WORK and play were inextricably entangled upon Ganado, the play being of a nature that fitted them better for their work, while the work, always in the open and usually from the saddle, they enjoyed fully as much as the play. While the tired business man of the city was expending a day’s vitality and nervous energy in an effort to escape from the turmoil of the mad rush-hour and find a strap from which to dangle homeward amid the toxic effluvia of the melting pot, Colonel Pennington plunged and swam in the cold, invigorating waters of his pool, after a day of labour fully as constructive and profitable as theirs.
“One more dive!” he called, balancing upon the end of the springboard, “and then I’m going out. Eva ought to be here by the time we’re dressed, hadn’t she? I’m about famished.”
“I haven’t heard the train whistle yet, though it must be due,” replied Mrs. Pennington. “You and Boy make so much noise swimming that we’ll miss Gabriel’s trumpet if we happen to be in the pool at the time!”
They were still bantering as they entered the house and sought their several rooms to dress.
Guy Evans strolled from the walled garden of the swimming pool to the open arch that broke the long pergola beneath which the driveway ran along the north side of the house. Here he had an unobstructed view of the broad valley stretching away to the mountains in the distance. Down the centre of the valley a toy train moved noiselessly. As he watched it, he saw a puff of white rise from the tiny engine. It rose and melted in the evening air before the thin, clear sound of the whistle reached his ears. The train crawled behind the green of trees and disappeared.
He knew that it had stopped at the station, and that a slender, girlish figure was alighting, with a smile for the porter and a gay word for the conductor who had carried her back and forth for years upon her occasional visits to the city a hundred miles away. Now the chauffeur was taking her bag and carrying it to the roadster that she would drive home along the wide, straight boulevard that crossed the valley—utterly ruining a number of perfectly good speed laws.
The headlights of a motor car turned in at the driveway. Guy went to the east porch and looked in at the living room door, where some of the family had already collected. “Eva’s coming!” he announced.
With a rush the car topped the hill, swung up the driveway, and stopped at the corner of the house. A door flew open, and the girl leaped from the driver’s seat. “Hello, everybody!” she cried.
Snatching a kiss from her brother as she passed him, she fairly leaped upon her mother hugging, kissing, laughing, dancing, and talking all at once. Espying her father, she relinquished a dishevelled and laughing mother and dived for him.
“Most adorable pops!” she cried, as he caught her in his arms. “Are you glad to have your little nuisance back? I’ll bet you’re not. Do you love me? You won’t when you know how much I’ve spent, but oh, popsy, I had such a good time! That’s all there was to it, and oh, momsie, who, who, who do you suppose I met? Oh, you’d never guess—never, never!”
“Whom did you meet?” asked her mother.
“Yes, little one, whom did you meet?” inquired her brother.
“And he’s perfectly gorgeous, “ continued the girl, as if there had been no interruption; “and I danced with him—oh, such divine dancing! Oh, Guy Evans! Why how do you do? I never saw you.”
The young man nodded glumly.
“How are you, Eva?” he said.
“Mrs. Evans is here, too, dear,” her mother reminded her.
The girl curtsied before her mother’s guest, and then threw her arm about the older woman’s neck.
“Oh, Aunt Mae!” she cried. “I’m so excited; but you should have seen him, and, momsie, I got the cutest riding hat!” They were moving toward the living room door, which Guy was holding open. “Guy, I got you the splendiferousest Christmas present!”
“Help!” cried her brother, collapsing into a porch chair. “Don’t you know that I have a weak heart? Do your Christmas shopping early—do it in April! Oh, Lord, can you beat it?” he demanded of the others. “Can you beat it?”
The colonel was glancing over the headlines of an afternoon paper that Eva had brought from the city.
“What’s new?” asked Custer.
“Same old rot,” replied his father. “Murders, divorces, kidnappers, bootleggers, and they haven’t even the originality to make them interesting by evolving new methods. Oh, hold on—this isn’t so bad! ‘Two hundred thousand dollars’ worth of stolen whisky landed on coast,” he read. ‘Prohibition enforcement agents, together with special agents from the Treasury Department, are working on a unique theory that may reveal the whereabouts of the fortune in bonded whisky stolen from a government warehouse in New York a year ago. All that was known until recently was that the whisky was removed from the warehouse in trucks in broad daylight, compassing one of the boldest robberies ever committed in New York. Now, from a source which they refuse to divulge, the government sleuths have received information which leads them to believe that the liquid loot was loaded aboard a sailing vessel, and after a long trip around the Horn, is lying somewhere off the coast of southern California. That it is being lightered ashore in launches and transported to some hiding place in the mountains is one theory upon which the government is working. The whisky is eleven years old, was bottled in bond three years ago, just before the Eighteenth Amendment became a harrowing reality. It will go hard with the traffickers in this particular parcel of wet goods if they are apprehended, since the theft was directly from a government bonded warehouse, and all government officials concerned in the search are anxious to make an example of the guilty parties.’
“Eleven years old!” sighed the colonel. “It makes my mouth water! I’ve been subsisting on home-made grape wine for over a year. Think of it—a Pennington! Why my ancestors must be writhing in their Virginia graves!”
“On the contrary, they’re probably laughing in their sleeves. They died before July 1, 1919,” interposed Custer.” “Eleven years old—eight years in the wood,” he mused aloud, shooting a quick glance in the direction of Guy Evans, who suddenly became deeply interested in a novel lying on a table beside his chair, notwithstanding the fact that he had read it six months before and hadn’t liked it. “And it will go hard with the traffickers, too,” continued young Pennington. “Well, I should hope it would. They’ll probably hang ’em, the vile miscreants!”
Guy had risen and walked to the doorway opening upon the patio.
“I wonder what is keeping Eva,” he remarked.
“Getting hungry?” asked Mrs. Pennington. “Well, I guess we all are. Suppose we don’t wait any longer? Eva won’t mind.”
They had finished their soup before Eva joined them, and after the men were reseated they took up the conversation where it had been interrupted.
During a brief moment when she was not engaged in conversation, Guy seized the opportunity to whisper to Eva, who sat next to him.
“Who was that bird you met in L. A.?” he asked.
“Which one! How many did you meet?”
“Oodles of them.”
“I mean the one you were ranting about.”
“Which one was I ranting about? I don’t remember.”
“You’re enough to drive anybody to drink, Eva Pennington!” cried the young man disgustedly.
“Radiant man!” she cooed. “What’s the dapper little idea in that talented brain jealous?”
“I want to know who he is,” demanded Guy.
“Who who is?”
“You know perfectly well who I mean—the poor fish you were raving about before dinner. You said you danced with him. Who is he? That’s what I want to know.”
“I don’t like the way you talk to me; but if you must know, he was the most dazzling thing you ever saw. He—”
“I never saw him, I don’t want to, and I don’t care how dazzling he is. I only want to know his name.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place? His name’s Wilson Crumb.” Her tone was as of one who says: “Behold Alexander the Great!”
“Wilson Crumb! Who’s he?”
“Do you mean to sit there and tell me that you don’t know who Wilson Crumb is, Guy Evans?” she demanded.
“Never heard of him,” he insisted.
“Never heard of Wilson Crumb, the famous actor—director? Such ignorance!”
“Did you ever hear of him before this trip to L.A?” inquired her brother from across the table. “I never heard you mention him before.”
“Well, maybe I didn’t,” admitted the girl; “but he’s the most dazzling dancer you ever saw—and such eyes! And maybe he’ll come out to the ranch and bring his company. He said they were often looking for such locations.”
“And I suppose you invited him?” demanded Custer accusingly.
“And why not? I had to be polite, didn’t I?”
“You know perfectly well that father has never permitted such a thing,” insisted her brother, looking toward the colonel for support.
“He didn’t ask father—he asked me,” returned the girl.
“You see,” said the colonel, “how simply Eva solves every little problem.”
“But you know, popsy, how perfectly superb it would be to have them take some pictures right here on our very own ranch, where we could watch them all day long.”
“Yes,” growled Custer; “watch them wreck the furniture and demolish the lawns! Why, one bird of a director ran a troop of cavalry over one of the finest lawns in Hollywood. Then they’ll go up in the hills and chase the cattle over the top into the ocean. I’ve heard all about them. I’d never allow one of ’em on the place.”
“Maybe they’re not all inconsiderate and careless,” suggested Mrs. Pennington.
“You remember there was a company took a few scenes at my place a year or so ago,” interjected Mrs. Evans. “They were very nice indeed.”
“They were just wonderful,” said Grace Evans. “I hope the colonel lets them come. It would be piles of fun!”
“You can’t tell anything about them,” volunteered Guy. “I understand they pick up all sorts of riffraff for extra people—I.W.’s and all sorts of people like that. I’d be afraid.”
He shook his head dubiously.
“The trouble with you two is,” asserted Eva, “that you’re afraid to let us girls see any nice-looking actors from the city. That’s what’s the matter with you!”
“Yes, they’re jealous,” agreed Mrs. Pennington, laughing.
“Well,” said Custer, “if there are leading men there are leading ladies, and from what I’ve seen of them the leading ladies are better-looking than the leading men. By all means, now that I consider the matter, let them come. Invite them at once, for a month—wire them!”
“Silly!” cried his sister. “He may not come here at all. He just mentioned it casually.”
“And all this tempest in a teapot for nothing,” said the colonel.
Wilson Crumb was forthwith dropped from the conversation and forgotten by all, even by impressionable little Eva.
As the young people gathered around Mrs. Pennington at the piano in the living room, Mrs. Evans and Colonel Pennington sat apart, carrying on a desultory conversation while they listened to the singing.
“We have a new neighbour,” remarked Mrs. Evans, “on the ten-acre orchard adjoining us on the west.”
“Yes—Mrs. Burke. She has moved in, has she?” inquired the colonel.
“Yesterday. She is a widow from the East—has a daughter in Los Angeles, I believe.”
“She came to see me about a month ago,” said the colonel, “to ask my advice about the purchase of the property. She seemed rather a refined, quiet little body, I must tell Julia—she will want to call on her.”
“I insisted on her taking dinner with us last night,” said Mrs. Evans. “She seems very frail, and was all worn out. Unpacking and settling is trying enough for a robust person, and she seems so delicate that I really don’t see how she stood it all.”