Part 2 out of 8
all in clean white. A small cloth bundle lay at his feet.
"My name Wing Sam," he announced; "I wo'k you thi'ty dolla' month. Where
you keep him bloom?"
That day John McGlynn stopped after unloading his boxes to give a little
"Chinks are queer," said he. "When you show this fellow how to do anything,
be sure to show him right, because that's the way he's going to do it
forever after. You can't change him. And show him; don't tell him. And let
him do things his own way as much as you can, instead of insisting on your
McGlynn also advised Keith as to where he could to the best advantage hire
a horse and buggy by the month.
"You want a good safe animal, so Mrs. Keith can drive him; but you don't
want a cow. Jump aboard and I'll take you around. Never mind your coat," he
told Keith, "it's warm."
So they "jumped aboard" and drove down the street. Nan gurgled with
amusement over the episode. She sat on the high seat beside John McGlynn's
lank figure, above the broad backs of the great horses; and Keith in his
shirtsleeves, his hair every which way, a smudge of black across his nose,
balanced in the flat dray body behind. Nan tried to imagine the sensation
they would create in Baltimore, and laughed aloud.
"Is sort of funny," commented John McGlynn sympathetically. "But everything
goes out here."
Nan, aghast at the uncanny perspicacity of the man, choked silently. In her
world there had always been a sort of vague, unexpressed feeling that the
"lower classes" were dull.
They used the horse and buggy a great deal. It was delivered at the hotel
door every morning and taken from the same place every evening. Innumerable
errands downtown for things forgotten kept it busy. At night they returned
to the hotel pretty well tired out. It was a tremendous task, much as they
might be enjoying it.
"Seems to me the more we do the worse it gets," said Keith. "Let's dig some
sort of a hole and move in anyway."
"In a few days," agreed Nan, who as general-in-chief had a much clearer
idea of the actual state of affairs than the dusty private.
One morning the accumulated fatigue had its way, and they overslept
scandalously. It was after ten o'clock before they were ready to drive up
the street. As they turned the corner from Kearney Street they were saluted
by the ringing of numerous bells.
"Why, it's Sunday!" cried Keith, after a moment's calculation. In the
unexpectedness of this discovery he reined in the horse.
"It will never do to work to-day," she answered his unspoken thought. "I
suppose we ought to go to church."
But Keith turned the horse's head to the left.
"Church?" he returned with great decision. "We're going on a spree. This is
a day of rest, and we've earned it."
"Where?" asked Nan, a trifle shocked at his implication as to church.
"I haven't the remotest idea," said Keith.
They drove along a plank road leading out of town. It proved to be thronged
with people, all going in the same direction. The shuffle of their feet on
the planks and the murmur of their many voices were punctuated by the
_klop, klop_ of hoofs and occasional shouts of laughter. All races of the
earth seemed to be represented. It was like a Congress of the Nations at
some great exposition. French, Germans, Italians, Russians, Dutchmen,
British, were to be recognized and to be expected. But also were strange
peoples--Turks, Arabs, Negroes, Chinese, Kanakas, East Indians, the
gorgeous members of the Spanish races, and nondescript queer people to whom
neither Nan nor Keith could assign a native habitat. At every step one or
the other called delighted attention to some new exhibit. Most
extraordinary were, possibly, the men from the gold mines of the Sierras,
These were mostly young, but long haired, bearded, rough, wilder than any
mortal man need be. They walked with a wide swagger. Their clothes were
exaggeratedly coarse, but they ornamented themselves with bright silk
handkerchiefs; with feathers, flowers; with squirrel or buck-tails In their
hats; with long heavy chains of nuggets; with glittering and prominently
displayed pistols, revolvers, stilettos, knives, or dirks. Some had plaited
their beards in three tails; others had tied their long hair under their
chins. But even the most bizarre seemed to attract no attention. San
Francisco was accustomed to it.
Indeed, the few fashionable strollers were much more stared at. Most of the
well dressed were in some sort of vehicle. The Keiths saw many buggies like
their own. A few very smart, or rather very ornamental, double rigs dashed
by. In these sat generally good-looking but rather loud young women, who
stared straight ahead with an assumption of supreme indifference. Hacks or
omnibuses careered along. In these the company was generally merry but
mixed, though occasionally a good-looking couple had hired an ordinary
public conveyance. Horsemen and horsewomen were numerous. Some of these
were very dashing indeed, the women with long trailing skirts and high hats
from which floated veils; the men with skin-tight trousers strapped under
varnished boots, and long split-skirted coats. Others were simply plain a-
horseback. The native Californians with their heavy, silver-mounted
saddles, braided rawhide reins and bridles, their sombreros, their
picturesque costumes, and their magnificent fiery horses made a fine
appearance. Occasionally screaming, bouncing Chinese, hanging on with both
hands, would dash by at full speed, their horses quite uncontrolled, their
garments flying, ecstatically scared and happy, causing great confusion,
and pursued by curses.
"Evidently we're headed in the right direction," remarked Keith.
After a drive of two or three miles, never far from the bay they arrived
at what had evidently been a sleepy little village. The original low,
picturesque, red-tiled adobe buildings still clustered about the Mission.
But much had been added. The Keiths found themselves in an immense
confusion. Screaming signs cried everywhere for attention--advertising bear
pits, cock fights, theatrical attractions, side shows, and the like.
Innumerable hotels and restaurants, small, cheap, and tawdry, offered their
hospitality, the liquid part of which was already being widely accepted.
Men were striking pegs with hammers, throwing balls at negroes' heads
thrust through canvas, shooting at targets. A racecourse was surrounded.
Dust rose in choking clouds, and the sun beat down heavily.
"Goodness, what a place!" cried Nan in dismay.
Had they known it, there were many quiet, attractive, outlying resorts
catering to and frequented by the fashionables, for "the Mission" was at
that time in its heyday as a Sunday amusement for all classes. As it was,
Keith drove on through the village, and so out to a winding country road.
"This is heavenly," said Nan, and laid aside her veil.
The road wound and meandered through the low hills of the peninsula. The
sun beat down on them in a flood, only its heat, no longer oppressive, had
"Doesn't it feel good on your back!" exclaimed Nan, recognizing this
quality. "One seems to soak it in--just the way a thirsty plant soaks
The rounded hills were turning a ripe soft brown. Across their crests the
sky looked very blue. High in the heavens some buzzards were sailing.
Innumerable quail called. On tree tops perched yellow-breasted meadow larks
with golden voices. In the bottom of the narrow valley where the road wound
were green willow trees and a little trickle of water. From the ground came
upward waves of heat and a pungent clean odour of some weed. Nan was
excited and keenly receptive to impressions.
"It's a hot day!" she cried, "and the road is dusty. By rights it ought to
be disagreeable. But it isn't! Why is that?"
The little valley widened into a pocket. Back from the road stood a low
white much house. Its veranda was smothered in the gorgeousness of
bougainvillaea. A grave, elderly, bearded Spaniard, on horseback, passed
them at a smooth shuffling little trot, and gave them a sonorous _buenas
dias_, The road mounted rapidly. Once when Keith had reined in to breathe
the horse, they heard the droning crescendo hum of a new swarm of bees
"Isn't this nice!" cried Nan, snuggling against Keith's arm.
Suddenly, over the crest and down the other side, they came on sand hills.
The horse plodded along at a walk. Nan hung far out watching, fascinated,
the smooth, clean sand dividing before the wheels and flowing back over the
rim, and so over a little rise, and the sea was before them.
"Oh, the Pacific!" exclaimed she, sitting up very straight.
The horse broke into a trot along the smooth hard shore. The wind was
coming in from the wide spaces. A taste of salt was in the air. Foam
wreaths advanced and receded with the edge of the wash, or occasionally
blew in a mass across the flat, until gradually they scattered and
dissipated. The horse pricked up his ears, breathed deep of the fresh cool
air, expanded his nostrils snorting softly, pretended to shy at the foam
wreaths. The wash advanced and drew back with a soft hissing sound; the
wind blew flat and low, so that even on the wet parts a fine, white, dried
mist of sand was always scurrying and hurrying along close to the ground.
Outside the surges reared and fell with a crash.
After the tepid or heated atmosphere of the hills the air was unexpectedly
cool and vital. A flock of sickle-billed curlews stood motionless until
they were within fifty yards; then rose and flew just inside the line of
the breakers, uttering indescribably weird and lonely cries. A long file of
pelicans, their wings outspread, sailed close to the surface of the ocean,
undulating over the waves and into the hollows exactly paralleling, at a
height of only a few feet, the restless contour of the sea. Occasionally
they would all flop their wings two or three times in unison.
"I believe it's a sort of game--they're having fun!" stated Nan with
Everything seemed to be having fun. Close to the wash were forty or fifty
tiny white sanderlings in a compact band. When the wash receded they
followed it with an incredibly rapid twinkling of little legs; and when
again the wave rushed, shoreward, _scuttle, scuttle, scuttle_ went they,
keeping always just at the edge of the water. Never were they forced to
wing; yet never did they permit the distance to widen between themselves
and the inrushing or outrushing wave. There were also sundry ducks. These
swam just inside the breakers, and were carried backward and forward by the
surges. Always they faced seaward. At the very last instant, as a great
curler bent over them, they dipped their heads and dived. If the wave did
not break, however, they rode over its top. Their accuracy of eye was
uncanny. Time after time they gauged the wave so closely that they just
flipped over the crest as it crashed with a roar beneath them. A tenth of a
second later would have destroyed them. Keith reined up the horse to watch
them and the sanderlings.
"It _is_ a game," he agreed after a while, "just like the pelicans. It
isn't considered sporting for sanderlings to get more than three inches
away from the edge of the wash; or for a duck to dive unless he actually
has to. It must be a game; for they certainly aren't catching anything."
At this moment the sanderlings as though at a signal sprang into the air,
wheeled back and forth with instantaneous precision, and departed. The
ducks, too, dove, and came up only outside the surf.
"Good little sportsmen," laughed Keith; "they play the game for its own
sake. They don't like an audience."
After a few miles they came to a cliff reaching down to the beach and
completely barring the way. Off shore were rocky islets covered with seals
and sea lions. A lone blue heron stood atop a sand dune, absolutely
"I don't know where we are, or how we get out," said Keith, "but I'm going
to take that chap there as a sign post," and he turned his horse directly
toward the heron.
Sure enough, a track led them through the sand, and by a zigzag route to
the top of the knoll that had barred their way along the shore. They came
to an edge. Before them lay an arm of the sea, sweeping and eddying with a
strong incoming tide. Over the way stood a great mountain, like a sentinel.
Far to their right the arm widened. There was a glimpse of sparkling blue,
and of the pearl of far-off hills, and the haze of a distant dim peak.
"It's the Golden Gate!" cried Keith in sudden enlightenment.
He told her that the mountain over the way must be Tamalpais; that the
pearl-gray, far-off hills must be Contra Costa; that the distant dim peak
was undoubtedly Mount Diabolo. She repeated the syllables after him softly,
charmed by their music.
Simultaneously they discovered that they were hungry. The wind whipped in
from the sea. An outpost tent or so marked the distant invisible city over
the hills. Keith turned his horse's head toward them. They drove back
across what are now the Presidio hills.
But in a hollow they came upon another ranch house, like the first--low,
white, red roofed, covered with vines. Keith insisted on driving to it. A
number of saddled horses dozed before the door, a half-dozen dogs sprawled
in the dust, fowls picked their way between the horses' legs or over the
dogs' recumbent forms. At the sound of wheels several people came from the
shadow of the porch into the open. They proved to be Spanish Californians
dressed in the flat sombreros, the short velvet jackets, the slashed
trousers, and soft leather _zapatos_. The men, handsome, lithe, indolent,
pressed around the wheels of the buggy, showing their white teeth in
"Can we get anything to eat here?" asked Keith.
They all smiled again most amiably. The elder swept off his hat with a free
"_A piedes ouestros, senora_," he said, "_pero no hablo Ingles. Habla usted
Keith understood the last three words.
"No," he shook his head violently, "no _Espanol_. Hungry." He pointed to
Nan, then to himself: "She, me, hungry."
This noble effort brought no results, except that the Californians looked
more politely distressed and solicitous than ever.
"They don't understand us," murmured Nan; "don't you think we'd better
But Keith, who had now descended from the buggy, resorted to sign language.
He rubbed his stomach pathetically and pointed down his open mouth; as an
afterthought he rubbed the horse's belly; then, with apparent intention, he
advanced toward Nan. A furious red inundated her face and neck, and she
held her little parasol threateningly between them. Everybody burst into
"_Si! si! si!_" they cried.
Several started to unharness the horse. Others held out their hands. After
a moment's hesitation Nan accepted their aid and descended. Keith's
performance was evidently considered a great joke.
On the low veranda were two women, one most enormously fat, the other young
and lithe. They were dressed almost exactly alike, their blue--black hair
parted smoothly over their foreheads but built up to a high structure
behind, filmy _rebosas_ over high combs, and skirts with many flowered
flounces. They both had soft, gentle eyes, and they were both so heavily
powdered that their complexions were almost blue. All the men explained to
them at once. The younger answered gayly; the older listened with entire
placidity. But when the account was finished, she reached out to pat Nan's
hand, and to smile reassuringly.
Various foods and a flask of red wine were brought. There was no
constraint, for Keith threw himself with delighted abandon into experiments
with sign language.
"_Esta simpatica_," the Californians told each other over and again.
Their manners were elaborate, dignified, deliberate, and beautiful. Keith,
ordinarily rather direct and brusque, to Nan's great amusement became
exactly like them. They outvied each other. The women touched smilingly the
stuff of Nan's gown, and directly admired her various feminine trappings.
She, thus encouraged, begged permission to examine more closely the lace of
the _rebosas_ or the beautiful embroidery on the shawls. A little feeling
of intimacy drew them all together, although they understood no word of
each other's language.
One of the dogs now approached and gravely laid its nose on Nan's knee,
gazing up at her with searching soft eyes. The older woman cried out
scandalized, but Nan shook her head, and patted the beast's nose.
"You like?" asked the woman.
"Why, you do talk English!" cried Nan.
But either these two words were all the woman had, or she was unwilling to
"You like?" she repeated again, after a moment, and then, observing Nan's
interest, she uttered a command to one of the numerous ragged small boys
standing about. The urchin darted away, to return after a moment with a
basket, which he emptied on the ground. Four fuzzy puppies rolled out.
"Oh, the darlings!" cried Nan.
The little animals proceeded at once to roll one another over, growling
fiercely, charging uncertainly about, gazing indeterminately through their
blue infantile eyes. The mother left her position at Nan's knee to hover
over them; turning them over with her nose, licking them, skipping nimbly
sidewise when they charged down upon her with an idea of nourishment.
Nan was enchanted. She left the bench to stoop to their level, tumbling
them over on their backs; playfully boxing their ears, working them up to a
wild state of yapping enthusiasm.
"The little darlings!" she cried; "just see their fat little tummies! And
their teeth are just like needles. No, no, you mustn't! You'll tear my
flounces! Look, Milton, see this little rascal pull at my handkerchief!"
Her cheeks were flushed, and as she looked up laughing from beneath her
hat, she made a very charming picture.
"You like," stated the Californian woman with conviction.
After a while it became time to go. Vaqueros brought out the horse and
harnessed it to the buggy. Keith made a movement to offer payment, but
correctly interpreted the situation and refrained. They mounted the
"_Muchas gracias!_" Nan enunciated slowly.
This effort was received with an admiring acclaim that flushed Nan with an
inordinate pride. She had picked up the phrase from hearing it used at
table. The fat woman came forward, one of the puppies tucked under her arm.
In spite of her apparently unwieldy size she moved gracefully and lightly.
"You like?" she inquired, holding the squirming puppy at arm's length.
"_Si, si, muchas gracias!_" cried Nan eagerly, and employing at once all
her Spanish vocabulary. She deposited the puppy in her lap and reached out
to shake hands. Keith flicked the horse with his whip. He, too, had
recollected a word of Spanish, and he used it now.
"_Adios!_" he shouted.
But their hosts had a better phrase.
"_Vaya Con Dios!_" they cried in chorus.
Nan was in raptures over the whole episode, but especially over the puppy.
The latter, with the instantaneous adaptability of extreme youth, had
snuggled down into a compact ball, and was blinking one hazy dark blue eye
upward at his new mistress.
"Weren't they nice people," cried Nan, "and wasn't it an adventure? And
isn't he just the dearest, cutest little thing? You're not a little Spanish
dog any more, you know. You're a--what is it they call us?--oh, yes! You're
a gringo now. Why, that's a fine idea! Your name is Gringo!"
And Gringo he became henceforth.
"What kind of a dog is he?" she asked.
Keith grinned sardonically.
"Of course I do not know his honoured father," said he, "so I cannot offer
an opinion as to that half of him. But on his mother's side he is
bloodhound, bulldog, collie, setter, pointer, St. Bernard, and Old English
"Which?"' asked Nan puzzled.
"All," asserted Keith.
Now suddenly the sun was blotted out. They looked back: a white bank of fog
was rolling in from the sea. It flowed over the hills like a flood,
reaching long wisps down into the hollows, setting inertly in the flats and
valleys, the upper part rolling on and over in a cascade. Beneath its
shadow the warmth and brightness of the world had died.
"It strikes me we're going to be cold," remarked Keith, urging forward the
The roadbed became more solid, and they trotted along freely. The horse,
also, was anxious to get home. Signs of habitations thickened. The wide
waste hills of the ranchos had been left behind. Here and there were
outlying dwellings, or road houses, the objectives of pleasure excursions
of various sorts and degrees of respectability from the city. From one of
the latter came a hail.
"Oh, Keith! I say, Keith!"
From a group of people preparing to enter a number of vehicles two men came
running. Ben Sansome and Morrell, somewhat out of breath, came alongside.
They were a little flushed and elevated, but very cordial, and full of
reproaches that Keith had so entirely dropped out of sight during the past
"I tell you, you must come over to our house for supper," said Morrell
finally. "Everybody comes."
"The Morrells' Sunday night suppers are an institution," supplemented
"I wish I could persuade you," urged Morrell. "I wonder where Mimi is. I
know Mrs. Morrell ought to call, and all that sort of thing, but this is
not a conventional place. We live next door, y'know. Do be delightful and
neighbourly, and come!"
Nan hesitated; but the lure of the well-dressed company, so thoroughly at
ease with one another, was irresistible in the reaction. She accepted.
The Keiths arrived to find the Morrells' informal party in full blast. The
front parlour was filled with a number of people making a great noise. Out
of the confusion Mrs. Morrell arose and came to them, as they stood where
the China-man had abandoned them.
"Mimi" Morrell was a tall woman, not fat, but amply built, with a full bust
and hips. Her hair was of the peculiar metallic golden blond that might or
might not have been natural; her skin smooth and white, but coarse in
grain, would look better at night than by daylight. Her handsome, regular
features were rather hard and set in their expression when in absolute
repose, but absolute repose was rare to them. In action they softened to a
very considerable feminine allurement. She moved with decision, and
possibly her general attitude smacked the least bit of running things. She
gave the impression of keeping an eye open for everything going on about
her. To Nan she seemed tremendous, overwhelming, and a little magnificent.
Immediately, without introductions, the whole party moved through the
double doors into the dining-room. There they took their places at a table
set out lavishly with food and drink in great quantity. Mrs. Morrell
explained in her high level voice that servants and service were always
dispensed with at her Sunday nights. She rather carelessly indicated a seat
to Mrs. Keith, and remarked to Keith that he was to sit next herself.
Otherwise the party distributed itself. Ben Sansome promptly annexed the
chair next to Nan, and started in to make himself agreeable.
A complete freemasonry obtained among all the party. There was a great deal
of shouting back and forth, from one end of the table to the other. Each
seemed to have a nickname. One young man was known exclusively as "Popsy,"
another answered as "Zou-zou," a third was called "Billy Goat"; a very
vivid, flashing young woman was "Teeny," and so on. They conversed, or
rather shouted, to a great extent by means of catch words or phrases,
alluding evidently to events the purport of which the Keiths could by no
possibility guess. There were a great many private jokes, the points of
which were obvious to only one or two. Every once in a while some one would
say "Number Seven!" and everybody would go off into convulsions of
laughter. The vivid young woman called Teeny suddenly shrieked, "How about
Friday, the twenty-third?" at Popsy, to Popsy's obvious consternation and
confusion. Immediately every one turned on either Popsy or Teeny, demanding
the true inwardness of the remark. Popsy defended himself, rather pink and
embarrassed. The young woman, a devilish knowing glint in her eyes, her red
underlip caught between her teeth, refused to answer.
Keith warmed to this free and easy atmosphere. He was friendly and
sympathetic with the lively crowd. But in vain he tried for a point of
contact. All this badinage depended on a previous knowledge and intimacy,
and that, of course, he lacked. Mrs. Morrell, sitting beside him very
straight and commanding, delivered her general remarks in a high, clear
voice, turning her attention impartially now to one part of the noisy
table, now to another.
Suddenly she abandoned the company to its own devices, and leaning her left
elbow on the table, she turned squarely to Keith, enveloping him with a
magnetic all-for-you look.
"Do you know," she said abruptly, "something tells me you are musical."
"Why, I am, a little," admitted Keith, surprised. "But how could you tell?"
"La, now, I was sure you had a voice the first time I heard you speak. I
adore music, and I can always tell."
"Do you sing, too?" asked Keith.
"I? No, unfortunately. I have no more voice than a crow. I strum a bit, but
even that has been a good deal neglected lately. There's no temptation to
keep up one's music here. I don't know a single soul in all this city who
cares a snap of their finger for it."
"We'll have to have some music together," suggested Keith.
"I'd adore it. Isn't it lucky we're neighbours? I've been so interested"--
she said it as though she had almost intended to say "amused"--"in watching
you this past week. You are the most domestic man I know. I never saw a man
work so singlemindedly at his house and home. Domesticity is a rare outworn
virtue here, I assure you. It is really quite touching to see a man so
devoted these days."
She said these things idly, a little disjointedly, looking at him steadily
all the while. Her manner was detached, and yet somehow it impelled him
strongly to protest that he was really not a bit domestic.
"Have you met any of the people of the place?" she shifted suddenly,
"Well--I really haven't had much chance yet--a few of the men."
"Well--you'll find things pretty mixed. Don't expect much; one has to take
things pretty much as one finds them."
To this simple speech was appended one gesture only--a slight raising of
the eyebrows. Yet the effect was to sweep Keith into the intimacy of an
inner circle, to suggest that she, too, found society mixed, and to imply--
very remotely--that at least certain members of the present company itself
were not quite what he--or she--would choose in another environment. In
unconscious response to this unspoken thought, Keith glanced about the
table. There was a good deal of drinking going on; and the fun was becoming
even more obvious and noisy. Mrs. Morrell occasionally sipped at her
champagne. She emitted a slight but rather disturbing perfume.
"Why did you come out here, anyway?" she asked him. "I can't make out. I'm
"Why shouldn't I?" demanded Keith.
"Well, men come here either for money, for adventure, or to make a career."
She marked each on the tablecloth with the end of a fork. "Which is it?"
"Guess," laughed Keith.
"You don't need money--or else you have a wonderful nerve to take the Boyle
house. I believe you have the nerve, all right. Men with your sort of close
curly hair are never--bashful!" she laughed shortly.
"Boyle's rent is safe--for a while," admitted Keith.
"Career?" she went on, looking him in the eyes speculatively, and allowing
her gaze to sink deep into his. He noticed that her eyes were a gray green,
like semi-precious stones of some sorts, with surface lights, but also with
grayer radiations that seemed to go below the surface to smouldering
depths--disturbing eyes, like the perfume. "Career?" she repeated. "I think
you hold yourself better--a career in the riff-raff of this town." She
shook her head archly. "But adventure! Oh, la! There's plenty of that--all
sorts!" She gave the impression of meaning a great deal more than she said.
"I wish I were a man!" she exclaimed, and laughed.
"I'm glad you're not," rejoined Keith sincerely.
She tapped him lightly on the arm with her fan.
"Oh, la!" she cried.
Keith laughed meaningly and mischievously. He was feeling entirely at home
--in his mental shirtsleeves--thoroughly at ease.
"You're a lawyer, are you not?" she asked him.
"Try to be."
"Going to practise?"
"If any practice comes my way."
She looked at him, smiling slowly.
"Oh, it'll come fast enough." She seized her glass and held it to him.
"Here's to your career!" she cried. "Bottoms up!"
They clinked glasses and drank.
"You must meet people--influential people," she told him. "We must see what
we can do; I'll have some of them in."
"You're simply fine to take all this trouble for me!"
She tapped him again on the arm.
"Silly! We take care of our own people, of _course!_ Let's plan it. Have
you any connections in town at all?"
"Well, I've met quite a few people about town, and I have some letters."
"Casual acquaintances are well enough, but your letters?"
"I have one to Calhoun Bennett, and to Mr. Dempster, and Mr. Farwell, and
But she was making a wry face.
"What's the matter with, them?" he demanded.
"Cal Bennett's all right--but the others--oh, I suppose they're all right
in a business way--but--"
She made a helpless little gesture.
"I can't describe it--you know--the sort that are always so keen on doing
She laughed; and to his subconscious surprise Keith found himself saying
"I know the sort of people who always pay their debts!"
They looked into each other's eyes and laughed in comradeship. In sober
life Keith did his duty reasonably well, and was never far behind
She fell silent for a moment; then with a muttered "excuse me," she leaned
directly across his shoulder to impart something low-voiced and giggly to
the woman on his right. To do this she leaned her breast against his arm
and shoulder. The conversation lasted some seconds. Keith could not hear a
word of it; but he was disturbingly aware of her perfume, the softness of
her body, and the warmth that struck even through the intervening clothing.
She drew back with a half apology.
"Feminine nonsense," she told him. "Mere man couldn't be expected to
understand." She was herself a little flushed from leaning over, but she
appeared not to notice Keith's rather breathless state. He muttered
something, and gulped at his champagne.
"Do you know Mrs. Sherwood?" he asked, merely to say something,
But to his surprise Mrs, Morrell answered him shortly, her manner changing:
"No, I don't. We draw the line _somewhere_!"
Again she addressed the woman on the right, but this time without leaning
"Oh, Amy, the fair Patricia has another victim!" and laughed rather
shrilly. Suddenly she rapped the table with the handle of a knife. "Stop
it!" she cried to the company at large. "You're making too much noise!"
They all turned to her except one youth who was too noisily busy with his
partner to have heard her. Failing in another attempt to get his attention,
Mrs. Morrell picked up a chunk of French bread and hurled it at him.
"Good shot!" "Bravo!" "Encore!" came a burst of applause, as the bread,
largely by accident, took him squarely between the eyes.
The youth, though astonished, was game. He retaliated in kind. Keith
whipped up an empty plate and intercepted it. The youth's partner came to
his assistance. Keith, a plate in either hand, deftly protected Mrs.
Morrell from the flying missiles. The implied challenge was instantly
accepted by all. The air was full of bread. Keith's dexterity was tested to
the utmost, but he came through the battle with flying colours. Everybody
threw bread. There was much explosive laughter, that soon became fairly
exhausting. The battle ceased, both because the combatants were out of
ammunition, and because they were too weak from mirth to proceed. Keith
with elaborate mock gallantry turned and presented Mrs. Morrell with the
"The spoils of war!" he told her.
"He should be decorated for conspicuous gallantry on the field of battle!"
cried some one.
The idea took. But they could find nothing appropriate until Teeny
McFarlane deliberately stepped up on the table and broke from the glass
chandelier one of its numerous dangling prisms. This called forth a mild
protest from Morrell--"Oh, I say!"--which was drowned in a wild shriek of
delight. The process of stepping down from the table tilted Teeny's wide
skirts so that for an instant a slim silken leg was plainly visible as far
as the knee. "Oh! oh!" cried every one. Some pretended to be shocked, and
covered their faces with spread fingers; others feigned to try for another
look. Teeny was quite unperturbed.
Keith was the centre of attention and a great success. But there were no
more tete-a-tetes. Mrs. Morrell managed to convey the idea that she was
displeased, and Keith was of a sufficiently generous and ingenuous
disposition to be intrigued by the fact. He had no chance to probe the
matter. In a moment or so Mrs. Morrell rose and strolled toward the
drawing-room. The others straggled after her. She rather liked thus to
emphasize her lack of convention as a hostess, making a pose of never
remembering the proper thing to do. Now she moved here and there, laughing
her shrill rather mirthless laugh, calling everybody "dearie," uttering
abrupt little platitudes. Keith found himself left behind, and rather out
in the cold. The company had quite frankly segregated itself into couples.
The room was well adapted to this, filled as it was with comfortable chairs
arranged with apparent carelessness two by two. The men lighted cigars.
Keith saw Nan's eyes widen at this. She was sitting near the fire, and
Sansome had penned her in beyond the possibility of invasion by a third. At
this date smoking was a more or less doubtfully considered habit, and in
the best society men smoked only in certain rigidly specified
circumstances. In a drawing-room such an action might be considered the
fair equivalent to powdering the feminine nose.
In such a condition, Keith was left rather awkwardly alone, and was fairly
thrust upon a fictitious interest in a photograph album, at which he
glowered for some moments. Then by a well-planned and skilfully executed
flank movement he caught Mrs. Morrell.
"Look here," he demanded; "what has the standing army done to deserve
abandonment in a hostile country?"
But she looked at him directly, without response to his playful manner.
"My friend," she said, "this is a pretty free and easy town, as no doubt
you have observed, and society is very mixed. But we haven't yet come to
receiving women like Mrs. Sherwood, or relishing their being mentioned to
"Why, what's the matter with her?" demanded Keith, astonished. "Is she as
far from respectability as all that?"
"Respectable! That word isn't understood in San Francisco." She appeared
suddenly to soften. "You're a dear innocent boy, so you are, and you've got
a dear innocent little wife, and I'll have to look out for you."
Before the deliberate and superior mockery in her eyes as well as in her
voice, Keith felt somehow like a small boy. He was stung to a momentary
"By God--" he began, and checked himself with difficulty.
She smiled at him slowly.
"Perhaps I didn't mean all of that," she said; "perhaps only half of it,"
she added with significance. "My personal opinion is that you are likely to
be a curly haired little devil; and when you look at me like that, I'm glad
we're not alone."
She looked at him an enigmatic moment, then turned away from the table near
which they had been standing. "Come, help me break up some of this
'twosing,'" she said.
Shortly after this the party dispersed. Mrs. Morrell said good-bye to them
carelessly, or not at all, according as it happened.
"You must come again, come often," she told the Keiths. "It's pretty dull
unless you make your own fun." She was half sleepily conventional, her lids
heavy. "Perhaps we can have some music soon," she added. The words were
careless, but she shot Keith an especial gleam.
The Keiths walked sociably home together, almost in silence. Keith, after
his habit, super-excited with all the fun, the row, and the half-guilty
boyish feeling of having done a little something he ought not to have done,
did not want to seem too enthusiastic.
"Jolly crowd," he remarked.
"They were certainly noisy enough," said Nan indifferently; then after a
moment, "Where _do_ you suppose some of them get their clothes?"
Keith's mind was full of the excitement of the evening. He found himself
reviewing the company, appraising it, wondering about it. Was Teeny
McFarlane as gay as she appeared? He had never seen women smoke before; but
that dark girl with the red thing in her hair puffed a cigarette. Perhaps
she was Spanish--he had not met her. And Mrs. Morrell--hanged if he quite
dared make her out--it wouldn't do to jump to conclusions nor too hastily
to apply Eastern standards; this was a new country, fatal to make a fool
mistake; well-built creature, by gad--
Nan interrupted his thoughts. He came to with a start.
"I think we'd better put the big armchair in the front room, after all,"
she was saying.
Next morning Keith allayed what little uneasiness his conscience might
harbour by remarking, as he adjusted his collar:
"Mrs. Morrell is an amusing type, don't you think? She's a bit vulgar, but
she seems good hearted. Wonder what colour her hair used to be?"
"I suppose they are all right," said Nan. "They are a little rowdy. They
gave me a headache."
Illogically rehabilitated in his own self-esteem, Keith went on dressing.
He was "on" to Mrs. Morrell; her methods were pretty obvious. Wonder if she
thought she had really fooled him? Next time he would be on guard and beat
her at her own game. She was not a woman to his taste, anyway--he glanced
admiringly at Nan's clean profile against the light--but she was full of
vitality, she was keen, she was brimming with the joy of life.
The long drive over the Peninsula to the sea and back, the episode of the
Spanish people, the rowdy supper party, had one effect, however: it had
made so decided a break in the routine that Keith found himself thrust
quite outside it. He had worked feverishly all the week, at about double
speed; and in ordinary course would have gone on working feverishly at
double speed for another week. Now, suddenly, the thought was irksome. He
did not analyze this; but, characteristically, discovered an irrefutable
reason for not going on with it. They rescued Gringo from Sam's care, and
drove up to the house. On the way Keith said:
"Look here, Nan; do you suppose you and Wing can get on all right this
morning? All the heavy work is done. I really ought to be settling the
office and getting some lines laid for business."
"Why, of course we can get on, silly!" she rejoined. "This isn't your job,
anyway. Of course you ought to attend to your business."
Keith again consulted Palmer, Cook & Co. The same clerk showed him offices.
He was appalled at the rents. Even a miserable little back room in the
obscurer blocks commanded a sum higher than he had anticipated paying.
After looking at a dozen, he finally decided on a front room in the
Merchants' Exchange Building. This was one of the most expensive, but Keith
was tired of looking. The best is the greatest economy in the long run, he
told himself, and with a lawyer, new-come, appearances count for much in
getting clients. Must get the clients, though, to support this sort of
thing! The rest of the morning he spent buying furniture.
About noon he walked back to the Bella Union. His horse and buggy were not
hitched to the rail, so he concluded Nan had not yet returned for lunch.
Mrs. Sherwood, however, was seated in a rocker at the sunny end of the long
veranda. She looked most attractive, her small smooth head bent over some
sort of fancywork. Before she looked up Keith had leisure to note the poise
of her head and shoulders, the fine long lines of her figure, and the
arched-browed serenity of her eyes. Different type this from the full-
breasted Morrell, more--more patrician! Rather absurd in view of their
respective places in society, but a fact. Keith found himself swiftly
speculating on Mrs. Sherwood's origin and experience. She was endowed with
a new glamour because of Mrs. Morrell's enigmatic remark the evening
before, and also--for Keith was very human--with a new attraction. Feeling
vaguely and boyishly devilish, Keith. stopped.
She nodded at him, laying her work aside.
"You are practically invisible." she told him.
"Making ourselves a habitation. Seen Mrs. Keith?"
"No. I don't think she's come in."
Keith hesitated, then:
"I think I'll go up to the house for her."
Mrs. Sherwood nodded, and resumed her work calmly, without further remark.
At the house Keith found Nan, her apron on, her hair done up under a dust
cap, very busy.
"Noon?" she cried, astonished. "It can't be! But I can't stop now. I think
I'll have Wing pick me up a lunch. There's plenty in the house. It's too
much bother to clean up."
Keith demurred; then wanted to stay for the pick-up lunch himself. Nan
would have none of it. She was full of repressed enthusiasm and eagerness,
but she wanted to get rid of him.
"There's not enough. I wouldn't have you around. Go away, that's a good
boy! If you'll leave Wing and me entirely alone we'll be ready to move in
"Where's Gringo?" asked Keith by way of indirect yielding--he had really no
desire for a picked-up lunch.
"The little rascal! He started to chew everything in the place, so I tied
him in the backyard. He pulls and flops dreadfully. Do you think he'll
Keith looked out the window. Gringo, all four feet planted, was
determinedly straining back against his tether. The collar had pulled
forward all the loose skin of his neck, so that his eyes and features were
lost in wrinkles.
"He doesn't yap," volunteered Nan.
Keith gave it as his opinion that Gringo would stop short of suicide,
commended Gringo's taciturnity and evident perseverance, and departed for
the hotel. In the dining-room he saw Mrs. Sherwood in a riding habit,
eating alone. Keith hesitated, then took the vacant seat opposite. She
accorded this permission cordially, but without coquetry, remarking that
Sherwood often did not get in at noon. Immediately she turned the
conversation to Keith's affairs, inquiring in detail as to how the settling
was getting on, when they expected to get in, how they liked the house,
whether they had bought all the furniture.
"You remember I directed you to the auctions?" she said.
She asked all these questions directly, as a man would, and listened to his
"I suppose you have an office picked out?" she surmised.
At his mention of the Merchants' Exchange Building she raised her arched
eyebrows half humorously.
"You picked out an expensive place."
Keith went over his reasoning, to which she listened with a half smile.
"You may be right," she commented; "the reasoning is perfectly sound. But
that means you must get the business in order to make it pay. What are your
He confessed that as yet they were rather vague; there had not been time to
do much--too busy settling.
"The usual thing, I suppose," he added: "get acquainted, hang out a
shingle, mix with people, sit down and starve in the traditional manner of
He laughed lightly, but she refused to joke.
"There are a good many lawyers here--and most of them poor ones," she told
him. "The difficulty is to stand out above the ruck, to become noticed. You
must get to know all classes, of course; but especially those of your own
profession, men on the bench. Yes, especially men on the bench, they may
help you more than any others--"
He seemed to catch a little cynicism in her implied meaning, and
experienced a sense of shock on his professional side.
"You don't mean that judges are--"
"Susceptible to influence?" She finished the sentence for him with an
amused little laugh. She studied him for an instant with new interest,
"They're human--more human here than anywhere else--like the rest of us--
they respond to kind treatment--" She laughed again, but at the sight of
his face her own became grave. She checked herself. "Everything is so new
out here. In older countries the precedents have all been established. Out
here there are practically none. They are being made now, every day, by the
present judges. Naturally personal influence might get a hearing for one
point of view or the other--"
"I see what you mean," he agreed, his face clearing.
"Join a good fire company," she advised him. "That is the first thing to
do. Each company represents something different, a different class of men."
"Which would you advise?" asked Keith seriously.
"That is a matter for your own judgment. Only, investigate well. Meet all
the people you can. Know the newspaper men, and the big merchants. In your
profession you must cultivate men like Terry, Girvin, Shattuck, Gwin. Keep
your eyes open. Be bold and use your wits. Above all, make friends; that's
it, _make friends_--everybody, everywhere. Don't despise anybody. You will
get plenty of chances." She was sitting erect, and her eyes were flashing.
Her usual slow indolent grace had fallen from her; she radiated energy. Her
slender figure took on a new appearance of knit strength. "Such chances! My
heavens! if I were a man!"
"You'd make a bully man!" cried Keith. Mrs. Morrell, uttering the same
wish, had received from him a different reply, but he had forgotten that.
She laughed again, the tension broke, and she sank back into her usual
"But, thank heavens, I'm not," said she.
Affairs for the Keiths passed through another week of what might be called
the transition stage. It took them that long to settle down in their new
house and into some semblance of a routine--two days to the actual
installation, and the evenings full of small matters to arrange. Nan was
busy all day long playing with her new toy. The housekeeping was
fascinating, and Wing Sam a mixture of delight and despair. Like most women
who have led the sheltered life, she had not realized as yet that the
customs of her own fraction of one per cent, were not immutable. Therefore,
she tried to model the household exactly in the pattern of those to which
she had been accustomed. Wing Sam blandly refused to be moulded.
Thus Nan spent all one morning drilling him in the proper etiquette of
answering doors. Mindful of John McGlynn's advice, she did this by precept,
ringing her own door bell, presenting a card as though calling on herself.
Wing Sam's placid exterior changed not. A half hour later the door bell
rang, but no Wing Sam appeared to answer it. It rang again, and again,
until Nan herself opened the door. On the doorstep stood Wing Sam himself.
"I foolee you, too," he announced with huge delight.
Painstakingly Nan conveyed to him that this was neither an amusing game nor
a practical joke. Later in the day the door bell rang again. Nan, hovering
near to gauge the result of her training, saw Wing Sam plant himself firmly
in the opening.
"You got ticket?" he demanded sternly of the deliveryman outside. "You no
got ticket, you no get in!"
Which, Nan rather hysterically gathered, was what Wing Sam had gained of
the calling-card idea. After that, temporarily as she thought, Nan
permitted him to go back to his own method, which, had she known it, was
the method of every Chinese servant in California. The visitor found his
bell answered by a blandly smiling Wing Sam, who cheerfully remarked:
"Hullo!" It was friendly, and it didn't matter; but at that stage of her
development Nan was more or less scandalized.
Nan's sense of humour always came to her assistance by evening, and she had
many amusing anecdotes to tell Keith, over which both of them laughed
merrily. Gringo added somewhat to the complications in life. He was a fat,
roly-poly, soft-boned, ingratiating puppy, with a tail that waved
energetically but uncontrolledly. Gringo at times was very naughty, and
very much in the way. But when exasperation turned to vengeance he had a
way of keeling over on his back, spreading his hind legs apart in a manner
to expose his stomach freely to brutal assault, and casting one calm china-
blue eye upward.
"Can there anywhere exist any one so hard-hearted as to injure a poor,
absolutely defenceless dog?" he inquired, with full confidence in the
The iniquities of Gringo and the eccentricities of Wing Sam Nan detailed at
length, and also her experiences with the natives. She as yet looked on
every one as natives. Only later could she expand to the point of including
them in her cosmos of people. Nan was transplanted, and her roots had not
yet struck down into the soil. In her shopping peregrinations she was
making casual acquaintance, and she had not yet become accustomed to it.
"I bought some darling little casseroles at Phelan's to-day," she said.
"The whole Phelan family waited on me. Where do you suppose the women get
their perfectly awful clothes? Mrs. Phelan offered to take me to her
milliner!" or "You know Wilkins--the furniture man where we got the big
armchair? I was in there to-day, and he apologized because his wife hadn't
They went to bed early, because they were both very tired.
Keith also had generally passed an interesting day. Immediately after
breakfast he went to his office, and conscientiously sat a while. Sometimes
he wrote letters or cast up accounts; but there could not be much of this
to do. About ten or eleven o'clock his impatient temperament had had enough
of this, so he drifted over to the Monumental engine house. After
considerable thought he had decided to join this company. It represented
about the class of men with whom he wanted to affiliate himself--the
influential men of the lawyer, Southern-politician, large business men
type. There were many of these volunteer organizations. Their main purpose
was to fight fire; but they subserved other objects as well--political,
social, and financial. David Broderick, for example, already hated and
feared, partly owned and financed a company of ward-heelers who were
introducing and establishing the Tammany type of spoils politics. Casey,
later in serious trouble, practically manipulated another.
Among the Monumentals, Keith delighted especially in Bert Taylor. Bert
Taylor likewise delighted in Keith. The little chubby man's enthusiasm for
the company, while recognized as most valuable to the company's welfare,
had ended by boring most of the company's members. But Keith was a new
listener and avid for information. He had had no notion of how complicated
the whole matter could be. Bert Taylor dissertated sometimes on one phase
of the subject, sometimes on another.
"It's drills we need, and the fellows won't drill enough!" was Bert
Taylor's constant complaint. "What do they know about hose? They run it out
any way it comes; and roll it up anyhow, instead of doing a proper job."
"How should you do it?" asked Keith.
"It ought to be laid right--so there's no bends or sharp angles in it; it
should never be laid over heaps of stones, or any kind of uneven surface--
it all increases the water resistance. If there are any bends or curves
they should be regular and even. The hose ought never to rest against a
sharp edge or angle. And when you coil it up you ought to reverse the sides
every time, so it will wear even and stretch even. Do they do it? Not
unless I stand over them with a club!"
He showed Keith the hose, made of India rubber, a comparatively new thing,
for heretofore hose had been made of riveted leather. Bert Taylor made him
feel the inside of this hose with his forefinger to test its superlative
"Mighty little resistance there!" he cried triumphantly.
The nozzles, all in racks, he handled with almost reverent care.
"These are the boys that cost the money," said Taylor. "If the inside isn't
polished like a mirror the water doesn't come smooth. And the least little
dent makes the stream ragged and broken. Nothing looks worse--and it isn't
as effective on the fire. It ought to be thrown like a solid rod of water.
I can't get the boys to realize that the slightest bruise, dent, or burr
throws the stream in a ragged feathery foam. The result of that is that a
lot of water is dissipated and lost."
Keith, who had taken hold of the nozzle rather negligently, returned it
with the reverent care due crown jewels.
"How long a stream will it throw?" he asked.
"With thirty men on a side she's done a hundred and twelve feet high, and
two hundred and eighteen for distance," said Bert with simple pride.
He picked up the nozzle again.
"See here. Here's an invention of my own. Cost money to put it in, too,
because every other nozzle on earth is made wrong."
He explained that other nozzles are made so that the thread of the hose
screwed into the nozzle; while in his, the thread of the nozzle screwed
into the hose.
"If there's a leak or a bad connection," explained Bert, "with the old
type, the water is blown back into the fireman's face, and he is blinded.
His whole efficiency depends on a close joint. But with my scheme the leak
is blown forward, away from the lineman. It's a perfectly sound scheme, but
I can't make them see it."
"Sounds reasonable," observed Keith, examining perfunctorily a device to
which later he was to owe his life.
Item by item they went over the details of equipment--the scaling ladders,
the jumping sheets, the branch pipes, the suction pipes, the flat roses,
standcocks, goose necks, the dogtails, dam boards, shovels, saws, poleaxes,
hooks, and ropes. From a consideration of them the two branched off to the
generalities of fire fighting. Keith learned that the combating of a fire,
the driving it into a corner, outflanking it, was a fine art.
"I say always, _get in close_," said Taylor. "A fire can be _put_ out as
well as just drowned out."
It struck Keith as interesting that in a room a stream should always be
directed at the top of a fire, so that the water running down helps
extinguish the flames below, whereas in attack at the bottom or centre
merely puts out the immediate blaze, leaving the rest to spread upward or
sideways. Taylor put himself on record against fighting fire from the
"Don't want a whole lot of water and row," he maintained. "Get in close
quarters and make every drop count."
When Bert's enthusiasm palled, Keith always found men in the reading-room.
The engine house was a sort of clearing house for politics, business
schemes, personal affairs, or differences.
Once a day, also, as part of his job in his profession, Keith went to the
courthouse. There he sat in the enclosure reserved for lawyers and listened
to the proceedings, his legal mind alert and interested in the technical
battles. At no time in the world's history has sheer technicality
unleavened by common sense been carried further than in the early
California courts. Even in the most law-ridden times elsewhere a certain
check has been exercised by public opinion or the presence of business
interests. But here was as yet no public opinion; and business interests,
their energies fully taxed by the necessities of a new country, were
willing to pay heavily to be let alone. Consequently, lawyers were
permitted to play out their fascinating game to their hearts' content, and
totally without reference to expedience or to the justice of the case. The
battles were indeed intensely technical and shadowy. Points within points
were fought bitterly. Often for days the real case at issue was forgotten.
Only one of the more obvious instances of technical triumph need be cited.
One man killed another, on a public street, before many witnesses. The
indictment was, however, thrown out and he released because it stated only
that the victim was killed by a pistol, and failed to specify that his
death was due to the discharge of said pistol. The lawyer who evolved this
brilliant idea was greatly admired and warmly congratulated.
The wheels of the law ground very slowly. One of the simplest and most
effective expedients of defence was delay. A case could be postponed and
remanded, often until the witnesses were scattered or influenced. But there
were infinite numbers of legal expedients, all most interesting to a man of
Keith's profession. His sense of justice was naturally strong and warm, and
an appeal to it outside a courtroom or a law office always got an immediate
and commonsense response. But inside the law his mind automatically closed,
and a "case" could have only legal aspects. Which is true of the majority
of lawyers to-day.
On the adjournment of court Keith generally drifted over to the El Dorado
or the Empire, where he spent an hour or so loafing with some of his
numerous acquaintances. He was of the temperament that makes itself quickly
popular, the laughing, hearty sort, full of badinage, and genuinely liking
most men with whom he came in contact. There was always much joking in the
air, but back of it was a certain reserve, a certain wariness, for every
second man was a professed "fire-eater," given to feeling insulted on the
slightest grounds, and flying to the duel or the street fight instanter.
This hour was always most pleasant to Keith; nevertheless, he went home
about five o'clock in order to enjoy an hour or so of daylight about the
place. He performed prodigies of digging in the new garden: constructing
terraces, flower beds, walks, and the like. While the actual construction
work was under way he was greatly interested, but cared nothing for the
finished product or the mere growing of the flowers.
Gringo received his share of training, at first to his intense disgust.
Twice he refused obedience, and the matter being pressed, resorted to the
simple expedient of retiring from the scene. Keith dropped everything and
pursued. Gringo crawled under things, but was followed even to the dustiest
and cob-webbiest farthest corner under the porch; he tried swiftness and
dodging, but was trailed in all his doublings and twistings at top speed;
he tried running straight away over the sand hills, and at first left his
horrible master behind, but the horrible master possessed a horrible
persistence. Finally he shut his eyes and squatted, expecting instant
annihilation, but instead was haled back to the exact scene of his
disobedience, and the command repeated. Nan laughed until the tears came,
over the large, warm, red-faced man after the small, obstinate, scared pup,
but Keith refused to joke.
"If he finds he can't get away, no matter what happens, I'll never have to
do it again," he panted. "But if he wins out, even once, it'll be an awful
Gringo tried twice. Then, his faith in his ability to escape completely
shattered, he gave up. After that he adored Keith and was always under his
Keith saw nothing of any of the women. Mrs. Sherwood seemed to have dropped
from their ken when they left the hotel. Once Keith inquired casually about
"She's been over twice to see the place," replied Nan.
"We ought to go over there to call," proffered Keith vaguely; but there the
One night Keith was awakened by Nan's suddenly sitting up in bed. There
came to his struggling consciousness the persistent steady clangour of many
deep bells. Slowly recognition filtered into his mind--the fire bells!
He hastily pulled on some clothes and ran down the front stairs, stumbling
over Gringo, who uttered an outraged yelp. From the street he could see a
red glow in the sky. At top speed he ran down the street in the direction
of the Monumental. In the half darkness he could make out other figures
running. The deep tones of the bells continued to smite his ear, but now in
addition he heard the tinkling and clinking of innumerable smaller bells--
those on the machines. He dashed around a corner to encounter a double line
of men, running at full speed, hauling on a long rope attached to an
engine. Their mouths were open, and they were all yelling. The light engine
careened and swayed and bumped. Two men clung to the short steering tongue,
trying to guide it. They were thrown violently from side to side, dragged
here and there, tripping, hauling, falling across the tongue, but managing
to keep the machine from dashing off at a tangent. Above them, high and
precarious, swayed the short stout figure of Bert Taylor. He was in full
regalia--leather helmet, heavy leather belt, long-tailed coat, and in his
free hand the chased silver speaking trumpet with the red tassels that
usually hung on the wall. He was in his glory, dominating the horde. His
keen eye, roving everywhere, seeing everything, saw Keith.
"Catch hold!" he roared through the trumpet.
Keith made a flying grab at a vacant place on the line, caught it, was
almost jerked from his feet, recovered himself, and charged on, yelling
like the rest.
But now Bert Taylor began to shriek something excitedly. It became evident,
from glimpses caught down the side streets, but especially through the many
vacant lots, that another engine was paralleling their own course a block
"Jump her, boys, jump her!" shrieked Bert Taylor. "For God's sake, don't
let those Eurekas beat you!"
He danced about on top of the waterbox of the engine, in imminent peril of
being jerked from his place, battering his silver trumpet insanely against
the brake rods, beseeching, threatening profanely. And profanity at that
time was a fine art. Men studied its alliteration, the gorgeousness of its
imagery, the blast of its fire. The art has been lost, existing still, in a
debased form, only among mule drivers, sailors, and the owners of certain
makes of automobiles. The men on the rope responded nobly. The roar of
their going over the plank road was like hollow thunder. A man dropped out.
Next day it was discovered he had broken his leg in a hole. At tremendous
speed they charged through the ring of spectators, and drew up, proud and
panting, victors by a hundred feet, to receive the plaudits of the
multitude. A handsome man on a handsome horse rode up.
"Monumentals on the fire! Eurekas on cistern number twenty!" he commanded
This was Charles Duane, the unpaid fire chief; a likable, efficient man,
but too fond of the wrong sort of friends.
Now it became evident to Keith why Bert Taylor had urged them so strongly
in the race. The fire was too distant from the water supply to be carried
in one length of hose. Therefore, one engine was required to relay to
another, pumping the water from the cistern, through the hose, and into the
waterbox of the other engine. The other engine pumped it from its own
waterbox on to the fire. The latter, of course, was the position of honour.
The Eurekas fell back grumbling, and uttering open threats to wash their
rivals. By this they meant that they would pump water into the Monumentals
faster than the latter could pump it out, thus overflowing and eternally
disgracing them. They dropped their suction hose into the cistern, and one
of their number held the end of the main hose over a little trapdoor in the
Monumental's box. The crews sprang to the long brake handles on either
side, and at once the regular _thud, thud, thud_ of the pumps took up its
rhythm. The hose writhed and swelled; the light engines quivered. Bert
Taylor and the Eureka foreman, Carter by name, walked back and forth as on
their quarterdecks, exhorting their men. Relays, in uniform assumed on the
spot, stood ready at hand. Nobody in either crew knew or cared anything
whatsoever about the fire. As the race became closer, the foremen got more
excited, begging their crews to increase the stroke, beating their speaking
trumpets into shapeless battered relics. An astute observer would now have
understood one reason why the jewellery stores carried such a variety of
fancy speaking trumpets. They were for presentation by grateful owners
after the fire had been extinguished, and it was generally necessary to get
a new one for each fire.
Keith, acting under previous instructions, promptly seized a helmet and
poleaxe and made his way to the front. The fire had started in one of many
flimsy wooden buildings, and had rapidly spread to threaten a whole
district. Men from the hook and ladder companies were already at work on
some of the hopeless cases. A fireman or two mounted ladders to the eaves,
dragging with them a heavy hook on the end of a long pole. Cutting a small
hole with their axes, they hooked on this apparatus and descended. As many
firemen and volunteers as could get hold of the pole and the rope attached
to it, now began to pull.
"Yo, heave ho!" they cried.
The timbers cracked, broke, the whole side of the house came out with a
grand and satisfying crash. An inferno of flame was thereby laid open to
the streams from the hose lines. It was grand destructive fun for
everybody, especially for the boys of all ages, which included in spirit
about every male person present.
This sort of work was intended, of course, to confine or check the fire
within the area already affected, and could accomplish nothing toward
saving the structures already alight. The roar of the flames, the hissing
of firebrands sucked upward, the crash of timbers, the shrieks of the
foremen through their trumpets, the yells of applause or of sarcasm from
the crowd, and the _thud, thud, thud, thud_ of numerous brake bars made a
fine pandemonium. Everybody except the owners or tenants of the buildings
Keith, with two others, was instructed to carry the Monumental nozzle to
the roof of a house not afire. Proudly they proceeded to use their scaling
ladders. These were a series of short sections, each about six feet long,
the tops slightly narrower than the bottoms. By means of slots these could
be fitted together. First, Keith erected one of them against the wall of
the building, at an angle, and ascended it, carrying another section across
his shoulder. When he reached a certain rung, which was painted red, he
thrust his foot through the ladder and against the wall, pushed the ladder
away from the wall, and fitted the section he was carrying to the top of
the section on which he was standing. He then hauled up another section and
repeated. When the ladder had reached to the eaves, he and his companions
dragged the squirting, writhing hose up with them, chopped footholds in the
roof, and lay flat to look over the ridgepole as over a breastwork. All
this to the tune of admiring plaudits and with a pleasing glow of heroism.
There was a skylight, but either they overlooked or scorned that prosaic
At the other end of the ridgepole Keith made out the dark forms of two men
from another company. His own companions, acting under orders, now
descended the ladder, leaving him alone.
The next building was a raging furnace, and on it Keith directed the heavy
stream from his nozzle. It was great fun. At first the water seemed to have
no effect whatever, but after a little it began to win. The flames were
beaten back, broken into detachments. Finally, Keith got to the point of
chasing down small individual outbreaks, driving them into their lairs,
drowning them as they crouched. He was wholly interested, and the boy in
him, with a shamefaced half apology to the man in him, pretended that he
was a soldier directing a battery against an enemy.
Along the ridgepole cautiously sidled the two men of the other company,
dragging their hose. Keith now recognized them. One was a vivid, debonair,
all-confident, magnetic individual named Talbot Ward, a merchant, promoter,
speculator, whom everybody liked and trusted; the other a fair Hercules of
a man, slow and powerful in everything, called Frank Munro.
"Look here," said Ward, "does it strike you this roof's getting hot?"
Recalled to himself, Keith immediately became aware of the fact.
"The house is afire beneath us," said Ward; "we've got to get out."
"What's the matter with your ladder?" asked Keith.
"They took it away."
"We'll use mine."
They let themselves cautiously down the footholds that had been chopped in
the roof, and looked over. A blast of smoke and flame met them in the face.
"Good Lord, she's all afire!" cried Keith, aghast.
The flames were licking around the scaling ladder, which was already
blazing. Keith directed the stream from his hose straight down, but with no
other result than to break the charred ladder.
They crawled back to the ridgepole, and worked their hose lines around to
the end of the building, out of the flames. Here a two-story drop
"This thing is going to fall under us if we don't do something," muttered
"Duane's forgotten us, and those crazy idiots at the engines are too busy
trying to keep from being washed," surmised Keith.
"Look here," said Munro suddenly; "I'll brace against a chimney and hang on
to the hose, and you can slide down it like a rope."
"How about you?" demanded Ward crisply.
"You can run for more ladders, once you're on the ground."
At this moment the water failed in Keith's hose. He stared at the nozzle,
then rapidly began to unscrew it.
"Cistern empty or hose burst," surmised Munro.
But Talbot Ward, cocking his ear toward a distant pandemonium of cheering,
guessed the true cause.
"Sucked," said he. By this he meant that the Monumental crew had succeeded
in emptying their water box in spite of the Eureka's best efforts.
"Get off your nozzle quick!" urged Keith.
Munro, without stopping to ask why, bent his great strength to the task;
and it was a task, for in his hose the pressure of the water was
tremendous. It spurted back all over him, and at the last the nozzle was
fairly blown away from him.
"Now couple my hose to yours quick, quick, before my hose fills!" cried
"They won't go--" Munro began to object.
"Yes, they will, mine's a special thread," urged Keith, who had remembered
Bert Taylor's reversed nozzle.
All three bent their energies to catching the threads. It was a fearful
job, for the strength of the water had first to be overcome. Keith was
terribly excited. Time was precious, for not only might the roof give way
beneath them, but at any moment the water might come again in Keith's hose.
Then it would be physically impossible to make the coupling. All three men
concentrated their efforts on it, their feet gripping the irregularities of
the roof or slipping on the shingles. Frank Munro bent his enormous back to
the task, the veins standing out in his temples, his face turning purple
with the effort. Keith helped him as well as he was able. Talbot Ward,
coolly, deliberately, delicately, as though he had all the time in the
world, manipulated the coupling, feeling gingerly for the thread. The water
spurted, fanned, sprayed, escaping with violence, first at one point, then
at another, drenching and blinding them.
"There!" breathed Ward at last, and with a few twists, of his sinewy hands
brought the couplings into close connection. Munro relaxed, drawing two or
three deep breaths. Without the aid of his great strength the task could
not have been accomplished.
"Hook her over the chimney," gasped Keith.
With some difficulty they lifted the loop of the throbbing hose over the
"Down we go!" cried Keith, and slid hand over hand down the way thus made
for them. The others immediately followed, and all three stood looking
back. It was a wonder the building had stood so long, for in both stories
it was afire, and the walls had apparently burned quite through. Indeed, a
moment later the whole structure collapsed. A fountain of sparks and brands
sprang upward in the mighty suction.
"There goes our good hose!" said Keith.
The remark brought them to wrath and a desire for vengeance.
"I'm going to lick somebody!" cried Keith, starting determinedly in the
direction of the engine.
"We'll help," growled Munro.
But when they came in sight of the engine their anger evaporated, and they
clung to each other, weak with mirth.
For the Monumental was "washed," and washed aplenty. This was natural, for
now the water was pouring into her box from _both_ directions, and would
continue so to pour until the hose coupled to Ward's engine had burned
through. The water was fairly spouting up from the box, not merely
overflowing. Her crew were still working, but raggedly and dispiritedly.
Bert Taylor, his trumpet battered beyond all recognition, was fairly
voiceless with rage. An interested and ribaldry facetious crowd spared not
"My crowd must be in the same fix!" gurgled Ward; "the back pressure has
'washed' them, too." Then the full splendour of the situation burst on him,
and he fell again on Munro for support.
"Don't you see," he gasped. "They'll never know! The hose will burn
through. Unless we tell, they'll never know! We've got even, all right."
At this moment Duane rode up, foaming at the mouth, and desiring to know
what the assorted adjectives they were doing there. The crews awoke to
their isolation and general uselessness. Bert Taylor, still simmering,
descended from his perch. They followed the hose lines to glowing coals!
"Here, this won't do," said Talbot; so they reported themselves before the
news of a tragedy had had time to spread.
The fire was now practically under control. It had swept a city block
pretty clean, but had been confined to that area. An hour later they
dragged their engine rather dispiritedly back to the house. Ordinarily they
would have been in high spirits. Fires were to these men a good deal of a
lark. The crews were very effective and well drilled, and the saving of
property was as well done as possible, but that was all secondary to the
game of it. But to-night they had been "washed," they had lost the game,
and the fact that they had put out the fire cut very little figure. There
was much bickering. It seemed that Bert Taylor, in his enthusiasm, had, out
of his own pocket, hired extra men who appeared at the critical moment to
relieve the tired men at the brakes; and it was under their fresh impetus
that the Monumental had so triumphantly "sucked." Now Bert Taylor was
freely blamed. The regular men stoutly maintained that if they had been
left alone this would never have happened.
"These whiskey bummers never can last!" they said. Everybody trooped
upstairs to the main rooms, where refreshments were served. After some
consideration Keith decided to tell his story in explanation of how it was
that the Monumentals were washed. Instantly the company cheered up, A
clamour broke out. This was great! With Talbot Ward and Munro to
corroborate, no one could doubt the story. Taylor ran about jubilantly,
returning every few moments to pat Keith on the shoulder.
"Fine! fine!" he cried. "We've got those _Eurekas_! I can't wait for
Keith got home about daylight to find Nan, terribly anxious, waiting up for
him. He brushed away her anxiety with the usual masculine impatience at
being made a fuss over, gave a brief account of the fire--omitting mention
of his narrow escape--and insisted that she go to bed. After a few moments
she obeyed, and immediately fell asleep. Keith bathed himself and changed,
made a cup of coffee, and wandered about rather impatiently waiting for
time to go downtown. Wing Sam appeared, the morning paper came. The sun
gained strength, and finally tempted him outside.
For some time he prowled around, examining Nan's efforts at gardening.
There was not much to show as yet, but Keith had already the eye of faith
so essential to the Californian, and saw plainly trees, shrubs, and flowers
where now only spears of green were visible. The Morrells' garden next door
was already well grown, and he cast on it an appraising eye. No sign of
life showed about the place except a thread of smoke from the kitchen
chimney. It was still early.
Nevertheless, five minutes later Mrs. Morrell opened the side door and
stepped forth. She had on a wide leghorn hat, and carried a basket and
scissors as though to gather flowers. Immediately she caught sight of Keith
and waved him a gay greeting. He vaulted the fence and joined her.
"Aren't these early morning hours perfect? Isn't this glorious sunshine?"
she greeted him.
As a matter of fact Mrs. Morrell seldom rose before noon, and detested
early morning hours and glorious sunshine. She was inclined to consider the
usual remarks in their praise as sheer affectation. But she adored fires,
and often went to them when they promised well enough. Sometimes she
attended in company with certain of her men friends; and sometimes alone,
cloaked as a man. She liked the destruction and stimulation of them. She
had been to the fire just extinguished, and seeing Keith in the garden, had
put on her fluffiest and gone out to him. It was time this most attractive
young man next door paid her more attention.
"How does the hero of the fire survive?" she asked him archly.
"Don't pretend ignorance. Charles told me all about it. He heard your tale
at the Monumental."
"It's hardly heroism to get out of a scrape the best way possible."
"It's heroic to save lives, I think; but especially heroic to keep your
head in an emergency."
"Mr. Morrell all right?" asked Keith, to change the subject.
"He is sleeping off the fire--and the after effects. You men need watching
every minute--even when we think you must be in danger of your lives."
She laughed and clipped a few flowers at random.
"Have you been moving furniture all these days? We've seen nothing of you.
I thought we were going to have some music. I do my little five-finger
exercises all by myself and nobody knows but I am playing Beethoven. You
ought in Christian charity to help me out--whether you want to or not. What
do you think of our garden? Don't you adore flowers?"
"No, I don't believe I do," replied Keith bluntly. "I like to see a pretty
woman amongst 'em," he went on gallantly, "they set her off. It's like
dresses. No good to show me pretty frocks--unless they're filled."
"La! You are so clever; at times I'm really afraid of you," said she.
She went on tossing a few blooms into her basket. Under the stimulus of the
fire she had acted on impulse in going out into the garden. She realized it
as perhaps a mistake. Keith's early morning freshness and fitness made her
feel less sure of herself than usual. She had an uneasy impression that she
was not at her best, and this reacted on her ability to exercise her usual
magnetism. In fact, Keith, the least observant of men in such things, could
not avoid noticing her rather second-hand looking skin, and that her
features were more pronounced than he had thought.
"Do come over this evening for some music," she begged. "You can take a nap
this afternoon, and you can go home early."
Keith had been just a little uneasy over this second interview with Mrs.
Morrell. His straightforward nature was inclined to look back on the
impression she had made on him at the supper party with a half-guilty sense
of some sort of vague disloyalty he could not formulate. Now he felt much
satisfied with himself, and quite relieved. Therefore, he accepted.
"I shall be very glad to," said he.
At breakfast, which was rather late, he told Nan of the meeting and the
invitation. Nan's clear lines, fresh creamy skin, bright young eyes, looked
more than usually attractive to him.
"Perhaps she _can_ play," he said. "Let's go find out. And you must wear
your prettiest gown; I'm proud of my wife, and I want her to look her very
A little later he remarked:
"I wonder if she isn't considerably older than Morrell."
When he had at last reached downtown after his late breakfast, Keith found
it in a fair turmoil. Knots of men stood everywhere arguing, sometimes very
heatedly. Eureka members were openly expressing their anger over what they
called Taylor's "dirty trick" in putting hirelings on the brakes, men who
did not belong to the Monumental organization at all. If it had not been
for that the Monumentals could never have "sucked" at all. On the other
hand, the Monumentals and their friends were vehemently asserting that they
were well within their rights. Fists were brandished. Several fights
started, but were stopped before they had become serious.
Keith avoided these storm centres, waving a friendly hand, but smilingly
refusing to be drawn in. Near the Merchants' Exchange, however, he came on
a quieter, attentive group, in the centre of which stood Calhoun Bennett.
The Southerner's head was thrown back haughtily, but he was listening with
entire courtesy to a violent harangue from a burly, red-faced man in rough
"And I tell you that sort of a trick won't go down with nobody, and the
story of why you were washed won't wash itself. It's too thin."
"I have the honah, suh," said Bennett formally, "to info'm yo' that yo' do
not know what yo' are talkin' about."
His silken tones apparently enraged the man.
"You silk-stockinged----of a----!" said he.
Without haste Calhoun Bennett rapped the man across the face with his light
rattan cane. Venting a howl of rage, the Eureka partisan leaped forward.
Calhoun Bennett, quick as a flash, drew a small derringer and fired; and
the man went down in a heap. Superbly nonchalant, Bennett, without a glance
at his victim, turned away, the ring of spectators parting to let him
through. He saw Keith, and at once joined him, drawing the young man's arm
through his own. Keith, looking back, saw the man already sitting up,
feeling his shoulder and cursing vigorously.
Bennett was fairly radiating rage, which, however, he managed to suppress
beneath a well-bred exterior calm.
"These hounds, suh," he told Keith, "profess not to believe us, suh! They
profess, suh, that our explanation of how we were washed is a fabrication.
You will oblige me, suh, by profferin' yo' personal testimony in the case."
He faced Keith resolutely toward the Eureka engine house. Keith spared a
thought to wonder what he was being let in for by this handsome young fire-
eater, but he went along unprotesting.
Around the Eureka engine house was a big crowd of men. These fell silent as
Bennett and Keith approached. The Eurekas represented quite a different
social order from the Monumentals. Its membership was recruited from those
who in the East had been small farmers, artisans, or workingmen in the more
skilled trades; independent, plain, rather rough, thoroughly democratic, a
trifle contemptuous of "silk stockings," outspoken, with little heed for
niceties of etiquette or conduct. Bennett pushed his way through them to
where stood Carter, the chief, and several of the more influential. Keith,
looking at them, met their eyes directed squarely into his. They were
steady, clear-looking, solid, rather coarse-grained, grave men.
"I have brought Mr. Keith here, who was an eyewitness, to give his
testimony as to the events of last evenin'," said Bennett formally.
Keith told his story. It was received in a blank noncommittal silence. The
men all looked at him steadily, and said nothing. Somehow, he was
impressed. This silence seemed to him, fancifully, more than mere lack of
words--it conveyed a sense of reserve force, of quiet appraisal of himself
and his words, of the experiences of men who have been close to realities,
who have _done_ things in the world. Keith felt himself to be better
educated, to own a better brain, to have a wider outlook, to be possessed,
in short, of all the advantages of superiority. He had never mingled with
rough men, and he had always looked down on them. In this attitude was no
condescension and no priggishness, Now he felt, somehow, that the best of
these men had something that he had not suspected, some force of character
that raised them above his previous conception. They might be more than
mere "filling" in a city's population; they might well come to be an
element to be reckoned with.
When he had quite finished his story, there ensued a slight pause. Then
"We believe Mr. Keith. If Mr. Ward and Frank Munro were there, of course
there can be no doubt." Somehow Keith could not resent the implication; it
was too impersonally delivered. Carter went on with cold formality and
emphasis; "Mr. Keith had a very narrow escape. It was lucky for him that
your hired men had 'sucked' your waterbox. In view of that we can, of
course, no longer regret the fact."
"It was a dirty trick just the same!" growled a voice out of the crowd.
Carter turned a deliberate look in that direction, and nothing more was
said. Bennett ignored the interruption, bowed frigidly, and turned away.
The Eureka leaders nodded. In dead silence Keith and Bennett withdrew.
"That settles _that_!" observed Bennett, when at a little distance. "A lot
of cheap shopkeepers! It makes me disgusted every time I have anythin' to
do with them!"
As they walked away, one of the hangers-on of the police court approached,
touching his hat.
"For you, Mr. Bennett," he said most respectfully, proffering a paper.
"Me?" observed Bennett, surprised. He unfolded the paper, glanced at it,
and laughed. "I'm arrested for wingin' that 'shoulder-striker' up the
street a while back," he told Keith.
"Anything I can do?" asked Keith anxiously.
"Not a thing, thank you. There'll be no trouble at all--just a little
nuisance. May call you for a witness later."
He went away with the officer, but shortly after Keith saw him on the
street again. The matter had been easily arranged.
Keith went to his office. In spite of himself he could not entirely take
Bennett's point of view. Several of the men at Eureka headquarters looked
interesting--he would like to know them--perhaps more than interesting, the
potentiality of a reasoning and directed power.
The afternoon nap suggested by Mrs. Morrell was not enjoyed, and Keith
returned home feeling pretty tired and inclined to a quiet evening. Nan had
to remind him of his engagement.
"Oh, let's send a note over by Wing," he said, a little crossly. "I don't
feel like making an effort to-night."
But Nan's convention could not approve of anything quite so radically a
"It's a little late in the day for that," she pointed out. "She may have
stayed in just to see us. We can leave early."
Keith went, grumbling. They found Mrs. Morrell in full evening dress,
showing her neck and shoulders, which were her best points, for she was
full bosomed and rounded without losing firmness of flesh. Nan was a trifle
taken back at this gorgeousness, for she had not dressed. Keith, with his
usual directness, made no secret of pretending to be utterly overwhelmed.
"I didn't know we were expected to dress for a real concert with flowers!"
he cried, laughing.
Mrs. Morrell shrugged her fine shoulders indifferently.
"This old rag!" she said. "Don't let that bother you. I always like to put
on something cool for the evening. It's such a relief."
It developed that Morrell had an engagement, and could not stay.
"He was so disappointed," purred Mrs. Morrell.
She was all eager for the music, brushing aside this and other
"You play, sing?" she asked Nan. "What a pity! I'm afraid you're going to
be terribly bored."
She turned instantly to Keith, hurrying him to the piano, giving the
impression of being too eager to wait--almost the eagerness of a drunkard
in the presence of drink. And this in turn conveyed a vibrating feeling of
magnetism, of temperament under restraint, of possibilities veiled. The
impact struck Keith's responsive nature full. He waked up, approached the
piano with reviving interest. She struck idle chords and flashed at him
over her shoulder a brilliant smile.
"What shall it be?" she demanded, still with the undercurrent of eagerness.
"You choose--a man's song--something soulful. I'm just in the mood."
"Do you know the 'Bedouin Love Song?'" he inquired.
"The 'Bedouin Love Song?' No--I'm afraid not. We are so far out of the
"It's a new thing. It goes like this."
He hummed the air, and she followed it hesitatingly, feeling out the
accompaniment. Mrs. Morrell knew her instrument and had a quick ear.
Occasionally Keith leaned over her shoulder to strike for her an elusive
chord or modulation. In so doing he had to press close, and for all his
honest absorption in the matter at hand, could not help becoming aware of
her subtle perfume, the shine of her flesh, and the brightness of her crown
"You play it," she said suddenly.
But he disclaimed the ability.
"I don't know it any better than you do, and you improvise wonderfully."
They became entirely absorbed in this most fascinating of tasks, the
working out little by little of a complicated accompaniment.
"There!" she cried gayly at last. "I believe I have it. Let's try."
Keith had a strong smooth baritone, not too well trained, but free from
glaring faults and mannerisms. It filled the little drawing-room ringingly.
He liked the song, and he sang it with fire and a certain defiance that
suited it. At its conclusion Mrs. Morrell sprang to her feet, breathing
quickly, her usual hard, quick artificiality of manner quite melted.
"It's wonderful!" she cried. "It lifts one right up! It makes me feel I'd
run away----" She checked herself abruptly, and turned to where Nan sat in
an armchair outside the circle of light, "Don't you just _adore_ it?" she
asked in a more restrained manner, and turned back to Keith, who was
standing a little flushed and excited by the song, "You have just the voice
for it--with that vibrating deep quality." She reseated herself at the
piano and struck several loud chords. Under cover of them she added, half
under her breath, as though to herself, but distinctly audible to the man
at her shoulder; "Luck for us all that you are already taken."
Keith would have been no more than human if he had not followed this cue
with a look. She did not lower her eyes, but gave him back his gaze
directly. It was as though some secret understanding sprang up between
them, though Keith,--in half-angry confusion, could not have analyzed it.
After this they compared notes until they found several songs they both
knew. Mrs. Morrell brushed aside Keith's suggestion that she herself should
sing, but she did it in a way that left the implication that he was the
important one vocally.
"No, no! I've been starved too long. I'm as tired of my little reed of a
voice as of the tinkle of a musical box."
The close of the evening was brought about only by the return of Morrell
from his engagement. Keith had utterly forgotten his fatigue, and was
tingling with the enthusiasm to which his nature always rose under
stimulus. The Englishman, very self-contained, clean-cut, incisive, brought
a new atmosphere. He was cordial and polite, but not expansive. Keith came
down from the clouds. He remembered, with compunction, Nan sitting in the
armchair, the lateness of the hour, his own fatigue.
"You should hear Mr. Keith's new song, Charley," said Mrs, Morrell. "It's
the most wonderful thing! The 'Bedouin Love Song,' You must surely sing it
at the Firemen's Ball. It will make a great hit. No, you surely must. With
a voice like yours it is selfish not to use it for the benefit of all.
Don't you agree with me, Mrs. Keith?"
"I'll sing it, if you will play my accompaniment," said Keith.
On their way home Keith's enthusiasm bubbled up again.
"Isn't it great luck to find somebody to practise with?" he cried--
"Unexpected luck in a place like this! I wish you cared for music."
"Oh, I do," said Nan. "I love it. But I just can't do it, that's all."
"Did you like it to-night?"
"I liked it when you really _sang_" replied Nan with a little yawn, "but it
always took you such a time to get at it."
A short silence fell.
"Are you really going to sing at the Firemen's Ball?" she asked curiously.
"I haven't been asked yet," he reminded her. "Don't you think it a good
"Oh, I don't know," said Nan, but her voice had a little edge. Keith felt
it, and made the usual masculine blunder. He stopped short, thunderstruck
at a new idea.
"Why, Nan," he cried reproachfully, "I don't believe you like her!"
"Like her!" she flashed back, her anger leaping to unreasonable
proportions--"that old frump!"
No sooner had the door closed after them than Morrell's conventional smile
faded, and his countenance fell into its usual hard, cold impassivity.
"Well, what is the game there?" he demanded.
"There is no game," she replied indifferently.
"There is very little money there, I warn you," he persisted.
She turned on him with sudden fury.
"Oh, shut up!" she cried. "I know my own business!"
"And I know mine," he told her, slowly and dangerously. "And I warn you to
go slow unless I give the word."
She stared at him a moment, and he stared back. Then, quite deliberately,
she walked over to him until her breast almost touched him. Her eyes were
half closed, and a little smile parted her full lips.
"Charley," she drawled wickedly, "I warn _you_ to go slow. And I warn you
not to interfere with me--or I might interfere with you!"
Morrell shrugged his shoulders, and turned away with an assumption of
"Please yourself. But I can't afford a scandal just now."
"_You_ can't afford a _scandal!_" she cried, and laughed hardly.
"Not just now," he repeated.
Perhaps this unwise antagonizing by her husband, perhaps the idleness with
which the well-to-do woman was afflicted, perhaps a genuine liking for
Keith, gave Mrs. Morrell just the impulse needed. At any rate, she used the
common bond of music to bring him much into her company. This was not a
difficult matter. Keith was extravagantly fond of just this sort of
experimental amateur excursions into lighter music, and he liked Mrs.
Morrell. She was a good sort, straightforward and honest and direct, no
nonsense in her, but she knew her way about, and a man could have a sort of
pleasing, harmless flirtation to which she knew how to play up. There was
not, nor could there be--in Keith's mind--any harm in their relations. Nan
was the woman for him; but that didn't mean that he was never to see
anybody else, or that other women might not--of course in unessential and
superficial ways--answer some of his varied needs.
Mrs. Morrell was skilful at keeping up his interest, and she was equally
skilful in gradually excluding Nan. This was not difficult, for Nan was
secretly bored by the eternal practising, and repelled by Mrs. Morrell's
efforts to be fascinating. She saw them plainly enough, but was at first
merely amused and faintly disgusted, for she was proud enough to believe
absolutely that such crude methods could have no effect on Milton,
overlooking the fact that the crudities of women never appear as plainly to
a man as they do to another woman. For a woman is in the know. At first she
offered one excuse or another, in an attempt to be both polite and
plausible. She much preferred a book at home, or a whole free evening to
work at making her house attractive. Later, Keith got into the habit of
taking her attitude for granted.
"I promised to run over to the Morrells' this evening," he would say, "More
music. Of course you won't care to come. You won't be lonely? I won't be
"Of course not," she laughed. "I'm thankful for the chance to get through
with the blue room."
Nevertheless, after a time she began to experience a faint, unreasonable
resentment; and Keith an equally faint, equally unreasonable feeling of
Left to itself this situation would, therefore, have righted itself, but