Blix by Frank Norris - HTML preview
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Luna's Mexican restaurant has no address. It is on no particular street, at no particular corner; even its habitues, its most enthusiastic devotees, are unable to locate it upon demand. It is "over there in the quarter," "not far from the cathedral there." One could find it if one started out with that intent; but to direct another there--no, that is out of the question. It CAN be reached by following the alleys of Chinatown. You will come out of the last alley--the one where the slave girls are--upon the edge of the Mexican quarter, and by going straight forward a block or two and by keeping a sharp lookout to right and left you will hit upon it. It is always to be searched for. Always to be discovered.
On that particular Monday evening Blix and Condy arrived at Luna's some fifteen minutes before seven. Condy had lost himself and all sense of direction in the strange streets of the quarter, and they were on the very brink of despair when Blix discovered the sign upon an opposite corner.
As Condy had foretold, they had the place to themselves. They went into the back room with its one mirror, six tables, and astonishing curtains of Nottingham lace; and the waiter, whose name was Richard or Riccardo, according to taste, began to officiate at the solemn rites of the "supper Mexican." Condy and Blix ate with their eyes continually wandering to the door; and as the FRIJOLES were being served, started simultaneously and exchanged glances.A man wearing two marguerites in the lapel of his coat had entered abruptly, and sat down to a table close at hand. Condy drew a breath of suppressed excitement. "There he is," he whispered--"Captain Jack!"
They looked at the newcomer with furtive anxiety, and told themselves that they were disappointed. For a retired sea captain he was desperately commonplace. His hair was red, he was younger than they had expected, and, worst of all, he did look tough."Oh, poor K. D. B.!" sighed Blix, shaking her head. "He'll never do, I'm afraid. Perhaps he has a good heart, though; red-headed people are SOMETIMES affectionate." "They are impulsive," hazarded Condy.
As he spoke the words, a second man entered the little room. He, too, sat down at a nearby table. He, too, ordered the "supper Mexican." He, too, wore marguerites in his buttonhole.
"Death and destruction!" gasped Condy, turning pale. Blix collapsed helplessly in her chair, her hands dropping in her lap. They stared at each other in utter confusion."Here's a how-do-you-do," murmured Condy, pretending to strip a TAMALE that Richard had just set before him. But Blix had pushed hers aside. "What does it mean?" whispered Condy across the table. "In Heaven's name, what does it mean?" "It can only mean one thing," Blix declared; "one of them is the captain, and one is a coincidence. Anybody might wear a marguerite; we ought to have thought of that." "But which is which?" "If K. D. B. should come now!" "But the last man looks more like the captain."
The last man was a sturdy, broad-shouldered fellow, who might have been forty. His heavy mustache was just touched with gray, and he did have a certain vaguely "sober and industrious" appearance. But the difference between the two men was slight, after all; the red-headed man could easily have been a sea captain, and he certainly was over thirty-five.
"Which? which? which?--how can we tell? We might think of some way to get rid of the coincidence, if we could only tell which the coincidence was. We owe it to K. D. B. In a way, Condy, it's our duty. We brought her here, or we are going to, and we ought to help her all we can; and she may be here at any moment. What time is it now?"
"Five minutes after seven. But, Blix, I should think the right one--the captain--would be all put out himself by seeing another chap here wearing marguerites. Does either one of 'em seem put out to you? Look. I should think the captain, whichever one he is, would kind of GLARE at the coincidence."Stealthily they studied the two men for a moment.
"No, no," murmured Blix, "you can't tell. Neither of them seems to glare much. Oh, Condy"--her voice dropped to a faint whisper. "The red-headed one has put his hat on a chair, just behind him, notice? Do you suppose if you stood up you could see inside?""What good would that do?"
"He might have his initials inside the crown, or his whole name even; and you could see if he had a 'captain' before it."
Condy made a pretence of rising to get a match in a ribbed, truncated cone of china that stood upon an adjacent table, and Blix held her breath as he glanced down into the depths of the hat. He resumed his seat.
"Only initials," he breathed--"W. J. A. It might be Jack, that J., and it might be Joe, or Jeremiah, or Joshua; and even if he was a captain he might not use the title. We're no better off than we were before."
"And K. D. B. may come at any moment. Maybe she has come already and looked through the windows, and saw TWO men with marguerites and went away. She'd be just that timid. What can we do?""Wait a minute, look here," murmured Condy. "I've an idea. I'LL find out which the captain is. You see that picture, that chromo, on the wall opposite?"
Blix looked as he indicated. The picture was a gorgeously colored lithograph of a pilotboat, schooner-rigged, all sails set, dashing bravely through seas of emerald green color."You mean that schooner?" asked Blix. "That schooner, exactly. Now, listen. You ask me in a loud voice what kind of a boat that is; and when I answer, you keep your eye on the two men." "Why, what are you going to do?" "You'll see. Try it now; we've no time to lose." Blix shifted in her seat and cleared her throat. Then: "What a pretty boat that is up there, that picture on the wall. See over there, on the wall opposite? Do you notice it? Isn't she pretty? Condy, tell me what kind of a boat is that?" Condy turned about in his place with great deliberation, fixed the picture with a judicial eye, and announced decisively: "That?--why, that's a BARKENTINE."
Condy had no need to wait for Blix's report. The demonstration came far too quickly for that. The red-headed man at his loud declaration merely glanced in the direction of the chromo and returned to his enchellados. But he of the black mustache followed Condy's glance, noted the picture of which he spoke, and snorted contemptuously. They even heard him mutter beneath his mustache:
"BARKENTINE your eye!" "No doubt as to which is the captain now," whispered Condy so soon as the other had removed from him a glance of withering scorn.
They could hardly restrain their gayety; but their gravity promptly returned when Blix kicked Condy's foot under the table and murmured: "He's looking at his watch, the captain is. K. D. B. isn't here yet, and the red-headed man, the coincidence, is. We MUST get rid of him. Condy, can't you think of something?"
"Well, he won't go till he's through his supper, you can depend upon that. If he's here when K. D. B. arrives, it will spoil everything. She wouldn't stay a moment. She wouldn't even come in.""Isn't it disappointing? And I had so counted upon bringing these two together! And Captain Jack is a nice man!" "You can see that with one hand tied behind you," whispered Condy. "The other chap's tough." "Looks just like the kind of man to get into jail sooner or later." "Maybe he's into some mischief now; you never can tell. And the Mexican quarter of San Francisco is just the place for 'affairs.' I'll warrant he's got PALS."
"Well, here he is--that's the main point--just keeping those people apart, spoiling a whole romance. Maybe ruining their lives. It's QUITE possible; really it is. Just stop and think. This is a positive crisis we're looking at now.""Can't we get rid of him SOMEHOW?"
"O-oh!" whispered Blix, all at once, in a quiver of excitement. "There is a way, if we'd ever have the courage to do it. It might work; and if it didn't, he'd never know the difference, never would suspect us. Oh! but we wouldn't dare.""What? what? In Heaven's name what is it, Blix?" "We wouldn't dare--we couldn't. Oh! but it would be such--" "K. D. B. may come in that door at any second."
"I'm half afraid, but all the same--Condy, let me have a pencil." She dashed off a couple of lines on the back of the bill of fare, and her hand trembled like a leaf as she handed him what she had written.
"Send him--the red-headed man--that telegram. There's an office just two doors below here, next the drug-store. I saw it as we came by. You know his initials: remember, you saw them in his hat. W. J. A., Luna's restaurant. That's all you want."
"Lord," muttered Condy, as he gazed upon what Blix had written.
A few moments later he was back again and the two sat, pretending to eat their chili peppers, their hearts in their throats, hardly daring to raise their eyes from their plates. Condy was actually sick with excitement, and all but tipped the seltzer bottle to the floor when a messenger boy appeared in the outer room. The boy and the proprietor held a conference over the counter. Then Richard appeared between the portieres of Nottingham lace, the telegram in his hand and the boy at his heels.Evidently Richard knew the red-headed man, for he crossed over to him at once with the words: "I guess this is for you, Mr. Atkins?"
He handed him the despatch and retired. The red-headed man signed the receipt; the boy departed. Blix and Condy heard the sound of torn paper as the red-headed man opened the telegram.
Ten seconds passed, then fifteen, then twenty. There was a silence. Condy dared to steal a glance at the red-headed man's reflection in the mirror. He was studying the despatch, frowning horribly. He put it away in his pocket, took it out again with a fierce movement of impatience, and consulted it a second time. His "supper Mexican" remained untasted before him; Condy and Blix heard him breathing loud through his nose. That he was profoundly agitated, they could not doubt for a single moment. All at once a little panic terror seemed to take possession of him. He rose, seized his hat, jammed it over his ears, slapped a half-dollar upon the table, and strode from the restaurant.This is what the read-headed man had read in the despatch; this is what Blix had written: "ALL IS DISCOVERED. FLY AT ONCE."
And never in all their subsequent rambles about the city did Blix or Condy set eyes upon the red-headed man again, nor did Luna's restaurant, where he seemed to have been a habitue, ever afterward know his presence. He disappeared; he was swallowed up. He had left the restaurant, true. Had he also left that neighborhood? Had he fled the city, the State, the country even? What skeleton in the red-headed man's closet had those six words called to life and the light of day. Had they frightened him forth to spend the rest of his days fleeing from an unnamed, unknown avenger--a veritable wandering Jew? What mystery had they touched upon there in the bald, bare back room of the Quarter's restaurant? What dark door had they opened, what red-headed phantom had they evoked? Had they broken up a plot, thwarted a conspiracy, prevented a crime? They never knew. One thing only was certain. The red-headed man had had a past.
Meanwhile the minutes were passing, and K. D. B. still failed to appear. Captain Jack was visibly growing impatient, anxious. By now he had come to the fiery liqueur called mescal. He was nearly through his supper. At every moment he consulted his watch and fixed the outside door with a scowl. It was already twenty minutes after seven."I know the red-headed man spoiled it, after all," murmured Blix. "K. D. B. saw the two of them in here and was frightened." "We could send Captain Jack a telegram from her," suggested Condy. "I'm ready for anything now." "What could you say?" "Oh, that she couldn't come. Make another appointment." "He'd be offended with her. He'd never make another appointment. Sea captains are always so punctilious, y' know."
Richard brought them their coffee and kirsch, and Condy showed Blix how to burn a lump of sugar and sweeten the coffee with syrup. But they were disappointed. Captain Jack was getting ready to leave. K. D. B. had evidently broken the appointment.Then all at once she appeared.
They knew it upon the instant by a brisk opening and shutting of the street door, and by a sudden alertness on the part of Captain Jack, which he immediately followed by a quite inexplicable move. The street door in the outside room had hardly closed before his hand shot to his coat lapel and tore out the two marguerites.
The action was instinctive; Blix knew it for such immediately. The retired captain had not premeditated it. He had not seen the face of the newcomer. She had not time to come into the back room, or even to close the street door. But the instant that the captain had recognized a bunch of white marguerites in her belt he had, without knowing why, been moved to conceal his identity."He's afraid," whispered Blix. "Positively, I believe he's afraid. How absolutely stupid men are!"
But meanwhile, K. D. B., the looked-for, the planned-for and intrigued-for; the object of so much diplomacy, such delicate manoeuvring; the pivot upon which all plans were to turn, the storm-centre round which so many conflicting currents revolved, and for whose benefit the peace of mind of the red-headed man had been forever broken up--had entered the room."Why, she's PRETTY!" was Blix's first smothered exclamation, as if she had expected a harridan.
K. D. B. looked like a servant-girl of the better sort, and was really very neatly dressed. She was small, little even. She had snappy black eyes, a resolute mouth, and a general air of being very quiet, very matter-of-fact and complacent. She would be disturbed at nothing, excited at nothing; Blix was sure of that. She was placid, but it was the placidity not of the absence of emotion, but of emotion disdained. Not the placidity of the mollusk, but that of a mature and contemplative cat.Quietly she sat down at a corner table, quietly she removed her veil and gloves, and quietly she took in the room and its three occupants. Condy and Blix glued their eyes upon their coffee cups like guilty conspirators; but a crash of falling crockery called their attention to the captain's table.
Captain Jack was in a tremor. Hitherto he had acted the role of a sane and sensible gentleman of middle age, master of himself and of the situation. The entrance of K. D. B. had evidently reduced him to a semi-idiotic condition. He enlarged himself; he eased his neck in his collar with a rotary movement of head and shoulders. He frowned terribly at trifling objects in corners of the room. He cleared his throat till the glassware jingled. He pulled at his mustache. He perspired, fumed, fretted, and was suddenly seized with an insane desire to laugh. Once only he caught the eye of K. D. B., calmly sitting in her corner, picking daintily at her fish, whereupon he immediately overturned the vinegar and pepper casters upon the floor. Just so might have behaved an overgrown puppy in the presence of a sleepy, unperturbed chessy-cat, dozing by the fire."He ought to be shaken," murmured Blix at the end of her patience. "Does he think SHE is going to make the first move?"
"Ha, ah'm!" thundered the captain, clearing his throat for the twentieth time, twirling his mustache, and burying his scarlet face in an enormous pocket handkerchief. Five minutes passed and he was still in his place. From time to time K. D. B. fixed him with a quiet, deliberate look, and resumed her delicate picking."Do you think she knows it's he, now that he's taken off his marguerites?" whispered Condy.
"Know it?--of course she does! Do you think women are absolutely BLIND, or so imbecile as men are? And, then, if she didn't think it was he, she'd go away. And she's so really pretty, too. He ought to thank his stars alive. Think what a fright she might have been! She doesn't LOOK thirty-one.""Huh!" returned Condy. "As long as she SAID she was thirty-one, you can bet everything you have that she is; that's as true as revealed religion." "Well, it's something to have seen the kind of people who write the personals," said Blix. "I had always imagined that they were kind of tough." "You see they are not," he answered. "I told you they were not. Maybe, however, we have been exceptionally fortunate. At any rate, these are respectable enough." "Not the least doubt about that. But why don't he do something, that captain?" mourned Blix. "Why WILL he act like such a ninny?"
"He's waiting for us to go," said Condy; "I'm sure of it. They'll never meet so long as we're here. Let's go and give 'em a chance. If you leave the two alone here, one or the other will HAVE to speak. The suspense would become too terrible. It would be as though they were on a desert island.""But I wanted to SEE them meet," she protested. "You wouldn't hear what they said." "But we'd never know if they did meet, and oh--and WHO spoke first?" "She'll speak first," declared Condy. "Never!" returned Blix, in an indignant whisper. "I tell you what. We could go and then come back in five minutes. I'll forget my stick here. Savvy?" "You would probably do it anyhow," she told him.
They decided this would be the better course. They got together their things, and Condy neglected his stick, hanging upon a hook on the wall.
At the counter in the outside room, Blix, to the stupefaction of Richard, the waiter, paid the bill. But as she was moving toward the door, Condy called her back.
"Remember the waiter," he said severely, while Richard grinned and bobbed. "Fifty cents is the very least you could tip him." Richard actually protested, but Condy was firm, and insisted upon a half-dollar tip."Noblesse oblige," he declared with vast solemnity.
They walked as far as the cathedral, listened for a moment to the bell striking the hour of eight; then as they remembered that the restaurant closed at that time, hurried back and entered the outside room in feigned perturbation."Did I, could I have possibly left my stick here?" exclaimed Condy to Richard, who was untying his apron behind the counter. But Richard had not noticed. "I think I must have left it back here where we were sitting." Condy stepped into the back room, Blix following. They got his stick and returned to the outside room. "Yes, yes, I did leave it," he said, as he showed it to Richard. I'm always leaving that stick wherever I go." "Come again," said Richard, as he bowed them out of the door.
On the curb outside Condy and Blix shook hands and congratulated each other on the success of all their labors. In the back room, seated at the same table, a bunch of wilting marguerites between them, they had seen their "matrimonial objects" conferring earnestly together, absorbed in the business of getting acquainted.Blix heaved a great sigh of relief and satisfaction, exclaiming: "At last K. D. B. and Captain Jack have met!"
Chapter VIII"But," she added, as they started to walk, "we will never know which one spoke first." But Condy was already worrying.
"I don't know, I don't know!" he murmured anxiously. "Perhaps we've done an awful thing. Suppose they aren't happy together after they're married? I wish we hadn't; I wish we hadn't now. We've been playing a game of checkers with human souls. We've an awful responsibility. Suppose he kills her some time?"
"Fiddlesticks, Condy! And, besides, if we've done wrong with our matrimonial objects, we've offset it by doing well with our red- headed coincidence. How do you know, you may have 'foiled a villain' with that telegram--prevented a crime?"Condy grinned at the recollection of the incident. "'Fly at once,'" he repeated. "I guess he's flying yet. 'All is discovered.' I'd give a dollar and a half--" "If you had it?" "Oh, well, if I had it--to know just what it was we have discovered." Suddenly Blix caught his arm. "Condy, here they come!" "Who? Who?" "Our objects, Captain Jack and K. D. B." "Of course, of course. They couldn't stay. The restaurant shuts up at eight "
Blix and Condy had been walking slowly in the direction of Pacific Street, and K. D. B. and her escort soon overtook them going in the same direction. As they passed, the captain was saying:"--jumped on my hatches, and says we'll make it an international affair. That didn't--" A passing wagon drowned the sound of his voice. "He was telling her of his adventures!" cried Blix. "Splendid! Othello and Desdemona. They're getting on." "Let's follow them!" exclaimed Condy. "Should we? Wouldn't it be indiscreet?" "No. We are the arbiters of their fate; we MUST take an interest."
They allowed their objects to get ahead some half a block and then fell in behind. There was little danger of their being detected. The captain and K. D. B. were absorbed in each other. She had even taken his arm."They make a fine-looking couple, really," said Blix. "Where do you suppose they are going? To another restaurant?"
But this was not the case. Blix and Condy followed them as far as Washington Square, where the Geodetic Survey stone stands, and the enormous flagstaff; and there in front of a commonplace little house, two doors above the Russian church with its minarets like inverted balloons K. D. B. and the captain halted. For a few moments they conversed in low tones at the gate, then said good- night, K. D. B. entering the house, the captain bowing with great deference, his hat in his hand. Then he turned about, glanced once or twice at the house, set his hat at an angle, and disappeared across the square, whistling a tune, his chin in the air."Very good, excellent, highly respectable," approved Blix; and Condy himself fetched a sigh of relief. "Yes, yes, it might have been worse."
"We'll never see them again, our 'Matrimonial Objects,'" said Blix, "and they'll never know about us; but we have brought them together. We've started a romance. Yes, I think we've done a good day's work. And now, Condy, I think we had best be thinking of home ourselves. I'm just beginning to get most awfully sleepy. What a day we've had!"
A sea fog, or rather THE sea fog--San Francisco's old and inseparable companion--had gathered by the time they reached the top of the Washington Street hill. Everything was wet with it. The asphalt was like varnished ebony. Indistinct masses and huge dim shadows stood for the houses on either side. From the eucalyptus trees and the palms the water dripped like rain. Far off oceanward, the fog-horn was lowing like a lost gigantic bull. The gray bulk of a policeman--the light from the street lamp reflected in his star--loomed up on the corner as they descended from the car.* * * * * * * * * *
Condy had intended to call his diver's story "A Submarine Romance," but Blix had disapproved.
"It's too 'Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,'" she had said. "You want something much more dignified. There is that about you, Condy, you like to be too showy; you don't know when to stop. But you have left off red-and-white scarfs, and I am very glad to see you wearing white shirt-fronts instead of pink ones."
But "A Victory Over Death," as the story was finally called, was a success. Condy was too much of a born story-teller not to know when he had done something distinctly good. When the story came back from the typewriter's, with the additional strength that print lends to fiction, and he had read it over, he could not repress a sense of jubilation. The story rang true."Bully, bully!" he muttered between his teeth as he finished the last paragraph. "It's a corker! If it's rejected everywhere, it's an out-of-sight yarn just the same."
And there Condy's enthusiasm in the matter began to dwindle. The fine fire which had sustained him during the story s composition had died out. He was satisfied with his work. He had written a good story, and that was the end of it. No doubt he would send it East--to the Centennial Company--to-morrow or the day after--some time that week. To mail the manuscript meant quite half an hour's effort. He would have to buy stamps for return postage; a letter would have to be written, a large envelope procured, the accurate address ascertained. For the moment his supplement work demanded his attention. He put off sending the story from day to day. His interest in it had abated. And for that matter he soon discovered he had other things to think of.
It had been easy to promise Blix that he would no longer gamble at his club with the other men of his acquaintance; but it was "death and the devil," as he told himself, to abide by that promise. More than once in the fortnight following upon his resolution he had come up to the little flat on the Washington Street hill as to a place of refuge; and Blix, always pretending that it was all a huge joke and part of their good times, had brought out the cards and played with him. But she knew very well the fight he was making against the enemy, and how hard it was for him to keep from the round green tables and group of silent shirt-sleeved men in the card-rooms of his club. She looked forward to the time when Condy would cease to play even with her. But she was too sensible and practical a girl to expect him to break a habit of years' standing in a couple of weeks. The thing would have to be accomplished little by little. At times she had misgivings as to the honesty of the course she had adopted. But nowadays, playing as he did with her only, Condy gambled but two or three evenings in the week, and then not for more than two hours at a time. Heretofore hardly an evening that had not seen him at the round table in his club's card-room, whence he had not risen until long after midnight.
Condy had told young Sargeant that he had "reformed" in the matter of gambling, and intended to swear off for a few months. Sargeant, like the thoroughbred he was, never urged him to play after that, and never spoke of the previous night's game when Condy was about. The other men of his "set" were no less thoughtful, and, though they rallied him a little at first upon his defection, soon let the matter drop. Condy told himself that there were plenty of good people in the world, after all. Every one seemed conspiring to make it easy for him, and he swore at himself for a weak-kneed cad.
On a certain Tuesday, about a week after the fishing excursion and the affair of the "Matrimonial Objects," toward half-past six in the evening, Condy was in his room, dressing for a dinner engagement. Young Sargeant's sister had invited him to be one of a party who were to dine at the University Club, and later on fill a box at a charity play, given by amateurs at one of the downtown theatres. But as he was washing his linen shirt-studs with his tooth-brush his eye fell upon a note, in Laurie Flagg's hand- writing, that lay on his writing-desk, and that he had received some ten days previous. Condy turned cold upon the instant, hurled the tooth-brush across the room, and dropped into a chair with a groan of despair. Miss Flagg was giving a theatre party for the same affair, and he remembered now that he had promised to join her party as well, forgetting all about the engagement he had made with Miss Sargeant. It was impossible at this late hour to accept either one of the young women's invitations without offending the other.
"Well, I won't go to EITHER, that's all," he vociferated aloud to the opposite wall. "I'll send 'em each a wire, and say that I'm sick or have got to go down to the office, and-and, by George! I'll go up and see Blix, and we'll read and make things to eat."
And no sooner had this alternative occurred to him than it appeared too fascinating to be resisted. A weight seemed removed from his mind. When it came to that, what amusement would he have at either affair?
"Sit up there with your shirt-front starched like a board," he blustered, "and your collar throttling you, and smile till your face is sore, and reel off small talk to a girl whose last name you can't remember! Do I have any fun, does it do me any good, do I get ideas for yarns? What do I do it for? I don't know."
While speaking he had been kicking off his tight shoes and such of his full dress as he had already put on, and with a feeling of enormous relief turned again to his sack suit of tweed. "Lord, these feel better!" he exclaimed, as he substituted the loose business suit for the formal rigidity of his evening dress. It was with a sensation of positive luxury that he put on a "soft" shirt of blue cheviot and his tan walking-shoes.
"But no more red scarfs," he declared, as he knotted his black satin "club" before the mirror. "She WAS right there." He put his cigarettes in his pocket, caught up his gloves and stick, clapped on his hat, and started for the Bessemers' flat with a feeling of joyous expectancy he had not known for days.
Evidently Blix had seen him coming, for she opened the door herself; and it suited her humor for the moment to treat him as a peddler or book-agent.
"No, no," she said airily, her head in the air as she held the door. "No, we don't want any to-day. We HAVE the biography of Abraham Lincoln. Don't want to subscribe to any Home Book of Art. We're not artistic; we use drapes in our parlors. Don't want 'The Wives and Mothers of Great Men.'"
But Condy's visit, begun thus gayly, soon developed along much more serious lines. After supper, while the light still lasted, Blix read stories to him while he smoked cigarettes in the bay window of the dining-room. But as soon as the light began to go she put the book aside, and the two took their accustomed places in the window, and watched the evening burning itself out over the Golden Gate.
It was just warm enough to have one of the windows opened, and for a long time after the dusk they sat listening to the vague clamor of the city, lapsing by degrees, till it settled into a measured, soothing murmur, like the breathing of some vast monster asleep. Condy's cigarette was a mere red point in the half-darkness. The smoke drifted out of the open window in long, blue strata. At his elbow Blix was leaning forward, looking down upon the darkening, drowsing city, her round, strong chin propped upon her hand. She was just close enough for Candy to catch the sweet, delicious feminine perfume that came indefinitely from her clothes, her hair, her neck. From where Condy sat he could see the silhouette of her head and shoulders against the dull golden blur of the open window; her round, high forehead, with the thick yellow hair rolling back from her temples and ears, her pink, clean cheeks, her little dark-brown, scintillating eyes, and her firm red mouth, made all the firmer by the position of her chin upon her hand. As ever, her round, strong neck was swathed high and tight in white satin; but between the topmost fold of the satin and the rose of one small ear-lobe was a little triangle of white skin, that was partly her neck and partly her cheek, and that Condy knew should be softer than down, smoother than satin, warm and sweet and redolent as new apples. Condy imagined himself having the right to lean toward her there and kiss that little spot upon her neck or her cheek; and as he fancied it, was surprised to find his breath come suddenly quick, and a barely perceptible qualm, as of a certain faintness, thrill him to his finger-tips; and then, he thought, how would it be if he could, without fear of rebuff, reach out his arm and put it about her trim, firm waist, and draw her very close to him, till he should feel the satiny coolness of her smooth cheek against his; till he could sink his face in the delicious, fragrant confusion of her hair, then turn that face to his--that face with its strong, calm mouth and sweet, full lips-- the face of this dear young girl of nineteen, and then--"I say--I--shall we--let's read again. Let's--let's do something."
"Condy, how you frightened me!" exclaimed Blix, with a great start. "No, listen: I want to talk to you, to tell you something. Papum and I have been having some very long and serious talks since you were last here. What do you think, I may go away.""The deuce you say!" exclaimed Condy, sitting suddenly upright. "Where to, in Heaven's name?" he added--"and when? and what for?" "To New York, to study medicine." There was a silence; then Condy exclaimed, waving his hands at her:
"Oh, go right on! Don't mind me. Little thing like going to New York--to study medicine. Of course, that happens every day, a mere detail. I presume you'll go back and forth for your meals?"
Then Blix began to explain. It appeared that she had two aunts, both sisters of her father--one a widow, the other unmarried. The widow, a certain Mrs. Kihm, lived in New York, and was wealthy, and had views on "women's sphere of usefulness." The other, Miss Bessemer, a little old maid of fifty, Condy had on rare occasions seen at the flat, where every one called her Aunt Dodd. She lived in that vague region of the city known as the Mission, where she owned a little property.
From what Blix told him that evening, Condy learned that Mrs. Kihm had visited the coast a few winters previous and had taken a great fancy to Blix. Even then she had proposed to Mr. Bessemer to take Blix back to New York with her, and educate her to some woman's profession; but at that time the old man would not listen to it. Now it seemed that the opportunity had again presented itself.
"She's a dear old lady," Blix said; "not a bit strong-minded, as you would think, and ever so much cleverer than most men. She manages all her property herself. For the last month she's been writing again to Papum for me to come on and stay with her three, or four years. She hasn't a chick nor a child, and she don't entertain or go out any, so maybe she feels lonesome. Of course if I studied there, Papum wouldn't think of Aunt Kihm--don't you know--paying for it all. I wouldn't go if it was that way. But I could stay with her and she could make a home for me while I was there--if I should study-anything--study medicine."
"But why!" he exclaimed. "What do you want to study to be a doctor for? It isn't as though you had to support yourself."
"I know, I know I've not got to support myself. But why shouldn't I have a profession just like a man--just like you, Condy? You stop and think. It seemed strange to me when I first thought of it; but I got thinking about it and talking it over with Papum, and I should LOVE it. I'd do it, not because I would have to do it, but because it would interest me. Condy, you know that I'm not a bit strong-minded, and that I hate a masculine, unfeminine girl as much as you do.""But a medical college, Blix! You don't know what you are talking about."
"Yes, I do. There's a college in New York just for women. Aunt Kihm sent me the prospectus, and it's one of the best in the country. I don't dream of practicing, you know; at least, I don't think about that now. But one must have some occupation; and isn't studying medicine, Condy, better than piano-playing, or French courses, or literary classes and Browning circles? Oh, I've no patience with that kind of girl! And look at the chance I have now; and Aunt Kihm is such a dear! Think, she writes, I could go to and from the college in her coupe every day, and I would see New York; and just being in a big city like that is an education.""You're right, it would be a big thing for you," assented Condy, "and I like the idea of you studying something. It would be the making of such a girl as you, Blix." And then Blix, seeing him thus acquiescent, said: "Well, it's all settled; Papum and I both wrote last night." "When are you going?" "The first week in January." "Well, that's not so AWFULLY soon. But who will take your place here? However in the world would your father get along without you--and Snooky and Howard?" "Aunt Dodd is going to come."
"Sudden enough," said Condy, "but it IS a great thing for you, Blix, and I'm mighty glad for you. Your future is all cut out for you now. Of course your aunt, if she's so fond of you and hasn't any children, will leave you everything--maybe settle something on you right away; and you'll marry some one of those New York chaps, and be great big people before you know it."
"The idea, Condy!" she protested. "No; I'm going there to study medicine. Oh, you don't know how enthusiastic I am over the idea! I've bought some of the first-year books already, and have been reading them. Really, Condy, they are even better than 'Many Inventions.'""Wish I could get East," muttered Condy gloomily. Blix forgot her own good fortune upon the instant.
"I do so wish you COULD, Condy!" she exclaimed. "You are too good for a Sunday supplement. I know it and YOU know it, and I've heard ever so many people who have read your stories say the same thing. You could spend twenty years working as you are now, and at the end what would you be? Just an assistant editor of a Sunday supplement, and still in the same place; and worse, you'd come to be contented with that, and think you were only good for that and nothing better. You've got it in you, Condy, to be a great story- teller. I believe in you, and I've every confidence in you. But just so long as you stay here and are willing to do hack work, just so long you will be a hack writer. You must break from it; you MUST get away. I know you have a good time here; but there are so many things better than that and more worth while. You ought to make up your mind to get East, and work for that and nothing else. I know you want to go, but wanting isn't enough. Enthusiasm without energy isn't enough. You have enthusiasm, Condy; but you MUST have energy. You must be willing to give up things; you must make up your mind that you will go East, and then set your teeth together and do it. Oh, I LOVE a man that can do that--make up his mind to a thing and then put it through!"Condy watched her as she talked, her brown-black eyes coruscating, her cheeks glowing, her small hands curled into round pink fists.
"Blix, you're splendid!" he exclaimed; "you're fine! You could put life into a dead man. You're the kind of girl that are the making of men. By Jove, you'd back a man up, wouldn't you? You'd stand by him till the last ditch. Of course," he went on after a pause-- "of course I ought to go to New York. But, Blix, suppose I went-- well, then what? It isn't as though I had any income of my own, or rich aunt. Suppose I didn't find something to do--and the chances are that I wouldn't for three or four months--what would I live on in the meanwhile? 'What would the robin do then, poor thing?' I'm a poor young man, Miss Bessemer, and I've got to eat. No; my only chance is 'to be discovered' by a magazine or a publishing house or somebody, and get a bid of some kind."
"Well, there is the Centennial Company. They have taken an interest in you, Condy. You must follow that right up and keep your name before them all the time. Have you sent them 'A Victory Over Death' yet?"
Condy sat down to his eggs and coffee the next morning in the hotel, harried with a certain sense of depression and disappointment for which he could assign no cause. Nothing seemed to interest him. The newspaper was dull. He could look forward to no pleasure in his day's work; and what was the matter with the sun that morning? As he walked down to the office he noted no cloud in the sky, but the brightness was gone from the day. He sat down to his desk and attacked his work, but "copy" would not come. The sporting editor and his inane jokes harassed him beyond expression. Just the sight of the clipping editor's back was an irritation. The office boy was a mere incentive to profanity. There was no spring in Condy that morning, no elasticity, none of his natural buoyancy. As the day wore on, his ennui increased; his luncheon at the club was tasteless, tobacco had lost its charm. He ordered a cocktail in the wine-room, and put it aside with a wry face.
The afternoon was one long tedium. At every hour he flung his pencil down, utterly unable to formulate the next sentence of his article, and, his hands in his pockets, gazed gloomily out of the window over the wilderness of roofs--grimy, dirty, ugly roofs that spread out below. He craved diversion, amusement, excitement. Something there was that he wanted with all his heart and soul; yet he was quite unable to say what it was. Something was gone from him to-day that he had possessed yesterday, and he knew he would not regain it on the morrow, nor the next day, nor the day after that. What was it? He could not say. For half an hour he imagined he was going to be sick. His mother was not to be at home that evening, and Condy dined at his club in the hopes of finding some one with whom he could go to the theatre later on in the evening. Sargeant joined him over his coffee and cigarette, but declined to go with him to the theatre."Another game on to-night?" asked Condy. "I suppose so," admitted the other. "I guess I'll join you to-night," said Condy. "I've had the blue devils since morning, and I've got to have something to drive them off." "Don't let me urge you, you know," returned Sargeant. "Oh, that's all right!" Condy assured him. "My time's about up, anyways."
An hour later, just as he, Sargeant, and the other men of their "set" were in the act of going upstairs to the card-rooms, a hall- boy gave Condy a note, at that moment brought by a messenger, who was waiting for an answer. It was from Blix. She wrote:"Don't you want to come up and play cards with me to-night? We haven't had a game in over a week?" "How did she know?" thought Condy to himself--"how could she tell?" Aloud, he said: "I can't join you fellows, after all. 'Despatch from the managing editor.' Some special detail or other."
For the first time since the previous evening Condy felt his spirits rise as he set off toward the Washington Street hill. But though he and Blix spent as merry an evening as they remembered in a long time, his nameless, formless irritation returned upon him almost as soon as he had bidden her good-night. It stayed with him all through the week, and told upon his work. As a result, three of his articles were thrown out by the editor."We can't run such rot as that in the paper," the chief had said. "Can't you give us a story?" "Oh, I've got a kind of a yarn you can run if you like," answered Condy, his week's depression at its very lowest. "A Victory Over Death" was published in the following Sunday's supplement of the "Times," with illustrations by one of the staff artists. It attracted not the least attention. Just before he went to bed the Sunday evening of its appearance, Condy read it over again for the last time.
"It's a rotten failure," he muttered gloomily as he cast the paper from him. "Simple drivel. I wonder what Blix will think of it. I wonder if I amount to a hill of beans. I wonder WHAT she wants to go East for, anyway."
The old-fashioned Union Street cable car, with its low, comfortable outside seats, put Blix and Condy down just inside the Presidio Government Reservation. Condy asked a direction of a sentry nursing his Krag-Jorgensen at the terminus of the track, and then with Blix set off down the long board walk through the tunnel of overhanging evergreens.
The day could not have been more desirable. It was a little after ten of a Monday morning, Condy's weekly holiday. The air was neither cool nor warm, effervescent merely, brisk and full of the smell of grass and of the sea. The sky was a speckless sheen of pale blue. To their right, and not far off, was the bay, blue as indigo. Alcatraz seemed close at hand; beyond was the enormous green, red, and purple pyramid of Tamalpais climbing out of the water, head and shoulders above the little foothills, and looking out to the sea and to the west.
The Reservation itself was delightful. There were rows of the officers' houses, all alike, drawn up in lines like an assembly of the staff; there were huge barracks, most like college dormitories; and on their porches enlisted men in shirt sleeves and overalls were cleaning saddles, and polishing the brass of head-stalls and bridles, whistling the while or smoking corn-cob pipes. Here on the parade-ground a soldier, his coat and vest removed, was batting grounders and flies to a half-dozen of his fellows. Over by the stables, strings of horses, all of the same color, were being curried and cleaned. A young lieutenant upon a bicycle spun silently past. An officer came from his front gate, his coat unbuttoned and a briar in his teeth. The walks and roads were flanked with lines of black-painted cannon-balls; inverted pieces of abandoned ordnance stood at corners. From a distance came the mellow snarling of a bugle.
Blix and Condy had planned a long walk for that day. They were to go out through the Presidio Reservation, past the barracks and officers' quarters, and on to the old fort at the Golden Gate. Here they would turn and follow the shore-line for a way, then strike inland across the hills for a short half-mile, and regain the city and the street-car lines by way of the golf-links. Condy had insisted upon wearing his bicycle outfit for the occasion, and, moreover, carried a little satchel, which, he said, contained a pair of shoes.
But Blix was as sweet as a rose that morning, all in tailor-made black but for the inevitable bands of white satin wrapped high and tight about her neck. The St. Bernard dog-collar did duty as a belt. She had disdained a veil, and her yellow hair was already blowing about her smooth pink cheeks. She walked at his side, her step as firm and solid as his own, her round, strong arms swinging, her little brown eyes shining with good spirits and vigor, and the pure, clean animal joy of being alive on that fine cool Western morning. She talked almost incessantly. She was positively garrulous. She talked about the fine day that it was, about the queer new forage caps of the soldiers, about the bare green hills of the Reservation, about the little cemetery they passed just beyond the limits of the barracks, about a rabbit she saw, and about the quail they both heard whistling and calling in the hollows under the bushes.
Condy walked at her side in silence, yet no less happy than she, smoking his pipe and casting occasional glances at a great ship--a four-master that was being towed out toward the Golden Gate. At every moment and at every turn they noted things that interested them, and to which they called each other's attention."Look, Blix!" "Oh, Condy, look at that!" They were soon out of the miniature city of the Post, and held on down through the low reach of tules and sand-dunes that stretch between the barracks and the old red fort. "Look, Condy!" said Blix. "What's that building down there on the shore of the bay--the one with the flagstaff?" "I think that must be the lifeboat station." "I wonder if we could go down and visit it. I think it would be good fun." "Idea!" exclaimed Condy.
The station was close at hand. To reach it they had but to leave the crazy board walk that led on toward the fort, and cross a few hundred yards of sand-dune. Condy opened the gate that broke the line of evergreen hedge around the little two-story house, and promptly unchained a veritable pandemonium of dogs.
Inside, the place was not without a certain charm of its own. A brick wall, bordered with shells, led to the front of the station, which gave directly upon the bay; a little well-kept lawn opened to right and left, and six or eight gaily-painted old rowboats were set about, half filled with loam in which fuchsias, geraniums, and mignonettes were flowering. A cat or two dozed upon the window-sills in the sun. Upon a sort of porch overhead, two of the crew paced up and down in a manner that at once suggested the poop. Here and there was a gleam of highly polished red copper or brass trimmings. The bay was within two steps of the front door, while a little further down the beach was the house where the surf-boat was kept, and the long runway leading down from it to the water. Condy rapped loudly at the front door. It was opened by Captain Jack.Captain Jack, and no other; only now he wore a blue sweater and a leather-visored cap, with the letters U. S. L. B. S. around the band.
Not an instant was given them for preparation. The thing had happened with the abruptness of a transformation scene at a theatre. Condy's knock had evoked a situation. Speech was stricken from their mouths. For a moment they were bereft even of action, and stood there on the threshold, staring open-mouthed and open-eyed at the sudden reappearance of their "matrimonial object." Condy was literally dumb; in the end it was Blix who tided them over the crisis."We were just going by--just taking a walk," she explained, "and we thought we'd like to see the station. Is it all right? Can we look around?"
"Why, of course," assented the Captain with great cordiality. "Come right in. This is visitors' day. You just happened to hit it--only it's mighty few visitors we ever have," he added.
While Condy was registering for himself and Blix, they managed to exchange a lightning glance. It was evident the Captain did not recognize them. The situation readjusted itself, even promised to be of extraordinary interest. And for that matter it made little difference whether the captain remembered them or not.
"No, we don't get many visitors," the Captain went on, as he led them out of the station and down the small gravel walk to the house where the surf-boat was kept. "This is a quiet station. People don't fetch out this way very often, and we're not called out very often, either. We're an inside post, you see, and usually we don't get a call unless the sea's so high that the Cliff House station can't launch their boat. So, you see, we don't go out much, but when we DO, it means business with a great big B. Now, this here, you see," continued the Captain, rolling back the sliding doors of the house, "is the surfboat. By the way, let's see; I ain't just caught your names yet.""Well, my name's Rivers," said Condy, "and this is Miss Bessemer. We're both from the city."
"Happy to know you, sir; happy to know you, miss," he returned, pulling off his cap. "My name's Hoskins, but you can just call me Captain Jack. I'm so used to it that I don't kind of answer to the other. Well, now, Miss Bessemer, this here's the surf-boat; she's selfrightin', self-bailin', she can't capsize, and if I was to tell you how many thousands of dollars she cost, you wouldn't believe me."
Condy and Blix spent a delightful half-hour in the boat-house while Captain Jack explained and illustrated, and told them anecdotes of wrecks, escapes, and rescues till they held their breaths like ten-year-olds.
It did not take Condy long to know that he had discovered what the story-teller so often tells of but so seldom finds, and what, for want of a better name, he elects to call "a character."
Captain Jack had been everywhere, had seen everything, and had done most of the things worth doing, including a great many things that he had far better have left undone. But on this latter point the Captain seemed to be innocently and completely devoid of a moral sense of right and wrong. It was quite evident that he saw no matter for conscience in the smuggling of Chinamen across the, Canadian border at thirty dollars a head--a venture in which he had had the assistance of the prodigal son of an American divine of international renown. The trade to Peruvian insurgents of condemned rifles was to be regretted only because the ring manipulating it was broken up. The appropriation of a schooner in the harbor of Callao was a story in itself; while the robbery of thirty thousand dollars' worth of sea-otter skins from a Russian tradingpost in Alaska, accomplished chiefly through the agency of a barrel of rum manufactured from sugar-cane, was a veritable achievement.
He had been born, so he told them, in Winchester, in England, and-- Heaven save the mark!--had been brought up with a view of taking orders. For some time he was a choir boy in the great Winchester Cathedral; then, while yet a lad, had gone to sea. He had been boat-steerer on a New Bedford whaler, and struck his first whale when only sixteen. He had filibustered down to Chili; had acted as ice pilot on an Arctic relief expedition; had captained a crew of Chinamen shark-fishing in Magdalena Bay, and had been nearly murdered by his men; had been a deep-sea diver, and had burst his eardrums at the business, so that now he could blow tobacco smoke out of his ears; he had been shipwrecked in the Gilberts, fought with the Seris on the lower California Islands, sold champagne-- made from rock candy, effervescent salts, and Reisling wine
-to the Coreans, had dreamed of "holding up" a Cunard liner, and had ridden on the Strand in a hansom with William Ewart Gladstone. But the one thing of which he was proud, the one picture of his life he most delighted to recall, was himself as manager of a negro minstrel troupe, in a hired drum-major's uniform, marching down the streets of Sacramento at the head of the brass band in burnt cork and regimentals.
"The star of the troupe," he told them, "was the lady with the iron jore. We busted in Stockton, and she gave me her diamonds to pawn. I pawned 'em, and kept back something in the hand for myself and hooked it to San Francisco. Strike me straight if she didn't follow me, that iron-jored piece; met me one day in front of the Bush Street Theatre, and horsewhipped me properly. Now, just think of that"--and he laughed as though it was the best kind of a joke.
"But," hazarded Blix, "don't you find it rather dull out here-- lonesome? I should think you would want to have some one with you to keep you company--to--to do your cooking for you?"But Condy, ignoring her diplomacy and thinking only of possible stories, blundered off upon another track. "Yes," he said, "you've led such a life of action, I should think this station would be pretty dull for you. How did you happen to choose it?"
"Well, you see, answered the Captain, leaning against the smooth white flank of the surf-boat, his hands in his pockets, "I'm lying low just now. I got into a scrape down at Libertad, in Mexico, that made talk, and I'm waiting for that to die down some. You see, it was this way."
Mindful of their experience with the mate of the whaleback, Condy and Blix were all attention in an instant. Blix sat down upon an upturned box, her elbows on her knees, leaning forward, her little eyes fixed and shining with interest and expectation; Condy, the story-teller all alive and vibrant in him, stood at her elbow, smoking cigarette after cigarette, his fingers dancing with excitement and animation as the Captain spoke.
And then it was that Condy and Blix, in that isolated station, the bay lapping at the shore within ear-shot, in that atmosphere redolent of paint and oakum and of seaweed decaying upon the beach outside, first heard the story of "In Defiance of Authority."
Captain Jack began it with his experience as a restaurant keeper during the boom days in Seattle, Washington. He told them how he was the cashier of a dining-saloon whose daily net profits exceeded eight hundred dollars; how its proprietor suddenly died, and how he, Captain Jack, continued the management of the restaurant pending a settlement of the proprietor's affairs and an appearance of heirs; how in the confusion and excitement of the boom no settlement was ever made; and how, no heirs appearing, he assumed charge of the establishment himself, paying bills, making contracts, and signing notes, until he came to consider the business and all its enormous profits as his own; and how at last, when the restaurant was burned, he found himself some forty thousand dollars "ahead of the game."
Then he told them of the strange club of the place, called "The Exiles," made up chiefly of "younger sons" of English and British- Canadian families, every member possessed of a "past" more or less disreputable; men who had left their country for their country's good, and for their family's peace of mind--adventurers, wanderers, soldiers of fortune, gentlemen-vagabonds, men of hyphenated names and even noble birth, whose appellations were avowedly aliases. He told them of his meeting with Billy Isham, one of the club's directors, and of the happy-go-lucky, reckless, unpractical character of the man; of their acquaintance, intimacy, and subsequent partnership; of how the filibustering project was started with Captain Jack's forty thousand, and the never-to-be- forgotten interview in San Francisco with Senora Estrada, the agent of the insurgents; of the incident of her calling-card--how she tore it in two and gave one-half to Isham; of their outfitting, and the broken sextant that was to cause their ultimate discomfiture and disaster, and of the voyage to the rendezvous on a Panama liner.
"Strike me!" continued Captain Jack, "you should have seen Billy Isham on that Panama dough-dish; a passenger ship she was, and Billy was the life of her from stem to sternpost. There was a church pulpit aboard that they were taking down to Mazatlan for some chapel or other, and this here pulpit was lashed on deck aft. Well, Billy had been most kinds of a fool in his life, and among others a play-actor; called himself Gaston Maundeville, and was clean daft on his knowledge of Shakespeare and his own power of interpretin' the hidden meanin' of the lines. I ain't never going to forgit the day he gave us Portia's speech. We were just under the tropic, and the day was a scorcher. There was mostly men folk aboard, and we lay around the deck in our pajamas, while Billy-- Gaston Maundeville, dressed in striped red and white pajamas--clum up in that bally pulpit, with the ship's Shakespeare in his hands, an' let us have--'The quality o' mercy isn't strained; it droppeth as the genteel dew from heavun.' Laugh, I tell you I was sore with it. Lord, how we guyed him! An' the more we guyed and the more we laughed, the more serious he got and the madder he grew. He said he was interpretin' the hidden meanin' of the lines."
And so the Captain ran through that wild, fiery tale--of fighting and loving, buccaneering and conspiring; mandolins tinkling, knives clicking; oaths mingling with sonnets, and spilled wine with spilled blood. He told them of Isham's knife duel with the Mexican lieutenant, their left wrists lashed together; of the "battle of the thirty" in the pitch dark of the Custom House cellar; of Senora Estrada's love for Isham; and all the roll and plunge of action that make up the story of "In Defiance of Authority."
At the end, Blix's little eyes were snapping like sparks; Condy's face was flaming, his hands were cold, and he was shifting his weight from foot to foot, like an excited thoroughbred horse."Heavens and earth, what a yarn!" he exclaimed almost in a whisper. Blix drew a long, tremulous breath and sat back upon the upturned box, looking around her as though she had but that moment been awakened.
"Yes, sir," said the Captain, rolling a cigarette. "Yes, sir, those were great days. Get down there around the line in those little, out-o'-the-way republics along the South American coast, and things happen to you. You hold a man's life in the crook of your forefinger, an' nothing's done by halves. If you hate a man, you lay awake nights biting your mattress, just thinking how you hate him; an' if you love a woman--good Lord, how you do LOVE her!""But--but!" exclaimed Condy, "I don't see how you can want to do anything else. Why, you're living sixty to the minute when you're playing a game like that!" "Oh, I ain't dead yet!" answered the Captain. "I got a few schemes left that I could get fun out of." "How can you wait a minute!" exclaimed Blix breathlessly. "Why don't you get a ship right away--to-morrow--and go right off on some other adventure?"
"Well, I can't just now," returned the Captain, blowing the smoke from his cigarette through his ears. "There's a good many reasons; one of 'em is that I've just been married."
Chapter XMum--mar--married! gasped Condy, swallowing something in his throat. Blix rose to her feet. "Just been MARRIED!" she repeated, a little frightened. "Why-- why--why; how DELIGHTFUL!" "Yes--yes," mumbled Condy. "How delightful. I congratulate you!" "Come in--come back to the station," said the Captain jovially, "and I'll introduce you to m' wife. We were married only last Sunday." "Why, yes--yes, of course, we'd be delighted," vociferated the two conspirators a little hysterically. "She's a mighty fine little woman," declared the Captain, as he rolled the door of the boat-house to its place and preceded them up the gravel walk to the station.
"Of course she is," responded Blix. Behind Captain Jack's back she fixed Condy with a wide-eyed look, and nudged him fiercely with an elbow to recall him to himself; for Condy's wits were scattered like a flock of terrified birds, and he was gazing blankly at the Captain's coat collar with a vacant, maniacal smile."For Heaven's sake, Condy!" she had time to whisper before they arrived in the hallway of the station.
But fortunately they were allowed a minute or so to recover themselves and prepare for what was coming. Captain Jack ushered them into what was either the parlor, office, or sitting-room of the station, and left them with the words:"Just make yourselves comfortable here, an' I'll go fetch the little woman." No sooner had he gone than the two turned to each other. "Well!" "WELL!" "We're in for it now." "But we must see it through, Condy; act just as natural as you can, and we're all right." "But supposing SHE recognizes us!" "Supposing she does--what then. How ARE they to know that we wrote the letters?" "Sh, Blix, not so loud! They know by now that THEY didn't."
"But it seems that it hasn't made any difference to them; they are married. And besides, they wouldn't speak about putting 'personals' in the paper to us. They would never let anybody know that.""Do you suppose they could possibly suspect?" "I'm sure they couldn't." "Here they come." "Keep perfectly calm, and we're saved." "Suppose it isn't K. D. B., after all?"
But it was, of course, and she recognized them in an instant. She and the Captain--the latter all grins--came in from the direction of the kitchen, K. D. B. wearing a neat blue calico gown and an apron that was really a marvel of cleanliness and starch.
"Kitty!" exclaimed Captain Jack, seized again with an unexplainable mirth, "here's some young folks come out to see the place an' I want you to know 'em. Mr. Rivers, this is m' wife, Kitty, and--lessee, miss, I don't rightly remember your name.""Bessemer!" exclaimed Condy and Blix in a breath.
"Oh!" exclaimed K. D. B., "you were in the restaurant the night that the Captain and I--I-that is--yes, I'm quite sure I've seen you before." She turned from one to the other. beginning to blush furiously."Yes, yes, in Luna's restaurant, wasn't it?" said Condy desperately. "It seems to me I do just barely remember." "And wasn't the Captain there?" Blix ventured. "I forgot my stick, I remember," continued Condy. "I came back for it; and just as I was going out it seems to me I saw you two at a table near the door."
He thought it best to allow their "matrimonial objects" to believe he had not seen them before.
"Yes, yes, we were there," answered K. D. B. tactfully. "We dine there almost every Monday night."
But ten minutes later the ordeal was over, and Blix and Condy, once more breathing easily, were on their walk again. The Captain and K. D. B. had even accompanied them to the gate of the station, and had strenuously urged them to "come in and see them again the next time they were out that way.""Married!" murmured Condy, putting both hands to his head. "We've done it, we've done it now."
"Well, what of it?" declared Blix, a little defiantly. "I think it's all right. You can see the Captain is in love with her, and she with him. No, we've nothing to reproach ourselves with.""But--but--but so sudden!" whispered Condy, all aghast. "That's what makes me faint-the suddenness of it." "It shows how much they are in love, how--how readily they-- adapted themselves to each other. No, it's all right." "They seemed to like us--actually." "Well, they had better--if they knew the truth. Without us they never would have met." "They both asked us to come out and see them again, did you notice that? Let's do it, Blix," Condy suddenly exclaimed; "let's get to know them!" "Of course we must. Wouldn't it be fun to call on them--to get regularly acquainted with them!" "They might ask us to dinner some time." "And think of the stories he could tell you!" They enthused immediately upon this subject, both talking excitedly at the same time, going over the details of the Captain's yarns, recalling the incidents to each other.
"Fancy!" exclaimed Condy--"fancy Billy Isham in his pajamas, red and white stripes, reading Shakespeare from that pulpit on board the ship, and the other men guying him! Isn't that a SCENE for you? Can't you just SEE it?"I wonder if the Captain wasn't making all those things up as he went along. He don't seem to have any sense of right and wrong at all. He might have been lying, Condy." "What difference would that make?"
And so they went along in that fine, clear, Western morning, on the edge of the Continent, both of them young and strong and vigorous, the Pacific under their eyes, the great clean Trades blowing in their faces, the smell of the salt sea coming in long aromatic whiffs to their nostrils. Young and strong and fresh, their imaginations thronging with pictures of vigorous action and adventure, buccaneering, filibustering, and all the swing, the leap, the rush and gallop, the exuberant, strong life of the great, uncharted world of Romance.
And all unknowingly they were a Romance in themselves. Cynicism, old age, and the weariness of all things done had no place in the world in which they walked. They still had their illusions, all the keenness of their sensations, all the vividness of their impressions. The simple things of the world, the great, broad, primal emotions of the race stirred in them. As they swung along, going toward the ocean, their brains were almost as empty of thought or of reflection as those of two fine, clean animals. They were all for the immediate sensation; they did not think-- they FELT. The intellect was dormant; they looked at things, they heard things, they smelled the smell of the sea, and of the seaweed, of the fat, rank growth of cresses in the salt marshes; they turned their cheeks to the passing wind, and filled their mouths and breasts with it. Their life was sweet to them; every hour was one glad effervescence. The fact that the ocean was blue was a matter for rejoicing. It was good to be alive on that royal morning. Just to be young was an exhilaration; and everything was young with them--the day was young, the country was young, and the civilization to which they belonged, teeming there upon the green, Western fringe of the continent, was young and heady and tumultuous with the boisterous, red blood of a new race.
Condy even forgot, or rather disdained on such a morning as that, to piece together and rearrange Captain Jack's yarns into story form. To look at the sea and the green hills, to watch the pink on Blix's cheek and her yellow hair blowing across her eyes and lips, was better than thinking. Life was better than literature. To live was better than to read; one live human being was better than ten thousand Shakespeares; an act was better than a thought. Why, just to love Blix, to be with her, to see the sweet, clean flush of her cheek, to know that she was there at his side, and to have the touch of her elbow as they walked, was better than the best story, the greatest novel he could ever hope to write. Life was better than literature, and love was the best thing in life. To love Blix and to be near her--what else was worth while? Could he ever think of finding anything in life sweeter and finer than this dear young girl of nineteen?
Suddenly Condy came to himself with an abrupt start. What was this he was thinking-what was this he was telling himself? Love Blix! He loved Blix! Why, of COURSE he loved her--loved her so, that with the thought of it there came a great, sudden clutch at the heart and a strange sense of tenderness, so vague and yet so great that it eluded speech and all expression. Love her! Of course he loved her! He had, all unknowing, loved her even before this wonderful morning: had loved her that day at the lake, and that never-to-be-forgotten, delicious afternoon in the Chinese restaurant; all those long, quiet evenings spent in the window of the little dining-room, looking down upon the darkening city, he had loved her. Why, all his days for the last few months had been full of the love of her.
How else had he been so happy? how else did it come about that little by little he was withdrawing from the society and influence of his artificial world, as represented by such men as Sargeant? how else was he slowly loosening the grip of the one evil and vicious habit that had clutched him so long? how else was his ambition stirring? how else was his hitherto aimless enthusiasm hardening to energy and determination? She had not always so influenced him. In the days when they had just known each other, and met each other in the weekly course of their formal life, it had not been so, even though they pretended a certain amount of affection. He remembered the evening when Blix had brought those days to an abrupt end, and how at the moment he had told himself that after all he had never known the real Blix. Since then, in the charming, unconventional life they had led, everything had been changed. He had come to know her for what she was, to know her genuine goodness, her sincerity, her contempt of affectations, her comradeship, her calm, fine strength and unbroken good nature; and day by day, here a little and there a little, his love for her had grown so quietly, so evenly, that he had never known it, until now, behold! it was suddenly come to flower, full and strong--a flower whose fragrance had suddenly filled all his life and all his world with its sweetness.
Half an hour after leaving the lifeboat station, Condy and Blix reached the old, red-brick fort, deserted, abandoned, and rime- incrusted, at the entrance of the Golden Gate. They turned its angle, and there rolled the Pacific, a blue floor of shifting water, stretching out there forever and forever over the curve of the earth, over the shoulder of the world, with never a sail in view and never a break from horizon to horizon.
They followed down the shore, sometimes upon the old and broken flume that runs along the seaward face of the hills that rise from the beach, or sometimes upon the beach itself, stepping from bowlder to bowlder, or holding along at the edge of the water upon reaches of white, hard sand.
The beach was solitary; not a soul was in sight. Close at hand, to landward, great hills, bare and green, shut off the sky; and here and there the land came tumbling down into the sea in great, jagged, craggy rocks, knee-deep in swirling foam, and all black with wet. The air was full of the prolonged thunder of the surf, and at intervals sea-birds passed overhead with an occasional piping cry. Wreckage was tumbled about here and there; and innumerable cocoanut shards, huge, brown cups of fuzzy bark, lay underfoot and in the crevices of the rocks. They found a jelly- fish--a pulpy translucent mass; and once even caught a sight of a seal in the hollow of a breaker, with sleek and shining head, his barbels bristling, and heard his hoarse croaking bark as he hunted the offshore fish.
Blix refused to allow Condy to help her in the least. She was quite as active and strong as he, and clambered from rock to rock and over the shattered scantling of the flume with the vigor and agility of a young boy. She muddied her shoes to the very tops scratched her hands, tore her skirt, and even twisted her ankle; but her little eyes were never so bright, nor was the pink flush of her cheeks ever more adorable. And she was never done talking-- a veritable chatterbox. She saw everything and talked about everything she saw, quite indifferent as to whether or no Condy listened. Now it was a queer bit of seaweed, now it was a group of gulls clamoring over a dead fish, now a purple starfish, now a breaker of unusual size. Her splendid vitality carried her away. She was excited, alive to her very finger-tips, vibrant to the least sensation, quivering to the least impression."Let's get up here and sit down somewhere," said Condy, at length.
They left the beach and climbed up the slope of the hills, near a point where a long arm of land thrust out into the sea and shut off the wind; a path was there, and they followed it for a few yards, till they had come to a little amphitheatre surrounded with blackberry bushes.
Here they sat down, Blix settling herself on an old log with a little sigh of contentment, Condy stretching himself out, a new- lighted pipe in his teeth, his head resting on the little handbag he had persistently carried ever since morning. Then Blix fell suddenly silent, and for a long time the two sat there without speaking, absorbed in the enjoyment of looking at the enormous green hills rolling down to the sea, the breakers thundering at the beach, the gashed pinnacles of rock, the vast reach of the Pacific, and the distant prospect of the old fort at the entrance of the Golden Gate."We might be a thousand miles away from the city, for all the looks of it, mightn't we, Condy?" said Blix, after a while. "And I'm that HUNGRY! It must be nearly noon."
For answer, Condy sat up with profound gravity, and with a great air of nonchalance opened the handbag, and, instead of shoes took out, first, a pint bottle of claret, then "devilish" ham sandwiches in oiled paper, a bottle of stuffed olives, a great bag of salted almonds, two little tumblers, a paper-covered novel, and a mouth organ. Blix fairly crowed with delight, clasping her hands upon her knees, and rocking to and fro where she sat upon the log.
"Oh, Condy, and you thought of a LUNCH--you said it was shoes--and you remembered I loved stuffed olives, too; and a book to read. What is it--'The Seven Seas.' No, I never WAS so happy. But the mouth organ--what's that for?""To play on. What did you think--think it was a can-opener?" Blix choked with merriment over his foolery, and Condy added proudly: "Look there! I made those sandwiches!"
They looked as though he had--great, fat chunks of bread, the crust still on; the "devilish" ham in thick strata between; and, positively, he had BUTTERED the bread. But it was all one with them; they ate as though at a banquet, and Blix even took off her hat and hung it upon one of the nearby bushes. Of course Condy had forgotten a corkscrew. He tried to dig out the cork of the claret bottle with his knife, until he had broken both blades and was about to give up in despair, when Blix, at the end of her patience, took the bottle from him and pushed in the cork with her finger."Wine, music, literature, and feasting," observed Condy. "We're getting regularly luxurious, just like Sardine-apalus."
But Condy himself had suddenly entered into an atmosphere of happiness, the like of which he had never known or dreamed of before. He loved Blix--he had just discovered it. He loved her because she was so genuine, so radiantly fresh and strong; loved her because she liked the things that he liked, because they two looked at the world from precisely the same point of view, hating shams and affectations, happy in the things that were simple and honest and natural. He loved her because she liked his books, appreciating the things therein that he appreciated, liking what he liked, disapproving of what he condemned. He loved her because she was nineteen, and because she was so young and unspoiled and was happy just because the ocean was blue and the morning fine. He loved her because she was so pretty, because of the softness of her yellow hair, because of her round, white forehead and pink cheeks, because of her little, darkbrown eyes, with that look in them as if she were just done smiling or just about to smile, one could not say which; loved her because of her good, firm mouth and chin, because of her full neck and its high, tight bands of white satin. And he loved her because her arms were strong and round, and because she wore the great dog-collar around her trim, firm- corseted waist, and because there emanated from her with every movement a barely perceptible, delicious, feminine odor, that was in part perfume, but mostly a subtle, vague aroma, charming beyond words, that came from her mouth, her hair, her neck, her arms, her whole sweet personality. And he loved her because she was herself, because she was Blix, because of that strange, sweet influence that was disengaged from her in those quiet moments when she seemed so close to him, when some unnamed, mysterious sixth sense in him stirred and woke and told him of her goodness, of her clean purity and womanliness; and that certain, vague tenderness in him went out toward her, a tenderness not for her only, but for all the good things of the world; and he felt his nobler side rousing up and the awakening of the desire to be his better self.
Covertly he looked at her, as she sat near him, her yellow hair rolling and blowing back from her forehead, her hands clasped over her knee, looking out over the ocean, thoughtful, her eyes wide.
She had told him she did not love him. Condy remembered that perfectly well. She was sincere in the matter; she did not love him. That subject had been once and for all banished from their intercourse. And it was because of that very reason that their companionship of the last three or four months had been so charming. She looked upon him merely as a chum. She had not changed in the least from that time until now, whereas he--why, all his world was new for him that morning! Why, he loved her so, she had become so dear to him, that the very thought of her made his heart swell and leap.
But he must keep all this to himself. If he spoke to her, told her of how he loved her, it would spoil and end their companionship upon the instant. They had both agreed upon that; they had tried the other, and it had worked out. As lovers they had wearied of each other; as chums they had been perfectly congenial, thoroughly and completely happy.
Condy set his teeth. It was a hard situation. He must choose between bringing an end to this charming comradeship of theirs, or else fight back all show of love for her, keep it down and under hand, and that at a time when every nerve of him quivered like a smitten harp-string. It was not in him or in his temperament to love her calmly, quietly, or at a distance; he wanted the touch of her hand, the touch of her cool, smooth cheek, the delicious aroma of her breath in his nostrils her lips against his, her hair and all its fragrance in his face
"Condy, what's the matter?" Blix was looking at him with an expression of no little concern. "What are you frowning so about, and clinching your fists? And you're pale, too. What's gone wrong?"He shot a glance at her, and bestirred himself sharply. "Isn't this a jolly little corner?" he said. "Blix, how long is it before you go?" "Six weeks from to-morrow." "And you're going to be gone four years--four years! Maybe you never will come back. Can't tell what will happen in four years. Where's the blooming mouth-organ?"
But the mouth-organ was full of crumbs. Condy could not play on it. To all his efforts it responded only by gasps, mournfulest death-rattles, and lamentable wails. Condy hurled it into the sea.
"Well, where's the blooming book, then?" he demanded. "You're sitting on it, Blix. Here, read something in it. Open it anywhere."
"I will not. Haven't I done enough? Didn't I buy the book and get the lunch, and make the sandwiches, and pay the car-fare? I think this expedition will cost me pretty near three dollars before we're through with the day. No; the least you can do is to read to me. Here, we'll match for it."Condy drew a dime from his pocket, and Blix a quarter from her purse. "You're matching me," she said. Condy tossed the coin and lost, and Blix said, as he picked up the book:
"For a man that has such unvarying bad luck as you, gambling is just simple madness. You and I have never played a game of poker yet that I've not won every cent of money you had.""Yes; and what are you doing with it all?" "Spending it," she returned loftily; "gloves and veils and lace pins--all kinds of things." But Condy knew the way she spoke that this was not true.
For the next hour or so he read to her from "The Seven Seas," while the afternoon passed, the wind stirring the chaparral and blackberry bushes in the hollows of the huge, bare hills, the surf rolling and grumbling on the beach below, the sea-birds wheeling overhead. Blix listened intently, but Condy could not have told of what he was reading. Living was better than reading, life was better than literature, and his newfound love for her was poetry enough for him. He read so that he might not talk to her or look at her, for it seemed to him at times as though some second self in him would speak and betray him in spite of his best efforts. Never before in all his life had he been so happy; never before had he been so troubled. He began to jumble the lines and words as he read, over-running periods, even turning two pages at once."What a splendid line!" Blix exclaimed.
"What line--what--what are you talking about? Blix, let's always remember to-day. Let's make a promise, no matter what happens or where we are, let's always write to each other on the anniversary of to-day. What do you say?"
"Yes; I'll promise--and you--" "I'll promise faithfully. Oh, I'll never forget to-day nor--yes, yes, I'll promise--why, to-day-Blix--where's that damn book gone?""Condy!" "Well, I can't find the book. You're sitting on it again. Confound the book, anyway! Let's walk some more." "We've a long ways to go if we're to get home in time for supper. Let's go to Luna's for supper."
"I never saw such a girl as you to think of ways for spending money. What kind of a purse-proud plutocrat do you think I am? I've only seventy-five cents left. How much have you got?"Blix had fifty-five cents in her purse, and they had a grave council over their finances. They had just enough for car-fare and two "suppers Mexican," with ten cents left over." "That's for Richard's tip," said Blix. "That's for my CIGAR," he retorted. "You made ME give him fifty cents. You said it was the least I could offer him--noblesse oblige." "Well, then, I COULDN'T offer him a dime, don't you see? I'll tell him we are broke this time."
They started home, not as they had come, but climbing the hill and going across a breezy open down, radiant with blue iris, wild heliotrope, yellow poppies, and even a violet here and there. A little further on they gained one of the roads of the Reservation, red earth smooth as a billiard table; and just at an angle where the road made a sharp elbow and trended cityward, they paused for a moment and looked down and back at the superb view of the ocean, the vast half-moon of land, and the rolling hills in the foreground tumbling down toward the beach and all spangled with wild flowers.Some fifteen minutes later they reached the golf-links. "We can go across the links," said Condy, "and strike any number of car lines on the other side."
They left the road and struck across the links, Condy smoking his new-lighted pipe. But as they came around the edge of a long line of eucalyptus trees near the teeing ground, a warning voice suddenly called out:
"Fore!" Condy and Blix looked up sharply, and there in a group not twenty feet away, in tweeds and "knickers," in smart, short golfing skirts and plaid cloaks, they saw young Sargeant and his sister, two other girls whom they knew as members of the fashionable "set," and Jack Carter in the act of swinging his driving iron.
As the clock in the library of the club struck midnight, Condy laid down his pen, shoved the closely written sheets of paper from him, and leaned back in his chair, his fingers to his tired eyes. He was sitting at a desk in one of the further corners of the room and shut off by a great Japanese screen. He was in his shirt- sleeves, his hair was tumbled, his fingers ink-stained, and his face a little pale.
Since late in the evening he had been steadily writing. Three chapters of "In Defiance of Authority" were done, and he was now at work on the fourth. The day after the excursion to the Presidio--that wonderful event which seemed to Condy to mark the birthday of some new man within him--the idea had suddenly occurred to him that Captain Jack's story of the club of the exiles, the boom restaurant, and the filibustering expedition was precisely the novel of adventure of which the Centennial Company had spoken. At once he had set to work upon it, with an enthusiasm that, with shut teeth, he declared would not be lacking in energy. The story would have to be written out of his business hours. That meant he would have to give up his evenings to it. But he had done this, and for nearly a week had settled himself to his task in the quiet corner of the club at eight o'clock, and held to it resolutely until twelve.
The first two chapters had run off his pen with delightful ease. The third came harder; the events and incidents of the story became confused and contradictory; the character of Billy Isham obstinately refused to take the prominent place which Condy had designed for him; and with the beginning of the fourth chapter, Condy had finally come to know the enormous difficulties, the exasperating complications, the discouragements that begin anew with every paragraph, the obstacles that refuse to be surmounted, and all the pain, the labor, the downright mental travail and anguish that fall to the lot of the writer of novels.
To write a short story with the end in plain sight from the beginning was an easy matter compared to the upbuilding, grain by grain, atom by atom, of the fabric of "In Defiance of Authority." Condy soon found that there was but one way to go about the business. He must shut his eyes to the end of his novel--that far-off, divine event--and take his task chapter by chapter, even paragraph by paragraph; grinding out the tale, as it were, by main strength, driving his pen from line to line, hating the effort, happy only with the termination of each chapter, and working away, hour by hour, minute by minute, with the dogged, sullen, hammer- and-tongs obstinacy of the galley-slave, scourged to his daily toil.
At times the tale, apparently out of sheer perversity, would come to a full stop. To write another word seemed beyond the power of human ingenuity, and for an hour or more Condy would sit scowling at the half-written page, gnawing his nails, scouring his hair, dipping his pen into the ink-well, and squaring himself to the sheet of paper, all to no purpose.
There was no pleasure in it for him. A character once fixed in his mind, a scene once pictured in his imagination, and even before he had written a word the character lost the charm of its novelty, the scene the freshness of its original conception. Then, with infinite painstaking and with a patience little short of miraculous, he must slowly build up, brick by brick, the plan his brain had outlined in a single instant. It was all work-- hard, disagreeable, laborious work; and no juggling with phrases, no false notions as to the "delight of creation," could make it appear otherwise. "And for what," he muttered as he rose, rolled up his sheaf of manuscript, and put on his coat; "what do I do it for, I don't know."
It was beyond question that, had he begun his novel three months before this time, Condy would have long since abandoned the hateful task. But Blix had changed all that. A sudden male force had begun to develop in Condy. A master-emotion had shaken him, and he had commenced to see and to feel the serious, more abiding, and perhaps the sterner side of life. Blix had steadied him, there was no denying that. He was not quite the same boyish, hairbrained fellow who had made "a buffoon of himself" in the Chinese restaurant, three months before.
The cars had stopped running by the time Condy reached the street. He walked home and flung himself to bed, his mind tired, his nerves unstrung, and all the blood of his body apparently concentrated in his brain. Working at night after writing all day long was telling upon him, and he knew it.
What with his work and his companionship with Blix, Condy soon began to drop out of his wonted place in his "set." He was obliged to decline one invitation after another that would take him out in the evening, and instead of lunching at his club with Sargeant or George Hands, as he had been accustomed to do at one time, he fell into another habit of lunching with Blix at the flat on Washington Street, and spending the two hours allowed to him in the middle of the day in her company.
Condy's desertion of them was often spoken of by the men of his club with whom he had been at one time so intimate, and the subject happened to be brought up again one noon when Jack Carter was in the club as George Hands' guest. Hands, Carter, and Eckert were at one of the windows over their after-dinner cigars and liqueurs."I say," said Eckert suddenly, "who's that girl across the street there--the one in black, just going by that furrier's sign? I've seen her somewhere before. Know who it is?" "That's Miss Bessemer, isn't it?" said George Hands, leaning forward. "Rather a stunning-looking girl." "Yes, that's Travis Bessemer," assented Jack Carter; adding, a moment later, "it's too bad about that girl."
"What's the matter?" asked Eckert. Carter lifted a shoulder. "Isn't ANYTHING the matter as far as I know, only somehow the best people have dropped her. She USED to be received everywhere."
"Come to think, I HAVEN'T seen her out much this season," said Eckert. "But I heard she had bolted from 'Society' with the big S, and was going East--going to study medicine, I believe.""I've always noticed," said Carter, with a smile, "that so soon as a girl is declassee, she develops a purpose in life and gets earnest, and all that sort of thing. "Oh, well, come," growled George Hands, "Travis Bessemer is not declassee."
"I didn't say she was," answered Carter; "but she has made herself talked about a good deal lately. Going around with Rivers, as she does, isn't the most discreet thing in the world. Of course, it's all right, but it all makes talk, and I came across them by a grove of trees out on the links the other day--"
"Yes," observed Sargeant, leaning on the back of Carter's armchair; "yes; and I noticed, too, that she cut you dead. You fellows should have been there," he went on, in perfect good humor, turning to the others. "You missed a good little scene. Rivers and Miss Bessemer had been taking a tramp over the Reservation--and, by the way, it's a great place to walk, so my sister tells me; she and Dick Forsythe take a constitutional out there every Saturday morning--well, as I was saying, Rivers and Miss Bessemer came upon our party rather unexpectedly. We were all togged out in our golfing bags, and I presume we looked more like tailor's models, posing for the gallery, than people who were taking an outing; but Rivers and Miss Bessemer had been regularly exercising; looked as though they had done their fifteen miles since morning. They had their old clothes on, and they were dusty and muddy.
"You would have thought that a young girl such as Miss Bessemer is--for she's very young--would have been a little embarrassed at running up against such a spick and span lot as we were. Not a bit of it; didn't lose her poise for a moment. She bowed to my sister and to me, as though from the top of a drag, by Jove! and as though she were fresh from Redfern and Virot. You know a girl that can manage herself that way is a thoroughbred. She even remembered to cut little Johnnie Carter here, because Johnnie forced himself upon her one night at a dance when he was drunk; didn't she, Johnnie? Johnnie came up to her there, out on the links, fresh as a daisy, and put out his hand, with, 'Why, how do you do, Miss Bessemer?' and 'wherever did you come from?' and 'I haven't seen you in so long'; and she says, 'No, not since our last dance, I believe, Mr. Carter,' and looked at his hand as though it was something funny.
"Little Johnnie mumbled and flushed and stammered and backed off; and it was well that he did, because Rivers had begun to get red around the wattles. I say the little girl is a thoroughbred, and my sister wants to give her a dinner as soon as she comes out. But Johnnie says she's declassee, so may be my sister had better think it over." "I didn't say she was declassee," exclaimed Carter. "I only said she would do well to be more careful."Sargeant shifted his cigar to the other corner of his mouth, one eye shut to avoid the smoke. "One might say as much of lots of people," he answered. "I don't like your tone!" Carter flared out. "Oh, go to the devil, Johnnie! Shall we all have a drink?"
On the Friday evening of that week, Condy set himself to his work at his accustomed hour. But he had had a hard day on the "Times," Supplement, and his brain, like an overdriven horse, refused to work. In half an hour he had not written a paragraph.
"I thought it would be better, in the end, to loaf for one evening," he explained to Blix, some twenty minutes later, as they settled themselves in the little dining-room. "I can go at it better to-morrow. See how you like this last chapter."Blix was enthusiastic over "In Defiance of Authority." Condy had told her the outline of the story, and had read to her each chapter as he finished it.
"It's the best thing you have ever done, Condy, and you know it. I suppose it has faults, but I don't care anything about them. It's the story itself that's so interesting. After that first chapter of the boom restaurant and the exiles' club, nobody would want to lay the book down. You're doing the best work of your life so far, and you stick to it."
"It's grinding out copy for the Supplement at the same time that takes all the starch out of me. You've no idea what it means to write all day, and then sit down and write all evening."
"I WISH you could get off the 'Times,'" said Blix. "You're just giving the best part of your life to hack work, and NOW it's interfering with your novel. I know you could do better work on your novel if you didn't have to work on the 'Times,' couldn't you?"
"Oh, if you come to that, of course I could," he answered. "But they won't give me a vacation. I was sounding the editor on it day before yesterday. No; I'll have to manage somehow to swing the two together.""Well, let's not talk shop now. Condy. You need a rest. Do you want to play poker?"
They played for upward of an hour that evening, and Condy, as usual, lost. His ill-luck was positively astonishing. During the last two months he had played poker with Blix on an average of three or four evenings in the week. and at the close of every game it was Blix who had all the chips.
Blix had come to know the game quite as well, if not better, than he. She could almost invariably tell when Condy held a good hand, but on her part could assume an air of indifference absolutely inscrutable.
"Oh, Condy, will you, could you? and never, never touch a card again? never play for money? I'd be so happy--but don't unless you know you would keep your promise. I would much rather have you play every night, down there at your club, than break your promise."Condy fell silent, biting thoughtfully at the knuckle of a forefinger. "Think twice about it, Condy," urged Blix; "because this would be for always." Condy hesitated; then, abstractedly and as though speaking to himself:
"It's different now. Before we took that--three months ago, I don't say. It was harder for me to quit then, but now--well, everything is different now; and it would please you, Blixy!""More than anything else I can think of, Condy." He gave her his hand. "That settles it," he said quietly. "I'll never gamble again, Blix." Blix gripped his hand hard, then jumped up, and, with a quick breath of satisfaction, gathered up the cards and chips and flung them into the fireplace.
"Oh, I'm so glad that's over with," she exclaimed, her little eyes dancing. "I've pretended to like it, but I've hated it all the time. You don't know HOW I've hated it! What men can see in it to make them sit up all night long is beyond me. And you truly mean, Condy, that you never will gamble again? Yes, I know you mean it this time. Oh, I'm so happy I could sing!""Good Heavens, don't do that!" he cried quickly. "You're a nice, amiable girl, Blix, even if you're not pretty, and you--" "Oh, bother you!" she retorted; "but you promise?" "On my honor." "That's enough," she said quietly.
But even when "loafing" as he was this evening, Condy could not rid himself of the thought and recollection of his novel; resting or writing, it haunted him. Otherwise he would not have been the story-writer that he was. From now on until he should set down the last sentence, the "thing" was never to let him alone, never to allow him a moment's peace. He could think of nothing else, could talk of nothing else; every faculty of his brain, every sense of observation or imagination incessantly concentrated themselves upon this one point.As they sat in the bay window watching the moon rise, his mind was still busy with it, and he suddenly broke out:
"I ought to work some kind of a TREASURE into the yarn. What's a story of adventure without a treasure? By Jove, Blix, I wish I could give my whole time to this stuff! It's ripping good material, and it ought to be handled as carefully as glass. Ought to be worked up, you know."
"Condy," said Blix, looking at him intently, "what is it stands in your way of leaving the 'Times'? Would they take you back if you left them long enough to write your novel? You could write it in a month, couldn't you, if you had nothing else to do? Suppose you left them for a month--would they hold your place for you?"
"Yes--yes, I think they would; but in the meanwhile, Blix--there's the rub. I've never saved a cent out of my salary. When I stop, my pay stops, and wherewithal would I be fed? What are you looking for in that drawer--matches? Here, I've got a match."
Blix faced about at the sideboard, shutting the drawer by leaning against it. In both hands she held one of the delft sugar-bowls. She came up to the table, and emptied its contents upon the blue denim table-cover--two or three gold pieces, some fifteen silver dollars, and a handful of small change.Disregarding all Condy's inquiries, she counted it, making little piles of the gold and silver and nickel pieces.
"Thirty-five and seven is forty-two," she murmured, counting off on her fingers, "and six is forty-eight, and ten is fifty-eight, and ten is sixty-eight; and here is ten, twenty, thirty, fifty- five cents in change." She thrust it all toward him, across the table. "There," she said, "is your wherewithal."Condy stared. "My wherewithal!" he muttered. "It ought to be enough for over a month." "Where did you get all that? Whose is it?" "It's your money, Condy. You loaned it to me, and now it has come in very handy." "I LOANED it to you?" "It's the money I won from you during the time you've been playing poker with me. You didn't know it would amount to so much, did you?" "Pshaw, I'll not touch it!" he exclaimed, drawing back from the money as though it was red-hot.
"Yes, you will," she told him. "I've been saving it up for you, Condy, every penny of it, from the first day we played down there at the lake; and I always told myself that the moment you made up your mind to quit playing, I would give it back to you."
"Why, the very idea!" he vociferated, his hands deep in his pockets, his face scarlet. "It's--it's preposterous, Blix! I won't let you TALK about it even--I won't touch a nickel of that money. But, Blix, you're--you're--the finest woman I ever knew. You're a man's woman, that's what you are." He set his teeth. "If you loved a man, you'd be a regular pal to him; you'd back him up, you'd stand by him till the last gun was fired. I could do ANYTHING if a WOMAN like you cared for me. Why, Blix, I--you haven't any idea--" He cleared his throat, stopping abruptly.
"But you must take this money," she answered; "YOUR money. If you didn't, Condy, it would make me out nothing more nor less than a gambler. I wouldn't have dreamed of playing cards with you if I had ever intended to keep one penny of your money. From the very start I intended to keep it for you, and give it back to you so soon as you would stop; and now you have a chance to put this money to a good use. You don't have to stay on the 'Times' now. You can't do your novel justice while you are doing your hack work at the same time, and I do so want 'In Defiance of Authority' to be a success. I've faith in you, Condy. I know if you got the opportunity you would make a success."
"But you and I have played like two men playing," exclaimed Condy. "How would it look if Sargeant, say, should give me back the money he had won from me? What a cad I would be to take it!"
"That's just it--we've not played like two men. Then I WOULD have been a gambler. I've played with you because I thought it would make a way for you to break off with the habit; and knowing as I did how fond you were of playing cards and how bad it was for you, how wicked it would have been for me to have played with you in any other spirit! Don't you see? And as it has turned out, you've given up playing, and you've enough money to make it possible for you to write your novel. The Centennial Company have asked you to try a story of adventure for them, you've found one that is splendid, you're just the man who could handle it, and now you've got the money to make it possible. Condy," she exclaimed suddenly, "don't you see your CHANCE? Aren't you a big enough man to see your chance when it comes? And, besides, do you think I would take MONEY from you? Can't you understand? If you don't take this money that belongs to you, you would insult me. That is just the way I would feel about it. You must see that. If you care for me at all, you'll take it."* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * The editor of the Sunday Supplement put his toothpick behind his ear and fixed Condy with his eyeglasses.
"Well, it's like this, Rivers," he said. "Of course, you know your own business best. If you stay on here with us, it will be all right. But I may as well tell you that I don't believe I can hold your place for a month. I can't get a man in here to do your work for just a month, and then fire him out at the end of that time. I don't like to lose you, but if you have an opportunity to get in on another paper during this vacation of yours, you're at liberty to do so, for all of me.""Then you think my chance of coming back here would be pretty slim if I leave for a month now?" "That's right." There was a silence. Condy hesitated; then he rose. "I'll take the chance," he announced. To Blix, that evening, as he told her of the affair, he said: "It's neck or nothing now, Blix."
Chapter XIIBut did Blix care for him?
In the retired corner of his club, shut off by the Japanese screen, or going up and down the city to and from his work, or sitting with her in the bay window of the little diningroom looking down upon the city, blurred in the twilight or radiant with the sunset, Condy asked himself the question. A score of times each day he came to a final, definite, negative decision; and a score of times reopened the whole subject. Beyond the fact that Blix had enjoyed herself in his company during the last months, Condy could find no sign or trace of encouragement; and for that matter he told himself that the indications pointed rather in the other direction. She had no compunction in leaving him to go away to New York, perhaps never to return. In less than a month now all their companionship was to end, and he would probably see the last of her.
He dared not let her know that at last he had really come to love her--that it was no pretence now; for he knew that with such declaration their "good times" would end even before she should go away. But every day; every hour that they were together made it harder for him to keep himself within bounds.
What with this trouble on his mind and the grim determination with which he held to his work, Condy changed rapidly. Blix had steadied him, and a certain earnestness and seriousness of purpose, a certain STRENGTH he had not known before, came swiftly into being.
Was Blix to go away, leave him, perhaps for all time, and not know how much he cared? Would he speak before she went? Condy did not know. It was a question that circumstances would help him to decide. He would not speak, so he resolved, unless he was sure that she cared herself; and if she did, she herself would give him a cue, a hint whereon to speak. But days went by, the time set for Blix's departure drew nearer and nearer, and yet she gave him not the slightest sign.
These two interests had now absorbed his entire life for the moment--his love for Blix, and his novel. Little by little "In Defiance of Authority" took shape. The boom restaurant and the club of the exiles were disposed of, Billy Isham began to come to the front, the filibustering expedition and Senora Estrada (with her torn calling card) had been introduced, and the expedition was ready to put to sea. But here a new difficulty was encountered.
"What do I know about ships?" Condy confessed to Blix. "If Billy Isham is going to command a filibustering schooner, I've got to know something about a schooner-appear to, anyhow. I've got to know nautical lingo, the real thing, you know. I don't believe a REAL sailor ever in his life said 'belay there,' or 'avast.' We'll have to go out and see Captain Jack; get some more technical detail."
This move was productive of the most delightful results. Captain Jack was all on fire with interest the moment that Condy and Blix told him of the idea.
"An' you're going to put Billy Isham in a book. Well, strike me straight, that's a snorkin' good idea. I've always said that all Billy needed was a ticket seller an' an advance agent, an' he was a whole show in himself.""We're going to send it East," said Blix, "as soon as it's finished, and have it published." "Well, it ought to make prime readin', Miss; an' that's a good fetchin' title, 'In Defiance of Authority.'"
Regularly Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, Blix and Condy came out to the lifeboat station. Captain Jack received them in sweater and visored cap, and ushered them into the front room."Well, how's the yarn getting on?" Captain Jack would ask.
Then Condy would read the last chapter while the Captain paced the floor, frowning heavily, smoking cigars, listening to every word. Condy told the story in the first person, as if Billy Isham's partner were narrating scenes and events in which he himself had moved. Condy called this protagonist "Burke Cassowan," and was rather proud of the name. But the captain would none of it. Cassowan, the protagonist, was simply "Our Mug.""Now," Condy would say, notebook in hand, "now, Cap., we've got down to Mazatlan. Now I want to sort of organize the expedition in this next chapter."
"I see, I see," Captain Jack would exclaim, interested at once. "Wait a bit till I take off my shoes. I can think better with my shoes off"; and having removed his shoes, he would begin to pace the room in his stocking feet, puffing fiercely on his cigar as he warmed to the tale, blowing the smoke out through either ear, gesturing savagely, his face flushed and his eyes kindling.
"Well, now, lessee. First thing Our Mug does when he gets to Mazatlan is to communicate his arrival to Senora Estrada-- telegraphs, you know; and, by the way, have him use a cipher.""What kind of cipher?"
"Count three letters on from the right letter, see. If you were spelling 'boat,' for instance, you would begin with an E, the third letter after B; then R for the O, being the third letter from O. So you'd spell 'boat,' ERDW; and Senora Estrada knows when she gets that despatch that she must count three letters BACK from each letter to get the right ones. Take now such a cipher word as ULIOH. That means RIFLE. Count three letters back from each letter of ULIOH, and it'll spell RIFLE. You can make up a lot of despatches like that, just to have the thing look natural; savvy?""Out of sight!" muttered Condy, making a note.
"Then Our Mug and Billy Isham start getting a crew. And Our Mug, he buys the sextant there in Mazatlan--the sextant, that got out of order and spoiled everything. Or, no; don't have it a sextant; have it a quadrant--an old-fashioned, ebony quadrant. Have Billy Isham buy it because it was cheap.""How did it get out of order, Captain Jack?" inquired Blix. "That would be a good technical detail, wouldn't it, Condy?"
"Well, it's like this. Our Mug an' Billy get a schooner that's so bally small that they have to do their cooking in the cabin; quadrant's on a rack over the stove, and the heat warps the joints, so when Our Mug takes his observation he gets fifty miles off his course and raises the land where the government forces are watching for him."
"And here's another point, Cap.," said Condy. "We ought to work some kind of a treasure into this yarn; can't you think up something new and original in the way of a treasure? I don't want the old game of a buried chest of money. Let's have him get track of something that's worth a fortune--something novel."
"Yes, yes; I see the idea," answered the Captain, striding over the floor with great thuds of his stockinged feet. "Now, lessee; let me think," he began, rubbing all his hair the wrong way. "We want something new and queer, something that ain't ever been written up before. I tell you what! Here it is! Have Our Mug get wind of a little river schooner that sunk fifty years before his time in one of the big South American rivers, during a flood--I heard of this myself. Schooner went down and was buried twenty feet under mud and sand; and since that time--you know how the big rivers act--the whole blessed course of the river has changed at that point, and the schooner is on dry land, or rather twenty feet under it, and as sound as the day she was chartered.""Well?"
"Well, have it that when she sank she had aboard of her a cargo of five hundred cases of whiskey, prime stuff, seven thousand quart bottles, sealed up tight as drums. Now Our Mug--nor Billy Isham either--they ain't born yesterday. No, sir; they're right next to themselves! They figure this way. This here whiskey's been kept fifty years without being moved. Now, what do you suppose seven thousand quart bottles of fifty-year-old whiskey would be worth? Why, twenty dollars a quart wouldn't be too fancy. So there you are; there's your treasure. Our Mug and Billy Isham have only got to dig through twenty feet of sand to pick up a hundred thousand dollars, IF THEY CAN FIND THE SCHOONER."
Blix clapped her hands with a little cry of delight, and Condy smote a knee, exclaiming: "By Jove! that's as good as Loudon Dodds' opium ship! Why, Cap., you're a treasure in yourself for a fellow looking for stories."
Then after the notes were taken and the story talked over, Captain Jack, especially if the day happened to be Sunday, would insist upon their staying to dinner--boiled beef and cabbage. smoking coffee and pickles--that K. D. B. served in the little, brick- paved kitchen in the back of the station. The crew messed in their quarters overhead.
K. D. B. herself was not uninteresting. Her respectability incased her like armor plate, and she never laughed without putting three fingers to her lips. She told them that she had at one time been a "costume reader.""A costume reader?"
"Yes; reading extracts from celebrated authors in the appropriate costume of the character. It used to pay very well, and it was very refined. I used to do 'In a Balcony,' by Mister Browning, and 'Laska,' the same evening! and it always made a hit. I'd do 'In a Balcony' first, and I'd put on a Louis-Quinze-the-fifteenth gown and wig-to-match over a female cowboy outfit. When I'd finished 'In a Balcony,' I'd do an exit, and shunt the gown and wig-to-match, and come on as 'Laska,' with thunder noises off. It was one of the strongest effects in my repertoire, and it always got me a curtain call."And Captain Jack would wag his head and murmur: "Extraordinary! extraordinary!"
Blix and Condy soon noted that upon the occasion of each one of their visits, K. D. B. found means to entertain them at great length with long discussions upon certain subjects of curiously diversified character. Upon their first visit she elected to talk upon the Alps mountains. The Sunday following it was bacteriology; on the next Wednesday it was crystals; while for two hours during their next visit to the station, Condy and Blix were obliged to listen to K. D. B.'s interminable discourse on the origin, history, and development of the kingdom of Denmark. Condy was dumfounded."I never met such a person, man or woman, in all my life. Talk about education! Why, I think she knows everything!"
"In Defiance of Authority" soon began to make good progress, but Condy, once launched upon technical navigation, must have Captain Jack at his elbow continually, to keep him from foundering. In some sea novel he remembered to have come across the expression "garboard streak," and from the context guessed it was to be applied to a detail of a vessel's construction. In an unguarded moment he had written that his schooner's name "was painted in showy gilt letters upon her garboard streak."
"What's the garboard streak, Condy?" Blix had asked, when he had read the chapter to her.
"That's where they paint her name," he declared promptly. "I don't know exactly, but I like the sound of it."
"My God!" gasped the Captain, clasping his head. Then, with a shout: "Garboard streak! garboard streak? Don't you know that the garboard streak is the last plank next the keel? You mean counter, not garboard streak. That regularly graveled me, that did!"
They stayed to dinner with the couple that afternoon, and for half an hour afterward K. D. B. told them of the wonders of the caves of Elephantis. One would have believed that she had actually been at the place. But when she changed the subject to the science of fortification, Blix could no longer restrain herself."But it is really wonderful that you should know all these things! Where did you find time to study so much?" "One must have an education," returned K. D. B. primly.
But Condy had caught sight of a half-filled book-shelf against the opposite wall, and had been suddenly smitten with an inspiration. On a leaf of his notebook he wrote: "Try her on the G's and H's," and found means to show it furtively to Blix. But Blix was puzzled, and at the earliest opportunity Condy himself said to the retired costume reader:"Speaking of fortifications, Mrs. Hoskins, Gibraltar now--that's a wonderful rock, isn't it?" "Rock!" she queried. "I thought it was an island."
"Oh, no; it's a fortress. They have a castle there--a castle, something like--well, like the old Schloss at Heidelberg. Did you ever hear about or read about Heidelberg University?"
But K. D. B. was all abroad now. Gibraltar and Heidelberg were unknown subjects to her, as were also inoculation, Japan, and Kosciusko. Above the G's she was sound; below that point her ignorance was benighted.
"But what is it, Condy?" demanded Blix, as soon as they were alone. "I've the idea," he answered, chuckling. "Wait till after Sunday to see if I'm right; then I'll tell you. It's a dollar to a paper dime, K. D. B. will have something for us by Sunday, beginning with an I."And she had. It was Internal Revenue.
"Right! right!" Condy shouted gleefully, as he and Blix were on their way home. "I knew it. She's done with Ash--Bol, Bol--Car, and all those, and has worked through Cod-Dem, and Dem--Eve. She's down to Hor--Kin now, and she'll go through the whole lot before she's done--Kin--Mag, Mag--Mot, Mot--Pal, and all the rest.""The Encyclopaedia?" "Don't you see it? No wonder she didn't know beans about Gibraltar! She hadn't come to the G's by then." "She's reading the Encyclopaedia."
"And she gets the volumes on the instahnent plan, don't you see? Reads the leading articles, and then springs 'em on us. To know things and talk about em, that's her idea of being cultured. 'One must have an education.' Do you remember her saying that' Oh, our matrimonial objects are panning out beyond all expectation!"
What a delicious, never-to-be-forgotten month it was for those two! There in the midst of life they were as much alone as upon a tropic island. Blix had deliberately freed herself from a world that had grown distasteful to her; Condy little by little had dropped away from his place among the men and the women of his acquaintance, and the two came and went together, living in a little world of their own creation, happy in each other's society, living only in the present, and asking nothing better than to be left alone and to their own devices.
They saw each other every day. In the morning from nine till twelve, and in the afternoon until three, Condy worked away upon his novel, but not an evening passed that did not see him and Blix in the dining-room of the little flat. Thursdays and Sunday afternoons they visited the life-boat station, and at other times prowled about the unfrequented corners of the city, now passing an afternoon along the water front, watching the departure of a China steamer or the loading of the great, steel wheat ships; now climbing the ladder-like streets of Telegraph Hill, or revisiting the Plaza, Chinatown, and the restaurant; or taking long walks in the Presidio Reservation, watching cavalry and artillery drills; or sitting for hours on the rocks by the seashore, watching the ceaseless roll and plunge of the surf, the wheeling sea-birds, and the sleek-headed seals hunting the offshore fish, happy for a half-hour when they surprised one with his prey in his teeth.
One day, some three weeks before the end of the year, toward two in the afternoon, Condy sat in his usual corner of the club, behind the screen, writing rapidly. His coat was off and the stump of a cigar was between his teeth. At his elbow was the rectangular block of his manuscript. During the last week the story had run from him with a facility that had surprised and delighted him; words came to him without effort, ranging themselves into line with the promptitude of well-drilled soldiery; sentences and paragraphs marched down the clean-swept spaces of his paper, like companies and platoons defiling upon review; his chapters were brigades that he marshaled at will, falling them in one behind the other, each preceded by its chapter-head, like an officer in the space between two divisions. In the guise of a commander-in-chief sitting his horse upon an eminence that overlooked the field of operations, Condy at last took in the entire situation at a glance, and, with the force and precision of a machine, marched his forces straight to the goal he had set for himself so long a time before.
Then at length he took a fresh penful of ink, squared his elbows, drew closer to the desk. and with a single swift spurt of the pen wrote the last line of his novel, dropping the pen upon the instant and pressing the blotter over the words as though setting a seal of approval upon the completed task."There!" he muttered, between his teeth; "I've done for YOU!"
That same afternoon he read the last chapter to Blix, and she helped him to prepare the manuscript for expressage. She insisted that it should go off that very day, and herself wrote the directions upon the outside wrapper. Then the two went down together to the Wells Fargo office, and "In Defiance of Authority" was sent on its journey across the continent.
"Now," she said, as they came out of the express office and stood for a moment upon the steps, "now there's nothing to do but wait for the Centennial Company. I do so hope we'll get their answer before I go away. They OUGHT to take it. It's just what they asked for. Don't you think they'll take it, Condy?""Oh, bother that!" answered Condy. "I don't care whether they take it or not. How long now is it before you go, Blix?"
A week passed; then another. The year was coming to a close. In ten days Blix would be gone. Letters had been received from Aunt Kihm, and also an exquisite black leather traveling-case, a present to her niece, full of cut-glass bottles, ebony-backed brushes, and shell combs. Blix was to leave on the second day of January. In the meanwhile she had been reading far into her first-year text-books, underscoring and annotating, studying for hours upon such subjects as she did not understand, so that she might get hold of her work the readier when it came to class-room routine and lectures. Hers was a temperament admirably suited to the study she had chosen--self-reliant, cool, and robust.
But it was not easy for her to go. Never before had Blix been away from her home; never for longer than a week had she been separated from her father, nor from Howard and Snooky. That huge city upon the Atlantic seaboard, with its vast, fierce life, where beat the heart of the nation, and where beyond Aunt Kihm she knew no friend, filled Blix with a vague sense of terror and of oppression. She was going out into a new life, a life of work and of study, a harsher life than she had yet known. Her father, her friends, her home--all these were to be left behind. It was not surprising that Blix should be daunted at the prospect of so great a change in her life, now so close at hand. But if the tears did start at times, no one ever saw them fall, and with a courage that was all her own Blix watched the last days of the year trooping past and the approach of the New Year that was to begin the new life.
But Condy was thoroughly unhappy. Those wonderful three months were at an end. Blix was going. In less than a week now she would be gone. He would see the last of her. Then what? He pictured himself--when he had said good-by to her and the train had lessened to a smoky blur in the distance--facing about, facing the life that must then begin for him, returning to the city alone, picking up the routine again. There would be nothing to look forward to then; he would not see Blix in the afternoon; would not sit with her in the evening in the little dining-room of the flat overlooking the city and the bay; would not wake in the morning with the consciousness that before the sun would set he would see her again, be with her, and hear the sound of her voice. The months that were to follow would be one long ache, one long, harsh, colorless grind without her. How was he to get through that first evening that he must pass alone? And she did not care for him. Condy at last knew this to be so. Even the poor solace of knowing that she, too, was unhappy was denied him. She had never loved him, and never would. He was a chum to her, nothing more. Condy was too clear-headed to deceive himself upon this point. The time was come for her to go away, and she had given him no sign, no cue.
The last days passed; Blix's trunk was packed, her half section engaged, her ticket bought. They said good-by to the old places they had come to know so well--Chinatown, the Golden Balcony, the water-front, the lake of San Andreas, Telegraph Hill, and Luna's-- and had bade farewell to Riccardo and to old Richardson. They had left K. D. B. and Captain Jack until the last day. Blix was to go on the second of January. On New Year's Day she and Condy were to take their last walk, were to go out to the lifeboat station, and then on around the shore to the little amphitheatre of blackberry bushes-where they had promised always to write one another on the anniversary of their first visit--and then for the last time climb the hill, and go across the breezy downs to the city.
Then came the last day of the old year, the last day but one that they would be together. They spent it in a long ramble along the water-front, following the line of the shipping even as far as Meiggs's Wharf. They had come back to the flat for supper, and afterward, as soon as the family had left them alone, had settled themselves in the bay window to watch the New Year in.
The little dining-room was dark, but for the indistinct blur of light that came in through the window--a light that was a mingling of the afterglow, the new-risen moon, and the faint haze that the city threw off into the sky from its street lamps and electrics. From where they sat they could look down, almost as from a tower, into the city's streets. Here a corner came into view; further on a great puff of green foliage--palms and pines side by side--over- looked a wall. Here a street was visible for almost its entire length, like a stream of asphalt flowing down the pitch of the hill, dammed on either side by rows upon rows of houses; while further on the vague confusion of roofs and facades opened out around a patch of green lawn, the garden of some larger residence.
As they looked and watched, the afterglow caught window after window, till all that quarter of the city seemed to stare up at them from a thousand ruddy eyes. The windows seemed infinite in number, the streets endless in their complications: yet everything was deserted. At this hour the streets were empty, and would remain so until daylight. Not a soul was stirring; no face looked from any of those myriads of glowing windows; no footfall disturbed the silence of those asphalt streets. There, almost within call behind those windows, shut off from those empty streets, a thousand human lives were teeming, each the centre of its own circle of thoughts and words and actions; and yet the solitude was profound, the desolation complete. the stillness unbroken by a single echo.
The night--the last night of the old year--was fine; the white, clear light from a moon they could not see grew wide and clear over the city, as the last gleam of the sunset faded. It was just warm enough for the window to be open, and for nearly three hours Condy and Blix sat looking down upon the city in these last moments of the passing year, feeling upon their faces an occasional touch of the breeze, that carried with it the smell of trees and flowers from the gardens below them, and the faint fine taint of the ocean from far out beyond the Heads. But the scene was not in reality silent. At times when they listened intently, especially when they closed their eyes, there came to them a subdued, steady bourdon, profound, unceasing, a vast, numb murmur, like no other sound in all the gamut of nature--the sound of a city at night, the hum of a great, conglomerate life, wrought out there from moment to moment under the stars and under the moon, while the last hours of the old year dropped quietly away.
A star fell.
Well, he was going to lose her. He had found out that he loved her only in time to feel the wrench of parting from her all the more keenly. What was he to do with himself after she was gone? What could he turn to in order to fill up the great emptiness that her going would leave in his daily life? And was she never to know how dear she was to him? Why not speak to her, why not tell her that he loved her? But Condy knew that Blix did not love him, and the knowledge of that must keep him silent; he must hug his secret to him, like the Spartan boy with his stolen fox, no matter how grievously it hurt him to do so. He and Blix had lived through two months of rarest, most untroubled happiness, with hardly more self-consciousness than two young and healthy boys. To bring that troublous, disquieting element of love between them--unrequited love, of all things--would be a folly. She would tell him--must in all honesty tell him that she did not love him, and all their delicious camaraderie would end in a "scene." Condy, above everything, wished to look back on those two months, after she had gone, without being able to remember therein one single note that jarred. If the memory of her was all that he was to have, he resolved that at least that memory should be perfect.
And the love of her had made a man of him--he could not forget that; had given to him just the strength that made it possible for him to keep that resolute, grim silence now. In those two months he had grown five years; he was more masculine, more virile. The very set of his mouth was different; between the eye-brows the cleft had deepened; his voice itself vibrated to a heavier note. No, no; so long as he should live, he, man grown as he was, could never forget this girl of nineteen who had come into his life so quietly, so unexpectedly, who had influenced it so irresistibly and so unmistakably for its betterment, and who had passed out of it with the passing of the year.
For a few moments Condy had been absent-mindedly snapping the lid of his cigarette case, while he thought; now he selected a cigarette, returned the case to his pocket, and fumbled for a match. But the little gun-metal case he carried was empty. Blix rose and groped for a moment upon the mantel-shelf, then returned and handed him a match, and stood over him while he scraped it under the arm of the chair wherein he sat. Even when his cigarette was lighted she still stood there, looking at him, the fingers of her hands clasped in front of her, her hair, one side of her cheek, her chin, and sweet, round neck outlined by the faint blur of light that came from the open window. Then quietly she said:"Well, Condy?" "Well, Blix?" "Just 'well'?" she repeated. "Is that all? Is that all you have to say to me?" He gave a great start. "Blix!" he exclaimed.
"Is that all? And you are going to let me go away from you for so long, and say nothing more than that to me? You think you have been so careful, think you have kept your secret so close! Condy, don't you suppose I know? Do you suppose women are so blind? No, you don't need to tell me; I know--I've known it--oh, for weeks!""You know--know--know what?" he exclaimed, breathless.
"That you have been pretending that you did not love me. I know that you do love me--I know you have been trying to keep it from me for fear it would spoil our good times, and because we had made up our minds to be chums, and have 'no more foolishness.' Once--in those days when we first knew each other--I knew you did not love me when you said you did; but now, since--oh, since that afternoon in the Chinese restaurant, remember?--I've known that you did love me, although you pretended you didn't. It was the pretence I wanted to be rid of; I wanted to be rid of it when you said you loved me and didn't, and I want to be rid of it now when YOU pretend not to love me and I KNOW you do," and Blix leaned back her head as she spoke that "know," looking at him from under her lids, a smile upon her lips. "It's the pretence that I won't have," she added. "We must be sincere with each other, you and I.""Blix, do YOU love ME?" Condy had risen to his feet, his breath was coming quick, his cigarette was flung away, and his hands opened and shut swiftly. "Oh, Blixy, little girl, do YOU love ME?"
They stood there for a moment in the half dark, facing one another, their hearts beating, their breath failing them in the tension of the instant. There in that room, high above the city, a little climax had come swiftly to a head, a crisis in two lives had suddenly developed. The moment that had been in preparation for the last few months, the last few years, the last few centuries, behold! it had arrived."Blix, do you love me?"
Suddenly it was the New Year. Somewhere close at hand a chorus of chiming church bells sang together. Far off in the direction of the wharves, where the great ocean steamships lay, came the glad, sonorous shouting of a whistle; from a nearby street a bugle called aloud. And then from point to point, from street to roof top, and from roof to spire, the vague murmur of many sounds grew and spread and widened, slowly, grandly; that profound and steady bourdon, as of an invisible organ swelling, deepening, and expanding to the full male diapason of the city aroused and signaling the advent of another year.
And they heard it, they two heard it, standing there face to face, looking into each other's eyes, that unanswered question yet between them, the question that had come to them with the turning of the year. It was the old year yet when Condy had asked that question. In that moment's pause, while Blix hesitated to answer him, the New Year had come. And while the huge, vast note of the city swelled and vibrated, she still kept silent. But only for a moment. Then she came closer to him, and put a hand on each of his shoulders."Happy New Year, dear," she said. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
On New Year's Day, the last day they were to be together, Blix and Condy took "their walk," as they had come to call it--the walk that included the lifeboat station, the Golden Gate, the ocean beach beyond the old fort, the green, bare, flower-starred hills and downs, and the smooth levels of the golf links. Blix had been busy with the last details of her packing, and they did not get started until toward two in the afternoon.
"Strike me!" exclaimed Captain Jack, as Blix informed him that she had come to say good-by. "Why, ain't this very sudden-like, Miss Bessemer? Hey, Kitty, come in here. Here's Miss Bessemer come to say good-by; going to New York to-morrow."
"We'll regularly be lonesome without you, miss," said K. D. B., as she came into the front room, bringing with her a brisk, pungent odor of boiled vegetables. "New York-such a town as it must be! It was called Manhattan at first, you know, and was settled by the Dutch."Evidently K. D. B. had reached the N's.
With such deftness as she possessed, Blix tried to turn the conversation upon the first meeting of the retired sea captain and the one-time costume reader, but all to no purpose. The "Matrimonial Objects" were perhaps a little ashamed of their "personals" by now, and neither Blix nor Condy were ever to hear their version of the meeting in the back dining-room of Luna's Mexican restaurant. Captain Jack was, in fact, anxious to change the subject."Any news of the yarn yet?" he suddenly inquired of Condy "What do those Eastern publishin' people think of Our Mug and Billy Isham and the whiskey schooner?" Condy had received the rejected manuscript of "In Defiance of Authority" that morning, accompanied by a letter from the Centennial Company. "Well," he said in answer, "they're not, as you might say, falling over themselves trying to see who'll be the first to print it. It's been returned." "The devil you say!" responded the Captain. "Well, that's kind of disappointin' to you, ain't it?" "But," Blix hastened to add, "we're not at all discouraged. We're going to send it off again right away." Then she said good-by to them.
"I dunno as you'll see me here when you come back, miss," said the Captain, at the gate, his arm around K. D. B. "I've got to schemin' again. Do you know," he added, in a low, confidential tone, "that all the mines in California send their clean-ups and gold bricks down to the Selby smeltin' works once every week? They send 'em to San Francisco first, and they are taken up to Selby's Wednesday afternoons on a little sternwheel steamer called the "Monticello." All them bricks are in a box--dumped in like so much coal--and that box sets just under the wheel-house, for'ard. How much money do you suppose them bricks represent? Well, I'll tell you; last week they represented seven hundred and eighty thousand dollars. Well, now, I got a chart of the bay near Vallejo; the channel's all right, but there are mudflats that run out from shore three miles. Enough water for a whitehall, but not enough for--well, for the patrol boat, for instance. Two or three slick boys, of a foggy night--of course, I'm not in that kind of game, but strike! it would be a deal now, wouldn't it?""Don't you believe him, miss," put in K. D. B. "He's just talking to show off."
"I think your scheme of holding up a Cunard liner," said Condy, with great earnestness, "is more feasible. You could lay across her course and fly a distress signal. She'd have to heave to."
"Yes, I been thinkin' o' that; but look here--what's to prevent the liner taking right after your schooner after you've got the stuff aboard--just followin' you right around an' findin' out where you land?"
"She'd be under contract to carry Government mails," contradicted Condy. "She couldn't do that. You'd leave her mails aboard for just that reason. You wouldn't rob her of her mails; just so long as she was carrying government mails she couldn't stop."
Blix and Condy went on; on along the narrow road upon the edge of the salt marshes and tules that lay between the station and the Golden Gate; on to the Golden Gate itself, and around the old grime-incrusted fort to the ocean shore, with its reaches of hard, white sand, where the bowlders lay tumbled and the surf grumbled incessantly.
The world seemed very far away from them here on the shores of the Pacific, on that first afternoon of the New Year. They were supremely happy, and they sufficed to themselves. Condy had forgotten all about the next day, when he must say good-by to Blix.
It did not seem possible, it was not within the bounds of possibility, that she was to go away--that they two were to be separated. And for that matter, to-morrow was tomorrow. It was twenty-four hours away. The present moment was sufficient.
The persistence with which they clung to the immediate moment, their happiness in living only in the present, had brought about a rather curious condition of things between them.
In their love for each other there was no thought of marriage; they were too much occupied with the joy of being together at that particular instant to think of the future. They loved each other, and that was enough. They did not look ahead further than the following day, and then but furtively, and only in order that their morrow's parting might intensify their happiness of to-day. That New Year's Day was to be the end of everything. Blix was going; she and Condy would never see each other again. The thought of marriage--with its certain responsibilities, its duties, its gravity, its vague, troublous seriousness, its inevitable disappointments--was even a little distasteful to them. Their romance had been hitherto without a flaw; they had been genuinely happy in little things. It was as well that it should end that day, in all its pristine sweetness, unsullied by a single bitter moment, undimmed by the cloud of a single disillusion or disappointment. Whatever chanced to them in later years, they could at least cherish this one memory of a pure, unselfish affection, young and unstained and almost without thought of sex, come and gone on the very threshold of their lives. This was the end, they both understood. They were glad that it was to be so. They did not even speak again of writing to each other.
They found once more the little semicircle of blackberry bushes and the fallen log, halfway up the hill above the shore, and sat there a while, looking down upon the long green rollers, marching incessantly toward the beach, and there breaking in a prolonged explosion of solid green water and flying spume. And their glance followed their succeeding ranks further and further out to sea, till the multitude blended into the mass-the vast, green, shifting mass that drew the eye on and on, to the abrupt, fine line of the horizon.
There was no detail in the scene. There was nothing but the great reach of the ocean floor, the unbroken plane of blue sky, and the bare green slope of land--three immensities, gigantic, vast, primordial. It was no place for trival ideas and thoughts of little things. The mind harked back unconsciously to the broad, simpler, basic emotions, the fundamental instincts of the race. The huge spaces of earth and air and water carried with them a feeling of kindly but enormous force--elemental force, fresh, untutored, new, and young. There was buoyancy in it; a fine, breathless sense of uplifting and exhilaration; a sensation as of bigness and a return to the homely, human, natural life, to the primitive old impulses, irresistible, changeless, and unhampered; old as the ocean, stable as the hills, vast as the unplumbed depths of the sky.
Condy and Blix sat still, listening, looking, and watching--the intellect drowsy and numb; the emotions, the senses, all alive and brimming to the surface. Vaguely they felt the influence of the moment. Something was preparing for them. From the lowest, untouched depths in the hearts of each of them something was rising steadily to consciousness and the light of day. There is no name for such things, no name for the mystery that spans the interval between man and woman--the mystery that bears no relation to their love for each other, but that is something better than love, and whose coming savors of the miraculous.The afternoon had waned and the sun had begun to set when Blix rose. "We should be going, Condy," she told him.
They started up the hill, and Condy said: "I feel as though I had been somehow asleep with my eyes wide open. What a glorious sunset! It seems to me as though I were living double every minute; and oh! Blix, isn't it the greatest thing in the world to love each other as we do?"
They had come to the top of the hill by now, and went on across the open, breezy downs, all starred with blue iris and wild heliotrope. Blix drew his arm about her waist, and laid her cheek upon his shoulder with a little caressing motion.
"And I do love you, dear," she said--"love you with all my heart. And it's for always, too; I know that. I've been a girl until within the last three or four days--just a girl, dearest; not very serious, I'm afraid, and not caring for anything else beyond, what was happening close around me--don't you understand? But since I've found out how much I loved you and knew that you loved me-- why, everything is changed for me. I'm not the same, I enjoy things that I never thought of enjoying before, and I feel so--oh, LARGER, don't you know?--and stronger, and so much more serious. Just a little while ago I was only nineteen, but I think, dear, that by loving you I have become--all of a sudden and without knowing it--a woman."
A little trembling ran through her with the words. She stopped and put both arms around his neck, her head tipped back, her eyes half closed, her sweet yellow hair rolling from her forehead. Her whole dear being radiated with that sweet, clean perfume that seemed to come alike from her clothes, her neck, her arms, her hair, and mouth--the delicious, almost divine, feminine aroma that was part of herself."You do love me, Condy, don't you, just as I love you?"
Such words as he could think of seemed pitifully inadequate. For answer he could only hold her the closer. She understood. Her eyes closed slowly, and her face drew nearer to his. Just above a whisper, she said:"I love you, dear!" "I love you, Blix!" And they kissed each other then upon the mouth.
Meanwhile the sun had been setting. Such a sunset! The whole world, the three great spaces of sea and land and sky, were incarnadined with the glory of it. The ocean floor was a blinding red radiance, the hills were amethyst, the sky one gigantic opal, and they two seemed poised in the midst of all the chaotic glory of a primitive world. It was New Year's Day; the earth was new, the year was new, and their love was new and strong. Everything was before them. There was no longer any past, no longer any present. Regrets and memories had no place in their new world. It was Hope, Hope, Hope, that sang to them and called to them and smote into life the new keen blood of them.
Then suddenly came the miracle, like the flashing out of a new star, whose radiance they felt but could not see, like a burst of music whose harmony they felt but could not hear. And as they stood there alone in all that simple glory of sky and earth and sea, they knew all in an instant that THEY WERE FOR EACH OTHER, forever and forever, for better or for worse, till death should them part. Into their romance, into their world of little things, their joys of the moment, their happiness of the hour, had suddenly descended a great and lasting joy, the happiness of the great, grave issues of life--a happiness so deep, so intense, as to thrill them with a sense of solemnity and wonder. Instead of being the end, that New Year's Day was but the beginning--the beginning of their real romance. All the fine, virile, masculine energy of him was aroused and rampant. All her sweet, strong womanliness had been suddenly deepened and broadened. In fine, he had become a man, and she woman. Youth, life, and the love of man and woman, the strength of the hills, the depth of the ocean, and the beauty of the sky at sunset; that was what the New Year had brought to them.* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * "It's good-by, dear, isn't it?" said Blix.
But Condy would not have it so. "No, no," he told her; "no, Blix; no matter how often we separate after this wonderful New Year's Day, no matter how far we are apart, WE two shall never, never say goodby."
"Oh, you're right, you're right!" she answered, the tears beginning to shine in her little dark-brown eyes. "No; so long as we love each other, nothing matters. There's no such thing as distance for us, is there? Just think, you will be here on the shores of the Pacific, and I on the shores of the Atlantic, but the whole continent can't come between US.""And we'll be together again, Blix," he said; "and it won't be very long now. Just give me time--a few years now." "But so long as we love each other, TIME won't matter either." "What are the tears for, Blixy?" he asked, pressing his handkerchief to her cheek.
"Because this is the saddest and happiest day of my life," she answered. Then she pulled from him with a little laugh, adding: "Look, Condy, you've dropped your letter. You pulled it out just now with your handkerchief."As Condy picked it up, she noted the name of the Centennial Company upon the corner. "It's the letter I got with the manuscript of the novel when they sent it back," he explained. "What did they say?" "Oh, the usual thing. I haven't read it yet. Here's what they say." He opened it and read:
"We return to you herewith the MS. of your novel, 'In Defiance of Authority,' and regret that our reader does not recommend it as available for publication at present. We have, however, followed your work with considerable interest, and have read a story by you, copied in one of our exchanges, under the title, 'A Victory Over Death,' which we would have been glad to publish ourselves, had you given us the chance.
"Would you consider the offer of the assistant editorship of our QUARTERLY, a literary and critical pamphlet, that we publish in New York, and with which we presume you are familiar? We do not believe there would be any difficulty in the matter of financial arrangements. In case you should decide to come on, we inclose R. R. passes via the A. T. & S. F., C. & A., and New York Central. "Very truly,"THE CENTENNIAL PUBLISHING COMPANY, "NEW
The two exchanged glances. But Blix was too excited to speak, and could only give vent to a little, quivering, choking sigh. The letter was a veritable god from the machine, the one thing lacking to complete their happiness.
But what they said then they could never afterward remember. The golden haze of the sunset somehow got into their recollection of the moment, and they could only recall the fact that they had been gayer in that moment than ever before in all their lives.
Perhaps as gay as they ever were to be again. They began to know the difference between gayety and happiness. That New Year's Day, that sunset, marked for them an end and a beginning. It was the end of their gay, irresponsible, hour-to-hour life of the past three months; and it was the beginning of a new life, whose possibilities of sorrow and of trouble, of pleasure and of happiness, were greater than aught they had yet experienced. They knew this--they felt it instinctively, as with a common impulse they turned and looked back upon the glowing earth and sea and sky, the breaking surf, the beach, the distant, rime-incrusted, ancient fort--all that scene that to their eyes stood for the dear, free, careless companionship of those last few months. Their new-found happiness was not without its sadness already. All was over now; their solitary walks, the long, still evenings in the little dining-room overlooking the sleeping city, their excursions to Luna's, their afternoons spent in the golden Chinese balcony, their mornings on the lake, calm and still and hot. Forever and forever they had said good-by to that life. Already the sunset was losing its glory.
Then, with one last look, they turned about and set their faces from it to the new life, to the East, where lay the Nation. Out beyond the purple bulwarks of the Sierras, far off, the great, grim world went clashing through its grooves--the world that now they were to know, the world that called to them, and woke them, and roused them. Their little gayeties were done; the life of little things was all behind. Now for the future. The sterner note had struck--work was to be done; that, too, the New Year had brought to them--work for each of them, work and the world of men.
For a moment they shrank from it, loth to take the first step beyond the confines of the garden wherein they had lived so joyously and learned to love each other; and as they stood there, facing the gray and darkening Eastern sky, their backs forever turned to the sunset, Blix drew closer to him, putting her hand in his, looking a little timidly into his eyes. But his arm was around her, and the strong young force that looked into her eyes from his gave her courage."A happy New Year, dear," she said. "A very, very happy New Year, Blix," he answered. [The End]