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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSuccess: A Novel - Part 1. Enchantment - Chapter 11
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Success: A Novel - Part 1. Enchantment - Chapter 11 Post by :Hans_Klein Category :Long Stories Author :Samuel Hopkins Adams Date :May 2012 Read :1933

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Success: A Novel - Part 1. Enchantment - Chapter 11

PART I. ENCHANTMENT CHAPTER XI

Although the vehicle of his professional activities had for some years been a small and stertorous automobile locally known as "Puffy Pete," Mr. James Mindle always referred to his process of postal transfer from the station to the town as "teamin' over the mail." He was a frail, grinny man from the prairie country, much given to romantic imaginings and an inordinate admiration for Banneker.

Having watched from the seat of his chariot the brief but ceremonial entry of Number Three, which, on regular schedule, roared through Manzanita at top speed, he descended, captured the mail-bag and, as the transcontinental pulled out, accosted the station-agent.

"What'd she stop for, Ban?"

"Special orders."

"Didn't say nothin' about havin' a ravin' may-ni-ac aboard, did theh?"

"No."

"Ban, was you ever in the State of Ohio?"

"A long time ago."

"Are Ohio folks liable to be loony?"

"Not more than others, I reckon, Jimmy."

"Pretty enthoosiastic about themselves, though, ain't theh?"

"Why, I don't know. It's a nice country there, Jimmy."

"There was one on Number Three sure thought so. Hadn't scarcely come to a stop when off he jumps and waves his fins and gives three cheers for it."

"For what?"

"Ohio. I'm tellin' you. He ramps across the track yippin' 'Ohio! Ohio! Ohio!' whoopity-yoop. He come right at me and I says, 'Watch yehself, Buddy. You'll git left.'"

"What did he say to that?" asked Banneker indulgently.

"Never looked at me no more than a doodle-bug. Just yelled 'Ohio!' again. So I come back at him with 'Missourah.' He grabs me by the shoulder and points to your shack. 'Who owns that little shed?' says he, very excited. 'My friend, Mr. Banneker,' says I, polite as always to strangers. 'But I own that shoulder you're leanin' on, and I'm about to take it away with me when I go,' I says. He leaned off and says, 'Where did that young lady come from that was standin' in the doorway a minute ago?' 'Young lady,' Ban. Do you get that? So I says, 'You're lucky, Bud. When I get 'em, it's usually snakes and bugs and such-like rep-tyles. Besides,' I says, 'your train is about to forgit that you got off it,' I says. With that he gives another screech that don't even mean as much as Ohio and tails onto the back platform just in time."

Said Ban, after frowning consideration:

"You didn't see any lady around the shack, did you, Jimmy?"

"Not on your life," replied the little man indignantly. "I ain't had anything like that since I took the mail-teamin' contract."

"How good time do you think Puffy Pete could make across-desert in case I should want it?" inquired the agent after a pause.

The mail-man contemplated his "team," bubbling and panting a vaporous breath over the platform. "Pete ain't none too fond of sand," he confessed. "But if you want to _git anywhere, him and me'll git you there. You know that, Ban."

Banneker nodded comradely and the post chugged away.

Inside the shack Io had set out the luncheon-things. To Banneker's eyes she appeared quite unruffled, despite the encounter which he had surmised from Jimmy's sketch.

"Get me some flowers for the table, Ban," she directed. "I want it to look festive."

"Why, in particular?"

"Because I'm afraid we won't have many more luncheons together."

He made no comment, but went out and returned with the flowers. Meantime Io had made up her mind.

"I've had an unpleasant surprise, Ban."

"I was afraid so."

She glanced up quickly. "Did you see him?"

"No. Mindle, the mail transfer man, did."

"Oh! Well, that was Aleck Babson. 'Babbling Babson,' he's called at the clubs. He's the most inveterate gossip in New York."

"It's a long way from New York," pointed out Banneker.

"Yes; but he has a long tongue. Besides, he'll see the Westerleys and my other friends in Paradiso, and babble to them."

"Suppose he does?"

"I won't have people chasing here after me or pestering me with letters," she said passionately. "Yet I don't want to go away. I want to get more rested, Ban, and forget a lot of things."

He nodded. Comfort and comprehension were in his silence.

"You can be as companionable as a dog," said Io softly. "Where did you get your tact, I wonder? Well, I shan't go till I must.... Lemonade, Ban! I brought over the lemons myself."

They lunched a little soberly and thoughtfully.

"And I wanted it to be festive to-day," said Io wistfully, speaking out her thoughts as usual. "Ban, does Miss Camilla smoke?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"Because if she does, you'll think it all right. And I want a cigarette now."

"If you do, I'll _know it's all right, Butterfly," returned her companion fetching a box from a shelf.

"Hold the thought!" cried Io gayly. "There's a creed for you! 'Whatever is, is right,' provided that it's Io who does it. Always judge me by that standard, Ban, won't you?... Where in the name of Sir Walter Raleigh's ghost did you get these cigarettes? 'Mellorosa' ... Ban, is this a Sears-Roebuck stock?"

"No. It came from town. Don't you like it?"

"It's quite curious and interesting. Never mind, my dear; I won't tease you."

For all that Io's "my dear" was the most casual utterance imaginable, it brought a quick flush to Banneker's face. Chattering carelessly, she washed up the few dishes, put them away in the brackets, and then, smoking another of the despised Mellorosas, wandered to the book-shelves.

"Read me something out of your favorite book, Ban.... No; this one."

She handed him the thick mail-order catalogue. With a gravity equal to her own he took it.

"What will you have?"

"Let the spirit of Sears-Roebuck decide. Open at random and expound."

He thrust a finger between the leaves and began:

"Our Special, Fortified Black Fiber Trunk for Hard Travel. Made of Three-Ply Ven--"

"Oh, to have my trunks again!" sighed the girl. "Turn to something else. I don't like that. It reminds me of travel."

Obedient, Banneker made another essay:

"Clay County Clay Target Traps. Easily Adjusted to the Elevation--"

"Oh, dear!" she broke in again. "That reminds me that Dad wrote me to look up his pet shot-gun before his return. I don't like that either. Try again."

This time the explorer plunged deep into the volume.

"How to Make Home Home-like. An Invaluable Counselor for the Woman of the Household--"

Io snatched the book from the reader's hand and tossed it into a corner. "Sears-Roebuck are very tactless," she declared. "Everything they have to offer reminds one of home. What do you think of home, Ban? Home, as an abstract proposition. Home as the what-d'you-call-'em of the nation; the palladium--no, the bulwark? Home as viewed by the homing pigeon? Home, Sweet Home, as sung by--Would you answer, Ban, if I stopped gibbering and gave you the chance?"

"I've never had much opportunity to judge about home, you know."

She darted out a quick little hand and touched his sleeve. The raillery had faded from her face. "So you haven't. Not very tactful of me, was it! Will you throw me into the corner with Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck, Ban? I'm sorry."

"You needn't be. One gets used to being an air-plant without roots."

"Yet you wouldn't have fitted out this shack," she pointed out shrewdly, "unless you had the instincts of home."

"That's true enough. Fortunately it's the kind of home I can take along when they transfer me."

Io went to the door and looked afar on the radiant splendor of the desert, and, nearer, into the cool peace of the forest.

"But you can't take all this," she reminded him.

"No. I can't take this."

"Shall you miss it?"

A shadow fell upon his face. "I'd miss something--I don't know what it is--that no other place has ever given me. Why do you talk as if I were going away from it? I'm not."

"Oh, yes; you are," she laughed softly. "It is so written. I'm a seeress." She turned from the door and threw herself into a chair.

"What will take me?"

"Something inside you. Something unawakened. 'Something lost beyond the ranges.' You'll know, and you'll obey it."

"Shall I ever come back, O seeress?"

At the question her eyes grew dreamy and distant. Her voice when she spoke sank to a low-pitched monotone.

"Yes, you'll come back. Sometime.... So shall I ... not for years ... but--" She jumped to her feet. "What kind of rubbish am I talking?" she cried with forced merriment. "Is your tobacco drugged with hasheesh, Ban?"

He shook his head. "It's the pull of the desert," he murmured. "It's caught you sooner than most. You're more responsive, I suppose; more sens--Why, Butterfly! You're shaking."

"A Scotchman would say that I was 'fey.' Ban, do you think it means that I'm coming back here to die?" She laughed again. "If I were fated to die here, I expect that I missed my good chance in the smash-up. Fortunately I'm not superstitious."

"There might be worse places," said he slowly. "It is the place that would call me back if ever I got down and out." He pointed through the window to the distant, glowing purity of the mountain peak. "One could tell one's troubles to that tranquil old god."

"Would he listen to mine, I wonder?"

"Try him before you go. You can leave them all here and I'll watch over them for you to see that they don't get loose and bother you."

"Absolution! If it were only as easy as that! This _is a haunted place.... Why should I be here at all? _Why didn't I go when I should? Why a thousand things?"

"Chance."

"Is there any such thing? Why can't I sleep at night yet, as I ought? Why do I still feel hunted? What's happening to me, Ban? What's getting ready to happen?"

"Nothing. That's nerves."

"Yes; I'll try not to think of it. But at night--Ban, suppose I should come over in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, and call outside your window?"

"I'd come down, of course. But you'd have to be careful about rattlers," answered the practical Ban.

"Your friend, Camilla, would intercept me, anyway. I don't think she sleeps too well, herself. Do you know what she's doing out here?"

"She came for her health."

"That isn't what I asked you, my dear. Do you know what she's doing?"

"No. She never told me."

"Shall I tell you?"

"No."

"It's interesting. Aren't you curious?"

"If she wanted me to know, she'd tell me."

"Indubitably correct, and quite praiseworthy," mocked the girl. "Never mind; you know how to be staunch to your friends."

"In this country a man who doesn't is reckoned a yellow dog."

"He is in any decent country. So take that with you when you go."

"I'm not going," he asserted with an obstinate set to his jaw.

"Wait and see," she taunted. "So you won't let me send you books?" she questioned after a pause.

"No."

"No, I thank you," she prompted.

"No, I thank you," he amended. "I'm an uncouth sort of person, but I meant the 'thank you.'"

"Of course you did. And uncouthness is the last thing in the world you could be accused of. That's the wonder of it.... No; I don't suppose it really is. It's birth."

"If it's anything, it's training. My father was a stickler for forms, in spite of being a sort of hobo."

"Well, forms make the game, very largely. You won't find them essentially different when you go out into the--I forgot again. That kind of prophecy annoys you, doesn't it? There is one book I'm going to send you, though, which you can't refuse. Nobody can refuse it. It isn't done."

"What is that?"

Her answer surprised him. "The Bible."

"Are you religious? Of course, a butterfly should be, shouldn't she? should believe in the release of the soul from its chrysalis--the butterfly's immortality. Yet I wouldn't have suspected you of a leaning in that direction."

"Oh, religion!" Her tone set aside the subject as insusceptible of sufficient or satisfactory answer. "I go through the forms," she added, a little disdainfully. "As to what I believe and do--which is what one's own religion is--why, I assume that if the game is worth playing at all, there must be a Judge and Maker of the Rules. As far as I understand them, I follow them."

"You have a sort of religious feeling for success, though, haven't you?" he reminded her slyly.

"Not at all. Just human, common sense."

"But your creed as you've just given it, the rules of the game and that; that's precisely the Bible formula, I believe."

"How do you know?" she caught him up. "You haven't a Bible in the place, so far as I've noticed."

"No; I haven't."

"You should have."

"Probably. But I can't, somehow, adjust myself to that advice as coming from you."

"Because you don't understand what I'm getting at. It isn't religious advice."

"Then what is it?"

"Literary, purely. You're going to write, some day. Oh, don't look doubtful! That's foreordained. It doesn't take a seeress to prophesy that. And the Bible is the one book that a writer ought to read every day. Isaiah, Psalms, Proverbs. Pretty much all the Old Testament, and a lot of the New. It has grown into our intellectual life until its phrases and catchwords are full of overtones and sub-meanings. You've got to have it in your business; your coming business, I mean. I know what I'm talking about, Mr. Errol Banneker--_moi qui parle_. They offered me an instructorship in Literature when I graduated. I even threatened to take it, just for a joke on Dad. _Now_, will you be good and accept my fully explained and diagrammed Bible without fearing that I have designs on your soul?"

"Yes."

"And will you please go back to your work at once, and by and by take me home and stay to supper? Miss Van Arsdale told me to ask you."

"All right. I'll be glad to. What will you do between now and four o'clock?"

"Prowl in your library and unearth more of your secrets."

"You're welcome if you can find any. I don't deal in 'em."

When Banneker, released from his duties until evening train time, rejoined her, and they were riding along the forest trail, he said:

"You've started me to theorizing about myself."

"Do it aloud," she invited.

"Well; all my boyhood I led a wandering life, as you know. We were never anywhere as much as a month at a time. In a way, I liked the change and adventure. In another way, I got dead sick of it. Don't you suppose that my readiness to settle down and vegetate is the reaction from that?"

"It sounds reasonable enough. You might put it more simply by saying that you were tired. But by now you ought to be rested."

"Therefore I ought to be stirring myself so as to get tired again?"

"If you don't stir, you'll rust."

"Rust is a painless death for useless mechanism."

She shot an impatient side-glance at him. "Either you're a hundred years old," she said, "or that's sheer pose."

"Perhaps it is a sort of pose. If so, it's a self-protective one."

"Suppose I asked you to come to New York?"

Intrepid though she was, her soul quaked a little at her own words, foreseeing those mail-order-cut clothes and the resolute butterflyness of the tie greeting her on Fifth Avenue.

"What to do?"

"Sell tickets at the Grand Central Station, of course!" she shot back at him. "Ban, you _are aggravating! 'What to do?' Father would find you some sort of place while you were fitting in."

'No. I wouldn't take a job from you any more than I'd take anything else."

"You carry principles to the length of absurdity. Come and get your own job, then. You're not timid, are you?"

"Not particularly. I'm just contented."

At that provocation her femininity flared. "Ban," she cried with exasperation and appeal enchantingly mingled, "aren't you going to miss me at all when I go?"

"I've been trying not to think of that," he said slowly.

"Well, think of it," she breathed. "No!" she contradicted herself passionately. "Don't think of it. I shouldn't have said that.... I don't know what is the matter with me to-day, Ban. Perhaps I _am fey." She smiled to him slantwise.

"It's the air," he answered judicially. "There's another storm brewing somewhere or I'm no guesser. More trouble for the schedule."

"That's right!" she cried eagerly. "_Be the Atkinson and St. Philip station-agent again. Let's talk about trains. It's--it's so reliable."

"Far from it on this line," he answered, adopting her light tone. "Particularly if we have more rain. You may become a permanent resident yet."

Some rods short of the Van Arsdale cabin the trail took a sharp turn amidst the brush. Halfway on the curve Io caught at Banneker's near rein.

"Hark!" she exclaimed.

The notes of a piano sounded faintly clear in the stillness. As the harmonies dissolved and merged, a voice rose above them, resonant and glorious, rose and sank and pleaded and laughed and loved, while the two young listeners leaned unconsciously toward each other in their saddles. Silence fell again. The very forest life itself seemed hushed in a listening trance.

"Heavens!" whispered Banneker. "Who is it?"

"Camilla Van Arsdale, of course. Didn't you know?"

"I knew she was musical. I didn't know she had a voice like that."

"Ten years ago New York was wild over it."

"But why--"

"Hush! She's beginning again."

Once more the sweep of the chords was followed by the superb voice while the two wayfarers and all the world around them waited, breathless and enchained. At the end, Banneker said dreamily:

"I've never heard anything like that before. It says everything that can't be said in words alone, doesn't it? It makes me think of something--What is it?" He groped for a moment, then repeated:

"'A passionate ballad, gallant and gay, Singing afar in the springtime of life, Singing of youth and of love And of honor that cannot die.'"

Io drew a deep, tremulous breath. "Yes; it's like that. What a voice! And what an art to be buried out here! It's one of her own songs, I think. Probably an unpublished one."

"Her own? Does she write music?"

"She is Royce Melvin, the composer. Does that mean anything to you?"

He shook his head.

"Some day it will. They say that he--every one thinks it's a he--will take Massenet's place as a lyrical composer. I found her out by accidentally coming on the manuscript of a Melvin song that I knew. That's her secret that I spoke of. Do you mind my having told you?"

"Why, no. It'll never go any further. I wonder why she never told me. And why she keeps so shut off from the world here."

"Ah; that's another secret, and one that I shan't tell you," returned Io gravely. "There's the piano again."

A few indeterminate chords came to their ears. There followed a jangling disharmony. They waited, but there was nothing more. They rode on.

At the lodge Banneker took the horses around while Io went in. Immediately her voice, with a note of alarm in it, summoned him. He found her bending over Miss Van Arsdale, who lay across the divan in the living-room with eyes closed, breathing jerkily. Her lips were blue and her hands looked shockingly lifeless.

"Carry her into her room," directed Io.

Banneker picked up the tall, strong-built form without effort and deposited it on the bed in the inner room.

"Open all the windows," commanded the girl. "See if you can find me some ammonia or camphor. Quick! She looks as if she were dying."

One after another Banneker tried the bottles on the dresser. "Here it is. Ammonia," he said.

In his eagerness he knocked a silver-mounted photograph to the floor. He thrust the drug into the girl's hand and watched her helplessly as she worked over the limp figure on the bed. Mechanically he picked up the fallen picture to replace it. There looked out at him the face of a man of early middle age, a face of manifest intellectual power, high-boned, long-lined, and of the austere, almost ascetic beauty which the Florentine coins have preserved for us in clear fidelity. Across the bottom was written in a peculiarly rhythmic script, the legend:

"Toujours a toi. W."

"She's coming back," said Io's voice. "No. Don't come nearer. You'll shut off the air. Find me a fan."

He ran to the outer room and came back with a palm-leaf.

"She wants something," said Io in an agonized half-voice. "She wants it so badly. What is it? Help me, Ban! She can't speak. Look at her eyes--so imploring. Is it medicine?... No! Ban, can't you help?"

Banneker took the silver-framed portrait and placed it in the flaccid hand. The fingers closed over it. The filmiest wraith of a smile played about the blue lips.

An hour later, Io came out to Banneker waiting fearfully in the big room.

"She won't have a doctor. I've given her the strychnia and she insists she'll be all right."

"Don't you think I ought to go for the doctor, anyway?"

"She wouldn't see him. She's very strong-willed.... That's a wonderful woman, Ban." Io's voice shook a little.

"Yes."

"How did you know about the picture?"

"I saw it on the dresser. And when I saw her eyes, I guessed."

"Yes; there's only one thing a woman wants like _that_, when she's dying. You're rather a wonderful person, yourself, to have known. That's her other secret, Ban. The one I said I couldn't tell you."

"I've forgotten it," replied Banneker gravely.

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PART I. ENCHANTMENT CHAPTER X"Wouldn't you like to know when I'm going home?" Io Welland looked up from beneath her dark lashes at her hostess with a mixture of mischief and deprecation. "No," said Miss Van Arsdale quietly. "Ah? Well, I would. Here it is two full weeks since I settled down on you. Why don't you evict me?" Miss Van Arsdale smiled. The girl continued: "Why don't I evict myself? I'm quite well and sane again--at least I think so--thanks to you. Very well, then, Io; why don't you go home?" "Instinct of self-preservation," suggested the other. "You're better off
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