BENEATH the cool shadows of the north porch the master of Ganado, booted and spurred, rested after a long ride in the hot sun, sipping a long, cool glass of peach brandy and orange juice, and talking to his wife.
She knew the dream that her husband had built, and that with it he had purposely blinded his eyes and dulled his ears to the truth which the mother heart would have been glad to deny, but could not. Some day one of the children would go away, and then the other. It was only right and just that it should be so, for as they two had built their own home and their own lives and their little family circle, so their children must do even as they.
It was going to be hard on them both, much harder on the father, because of that dream that had become an obsession. Mrs. Pennington feared that it might break his spirit, for it would leave him nothing to plan for and hope for as he had planned and hoped for during the twenty-two years that they had spent upon Ganado.
Now that Grace was going to the city, how could they hope to keep their boy content upon the ranch? She knew he loved the old place, but he was entitled to see the world and to make his own place in it—not merely to slide spinelessly into the niche that another had prepared for him.
“I am worried about the boy,” she said presently.
“How? In what way?” he asked.
“He will be very blue and lonely after Grace goes,” she said.
“Damned foolishness, that’s what it is!” he blustered. “An actress! What does she know about acting?”
“Have you ever thought that some day our own children may want to go?” she asked.
“I won’t think about it!” he exploded.
“I hope you won’t have to,” she said; “but it’s going to be pretty hard on the boy after Grace goes.”
“Do you think he’ll want to go?” the colonel asked. His voice sounded suddenly strange and pleading, and there was a suggestion of pain and fear in his eyes that she had never seen there before in all the years that she had known him. “Do you think he’ll want to go?” he repeated in a voice that no longer sounded like his own.
“Stranger things have happened,” she replied, forcing a smile, “than a young man wanting to go out into the world and win his spurs!”
“Let’s not talk about it, Julia,” the colonel said presently. “You are right, but I don’t want to think about it. When it comes will be time enough to meet it. If my boy wants to go, he shall go—and he shall never know how deeply his father is hurt!”
“There they are now,” said Mrs. Pennington. “I hear them in the patio. Children!” she called. “Here we are on the north porch!”
They came through the house together, brother and sister, their arms about each other.
“Cus says I am too young to get married,” exclaimed the girl.
“Married!” ejaculated the colonel. “You and Guy talking of getting married? What are you going to live on, child?”
“On the hill back there.”
She jerked her thumb in a direction that was broadly south by west.
“That will give them two things to live on,” suggested the boy, grinning.
“What do you mean—two things?” demanded the girl.
“The hill and father,” her brother replied, dodging.
She pursued him, and he ran behind his mother’s chair; but at last she caught him, and, seizing his collar, pretended to chastise him, until he picked her up bodily from the floor and kissed her.
“Pity the poor goof she ensnares!” pleaded Custer, addressing his parents. “He will have three avenues of escape—being beaten to death, starved to death, or talked to death.”
Eva clapped a hand over his mouth.
“Now listen to me,” she cried. “Guy and I are going to build a teeny, weeny bungalow on that hill, all by ourselves, with a white tile splash board in the kitchen, and one of those broom closets that turn into an ironing board, and a very low, overhanging roof, almost flat, and a shower, and a great big living room where we can take up the rugs and dance, and a spiffy little garden in the back yard, and chickens, and Chinese rugs, and he is going to have a study all to himself where he writes his stories, an—”
At last she had to stop and join in the laughter.
“I think you are all mean,” she added. “You always laugh at me!”
“With you, little jabberer,” corrected the colonel; “for you were made to be laughed with and kissed.”
“Then kiss me,” she exclaimed, and sprang into his lap, at the imminent risk of deluging them both with “elixir”—a risk which the colonel, through long experience of this little daughter of his, was able to minimize by holding the glass at arm’s length as she dived for him.
“And when are you going to be married?” he asked.
“Oh, not for ages and ages!” she cried.
“But are you and Guy engaged?”
“Of course not!”
“Then why in the world all this talk about getting married?” he inquired, his eyes twinkling.
“Well, can’t I talk?” she demanded.
“Talk? I’ll say she can!” exclaimed her brother.