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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesIole - Chapter 2
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Iole - Chapter 2 Post by :CalGolden Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1260

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Iole - Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

When George Wayne arrived at Rose-Cross station, seaburnt, angry, and in excellent athletic condition, Briggs locked himself in the waiting-room and attempted to calm the newcomer from the window.

"If you're going to pitch into me, George," he said, "I'm hanged if I come out, and you can go to Guilford's alone."

"Come out of there," said Wayne dangerously.

"It isn't because I'm afraid of you," explained Briggs, "but it's merely that I don't choose to present either you or myself to a lot of pretty girls with the marks of conflict all over our eyes and noses."

At the words "pretty girls" Wayne's battle-set features relaxed. He motioned to the Pullman porter to deposit his luggage on the empty platform; the melancholy bell-notes of the locomotive sounded, the train moved slowly forward.

"Pretty girls?" he repeated in a softer voice. "Where are they staying? Of course, under the circumstances a personal encounter is superfluous. Where are they staying?"

"At Guilford's. I told you so in my telegrams, didn't I?"

"No, you didn't. You spoke only of a poet and his eight helpless children."

"Well, those girls are the eight children," retorted Briggs sullenly, emerging from the station.

"Do you mean to tell me----"

"Yes, I do. They're his children, aren't they--even if they are girls, and pretty." He offered a mollifying hand; Wayne took it, shook it uncertainly, and fell into step beside his friend. "Eight pretty girls," he repeated under his breath. "What did you do, Stuyve?"

"What was I to do?" inquired Briggs, nervously worrying his short blond mustache. "When I arrived here I had made up my mind to fire the poet and arrange for the hatchery and patrol. The farther I walked through the dust of this accursed road, lugging my suit-case as you are doing now, the surer I was that I'd get rid of the poet without mercy. But----"

"Well?" inquired Wayne, astonished.

"But when I'd trudged some five miles up the stifling road I suddenly emerged into a wonderful mountain meadow. I tell you, George, it looked fresh and sweet as Heaven after that dusty, parching tramp--a mountain meadow deep with mint and juicy green grasses, and all cut up by little rushing streams as cold as ice. There were a lot of girls in pink sunbonnets picking wild strawberries in the middle distance," he added thoughtfully. "It was picturesque, wasn't it? Come, now, George, wouldn't that give you pause?--eight girls in pink pajamas----"

"What!!!"

"And sunbonnets--a sort of dress reform of the poet's."

"Well?" inquired Wayne coldly.

"And there was the 'house beautiful,' mercifully screened by woods," continued Briggs. "He calls it the house beautiful, you know."

"Why not the beautiful house?" asked Wayne, still more coldly.

"Oh, he gets everything upside down. Guilford is harmless, you'll see." He began to whistle Fatinitza softly. There was a silence; then Wayne said:

"You interrupted your narrative."

"Where was I?"

"In the foreground with eight pink pajamas in the middle distance."

"Oh, yes. So there I was, travel-worn, thirsty, weary, uncertain----"

"Cut it," observed Wayne.

"And a stranger," continued Briggs with dignity, "in a strange country----"

"Peculiarity of strangers."

Briggs took no notice. "I drank from the cool springs; I lingered to pluck a delicious berry or two, I bathed my hot face, I----"

"Where," demanded Wayne, "were the eight pink 'uns?"

"Still in the middle distance. Don't interrupt me, George; I'm slowly drawing closer to them."

"Well, get a move on," retorted Wayne sulkily.

"I'm quite close to them now," explained Briggs; "close enough to remove my hat and smile and inquire the way to Guilford's. One superb young creature, with creamy skin and very red lips----"

Wayne halted and set down his suit-case.

"I'm not romancing; you'll see," said Briggs earnestly. "As I was saying, this young goddess looked at me in the sweetest way and said that Guilford was her father. And, Wayne, do you know what she did? She--er--came straight up to me and took hold of my hand, and led me up the path toward the high-art house, which is built of cobblestones! Think! Built of cobble----"

"Took you by the hand?" repeated Wayne incredulously.

"Oh, it was all right, George! I found out all about that sort of innocent thing later."

"Did you?"

"Certainly. These girls have been brought up like so many guileless speckled fawns out here in the backwoods. You know all about Guilford, the poet who's dead stuck on Nature and simplicity. Well, that's the man and that's his pose. He hasn't any money, and he won't work. His daughters raise vegetables, and he makes 'em wear bloomers, and he writes about chippy-birds and the house beautiful, and tells people to be natural, and wishes that everybody could go around without clothes and pick daisies----"

"Do _they_?" demanded Wayne in an awful voice. "You _said they wore bloomers. Did you say that to break the news more gently? Did you!"

"Of course they are clothed," explained his friend querulously; "though sometimes they wade about without shoes and stockings and do the nymph business. And, George, it's astonishing how modest that sort of dress is. And it's amazing how much they know. Why, they can talk Greek--_talk it, mind you. Every one of them can speak half a dozen languages--Guilford is a corker on culture, you know--and they can play harps and pianos and things, and give me thirty at tennis, even Chlorippe, the twelve-year-old----"

"Is that her name?" asked Wayne.

"Chlorippe? Yes. That bat-headed poet named all his children after butterflies. Let's see," he continued, telling off the names on his fingers; "there's Chlorippe, twelve; Philodice, thirteen; Dione, fourteen; Aphrodite, fifteen; Cybele, sixteen; Lissa, seventeen; Iole, eighteen, and Vanessa, nineteen. And, Wayne, never have the Elysian fields contained such a bunch of wholesome beauty as that mountain meadow contains all day long."

Wayne, trudging along, suit-case firmly gripped, turned a pair of suspicious eyes upon his friend.

"Of course," observed Briggs candidly, "I simply couldn't foreclose on the father of such children, could I? Besides, he won't let me discuss the subject."

"I'll investigate the matter personally," said Wayne.

"Nowhere to lay their heads! Think of it, George. And all because a turtle-fed, claret-flushed, idle and rich young man wants their earthly Paradise for a fish-hatchery. Think of it! A pampered, turtle-fed----"

"You've said that before," snapped Wayne. "If you were half decent you'd help me with this suit-case. Whew! It's hot as Yonkers on this cattle-trail you call a road. How near are we to Guilford's?"

An hour later Briggs said: "By the way, George, what are you going to do about the matter?"

Wayne, flushed, dusty, perspiring, scowled at him.

"What matter?"

"The foreclosure."

"I don't know; how can I know until I see Guilford?"

"But you need the hatchery----"

"I know it."

"But he won't let you discuss it----"

"If," said Wayne angrily, "you had spent half the time talking business with the poet that you spent picking strawberries with his helpless children I should not now be lugging this suit-case up this mountain. Decency requires few observations from _you just now."

"Pooh!" said Briggs. "Wait till you see Iole."

"Why Iole? Why not Vanessa?"

"Don't--that's all," retorted Briggs, reddening.

Wayne plumped his valise down in the dust, mopped his brow, folded his arms, and regarded Briggs between the eyes.

"You have the infernal cheek, after getting me up here, to intimate that you have taken the pick?"

"I do," replied Briggs firmly. The two young fellows faced each other.

"By the way," observed Briggs casually, "the stock they come from is as good if not better than ours. This is a straight game."

"Do you mean to say that you--you are--seriously----"

"Something like it. There! Now you know."

"For Heaven's sake, Stuyve----"

"Yes, for Heaven's sake and in Heaven's name don't get any wrong ideas into your vicious head."

"What?"

"I tell you," said Briggs, "that I was never closer to falling in love than I am to-day. And I've been here just two weeks."

"Oh, Lord----"

"Amen," muttered Briggs. "Here, give me your carpet-bag, you brute. We're on the edge of Paradise."

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