechless. Suddenly he arose.
"Well, now, let's see," he began, speaking rapidly, his hands twisting and untwisting till the knuckles cracked. "Now, let's see. You leave it to me. I know Carter. He's going to be at a stag dinner where I am invited to-morrow night, and I--I--"
"No, you won't, Condy," said Travis placidly. "You'll pay no attention to it, and I'll tell you why. Suppose you should make a scene with Mr. Carter--I don't know how men settle these things. Well, it would be told in all the clubs and in all the newspaper offices that two men had quarreled over a girl; and my name is mentioned, discussed, and handed around from one crowd of men to another, from one club to another; and then, of course, the papers take it up. By that time Mr. Carter will have told his side of the story and invented another dirty little lie, and I'm the one who suffers the most in the end. And remember, Condy, that I haven't any mother in such an affair, not even an older sister. No, we'll just let the matter drop. It would be more dignified, anyhow. Only I have made up my mind what I am going to do.""What's that?"
"I'm not coming out. If that's the sort of thing one has to put up with in society"--Travis drew a little line on the sofa at her side with her finger-tip--"I am going to--stop--right-there. It's not"--Miss Bessemer stiffened again--"that I'm afraid of Jack Carter and his dirty stories; I simply don't want to know the kind of people who have made Jack Carter possible. The other girls don't mind it, nor many men besides you, Condy; and I'm not going to be associated with people who take it as a joke for a man to come to a function drunk. And as for having a good time, I'll find my amusements somewhere else. I'll ride a wheel, take long walks, study something. But as for leading the life of a society girl-no! And whether I have a good time or not, I'll keep my own self-respect. At least I'll never have to dance with a drunken man. I won't have to humiliate myself like that a second time."
"But I presume you will still continue to go out somewhere," protested Condy Rivers.
"I have thought it all over, and I've talked about it with Papum. There's no half way about it. The only way to stop is to stop short. Just this afternoon I've regretted three functions for next week, and I shall resign from the 'Saturday Evening.' Oh, it's not the Jack Carter affair alone!" she exclaimed; "the whole thing tires me. Mind, Condy," she exclaimed, "I'm not going to break with it because I have any 'purpose in life,' or that sort of thing. I want to have a good time, and I'm going to see if I can't have it in my own way. If the kind of thing that makes Jack Carter possible is conventionality, then I'm done with conventionality for good. I am going to try, from this time on, to be just as true to myself as I can be. I am going to be sincere, and not pretend to like people and things that I don't like; and I'm going to do the things that I like to do--just so long as they are the things a good girl can do. See, Condy?""You're fine," murmured Condy breathless. "You're fine as gold, Travis, and I--I love you all the better for it."
"Ah, NOW!" exclaimed Travis, with a brusque movement, "there's mother thing we must talk about. No more foolishness between us. We've had a jolly little flirtation, I know, and it's been good fun while it lasted. I know you like me, and you know that I like you; but as for loving each other, you know we don't. Yes, you say that you love me and that I'm the only girl. That's part of the game. I can play it"--her little eyes began to dance--"quite as well as you. But it's playing with something that's quite too serious to be played with-after all, isn't it, now? It's insincere, and, as I tell you, from now on I'm going to be as true and as sincere and as honest as I can.""But I tell you that I DO love you," protested Condy, trying to make the words ring true.
Travis looked about the room an instant as if in deliberation; then abruptly: "Ah! what am I going to DO with such a boy as you are, after all--a great big, overgrown boy? Condy Rivers, look at me straight in the eye. Tell me, do you honestly love me? You know what I mean when I say 'love.' Do you love me?""No, I don't!" he exclaimed blankly, as though he had just discovered the fact. "There!" declared Travis--"and I don't love you." They both began to laugh. "Now," added Travis, "we don't need to have the burden and trouble of keeping up the pretences any more. We understand each other, don't we?" "This is queer enough," said Condy drolly. "But isn't it an improvement?" Condy scoured his head. "Tell me the truth," she insisted; "YOU be sincere." "I do believe it is. Why--why--Travis by Jingo! Travis, I think I'm going to like you better than ever now." "Never mind. Is it an agreement?" "What is?" "That we don't pretend to love each other any more?" "All right--yes--you're right; because the moment I began to love you I should like you so much less." She put out her hand. "That's an agreement, then." Condy took her hand in his. "Yes, it's an agreement." But when, as had been his custom, he made as though to kiss her hand, Travis drew it quickly away. "No! no!" she said firmly, smiling for all that--"no more foolishness." "But--but," he protested, "it's not so radical as that, is it? You're not going to overturn such time-worn, time-honored customs as that? Why, this is a regular rebellion." "No, sire," quoted Travis, trying not to laugh, "it is a revolution."
Although Monday was practically a holiday for the Sunday- supplement staff of "The Times," Condy Rivers made a point to get down to the office betimes the next morning. There were reasons why a certain article descriptive of a great whaleback steamer taking on grain for famine-stricken India should be written that day, and Rivers wanted his afternoon free in order to go to Laurie Flagg's coming-out tea.
But as he came into his room at "The Times" office, which he shared with the exchange and sporting editors, and settled himself at his desk, he suddenly remembered that, under the new order of things, he need not expect to see Travis at the Flaggs'.
"Well," he muttered, "maybe it doesn't make so much difference, after all. She was a corking fine girl, but--might as well admit it--the play is played out. Of course, I don't love her--any more whan she loves me. I'll see less and less of her now. It's inevitable, and after a while we'll hardly even meet. In a way, it's a pity; but, of course, one has to be sensible about these things....Well, this whaleback now."
He rang up the Chamber of Commerce, and found out that the "City of Everett," which was the whaleback's name, was at the Mission Street wharf. This made it possible for him to write the article in two ways. He either could fake his copy from a clipping on the subject which the exchange editor had laid on his desk, or he could go down in person to the wharf, interview the captain, and inspect the craft for himself. The former was the short and easy method. The latter was more troublesome, but would result in a far more interesting article.
Condy debated the subject a few minutes, then decided to go down to the wharf. San Francisco's water-front was always interesting, and he might get hold of a photograph of the whaleback. All at once the "idea" of the article struck him, the certain underlying notion that would give importance and weight to the mere details and descriptions. Condy's enthusiasm flared up in an instant."By Jove!" he exclaimed; "by Jove!"
He clapped on his hat wrong side foremost, crammed a sheaf of copy-paper into his pocket, and was on the street again in another moment. Then it occurred to him that he had forgotten to call at his club that morning for his mail, as was his custom, on the way to the office. He looked at his watch. It was early yet, and his club was but two blocks' distance. He decided that he would get his letters at the club, and read them on the way down to the wharf.
For Condy had joined a certain San Francisco club of artists, journalists, musicians, and professional men that is one of the institutions of the city, and, in fact, famous throughout the United States. He was one of the younger members, but was popular and well liked, and on more than one occasion had materially contributed to the fun of the club's "low jinks."
In his box this morning he found one letter that he told himself he must read upon the instant. It bore upon the envelope the name of a New York publishing house to whom Condy had sent a collection of his short stories about a month before. He took the letter into the "round window" of the club, overlooking the street, and tore it open excitedly. The fact that he had received a letter from the firm without the return of his manuscript seemed a good omen. This was what he read:Conde Rivers, Esq., Bohemian Club, San Francisco, Cal.
DEAR SIR: We return to you by this mail the manuscript of your stories, which we do not consider as available for publication at the present moment. We would say, however, that we find in several of them indications of a quite unusual order of merit. The best-selling book just now is the short novel--say thirty thousand words--of action and adventure. Judging from the stories of your collection, we suspect that your talent lies in this direction, and we would suggest that you write such a novel and submit the same to us.Very respectfully, THE CENTENNIAL CO., New York. Condy shoved the letter into his pocket and collapsed limply into his chair.
"What's the good of trying to do anything anyhow!" he muttered, looking gloomily down into the street. "My level is just the hack-work of a local Sunday supplement, and I am a fool to think of anything else."
His enthusiasm in the matter of the "City of Everett" was cold and dead in a moment. He could see no possibilities in the subject whatever. His "idea" of a few minutes previous seemed ridiculous and overwrought. He would go back to the office and grind out his copy from the exchange editor's clipping.
Just then his eye was caught by a familiar figure in trim, well- fitting black halted on the opposite corner waiting for the passage of a cable car. It was Travis Bessemer. No one but she could carry off such rigorous simplicity in the matter of dress so well: black skirt, black Russian blouse, tiny black bonnet and black veil, white kids with black stitching. Simplicity itself. Yet the style of her, as Condy Rivers told himself, flew up and hit you in the face; and her figure--was there anything more perfect? and the soft pretty effect of her yellow hair seen through the veil--could anything be more fetching? and her smart carriage and the fling of her fine broad shoulders, and--no, it was no use; Condy had to run down to speak to her.
"Come, come!" she said as he pretended to jostle against her on the curbstone without noticing her; "you had best go to work. Loafing at ten o'clock on the street corners--the idea!"
In an instant Condy leaped to the notion. "Splendid! splendid! no reason why you shouldn't!" he exclaimed. And within fifteen minutes the two were treading the wharves and quays of the city's water-front.
Ships innumerable nuzzled at the endless line of docks, mast overspiring mast, and bowsprit overlapping bowsprit, till the eye was bewildered, as if by the confusion of branches in a leafless forest. In the distance the mass of rigging resolved itself into a solid gray blur against the sky. The great hulks, green and black and slate gray, laid themselves along the docks, straining leisurely at their mammoth chains, their flanks opened, their cargoes, as it were their entrails, spewed out in a wild disarray of crate and bale and box. Sailors and stevedores swarmed them like vermin. Trucks rolled along the wharves like peals of ordnance, the horse-hoofs beating the boards like heavy drum-taps. Chains clanked, a ship's dog barked incessantly from a companionway, ropes creaked in complaining pulleys, blocks rattled, hoisting-engines coughed and strangled, while all the air was redolent of oakum, of pitch, of paint, of spices, of ripe fruit, of clean cool lumber, of coffee, of tar, of bilge, and the brisk, nimble odor of the sea.Travis was delighted, her little brown eyes snapping, her cheeks flushing, as she drank in the scene.
"To think," she cried, "where all these ships have come from! Look at their names; aren't they perfect? Just the names, see: the 'Mary Baker,' Hull; and the 'Anandale,' Liverpool; and the 'Two Sisters,' Calcutta, and see that one they're calking, the 'Montevideo,' Callao; and there, look! look! the very one you're looking for, the 'City of Everett,' San Francisco."
The whaleback, an immense tube of steel plates, lay at her wharf, sucking in entire harvests of wheat from the San Joaquin valley-- harvests that were to feed strangely clad skeletons on the southern slopes of the Himalaya foot-hills. Travis and Condy edged their way among piles of wheat-bags, dodging drays and rumbling trucks, and finally brought up at the after gangplank, where a sailor halted them. Condy exhibited his reporter's badge."I represent 'The Times,'" he said, with profound solemnity, "and I want to see the officer in charge." The sailor fell back upon the instant. "Power of the press," whispered Condy to Travis as the two gained the deck. A second sailor directed them to the mate, whom they found in the chart-room, engaged, singularly enough, in trimming the leaves of a scraggly geranium.
Condy explained his mission with flattering allusions to the whaleback and the novelty of the construction. The mate--an old man with a patriarchal beard--softened at once, asked them into his own cabin aft, and even brought out a camp-stool for Travis, brushing it with his sleeve before setting it down.
While Condy was interviewing the old fellow, Travis was examining, with the interest of a child, the details of the cabin: the rack- like bunk, the washstand, ingeniously constructed so as to shut into the bulkhead when not in use, the alarm-clock screwed to the wall, and the array of photographs thrust into the mirror between frame and glass. One, an old daguerreotype, particularly caught her fancy. It was the portrait of a very beautiful girl, wearing the old-fashioned side curls and high comb of a half-century previous. The old mate noticed the attention she paid to it, and, as soon as he had done giving information to Condy, turned and nodded to Travis, and said quietly: "She was pretty, wasn't she?""Oh, very! answered Travis, without looking away. There was a silence. Then the mate, his eyes wide and thoughtful, said with a long breath: "And she was just about your age, miss, when I saw her; and you favor her, too."
Condy and Travis held their breaths in attention. There in the cabin of that curious nondescript whaleback they had come suddenly to the edge of a romance--a romance that had been lived through before they were born. Then Travis said in a low voice, and sweetly"She died?"
"Before I ever set eyes on her, miss. That is, MAYBE she died. I sometimes think--fact is, I really believe she's alive yet, and waiting for me." He hesitated awkwardly. "I dunno," he said pulling his beard. "I don't usually tell that story to strange folk, but you remind me so of her that I guess I will."
Condy sat down on the edge of the bunk, and the mate seated himself on the plush settle opposite the door, his elbows on his knees, his eyes fixed on a patch of bright sunlight upon the deck outside.
"I began life," he said, "as a deep-sea diver--began pretty young, too. I first put on the armor when I was twenty, nothing but a lad; but I could take the pressure up to seventy pounds even then. One of my very first dives was off Trincomalee, on the coast of Ceylon. A mail packet had gone down in a squall with all on board. Six of the bodies had come up and had been recovered, but the seventh hadn't. It was the body of the daughter of the governor of the island, a beautiful young girl of nineteen, whom everybody loved. I was sent for to go down and bring the body up. Well, I went down. The packet lay in a hundred feet of water, and that's a wonder deep dive. I had to go down twice. The first time I couldn't find anything, though I went all through the berthdeck. I came up to the wrecking-float and reported that I had seen nothing. There were a lot of men there belonging to the wrecking gang, and some correspondents of London papers. But they would have it that she was below, and had me go down again. I did, and this time I found her."The mate paused a moment
"I'll have to tell you," he went on, "that when a body don't come to the surface it will stand or sit in a perfectly natural position until a current or movement of the water around touches it. When that happens--well, you'd say the body was alive; and old divers have a superstition--no, it AIN'T just a superstition, I believe it's so--that drowned people really don't die till they come to the surface, and the air touches them. We say that the drowned who don't come up still have some sort of life of their own way down there in all that green water...some kind of life...surely...surely. When I went down the second time, I came across the door of what I thought at first was the linen-closet. But it turned out to be a little stateroom. I opened it. There was the girl. She was sitting on the sofa opposite the door, with a little hat on her head, and holding a satchel in her lap, just as if she was ready to go ashore. Her eyes were wide open, and she was looking right at me and smiling. It didn't seem terrible or ghastly in the least. She seemed very sweet. When I opened the door it set the water in motion, and she got up and dropped the satchel, and came toward me smiling and holding out her arms.
"I stepped back quick and shut the door, and sat down in one of the saloon chairs to fetch my breath, for it had given me a start. The next thing to do was to send her up. But I began to think. She seemed so pretty as she was. What was the use of bringing her up--up there on the wrecking float with that crowd of men--up where the air would get at her, and where they would put her in the ground along o' the worms? If I left her there she'd always be sweet and pretty--always be nineteen; and I remembered what old divers said about drowned people living just so long as they stayed below. You see, I was only a lad then, and things like that impress you when you're young. Well, I signaled to be hauled up. They asked me on the float if I'd seen anything, and I said no. That was all there was to the affair. They never raised the ship, and in a little while it was all forgotten.
"But I never forgot it, and I always remembered her, way down there in all that still green water, waiting there in that little state-room for me to come back and open the door. And I've growed to be an old man remembering her; but she's always stayed just as she was the first day I saw her, when she came toward me smiling and holding out her arms. She's always stayed young and fresh and pretty. I never saw her but that once. Only afterward I got her picture from a native woman of Trincomalee who was house-keeper at the Residency where the governor of the island lived. Somehow I never could care for other women after that, and I ain't never married for that reason.""No, no, of course not! exclaimed Travis, in a low voice as the old fellow paused. "Fine, fine; oh, fine as gold!" murmured Condy, under his breath. "Well," said the mate, getting up and rubbing his knee, "that's the story. Now you know all about that picture. Will you have a glass of Madeira, miss?" He got out a bottle of wine bearing the genuine Funchal label and filled three tiny glasses. Travis pushed up her veil, and she and Condy rose. "This is to HER," said Travis gravely.
"Thank you, miss," answered the mate, and the three drank in silence. As Travis and Condy were going down the gangplank they met the captain of the whaleback coming up."I saw you in there talking to old McPherson," he explained. "Did you get what you wanted from him?" "More, more!" exclaimed Condy.
"My hand in the fire, he told you that yarn about the girl who was drowned off Trincomalee. Of course, I knew it. The old boy's wits are turned on that subject. He WILL have it that the body hasn't decomposed in all this time. Good seaman enough, and a first-class navigator, but he's soft in that one spot."
"Oh, but the STORY of it!" exclaimed Condy as he and Travis regained the wharf--"the story of it! Isn't it a ripper. Isn't it a corker! His leaving her that way, and never caring for any other girl afterward.""And so original," she commented, quite as enthusiastic as he. "Original?--why, it's new as paint! It's--it's--Travis, I'll make a story out of this that will be copied in every paper between the two oceans."
They were so interested in the mate's story that they forgot to take a car, and walked up Clay Street talking it over, suggesting, rearranging, and embellishing; and Condy was astonished and delighted to note that she "caught on" to the idea as quickly as he, and knew the telling points and what details to leave out."And I'll make a bang-up article out of the whaleback herself," declared Condy. The "idea" of the article had returned to him, and all his enthusiasm with it. "And look here, he said, showing her the letter from the Centennial Company. "They turned down my book, but see what they say.
"Quite an unusual order of merit!" cried Travis. "Why, that's fine! Why didn't you show this to me before?--and asking you like this to write them a novel of adventure! What MORE can you want? Oh!" she exclaimed impatiently, "that's so like you; you would tell everybody about your reverses, and carry on about them yourself, but never say a word when you get a little boom. Have you an idea for a thirty-thousand-word novel? Wouldn't that diver's story do?"
"No, there's not enough in that for thirty thousand words. I haven't any idea at all--never wrote a story of adventure--never wrote anything longer than six thousand words. But I'll keep my eye open for something that will do. By the way--by Jove! Travis, where are we?"
They looked briskly around them, and the bustling, breezy water- front faded from their recollections. They were in a world of narrow streets, of galleries and overhanging balconies. Craziest structures, riddled and honeycombed with stairways and passages, shut out the sky, though here and there rose a building of extraordinary richness and most elaborate ornamentation. Color was everywhere. A thousand little notes of green and yellow, of vermilion and sky blue, assaulted the eye. Here it was a doorway, here a vivid glint of cloth or hanging, here a huge scarlet sign lettered with gold, and here a kaleidoscopic effect in the garments of a passer-by. Directly opposite, and two stories above their heads, a sort of huge "loggia," one blaze of gilding and crude vermilions, opened in the gray cement of a crumbling facade, like a sudden burst of flame. Gigantic pot-bellied lanterns of red and gold swung from its ceiling, while along its railing stood a row of pots--brass, ruddy bronze, and blue porcelain--from which were growing red saffron, purple, pink, and golden tulips without number. The air was vibrant with unfamiliar noises. From one of the balconies near at hand, though unseen, a gong, a pipe, and some kind of stringed instrument wailed and thundered in unison. There was a vast shuffling of padded soles and a continuous interchange of singsong monosyllables, high-pitched and staccato, while from every hand rose the strange aromas of the East-- sandalwood, punk, incense, oil, and the smell of mysterious cookery.
"Chinatown!" exclaimed Travis. "I hadn't the faintest idea we had come up so far. Condy Rivers, do you know what time it is?" She pointed a white kid finger through the doorway of a drug-store, where, amid lacquer boxes and bronze urns of herbs and dried seeds, a round Seth Thomas marked half-past two."And your lunch?" cried Condy. "Great heavens! I never thought." "It's too late to get any at home. Never mind; I'll go somewhere and have a cup of tea." "Why not get a package of Chinese tea, now that you're down here, and take it home with you?" "Or drink it here." "Where?" "In one of the restaurants. There wouldn't be a soul there at this hour. I know they serve tea any time. Condy, let's try it. Wouldn't it be fun?"
Condy smote his thigh. "Fun!" he vociferated; "fun! It is--by Jove--it would be HEAVENLY! Wait a moment. I'll tell you what we will do. Tea won't be enough. We'll go down to Kearney Street, or to the market, and get some crackers to go with it."
They hurried back to the California market, a few blocks distant, and bought some crackers and a wedge of new cheese. On the way back to Chinatown Travis stopped at a music store on Kearney Street to get her banjo, which she had left to have its head tightened; and thus burdened they regained the "town," Condy grieving audibly at having to carry "brown-paper bundles through the street.""First catch your restaurant," said Travis as they turned into Dupont Street with its thronging coolies and swarming, gayly clad children. But they had not far to seek.
"Here you are!" suddenly exclaimed Condy, halting in front of a wholesale tea-house bearing a sign in Chinese and English. "Come on, Travis!"
They ascended two flights of a broad, brass-bound staircase leading up from the ground floor, and gained the restaurant on the top story of the building. As Travis had foretold, it was deserted. She clasped her gloved hands gayly, crying: "Isn't it delightful! We've the whole place to ourselves."
The restaurant ran the whole depth of the building, and was finished off at either extremity with a gilded balcony, one overlooking Dupont Street and the other the old Plaza. Enormous screens of gilded ebony, intricately carved and set with colored glass panes, divided the room into three, and one of these divisions, in the rear part, from which they could step out upon the balcony that commanded the view of the Plaza, they elected as their own.
It was charming. At their backs they had the huge, fantastic screen, brave and fine with its coat of gold. In front, through the glass-paned valves of a pair of folding doors, they could see the roofs of the houses beyond the Plaza, and beyond these the blue of the bay with its anchored ships, and even beyond this the faint purple of the Oakland shore. On either side of these doors, in deep alcoves, were divans with mattings and headrests for opium smokers. The walls were painted blue and hung with vertical Cantonese legends in red and silver, while all around the sides of the room small ebony tables alternated with ebony stools, each inlaid with a slab of mottled marble. A chandelier, all a-glitter with tinsel, swung from the centre of the ceiling over a huge round table of mahogany.
And not a soul was there to disturb them. Below them, out there around the old Plaza, the city drummed through its work with a lazy, soothing rumble. Nearer at hand, Chinatown sent up the vague murmur of the life of the Orient. In the direction of the Mexican quarter, the bell of the cathedral knolled at intervals. The sky was without a cloud and the afternoon was warm.
Condy was inarticulate with the joy of what he called their "discovery." He got up and sat down. He went out into the other room and came back again. He dragged up a couple of the marble- seated stools to the table. He took off his hat, lighted a cigarette, let it go out, lighted it again, and burned his fingers. He opened and closed the foldingdoors, pushed the table into a better light, and finally brought Travis out upon the balcony to show her the "points of historical interest" in and around the Plaza.
"There's the Stevenson memorial ship in the centre, see; and right there, where the flagstaff is, General Baker made the funeral oration over the body of Terry. Broderick killed him in a duel-- or was it Terry killed Broderick? I forget which. Anyhow, right opposite, where that pawnshop is, is where the Overland stages used to start in '49. And every other building that fronts on the Plaza, even this one we're in now, used to be a gambling-house in bonanza times; and, see, over yonder is the Morgue and the City Prison."
They turned back into the room, and a great, fat Chinaman brought them tea on Condy's order. But besides tea, he brought dried almonds, pickled watermelon rinds, candied quince, and "China nuts."
"Huh! what? what? I don't know. What's the matter with the crackers? You were dickering with the cheese, and the man said, 'How many crackers?' I didn't know. I said, 'Oh, give me a quarter's worth!'""And we couldn't possibly have eaten ten cents' worth! Oh, Condy, you are--you are-But never mind, here's your tea. I wonder if this green, pasty stuff is good."
They found that it was, but so sweet that it made their tea taste bitter. The watermelon rinds were flat to their Western palates, but the dried almonds were a great success. Then Condy promptly got the hiccoughs from drinking his tea too fast, and fretted up and down the room like a chicken with the pip till Travis grew faint and weak with laughter."Oh, well," he exclaimed aggrievedly--"laugh, that's right! I don't laugh. It isn't such fun when you've got 'em yoursel'-- HULP."
"But sit down, for goodness' sake! You make me so nervous. You can't walk them off. Sit down and hold your breath while you count nine. Condy, I'm going to take off my gloves and veil. What do you think?""Sure, of course; and I'll have a cigarette. Do you mind if I smoke?" "Well, what's that in your hand now?" "By Jove, I have been smoking! I--I beg your pardon. I'm a regular stable boy. I'll throw it away." Travis caught his wrist. "What nonsense! I would have told you before if I'd minded." "But it's gone out!" he exclaimed. "I'll have another." As he reached into his pocket for his case, his hand encountered a paper-covered volume. and he drew it out in some perplexity. "Now, how in the wide world did that book come in my pocket?" he muttered, frowning. "What have I been carrying it around for? I've forgotten. I declare I have." "What book is it?" "Hey? book?...h'm," he murmured, staring. Travis pounded on the table. "Wake up, Condy, I'm talking to you," she called. "It's 'Life's Handicap,'" he answered, with a start; "but why and but why have I--" "What's it about? I never heard of it," she declared.
"You never heard of 'Life's Handicap'?" he shouted; "you never heard--you never--you mean to say you never heard--but here, this won't do. Sit right still, and I'll read you one of these yarns before you're another minute older. Any one of them--open the book at random. Here we are--'The Strange Ride of Morrowbie Jukes'; and it's a stem-winder, too."
And then for the first time in her life, there in that airy, golden Chinese restaurant, in the city from which he hasted to flee, Travis Bessemer fell under the charm of the little spectacled colonial, to whose song we all must listen and to whose pipe we all must dance.
There was one "point" in the story of Jukes' strange ride that Condy prided himself upon having discovered. So far as he knew, all critics had overlooked it. It is where Jukes is describing the man-trap of the City of the Dead who are alive, and mentions that the slope of the inclosing sandhills was "about forty-five degrees." Jukes was a civil engineer, and Condy held that it was a capital bit of realism on the part of the author to have him speak of the pitch of the hills in just such technical terms. At first he thought he would call Travis' attention to this bit of cleverness; but as he read he abruptly changed his mind. He would see if she would find it out for herself. It would be a test of her quickness, he told himself; almost an unfair test, because the point was extremely subtle and could easily be ignored by the most experienced of fiction readers. He read steadily on, working himself into a positive excitement as he approached the passage. He came to it and read it through without any emphasis, almost slurring over it in his eagerness to be perfectly fair. But as he began to read the next paragraph, Travis, her little eyes sparkling with interest and attention, exclaimed:"Just as an engineer would describe it. Isn't that good!" "Glory hallelujah!" cried Condy, slamming down the book joyfully. "Travis, you are one in a thousand!" "What--what is it?' she inquired blankly.
"Never mind, never mind; you're a wonder, that's all"--and he finished the tale without further explanation. Then, while he smoked another cigarette and she drank another cup of tea, he read to her "The Return of Imri" and the "Incarnation of Krishna Mulvaney." He found her an easy and enrapt convert to the little Englishman's creed, and for himself tasted the intense delight of revealing to another an appreciation of a literature hitherto ignored."Isn't he strong!" cried Travis. "Just a LITTLE better than Marie Corelli and the Duchess!" "And to think of having all those stories to read! You haven't read any of them yet?" "Not a one. I've been reading only the novels we take up in the Wednesday class." "Lord!" muttered Condy.
Condy's spirits had been steadily rising since the incident aboard the whaleback. The exhilaration of the water-front, his delight over the story he was to make out of the old mate's yarn, Chinatown, the charming unconventionality of their lunch in the Chinese restaurant, the sparkling serenity of the afternoon, and the joy of discovering Travis' appreciation of his adored and venerated author, had put him into a mood bordering close upon hilarity.
"The next event upon our interesting programme," he announced, "will be a banjosephine obligato in A-sia minor, by that justly renowned impresario, Signor Conde Tin-pani Rivers, specially engaged for this performance; with a pleasing and panhellenic song-and-dance turn by Miss Travis Bessemer, the infant phenomenon, otherwise known as 'Babby Bessie.'""You're not going to play that banjo here?" said Travis, as he stripped away the canvas covering.
"Order in the gallery!" cried Condy, beginning to tune up. Then in a rapid, professional monotone: "Ladies-and-gentlemen - with - your - kind - permission - I - will - endeavor - to - give - you - an - imitation - of - a - Carolina - coon - song"--and without more ado, singing the words to a rattling, catchy accompaniment, swung off into--"F--or MY gal's a high-born leddy, SHE'S brack, but not too shady."
He did not sing loud, and the clack and snarl of the banjo carried hardly further than the adjoining room; but there was no one to hear, and, as he went along, even Travis began to hum the words, but at that, Condy stopped abruptly, laid the instrument across his knees with exaggerated solicitude, and said deliberately:
"Travis, you are a good, sweet girl, and what you lack in beauty you make up in amiability, and I've no doubt you are kind to your aged father; but you--can--not--sing." Travis was cross in a moment, all the more so because Condy had spoken the exact truth. It was quite impossible for her to carry a tune half a dozen bars without entangling herself in as many different keys. What voice she had was not absolutely bad; but as she persisted in singing in spite of Condy's guying, he put back his head and began a mournful and lugubrious howling."Ho!" she exclaimed, grabbing the banjo from his knees, "if I can't sing, I can play better than some smart people." "Yes, by note," rallied Condy, as Travis executed a banjo "piece" of no little intricacy. "That's just like a machine--like a hand- piano.
"Order in the gallery!" she retorted, without pausing in her playing. She finished with a great flourish and gazed at him in triumph, only to find him pretending a profound slumber. "O--o-- o!" she remarked between her teeth, "I just hate you, Condy Rivers.""There are others," he returned airily. "Talk about slang." "NOW what will we do?" he cried. "Let's DO something. Suppose we break something-just for fun." Then suddenly the gayety went out of his face, and he started up and clapped his hand to his head with a gasp of dismay. "Great Heavens!" he exclaimed. "Condy," cried Travis in alarm, "what is it"' "The Tea!" he vociferated. "Laurie Flagg's Tea. I ought to be there--right this minute." Travis fetched a sigh of relief. "Is that all?"
"All!" he retorted. "All! Why, it's past four now--and I'd forgotten every last thing." Then suddenlly falling calm again, and quietly resuming his seat: "I don't see as it makes any difference. I won't go, that's all. Push those almonds here, will you, Miss Lady?--But we aren't DOING anything," he exclaimed, with a brusque return of exuberance. "Let's do things. What'll we do? Think of something. Is there anything we can break?" Then, without any transition, he vaulted upon the table and began to declaim, with tremendous gestures:"There once was a beast called an Ounce,
Who went with a spring and a bounce. His head was as flat
As the head of a cat,
But that was not like him at all.
He weighed, I'll be bound,
Three or four hundred pound,
And he looked most uncommonly tall,
And he looked most uncommonly tall."
Condy sat down on the table and swung his legs But during the next few moments, while they were eating the last of their cheese, his good spirits fell rapidly away from him. He heaved a sigh, and thrust both hands gloomily into his pockets."Cheese, Condy?" asked Travis. He shook his head with a dark frown, muttering: "No cheese, no cheese." "What's wrong, Condy--what's the matter?" asked Travis, with concern. For some time he would not tell her, answering all her inquiries by closing his eyes and putting his chin in the air, nodding his head in knowing fashion. "But what is it?" "You don't respect me," he muttered; and for a long time this was all that could be got from him. No, no, she did not respect him; no, she did not take him seriously. "But of course I do. Why don't I? Condy Rivers, what's got into you NOW?" "No, no; I know it. I can tell. You don't take me seriously. You don't respect me." "But why?" "Make a blooming buffoon of myself," he mumbled tragically.
In great distress Travis labored to contradict him. Why, they had just been having a good time, that was all. Why, she had been just as silly as he. Condy caught at the word.
"Silly! There. I knew it. I told you. I'm silly. I'm a buffoon.--But haven't we had a great afternoon?" he added, with a sudden grin.
"I never remember," announced Travis emphatically, "when I've had a better time than I've had to-day; and I know just why it's been such a success."
"The moment you begin to pretend you're in love with me, it will spoil everything. It's funny," said Travis, drawing on her gloves. "We're doing a funny thing, Condy. With ninety-nine people out of one hundred, this little affair would have been all ended after our 'explanation' of last night--confessing, as we did, that we didn't love each other. Most couples would have 'drifted apart'; but here we are, planning to be chums, and have good times in our own original, unconventional way--and we can do it, too. There, there, he's a thousand miles away. He's not heard a single word I've said. Condy, are you listening to me?""Blix," he murmured, staring at her vaguely. "Blix--you look that way; I don't know, look kind of blix. Don't you feel sort of blix?" he inquired anxiously.
"Blix?" He smote the table with his palm. "Capital!" he cried; "sounds bully, and snappy, and crisp, and bright, and sort of sudden. Sounds--don't you know, THIS way?"--and he snapped his fingers. "Don't you see what I mean? Blix, that's who you are. You've always been Blix, and I've just found it out. Blix," he added, listening to the sound of the name. "Blix, Blix. Yes, yes; that's your name.""Blix?" she repeated; "but why Blix?" "Why not?" "I don't know why not." "Well, then," he declared, as though that settled the question. They made ready to go, as it was growing late.
"Will you tie that for me, Condy," she asked, rising and turning the back of her head toward him, the ends of the veil held under her fingers. "Not too tight. Condy, don't pull it so tight. There, there, that will do. Have you everything that belongs to you? I know you'll go away and leave something here. There's your cigarette case, and your book, and of course the banjo."
As if warned by a mysterious instinct, the fat Chinaman made his appearance in the outer room. Condy put his fingers into his vest pocket, then dropped back upon his stool with a suppressed exclamation of horror."Condy!" exclaimed Blix in alarm, "are you sick?"--for he had turned a positive white.
"I haven't a cent of money," he murmured faintly. "I spent my last quarter for those beastly crackers. What's to be done? What is to be done? I'll--I'll leave him my watch. Yes, that's the only thing."
Blix calmly took out her purse. "I expected it," she said resignedly. "I knew this would happen sooner or later, and I always have been prepared. How much is it, John?" she asked of the Chinaman."Hefahdollah." "I'll never be able to look you in the face again," protested Condy. "I'll pay you back tonight. I will! I'll send it up by a messenger boy." "Then you WOULD be a buffoon." "Don't!" he exclaimed. "Don't, it humiliates me to the dust." "Oh, come along and don't be so absurd. It must be after five." Half-way down the brass-bound stairs, he clapped his hand to his head with a start. "And NOW what is it?" she inquired meekly. "Forgotten, forgotten!" he exclaimed. "I knew I would forget something." "I knew it, you mean."
He ran back, and returned with the great bag of crackers, and thrust it into her hands. "Here, here, take these. We mustn't leave these," he declared earnestly. "It would be a shameful waste of money;" and in spite of all her protests, he insisted upon taking the crackers along."I wonder," said Blix, as the two skirted the Plaza, going down to Kearney Street; "I wonder if I ought to ask him to supper?" "Ask who--me?--how funny to--" "I wonder if we are talked out--if it would spoil the day?" "Anyhow, I'm going to have supper at the Club; and I've got to write my article some time to-night." Blix fixed him with a swift glance of genuine concern. "Don't play to-night, Condy," she said, with a sudden gravity. "Fat lot I can play! What money have I got to play with?" "You might get some somewheres. But, anyhow, promise me you won't play."
"Well, of course I'll promise. How can I, if I haven't any money? And besides, I've got my whaleback stuff to write. I'll have supper at the Club, and go up in the library and grind out copy for a while."
"Condy," said Blix, "I think that diver's story is almost too good for 'The Times.' Why don't you write it and send it East? Send it to the Centennial Company, why don't you? They've paid some attention to you now, and it would keep your name in their minds if you sent the story to them, even if they didn't publish it. Why don't you think of that?""Fine--great idea! I'll do that. Only I'll have to write it out of business hours. It will be extra work."
"Never mind, you do it; and," she added, as he put her on the cable car, "keep your mind on that thirty-thousand-word story of adventure. Good-by, Condy; haven't we had the jolliest day that ever was?"
"Couldn't have been better. Good-by, Blix."
Condy returned to his club., It was about six o'clock. In response to his question, the hall-boy told him that Tracy Sargeant had arrived a few moments previous, and had been asking for him.
The Saturday of the week before, Condy had made an engagement with young Sargeant to have supper together that night, and perhaps go to the theatre afterward. And now at the sight of Sargeant in the "round window" of the main room, buried in the file of the "Gil Blas," Condy was pleased to note that neither of them had forgotten the matter.
Sargeant greeted him with extreme cordiality as he came up, and at once proposed a drink. Sargeant was a sleek, well-groomed, well- looking fellow of thirty, just beginning to show the effects of a certain amount of dissipation in the little puffs under the eyes and the faint blueness of the temples. The sudden death of his father for which event Sargeant was still mourning, had left him in such position that his monthly income was about five times as large as Condy's salary. The two had supper together, and Sargeant proposed the theatre."No, no; I've got to work to-night," asserted Condy. After dinner, while they were smoking their cigars in a window of the main room, one of the hall-boys came up and touched Condy on the arm. "Mr. Eckert, and Mr. Hendricks, and Mr. George Hands, and several other of those gentlemen are up in the card-room, and are asking for you and Mr. Sargeant." "Why, I didn't know the boys were here! They've got a game going, Condy. Let's go up and get in. Shall we?"
Condy remembered that he had no money. "I'm flat broke, Tracy," he announced, for he knew Sargeant well enough to make the confession without wincing. "No, I'll not get in; but I'll go up and watch you a few minutes."
They ascended to the card-room, where the air was heavy and acrid with cigar smoke, and where the silence was broken only by the click of poker-chips. At the end of twenty minutes Condy was playing, having borrowed enough money of Sargeant to start him in the game.
Unusually talkative and restless, he had suddenly hardened and stiffened to a repressed, tense calm; speechless, almost rigid in his chair. Excitable under even ordinary circumstances, his every faculty was now keyed to its highest pitch. The nervous strain upon him was like the stretching and tightening of harp-strings, too taut to quiver. The color left his face, and the moisture fled his lips. His projected article, his promise to Blix, all the jollity of the afternoon, all thought of time or place, faded away as the one indomitable, evil passion of the man leaped into life within him, and lashed and roweled him with excitement. His world resolved itself to a round green table, columns of tri- colored chips, and five ever-changing cards that came and went and came again before his tired eyes like the changing, weaving colors of the kaleidoscope. Midnight struck, then one o'clock, then two, three, and four. Still his passion rode him like a hag, spurring the jaded body, rousing up the wearied brain.
Finally, at half-past four, at a time when Condy was precisely where he had started, neither winner nor loser by so much as a dime, a round of Jack-pots was declared, and the game broke up. Condy walked home to the uptown hotel where he lived with his mother, and went to bed as the first milk-wagons began to make their appearance and the newsboys to cry the morning papers.
Then, as his tired eyes closed at last, occurred that strange trick of picture-making that the overtaxed brain plays upon the retina. A swift series of pictures of the day's doings began to whirl THROUGH rather than BEFORE the pupils of his shut eyes. Condy saw again a brief vision of the street, and Blix upon the corner waiting to cross; then it was the gay, brisk confusion of the water-front, the old mate's cabin aboard the whaleback, Chinatown, and a loop of vermilion cloth over a gallery rail, the golden balcony, the glint of the Stevenson ship upon the green Plaza, Blix playing the banjo, the delightful and picturesque confusion of the deserted Chinese restaurant; Blix again, turning her head for him to fasten her veil, holding the ends with her white-kid fingers; Blix once more, walking at his side with her trim black skirt, her round little turban hat, her yellow hair, and her small dark, dancing eyes.
Then, suddenly, he remembered the promise he had made her in the matter of playing that night. He winced sharply at this, and the remembrance of his fault harried and harassed him. In spite of himself, he felt contemptible. Yet he had broken his promises to her in this very matter of playing before--before that day of their visit to the Chinese restaurant--and had felt no great qualm of self-reproach. Had their relations changed? Rather the reverse for they had done with "foolishness."
"Never worried me before," muttered Condy, as he punched up his pillow--"never worried me before. Why should it worry me now-- worry me like the devil;--and she caught on to that 'point' about the slope of forty-five degrees."
Condy began his week's work for the supplement behindhand. Naturally he overslept himself Tuesday morning, and, not having any change in his pockets, was obliged to walk down to the office. He arrived late, to find the compositors already fretting for copy. His editor promptly asked for the whaleback stuff, and Condy was forced into promising it within a half-hour. It was out of the question to write the article according to his own idea in so short a time; so Condy faked the stuff from the exchange clipping, after all. His description of the boat and his comments upon her mission--taken largely at second hand--served only to fill space in the paper. They were lacking both in interest and in point. There were no illustrations. The article was a failure.
But Condy redeemed himself by a witty interview later in the week with an emotional actress, and by a solemn article compiled after an hour's reading in Lafcadio Hearn and the Encyclopedia--on the "Industrial Renaissance in Japan."
But the idea of the diver's story came back to him again and again, and Thursday night after supper he went down to his club, and hid himself at a corner desk in the library, and, in a burst of enthusiasm, wrote out some two thousand words of it. In order to get the "technical details," upon which he set such store, he consulted the Encyclopedias again, and "worked in" a number of unfamiliar phrases and odd-sounding names. He was so proud of the result that he felt he could not wait until the tale was finished and in print to try its effect. He wanted appreciation and encouragement upon the instant. He thought of Blix.
"She saw the point in Morrowbie Jukes' description of the slope of the sandhill," he told himself; and the next moment had resolved to go up and see her the next evening, and read to her what he had written.
This was on Thursday. All through that week Blix had kept much to herself, and for the first time in two years had begun to spend every evening at home. In the morning of each day she helped Victorine with the upstairs work, making the beds, putting the rooms to rights; or consulted with the butcher's and grocer's boys at the head of the back stairs, or chaffered with urbane and smiling Chinamen with their balanced vegetable baskets. She knew the house and its management at her fingers' ends, and supervised everything that went forward. Laurie Flagg coming to call upon her, on Wednesday afternoon, to remonstrate upon her sudden defection, found her in the act of tacking up a curtain across the pantry window.
But Blix had the afternoons and evenings almost entirely to herself. These hours, heretofore taken up with functions and the discharge of obligations, dragged not a little during the week that followed upon her declaration of independence. Wednesday afternoon, however, was warm and fine, and she went to the Park with Snooky. Without looking for it or even expecting it, Blix came across a little Japanese tea-house, or rather a tiny Japanese garden, set with almost toy Japanese houses and pavilions, where tea was served and thin sweetish wafers for five cents. Blix and Snooky went in. There was nobody about but the Japanese serving woman. Snooky was in raptures, and Blix spent a delightful half- hour there, drinking Japanese tea, and feeding the wafers to the carp and gold-fish in the tiny pond immediately below where she sat. A Chinaman, evidently of the merchant class, came in, with a Chinese woman following. As he took his place and the Japanese girl came up to get his order, Blix overheard him say in English: "Bring tea for-um leddy.""He had to speak in English to her," she whispered; "isn't that splendid! Did you notice that, Snooky?"
On the way home Blix was wondering how she should pass her evening. She was to have made one of a theatre party where Jack Carter was to be present. Then she suddenly remembered "Morrowbie Jukes," "The Return of Imri," and "Krishna Mulvaney." She continued on past her home, downtown, and returned late for supper with "Plain Tales" and "Many Inventions."
Toward half-past eight there came a titter of the electric bell. At the moment Blix was in the upper chamber of the house of Suddhoo, quaking with exquisite horror at the Sealcutter's magic. She looked up quickly as the bell rang. It was not Condy Rivers' touch. She swiftly reflected that it was Wednesday night, and that she might probably expect Frank Catlin. He was a fair specimen of the Younger Set, a sort of modified Jack Carter, and called upon her about once a fortnight. No doubt he would hint darkly as to his riotous living during the past few days and refer to his diet of bromo-seltzers. He would be slangy, familiar, call her by her first name as many times as he dared, discuss the last dance of the Saturday cotillion, and try to make her laugh over Carter's drunkenness. Blix knew the type. Catlin was hardly out of college; but the older girls, even the young women of twenty- five or six, encouraged and petted these youngsters, driven to the alternative by the absolute dearth of older men.
"I'm not at home, Victorine," announced Blix, intercepting the maid in the hall. It chanced that it was not Frank Catlin, but another boy of precisely the same breed; and Blix returned to Suddhoo, Mrs. Hawksbee, and Mulvaney with a little cuddling movement of satisfaction.
"There is only one thing I regret about this," she said to Condy Rivers on the Friday night of that week; "that is, that I never thought of doing it before." Then suddenly she put up her hand to shield her eyes, as though from an intense light, turning away her head abruptly."I say, what is it? What--what's the matter?" he exclaimed.
Blix peeped at him fearfully from between her fingers. "He's got it on," she whispered-"that awful crimson scarf."
"Hoh!" said Condy, touching his scarf nervously, "it's--it's very swell. Is it too loud?" he asked uneasily.
"Well, look at this room!" he shouted--they were in the parlor. "You needn't talk about bad taste. Those drapes--oh-h! those drapes!! Yellow, s'help me! And those bisque figures that you get with every pound of tea you buy; and this, this, THIS," he whimpered, waving his hands at the decorated sewer-pipe with its gilded cat-tails. "Oh, speak to me of this; speak to me of art; speak to me of aesthetics. Cat-tails, GILDED. Of course, why not GILDED!" He wrung his hands. "'Somewhere people are happy. Somewhere little children are at play--'"
"Oh, hush!" she interrupted. "I know it's bad; but we've always had it so, and I won't have it abused. Let's go into the dining- room, anyway. We'll sit in there after this. We've always been stiff and constrained in here."
They went out into the dining-room, and drew up a couple of arm- chairs into the bay window, and sat there looking out. Blix had not yet lighted the gas--it was hardly dark enough for that; and for upward of ten minutes they sat and watched the evening dropping into night.
Below them the hill fell away so abruptly that the roofs of the nearest houses were almost at their feet; and beyond these the city tumbled raggedly down to meet the bay in a confused, vague mass of roofs, cornices, cupolas, and chimneys, blurred and indistinct in the twilight, but here and there pierced by a new- lighted street lamp. Then came the bay. To the east they could see Goat Island, and the fleet of sailing-ships anchored off the water-front; while directly in their line of vision the island of Alcatraz, with its triple crown of forts, started from the surface of the water. Beyond was the Contra Costa shore, a vast streak of purple against the sky. The eye followed its skyline westward till it climbed, climbed, climbed up a long slope that suddenly leaped heavenward with the crest of Tamalpais, purple and still, looking always to the sunset like a great watching sphinx. Then, further on, the slope seemed to break like the breaking of an advancing billow, and go tumbling, crumbling downward to meet the Golden Gate--the narrow inlet of green tide-water with its flanking Presidio. But, further than this, the eye was stayed. Further than this there was nothing, nothing but a vast, illimitable plain of green--the open Pacific. But at this hour the color of the scene was its greatest charm. It glowed with all the sombre radiance of a cathedral. Everything was seen through a haze of purple--from the low green hills in the Presidio Reservation to the faint red mass of Mount Diablo shrugging its rugged shoulder over the Contra Costa foot-hills. As the evening faded, the west burned down to a dull red glow that overlaid the blue of the bay with a sheen of ruddy gold. The foot-hills of the opposite shore, Diablo, and at last even Tamalpais, resolved themselves in the velvet gray of the sky. Outlines were lost. Only the masses remained, and these soon began to blend into one another. The sky, and land, and the city's huddled roofs were one. Only the sheen of dull gold remained, piercing the single vast mass of purple like the blade of a golden sword."There's a ship!" said Blix in a low tone.
A four-master was dropping quietly through the Golden Gate, swimming on that sheen of gold, a mere shadow, specked with lights red and green. In a few moments her bows were shut from sight by the old fort at the Gate. Then her red light vanished, then the mainmast. She was gone. By midnight she would be out of sight of land, rolling on the swell of the lonely ocean under the moon's white eye.
Condy and Blix sat quiet and without speech, not caring to break the charm of the evening. For quite five minutes they sat thus, watching the stars light one by one, and the immense gray night settle and broaden and widen from mountain-top to horizon. They did not feel the necessity of making conversation. There was no constraint in their silence now.
Gently, and a little at a time, Condy turned his head and looked at Blix. There was just light enough to see. She was leaning back in her chair, her hands fallen into her lap, her head back and a little to one side. As usual, she was in black; but now it was some sort of dinner-gown that left her arms and neck bare. The line of the chin and the throat and the sweet round curve of the shoulder had in it something indescribable--something that was related to music, and that eluded speech. Her hair was nothing more than a warm colored mist without form or outline. The sloe- brown of her little eyes and the flush of her cheek were mere inferences--like the faintest stars that are never visible when looked at directly; and it seemed to him that there was disengaged from her something for which there was no name; something that appealed to a mysterious sixth sense--a sense that only stirred at such quiet moments as this; something that was now a dim, sweet radiance, now a faint aroma, and now again a mere essence, an influence, an impression--nothing more. It seemed to him as if her sweet, clean purity and womanliness took a form of its own which his accustomed senses were too gross to perceive. Only a certain vague tenderness in him went out to meet and receive this impalpable presence; a tenderness not for her only, but for all the good things of the world. Often he had experienced the same feeling when listening to music. Her sweetness, her goodness, appealed to what he guessed must be the noblest in him. And she was only nineteen. Suddenly his heart swelled, the ache came to his throat and the smart to his eyes."Blixy," he said, just above a whisper; "Blixy, wish I was a better sort of chap."
"That's the beginning of being better, isn't it, Condy?" she answered, turning toward him, her chin on her hand.
"It does seem a pity," he went on, "that when you WANT to do the right, straight thing, and be clean and fine, that you can't just BE it, and have it over with. It's the keeping it up that's the grind."
"But it's the keeping it up, Condy, that makes you WORTH BEING GOOD when you finally get to be good; don't you think? It's the keeping it up that makes you strong; and then when you get to be good you can make your goodness count. What's a good man if he's weak?--if his goodness is better than he is himself? It's the good man who is strong--as strong as his goodness, and who can make his goodness count--who is the right kind of man. That's what I think."There's something in that, there's something in that." Then, after a pause: "I played Monday night, after all, Blix, after promising I wouldn't." For a time she did not answer, and when she spoke, she spoke quietly: "Well--I'm glad you told me"; and after a little she added, "Can't you stop, Condy?"
"Why, yes--yes, of course--I--oh, Blix, sometimes I don't know! You can't understand! How could a girl understand the power of it? Other things, I don't say; but when it comes to gambling, there seems to be another me that does precisely as he chooses, whether I will or not. But I'm going to do my best. I haven't played since, although there was plenty of chance. You see, this card business is only a part of this club life, this city life-like drinking and--other vices of men. If I didn't have to lead the life, or if I didn't go with that crowd--Sargeant and the rest of those men--it would be different; easier, maybe.""But a man ought to be strong enough to be himself and master of himself anywhere. Condy, IS there anything in the world better or finer than a strong man?" "Not unless it is a good woman, Blix."
"I suppose I look at it from a woman's point of view; but for me a STRONG man--strong in everything--is the grandest thing in the world. Women love strong men, Condy. They can forgive a strong man almost anything."
Condy did not immediately answer, and in the interval an idea occurred to Blix that at once hardened into a determination. But she said nothing at the moment. The spell of the sunset was gone and they had evidently reached the end of that subject of their talk. Blix rose to light the gas. Will you promise me one thing, Condy?" she said. "Don't if you don't want to. But will you promise me that you will tell me whenever you do play?""That I'll promise you!" exclaimed Condy; "and I'll keep that, too." "And now, let's hear the story--or what you've done of it."
They drew up to the dining-room table with its cover of blue denim edged with white cord, and Condy unrolled his manuscript and read through what he had written. She approved, and, as he had foreseen, "caught on" to every one of his points. He was almost ready to burst into cheers when she said:
"Any one reading that would almost believe you had been a diver yourself, or at least had lived with divers. Those little details count, don't they? Condy, I've an idea. See what you think of it. Instead of having the story end with his leaving her down there and going away, do it this way. Let him leave her there, and then go back after a long time when he gets to be an old man. Fix it up some way to make it natural. Have him go down to see her and never come up again, see? And leave the reader in doubt as to whether it was an accident or whether he did it on purpose."
Condy choked back a whoop and smote his knee. "Blix, you're the eighth wonder! Magnificent--glorious! Say!"--he fixed her with a glance of curiosity--"you ought to take to story-writing yourself."
"No, no," she retorted significantly. "I'll just stay with my singing and be content with that. But remember that story don't go to 'The Times' supplement. At least not until you have tried it East--with the Centennial Company, at any rate.""Well, I guess NOT!" snorted Condy. "Why, this is going to be one of the best yarns I ever wrote." A little later on he inquired with sudden concern: "Have you got anything to eat in the house?" "I never saw such a man!" declared Blix; "you are always hungry." "I love to eat," he protested. "Well, we'll make some creamed oysters; how would that do?" suggested Blix. Condy rolled his eyes. "Oh, speak to me of creamed oysters!" Then, with abrupt solemnity: "Blix, I never in my life had as many oysters as I could eat." She made the creamed oysters in the kitchen over the gas-stove, and they ate them there--Condy sitting on the washboard of the sink, his plate in his lap.
Condy had a way of catching up in his hands whatever happened to be nearest him, and, while still continuing to talk, examining it with apparent deep interest. Just now it happened to be the morning's paper that Victorine had left on the table. For five minutes Condy had been picking it up and laying it down, frowning abstractedly at it during the pauses in the conversation. Suddenly he became aware of what it was, and instantly read aloud the first item that caught his glance:
"'Personal.--Young woman, thirty-one, good housekeeper, desires acquaintance respectable middle-aged gentleman. Object, matrimony. Address K. D. B., this office.'-Hum!" he commented, "nothing equivocal about K. D. B.; has the heroism to call herself young at thirty-one. I'll bet she IS a good housekeeper. Right to the point. If K. D. B. don't see what she wants, she asks for it.""I wonder," mused Blix, "what kind of people they are who put personals in the papers. K. D. B., for instance; who is she, and what is she like?"
"They're not tough," Condy assured her. "I see 'em often down at 'The Times' office. They are usually a plain, matter-of-fact sort, quite conscientious, you know; generally middle-aged--or thirty-one; outgrown their youthful follies and illusions, and want to settle down.""Read some more," urged Blix. Condy went on. "'Bachelor, good habits, twenty-five, affectionate disposition, accomplishments, money, desires acquaintance pretty, refined girl. Object, matrimony. McB., this office.'" "No, I don't like McB.," said Blix. "He's too--ornamental, somehow." "He wouldn't do for K. D. B., would he?" "Oh, my, no! He'd make her very unhappy."
"'Widower, two children, home-loving disposition, desires introduction to good, honest woman to make home for his children. Matrimony, if suitable. B. P. T., Box A, this office.'"
"He's not for K. D. B., that's flat," declared Blix; "the idea, 'matrimony if suitable'-patronizing enough! I know just what kind of an old man B. P. T. is. I know he would want K. D. B. to warm his slippers, and would be fretful and grumpy. B. P. T., just an abbreviation of bumptious. No, he can't have her."Condy read the next two or three to himself, despite her protests. "Condy, don't be mean! Read them to--" "Ah!" he exclaimed, "here's one for K. D. B. Behold, the bridegroom cometh! Listen."
"'Bachelor, thirty-nine, sober and industrious, retired sea captain, desires acquaintance respectable young woman, good house- keeper and manager. Object, matrimony. Address Captain Jack, office this paper.""I know he's got a wooden leg!" cried Blix. "Can't you just see it sticking out between the lines? And he lives all alone somewhere down near the bay with a parrot--" "And makes a glass of grog every night." "And smokes a long clay pipe." "But he chews tobacco." "Yes, isn't it a pity he will chew that nasty, smelly tobacco? But K. D. B. will break him of that." "Oh, is he for K. D. B.?"
"Sent by Providence!" declared Blix. "They were born for each other. Just see, K. D. B. is a good housekeeper, and wants a respectable middle-aged gentleman. Captain Jack is a respectable middle-aged gentleman, and wants a good housekeeper. Oh, and besides, I can read between the lines! I just feel they would be congenial. If they know what's best for themselves, they would write to each other right away.""But wouldn't you love to be there and see them meet!" exclaimed Condy. "Can't we fix it up some way," said Blix, "to bring these two together--to help them out in some way?" Condy smote the table and jumped to his feet. "Write to 'em!" he shouted. "Write to K. D. B. and sign it Captain Jack, and write to Captain Jack--" "And sign it K. D. B.," she interrupted, catching his idea. "And have him tell her, and her tell him," he added, "to meet at some place; and then we can go to that place and hide, and watch." "But how will we know them? How would they know each other? They've never met."
"We'll tell them both to wear a kind of flower. Then we can know them, and they can know each other. Of course as soon as they began to talk they would find out they hadn't written.""But they wouldn't care." "No--they want to meet each other. They would be thankful to us for bringing them together." "Won't it be the greatest fun?"
"Fun! Why, it will be a regular drama. Only we are running the show, and everything is real. Let's get at it!"
Blix ran into her room and returned with writing material. Condy looked at the notepaper critically. "This kind's too swell. K. D. B. wouldn't use Irish linen--never! Here, this is better, glazed with blue lines and a flying bird stamped in the corner. Now I'll write for the Captain, and you write for K. D. B."
This was a point. They considered the Chinese restaurant, the Plaza, Lotta's fountain, the Mechanics' Library, and even the cathedral over in the Mexican quarter, but arrived at no decision.
"Did you ever hear of Luna's restaurant?" said Condy. "By Jove, it's just the place! It's the restaurant where you get Mexican dinners; right in the heart of the Latin quarter; quiet little old-fashioned place, below the level of the street, respectable as a tomb. I was there just once. We'll have 'em meet there at seven in the evening. No one is there at that hour. The place isn't patronized much, and it shuts up at eight. You and I can go there and have dinner at six, say, and watch for them to come."Then they set to work at their letters.
"Now," said Condy, "we must have these sound perfectly natural, because if either of these people smell the smallest kind of a rat, you won't catch 'em. You must write not as YOU would write, but as you think THEY would. This is an art, a kind of fiction, don't you see? We must imagine a certain character, and write a letter consistent with that character. Then it'll sound natural. Now, K. D. B. Well, K. D. B., she's prim. Let's have her prim, and proud of using correct, precise, 'elegant' language. I guess she wears mits, and believes in cremation. Let's have her believe in cremation. And Captain Jack; oh! he's got a terrible voice, like this, ROW-ROW-ROW see? and whiskers, very fierce; and he says, 'Belay there!' and 'Avast!' and is very grandiloquent and orotund and gallant when it comes to women. Oh, he's the devil of a man when it comes to women, is Captain Jack!"After countless trials and failures, they evolved the two following missives, which Condy posted that night: "Captain Jack.
"SIR:--I have perused with entire satisfaction your personal in 'The Times.' I should like to know more of you. I read between the lines, and my perception ineradicably convinces me that you are honest and respectable. I do not believe I should compromise my self-esteem at all in granting you an interview. I shall be at Luna's restaurant at seven precisely, next Monday eve, and will bear a bunch of white marguerites. Will you likewise, and wear a marguerite in your lapel?"Trusting this will find you in health, I am "Respectfully yours, "K. D. B." "Miss K. D. B.
"DEAR MISS:--From the modest and retiring description of your qualities and character, I am led to believe that I will find in you an agreeable life companion. Will you not accord me the great favor of a personal interview? I shall esteem it a high honor. I will be at Luna's Mexican restaurant at seven of the clock P.M. on Monday evening next. May I express the fervent hope that you also will be there? I name the locality because it is quiet and respectable. I shall wear a white marguerite in my buttonhole. Will you also carry a bunch of the same flower?"Yours to command, "CAPTAIN JACK."
So great was her interest in the affair that Blix even went out with Condy while he mailed the letters in the nearest box, for he was quite capable of forgetting the whole matter as soon as he was out of the house.
"Now let it work!" she exclaimed as the iron flap clanked down upon the disappearing envelopes. But Condy was suddenly smitten with nameless misgiving. "Now we've done it! now we've done it!" he cried aghast. "I wish we hadn't. We're in a fine fix now."Still uneasy, he saw Blix back to the flat, and bade her good-by at the door.
But before she went to bed that night, Blix sought out her father, who was still sitting up tinkering with the cuckoo clock, which he had taken all to pieces under the pretext that it was out of order and went too fast."Papum," said Blix, sitting down on the rug before him, "did you ever--when you were a pioneer, when you first came out here in the fifties--did you ever play poker?" "I--oh, well! it was the only amusement the miners had for a long time." "I want you to teach me." The old man let the clock fall into his lap and stared. But Blix explained her reasons.
The next day was Saturday, and Blix had planned a walk out to the Presidio. But at breakfast, while she was debating whether she should take with her Howard and Snooky, or "Many Inventions," she received a note from Condy, sent by special messenger:
"'All our fun is spoiled,' he wrote. 'I've got ptomaine poisoning from eating the creamed oysters last night, and am in for a solid fortnight spent in bed. Have passed a horrible night. Can't you look in at the hotel this afternoon? My mother will be here at the time.'"
"Ptomaine poisoning!" The name had an ugly sound, and Condy's use of the term inferred the doctor's visit. Blix decided that she would put off her walk until the afternoon, and call on Mrs. Rivers at once, and ask how Condy did.She got away from the flat about ten o'clock, but on the steps outside met Condy dressed as if for bicycling, and smoking a cigarette. "I've got eleven dollars!" he announced cheerily. "But I thought it was ptomaine poisoning!" she cried with sudden vexation.
"Pshaw! that's what the doctor says. He's a flapdoodle; nothing but a kind of a sort of a pain. It's all gone now. I'm as fit as a fiddle--and I've got eleven dollars. Let's go somewhere and do something.""But your work?"
"They don't expect me. When I thought I was going to be sick, I telephoned the office, and they said all right, that they didn't need me. Now I've got eleven dollars, and there are three holidays of perfect weather before us: to-day, to-morrow, and Monday. What will we do? What must we do to be saved? Our matrimonial objects don't materialize till Monday night. In the meanwhile, what? Shall we go down to Chinatown--to the restaurant, or to the water-front again? Maybe the mate on the whaleback would invite us to lunch. Or," added Condy, his eye caught by a fresh- fish peddler who had just turned into the street, "we can go fishing.""For oysters, perhaps." But the idea had caught Condy's fancy. "Blix!" he exclaimed, "let's go fishing." "Where?" "I don't know. Where DO people fish around here? Where there's water, I presume." "No, is it possible?" she asked with deep concern. "I thought they fished in their back yards, or in their front parlors perhaps." "Oh, you be quiet! you're all the time guying me," he answered. "Let me think--let me think," he went on, frowning heavily, scouring at his hair. Suddenly he slapped a thigh. "Come on," he cried, "I've an idea!" He was already half-way down the steps, when Blix called him back. "Leave it all to me," he assured her; "trust me IMPLICITLY. Don't you want to go?" he demanded with abrupt disappointment. "Want to!" she exclaimed. "Why, it would be the very best kind of fun, but--" "Well, then, come along." They took a downtown car.
"I've got a couple of split bamboo rods," he explained as the car slid down the terrific grade of the Washington-Street hill. "I haven't used 'em in years--not since we lived East; but they're hand-made, and are tip-top. I haven't any other kind of tackle; but it's just as well, because the tackle will all depend upon where we are going to fish.""Where's that?" "Don't know yet; am going down now to find out."
He took her down to the principal dealer in sporting goods on Market Street. It was a delicious world, whose atmosphere and charm were not to be resisted. There were shot-guns in rows, their gray barrels looking like so many organ-pipes; sheaves of fishing-rods, from the four-ounce whisp of the brook-trout up to the rigid eighteen-ounce lance of the king-salmon and sea-bass; showcases of wicked revolvers, swelling by calibres into the thirty-eight and forty-four man-killers of the plainsmen and Arizona cavalry; hunting knives and dirks, and the slender steel whips of the fencers; files of Winchesters, sleeping quietly in their racks, waiting patiently for the signal to speak the one grim word they knew; swarms of artificial flies of every conceivable shade, brown, gray, black, gray-brown, gray-black, with here and there a brisk vermilion note; coils of line, from the thickness of a pencil, spun to hold the sullen plunges of a jew-fish off the Catalina Islands, down to the sea-green gossamers that a vigorous fingerling might snap; hooks, snells, guts, leaders, gaffs, cartridges, shells, and all the entrancing munitions of the sportsman, that savored of lonely canons, deer- licks, mountain streams, quail uplands, and the still reaches of inlet and marsh grounds, gray and cool in the early autumn dawn.
Condy and Blix got the attention of a clerk, and Condy explained.
The following half-hour was charming. Never was there a clerk more delightful. It would appear that his one object in life was that Condy and Blix should catch fish. The affairs of the nation stood still while he pondered, suggested, advised, and deliberated. He told them where to go, how to get there, what train to take coming back, and who to ask for when they arrived. They would have to wait till Monday before going, but could return long before the fated hour of 7 P.M.
"Ask for Richardson," said the clerk; "and here, give him my card. He'll put you on to the good spots; some places are A-1 to-day, and to-morrow in the same place you can't kill a single fish."Condy nudged Blix as the Mentor turned away to get his card. "Notice that," he whispered: "KILL a fish. You don't say 'catch,' you say 'kill'--technical detail."
Then they bought their tackle: a couple of cheap reels, lines, leaders, sinkers, a book of assorted flies that the delightful clerk suggested, and a beautiful little tin box painted green, and stenciled with a gorgeous gold trout upon the lid, in which they were to keep the pint of salted shrimps to be used as bait in addition to the flies. Blix would get these shrimps at a little market near her home."But," said the clerk, "you got to get a permit to fish in that lake. Have you got a pull with the Water Company? Are you a stockholder?" Condy's face fell, and Blix gave a little gasp of dismay. They looked at each other. Here was a check, indeed.
"Well," said the sublime being in shirt sleeves from behind the counter, "see what you can do; and if you can't make it, come back here an' lemmeno, and we'll fix you up in some other place. But Lake San Andreas has been bang-up this last week--been some great kills there; hope to the deuce you can make it."Everything now hinged upon this permit. It was not until their expedition had been in doubt that Condy and Blix realized how alluring had been its prospects.
"Oh, I guess you can get a permit," said the clerk soothingly. "An' if you make any good kills, lemmeno and I'll put it in the paper. I'm the editor of the 'Sport-with-Gun-and-Rod' column in 'The Press,'" he added with a flush of pride.
Toward the middle of the afternoon Blix, who was waiting at home, in great suspense, for that very purpose, received another telegram from Condy:
It had been understood that Condy was to come to the flat on Sunday afternoon to talk over final arrangements with Blix. But as it was, Saturday evening saw him again at the Bessemers.He had been down at his club in the library, writing the last paragraphs of his diver's story, when, just as he finished, Sargeant discovered him.
"Why, Conny, old man, all alone here? Let's go downstairs and have a cigar. Hendricks and George Hands are coming around in half an hour. They told me not to let you get away."
Condy stirred nervously in his chair. He knew what that meant. He had enough money in his pockets to play that night, and in an instant the enemy was all awake. The rowel was in his flank again, and the scourge at his back. Sargeant stood there, the wellgroomed clubman of thirty; a little cynical perhaps, but a really good fellow for all that, and undeniably fond of Condy. But somewhere with the eyes of some second self Condy saw the girl of nineteen, part child and part woman; saw her goodness, her fine, sweet feminine strength as it were a dim radiance; "What's a good man worth, Condy," she had said, "if he's not a strong man?""I suppose we'll have a game going before midnight," admitted Sargeant resignedly, smiling good-humoredly nevertheless. Condy set his teeth. "I'll join you later. Wait a few moments," he said. He hurried to the office of the club, and sent a despatch to Blix--the third since morning: "Can I come up right away? It's urgent. Send answer by this messenger." He got his answer within three-quarters of an hour, and left the club as Hendricks and George Hands arrived by the elevator entrance. Sitting in the bay window of the dining-room, he told Blix why he had come. "Oh, you were right!" she told him. "Always, ALWAYS come, when-- when you feel you must."
"It gets so bad sometimes, Blix," he confessed with abject self- contempt, "that when I can't get some one to play against I'll sit down and deal dummy hands, and bet on them. Just the touch of the cards--just the FEEL of the chips. Faugh! it's shameful." The day following, Sunday, Condy came to tea as usual; and after the meal, as soon as the family and Victorine had left the pair alone in the dining-room, they set about preparing for their morrow's excursion. Blix put up their lunch--sandwiches of what Condy called "devilish" ham, hard-boiled eggs, stuffed olives, and a bottle of claret.
Condy took off his coat and made a great show of stringing the tackle: winding the lines from the spools on to the reels, and attaching the sinkers and flies to the leaders, smoking the while, and scowling fiercely. He got the lines fearfully and wonderfully snarled, he caught the hooks in the table-cloth, he lost the almost invisible gut leaders on the floor and looped the sinkers on the lines when they should have gone on the leaders. In the end Blix had to help him out, disentangling the lines foot by foot with a patience that seemed to Condy little short of superhuman.At nine o'clock she said decisively:
"Do you know what time we must get up in the morning if we are to have breakfast and get the seven-forty train? Quarter of six by the latest, and YOU must get up earlier than that, because you're at the hotel and have further to go. Come here for breakfast, and-listen--be here by half-past six--are you LISTENING, Condy?-- and we'll go down to the depot from here. Don't forget to bring the rods.""I'll wear my bicycle suit," he said, "and one of those golf scarfs that wrap around your neck."
"No," she declared, "I won't have it. Wear the oldest clothes you've got, but look fairly respectable, because we're to go to Luna's when we get back, remember. And now go home; you need all the sleep you can get if you are to get up at six o'clock."
Instead of being late, as Blix had feared, Condy was absurdly ahead of time the next morning. For a wonder, he had not forgotten the rods; but he was one tremor of nervousness. He would eat no breakfast.
"We're going to miss that train," he would announce from time to time; "I just know it. Blix, look what time it is. We ought to be on the way to the depot now. Come on; you don't want any more coffee. Have you got everything? Did you put the reels in the lunch-basket?--and the fly-book? Lord, if we should forget the fly-book!"He managed to get her to the depot over half an hour ahead of time. The train had not even backed in, nor the ticket office opened. "I told you, Condy, I told you," complained Blix, sinking helplessly upon a bench in the waiting-room.
"No--no--no," he answered vaguely, looking nervously about, his head in the air. "We're none too soon--have more time to rest now. I wonder what track the train leaves from. I wonder if it stops at San Bruno. I wonder how far it is from San Bruno to Lake San Andreas. I'm afraid it's going to rain. Heavens and earth, Blix, we forgot the shrimps!""No, NO! Sit down, I've got the shrimps. Condy, you make me so nervous I shall scream in a minute."
Some three-quarters of an hour later the train had set them down at San Bruno--nothing more than a road-house, the headquarters for duck-shooters and fishermen from the city. However, Blix and Condy were the only visitors. Everybody seemed to be especially nice to them on that wonderful morning. Even the supercilious ticket-seller at the San Francisco depot had unbent, and wished them good luck. The conductor of the train had shown himself affable. The very brakeman had gone out of his way to apprise them, quite five minutes ahead of time, that "the next stop was their place." And at San Bruno the proprietor of the road-house himself hitched up to drive them over to the lake, announcing that he would call for them at "Richardson's" in time for the evening train."And he only asked me four bits for both trips," whispered Condy to Blix as they jogged along.
The country was beautiful. It was hardly eight o'clock, and the morning still retained much of the brisk effervescence of the early dawn. Great bare, rolling hills of graygreen, thinly scattered with live-oak, bore back from the road on either hand. The sky was pale blue. There was a smell of cows in the air, and twice they heard an unseen lark singing. It was very still. The old buggy and complacent horse were embalmed in a pungent aroma of old leather and of stables that was entrancing; and a sweet smell of grass and sap came to them in occasional long whiffs. There was exhilaration in the very thought of being alive on that odorous, still morning. The young blood went spanking in the veins. Blix's cheeks were ruddy, her little dark-brown eyes fairly coruscating with pleasure."Condy, isn't it all splendid?" she suddenly burst out. "I feel regularly bigger," he declared solemnly. "I could do anything a morning like this."
Then they came to the lake, and to Richardson's, where the farmer lived who was also the custodian of the lake. The complacent horse jogged back, and Condy and Blix set about the serious business of the day. Condy had no need to show Richardson the delightful sporting clerk's card. The old Yankee--his twang and dry humor singularly incongruous on that royal morning--was solicitude itself. He picked out the best boat on the beach for them, loaned them his own anchor of railroad iron, indicated minutely the point on the opposite shore off which the last big trout had been "killed," and wetted himself to his ankles as he pushed off the boat.
Condy took the oars. Blix sat in the stern, jointing the rods and running the lines through the guides. She even baited the hooks with the salt shrimp herself, and by nine o'clock they were at anchor some forty feet off shore, and fishing, according to Richardson's advice, "a leetle mite off the edge o' the weeds.""If we don't get a bite the whole blessed day," said Condy, as he paid out his line to the ratchet music of the reel, "we'll have fun just the same. Look around--isn't this great?"
They were absolutely alone. The day was young yet. The lake, smooth and still as gray silk, widened to the west and south without so much as a wrinkle to roughen the surface. Only to the east, where the sun looked over a shoulder of a higher hill, it flamed up into a blinding diamond iridescence. The surrounding land lay between sky and water, hushed to a Sunday stillness. Far off across the lake by Richardson's they heard a dog bark, and the sound came fine and small and delicate. At long intervals the boat stirred with a gentle clap-clapping of the water along its sides. From the nearby shore in the growth of manzanita bushes quail called and clucked comfortably to each other; a bewildered yellow butterfly danced by over their heads, and slim blue dragon- flies came and poised on their lines and fishing-rods, bowing their backs.
From his seat in the bow, Condy cast a glance at Blix. She was holding her rod in both hands, absorbed, watchful, very intent. She was as trim as ever, even in the old clothes she had worn for the occasion. Her round, strong neck was as usual swathed high and tight in white, and the huge dog-collar girdled her waist according to her custom. She had taken off her hat. Her yellow hair rolled back from her round forehead and cool pink cheeks like a veritable nimbus, and for the fiftieth time Condy remarked the charming contrast of her small, deep-brown eyes in the midst of this white satin, yellow hair, white skin, and exquisite pink cheeks.An hour passed. Then two. "No fish," murmured Condy, drawing in his line to examine the bait. But, as he was fumbling with the flies he was startled by a sharp exclamation from Blix. "Oh-Condy-I've-got-a-bite!"
He looked up just in time to see the tip of her rod twitch, twitch, twitch. Then the whole rod arched suddenly, the reel sang, the line tautened and cut diagonally through the water."You got him! you got him!" he shouted, palpitating with excitement. "And he's a good one!"
Blix rose, reeling in as rapidly as was possible, the butt of the twitching, living rod braced against her belt. All at once the rod straightened out again, the strain was released, and the line began to slant rapidly away from the boat."He's off!" she cried. "Off, nothing! HE'S GOING TO JUMP. Look out for him, now!"
And then the two watching from the boat, tense and quivering with the drama of the moment, saw that most inspiriting of sights--the "break" of a salmon-trout. Up he went, from a brusque explosion of ripples and foam--up into the gray of the morning from out the gray of the water: scales all gleaming, hackles all a-bristle; a sudden flash of silver, a sweep as of a scimitar in gray smoke, with a splash, a turmoil, an abrupt burst of troubled sound that stabbed through the silence of the morning, and in a single instant dissipated all the placid calm of the previous hours."Keep the line taut," whispered Condy, gritting his teeth. "When he comes toward you, reel him in; an' if he pulls too hard, give him his head." Blix was breathing fast, her cheeks blazing, her eyes all alight.
"Oh," she gasped, "I'm so afraid I'll lose him! Oh, look at that!" she cried, as the trout darted straight for the bottom, bending the rod till the tip was submerged. "Condy, I'll lose him--I know I shall; you, YOU take the rod!""Not for a thousand dollars! Steady, there, he's away again! Oh, talk about SPORT!"
Yard by yard Blix reeled in until they began to see the silver glint of the trout's flanks through the green water. She brought him nearer. Swimming parallel with the boat, he was plainly visible from his wide-opened mouth--the hook and fly protruding from his lower jaw--to the red, quivering flanges of the tail. His sides were faintly speckled, his belly white as chalk. He was almost as long as Condy's forearm.
"Oh, he's a beauty! Oh, isn't he a beauty!" murmured Condy. "Now, careful, careful; bring him up to the boat where I can reach him; e-easy, Blix. If he bolts again, let him run."
Twice the trout shied from the boat's shadow, and twice, as Blix gave him his head, the reel sang and hummed like a watch-man's rattle. But the third time he came to the surface and turned slowly on his side, the white belly and one red fin out of the water, the gills opening and shutting. He was tired out. A third time Blix drew him gently to the boat's side. Condy reached out and down into the water till his very shoulder was wet, hooked two fingers under the distended gills, and with a long, easy movement of the arm swung him into the boat.
Their exultation was that of veritable children. Condy whooped like an Apache, throwing his hat into the air; Blix was hardly articulate, her hands clasped, her hair in disarray, her eyes swimming with tears of sheer excitement. They shook each other's hands; they talked wildly at the same time: they pounded on the boat's thwarts with their fists; they laughed at their own absurdity; they looked at the trout again and again, guessed at his weight, and recalled to each other details of the struggle.
"When he broke that time, wasn't it grand?"
"And when I first felt him bite! It was so sudden--why, it actually frightened me. I never-no, never in my life!" exclaimed Blix, "was so happy as I am at this moment. Oh, Condy, to think-- just to THINK!""Isn't it glory hallelujah?" "Isn't it better than teas, and dancing, and functions?" "Blix--how old are we?" "I don't care how old we are; I think that trout will weigh two pounds."
When they were calm again, they returned to their fishing. The morning passed, and it was noon before they were aware of it. By half-past twelve Blix had caught three trout, though the first was by far the heaviest. Condy had not had so much as a bite. At one o'clock they rowed ashore and had lunch under a huge live-oak in a little amphitheatre of manzanita.
Never had a lunch tasted so delicious. What if the wine was warm and the stuffed olives oily? What if the pepper for the hard- boiled eggs had sifted all over the "devilish" ham sandwiches? What if the eggs themselves had not been sufficiently cooked, and the corkscrew forgotten? They COULD not be anything else but inordinately happy, sublimely gay. Nothing short of actual tragedy could have marred the joy of that day.But after they were done eating, and Blix had put away the forks and spoons, and while Condy was stretched upon his back smoking a cigar, she said to him: "Now, Condy, what do you say to a little game of cards with me?"
The cigar dropped from Condy's lips, and he sat suddenly upright, brushing the fallen leaves from his hair. Blix had taken a deck of cards from the lunch-basket, and four rolls of chips wrapped in tissue paper. He stared at her in speechless amazement."What do you say?" she repeated, looking at him and smiling. "Why, Blix!" he exclaimed in amazement, "what do you mean?" "Just what I say. I want you to play cards with me." "I'll not to do it," he declared, almost coldly.
"Listen to me, Condy," answered Blix; and for quite five minutes, while he interrupted and protested and pshawed and argued, she talked to him calmly and quietly. "I don't ask you to stop playing, Condy," she said, as she finished; "I just ask you that when you feel you must play--or--I mean, when you want to very bad, you will come and play with me, instead of playing at your club.""But it's absurd, it's preposterous. I hate to see a girl gambling--and you of all girls!"
"It's no worse for me than it is for you and--well, do you suppose I would play with any one else? Maybe you think I can't play well enough to make it interesting for you," she said gayly. "Is that it? I can soon show you, Condy Rivers--never mind when I learned how.""But, Blix, you don't know how often we play, those men and I. Why, it is almost every-you don't know how often we play." "Condy, whenever you want to play, and will play with ME, no matter what I've got in hand, I'll stop everything and play with you." "But why?"
"Because I think, Condy, that THIS way perhaps you won't play quite so often at first; and then little by little perhaps-- perhaps--well, never mind that now. I want to play; put it that way. But I want you to promise me never to play with any one else--say for six months."And in the end, whipped by a sense of shame, Condy made her the promise. They became very gay upon the instant. "Hoh!" exclaimed Condy; "what do YOU know of poker? I think we had best play old sledge or cassino." Blix had dealt a hand and partitioned the chips. "Straights and flushes BEFORE the draw," she announced calmly. Condy started and stared; then, looking at her askance, picked up his hand. "It's up to you." "I'll make it five to play." "Five? Very well. How many cards?" "Three." "I'll take two." "Bet you five more." Blix looked at her hand. Then, without trace of expression in her voice or face, said: "There's your five, and I ll raise you five." "Five better." "And five better than that." "Call you." "Full house. Aces on tens," said Blix, throwing down her cards. "Heavens! they're good as gold," muttered Condy as Blix gathered in the chips. An hour later she had won all the chips but five. "Now we'll stop and get to fishing again; don't you want to?" He agreed, and she counted the chips. "Condy, you owe me seven dollars and a half," she announced. Condy began to smile. "Well," he said jocosely, "I'll send you around a check tomorrow."
But at this Blix was cross upon the instant. "You wouldn't do that--wouldn't talk that way with one of your friends at the club!" she exclaimed; "and it's not right to do it with me. Condy, give me seven dollars and a half. When you play cards with me it's just as though it were with another man. I would have paid you if you had won.""But I haven't got more than nine dollars. Who'll pay for the supper to-night at Luna's, and our railroad fare going home?" "I'll pay." "But I--I can't afford to lose money this way." "Shouldn't have played, then. I took the same chances as you. Condy, I want my money." "You--you--why you've regularly flimflammed me." "Will you give me my money?" "Oh, take your money then!" Blix shut the money in her purse, and rose, dusting her dress. "Now," she said--"now that the pastime of card-playing is over, we will return to the serious business of life, which is the catching--no, ' KILLING'of lake trout."
At five o'clock in the afternoon, Condy pulled up the anchor of railroad iron and rowed back to Richardson's. Blix had six trout to her credit, but Condy's ill-luck had been actually ludicrous.
"I can hold a string in the water as long as anybody," he complained, "but I'd like to have the satisfaction of merely changing the bait OCCASIONALLY. I've not had a single bite-not a nibble, y' know, all day. Never mind, you got the big trout, Blix; that first one. That five minutes was worth the whole day. It's been glorious, the whole thing. We'll come down here once a week right along now."
But the one incident that completed the happiness of that wonderful day occurred just as they were getting out of the boat on the shore by Richardson's. In a mud-hole between two rocks they discovered a tiny striped snake, hardly bigger than a lead pencil, in the act of swallowing a little green frog, and they passed a rapt ten minutes in witnessing the progress of this miniature drama, which culminated happily in the victim's escape, and triumph of virtue."That," declared Blix as they climbed into the old buggy which was to take them to the train, "was the one thing necessary. That made the day perfect." They reached the city at dusk, and sent their fish, lunch-basket, and rods up to the Bessemers' flat by a messenger boy with an explanatory note for Blix's father. "Now," said Condy, "for Luna's and the matrimonial objects."