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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Little Lady Of The Big House - Chapter 29
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The Little Lady Of The Big House - Chapter 29 Post by :kerwin Category :Long Stories Author :Jack London Date :February 2011 Read :2572

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The Little Lady Of The Big House - Chapter 29

"'Tis a birdlike sensuousness that is all the Little Lady's own,"
Terrence was saying, as he helped himself to a cocktail from the tray
Ah Ha was passing around.

It was the hour before dinner, and Graham, Leo and Terrence McFane had
chanced together in the stag-room.

"No, Leo," the Irishman warned the young poet. "Let the one suffice
you. Your cheeks are warm with it. A second one and you'll
conflagrate. 'Tis no right you have to be mixing beauty and strong
drink in that lad's head of yours. Leave the drink to your elders.
There is such a thing as consanguinity for drink. You have it not. As
for me--"

He emptied the glass and paused to turn the cocktail reminiscently on
his tongue.

"'Tis women's drink," he shook his head in condemnation. "It likes me
not. It bites me not. And devil a bit of a taste is there to it.--Ah
Ha, my boy," he called to the Chinese, "mix me a highball in a long,
long glass--a stiff one."

He held up four fingers horizontally to indicate the measure of liquor
he would have in the glass, and, to Ah Ha's query as to what kind of
whiskey, answered, "Scotch or Irish, bourbon or rye--whichever comes
nearest to hand."

Graham shook his head to the Chinese, and laughed to the Irishman.
"You'll never drink me down, Terrence. I've not forgotten what you did
to O'Hay."

"'Twas an accident I would have you think," was the reply. "They say
when a man's not feeling any too fit a bit of drink will hit him like
a club."

"And you?" Graham questioned.

"Have never been hit by a club. I am a man of singularly few
experiences."

"But, Terrence, you were saying... about Mrs. Forrest?" Leo begged.
"It sounded as if it were going to be nice."

"As if it could be otherwise," Terrence censured. "But as I was
saying, 'tis a bird-like sensuousness--oh, not the little, hoppy,
wagtail kind, nor yet the sleek and solemn dove, but a merry sort of
bird, like the wild canaries you see bathing in the fountains, always
twittering and singing, flinging the water in the sun, and glowing the
golden hearts of them on their happy breasts. 'Tis like that the
Little Lady is. I have observed her much.

"Everything on the earth and under the earth and in the sky
contributes to the passion of her days--the untoward purple of the
ground myrtle when it has no right to aught more than pale lavender, a
single red rose tossing in the bathing wind, one perfect Duchesse rose
bursting from its bush into the sunshine, as she said to me, 'pink as
the dawn, Terrence, and shaped like a kiss.'

"'Tis all one with her--the Princess's silver neigh, the sheep bells
of a frosty morn, the pretty Angora goats making silky pictures on the
hillside all day long, the drifts of purple lupins along the fences,
the long hot grass on slope and roadside, the summer-burnt hills tawny
as crouching lions--and even have I seen the sheer sensuous pleasure
of the Little Lady with bathing her arms and neck in the blessed sun."

"She is the soul of beauty," Leo murmured. "One understands how men
can die for women such as she."

"And how men can live for them, and love them, the lovely things,"
Terrence added. "Listen, Mr. Graham, and I'll tell you a secret. We
philosophers of the madroño grove, we wrecks and wastages of life here
in the quiet backwater and easement of Dick's munificence, are a
brotherhood of lovers. And the lady of our hearts is all the one--the
Little Lady. We, who merely talk and dream our days away, and who
would lift never a hand for God, or country, or the devil, are pledged
knights of the Little Lady."

"We would die for her," Leo affirmed, slowly nodding his head.

"Nay, lad, we would live for her and fight for her, dying is that
easy."

Graham missed nothing of it. The boy did not understand, but in the
blue eyes of the Celt, peering from under the mop of iron-gray hair,
there was no mistaking the knowledge of the situation.

Voices of men were heard coming down the stairs, and, as Martinez and
Dar Hyal entered, Terrence was saying:

"'Tis fine weather they say they're having down at Catalina now, and I
hear the tunny fish are biting splendid."

Ah Ha served cocktails around, and was kept busy, for Hancock and
Froelig followed along. Terrence impartially drank stiff highballs of
whatever liquor the immobile-faced Chinese elected to serve him, and
discoursed fatherly to Leo on the iniquities and abominations of the
flowing bowl.

Oh My entered, a folded note in his hand, and looked about in doubt as
to whom to give it.

"Hither, wing-heeled Celestial," Terrence waved him up.

"'Tis a petition, couched in very proper terms," Terrence explained,
after a glance at its contents. "And Ernestine and Lute have arrived,
for 'tis they that petition. Listen." And he read: "'Oh, noble and
glorious stags, two poor and lowly meek-eyed does, wandering lonely in
the forest, do humbly entreat admission for the brief time before
dinner to the stamping ground of the herd.'

"The metaphor is mixed," said Terrence. "Yet have they acted well.
'Tis the rule--Dick's rule--and a good rule it is: no petticoats in
the stag-room save by the stags' unanimous consent.--Is the herd ready
for the question? All those in favor will say 'Aye.'--Contrary
minded?--The ayes have it.

"Oh My, fleet with thy heels and bring in the ladies."

"'With sandals beaten from the crowns of kings,'" Leo added, murmuring
the words reverently, loving them with his lips as his lips formed
them and uttered them.

"'Shall he tread down the altars of their night,'" Terrence completed
the passage. "The man who wrote that is a great man. He is Leo's
friend, and Dick's friend, and proud am I that he is my friend."

"And that other line," Leo said. "From the same sonnet," he explained
to Graham. "Listen to the sound of it: 'To hear what song the star of
morning sings'--oh, listen," the boy went on, his voice hushed low
with beauty-love for the words: "'With perished beauty in his hands as
clay, Shall he restore futurity its dream--'"

He broke off as Paula's sisters entered, and rose shyly to greet them.

* * * * *

Dinner that night was as any dinner at which the madroño sages were
present. Dick was as robustly controversial as usual, locking horns
with Aaron Hancock on Bergson, attacking the latter's metaphysics in
sharp realistic fashion.

"Your Bergson is a charlatan philosopher, Aaron," Dick concluded. "He
has the same old medicine-man's bag of metaphysical tricks, all decked
out and frilled with the latest ascertained facts of science."

"'Tis true," Terrence agreed. "Bergson is a charlatan thinker. 'Tis
why he is so popular--"

"I deny--" Hancock broke in.

"Wait a wee, Aaron. 'Tis a thought I have glimmered. Let me catch it
before it flutters away into the azure. Dick's caught Bergson with the
goods on him, filched straight from the treasure-house of science. His
very cocksureness is filched from Darwin's morality of strength based
on the survival of the fittest. And what did Bergson do with it?
Touched it up with a bit of James' pragmatism, rosied it over with the
eternal hope in man's breast that he will live again, and made it all
a-shine with Nietzsche's 'nothing succeeds like excess--'"

"Wilde's, you mean," corrected Ernestine.

"Heaven knows I should have filched it for myself had you not been
present," Terrence sighed, with a bow to her. "Some day the
antiquarians will decide the authorship. Personally I would say it
smacked of Methuselah--But as I was saying, before I was delightfully
interrupted..."

"Who more cocksure than Dick?" Aaron was challenging a little later;
while Paula glanced significantly to Graham.

"I was looking at the herd of yearling stallions but yesterday,"
Terrence replied, "and with the picture of the splendid beasties still
in my eyes I'll ask: And who more delivers the goods?"

"But Hancock's objection is solid," Martinez ventured. "It would be a
mean and profitless world without mystery. Dick sees no mystery."

"There you wrong him," Terrence defended. "I know him well. Dick
recognizes mystery, but not of the nursery-child variety. No cock-and-
bull stories for him, such as you romanticists luxuriate in."

"Terrence gets me," Dick nodded. "The world will always be mystery. To
me man's consciousness is no greater mystery than the reaction of the
gases that make a simple drop of water. Grant that mystery, and all
the more complicated phenomena cease to be mysteries. That simple
chemical reaction is like one of the axioms on which the edifice of
geometry is reared. Matter and force are the everlasting mysteries,
manifesting themselves in the twin mysteries of space and time. The
manifestations are not mysteries--only the stuff of the
manifestations, matter and force; and the theater of the
manifestations, space and time."

Dick ceased and idly watched the expressionless Ah Ha and Ah Me who
chanced at the moment to be serving opposite him. Their faces did not
talk, was his thought; although ten to one was a fair bet that they
were informed with the same knowledge that had perturbed Oh Dear.

"And there you are," Terrence was triumphing. "'Tis the perfect joy of
him--never up in the air with dizzy heels. Flat on the good ground he
stands, four square to fact and law, set against all airy fancies and
bubbly speculations...."

* * * * *

And as at table, so afterward that evening no one could have guessed
from Dick that all was not well with him. He seemed bent on
celebrating Lute's and Ernestine's return, refused to tolerate the
heavy talk of the philosophers, and bubbled over with pranks and
tricks. Paula yielded to the contagion, and aided and abetted him in
his practical jokes which none escaped.

Choicest among these was the kiss of welcome. No man escaped it. To
Graham was accorded the honor of receiving it first so that he might
witness the discomfiture of the others, who, one by one, were ushered
in by Dick from the patio.

Hancock, Dick's arm guiding him, came down the room to confront Paula
and her sisters standing in a row on three chairs in the middle of the
floor. He scanned them suspiciously, and insisted upon walking around
behind them. But there seemed nothing unusual about them save that
each wore a man's felt hat.

"Looks good to me," Hancock announced, as he stood on the floor before
them and looked up at them.

"And it is good," Dick assured him. "As representing the ranch in its
fairest aspects, they are to administer the kiss of welcome. Make your
choice, Aaron."

Aaron, with a quick whirl to catch some possible lurking disaster at
his back, demanded, "They are all three to kiss me?"

"No, make your choice which is to give you the kiss."

"The two I do not choose will not feel that I have discriminated
against them?" Aaron insisted.

"Whiskers no objection?" was his next query.

"Not in the way at all," Lute told him. "I have always wondered what
it would be like to kiss black whiskers."

"Here's where all the philosophers get kissed tonight, so hurry up,"
Ernestine said. "The others are waiting. I, too, have yet to be kissed
by an alfalfa field."

"Whom do you choose?" Dick urged.

"As if, after that, there were any choice about it," Hancock returned
jauntily. "I kiss my lady--the Little Lady."

As he put up his lips, Paula bent her head forward, and, nicely
directed, from the indented crown of her hat canted a glassful of
water into his face.

When Leo's turn came, he bravely made his choice of Paula and nearly
spoiled the show by reverently bending and kissing the hem of her
gown.

"It will never do," Ernestine told him. "It must be a real kiss. Put
up your lips to be kissed."

"Let the last be first and kiss me, Leo," Lute begged, to save him
from his embarrassment.

He looked his gratitude, put up his lips, but without enough tilt of
his head, so that he received the water from Lute's hat down the back
of his neck.

"All three shall kiss me and thus shall paradise be thrice
multiplied," was Terrence's way out of the difficulty; and
simultaneously he received three crowns of water for his gallantry.

Dick's boisterousness waxed apace. His was the most care-free seeming
in the world as he measured Froelig and Martinez against the door to
settle the dispute that had arisen as to whether Froelig or Martinez
was the taller.

"Knees straight and together, heads back," Dick commanded.

And as their heads touched the wood, from the other side came a
rousing thump that jarred them. The door swung open, revealing
Ernestine with a padded gong-stick in either hand.

Dick, a high-heeled satin slipper in his hand, was under a sheet with
Terrence, teaching him "Brother Bob I'm bobbed" to the uproarious joy
of the others, when the Masons and Watsons and all their Wickenberg
following entered upon the scene.

Whereupon Dick insisted that the young men of their party receive the
kiss of welcome. Nor did he miss, in the hubbub of a dozen persons
meeting as many more, Lottie Mason's: "Oh, good evening, Mr. Graham. I
thought you had gone."

And Dick, in the midst of the confusion of settling such an influx of
guests, still maintaining his exuberant jolly pose, waited for that
sharp scrutiny that women have only for women. Not many moments later
he saw Lottie Mason steal such a look, keen with speculation, at Paula
as she chanced face to face with Graham, saying something to him.

Not yet, was Dick's conclusion. Lottie did not know. But suspicion was
rife, and nothing, he was certain, under the circumstances, would
gladden her woman's heart more than to discover the unimpeachable
Paula as womanly weak as herself.

Lottie Mason was a tall, striking brunette of twenty-five, undeniably
beautiful, and, as Dick had learned, undeniably daring. In the not
remote past, attracted by her, and, it must be submitted, subtly
invited by her, he had been guilty of a philandering that he had not
allowed to go as far as her wishes. The thing had not been serious on
his part. Nor had he permitted it to become serious on her side.
Nevertheless, sufficient flirtatious passages had taken place to impel
him this night to look to her, rather than to the other Wickenberg
women, for the first signals of suspicion.

"Oh, yes, he's a beautiful dancer," Dick, as he came up to them half
an hour later, heard Lottie Mason telling little Miss Maxwell. "Isn't
he, Dick?" she appealed to him, with innocent eyes of candor through
which disguise he knew she was studying him.

"Who?--Graham, you must mean," he answered with untroubled directness.
"He certainly is. What do you say we start dancing and let Miss
Maxwell see? Though there's only one woman here who can give him full
swing to show his paces."

"Paula, of course," said Lottie.

"Paula, of course. Why, you young chits don't know how to waltz. You
never had a chance to learn."--Lottie tossed her fine head. "Perhaps
you learned a little before the new dancing came in," he amended.
"Anyway, I'll get Evan and Paula started, you take me on, and I'll
wager we'll be the only couples on the floor."

Half through the waltz, he broke it off with: "Let them have the floor
to themselves. It's worth seeing."

And, glowing with appreciation, he stood and watched his wife and
Graham finish the dance, while he knew that Lottie, beside him,
stealing side glances at him, was having her suspicions allayed.

The dancing became general, and, the evening being warm, the big doors
to the patio were thrown open. Now one couple, and now another, danced
out and down the long arcades where the moonlight streamed, until it
became the general thing.

"What a boy he is," Paula said to Graham, as they listened to Dick
descanting to all and sundry on the virtues of his new night camera.
"You heard Aaron complaining at table, and Terrence explaining, his
sureness. Nothing terrible has ever happened to him in his life. He
has never been overthrown. His sureness has always been vindicated. As
Terrence said, it has always delivered the goods. He does know, he
does know, and yet he is so sure of himself, so sure of me."

Graham taken away to dance with Miss Maxwell, Paula continued her
train of thought to herself. Dick was not suffering so much after all.
And she might have expected it. He was the cool-head, the philosopher.
He would take her loss with the same equanimity as he would take the
loss of Mountain Lad, as he had taken the death of Jeremy Braxton and
the flooding of the Harvest mines. It was difficult, she smiled to
herself, aflame as she was toward Graham, to be married to a
philosopher who would not lift a hand to hold her. And it came to her
afresh that one phase of Graham's charm for her was his humanness, his
flamingness. They met on common ground. At any rate, even in the
heyday of their coming together in Paris, Dick had not so inflamed
her. A wonderful lover he had been, too, with his gift of speech and
lover's phrases, with his love-chants that had so delighted her; but
somehow it was different from this what she felt for Graham and what
Graham must feel for her. Besides, she had been most young in
experience of love and lovers in that long ago when Dick had burst so
magnificently upon her.

And so thinking, she hardened toward him and recklessly permitted
herself to flame toward Graham. The crowd, the gayety, the excitement,
the closeness and tenderness of contact in the dancing, the summer-
warm of the evening, the streaming moonlight, and the night-scents of
flowers--all fanned her ardency, and she looked forward eagerly to the
at least one more dance she might dare with Graham.

"No flash light is necessary," Dick was explaining. "It's a German
invention. Half a minute exposure under the ordinary lighting is
sufficient. And the best of it is that the plate can be immediately
developed just like an ordinary blue print. Of course, the drawback is
one cannot print from the plate."

"But if it's good, an ordinary plate can be copied from it from which
prints can be made," Ernestine amplified.

She knew the huge, twenty-foot, spring snake coiled inside the camera
and ready to leap out like a jack-in-the-box when Dick squeezed the
bulb. And there were others who knew and who urged Dick to get the
camera and make an exposure.

He was gone longer than he expected, for Bonbright had left on his
desk several telegrams concerning the Mexican situation that needed
immediate replies. Trick camera in hand, Dick returned by a short cut
across the house and patio. The dancing couples were ebbing down the
arcade and disappearing into the hall, and he leaned against a pillar
and watched them go by. Last of all came Paula and Evan, passing so
close that he could have reached out and touched them. But, though the
moon shone full on him, they did not see him. They saw only each other
in the tender sport of gazing.

The last preceding couple was already inside when the music ceased.
Graham and Paula paused, and he was for giving her his arm and leading
her inside, but she clung to him in sudden impulse. Man-like,
cautious, he slightly resisted for a moment, but with one arm around
his neck she drew his head willingly down to the kiss. It was a flash
of quick passion. The next instant, Paula on his arm, they were
passing in and Paula's laugh was ringing merrily and naturally.

Dick clutched at the pillar and eased himself down abruptly until he
sat flat on the pavement. Accompanying violent suffocation, or causing
it, his heart seemed rising in his chest. He panted for air. The
cursed thing rose and choked and stifled him until, in the grim turn
his fancy took, it seemed to him that he chewed it between his teeth
and gulped it back and down his throat along with the reviving air. He
felt chilled, and was aware that he was wet with sudden sweat.

"And who ever heard of heart disease in the Forrests?" he muttered,
as, still sitting, leaning against the pillar for support, he mopped
his face dry. His hand was shaking, and he felt a slight nausea from
an internal quivering that still persisted.

It was not as if Graham had kissed her, he pondered. It was Paula who
had kissed Graham. That was love, and passion. He had seen it, and as
it burned again before his eyes, he felt his heart surge, and the
premonitory sensation of suffocation seized him. With a sharp effort
of will he controlled himself and got to his feet.

"By God, it came up in my mouth and I chewed it," he muttered. "I
chewed it."

Returning across the patio by the round-about way, he entered the
lighted room jauntily enough, camera in hand, and unprepared for the
reception he received.

"Seen a ghost?" Lute greeted.

"Are you sick?"--"What's the matter?" were other questions.

"What _is the matter?" he countered.

"Your face--the look of it," Ernestine said. "Something has happened.
What is it?"

And while he oriented himself he did not fail to note Lottie Mason's
quick glance at the faces of Graham and Paula, nor to note that
Ernestine had observed Lottie's glance and followed it up for herself.

"Yes," he lied. "Bad news. Just got the word. Jeremy Braxton is dead.
Murdered. The Mexicans got him while he was trying to escape into
Arizona."

"Old Jeremy, God love him for the fine man he was," Terrence said,
tucking his arm in Dick's. "Come on, old man, 'tis a stiffener you're
wanting and I'm the lad to lead you to it."

"Oh, I'm all right," Dick smiled, shaking his shoulders and squaring
himself as if gathering himself together. "It did hit me hard for the
moment. I hadn't a doubt in the world but Jeremy would make it out all
right. But they got him, and two engineers with him. They put up a
devil of a fight first. They got under a cliff and stood off a mob of
half a thousand for a day and night. And then the Mexicans tossed
dynamite down from above. Oh, well, all flesh is grass, and there is
no grass of yesteryear. Terrence, your suggestion is a good one. Lead
on."

After a few steps he turned his head over his shoulder and called
back: "Now this isn't to stop the fun. I'll be right back to take that
photograph. You arrange the group, Ernestine, and be sure to have them
under the strongest light."

Terrence pressed open the concealed buffet at the far end of the room
and set out the glasses, while Dick turned on a wall light and studied
his face in the small mirror inside the buffet door.

"It's all right now, quite natural," he announced.

"'Twas only a passing shade," Terrence agreed, pouring the whiskey.
"And man has well the right to take it hard the going of old friends."

They toasted and drank silently.

"Another one," Dick said, extending his glass.

"Say 'when,'" said the Irishman, and with imperturbable eyes he
watched the rising tide of liquor in the glass.

Dick waited till it was half full.

Again they toasted and drank silently, eyes to eyes, and Dick was
grateful for the offer of all his heart that he read in Terrence's
eyes.

Back in the middle of the hall, Ernestine was gayly grouping the
victims, and privily, from the faces of Lottie, Paula, and Graham,
trying to learn more of the something untoward that she sensed. Why
had Lottie looked so immediately and searchingly at Graham and Paula?
--she asked herself. And something was wrong with Paula now. She was
worried, disturbed, and not in the way to be expected from the
announcement of Jeremy Braxton's death. From Graham, Ernestine could
glean nothing. He was quite his ordinary self, his facetiousness the
cause of much laughter to Miss Maxwell and Mrs. Watson.

Paula was disturbed. What had happened? Why had Dick lied? He had
known of Jeremy's death for two days. And she had never known
anybody's death so to affect him. She wondered if he had been drinking
unduly. In the course of their married life she had seen him several
times in liquor. He carried it well, the only noticeable effects being
a flush in his eyes and a loosening of his tongue to whimsical fancies
and extemporized chants. Had he, in his trouble, been drinking with
the iron-headed Terrence down in the stag room? She had found them all
assembled there just before dinner. The real cause for Dick's
strangeness never crossed her mind, if, for no other reason, than that
he was not given to spying.

He came back, laughing heartily at a joke of Terrence's, and beckoned
Graham to join them while Terrence repeated it. And when the three had
had their laugh, he prepared to take the picture. The burst of the
huge snake from the camera and the genuine screams of the startled
women served to dispel the gloom that threatened, and next Dick was
arranging a tournament of peanut-carrying.

From chair to chair, placed a dozen yards apart, the feat was with a
table knife to carry the most peanuts in five minutes. After the
preliminary try-out, Dick chose Paula for his partner, and challenged
the world, Wickenberg and the madroño grove included. Many boxes of
candy were wagered, and in the end he and Paula won out against Graham
and Ernestine, who had proved the next best couple. Demands for a
speech changed to clamor for a peanut song. Dick complied, beating the
accent, Indian fashion, with stiff-legged hops and hand-slaps on
thighs.

"I am Dick Forrest, son of Richard the Lucky, Son of Jonathan the
Puritan, son of John who was a sea-rover, as his father Albert before
him, who was the son of Mortimer, a pirate who was hanged in chains
and died without issue.

"I am the last of the Forrests, but first of the peanut-carriers.
Neither Nimrod nor Sandow has anything on me. I carry the peanuts on a
knife, a silver knife. The peanuts are animated by the devil. I carry
the peanuts with grace and celerity and in quantity. The peanut never
sprouted that can best me.

"The peanuts roll. The peanuts roll. Like Atlas who holds the world, I
never let them fall. Not every one can carry peanuts. I am God-gifted.
I am master of the art. It is a fine art. The peanuts roll, the
peanuts roll, and I carry them on forever.

"Aaron is a philosopher. He cannot carry peanuts. Ernestine is a
blonde. She cannot carry peanuts. Evan is a sportsman. He drops
peanuts. Paula is my partner. She fumbles peanuts. Only I, I, by the
grace of God and my own cleverness, carry peanuts.

"When anybody has had enough of my song, throw something at me. I am
proud. I am tireless. I can sing on forever. I shall sing on forever.

"Here beginneth the second canto. When I die, bury me in a peanut
patch. While I live--"

The expected avalanche of cushions quenched his song but not his
ebullient spirits, for he was soon in a corner with Lottie Mason and
Paula concocting a conspiracy against Terrence.

And so the evening continued to be danced and joked and played away.
At midnight supper was served, and not till two in the morning were
the Wickenbergers ready to depart. While they were getting on their
wraps, Paula was proposing for the following afternoon a trip down to
the Sacramento River to look over Dick's experiment in rice-raising.

"I had something else in view," he told her. "You know the mountain
pasture above Sycamore Creek. Three yearlings have been killed there
in the last ten days."

"Mountain lions!" Paula cried.

"Two at least.--Strayed in from the north," he explained to Graham.
"They sometimes do that. We got three five years ago.--Moss and
Hartley will be there with the dogs waiting. They've located two of
the beasts. What do you say all of you join me. We can leave right
after lunch."

"Let me have Mollie?" Lute asked.

"And you can ride Altadena," Paula told Ernestine.

Quickly the mounts were decided upon, Froelig and Martinez agreeing to
go, but promising neither to shoot well nor ride well.

All went out to see the Wickenbergers off, and, after the machines
were gone, lingered to make arrangements for the hunting.

"Good night, everybody," Dick said, as they started to move inside.
"I'm going to take a look at Alden Bessie before I turn in. Hennessy
is sitting up with her. Remember, you girls, come to lunch in your
riding togs, and curses on the head of whoever's late."

The ancient dam of the Fotherington Princess was in a serious way, but
Dick would not have made the visit at such an hour, save that he
wanted to be by himself and that he could not nerve himself for a
chance moment alone with Paula so soon after what he had overseen in
the patio.

Light steps in the gravel made him turn his head. Ernestine caught up
with him and took his arm.

"Poor old Alden Bessie," she explained. "I thought I'd go along."

Dick, still acting up to his night's rôle, recalled to her various
funny incidents of the evening, and laughed and chuckled with
reminiscent glee.

"Dick," she said in the first pause, "you are in trouble." She could
feel him stiffen, and hurried on: "What can I do? You know you can
depend on me. Tell me."

"Yes, I'll tell you," he answered. "Just one thing." She pressed his
arm gratefully. "I'll have a telegram sent you to-morrow. It will be
urgent enough, though not too serious. You will just bundle up and
depart with Lute."

"Is that all?" she faltered.

"It will be a great favor."

"You won't talk with me?" she protested, quivering under the rebuff.

"I'll have the telegram come so as to rout you out of bed. And now
never mind Alden Bessie. You run a long in. Good night."

He kissed her, gently thrust her toward the house, and went on his
way.

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The Little Lady Of The Big House - Chapter 30 The Little Lady Of The Big House - Chapter 30

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On the way back from the sick mare, Dick paused once to listen to therestless stamp of Mountain Lad and his fellows in the stallion barn.In the quiet air, from somewhere up the hills, came the ringing of asingle bell from some grazing animal. A cat's-paw of breeze fanned himwith sudden balmy warmth. All the night was balmy with the faint andalmost aromatic scent of ripening grain and drying grass. The stallionstamped again, and Dick, with a deep breath and realization that neverhad he more loved it all, looked up and circled the sky-line where thecrests of the mountains blotted the
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A dozen times that morning, dictating to Blake or indicating answers,Dick had been on the verge of saying to let the rest of thecorrespondence go."Call up Hennessy and Mendenhall," he told Blake, when, at ten, thelatter gathered up his notes and rose to go. "You ought to catch themat the stallion barn. Tell them not to come this morning but to-morrowmorning."Bonbright entered, prepared to shorthand Dick's conversations with hismanagers for the next hour."And--oh, Mr. Blake," Dick called. "Ask Hennessy about Alden Bessie.--The old mare was pretty bad last night," he explained to Bonbright."Mr. Hanley must see you right away, Mr. Forrest,"
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