IT was May. The rainy season was definitely over. A few April showers had concluded it. The Ganado hills showed their most brilliant greens. The March pigs were almost ready to wean. White-faced calves and black colts and grey colts surveyed this beautiful world through soft, dark eyes, and were filled with the joy of living as they ran beside their gentle mothers. A stallion neighed from the stable corral, and from the ridge behind Jackknife Canyon the Emperor of Ganado answered him.
A girl and a man sat in the soft grass beneath the shade of alive oak upon the edge of a low bluff in the pasture where the brood mares grazed with their colts. Their horses were tied to another tree near by. The girl held a bunch of yellow violets in her hand, and gazed dreamily down the broad canyon toward the valley. The man sat a little behind her and gazed at the girl. For a long time neither spoke.
“You cannot be persuaded to give it up, Grace?” he asked at last. She shook her head.
“I shall never be happy until I had tried it,” she replied.
“Of course,” he said, “I know how you feel about it. I feel the same way. I want to get away—away from the deadly stagnation and sameness of this life; but I am going to try to stick it out for father’s sake, and I wish that you loved me enough to stick it out for mine. I believe that together we could get enough happiness out of life here to make up for what we are denied of real living, such as only a big city can offer. Then, when father is gone, we could go and live in the city—in any city that we wanted to live in—Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, London, Paris—anywhere. “
“I know,” she said, and they were silent again for a time. “You are a good son, Custer,” she said presently. “I wouldn’t have you any different. I am not so good a daughter. Mother does not want me to go. It is going to make her very unhappy, and yet I am going. The man who loves me does not want me to go. It is going to make him very unhappy, and yet I am going. It seems very selfish; but oh, Custer, I cannot help but feel I am right! It seems to me that I have a duty to perform, and that this is the only way I can perform it. Perhaps I am not only silly, but sometimes I feel that I am called by a higher power to give myself for a little time to the world, that the world may be happier and, I hope, a little better. You know I have always felt that the stage was one of the greatest powers for good in all the world, and now I believe that some day the screen will be an even greater power for good. It is with the conviction that I may help toward this end that I am so eager to go. You will be very glad and very happy when I come back, that I did not listen to your arguments.”
“I hope you are right, Grace.” Custer Pennington said.
On a rustic seat beneath the new leaves of an umbrella tree a girl and a boy sat beside the upper lily pond on the south side of the hill below the ranch house. The girl held a spray of Japanese quince blossoms in her hand, and gazed dreamily at the water splashing lazily over the rocks into the pond. The boy sat beside her and gazed at the girl. For a long time neither spoke.
“Won’t you please say yes?” whispered the boy presently.
“How perfectly, terribly silly you are!” she replied.
“I am not silly,” he said. “I am twenty, and you are almost eighteen. It’s time that we were marrying and settling down.”
“On what?” she demanded.
“Well, we won’t need much at first. We can live at home with mother,” he explained, “until I sell a few stories.”
“How perfectly gorgeristic!” she cried.
“Don’t make fun of me! You wouldn’t if you loved me,” he pouted.
“I do love you silly! But whatever in the world put the dapper little idea into your head that I wanted to be supported by my mother-in-law?”
“Aw, come, now, you needn’t get mad at me. I was only fooling; but wouldn’t it be great, Ev? We could always be together then, and I could write and you could—could—”
“Wash dishes,” she suggested. The light died from his eyes.
“I’m sorry I’m poor,” he said. “I didn’t think you cared about that, though.”
She laid a brown hand gently over his.
“You know I don’t care,” she said. “I am a catty old thing. I’d just love it if we had a little place all our very own just a teeny, weeny bungalow. I’d help you with your work, and keep hens, and have a little garden with onions and radishes and everything, and we wouldn’t have to buy anything from the grocery store, and a bank account, and one sow; and when we drove into the city people would say, ‘There goes Guy Thackeray Evans, the famous author, but I wonder where his wife got that hat!’ “
“Oh Ev!” he cried laughing. “You never can be serious more than two seconds can you?”
“Why should I be?” she inquired. “And anyway, I was. It really would be elegantiferous if we had a little place of our own; but my husband has got to be able to support me, Guy. He’d lose his self-respect if he didn’t; and then, if he lost his, how could I respect him? You’ve got to have respect on both sides, or you can’t have love and happiness.”
His face grew stern with determination.
“I’ll get the money,” he said; but he did not look at her. “But now that Grace is going away, mother will be all alone if I leave, too. Couldn’t we live with her for a while?”
“Papa and mama have always said that it was the worst thing a young married couple could do,” she replied. “We could live near her, and see her every day; but I don’t think we should all live together. Really though, do you think Grace is going? It seems just too awful.”
“I am afraid she is,” he replied sadly. “Mother is all broken up about it; but she tries not to let Grace know.”
“I can’t understand it,” said the girl. “It seems to me a selfish thing to do, and yet Grace has always been so sweet and generous. No matter how much I wanted to go, I don’t believe I could bring myself to do it, knowing how terribly it would hurt papa. Just think, Guy—it is the first break, except for the short time we were away at school, since we have been born. We have all lived here always, it seems, your family and mine, like one big family; but after Grace goes it will be the beginning of the end. It will never be the same again.”
There was a note of seriousness and sadness in her voice that sounded not at all like Eva Pennington. The boy shook his head.
“It is too bad,” he said; “but Grace is so sure she is right—so positive that she has a great future before her, and that we shall all be so proud of her—that sometimes I am convinced myself.”
The girl rose.
“Come on!” she said. “Let’s have a look at the pools—it isn’t a perfect day unless I’ve seen fish in every pool. Do you remember how we used to watch and watch and watch for the fish in the lower pools, and run as fast as we could to be the first up to the house to tell if we saw them, and how many?”
They walked on in silence along the winding pathways among the flower-bordered pools, to stop at last beside the lower one. This had originally been a shallow wading pool for the children when they were small, but it was now given over to water hyacinth and brilliant fantails.
“There!” said the girl, presently. “I have seen fish in each pool.”
“And you can go to bed with a clear conscience tonight,” he laughed.
To the west of the lower pool there were no trees to obstruct their view of the hills that rolled down from the mountains to form the western wall of the canyon in which the ranch buildings and cultivated fields lay. As the two stood there, hand in hand, the boy’s eyes wandered lovingly over the soft, undulating lines of these lower hills, with their parklike beauty of greensward dotted with wild walnut trees. As he looked he saw, for a brief moment, the figure of a man on horseback passing over the hollow of a saddle before disappearing upon the southern side.
Small though the distant figure was, and visible but for a moment, the boy recognized the military carriage of the rider. He glanced quickly at the girl to note if she had seen, but it was evident that she had not.
“Well, Ev,” he said, “l guess I’ll be toddling.”
“So early?” she demanded.
“You see I’ve got to get busy, if I’m going to get the price of that teeny, weeny bungalow,” he explained.
A moment later he swung into the saddle, and with a wave of his hand cantered off up the canyon.
“Now what,” said the girl to herself, “is he going up there for? He can’t make any money back there in the hills. He ought to be headed straight for home and his typewriter!”