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Title: Play the Game!
Author: Mitchell, Ruth Comfort, 1882-1954
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Play the Game!" ***

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Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



PLAY THE GAME!

BY

RUTH COMFORT MITCHELL


[Illustration: Publisher's logo]


D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

NEW YORK :: LONDON :: 1924

COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY


Copyright, 1920, by The Crowell Publishing Company

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

       *       *       *       *       *

TO MY BROTHERS

       *       *       *       *       *

Books by

RUTH COMFORT MITCHELL

       *       *       *       *       *

CORDUROY

NARRATIVES IN VERSE

JANE JOURNEYS ON

PLAY THE GAME

       *       *       *       *       *

D. APPLETON AND COMPANY


New York         London

       *       *       *       *       *



PLAY THE GAME!



CHAPTER I


There was no denying the fact that Honor Carmody liked the boys. No one
ever attempted to deny it, least of all Honor herself.

When she finished grammar school her mother and her gay young stepfather
told her they had decided to send her to Marlborough rather than to the
Los Angeles High School.

The child looked utterly aghast. "Oh," she said, "I wouldn't like that
at all. I don't believe I _could_. I couldn't _bear_ it!"

"My dear," her mother chided, "don't be silly! It's a quite wonderful
school, known all over the country. Girls are sent there from Chicago
and New York, and even Boston. You'll be with the best girls, the very
nicest----"

"That's just it," Honor interrupted, forlornly.

"What do you mean?"

"_Girls._ Just girls. Oodles and oodles of nothing but girls. Honestly,
Muzzie, I don't think I could _stand_ it." She was a large, substantial
young creature with a broad brow and hearty coloring and candid eyes.
Her stepfather was sure she would never have her mother's beauty, but he
was almost equally sure that she would never need it. He studied her
closely and her actions and reactions intrigued him. He laughed, now,
and his wife turned mildly shocked eyes on him.

"Stephen, dear! Don't encourage her in being queer. I don't like her to
be queer." Mrs. Lorimer was not in the least queer herself, unless,
indeed, it was queer to be startlingly lovely and girlish and appealing
at forty-one, with a second husband and six children. She was not an
especially motherly person except in moments of reproof and then she
always spoke in a remote third person. "Honor, Mother wants you to be
more with girls." Then, as if to make it clear that she was not merely
advancing a personal whim,--"You need to be more with girls."

"Why?"

"Why--why because Mother says you do." Mrs. Lorimer did not like to
argue. She always got out of breath and warm-looking.

Her daughter dropped on the floor at her feet. Mrs. Lorimer had small,
happy-looking, lily-of-the-field hands and Honor took one of them
between her hard brown paws and squeezed it. "I know, but--_why_ do you
say so? I don't know anything about girls. Why should I, when I've had
eight boy cousins and five boy brothers and"--she gave Stephen Lorimer a
brief, friendly grin--"and two boy fathers!" Her stepfather was not
really younger than his wife but he was incurably boyish. The girl grew
earnest. "Please, _pretty-please_, let me go to L. A. High! I've counted
on it so! And"--she was as intent and free from self-consciousness as a
terrier at a rat hole--"all the boys I know are going to L. A. High! And
_Jimsy's_ going, and he'll _need_ me!"

Her stepfather laughed again and lighted a cigarette. "She has you
there, Mildred. He will need her."

"Of course he will." Honor turned a grateful face to him. "I'll have to
do all his English and Latin for him, so he can get signed up every week
and play football!"

Mrs. Lorimer did not see why her daughter's finishing need be curtailed
by young James King's athletic activities and she started in to say so
with vigor and emphasis, but her husband held up his long beautifully
modeled hand rather in the manner of a traffic policeman and stopped
her.

"Look here, Mildred," he said, "suppose you and I convene in special
session and consider this thing from all angles and then let her know
what it comes to,--shall we? Run along, Top Step!"

"All right, Stepper," said the child, relievedly. "_You_ explain it to
her." She went contentedly away and a moment later they heard her robust
young voice lifted on the lawn next door,--"Jim-_zee_! Oh, Jimsy!
Come-mawn-_out_!"

"You see?" Mrs. Lorimer wanted rather inaccurately to know. "That's what
we've got to stop, Stephen."

He smiled. "But--as your eldest offspring just now inquired--why?"

"_Why?_" She lifted her hands and let them fall into her lap again, palm
upward, and regarded him in gentle exasperation. "Stephen, you know,
really, sometimes I feel that you are not a bit of help to me with the
children."

"Sometimes you do, I daresay," he granted her, serenely, "but most of
the time you must be simply starry-eyed with gratitude over the
brilliant way I manage them. Come along over here and we'll talk it
over!" He patted the place beside him on the couch.

"You mean," said his wife a little sulkily, going, nevertheless, "that
you'll talk me over!"

"That is my secret hope," said Stephen Lorimer.

It was all quite true. He did manage her children and their
children--there were three of each--with astonishing ease and success.
They amused him, and adored him. He understood them utterly. Honor was
seven when her own father died and nine when her mother married again.
Stephen Lorimer would never forget her first inspection of him.
Nursemaids had done their worst on the subject of stepfathers; fairy
tales had presented the pattern. He knew exactly what was going on in
her mind, and--quite as earnestly beneath his persiflage as he had set
himself to woo the widow--he set himself to win her daughter. It was a
matter of moments only before he saw the color coming back into her
square little face and the horror seeping out of her eyes. It was a
matter of days only until she sought him out and told him, in her
mother's presence, that she believed she liked him better than her first
father.

"Honor, _dear_! You--you mustn't, really----" Mildred Lorimer insisted
with herself on being shocked.

"Don't _you_, Muzzie? Don't you like him better?" the child wanted
persistently to know. "He was very nice, of course; I did like him
awfully. But he was always 'way off Down Town ... at The Office. We
didn't have any fun with him. Stepper's always home. I'm glad we married
a newspaper one this time."

"Stephen, that dreadful name.... What will people think?"

Her new husband didn't in the least care. He and Honor had gravely
considered on that first day what they should call each other. It seemed
to Stephen Lorimer that it was hardly fair to the gentleman who had
stayed so largely at The Office to have his big little daughter and his
tiny sons calling his successor Father or Dad, and _Papa_ with all its
shades and shifts of accent left him cold. "Let's see, Honor.
'Stepfather' as a salutation sounds rather accusing, doesn't it?
'Step-pa,' now, is less austere, but----"

"Oh, Stephen, _dear_!" They were not consulting Mrs. Lorimer at all.

"I've got it! It's an inspiration! 'Stepper!' Neat, crisp, brisk. Means,
if any one should ask you, 'Step-pa' and also, literally, stepper; a
stepper; one who steps--into another's place."

"_Stephen_----"

"Well, haven't I, my dear?" He considered the three young Carmodys,
nine, seven, and five. "Steps yourselves, aren't you? Honor's the top
step and----"

"Oh, Stepper, call me Top Step! I like that."

"Right. And Billy's Bottom Step and Ted's the Tweeny! Now we're all
set!"

"Yes," said Honor, contentedly. She herded her little brothers out of
the room and came back alone. "But--what'll I tell people you _are_?"

"Why, I think," he considered, "you're young enough and trusting enough
to call me A Writer."

"I mean, are you Muzzie's step-husband, too?"

It was the first time she had seen the lightness leave his eyes. "No.
_No._ I am your moth--I am her husband. There is no step there." He got
up and walked over to where his wife was sitting and towered over her.
He was a tall man and he looked especially tall at that moment. "Her
plain--husband. Extremely plain, as it happens"--he was himself again
for an instant--"but--_her husband_." It seemed to the child that he had
forgotten which one of them had asked him the question and was
addressing himself to her mother by mistake. He seemed at once angry and
demanding and anxious, and she had never seen her mother so pink.
However, her question had been answered and she had affairs of her own.
She went away without a backward glance so she did not see her
stepfather drop to his knees beside the chair and gather the quiet woman
roughly into his arms, nor hear his insistent voice. "Her husband. The
_first--husband--she--ever had. Say it, Mildred. Say it._"

And now Honor was thirteen and a half, and tardily ready for High
School, and there were three little Lorimers, twins and a six months'
old single. Stephen Lorimer, who had been a singularly footloose world
rover, had settled down securely in the old Carmody house on South
Figueroa Street. He was intensely proud of his paternity, personal and
vicarious, and took it not seriously but joyously. He was dramatic
critic and special writer for the leading newspaper of Los Angeles, and
theoretically he worked by night and slept by day, but as a matter of
puzzling fact he did not sleep at all, unless one counted his brief
morning naps. His eyes, in consequence, seemed never to be quite open,
but nothing, nevertheless, escaped them.

An outsider, looking in on them now, the erect, hot-cheeked, imperious
woman, a little insolent always of her beauty, and the lolling, lounging
man with the drooping lids, would have placed his odds unhesitatingly
on her winning of any point she might have in mind. Even Mildred Lorimer
herself, after four years and a half of being married to him, thought
she would win out over him this time. Honor was the only daughter she
had, the only daughter she would ever have, for she had definitely
decided, at forty-one, to cease her dealings with the long-legged bird
who had flapped six times to her roof, and it seemed intolerable to her
that--with five boys--her one girl should be so robustly ungirlish.

"Now, then, let's have it. You want Honor to go to Marlborough. As she
herself asked and I myself repeated,--why?"

"And as I answered you both," said his wife, trying hard to keep the
conversation spinning lightly in the air as he did, "it's because I want
her to be more like other girls."

"And I," said her husband, "do not." This was the place for Mildred
Lorimer to fling her own _why_ but her husband was too quick for her.
"Because she is so much finer and sounder and saner and sweeter as she
is. Mildred, I have never seen any living creature so selfless. What was
the word they coined in that play about Mars?--'_Otherdom?_' That's it,
yes; otherdom. That's Honor Carmody. She could have finished grammar
school at twelve, but Jimsy needed her help."

"That's just it! Can't you see how wrong that is?"

"No. I'm too much occupied with seeing how right it is. Good Lord, my
dear, in a world given over to the first person perpendicular, can't you
see the amazing beauty and rarity of your child's soul? Every day and
all day long she gives herself,--to you, to me, to the kiddies, to her
friends. She is the eternal mother." Mildred Lorimer was not the eternal
mother. She was not in fact a mother at all. The physical fact of
motherhood had six times descended upon her and she was doing her
gentle, well-bred, conscientious best in six lively directions, but
under it all she was forever Helen, forever the best beloved. She was
getting rather beyond her depth but she was not giving up. Stephen, in
discussion, had an elusive way of soaring into hazy generalities. She
brought him down.

"I can't see why it should make her any less unselfish to attend the
best girls' school than to--to run with the boys." She brought out the
little vulgarism with a faint curl of her lovely lip.

"'Run with the boys!' That has a positively Salem flavor, hasn't it?
Almost as deadly, that 'with,' as 'after,'" He loved words, Stephen
Lorimer; he played with them and juggled them. "Yet isn't that exactly
what the girls of to-day must and should do? Isn't it what the girls of
to-morrow--naturally, unrebuked--will do? Not running after them, slyly
or brazenly; not sitting at home, crimped and primped and curled,
waiting to be run after. No," he said hotly, getting up and beginning to
swallow up the room from wall to wall with his long strides, "_no_! With
them. Running with them, chin in, chest out, sound, conditioned,
unashamed!" He believed that he meant to write a tremendous book, one
day, Honor's stepfather. He often reeled off whole chapters in his mind,
warm and glowing. It was only when he got it down on paper that it
cooled and congealed. "Running with them in the race--for the race----"
his hurtling promenade took him to the window and he paused for an
instant. "Come here, Mildred. Look at her!"

Mildred Lorimer came to join him. On the shabby, rusty lawn of the King
place, next door, all the rustier for its nearness to their own emerald
turf, sat Honor Carmody and Jimsy King, jointly and severally lacing up
a football.

"Yes, look at her!" said her mother with feeling.

"Leave her alone, Mildred. Leave her alive!"

The two children were utterly absorbed. The boy was half a head taller
than the girl, heavier, sturdier, of a startling beauty. There was a
stubborn, much reviled wave in his bronze hair and his eyes were a dark
hazel flecked with black. His skin was bronze, too, bronzed by many
Catalina summer and winter swims at Ocean Park. It made his teeth seem
very white and flashing.

The window was open to the soft Southern California air, and the voices
came across to the watchers.

"_Hold_ it!"

"I _am_ holding it!"

A handsome man of forty came up the tree-shaded street, not quite
steadily, and turned into the King's walk. His hat was pulled low over
his eyes and the collar of his coat was turned up in spite of the
mildness of the day. He nodded to the boy and girl as he went past them
and on into the house.

"_Again!_" said Mrs. Lorimer, tragically. "That's the second time this
week!"

"Rough on the kid," said her husband. "See him now."

Jimsy King had turned his head and was following his father's slow
progress up the steps and across the porch and into the house. "Be in in
a minute, Dad!" he called after him.

"Loyal little beggar. I saw him steering him up Broadway one morning,
just at school time. Pluck."

Honor had looked after James King, the elder, too, and then at his son,
and then at the football in her hands again. "Hurry up," she commanded.
"Pull it tighter! _Tighter!_ Do you call that pulling?" Inexorably she
got his attention back to the subject in hand.

"That makes it all the worse," said Mrs. Lorimer. "Of course they're
only children--babies, really--but I couldn't have anything.... It's bad
blood, Stephen. I _couldn't_ have my child interested in one of the
'Wild Kings'!"

"Well, you won't have, if you're wise. Let 'em alone. Let 'em lace
footballs on the front lawn ... and they won't hold hands on the side
porch! Why, woman dear, like the well-known Mr. Job, the thing you
greatly fear you'll bring to pass! Shut her up in a girls' school--even
the best and sanest--and you'll make boys suddenly into creatures of
romance, remote, desirable. Don't emphasize and underline for her. She's
as clean as a star and as unself-conscious as a puppy! Don't hurry her
into what one of those English play-writing chaps calls--Granville
Barker, isn't it?--Yes,--_Madras House_--'the barnyard drama of sex....
Male and female created He them ... but men and women are a long time
in the making!'"

The lacing of the football was finished. The boy lifted his head and
looked soberly at the door through which his father had entered, not
quite steadily. Then he drew a long breath, threw back his shining
bronze head, said something in a low tone to the girl, and ran into the
house.

Honor Carmody got to her feet and stood looking after him, the odd
mothering look in her square child's face. She stood so for long
moments, without moving, and her mother and her stepfather watched her.

Suddenly Stephen Lorimer flung the window up as far as it would go and
leaned out.

"It's all right, Top Step," he called, meeting the leaping gladness of
her glance. "We've decided, your mother and I. You're going to L. A.
High! You're going----" but now he dropped his voice and spoke only for
the woman beside him, slipping a penitent and conciliatory arm about
her, his eyes impish, "you're going to run with the boys!"



CHAPTER II


The "Wild Kings" had lived in their fine old house ever since the
neighborhood could remember. The first and probably the wildest of them
had come out from Virginia when Los Angeles was still a drowsing Spanish
village, bringing with him an aged and excellent cellar and a flock of
negro servants. Honor's Carmody grandmother could remember the
picturesqueness of his entourage, of James King himself, the
hard-riding, hard-drinking, soft-spoken cavalier with his proud, pale
wife and his slim, high-stepping horses and his grinning blacks. The
general conviction was, Grandmother Carmody said, that he had come--or
been sent--west to make a fresh start. There was something rather
pathetically naïve about that theory. There could never be a fresh start
for the "Wild Kings" in a world of excellent cellars and playing cards.
In a surprisingly short time he had re-created his earlier atmosphere
for himself--an atmosphere of charm and cheer and color ... and pride
and shame and misery, in which his wife and children lived and moved and
had their being. In the early eighties he built the big beautiful house
on South Figueroa Street, moved the last of his negro servitors and the
last of his cellar and his young family into it and died. Since that day
Kings had come and gone in it, big, bonny creatures, liked and sighed
over, and the house was shabby now, cracked and peeling for the want of
paint, the walks grass-grown, the lawn frowzy, lank and stringy curtains
at the dim windows. There were only three bottles of the historic cellar
left now, precious, cob-webbed; there was only one of the blacks, an
ancient, crabbed crone of the second generation, with a witch's hand at
cookery and a witch's temper. And there were only James King III and
James King IV, his son, Honor's Jimsy, left of the line in the old home.
The negress fed and mended them; an infrequent Japanese came in to make
futile efforts on house and garden.

The neighbors said, "How do you do, Mr. King? Like summer, really, isn't
it?" and looked hastily away. One never could be sure of finding him
quite himself. Even if he walked quite steadily he might not be able to
talk quite steadily, but he was always a King, always sure of his
manner, be he ever so unsure of his feet or his tongue. He had been
worse since his wife died, when the boy was still a toddler. She was a
slim, sandy-haired Scotch girl with steady eyes and a prominent chin,
who had married him to reform him, and the neighbors were beginning to
think she was in a fair way to compass it when she died. No one had ever
been able to pity Jeanie King; she had been as proud as the pale lady
who came with the first "Wild King" from Virginia. There was that about
the Kings; it had to be granted that their women always stuck; they must
have had compensating traits and graces. No King wife ever gave up or
deserted save by death, and no King wife ever wept on a neighbor's
shoulder.

And now they had all wandered back to Virginia or up to Alaska or down
to Mexico, and there was not an uncle or cousin of his tribe left in Los
Angeles for Jimsy King; only his bad, beloved father, coming home at
noon in rumpled evening dress, but wearing it better and more handily,
for all that, than any other man on the block.

It was agreed that there was no chance for Jimsy to escape the heritage
of his blood. People were kind about it, but very firm. "If his mother
had lived he might have had a chance, the poor boy," Mrs. Lorimer would
sigh, "but with that father, and that home life, and that example----"

"My dear," said Stephen Lorimer, "can't you see what you are doing? By
_you_ I mean the neighborhood. You are holding his heredity up like a
hoop for him to jump through!"

Honor's stepfather held that there might be a generous share of the
firm-chinned Scotch mother in Jimsy. Certainly it was a fighting chance;
he was living in a day of less warmth and color than his father and his
forbears; there were more outlets for his interest and his energy. His
father, for instance, had not played football. Jimsy had played as soon
as he could walk alone--football, baseball, basketball, handball, water
polo; life was a hard and tingling game to him. "It's an even chance,"
said Stephen Lorimer, "and if Honor's palling with him can swing it, can
we square it with ourselves to take her away from him?" He carried his
point, as usual, and the boy and the girl started in at Los Angeles High
on the same day. Honor decided on the subjects which Jimsy could most
safely take--the things he was strongest in, the weak subjects in which
she was strong. There was an inexorable rule about being signed up by
every teacher for satisfactory work on Friday afternoon before a
Saturday football game; it was as a law of the Medes and Persians; even
the teachers who adored him most needs must abide by it. There was no
cajoling any of them; even the pretty, ridiculously young thing who
taught Spanish maintained a Gibraltar-like firmness.

"You'll simply have to study, Jimsy, that's all," said Honor.

"Study, yes, but that's not learning, Skipper!" (She had been that ever
since her first entirely seaworthy summer at Catalina.) "I can study, if
I have to, but that's not saying I'll get anything into my sconce! I'm
pretty slow in the head!"

"I know you are," said Honor, sighing. "Of course, you've been so busy
with other things. Think what you've done in athletics!"

"Fast on the feet and slow in the head," he grinned. "Well, I'll die
trying. But you've got to stand by, Skipper."

"Of course. I'll do your Latin and English and part of your Spanish."

"Gee, you're a brick."

"It's nothing." She dismissed it briefly. "It's my way of doing
something, Jimsy, that's all. It's the only way I can be on the team."
She glowed pinkly at the thought. "When I sit up on the bleachers and
see you make a touchdown and hear 'em yell--why I'm _there_! I'm on the
team because I've helped a little to keep you on the team! It almost
makes up for having to be a girl. Just for the moment, I'm not sitting
up high, clean and starched and safe; I'm on the field, hot and muddy
and with my nose bleeding, _doing_ something for L. A.! I'm _there_!"

Jimsy slapped her on the shoulder like a man and brother. "You're
_there_ all the time, Skipper! You're there a million!"

He made the first team the first day he went out to practice. There was
no denying him. He captained the team the second year and every year
until he graduated, a year late for all his friend's unwearying toil. As
a matter of fact they did not make a special effort to get him through
on time; the team needed him, the squad needed him, L. A. needed him. It
was more like a college than a High School in those days, with its
numbers and its spirit, that strong, intangible evidence of things not
seen. There was something about it, a concentrated essence of Jimsy King
and hundreds of lesser Jimsy Kings, which made it practically
unconquerable. In the year before his final one the team reached its
shining perfection and held it to the end. It is still a name to conjure
with at the school on the hill, Jimsy King's. The old teachers remember;
the word comes down. "A regular old-time L. A. team--the fighting
spirit. Like the days of Jimsy King!"

Other teams might score on them; frequently they could not, but when
they did the rooting section was not dashed. It lifted up its multiple
voice, young, insolent, unafraid, in mocking song, and Honor Carmody,
just on the edge of the section, beside her stepfather, sang with them:


     _You can't beat L. A. High!_
     _You can't beat L. A. High!_
     _Use your team to get up steam_
     _But you can't beat L. A. High!_


It rolled out over the football field and echoed away in the soft
Southern California air. It was gay, inexorable; you _couldn't_ beat
L. A. High, field or bleachers.

Stephen Lorimer never missed a game. His wife went once and never again.

"I suppose I am too sensitive," she said, "but I can't help it. It's the
way I'm made. I simply cannot endure seeing anything so brutal. I can't
understand those young girls ... and the _mothers_!" Two of her own were
on the second team, now, but she never saw them play, and they came in
the back way, after games and practice, sneaking up to Honor's room with
their black eyes and their gory noses for her capable first aid. She
was not one, Mildred Lorimer, into whose blood something of the iron had
entered. Her boys bewildered her as they grew and toughened out of baby
fiber. She was a little unhappy about it, but she was more beautiful
than she had ever been in her life, and freer, with the last little
Lorimer shifting sturdily for himself and his father more in love with
her than ever. She had more or less resigned her active motherhood to
him. The things she might have done for Honor, the selection of her
frocks and hats, the color scheme of her room, her parties, the girl at
seventeen did efficiently for herself. Her childish squareness of face
and figure was rounding out rather splendidly and she had a sure and
dependable sense of what to wear. Her things were good in line and
color, smartly simple. She had thick braids of honey-colored hair wound
round her head; her brow was broad and calm, her gray eyes serene; she
had a fresh and hearty color. Stephen Lorimer believed that she had a
voice. She sang like one of the mocking birds in her garden, joyously,
radiantly, riotously, and her stepfather, who knew amazingly many great
persons, persuaded a famous artist to hear her when she gave her concert
in Los Angeles.

"Yes," she said, nodding her head, "it is a voice. It is a voice. A
little teaching, yes; this Barrett woman who was once my pupil, she will
be safe with her. Not too much; not too much singing. Finish your
school, my little one. Then you shall come over to me for a year, yes?
We shall see what we shall see!" She patted her cheek and sent her out
of the room ahead of Stephen.

"Well?" he wanted to know.

"But yes, a voice, as I have said. Send her to me when her schooling is
over."

"She has a future?"

The great contralto shrugged her thick shoulders. "I fear not. I think
not."

His face lengthened. "Why?"

"Because, my friend, she will care more for living. She will not care so
greatly to _get_, that large child. She will only _give_. She has not
the fine relentless selfishness to make the artist. Well, we shall see.
Life may break her. Send her to me. In two years, yes? No, no, I will
have no thanks. It is so small a thing to do.... One grows fat and old;
it is good to have youngness near. Now, go, my friend. I shall gargle my
throat and sleep." She gave him a hot, plump hand to kiss.

Honor was not especially impressed. She rather thought, when the time
came, she should prefer to go to Stanford, but she liked her music
lessons, meanwhile. It filled up her time, the business of singing, in
that last year when she was more or less marking time and helping Jimsy
through.

Her stepfather watched her with growing amazement. So far as any one
might judge, and to Mrs. Lorimer's tearful relief, Honor's attitude
toward the last of the "Wild Kings" was at seventeen what it had been at
twelve, at six.

"I was right, wasn't I?" Stephen wanted to know.

"Well ... if you can only keep on being right about it! I'm so thankful
about her singing. That year abroad will be wonderful. She'll meet new
people ... real men."

"Young Jimsy is exhibiting every known symptom of becoming a real man."

"Yes, but he's a King."

"That appears to be the universal opinion regarding him."

"Stephen _dear_, don't be ridiculous! You've always been as bewitched
about the boy as Honor herself." Mrs. Lorimer was dressed for a luncheon
and her husband, heavy-eyed and flushed of face, had cut short his late
morning sleep to drive her. She was still for him the everlasting Helen.

"Mildred," he said, quitting the battlefield for the eternal balcony,
"do you know that you are lovelier this instant than you were the day I
married you?"

Mrs. Lorimer knew it quite well. It was due somewhat to good management
as well as luck, and she liked having the results appreciated. She let
him kiss her, carefully, because she had her hat on.

The elder James King did not seem to age with the years. "He is,"
Stephen Lorimer said facetiously, "only too well preserved!" His manner
and mode of life remained the same, save that he lost more heavily at
cards. For the first time in its history the old King place was
mortgaged. In a day when every one who was any one, as Honor's mother
put it, was getting a motor car, the Kings had none. Jimsy, of course,
rode regally in every one else's. The Lorimers had two, an electric in
which Honor's mother glided softly with her little whirring bell from
clubs to luncheons and from luncheons to teas, and a rough and ready
seven-passenger affair into which the whole tribe might be piled, and
which Honor Carmody drove better than her stepfather, who was apt to
dream at the wheel. On Sundays Stephen Lorimer took them all, Jimsy,
Honor, Billy and Ted Carmody, the Lorimer twins and the last little
Lorimer, on motor picnics to the beach. They drove to Santa Monica, down
the Palisades, up the narrow, winding, wave-washed road to the Malibou
Ranch and built a fire and broiled chops and made coffee and baked
potatoes, after their swim, ate like refugees and slept like puppies on
the sand. In the afternoon, when they came back to the gracious old
house in its wide garden on South Figueroa Street Mildred Lorimer would
be waiting, in a frock he loved, to give her husband his tea, cool,
lovely, remote from the rougher fun of life.

In the evenings--Sunday evenings--Honor held her joyous At Homes. Three
or four favored girls and a dozen boys came to supper, a loud, hilarious
meal. Takasugi, the cook, and Kada, the second boy, were given their
freedom. Honor, in the quaint aprons her stepfather had picked up here
and there over the world, pink, capable, with the assistance of Jimsy
and her biggest brothers, got supper.

It was a lively feast. Jimsy King, in one of Kada's white jackets,
waited on the table. They ate enormously, and when they had finished
they pronounced their ungodly grace--a thunderous tattoo on the table
edge, begun with palms and finished with elbows--


     None-but-the-righteous-shall-be-SAVED!--


followed, while the cups and plates were still leaping and shuddering,
with its secular second verse--


     My-sister-Mary-walks-like-THIS!


"Well, Top Step," said Stephen one of those evenings, "eleven boys
beside the stand-by Jimsy. Fair to middling popularity, I should say!"

"Popularity?" She opened her candid eyes wide at him. "Why, Stepper, you
know it's not that! They don't come to see me! They don't mind me, of
course, but it's the eats, and meeting each other,--and mostly Jimsy, I
guess! Mercy,--the chocolate's boiling over!"

She clearly believed it, and it was more or less true. The Carmody home
of a Sunday night was a sort of glorified club house without rules or
dues or by-laws. It was the thing to do, if one were so lucky. It rather
placed a boy in the scheme of things to be one of "the Sunday-night
bunch." Jimsy was the Committee on Membership.

"Let's have that Burke boy out to supper Sunday, shan't we?" Honor would
say. "He's doing so well on the team."

"No," Jimsy would answer, definitely. "Not at the house, Skipper." Honor
accepted his judgments unquestioningly. Some way, with the deep wisdom
of boys, he knew, better than she could, that the young Burke person was
better on the field than in the drawing-room. There was nothing snobbish
in their gatherings; shabby boys came, girls who had made their own
little dimity dresses. It was the intangible, inexorable caste of the
best boyhood, and Honor knew, comfortably, that her particular King
could do no wrong.

The rooting section had a special yell for Jimsy, when he had sped down
the field to a touchdown or kicked a difficult goal. It followed the
regular High School yell, hair-lifting in its fierceness:


     King! King! King!
     K-I-N-G, King!
     G-I-N-K, Gink!
     He's the King Gink!
     He's the King Gink!
     He's the King Gink!
     K-I-N-G, King! KING!


and Honor utterly agreed with them.



CHAPTER III


The house across the street from the Carmody place was suddenly sold.
People were curious and a little anxious. Every one on that block had
been there for a generation or so; there was a sense of permanence about
them all--even the Kings.

"Eastern people," said Mrs. Lorimer. "A mother, rather delicate-looking,
and one son, eighteen or nineteen I should say. He's frail-looking, too,
and he limps a little. I imagine they're very nice. Everything about
them"--her magazine reading had taken her quite reasonably to a front
window the day the newcomers' furniture was uncrated and carried
in--"seems very nice." She hoped, if it developed that they really were
desirable that they would be permanent. Los Angeles was coming to have
such a floating population....

Honor and Jimsy observed the boy from across the street, a slim, modish
person. "Gee," said Jimsy, "it must be fierce to be lame!--to have your
body not--not do what you tell it to! I wonder what he does? He can't do
_anything_, can he?" His eyes were deep with honest pity.

"Oh, I suppose he sort of fills in with other things," Honor conceded.
"I expect, if people can't do the things that count most, they go in for
other things. He seems awfully keen about his two cars."

"They're peaches, both of 'em," said Jimsy without envy.

"And of course he has time to be a wonder at school, if he wants to be."

"Yep. Looks as if he might be a shark at it." He grinned. "Slow on his
feet but fast in the head."

"Muzzie's going to call on his mother, and then we'd better ask him to
supper, hadn't we? He must be horribly lonesome."

"I'll float over and see him," the last King suggested, "and sort of
size him up. Give him the once-over. We don't want to start anything
unless he's O. K. Might as well go now, I guess."

"All right. Come in afterward and tell me what you think of him."

He nodded and swung off across the street. It was an hour before he came
back, glowing. "Gee, Skipper, I'm strong for that kid! Name's Van Meter,
Carter Van Meter. He's got a head on him, that boy! He's been
everywhere and seen everything--three times abroad--Canada, Mexico! You
ought to hear him talk--not a bit up-stagy, no side at all, but
interesting! I asked him for supper, Sunday night. You'll be crazy about
him--all the bunch will!" Thus Jimsy King on the day Carter Van Meter
limped into his life; thus Jimsy King through the years which followed,
worshiping humbly the things he did not have in himself, belittling his
own gifts, enlarging his own lacks, glorifying his friend. He had never
had a deeply intimate boy friend before; the team was his friend, the
squad; Honor had sufficed for a nearer tie. It was to be different, now;
a sharing. She was to resent a little in the beginning, before she, too,
came under the spell of the boy from the East.

Mrs. Lorimer came smiling back from her call. "_Very_ nice," she told
her husband and her daughter, "really charming. And her things are quite
wonderful ... rare rugs ... portraits of ancestors. A widow. Here for
her health, and the boy's health; he's never been strong. All she has in
the world ... wrapped up in him. _Very_ Eastern!"--she laughed at the
memory. "She said, 'And from what part of the East do you come, Mrs.
Lorimer?' When I said I was born here in Los Angeles she almost
_gasped_, and then she flushed and said, 'Oh, really? Is it possible?
But I met some people on shipboard, once--the time before last when I
was crossing--who were natives, and they were _quite_ delightful.'"

"The word 'native' intrigues them," said Stephen, drawing off her long,
limp suede gloves and smoothing them. "I daresay she'll be looking for
war whoops and tomahawks. And if it comes to that, we can furnish the
former, especially Sunday night."

"Muzzie, did you meet the boy?" Honor wanted to know.

"Yes. He came in for tea with us. A beautifully mannered boy. Very much
at ease. We must have him here, Honor."

"Yes, Jimsy's already asked him for Sunday night, Muzzie. Jimsy likes
him."

"Well, he may. He has a something ... I don't know what it is, exactly,
but he will be good for all of you."

"We'll be good for him, too," said her daughter, calmly. "It must be
fearfully dull for him, not knowing any one, and being lame."

He came to supper, a trim young glass of fashion, and it was he, the
stranger, who was entirely at his ease, and the "bunch," the gay,
accustomed bunch, which was a little shy and constrained. Jimsy stood
sponsor for him and Honor was an earnest hostess. He said he enjoyed
himself; certainly he made himself gently agreeable to Mrs. Lorimer, to
the girls. Honor's stepfather observed him with his undying curiosity.
He was a plain boy with a look of past pain in his colorless face, a
shadowed bitterness in his eyes, a droop at the corners of his mouth
when he was not speaking. For all his two motor cars and his rare old
rugs and the portraits of ancestors and his idolized only sonship, life
had clearly withheld from him the things he had wanted most. There was a
baffled imperiousness about him, Stephen decided.

"A clever youngster," he told his wife, watching him from across the
room. "Brains. But I don't like him."

"Stephen! Why not?"

He shook his head. "I don't know yet. But I know. I had a curious sense,
as he came limping into the room to-night, of '_Enter the villain_.'"

"My dear,--that poor, frail boy, with his lovely, gentle manners!"

"I know. It does sound rather piffle. Daresay I'm wrong. The kids will
size him up."

When Carter Van Meter came to tell his hostess good-by, he smiled
winningly. "This has been very jolly, Mrs. Lorimer. It was good of you
to let me come. Mother asked me to say how much she appreciated it.
But"--he hesitated--"May I come in some afternoon when--just you and
Miss Honor are here?" He looked wistful, and frailer at the end of the
evening than he had at the beginning.

"Of course you may, my dear boy!" Mrs. Lorimer gave him the glory of her
special smile. "Come soon!"

He came the next day but one, and as her mother was at a bridge
afternoon it was Honor who entertained him. She had just come home from
High School and she wore a middy blouse and a short skirt and looked
less than her years. "Let's sit in the garden, shan't we?--I hate being
indoors a minute more than I can help!" She led the way across the
green, springy lawn to the little rustic building over which the vivid
Bougainvillæa climbed and swarmed, and he followed at his halted pace.
"Besides, we can see Jimsy from here when he comes by from football
practice, and call him in. I just didn't happen to go to watch practice
to-day, and now"--she smiled at him,--"I'm glad I didn't." There was
something intensely pitiful about this lad to her mothering young heart,
for all his poise and pride.

He waited gravely until she had established herself on a bench before
he sat. "Tell me about this fellow King. Every one seems very keen about
him."

Honor leaned back and took a serge-clad knee between two tanned hands.
"Well, I don't know how to begin! He's--well, he's just Jimsy King,
that's all! But it's more than any other boy in the world."

"You're great friends, aren't you?"

"Jimsy and I? I should say we are! We've known each other ever
since--well, before we could walk or talk! Our nurses used to take us
out together in our buggies. We were born next door--in these two
houses, on the same day. Jimsy's just about an hour older than I am!"

"I have never had many friends," said Carter Van Meter. "I've been
moving about so much, traveling ... other things have interfered." He
never referred, directly or indirectly, to his ill health or his limp.

"Well, you can have all you want now," said Honor, generously. "And
Jimsy likes you!" She bestowed that like a decoration. "Honestly, I
never knew him to take such a fancy to any one before in all his life.
He likes every one, you know,--I mean, he never dislikes anybody, but he
never gets crushes. So, it means something to have him keen about you.
If _he's_ for you, _everybody_ will be for you."

"Why do people like him so?"

"Can't help it," said Honor, briefly. "Even _teachers_. He's not
terribly clever at school, and of course he doesn't have as much time to
study as some do, but the teachers are all keen about him. They know
what he is. I expect that's what counts, don't you? Not what people
have, or do, or know; what they _are_. Why, one time I happened to be in
the Vice-Principal's office about something, and it was a noontime, and
there was a wild rough-house down in the yard. Honestly, you couldn't
hear yourself _think_! The Principal--he was a new man, just come--kept
looking out of the window, and getting more and more nervous, and
finally he said, 'Shouldn't we stop that, Mrs. Dalton?' And she looked
out and laughed and said, 'Jimsy King's in it, and he'll stop it before
we need to notice it!' _That's_ what teachers think of him, and the
boys--I believe they'd cut up into inch pieces for him."

"I suppose it's a good deal on account of his football. He's on the
team, isn't he?" His eyes disdained teams.

"On the team? He _is_ the team! Captain last year and this,--and next!
Wait till you see him play. He's the fastest full back we've ever had,
since anybody can remember. There'll be a game Saturday. We play
Redlands. Will you come, and sit with Stepper and me?"

"Thanks. I don't care very much for----" he stopped, held up by the
growing amaze in her face. "Yes, I'd like very much to go with you and
Mr. Lorimer. I don't care much about watching games where I don't know
the people"--he retrieved and amended his earlier sentence--"but you'll
explain everything to me."

She grinned. "I'm afraid I won't be very nice about talking to you. I
get simply wild, at games. I'm right down there, in it. I've never
gotten over not being a boy! But Jimsy's wonderful about letting me have
as much share in it as I can. You'll hear all sorts of tales about him,
when you come to know people,--plays he's made and games he's won, and
how he never, _never_ loses his head or his temper, no matter what the
other team does. If we should ever have another war, I expect he'd be a
great general." Her face broke into mirth again at a memory. "Once, we
were playing Pomona--imagine a high school playing a college and
_beating_ them!--and somebody was out for a minute, and Jimsy was
standing waiting, with his arms folded across his chest, and he had on
a head guard, and it was very still, and suddenly a girl's voice piped
up--'_Oh, doesn't he look just like Napoleon?_' He's never heard the
last of it; it fusses him awfully. I never knew anybody so modest. I
suppose it's because he's always been the leader, the head of things,
ever since he started kindergarten. He's _used_ to it; it seems just
natural to him."

The new boy shifted his position uneasily.

Honor thought perhaps he was suffering; his face looked pinched. "Shall
we go in the house? Would you be more comf"--she caught herself
up--"perhaps you're not used to being out of doors all the time? Eastern
people find this glaring sun tiresome sometimes."

"It's very nice here. You go to Los Angeles High School, too?" He didn't
care about changing his position but he wanted intensely to change the
subject, even if he had started it by his query. "Odd, isn't it, that
you don't go to a girls' school?"

Honor laughed. "That's what Muzzie thinks. She did want me to go, but I
didn't want to, and Stepper--my stepfather, you know,--stood up for me.
I never liked girls very much when I was little. I do now, of course.
I've two or three girl friends who are _wonders_. I adore them. But I
still like boys best. I suppose"--he saw that her mind came back like a
needle to the pole--"it's on account of Jimsy. Wait till you really know
him! You will be just the same. Honestly, he's the bravest, gamest
person in the world. Once, a couple of years ago, Stepper noticed that
he was limping, and he made him go to see the doctor. The doctor told us
about it afterwards--he's the doctor who took care of our mothers when
we were born. Jimsy came in and said, 'Doc, I've got a kind of a sore
leg.' And the doctor looked at it and said, 'You've got a broken leg,
that's what you've got! Go straight home and I'll come out and put it in
a plaster cast.' You see"--she illustrated by putting the tips of her
two forefingers together--"it was really broken, cracked through, but it
hadn't slipped by. Well, the doctor had to stay and finish his office
hours, and about an hour later he looked up and there was Jimsy, and he
said, 'Say, Doc, would you just as soon set this leg to-morrow? You see,
I've got a date to take Skipper--he always calls me Skipper--to a dance
to-night. I won't dance, but I'll just----' and the doctor just roared
at him and told him to go home that instant, and Jimsy went out, but
when the doctor got to his house he wasn't there, and he had to wait
about half an hour for him, and he was _furious_--he's got a terrible
temper but he's the dearest old thing, really. Pretty soon Jimsy came
wandering in with his arms full of books and games and puzzles and
things he'd got to amuse himself while he was laid up! Of course the
doctor expected him to keep perfectly still in bed, but he found he
could make a sort of a raft of two table extension boards and slide
downstairs to his meals. He had an awful time getting up again, but he
didn't care. The first day he was laid up he had exactly nineteen people
to see him, and he took the bandages off the leg and all the boys and
teachers wrote their autographs and sentiments on the cast. He called it
his Social Register and his Guest Book!" Honor was too happily deep in
her reminiscences to see that her new friend was a little bored.

He got suddenly to his feet. "Yes. He must be an unusual fellow. But I'd
like to hear you sing. Won't you come into the house and sing something
for me?"

"All right," said Honor. "I love to sing, but I haven't studied very
much yet, and I haven't any decent songs. Why doesn't somebody write
some?--Songs _about_ something? Not just maudling along about 'heart'
and 'part' and that kind of stuff! Come on! There's Stepper at the piano
now. He'll play for me."

It was mellow in the long living-room after the brazen afternoon sun
outside, a livable, lovable room. Stephen Lorimer had an open book on
the music rack and he was thumping some rather stirring chords.

"Stepper," said Honor, "here's Carter Van Meter, and he wants me to sing
for him, and I was just saying how I hated all these mushy old songs.
Can't you find me something different?"

"I have," said her stepfather. "I've got the words here and I'm messing
about for some music to go with them."

Honor looked out as she passed the window on her way to the piano. "Wait
a minute! Here's Jimsy! I'll call him!" She sped to the door and hailed
him, and he came swiftly in. "Hello! How was practice?"

"Fair. Burke was better. Tried him on the end. 'Lo, Mr. Lorimer. 'Lo,
Carter!"

"I've got a poem here you'll all like," said Stephen Lorimer. "No, you
needn't shuffle your feet, Jimsy. It's your kind. Sit down, all of you.
I'll read it."

"So long as it hasn't got any 'whate'ers' and yestereves' and
'beauteous,'" the last King grinned. "Shoot!"

"It's an English thing, by Henry Newbolt,--about cricket, but that
doesn't matter. It's the thing itself. I may not have the words
exactly,--I read it over there, and copied it down in my diary, from
memory." He looked at the boys and the girl; Honor was waiting eagerly,
sure of anything he might bring her; Jimsy King, fresh from the sweating
realities of the gridiron, was good-humoredly tolerant; Carter Van Meter
was courteously attentive, with his oddly mature air of social poise. He
began to read, to recite, rather, his eyes on their faces:


     There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night,
     Ten to make and the match to win;
     A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
     An hour to play and the last man in,
     And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat
     Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
     But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote--
     Play up! Play up! and--Play the Game!


Jimsy King, who was lolling on the couch, sat up, his eyes kindling.
"Gee...." he breathed. Honor's cheeks were scarlet and she was breathing
hard and fast. Only the new boy was unmoved, his pale face still pale,
his shadowed eyes calm. Stephen Lorimer kept that picture of them always
in his heart; it was, he came to think, symbol and prophecy. He swung
into the second verse, his voice warming:


     The sand of the desert is sodden red;
     Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
     The gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
     And the regiment blind with dust and smoke:
     The River of Death has brimmed his banks;
     And England's far, and Honor a name,
     But the voice of a school boy rallies the ranks--
     Play up! Play up! and--Play the Game!


His own voice shook a little on the last line and he was a trifle amused
at his emotionalism. He tried to bring the moment sanely back to the
commonplace. "Corking for a song, Top Step. I'll hammer out some chords
... doesn't need much." He looked again through the strangely charged
atmosphere of the quiet room, at the three big children. Jimsy King was
on his feet, shaken out of the serene insolence of his young stoicism,
his hands opening and shutting, swallowing hard, and Honor, the
boy-girl, Jimsy's sturdy Skipper, was crying, frankly, unashamed,
unaware, the tears welling up out of her wide eyes, rolling down her
bright cheeks. Only Carter Van Meter sat as before, a little withdrawn,
a little aloof, in the shadow.



CHAPTER IV


When they told Marcia Van Meter (Mrs. Horace Flack) that her little boy
would always be lame, that not one of the great surgeon-wizards on
either side of the Atlantic--not all the king's horses and all the
king's men could ever weight or wrench or force the small, thin left leg
down to the length of the right, she vowed to herself that she would
make it up to him. She was a pretty thing, transparently frail and
ethereal-looking, who had always projected herself passionately into the
lives of those about her--her father's and mother's--the young husband's
who had died soon after her son was born--and now her boy's. While he
was less than ten years old it seemed to her that she compassed it; if
he could not race and run with his contemporaries he rode the smartest
of ponies and drove clever little traps; if he might not join in the
rough sports out of doors he had a houseful of brilliant mechanical
toys; he lived like a little Prince--like a little American Prince with
a magic bottomless purse at his command. But when he left his little
boyhood behind she discovered her futility; she discovered the small,
pitiful purchasing power of money, after all. She could not buy him
bodily strength and beauty; she could not buy him fellowship in the
world of boys; he was forever looking out at it, wistfully,
disdainfully, bitterly, through his plate glass window.

She spent herself untiringly for him,--playmates, gifts, tutors,
journeys. Her happiest moments were those in which he said, "Mother, I'd
like one of those wireless jiggers,"--or a new saddle-horse, or a new
roadster--and she was able to answer, "Dearest, I'll get it for you!
Mother'll get it for you to-morrow!"

But the days when she could spell omnipotence for him were fading away.
He wanted now, increasingly, things beyond her gift. He was a clever
boy, proud, poised. He learned early to wear a mask of indifference
about his lameness, to affect a coolness for sports which came,
eventually, to be genuine. He studied easily and well; he could talk
with a brilliancy beyond his years. He learned--astonishingly, at his
age--to get his deepest satisfactions from creature comforts--his
quietly elegant clothes, his food, his surroundings. Mrs. Van Meter had
high hopes of the move to Los Angeles; he was to be benefited, body and
brain. She was a little anxious at finding they had moved into a
neighborhood of boys and girls; Carter was happier with older people,
but he seemed to like these lively, robust creatures surprisingly.
Weeks, months, a year, went by. Carter, less than a year older than
Jimsy King but two years ahead of him in his studies, was doing some
special work at the University of Southern California, but his time was
practically his own--to spend with Honor and Jimsy. Honor and Jimsy
showed, each of them, the imprint of their association with him. They
had come to care more for the things he held high ... books ... theaters
... dinners at the Crafts Alexandria ... Grand Opera records on the
victrola ... more careful dress.

"Carter has really done a great deal for those children," Mildred
Lorimer told her husband, complacently.

"Yes," Stephen admitted. "It's true. He has. And"--he sighed--"they
haven't done a thing for him."

"Stephen dear,--what could they do--crude children that they are, beside
a boy with his advantages? What could they do for him?--Make him play
football? What did you expect them to do?"

"I don't know," he said, moodily, "but at any rate they haven't done
it."

Jimsy King was going--by the grace of his own frantic eleventh hour
efforts and his teachers' clemency and Honor Carmody--to graduate.
Barring calamities, he would possess a diploma in February. Honor was
tremendously earnest about it; Carter, to whom learning came as easily
as the air he breathed, faintly amused. She thought, sometimes, for
brief, traitorous moments, that Carter wasn't always good for Jimsy.

"You see," she explained to her stepfather, "Carter doesn't realize how
hard Jimsy has to grind for all he gets. Even now, Stepper, after being
here a year, he actually doesn't realize the importance of Jimsy's
getting signed up to play. It's a strange thing, with all his
cleverness, but he doesn't, and he's always taking Jimsy out on parties
and rides and things, and he gets behind in everything. I think I'll
just have to speak to him about it."

He nodded. "That's a good idea, Top Step. Do that."

She grew still more sober. "Another thing, Stepper ... about--about Mr.
King's--trouble. Of course, you and I have never believed that Jimsy
_had_ to inherit it, have we?"

"No. Not if people let him alone. His life, his training, his
environment, are very different--more wholesome, vital. The energy which
his grandfather and his uncles and his father had to find a vent for in
cards and drink Jimsy's sweated out in athletics."

"Yes. But--just the same--isn't it better for Jimsy to keep away
from--from those things?"

"Naturally. Better for anybody."

She sighed. "Carter doesn't think so. He says the world is full of
it--Jimsy must learn to be near it and let it alone."

"That's true, in a sense, T. S...."

"I know. But--sometimes I think Carter deliberately takes Jimsy places
to--test him. Of course he thinks he's doing right, but it worries me."

Stephen Lorimer smoked in silence. He had his own ideas. "Better have
that talk with him," he said.

Honor found the talk oddly disturbing. Carter was very sweet about it as
he always was with her, but he held stubbornly to his own opinion.

"Look here, Honor, you can't follow Jimsy through the world like a
nursemaid, you know."

"Carter! I don't mean----"

"He's got to meet and face these things, to fight what somebody calls
'the battle of his blood.' You mustn't wrap him up in cotton wool. If
he's going, to be bowled over he might as well find it out. He must take
his chances--just as any other fellow--just as I must."

"Oh, but, Carter, you know you're strong, and----"

Suddenly his pale face was stung with hot color. "Honor," he leaned
forward, "you think I'm strong, in _any_ way? You don't consider me
an--utter weakling?"

She looked with comprehending tenderness at his crimson face. "Why,
Carter, dear! You know I've never thought you that! There are more ways
of being--being strong than--than just with muscles and bones!"

He reached out and took one of her firm, tanned hands in his, and she
had never seen him so winningly wistful, so wistfully winning. "I
thought," he said, very low, "that was the only kind of strength that
counted with you. Then--I do count with you, Honor? I do?"

She was a little startled, a little frightened, wholly uncomfortable.
There was something in Carter's voice she didn't understand ... something
she didn't want to understand. She pulled her hand away and managed her
boyish grin. "Of course you do,--goose! And you'll count more if you'll
help me to look after Jimsy and have him graduate on time!" She got up
quickly as her stepfather came into the room, and Carter went home,
crossing the street with the rather pathetic arrogance of his halting
gait, his head held high, tilted a little back, which gave him the
expression of looking down on a world of swift striders.

He found his mother reading before a low fire. "Well, dearest?" She
smiled up at him, yearningly.

He stood looking down at her, his face working. "Mother, I want Honor
Carmody."

"Carter!"

"I want Honor Carmody." He rode over her murmured protests. "I know I'm
only nineteen. I know I'm too young--she's too young. I'd expect to
wait, of course. But--_I want her_."

Marcia Van Meter's heart cried out to her to say again as she had said
all through his little-boy days, "Dearest, Mother'll get her for you!
Mother'll get her for you to-morrow!" But instead her gaze went down to
the page she had been reading ... the last scene in "Ghosts," where
Oswald Alving says:

"_Mother, give me the sun! The sun!! The Sun!!!_" She shivered and shut
the book with emphasis and threw it on a near-by chair. She spoke
brightly, reassuringly. "I'm sure she's devoted to you, dear. You are
the best of friends, and that's enough for the present, isn't it?"

"No."

"Dearest, you've said yourself that you realize you're too young for
anything serious, yet. Why can't you wait contentedly, until----"

"There's some one else. There's Jimsy."

"Carter, I'm sure they're like brother and sister. They have been
playmates all their lives. That sort of thing rarely merges into
romance."

"Doesn't it?" His voice was seeking, hungry. "Honestly?"

"_Very_ rarely, dear, believe me!" She sped to comfort him. "Besides,
her people, her mother, would never want anything of that sort ... the
taint in his blood ... the reputation of his family.... Mrs. Lorimer
says they've always been called the 'Wild Kings.' Of course Jimsy seems
quite all right, so far, and I hope and pray he always may be--he's a
dear boy and I'm very fond of him--but, as he grows older and is beset
by more temptations----"

The boy relaxed a little from his pale rigidity and sat down opposite
his mother. He held out his hands to the fire and she saw that they were
trembling. "Yes," he said, "I've thought of that. I've thought of that.
Perhaps, when he gets to college--up at Stanford, away from Honor--I've
thought of that!" He bent his head, staring into the fire.

His mother did not see the expression on his face. "Besides, dear,
Honor's going abroad next year, for her voice. She'll meet new people,
form new ties----"

"That doesn't cheer me up very much, Mother."

"I mean," she hastened, "it will break up the life-long intimacy with
Jimsy. And perhaps you and I can go over for the summer, and take her to
Switzerland with us. Wouldn't that be jolly? You know, dear," she
hesitated, delicately, "while we know that money isn't everything, you
are going to have far more to offer a girl, some day, than poor Jimsy
King."

"And less," said Carter Van Meter.

He found Honor a little constrained at their next meeting and he hurried
to put her at her old time ease with him. He steered the talk on to the
coming football game and Honor was herself. Los Angeles High School,
champion of Southern California, was to meet Greenmount, the northern
champion, and nothing else in the world mattered very much to her and to
Jimsy.

"It's so perfect, Carter, to have it come in Jimsy's last year,--to win
the State Championship for L. A. just before he leaves."

"Sure of winning?"

"It will be pretty stiff going. They're awfully good, Greenmount. Not as
good as we are, on the whole, but they've got a punter--Gridley--who's a
perfect _wizard_! If they can get within a mile of our goal, he can put
it over! But--we've got to win. We've simply got to--and 'You can't beat
L. A. High!'"

She went to watch football practice every afternoon and Carter nearly
always went with her. In the evenings Jimsy came over for her help with
his lessons. He had studied harder and better, this last year; his fine
brain was waking, catching up with his body, but he was busier than
ever, too, and his "Skipper" had still to be on deck. He was discovered,
that last year, to have an unsuspected talent, Jimsy King. He could act.
His class-play was an ambitious one, a late New York success, a play of
sport and youngness, and Jimsy played the lead. "No," the pretty Spanish
teacher said, "he didn't play that part; he _was_ it!" It was going to
be fine for him at Stanford, Honor's mothering thought raced ahead. The
more he had to do, the more things he was interested in....

He came in grinning a few nights before the championship game. "Say,
Skipper, what do you think they gave me on that essay? A _B_. A measly
_B_. Made me so sore I darn near told 'em who wrote it!"

"Jimsy! You wrote it yourself, really. I just smoothed it up a little."

"Yep, just a little! Well, either they're wise, or they just figured it
couldn't be a top-notcher if I'd written it!" He cast himself on the
couch. "Gee, Skipper, I can't work to-night! I'm a dying man! That
dinner Carter bought me last night----"

"Jimsy! You didn't--break training?"

"No. But I skated pretty close to the edge. You know, it's funny, but
when I'm out with Carter I feel like such a boob, not daring to eat this
or that, or smoke or--or anything." Heresy this, from the three years'
captain of L. A. High who had never considered any sacrifice worth a
murmur which kept him fit for the real business of life. "Somehow, he's
so keen, he makes me wish I had more in my head and--and less in my
heels! You know what I mean, Skipper. He does make me look like a simp,
doesn't he?"

"No," said Honor, definitely. "Why, Jimsy, you're a million times
bigger person than Carter. Everybody knows that. _Knowing_ things isn't
everything--knowing what to wear and how to order meals at the
Alexandria and reading all the new books and having been to Europe.
Those things just fill in for him; they make up--a little--for the
things you've had."

"Do you mean that, Skipper? Is that straight?"

"Of course, Jimsy--cross my heart!" It was curious, the way she was
having to comfort Jimsy for not being Carter, and Carter for not being
Jimsy.



CHAPTER V


It rained the day of the game. It had been sulking and threatening for
twenty-four hours, and Honor wakened to the sound of a sluicing
downpour. She ran to her window, which looked out on the garden. The
long leaves of the banana tree were flapping wetly and the Bougainvillæa
on the summerhouse looked soaked and sodden. Somewhere a mocking bird
was singing deliriously, making his tuneful fun of the weather. Honor
went down to breakfast with a sober face.

They had a house-guest, a friend of her stepfather's, an Englishwoman, a
novelist. She was a brisk, ruddy-skinned creature, with crisp sentences
and sturdy legs in thick stockings, and she was taking a keen interest
in American sport. "Oh, I say," she greeted Honor, "isn't this bad for
your match?"

"Yes, Miss Bruce-Drummond, it is. We were hoping for a dry field.
They're more used to playing in the mud than we are. But it'll be all
right."

"I'm fearfully keen about it.--No, thank you--my mother was Scotch, you
see, and I don't take sugar to my porridge. Salt, please!" She turned to
Stephen Lorimer. "I've been meaning to ask you what you think of Arnold
Bennett over here?"

Honor's stepfather flung himself zestfully into the discussion. He liked
clever women and he knew a lot of them, but he had been at some pains
not to marry one. Mildred Lorimer, beside the shining copper coffee
percolator, looked a lovely Vesta of the hearth and home.

Honor wished she might take a pleat in the fore-noon. She didn't see how
she was going to get through the hours between breakfast and the time to
start for the game. It was a relief to see Jimsy coming across the lawn
at ten o'clock. She ran out to meet him.

"Hello, Jimsy!"

"'Lo, Skipper. Isn't this weather the deuce?"

"Beastly, but it doesn't really matter. We're certain to----" she broke
off and looked closely at him. "Jimsy, what's the matter?"

"Oh ... nothing."

"Yes, there is! Come on in the house. There's no one home. Stepper's
driving Miss Bruce-Drummond and Muzzie's being marcelled." She did not
speak again until they were in the living room. "Now, tell me."

"Why--it's nothing, really. Feeling kind of seedy, that's all. Didn't
have much sleep."

"Jimsy! You didn't--you weren't out with Carter?"

"Just for a little while. We went to a Movie. Coach told us to--keep our
minds off the game. But I was home and in the house at nine-thirty. It
was--Dad. He came in about midnight. I--I didn't go to bed at all."

"_Oh_...." Her eyes yearned over him, over them both. "Jimsy, I'm so
terribly sorry. Is he--how is he now?"

"Sleeping. I guess he'll sleep all day. Gee--I wish I could!" His young
face looked gray and strained.

The girl drew a long breath. "Jimsy, you've got to sleep now. You've got
to put it--you've got to put your father away--out of your mind. You
don't belong to him to-day; you belong to the team; you belong to
L. A.... No matter what's happening to _you_, you've got to do your
best--and--and _be_ your best."

"If I can," he said, haggardly.

"Lie down on the couch."

"Oh, I don't want to lie down, Skipper--I'll just----"

"Lie down on the couch, Jimsy!" She herded him firmly to the couch,
tucked a soft, flat pillow under his head, threw a light afghan over
him. Then she opened a window wide to the wet sweet air and drew the
other shades down, and came to sit on the floor beside him, talking all
the time, softly, lazily, about the English lady novelist who didn't
take sugar "to" her porridge ... about the giddy mocking bird, singing
in the rain ... about a new book which Carter thought was wonderful and
which she couldn't see through at all ... until his quick, burdened
breathing yielded to a long relaxing sigh like that of a tired puppy,
and the hope of L. A. High and the last of the "Wild Kings" slept. She
mounted rigid guard over him for three hours, banishing the returned
stepfather and house-guest, keeping her noisy little brothers at bay.
She had ordered a strictly training-table luncheon for one o'clock for
her charge, and while the clock was striking the hour Kada brought the
tray. Jimsy was still sleeping. Honor looked at him, hesitating, then
she ran to the piano and struck her stepfather's rousing chords and
began to sing:


     There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night,
     Ten to make and the match to win--


At the first line he stirred, at the second he rubbed his eyes, and at
the third he was sitting up and listening. She swung into the finish,
and as always, it ran away with her. She had never gotten over the first
choking thrill at the words:


     _Play up! Play up! and--Play the Game!_


Jimsy King came to stand beside her. His hair was mussed and his face
flushed, and there was a sleep-crease on one cheek, but his eyes were
clear and steady. "It's O. K., Skipper," he said. "I can. I'm going to.
I will."

Carter Van Meter drove Honor and Stephen Lorimer and Miss Bruce-Drummond
in his newest car and the four of them sat together on the edge of the
rooting section.

It was still raining a little, teasingly, reluctant to leave off
altogether, and the field was a batter of mud. The rooting section of
L. A. High was damp but undaunted. The yell leaders, vehement, piercingly
vocal, conducted them into thunderous challenges:


     _Ali beebo! Ali by-bo!_
     _Ali beebo by-bo bum!_
     _Catch 'em in a rat trap,_
     _Put 'em in a cat trap,_
     _Catch 'em in a cat trap,_
     _Put 'em in a rat trap!_
     _Ali beebo! Ali by-bo!_
     _Ali beebo by-bo bum!_


The bleachers rocked and creaked and swayed with the rhythm of it. "My
word!" said Miss Bruce-Drummond. She listened fascinatedly to their
deafening repertoire. Greenmount's supporters, a rather forlorn little
group of substitutes, with the coach and trainer and a teacher or two,
and a pert fox terrier wearing their colors on his collar, elicitated a
brief, passing pity from Honor. They looked strange and friendless,
these smart Northern prep-schoolers. The L. A. rooters conscientiously
gave their opponents' yell and received a spatter of applause. The
Northerners trotted out on the field and were hospitably cheered.

"There, Stepper," said Honor, tensely, "that's Gridley--the tallest
one,--see? Last on the right?"

"So, that's the boy with the beamish boot, eh?"

"Yes. He mustn't get a chance. He _mustn't_."

Miss Bruce-Drummond looked at her friend's stepdaughter. "You're
frightfully keen about it, aren't you?"

"Yes," said Honor, briefly.

"I daresay I shall find it very different from Rugby, but I expect I
shall be able to follow it if you'll explain a bit."

Honor did not answer. She was standing up, yelling with all the strength
of her lusty young lungs, as the Southern champions came out. Then the
rooting section made everything that they had said and done before seem
like a lullaby; it seemed to the Englishwoman she had never known there
could be such noise. Her head hummed with it:


     King! King! King!
     K-I-N-G, King!
     G-I-N-K, Gink!
     He's the King Gink!
     He's the King Gink!
     He's the King Gink!
     K-I-N-G, King! KING!


Honor sat down again, her fists clenched, her lower lip between her
teeth. If only it were time to begin ... time for the kick-off! This was
always the worse part, just before.... It was L. A.'s kick-off. The
whistle sounded, mercifully, and with the solid, satisfying impact of
leather against leather she relaxed. It was on. It had started. All the
weeks of waiting for the championship game were over. This was the game,
and it was just like any other game; Jimsy was there--here, there,
everywhere, and they would fight, fight. And you couldn't beat L. A.
High. The mud was horrible. It took grace and fleetness and made a mock
of them; both teams were playing raggedly. Well, of course they would,
at first; it was so frightfully important. They would shake down into
form in a moment.

"I don't believe," cut in the fresh, crisp voice of Miss Bruce-Drummond,
"that I quite understand what a 'down' is. Would you mind explaining it
to me?"

"Why," said Honor, without turning her head, "they have three downs in
which to make----" she was on her feet again, screaming, "Come on! Come
on! Come--oh----"

Jimsy King, with the mud-smeared ball under his arm, had made fifteen
precious yards before he was tackled. He was up in a flash, wiping the
mud off his face, grinning. The rooters split the soft air asunder.

Stephen Lorimer looked at Honor and at Carter Van Meter. He always felt
sorry for the boy at a game; he looked paler and frailer than ever in
contrast with the hearty young savages on the field, and he was never
able really to give himself to the agony and wild joy of it.

Honor forced herself to sit still, her elbows on her knees, her hot face
propped on her clenched hands. They were playing better now, all of
them, but it wasn't brilliant football; it couldn't be. It would be a
battle of dogged endurance.

"I say, my dear, is _that_ a down?" the English novelist wanted to know.

"Yes," said Honor, patiently. "That's a down, and now there'll be
another because they have----" again she cut short her explanation and
caught hold of her stepfather's arm. "Stepper! Look! _Gridley isn't
playing!_"

He stared. "Really, Top Step? Why, they surely----"

"I tell you he isn't playing. See,--there he is, on the side-lines, in
the purple sweater!"

"Well, so much the better for L. A.," said Carter, easily.

Honor shook her head. "I don't understand it." She began, oddly, to feel
herself enveloped in a fog of depression, of foreboding. Again and again
her eyes left the play to rest unhappily on the silent figure in the
purple sweater. Jimsy was playing well; every man on the team was
playing well; but they were not gaining. Jimsy King, on whose heels were
always the wings of Mercury, could not get up speed in that mud,--a
brief flash, no more. She began to bargain with the gods of the
gridiron; at first she had been concerned with scoring in the first five
minutes of play; then she had remodeled her petition ... to score in the
first half. Now, her throat dry, she was aching with the fear of being
scored upon ... counting the minutes yet to play, speeding them in her
heart. It was raining hard again. The rooting section, in spite of the
frantic effort of the hoarse yell leaders, was slowing down. What was
it?--The rain? The mud? Was Jimsy not himself, not the King Gink? Was
his heart with his father in the darkened room in the old King house?

"Of course, I'm not up on this at all, but I'm rather afraid your young
friends are getting the worst of it, my dear!" said Miss Bruce-Drummond,
cheerily.

"It's the longest first half I ever saw in my life," said Honor, between
clenched teeth.

"Ah, yes,--I daresay it does seem so to you, but I expect they keep the
time very carefully, don't you?" She looked the girl over interestedly.
"The psychology of this sort of thing is ver-r-ry entertaining," she
said to Stephen Lorimer.

"Less than five minutes, T. S.," said her stepfather, comfortingly.

"You know, I'm afraid you'll think me fearfully dull," said the
Englishwoman, conversationally, "but I'm still not quite clear about a
'down.' _Would_ you mind telling me the next time they do one?--Just
when it begins, and when it ends?"

"One's ended now," said Honor, bitterly, "and we've lost the ball,--on
our twenty yard line. We've lost the ball."

"Ah, well, my dear, I daresay you'll soon get it back!"

Honor sprang to her feet with a cry which made people turn and look at
her. "Look there! _Look!_ See what they're doing?" One of the Greenmount
players had been called out by the coach and had splashed his way to the
side-lines, to be patted wetly on the back and wrapped in a damp
blanket. That was well enough. That was the usual thing. But the
unusual, the astounding thing was that two of the Greenmount team had
slopped to the side-lines and picked up Gridley, divested now of his
purple sweater, bodily, in their arms, and carried him, dry-shod, over
the slithering mud. Honor gave a gasping moan. "I _knew_...." There was
a dead, sick silence on the bleachers. The rain sluiced down. Somewhere
in a near-by garden another giddy mocking bird sang deliriously in the
stillness. Tenderly as two nurses with a sick man, the bearers set
Gridley down. Slowly, solemnly, he stepped off the distance to the
quarter back; briskly, but with dreadful thoroughness, the men who had
carried him wiped the mud from his feet with a towel and took their
places to defend him from the wild-eyed L. A. men, poised, breathless,
menacing. There was a muttering roar from the bleachers, hoarsely
pleading, commanding--"Block-that-kick! _Block-that-kick!_
BLOCK-THAT-KICK!" The kneeling quarter back opened his muddy hands; the
muddied oval came sailing lazily into them.... There was the gentle thud
of Gridley's toe against the leather, and then--unbelievably,
unbearably, it was an accomplished fact, a finished thing. Gridley had
executed his place kick. They were scored on. It stood there on the
board, glaring white letters and figures on black:


     GREENMOUNT 4    L. A. HIGH 0


At first Honor's own woe engulfed her utterly. For the first instant she
wasn't even aware of Jimsy King, standing alone, his arms folded across
his chest, staring down the field; of his men, wiping the mud out of
their eyes and looking at him, looking to him; of the stunned rooters.
But at the second breath she was awake, alive again, tense, tingling,
bursting with her message for them all, keeping herself by main force in
her place. Jimsy King never saw any one in a game; he never knew any one
in a game; people ceased to exist for him while he was on the field. But
to-day, in this difficult hour, she was to see him turn and face the
bleachers and rake them with his aghast and startled eyes until he found
her. She was on her feet, in her white jersey suit and her blue hat and
scarf--L. A.'s colors--waving to him, looking down at him with all her
gallant soul in her eyes. It seemed to her as if she must be saying it
aloud; as if she must be singing it:


     _Play up! Play up! and--Play the Game!_


Then the bleachers and the players saw the Captain of the L. A. team
turn and wade briskly down the field to Gridley. They saw him hold out
his muddy hand; they heard his clear, "Peach of a kick!" They saw him
give the Northerner's hand a hearty shake; they saw him fling up his
head, and grin, and face the grandstand for a second, his eyes
seeking.... They saw him rally his men with a snapped-out order,--and
then they were on their feet, shouting, screaming, stamping, cheering:


     KING! KING! KING!


The yell leaders couldn't get hold of them; there was no need. Every man
was his own yell leader. They yelled for Gridley and for Greenmount (why
worry, when Jimsy clearly wasn't worried?) and for their own team, man
by man, and the call of time for the first half failed to make the
faintest dent in their enthusiasm.

"But"--said Miss Bruce-Drummond, her mouth close to Honor's ear--"you
haven't won, have you?"

"Not yet!" Honor shouted. "Wait!" She began to sing with the rest:


     _You can't beat L. A. High!_
     _You can't beat L. A. High!_
     _Use your team to get up steam,_
     _But you can't beat L. A. High!_


It was gay, mocking, scatheless, inexorable. You _couldn't_ beat L. A.
High. Honor swayed and swung to it. Use your team and your tricks and
your dry-shod men to kick, but you couldn't beat L. A. High. And it
appeared, in fact, that you couldn't, for Jimsy King's team went into
the second half like happy young tigers, against men who were a little
tired, a little overconfident, and in the first ten minutes of play the
King Gink, mud-smeared beyond recognition, grinning, went over the line
for a touchdown, and nobody minded much Burke's missing the goal because
they had won anyway:


     GREENMOUNT 4    L. A. HIGH 5


and the championship, the state championship, stayed south, and it
suddenly stopped raining and the sun came out gloriously after the
reckless manner of Southern California suns, and everything was for the
best in the best of all possible worlds.

Honor, star-eyed, more utterly and completely happy and content than she
had ever been in her life, turned penitently to Miss Bruce-Drummond.
"When we get home," she said, "I'll explain to you exactly what a 'down'
is!"

They waited to see the joyous serpentine, to watch Jimsy's struggles to
get down from the shoulders of his adorers who bore him the length of
the field and back, and then Carter drove them home and went back for
the Captain, who would be showered and dressed by that time. They were
both dining with Honor, but Jimsy looked in on his father first.

"Gusty says he's slept all day," he reported to Honor. He kept looking
at her, with an odd intensity, all through the lively meal. She had
changed her wet white jersey for one of her long-lined, cleverly simple
frocks of L. A. blue, and her honey-colored braids were like a crown
above her serene forehead.

"You know, Stephen," said Miss Bruce-Drummond while they were having
their coffee in the living room, "of course you know that both those
lads are in love with your nice girl."

"Do you see it, too?"

She laughed. "I may not know what a 'down' is, but I've still reasonably
sharp eyes in my head. And the odd thing is that she doesn't know it."

"Isn't it amazing? I'm watching, and wondering."

"It's a pretty time o' life, Stephen," said one of the clever women he
hadn't wanted to marry.

"'Youth's sweet-scented manuscript,' Ethel," said Honor's stepfather.

"Jimsy, will you come here a minute?" Honor called from the dining-room
door.

"Yes, Skipper!" He was there at a bound.

"Don't you think your father would like this water-ice? I think he
could--I believe he might enjoy it."

He took the little covered tray out of her hands. "I'll bet he will,
Skipper. You're a brick. Come on over with me, will you--and wait on the
porch?"

She looked back into the roomful. "Had I better? I don't suppose they'll
miss me for a minute----"

But Carter Van Meter was coming toward them, threading his way among
people and furniture with his slight, halting limp. He looked from one
to the other, questioningly.

"Taking this over to my Dad," Jimsy explained. "Back in a shake."

"I see. How about a ride to the beach? Supper at the ship-hotel?
Celebrate a little?"

"Deuce of a lot of work for Monday," Jimsy frowned. "Haven't studied a
lick this week."

Carter laughed. "Oh, Monday's--Monday! Come along! We can't"--he turned
to Honor--"be by ourselves to-night, with the celeb. here. Honor has to
stay and play-pretty with her."

"Well ... if we don't make it too late----"

Jimsy turned and sped away with Honor's offering for James King.

Honor looked at Carter. His eyes were very bright; he looked more
excited, now, some way, than he had at the game. Poor old Carter. He
wanted, she supposed, to do something for Jimsy ... to give him a
wonderful party ... to spend money on him ... to excel and to shine in
_his_ way. But--the ship-hotel--and his father over there all day in the
darkened room--For the first time in her honest life she stooped to
guile. "I'll be down in a minute, Carter," she said and ran upstairs,
through the hall, down the backstairs, cut through the kitchen and
across the wet and springy lawn to the King place.

She waited in the shadow of the house until he came out.

"Jimsy!"

"Skipper!"

"I slipped out--sh ... Jimsy, I--_please_ don't go with Carter to-night!
I don't mean to interfere or--or nag, Jimsy,--you know that, don't you?"
She slipped a little on the wet grass in her thin slippers, and laid
hold of his arm to steady herself. "But--it worries me. You're the
finest, the most wonderful person in the world, and I trust you more
than I trust myself, but--I know how boys are about--things--and--" she
turned her face to the dark house where so many "Wild Kings" had lived
and moved and had their unhappy being--"I couldn't _bear_ it if----"

It began to rain again, softly, and they moved unconsciously toward the
shelter of the porch.

"You were so splendid to-day! I haven't had a chance to tell you ...
shaking hands with him, being so----"

"You made me," said Jimsy King. Then, at her murmured protest. "You did.
You made me, just as you've made me do every decent thing I've ever
done. I'm just beginning to see it. I guess I'm the blindest bat that
ever lived. Of course I won't go with Cart' to-night. I won't do
anything you don't----"

Honor had mounted two steps, to be under the roof of the porch, and now,
turning sharply in her gladness, the wet slipper slipped again, and she
would have fallen if he had not caught her.

"_Skipper!_"

"It's--it's all right!" said Honor in a breathless whisper. "I'm all
right, Jimsy. Let me----"

But Jimsy King would not let her go. He held her fast with all his
football strength and all his eighteen years of living and loving, and
he said over and over in the new, strange voice she had never heard
before, "_Skipper! Skipper! Skipper!_"

"Jimsy ... what--what is happening to us? Jimsy, dear, we never
before--Jimsy, are we--are we--_Is this being--in love_?"

And the mocking-bird of the morning, mounted on the wet Bougainvillæa on
the summerhouse in Honor's garden, explained to them in a mad, exultant,
thrilling burst of song.



CHAPTER VI


"At least," Mildred Lorimer wept, "at _least_, Stephen, make them keep
it a secret! Make them promise not to tell a living soul--and not to act
in such a way as to let people suspect! I think"--she lifted tragic,
reproachful eyes to him--"you ought to do what you can, now, considering
that it's all your fault."

"Some day," said her husband, sturdily, "it will be all my cleverness
... all my glory. I did honestly believe it was a cradle chumship which
wouldn't last, Mildred. I thought it would break of its own length. But
I'm glad it hasn't."

"Stephen, how _can_ you? One of the 'Wild Kings'--I cannot bear it. I
simply cannot bear it." She clutched at her hope. "She must go abroad
even sooner than we planned--and _stay_ abroad. Stephen, you will make
them keep it a secret from every one?"

"They've already told Carter. Told him just after they'd told me."

"Oh, poor, poor Carter!" There was a note of fresh woe in her voice.

He turned sharply to look at her. "So, that's where the pointed patent
leather pinches, Mildred?"

"What do you mean?"

"You've been hoping it would be Carter?"

"Dearest, I've looked upon them all as children.... It was the merest
... idea ... thought. Mrs. Van Meter is devoted to Honor, Carter is an
unusual boy, and they're exceptional people. And he--of course, I mean
in his boyish way--_adores_ Honor. This will be a cruel blow for him."
She grieved. "Poor, frail boy...."

Stephen Lorimer smoked in silence for a moment. "I fancy Carter will not
give up hope. There's nothing frail about his disposition. His will
doesn't limp."

"Well, I certainly hope he doesn't consider it final. I don't. I
consider it a silly boy-and-girl piece of sentimental nonsense, and I
shall do everything in my power to break it up. I consider that my
child's happiness is at stake."

"Yes," said her husband, "so do I." He got up and went round to his
wife's chair and put penitent arms about her and comforted her. After
all, he could afford to be magnanimous. He was going to win his point
in the end, and meanwhile it would be an excellent thing for the
youngsters to have Mildred doing everything in her pretty power to break
it up. She might just as well, he believed, try to put out the hearth
fire with the bellows.

With her daughter she became motherly and admonitory in her official
third person. "Mother wants only your happiness; you know that, dear."

"Well, then, there's nothing to worry about," said Honor, comfortably,
"for you want me to be happy and I can't be happy unless it's with
Jimsy, so you'll have to want me to have Jimsy, Muzzie!"

"Mother wants real happiness for you, Honor, genuine, lasting happiness.
That's why she wants you to be sure. And you cannot possibly be sure at
your age."

"Yes, I can, Muzzie," said Honor, patiently. "Surer than sure.
Why,--haven't I always had Jimsy,--ever since I can remember? _Before_ I
can remember? He's part of everything that's ever happened to me. I
can't imagine what things would be like without him. _I won't imagine
it!_" Her eyes darkened and her mouth grew taut.

"But you'll promise Mother to keep it a secret? You'll promise me
faithfully?"

"Of course, Muzzie, if you want me to, but I can't see what difference
it makes. I'll never be any surer than I am now,--and I can't ever know
Jimsy any better than I do now. Why"--she laughed--"it isn't as if I had
fallen in love at eighteen, with a new person, some one I'd just met, or
some one I'd known only a little while, like Carter! If I felt like this
about Carter I'd think it was reasonable to 'wait' and be 'sure.'" She
was aware of a new expression on her mother's lovely face and
interpreted it in her own fashion. "I'm sorry if you don't like our
telling Carter, Muzzie. We did it before you asked us not to, you know.
He's always with us and I'm sure he'd have found out, anyway." She
smiled. "Carter's funny about it. He acts--amused--as if he were years
and years older, and we were babies playing in a sand box or making mud
pies." It was clear that his amusement amused her, just as her mother's
admonition amused her: nothing annoyed or disturbed her,--her serenity
was too deep for that. Her fine placidity was lighted now with an inner
flame, but she was very quiet about her happiness; she was not very
articulate in her joy.

"Mother cannot let you go about unchaperoned with Jimsy, Honor. People
would very soon suspect----"

"I don't think they would, Muzzie," said Honor, calmly. "None of the
other mothers are so particular, you know. Most of the girls go on walks
and rides alone. But we won't, if you'd rather not. Stepper will go with
us, or Billy, or Ted."

Mrs. Lorimer sighed. She could envisage just how much efficient,
deterrent chaperonage her husband would supply.

She watched them set off for the Malibou Ranch the next Sunday morning
rather complacently, however. She had seen to it that Carter was of the
party. To be sure, he was in the tonneau with Stephen Lorimer and the
young Carmodys and Lorimers and the heroic-sized lunch box and the
thermos case, while Jimsy and Honor sat in front, but at least he was
there. There would be no ignoring Carter, as they might well ignore her
husband and sons.

Carter, talking easily and intelligently to his host about the growing
problem of Mexico, quietly watched the two in front. They were not
talking very much. Jimsy was driving and he kept his eyes on the road
for the most part, and Honor sat very straight, her hands in her lap.
Only once Carter saw, from the line of his arm, that Jimsy had put his
left hand over hers, and when it happened he stopped short in the middle
of his neat sentence and an instant later he said, coloring
faintly,--"I beg your pardon, Mr. Lorimer,--you were saying?"

Stephen Lorimer felt an intense pity for him but he did not see any
present or future help for his misery. Therefore, when they had finished
their gypsy luncheon and the younger boys were settling it by a wild
rough-house before their swim and Jimsy rose and said, "Want to walk up
the coast, Skipper?" and Honor said, "Yes,--just as soon as I've put
these things away," he went deliberately and seated himself beside
Carter and began to read aloud to him from the Sunday paper.

He looked up from the sheet to watch the boy's face as the others set
off. Carter pulled himself to his feet. He ran his tongue over his lips
in rare embarrassment. "I--don't you feel like a stroll, too, Mr.
Lorimer? After that enormous lunch, I----"

Honor's stepfather grinned. "Well, I don't feel like a stroll in that
direction, Carter. Let 'em alone,--shan't we?" He included him in the
attitude of affectionate indulgence. "I've been there myself, and you
will be there--if you haven't been already." He patted the sand beside
him. "Sit down, old man. This editorial sounds promising."

But Carter would not be denied. "Mr. Lorimer, you don't consider
it--_serious_, do you?"

"About the most serious matter in the world, I should say, Carter."

The boy refused the generalization. "I mean, between Honor and Jimsy?"
He was visibly expecting a negative answer. "I know that Mrs. Lorimer
doesn't."

"Well, I disagree with her. I should say, with average youngsters of
their age that it was as transient as--as the measles. But they aren't
average, Carter."

"I know that. At least, Honor isn't."

"Nor Jimsy. I sometimes think, Carter, that fellows of our type, yours
and mine," he was not looking at him now, he was running his long
fingers lazily through the hot and shining sand, "are apt to be a little
contemptuous in our minds of his sort. Being rather long on brain, we
fancy, we allow ourselves a scorn of the more or less unadorned brawn.
And yet,--they're the salt of the earth, Carter; they're the cities set
on hills. They do the world's red-blooded vital jobs while we--think.
And Honor's not clever either; you know that, Carter. All the sense and
balance and character in the world, Top Step, God love her, but not a
flash of brilliancy. They're capitally suited. Sane, sound, sweet;
gloriously fit and healthy young animals--" this was calculated cruelty;
Carter might as well face things; there would be a girl, waiting now
somewhere, no doubt, who wouldn't mind his limp, but Honor must have a
mate of her own vigorous breed,--Honor who had always and would always
"run with the boys,"--"who will produce their own sort again."

The boy's mouth was twisted. "And--and how about his blood--his
heredity? Isn't he one of the 'Wild Kings'?"

"You know," Stephen lighted a cigarette, "I don't believe he is! He's
got their looks and their charm, but I'm convinced he's two-thirds
Scotch mother,--that sturdy soul who would have saved his father if
death hadn't tricked her. And I'm rather a radical about heredity,
anyway, Carter. It's gruesomely overrated, I think. What is it?--Clammy
hands reaching out from the grave to clutch at warm young flesh--and
pollute it? Not while there are living hands to beat them off!" He began
to get vehement and warm. There was to be a chapter on heredity in that
book of his, one day. "It's a bogy. It goes down before environment as
the dark before the dawn. Why, environment's a vital, flesh and blood
thing, fighting with and for us every instant! I could take the
offspring of Philip the Second and Great Catherine and make a--a Frances
Willard or a Jane Addams of her,--_if_ people didn't sit about like
crows, cawing about her parents and her blood and her heritage. Even
dry, statistical scientists are beginning----"

And while like the Ancient Mariner he held Carter Van Meter on the sunny
sand Honor and Jimsy walked sedately up the shore. They were a little
ill at ease, both of them. It was the first time since--as Honor put it
to herself--"it had happened" that they had been quite alone with each
other in the hard, bright daylight. There had been delectable moments on
the stairs, on the porch, stolen seconds in the summerhouse, but here
they were on a blazing Sunday afternoon under a turquoise sky, with a
salt and hearty wind stinging their faces, all by themselves. They would
not be quite out of sight of the rest, though, until they rounded the
next turn in the curving road. Jimsy looked back over his shoulder,
obviously taking note of the fact. He knew that Honor knew it, too, and
the sight of her hot cheeks, her resolute avoidance of his eyes put him
suddenly at ease.

"I guess," he said, casually, "this is kind of like Italy. Fair enough,
isn't it?"

"Heavenly," said Honor, a little breathlessly. "Italy! Just think,
Jimsy,--next year at this time I'll _be_ in Italy!"

"Gee," he said, solemn and aghast, "_gee_!" They had passed the turn and
instantly he had her in a tense, vise-like hug. "No, you won't. No, you
won't. _I won't let you._ I won't let you go 'way off there, alone,
without me. I won't let you, Skipper, do you hear?" Suddenly he stopped
talking and began to kiss her. Presently he laughed. "I've always known
I was a poor nut, Skipper, but to think it took me eighteen years to
discover what it would be like to kiss you!" He took up his task again.

"Oh," said Honor, gasping, pushing him away with her hands against his
chest--"you wouldn't have had _time_!"

"I could have dropped Spanish or Math'," he grinned. "Come on,--let's go
further up the coast. Some of those kids will be tagging after us, or
Carter."

"Not Carter. Stepper's reading to him. He won't let him come."

"One peach of a scout, Stephen Lorimer is," said the boy, warmly. "Best
scout in the world."

"He's the best friend we've got in the world, Jimsy," she said gravely.

"I know it. Your mother's pretty much peeved about it, Skipper."

"Yes, she is, just now. Poor Muzzie! I'm afraid I've never pleased her
very much. But she gets over things. She'll get over it when--when she
finds that we _don't_ get over it!" She held out her hand to him and he
took it in a hard grip, and they swung along at a fine stride, up the
twisting shore road. They came at last to the great gate which led into
the Malibou Ranch and they halted there and went down into a little
pocket of rocks and sand and sun and sat down with their faces to the
shining sea.

He kissed her again. "No; you can't go to Italy, Skipper. That's
settled."

"Then--what are we going to do, Jimsy dear?"

"Why, we'll just get--" his bright face clouded over. "Good Lord, I'm
talking like a nit-wit. We've got to wait, that's all. What could I do
now? Run up alleys with groceries? Take care of gardens?"

"Not _my_ garden! You don't know a tulip from a cauliflower!"

"No, I'll have to learn to do something with my head and my hands,--not
just my legs! I guess life isn't all football, Skipper."

"But I guess it's all a sort of game, Jimsy, and we have to 'play' it!
And it wouldn't be playing the game for our people or for ourselves to
do something silly and reckless. This thing--caring for each other--is
the wisest, biggest thing in our lives, and we've got to keep it that,
haven't we?"

He nodded solemnly. "That's right, Skipper. We have. I guess we'll just
have to grit our teeth and wait--_gee_--three years, anyway, till I'm
twenty-one! That's the deuce of a long time, isn't it? Lord, why wasn't
I born five years before you? Then it would be O. K. Loads of girls are
married at eighteen."

"You weren't born five years before me because then it would have
spoiled everything," said Honor, securely confident of the eternal
rightness of the scheme of things. "You would have been marching around
in overalls when I was born, and when I was ten you would have been
fifteen, and you wouldn't have _looked_ at me,--and now you'd be through
college and engaged to some wonderful Stanford girl! No, it's perfectly
all right as it is, Jimsy. Only, we've just got to be sensible."

"Well, I'll tell you one thing right now, Skipper, I'm not going to wait
five or six years. I'm going to go two years to college, enough to bat a
little more knowledge into my poor bean, and then I'm coming out and get
a job,--and get you!" He illustrated the final achievement by catching
her in his arms again.

When she could get her breath Honor said, "But we needn't worry about
all of it now, dear. We haven't got to wait the four--or six years--all
at once! Just a month, a week, a day at a time. And the time will
fly,--you'll see! You'll have to work like a demon----"

"And you won't be there to help me!"

"And there'll be football all fall and baseball all spring, and
theatricals, and we'll write to each other every day, won't we?"

"Of course. But I write such bone-headed boob letters, Skipper."

"I won't care what they're like, Jimsy, so long as you tell me things."

"_Gee_ ... I'm going to be lost up there without you, Skipper."

"You'll have Carter, dear."

"I know. That'll help a lot. Honestly, I don't know how a fellow with a
head like his puts up with me. He forgets more every night when he goes
to sleep than I'll ever know. He's a wonder. Yes, it sure--will help a
lot to have Carter. But it won't be you."

"Jimsy, have you told--your father?"

He nodded. "Last night. He was--he's been feeling great these last few
days. He was sitting at his desk, looking over some old letters and
papers, and I went in and--and told him."

"What did he say?"

"He didn't say anything at first. He just sat still for a long time,
staring at the things he'd been reading. And then he got out a little
old leather box that he said was my mother's and unlocked it and took
out a ring." Jimsy thrust a hand deep into a trouser pocket and brought
out a twist of tissue paper, yellowed and broken with age. He unwrapped
it and laid a slender gold ring on Honor's palm.

"_Jimsy!_" It was an exquisite bit of workmanship, cunningly carved and
chased, with a look of mellow age. There were two clasped hands,--not
the meaningless models for wedding cakes, slim, tapering, faultless, but
two cleverly vital looking hands, a man's and a woman's, the one rugged
and strong, the other slender and firm, and the wrists, masculine and
feminine, merging at the opposite side of the circle into one. "Oh ..."
Honor breathed, "it's wonderful...."

"Yes. It's a very old Italian ring. It was my great-grandmother's,
first. It always goes to the wife of the eldest son. My Dad says it's
supposed to mean love and marriage and--and everything--'the endless
circle of creation,' he said, when I asked him what it meant, but first
he just said, 'Give this to your girl and tell her to _hold hard_. Tell
her we're a bad lot, but no King woman ever let go.'"

Suddenly and without warning, as on the day when Stephen Lorimer had
first read the Newbolt poem to them, Honor began to cry.

"Skipper! Skipper, _dearest_--" she was in the young iron clasp of his
arms and his cheek was pressed down on her hair. "What is it? Skipper,
tell me!"

"Oh," she sobbed, clinging to him, "I can't bear it, Jimsy! All the
years--all those splendid men, all those faithful women, 'holding hard'
against--against----"

He gathered her closer. "My Dad's the last of 'em, Skipper. He's the
last 'Wild King.' It stops with him. I told him that, and he believes
me. Do you believe me, Skipper?"

She stopped sobbing and looked up at him for a long moment, her wet eyes
solemn, her breath coming in little gasps. Then--"I do believe you,
Jimsy," she said. "_I'll never stop believing you._"

He kissed her gravely. "And now I'll show you the secret of the ring."
He took it from her and pressed a hidden spring. The clasped hands
slowly parted, revealing a small intensely blue sapphire. "That's for
'constancy,' my Dad says." He put it on her finger. "It just fits!"

"Yes. And it just fits--us, too, Jimsy. The jewel hidden ... the way we
must keep our secret. Muzzie won't let me wear it here, but I'll wear it
the minute I leave here,--and every minute of my life. It was wonderful
for your father to let us have it--when we're so young and have so long
to wait!"

"He said--you know, he was different from anything he's ever been
before, Skipper, more--more like his old self, I guess--he said it would
help us to wait."

"It will," said Honor, contentedly, tucking her hand into his again.
They sat silently then, looking out at the bright sea.



CHAPTER VII


Honor was surprised and pleased to find how little she minded living
abroad, after all. They had arrived, the boy and herself, in the months
between their secret understanding and their separation, at the amazed
conclusion that it was going to be easier to be apart until that bright
day when they might be entirely and forever together. At the best, three
interminable years stretched bleakly between them and marriage; they had
to mark time as best they could. She liked Florence, she liked the
mountainous _Signorina_, her stepfather's friend, and she liked her
work. If it had not been for Jimsy King she would without doubt have
loved it, but there was room in her simple and single-track
consciousness for only one engrossing and absorbing affection. She wrote
to him every day, bits of her daily living, and mailed a fat letter
every week, and every week or oftener came his happy scrawl from
Stanford. Things went with him there as they had gone at L. A.
High,--something less, naturally, of hero worship and sovereignty, but
a steadily rising tide of triumph. He chronicled these happenings
briefly and without emphasis. "Skipper dear," he would write in his
crude and hybrid hand, "I've made the Freshman team all right and it's a
pretty fair to middling bunch and I guess we'll stack up pretty well
against the Berkeley babes from what I hear, and they made me captain.
It seems kind of natural, and I have three fellows from the L. A.
team,--Burke and Estrada and Finley."

He was madly rushed by the best fraternities and chose naturally the
same one as Carter Van Meter,--one of the best and oldest and most
powerful. He made the baseball team in the spring, and the second fall
the San Francisco papers' sporting pages ran his picture often and
hailed him as the Cardinal's big man. Honor read hungrily every scrap of
print which came to her,--her stepfather taking care that every mention
of Jimsy King reached her. It was in his Sophomore year that he played
the lead in the college play and Honor read the newspapers limp and
limber--"James King in the lead did a remarkable piece of work." "King,
Stanford's football star, surprised his large following by his really
brilliant performance." "Well-known college athlete demonstrates his
ability to act." Honor knew the play and she could shut her eyes and
see him and hear him in the hero's part, and her love and pride warmed
her like a fire.

She had not gone home that first summer. Mildred Lorimer and Carter's
mother managed that, between them, in spite of Stephen's best efforts,
and, that decided, Jimsy King went with his father to visit one of the
uncles at his great _hacienda_ in old Mexico. Mrs. Van Meter and her son
spent his vacation on the Continent and had Honor with them the greater
part of the time. She met their steamer at Naples and Carter could see
the shining gladness of her face long before he could reach her and
speak to her, and he glowed so that his mother's eyes were wet.

"Honor!" He had no words for that first moment, the fluent Carter. He
could only hold both her hands and look at her.

But Honor had words. She gave back the grip of his hands and beamed on
him. "Carter! Carter, _dear_! Oh, but it's wonderful to see you! It's
_next_ best to having Jimsy himself!"

Marcia Van Meter winced with sympathy, but her son managed himself very
commendably. They went to Sorrento first, and stayed a week in a mellow
old hotel above the pink cliffs, and the boy and girl sat in the garden
which looked like a Maxfield Parrish drawing and drove up to the old
monastery at Deserto and wandered through the silk and coral shops and
took the little steamer across to Capri for the day while Mrs. Van Meter
rested from the crossing. She was happier that summer than she had been
since Carter's little-boy days, for she was giving him, in so far as she
might, what he wanted most in all the world, and she saw his courage and
confidence growing daily. She was a little nervous about Roman fever, so
they left Italy for Paris, and then went on to Switzerland, and for the
first few days she was supremely content with her choice,--Carter gained
color and vigor in the sun and snow, and Honor glowed and bloomed, but
she presently saw her mistake. Switzerland was not the place to throw
Honor and Carter together,--Switzerland filled to overflowing with
knickerbockered, hard muscled, mountain climbing men and women; Honor
who should have been climbing with the best of them; who would be, if
Jimsy King were with them; and her son, in the smart incongruities of
his sport clothes ... limping, his proud young head held high.

They found Miss Bruce-Drummond at Zermatt, brown as a berry and hard as
nails with her season's work, and she was heartily glad to see Honor.

"Well, my dear,--fancy finding you here! Your stepfather wrote me you
were studying in Florence and I've been meaning to write you. What luck,
your turning up now! The friend who came on with me has been called
home, and you shall do some climbs with me!"

"Shall I?" Honor wanted to know of her hostess, but it was Carter who
answered.

"Of course! Don't bother about us,--we'll amuse ourselves well enough
while you're hiking,--won't we, Mater?" He was charming about it and yet
Honor felt his keen displeasure.

"Yes, do go, dear," said Mrs. Van Meter, quickly. "Make the most of it,
for I think we'll be moving on in a very few days. I--I haven't said
anything about it because you and Carter have been so happy here, but
the altitude troubles me.... I've been really very wretched."

"Oh," said Honor penitently, "we'll go down right away, Mrs. Van
Meter,--_to-day_! Why didn't you tell us?"

"It hasn't been serious," said Carter's mother, conscientiously, "it's
just that I know I will be more comfortable at sea level." It was
entirely true; she would be more comfortable at sea level or anywhere
else, so long as she took Carter out of that picture and framed him
suitably again. "But we needn't hurry so madly, dear. Suppose we go on
Friday? That will give you a day with your friend." She sent Carter for
her cloak and Honor and the Englishwoman strolled to the end of the
veranda.

"I don't believe we ought to wait even a day, if she feels the altitude
so," said Honor, troubled. "She's really very frail."

"I expect she can stick it a day," said Miss Bruce-Drummond, calmly.
"She looks fit enough. But--I say--where's the other one? Where's your
boy?"

The warm and happy color flooded the girl's face. "Jimsy is in Mexico
with his father, visiting their relatives there on a big ranch."

"You haven't thrown him over, have you?"

"Thrown Jimsy over? Thrown--" she stopped and drew a long breath. "I
could just as easily throw _myself_ over. Why, we--_belong_! We're part
of each other. I just--can't think of myself without thinking of
Jimsy--or of Jimsy without thinking of me." She said it quite simply and
steadily and smiled when she finished.

"I see," said the novelist. "Yes. I see. But you're both frightfully
young, aren't you? I expect your people will make you wait a long time,
won't they?"

"Well," said Honor, earnestly, "we're going to try our very best to
wait three years,--three from the time when we found out we were in love
with each other, you know,--two years longer now. Then we'll be
twenty-one." She spoke as if every one should be satisfied then, if they
dragged out separate existences until they had attained that hoary age,
and Miss Bruce-Drummond, hard on forty-one, grinned with entire good
nature.

"And I daresay they'll keep you over here all the while,--not let you go
home for holidays, for fear you might lose your heads and bolt for
Gretna Green?"

"Mercy, no!" Her eyes widened, startled. "I shall go home for all summer
next year! I meant to go this year, but Muzzie thought I ought to stay,
to be with Carter and Mrs. Van Meter, when they'd made such lovely plans
for me,--and it was really all right, this time, because Jimsy ought to
be with his father on the Mexican trip." Her smooth brow registered a
fleeting worry over James King the elder. "But next summer it'll be
home, and Catalina Island, and Jimsy!"

But it wasn't home for her next summer, after all. Mildred Lorimer
decided that she wanted three months on the Continent with her husband
and her daughter.

"Right," said Stephen Lorimer, amiably, "so long as we take the boy
along."

"You mean Rodney?" she wanted to know, not looking at him. (Rodney was
the youngest Lorimer.)

"I mean Jimsy King, naturally, as you quite well know, Sapphira," he
answered, pulling her down beside him on the couch and making her face
him.

"Stephen, I don't think Mr. King can afford to send him."

"Then we'll take him."

"Jimsy wouldn't let us. He is very proud,--I admire it in him."

"Do you, my dear? Then, can't you manage to admire some of his other
nice young virtues and graces?"

"I do, Stephen. I give the boy credit for all he is, but----"

"But you don't intend to let him marry your daughter if by the hookiest
hook and crookedest crook you can prevent it. I observed your Star
Chamber sessions with Mrs. Van Meter last year; I saw you wave her and
her son hopefully away; I observed, smiling with intense internal glee,
that you welcomed them back with deep if skillfully dissembled
disappointment. Top Step, God love her, sat tight. Don't you know your
own child yet, Mildred? Don't you know the well and favorably known
chemical action of absence on young and juicy hearts? Don't you
know"--he broke off to stare at her, flushed and a little breathless as
she always was in discussions and unbelievably youthful and beautiful
still, and finished in quite another key--"that you're getting
positively lovelier with each ridiculous birthday--and your aged and
infirm spouse more and more besottedly in love with you?"

She did not melt because she was tremendously in earnest. She was
pledged in her deepest heart to break up what she felt was Honor's silly
sentimentality--sentimentality with a dark and sinister background of
mortgages and young widows and Wild Kings and shabby, down-at-the-heel
houses and lawns.

"Woman," said Stephen Lorimer, "did you hear what I said? It was a
rather neat speech, I thought. However, as you did not give it the rapt
attention it merited I will now repeat it, with appropriate gestures."
He caught her in his arms as youthfully as Jimsy might have done with
Honor, and told her again, between kisses. "You lovely, silly, stubborn
thing, kiss your wise husband once more in a manner expressive of your
admiration for his unfailing sapience, and he will then, with surprising
agility for one of his years, lope across the intervening lawn and tell
James King that his son goes to Europe with us in June." He grinned back
at her from the door. "You'll do your little worst to prevent it, my
dear, that I know, but Jimsy King goes with us!"

Honor and Jimsy wrote each other rapturously on receipt of the news, but
they were not fluent or expressive, either of them, and they could only
underline and put in a reckless number of exclamation points. "_Gee_,"
wrote Jimsy King, "isn't it immense? Skipper, I can't tell you how I
feel--but, by golly, I can _show_ you when I get there!"

And Honor, reading that line, grew rosily pink to the roots of her
honey-colored hair and flung herself into an hour of practice with such
fire and fervor that the _Signorina_ came and beamed in the doorway.

"So," she nodded. "News? Good or bad?"

"Good," said Honor, swinging round on the piano stool. "The best in the
world!"

"So? Well, it does not greatly matter which, my small one. It does not
signify so much whether one feels joy or grief, so long as one feels. To
feel ... that is to live, and to live is to sing!"

Honor sprang up and ran to her and put her arm as far around her as it
would go. She was a delicious person to hug, the _Signorina_, warm and
soft and smelling faintly of rare and costly scents.

"_So?_" said the great singer again. "It is of some comfort, then, to
embrace so much of fatness, when your arms ache to feel muscles and hard
flesh? There, there, my good small one," she patted her with a puffy and
jeweled hand, "I jest, but I rejoice. It is all good for the voice,
this."

"_Signorina_," said Honor, honestly, "I've told you and told you, but
you don't seem to believe me, that I'm only studying to fill up the time
until they'll let me marry Jimsy. I love it, of course, and I'll always
keep it up, as much as I can without neglecting more important things,
but----"

"Mother of our Lord," said the Italian, lifting her hands to heaven,
"'more important things' says this babe with the voice of gold, who, by
the grace of God and my training might one day wake the world!"

"More important to _me_," said Honor, firmly. "I know it must seem silly
to you, _Signorina_, dear, but if you were in love----"

"Mothers of all the holy saints," said the fat woman, lifting her hands
again, "when have I not been in love? Have I not had three husbands
already, and another even now dawning on the horizon, not to
mention--but there, that is not for pink young ears. I will say this to
you, small one. Every woman should marry. Every artist _must_ marry. Run
home, then, in another year, and wed the young savage, and have done
with it. Stay a year with him--two if you like--until there is an infant
savage. Then you shall come back and give yourself in earnest to the
business of singing."

But Honor, scarlet-cheeked, shook her head. "I can't imagine coming back
from--from _that_, _Signorina_!" Her eyes envisaged it and the happy
color rose and rose in her face. "But I've got a good lesson for you
to-day! Shall I begin?"

"Begin, then, my good small one," said her teacher indulgently, "and for
the rest, we shall see what we shall see!"

Honor flung herself into her work as never before, and counted the weeks
and days and hours until the time when Jimsy should come to her, and
Jimsy, finishing up a sound, triumphant Sophomore year, saw everything
through a hazy front drop of his Skipper on the pier at Naples.

But Jimsy King did not go abroad with Mr. and Mrs. Lorimer, after all,
and Honor did not see him through the whole dragging summer. Stephen
Lorimer, sick with disappointment for his stepdaughter, would have
found relief in fixing the blame on his wife, for her lovely and
complacent face mirrored her satisfaction at the turn of events, but he
could hardly hold her responsible. James King was taken suddenly,
alarmingly ill with pneumonia two days before they left Los Angeles to
catch their steamer at New York, and it was manifestly impossible for
his son to leave him. The doctors gave scant hope of his recovery.

Therefore, it was Carter Van Meter who took Jimsy's ticket off his hands
and Jimsy's place in the party and the summer plans, leaving his happy
mother to spend three flutteringly hopeful months alone.



CHAPTER VIII


James King, greatly to the surprise of his physicians, did not die, but
he hovered on the brink of it for many thin weeks and his son gave up
his entire vacation to be with him. The letters he sent Honor were brief
bulletins of his father's condition, explosive regrets at having to give
up his summer with her, but Jimsy was not a letter writer. In order
properly to fill up more than a page it was necessary for him to be able
to say, "Had a bully practice to-day," or, "Saw old Duffy last night and
he told me all about--" He was not good at producing epistolary bulk out
of empty and idle days. Stephen Lorimer, often beside Honor when she
opened and read these messages in English Cathedral towns or beside
Scotch lakes, ached with sympathy for these young lovers under his
benevolent wing because of their inability to set themselves down on
paper. He knew that his stepdaughter was very nearly as limited as the
boy.

"Ethel," he said to Miss Bruce-Drummond who had met up with them for a
week-end at Stirling, "those poor children are so pitifully what Gelett
Burgess calls 'the gagged and wordless folk'; it would be so much
easier--and safer--for them if they belonged to his 'caste of the
articulate.'"

She nodded. "Yes. It's rather frightful, really, to separate people who
have no means of communication. Especially when--" she broke off,
looking at Carter who was pointing out to Honor what he believed to be
the Field of Bannockburn.

Stephen Lorimer shook his head. "No danger there," he said comfortably.
"Top Step is sorry for him--a creature of another, paler world ...
infinitely beneath her bright and beamish boy's. No, I feel a lot safer
to have Carter with her than with Jimsy King."

The Englishwoman stared. "Really?"

"Yes. I daresay I exaggerate, but I've always seen something sinister
about that youth."

Miss Bruce-Drummond looked at Carter Van Meter and observed the way in
which he was looking at Honor. "He wants her frightfully, doesn't he,
poor thing?"

"He wants her frightfully but he isn't a poor thing in the very least.
He is an almost uncannily clever and subtle young person for his years,
with a very large income and a fanatically devoted mother behind him,
and he's had everything he ever wanted all his life except physical
perfection,--and my good Top Step."

"Ah, yes, but what can he do, after all?"

Honor's stepfather shrugged. "He knows that she would not be allowed to
marry the lad if he went the way of the other 'Wild Kings,'--that she is
too sound and sane to insist on it. And I think--I thought even in their
High School days--that he deliberately steers Jimsy into danger."

"My word!" said the novelist, hotly. "What are you going to do about it,
Stephen?"

"Watch. Wait. Stand ready. I shall make it my business to drop in at the
fraternity house once or twice next season, when I go north to San
Francisco,--and into other fraternity houses, and put my ear to the
ground. And if I find what I fear to find I'll take it up with both the
lads, face to face, and then I'll send for Honor."

"Right!" said Miss Bruce-Drummond, her fine, fresh-colored face glowing.
"And I'll run down to Florence at the Christmas holidays and take her to
Rome with me, shall I?"

"It will be corking of you, Ethel."

"I shall love doing it."

He looked at her appreciatively. She would love doing it; she loved
life and people, Ethel Bruce-Drummond, and she was able therefore to put
life and people, warm and living, on to her pages. She was as fit and
hardy as a splendid boy, her cheeks round and ruddy, her eyes bright,
her fine bare hands brown and strong, her sturdy ankles sturdier than
ever in her heavy knitted woolen hose and her stout Scotch brogues. He
had known and counted on her for almost twenty years--and he had married
Mildred Carmody. "Ethel," he said, suddenly, "in that book of mine I
mean to have----"

"Ah, yes, that book of yours, Stephen! Slothful creature! You know quite
well you'll never do it."

"Never do it! Why,"--he was indignant--"I've got tons of it done
already, in my head! It only wants writing down."

"Yes, yes," said his friend, penitently, "I make no doubt. It only wants
writing down. Well?"

"I'm going to have a chapter on friendship, and insert a really novel
idea. Friendship has never been properly praised,--begging pardon in
passing of Mr. Emerson and his ilk. I'm going to suggest that it be
given dignity and weight by having licenses and ceremonies, just as
marriage has. It has a better right, you know, really. It's a much saner
and more probable vow--to remain friends all one's life, than in love.
In genuine friendship there is indeed no variableness, neither shadow or
turning. You and I, now, might quite safely have taken out our
friendship license and plighted our troth,--twenty years, isn't it?"

"Yes," said Miss Bruce-Drummond, gently, "it's twenty years, Stephen,
and that's a quite beautiful idea. You must surely put it in your book,
old dear." Her keen eyes, looking away across the ancient battlefields
were a little less keen than usual, but Stephen Lorimer did not notice
that because he was looking at his watch.

"Do you know it's nearly five, woman, and Mildred waiting tea for us at
the Stirling Arms?" So he called to the boy and girl and fell into step
beside his friend and swung down the hill to his tea and his wife, a
little thrilled still, as he always would be to the day of his death, at
being with her again after even the least considerable absence.

It seemed to Honor Carmody that three solid summers had been welded
together for her soul's discipline that year; there were assuredly
ninety-three endless days in July. She was not quite sure whether having
Carter with them made it harder for her or easier. He was an
accomplished traveler; things moved more smoothly for his presence,
and--as she wrote Jimsy--he knew everything about everywhere. On the
whole, it was pleasanter, more like home, more like the good days on
South Figueroa Street, to have him about; she could sometimes almost
cajole herself into thinking Jimsy must be there, too, in the next room,
hurrying up the street, a little late for dinner, but there, near them.
It was only when Carter talked to her of Jimsy that she grew anxious,
even acutely unhappy. It wasn't, she would decide, thinking it over
later, lying awake in the dark, so much what Carter had said--it was
what he hadn't said in words. It was the thing that sounded in his
voice, that was far back in his eyes.

"Yes," he would say, smiling in reminiscence, "that was a party! Nothing
ever like it at Stanford before in the memory of the oldest inhabitant,
they say. And old Jimsy--I wish you could have seen him! No, I don't
really, for you wouldn't have approved and the poor old scout would have
been in for a lecture, but it was----"

"Carter," Honor would interrupt, "do you mean, can you possibly mean
that Jimsy--that he's--" She found she couldn't say it after all; she
couldn't put it into the ugly definite words.

"Oh, nothing serious, Honor! Nothing for you to worry about! He has to
do more or less as others do, a man of his prominence in college. It's
unavoidable. Of course, it might be better if he could steer clear of
that sort of thing altogether--" he would stop at a point like that and
frown into space for a moment, as if remembering, weighing, considering,
and Honor's heart would sink coldly. Then he would brighten again and
lay a reassuring hand on her sleeve. "But you mustn't worry. Jimsy's got
a level head on his shoulders, and he has too much at stake to go too
far. He'll be all right in the end, Honor, I'm sure of that. And you
know I'll always keep an eye on him!".

And Honor twisting on her finger the ring with the clasped hands and the
hidden blue stone of constancy which she always wore except when her
mother was with her, would manage a smile and say, "I know how devoted
you are to him, Carter. You couldn't help it, could you?--Every one is.
And you mean to help him; I know that. I _am_ grateful. It's next best
to being with him myself." Then, because she couldn't trust herself to
talk very much about Jimsy, she would resolutely change the subject and
Carter would write home to his hoping mother that Honor really seemed to
be having a happy summer and to enjoy everything, and that she was not
very keen to talk much about Jimsy.

He did not hear the talk she had with her stepfather the night before
they were to sail for home. It came after her hour of fruitless pleading
with her mother to be allowed to go back with them. Mildred Lorimer had
stood firm, and Stephen had been silent and Carter had sided with
Honor's mother.

"It really would be rather a shame, Honor,--much as we'd love having you
with us on the trip home. You're coming on so wonderfully with your
work, the _Signorina_ says. She intends to have you in concert this
winter, and coming home would spoil that, wouldn't it?" He was very
sensible about it.

Honor had managed to ask Stephen to see her alone, after the rest had
gone to their rooms. They were sailing from Genoa because they had
wanted to bring Honor back to Italy and the _Signorina_ had joined them
at the port and would take the girl back to Florence with her. Honor
went upstairs and came down again in fifteen minutes and found him
waiting for her in the lounge.

He got up and came to meet her and took her hands into his solid and
reassuring clasp. "This is pretty rough, Top Step. You don't have to
tell me."

She did not, indeed. Her young face was drained of all its color that
night and her eyes looked strained. It was mildly warm and the windows
were open, but she was shivering a little. "Stepper, dear, I don't want
to be a goose----"

"You're not, Top Step."

"But I'm anxious. When Jimsy gave me this ring, and told me what he had
told his father--that he was not going to be another 'Wild King' and
asked me if I believed him, I told him I'd never stop believing him, and
I won't, Skipper. I won't!"

"Right, T. S."

"But--things Carter says,--things he doesn't say--Stepper, I think Jimsy
needs me _now_."

The man was silent for a long moment. He could, of course, assert his
authority or at least his power, since the girl was Mildred's child and
not his, break with his good friend, the _Signorina_, and take Honor
home. But, after all, what would that accomplish, unless she went to
Stanford? He began to think aloud. "Even if you came home with us, Top
Step, you wouldn't be near him, would you, unless you went to college?
And you'd hardly care to do that now--to enter your Freshman year two
years behind the boys."

"No."

"And if you stayed in Los Angeles--you might almost as well be here.
The number of miles doesn't matter."

"But--perhaps Jimsy wouldn't stay at Stanford then. Oh, Stepper, dear,
haven't we waited long enough?"

"He's only twenty, T. S."

She sighed. "Being young is the cruelest thing in the world!"

"You are blaspheming!" said her stepfather, sternly. "T. S., that's the
only stupid and wicked thing you've ever said in the years I've known
you! Don't ever dare to say it--or think it--again! Being young is the
most golden and glorious thing in the world! Being young--" he ran a
worried hand over his thinning hair and sighed. "Ah, well, you'll know,
some day. Meanwhile, girl, it looks as if you'd have to stick. That's
your part in 'playing the game!' But I promise you this. I shall keep an
eye on things for you; keep in touch with the boy, see him, hear from
him, hear _of_ him, and if the time comes when I believe that his need
of you is instant and vital, I'll write--no, I'll cable you to come."

"Stepper!" The comfort in her eyes warmed him.

"It's a promise, Top Step"--he grinned,--"as you used to say when I
first knew you--'cross-my-heart,
hope-never-to-see-the-back-of-my-neck!' Now, hop along to bed,--and
trust me!"

The lift in the little hotel put its head under its wing at ten-thirty
and it was now almost eleven, so Honor set out on foot to do the three
flights between her and her room. She ran lightly because she felt
suddenly eased of a crushing burden; Stepper, good old Stepper, was on
guard; Stepper was standing watch for her. There was a little
writing-room and sun parlor on the second floor, dim now, with only one
shaded light still burning, and as she crossed it a figure rose so
startlingly from a deep chair that she smothered a small cry.

"It's I," said Carter. He stepped between her and the stairway.

"Cartie! You did make me jump!" Honor smiled at him; she was so cozily
at peace for the moment that she had an increased tenderness for their
frail friend. "It was so still in the hotel it might be the 'night
before Christmas,'--'not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.'
You'd better go to bed," she added, maternally. "You look pale and
tired."

"I'm not tired," he said shortly. He continued to stand between her and
the stairs.

"Well--_I'm_ sleepy," she said, moving to pass him. "Good----"

But Carter was quicker. He caught hold of her by her arms and held her
in a tense grip. "Honor, Honor, _Honor_!" he said, choking.

"Why,--Cartie! You--please--" She tried to free herself.

"Honor, I can't help it. I've got to speak. I've got to know. Don't
you--couldn't you--care at all for me, Honor?"

"Carter! Not--not the way you mean! Of course I'm fond of you, but----"

"I don't want that!" He shook her, roughly, and his voice was harsh. "I
want you to care the way I care. And I'm going to make you!"

"Carter," she was not angry with him, only unhappy, "do you think this
is fair? Do you think you're being square with Jimsy?"

"No," he said, hotly, "and I don't care. I don't care for anything but
you. Honor, you don't love Jimsy King. I know it. It's just a silly,
boy-and-girl thing--you must realize that, now you're away from him!
Your mother doesn't want you to marry him. What can he give you or do
for you? And he'll go the way of his father and all his family--I've
tried to lie to you, but I'm telling you the truth now, Honor. He's
drinking already, and he'll grow worse and worse. Give him up, Honor!
Give him up before he spoils your life, and let me--" with all his
strength, far more than she would have thought it possible for him to
have, he tried to pull her into his arms, to reach her lips.

But Jimsy's Skipper, for all her two soft years in Europe, had not lost
her swimming, hiking, driving, out-of-door vigor, and her muscles were
better than his.

"I'm going to kiss you," said Carter, huskily. "I've wanted to kiss you
for years ... always ... and I'm going to kiss you now!"

"No, you're not, Carter," said Honor. She got her arms out of his grasp
and caught his wrists in her hands. She was very white and her eyes were
cold. "You see? You're weak. You're weak in your arms, Carter, just as
you're weak in your--in your character, in your friendship! And I
despise weakness." She dropped his wrists and saw him sit down, limply,
in the nearest chair and cover his face with his hands. Then she walked
to the stairs and went up without a backward glance.

He was pallid and silent at breakfast next morning and Honor was careful
not to look at him. It was beginning to seem, in the eight o'clock
sunlight, as if the happening of the night before must have been a
horrid dream, and her sense of anger and scorn gradually gave way to
pity. After all ... poor old Carter, who had so little ... Jimsy, who
had so much! What Carter had said in his tirade about Jimsy's drinking
she did not believe; it was simply temper; angry exaggeration. Mildred
Lorimer, looking at Carter's white face and the gray shadows under his
eyes and observing Honor's manner toward him, sighed audibly and was a
little distant when she bade her daughter farewell. She loved her eldest
born devotedly, but there were moments when she couldn't help but feel
that Honor was not very much of a comfort to her....

Stephen held the girl's hands hard and looked deep into her eyes.
"Remember what I said, Top Step, 'Cross-my-heart!'"

"I'll remember, Stepper, dear! _Thanks!_" She turned to Carter and held
out a steady hand. "My love to your mother, Carter, and I do hope you'll
have a jolly crossing."

"Will you read this, please?" He lifted his heavy eyes to her face and
slipped a note into her hand. She nodded and tucked it into her blouse.
Then she stood with the _Signorina_, on the pier, waving, and with misty
eyes watching the steamer melting away and away into the blue water.
When she was alone she read the little letter.


     "Dear Honor--" Carter had written in a ragged scrawl unlike his
     usual firm hand--"Will you try to forgive me? You are the kindest
     and least bitter person in the world; I know you can forgive me.
     But--and this will be harder--can you forget last night? I promise
     to deserve it, if you will. Will you pretend to yourself that it
     never happened, and just remember the good days we've had this
     summer, and that--in spite of my losing my head--I'm your friend,
     and Jimsy's friend? Will you, Honor?"


And Honor Carmody, looking with blurred eyes at the sea, wished she
might wave again and reassuringly to the boy on the steamer, facing the
long voyage so drearily. Then she realized that she still could, in a
sense, wave to him. The steamer stopped at Naples and she could send a
telegram to him there, and he would not have to cross the wide ocean
under that guilty weight. She put on her hat and sped to the telegraph
office, and there, because his note had ended with a question--had been
indeed all a question--and because she was the briefest of feminine
creatures, and because the _Signorina_ was waiting luncheon for her and
did not enjoy waiting, she wired the one word, "Yes," and signed her
name.

"Carter got a telegram," said Mildred Lorimer to her husband. "I wonder
what it could have been. Did he say?"

"He didn't mention it," said Stephen. "About those silk shirts which
weren't finished, I daresay. Certainly not bad news, by the look of
him."

When Carter Van Meter reached Los Angeles and his tearfully happy mother
he drew her into the library and closed the door. "Mater," he said with
an odd air of intense repressed excitement, "I'm going to show you
something, but you must promise me on your honor not to breathe it to a
living soul, least of all, Mrs. Lorimer."

"Oh, dearest," gasped his mother, "I promise faithfully----"

He took Honor's telegram out of his wallet and unfolded it and smoothed
it out for her to read the single word it contained. Then, at her glad
cry, "Sh ... Mater! It isn't--exactly--what you think. I can't explain
now. But it's a hope; it may--I believe it will, one day--lead to the
thing we both want!" He folded it again carefully into its creases and
put it back into his wallet and he was breathing hard.



CHAPTER IX


Ethel Bruce-Drummond was better than her word. She did not wait for the
Christmas holidays but went down to Florence early in December for
Honor's first concert, and she wrote many pages to Stephen Lorimer.


     Of course you know by this time that the concert was a
     success--you'll have had Honor's modest cable and the explosive and
     expensive one from the fat lark! They are sending you translations
     from the Italian papers, and clippings in English, and copies of
     some of the notes she's had from the more important musical people,
     and I really can't add anything to that side of it. You know, my
     dear Stephen, when it comes to music I'm confessedly ignorant,--not
     quite, perhaps, like that fabled countryman of mine who said he
     could not tell whether the band were playing "God Save the Weasel"
     or "Pop Goes the Queen," but bad enough in all truth. Therefore, I
     keep cannily out of all discussion of Honor's voice. I gather,
     however, that it has surprised every one, even the _Signorina_, and
     that there is no doubt at all about her making a genuine success
     if she wants to hew to the line. She has had, I hear, several
     rather unusual offers already. But of course she hasn't the
     faintest intention of doing anything in the world but the thing her
     heart is set upon. It's rather pathetic, really. There's something
     a little like Trilby about her; she does seem to be singing under
     enchantment. What she really is like, though, is a lantern-jawed
     young Botticelli Madonna. She's lost a goodish bit of flesh, I
     should say, and her color's not so high, and she might easily have
     walked out of one of the canvases in the Pitti or the Ufizzi, or
     the Belli Arti. Her hair is Botticelli hair, and that "reticence of
     the flesh" of which one of your American novelists
     speaks--Harrison, isn't it?--and that faint austerity.

     She sang quantities of _arias_ and groups of songs of all nations,
     and at the end she did some American Indian things,--the native
     melodies themselves arranged in modern fashion. I expect you know
     them. The words are very simple and touching and the Italian
     translations are sufficiently funny. Well, the very last of all was
     something about a captive Indian maid, and a young chap here who
     clearly adores her and whom she hasn't even taken in upon her
     retina played a wailing, haunting accompaniment on the flute. As
     nearly as I can remember it went something like:


          From the Land of the Sky Blue Water
          They brought a captive maid.
          Her eyes were deep as the--(I can't remember what, Stephen)
          But she was not afraid.
          I go to her tent in the evening
          And woo her with my flute,
          But she dreams of the Sky Blue Water,
          And the captive maid is mute.


     My dear Stephen, I give you my word that I very nearly put my nose
     in the air and howled. She _is_ a captive maid--captive to her
     talent and the fat song-bird and her mother's ambition and yours,
     and her mother's determination not to let her marry her lad, and to
     that Carter chap, and the boy playing the flute--the whole network
     of you,--but she's dreaming of the Sky Blue Water, and dreaming is
     doing with that child. You'd best make up your minds to it, and
     settle some money on them and marry them off. My word, Stephen, is
     there so much of it lying about in the world that you can afford to
     be reckless with it? I arrived too late to see her before the
     concert, and I went behind--together with the bulk of the American
     and English colonies--directly it was over. She was tremendously
     glad to see me; I was a sort of link, you know. When I started in
     to tell her how splendidly she'd sung and how every one was
     rejoicing she said, "Yes,--thanks--isn't every one sweet? But did
     Stepper write you that Jimsy was 'Varsity Captain this year, and
     that they beat Berkeley twelve to five? And that Jimsy made _both_
     touchdowns? Do you remember that game you saw with us--and how
     Jimsy ran down the field and shook hands with the boy who'd scored
     on us? And how that gave every one confidence again, and we won? We
     _always_ won!"--and standing there with her arms full of flowers
     and all sorts of really important people waiting to pat her on the
     head, she hummed that old battle song:


          _You can't beat L. A. High!_
          _You can't beat L. A. High!_


     and her eyes filled up with tears and she gave me her jolly little
     grin and said, "Oh, Miss Bruce-Drummond, I can hardly wait to get
     back to real living again!"


Honor was honestly happy over her success. It was good to satisfy--and
more than satisfy--the kind _Signorina_ and all the genial and
interested people she had come to know there; to send her program and
her clippings home to her mother; it was jolly to be asked out to
luncheon and dinner and tea and to be made much of; it was best of all
to have something tangible to give up for Jimsy. If she had failed,
going back to him and settling quietly down with him would have seemed
like running to sanctuary; now--with definite promises and hard figures
offered her--it was more than a gesture of renunciation. She could
understand adoring a life of that sort if she hadn't Jimsy; as it was
she listened sedately to the _Signorina's_ happy burblings and said at
intervals:

"But you know, _Signorina_ dear, that I'm going to give it up and be
married next year?"

"You cannot give it up, my poor small one. It will not give you up. It
has you, one may truly say, by the throat!"

There was no use in arguing with her. The interim had to be filled until
summer and home. She would do, docilely, whatever the _Signorina_
wished.

Jimsy was happy and congratulatory about her concert but he took it no
more seriously than Honor herself. His letters were full, in those days,
of the unrest at Stanford. Certain professors had taken a determined
stand against drinking; there was much agitation and bitterness on both
sides. Jimsy was all for freedom; he resented dictation; he could hoe
his own row and so could other fellows; the faculty had no right to
treat them like a kindergarten. Honor answered calmly and soothingly;
she managed to convey without actually setting it down on the page that
Jimsy King of all people in the world should take care not to ally
himself with the "wets," and he wrote back that he was keeping out of
the whole mess.

It came, therefore, as a fearful shock, the letters and newspapers'
account of the expelling of James King of Los Angeles, 'Varsity Captain
and prominent in college theatricals, from Stanford University for
marching in a parade of protest against the curtailing of drinking! She
was alone in her room when she opened her mail and she sat very still
for minutes with her eyes shut, her fingers gripping the tiny clasped
hands on her ring. At last, "_I'll never stop believing in you_," she
said, almost aloud.

Then she read Jimsy's own version of it. She always kept his letter for
the last, childishly, on the nursery theorem of "First the worst, second
the same, last the best of all the game."


     "Skipper dearest," he wrote, in a hasty and stumbling scrawl, "I'm
     so mad I can hardly see to write. I'd have killed that prof if it
     hadn't been for Carter. This is how it happened. I'd been keeping
     out of the whole mess as I told you I would. That night I was
     digging out something at the Library and on my way back to the
     House I saw a gang of fellows in a sort of parade, and some one at
     the end caught hold of me and dragged me in. I asked him what the
     big idea was and he said he didn't know, and I was sleepy and when
     we came to the House I dropped out and went in. I wasn't in it ten
     minutes and I didn't even know what it was about. But when they
     called for every one who was in the parade next day I had to show
     up, of course. Well, they asked me about it and I told them just
     how it happened, and they said all right, then, I could go. I was
     surprised and thankful, I can tell you, because they'd been
     chopping off heads right and left, some of the best men in college.
     Well, just as I was going out through the door the old prof called
     me back and said he had one more thing to ask me. Did I consider
     that his committee was absolutely right and justified in everything
     they'd done? Well, Skipper, what could I say? I said just what
     you'd have said and what you'd have wanted me to say--that I did
     think they had been too severe and in some cases unjust and they
     canned me for it."


There was a letter from Stephen Lorimer, grave and distressed,
substantiating everything that Jimsy had written. (He had taken the
first train north and gone into the matter thoroughly with the men at
the fraternity house, simmering with red rage, and the committee,
regretful but adamant.) The college career, the gay, brilliant, adored
college career of Jimsy King was at an end. Honor's stepfather had taken
great care to have the real facts in Jimsy's case printed--he sent the
clipping from the Los Angeles paper--and he had spent an evening with
James King, setting forth the truth of the case. But the fact remained
for the majority of people, gaining in sinister weight with every
repetition, that the last of the "Wild Kings" had been expelled from
Stanford University for drinking.


     "Top Step," her stepfather wrote, "I'm sick with rage and
     indignation. Your mother is taking it very hard--as is most every
     one else. 'Expelled' is not a pretty word. I'm doing my level best
     to put the truth before the public, to show that your boy is really
     something of a hero in this matter, in that he might be snugly safe
     at this moment if he had been willing to tell a politic lie. You'll
     be unhappy over this, T. S., that's inevitable, but--I give you my
     word--you need not hang your head. Jimsy played the game."


Carter, who had written seldom since the happening of the summer in
spite of her kind and casual replies to his letters, sent her now six
reassuring pages. She was not to worry. Jimsy was really doing very
well, as far as the drinking went, and he--Carter--would not let him do
anything foolish or desperate in his indignation. Three times he
repeated that she must not be anxious. A dozen times in the letter he
showed her where she might well be anxious. The word beat itself in upon
her brain until she could endure it no longer, and she went out through
the pretty streets of Florence to the cable office and sent Stephen
Lorimer one of her brief and urgent messages, "_Anxious_." Two days
later she had his answer and it was as short as her own had been,
"_Come_."

There was a stormy scene with the _Signorina_. The waves of her fury
rolled up and up and broke, crashing, over Honor's rocklike calm. At
last, breathless, her fat face mottled with temper, "Go, then," said the
singer, and went out of the room with heavy speed and slammed the door
resoundingly. But she went with Honor to her steamer at Naples and
embraced her forgivingly. "Go with God," she wept. "Live a little; it is
best, perhaps. Then, my good small one, come back to me."

Like all simple and direct persons Honor found relief in action. The
packing of her trunks and bags, the securing of tickets, cabling, had
all given her a sense of comfort. They were tangible evidences of her
progress toward Jimsy. The ocean trip was difficult; there was nothing
to _do_. Nevertheless the sea's large calm communicated itself to her;
for the greater portion of the voyage she was at peace. The situation
with Jimsy must have been grave for her stepfather to think it necessary
to send for her, but nothing could be so bad that she could not right it
when she was actually with Jimsy. She would never leave him again, she
told herself.


     Feyther an' mither may a' gey mad,
     But whistle an' I'll come to ye, my lad!


Her mother, her poor, lovely mother, to whom she had been always such a
disappointment, would be mad enough in all conscience, but Stepper would
stand by. And nothing--no thing, no person, mattered beside Jimsy.
Friends of her mother met her steamer in New York and put her on her
train, and friends of Stephen Lorimer met her in Chicago and drove and
dined her and saw her off on the Santa Fe. She began to have at once a
warm sense of the West and home. The California poppies on the china in
the dining-car made her happy out of all proportion. When they picked up
the desert she relaxed and settled back in her seat with a sigh and a
smile. The blessed brown, the delicious dryness! The little jig-saw
hills standing pertly up against the sky; the tiny, low-growing desert
flowers; the Indian villages in the distance, the track workers' camps
close by with Mexican women and babies waving in the doorways; even a
lean gray coyote, loping homeward, looking back over his shoulder at the
train, helped to make up the sum of her joy. _The West!_ How had she
endured being away from it so long?--From its breadth and bigness, its
sweep and space and freedom? She would never go away again. She and
Jimsy would live here always, a part of it, belonging.

She stopped worrying. She was home, and Jimsy was waiting for her, and
everything would come right.

At San Bernardino her mother and stepfather and her brothers came on
board, surprising her. She had had a definite picture of them at the
Santa Fe station in Los Angeles and their sudden appearance almost
bewildered her. Her mother was a trifle tearful and reproachful but she
was radiantly beautiful in her winter plumage. Stephen's handclasp was
solid and comforting. Her little brothers had grown out of all belief,
and her big brothers were heroic size, and they were all a little shy
with her after the excitement of the first greetings. She wondered why
Jimsy had not come out with them but at once she told herself that it
was better so; it would have been hard for them to have their first hour
together under so many eyes,--her mother's especially. Jimsy would be
waiting at the station. But he was not. There were three or four of her
girl friends with their arms full of flowers and one or two older boys
who had finished college and were in business. They made much of her and
she greeted them warmly for all the cold fear which had laid hold of her
heart.

Then came the drive home, the surprising number of new business
buildings, the amazing growth of the city toward Seventh Street, the
lamentable intrusion of apartment houses and utilitarian edifices on
beautiful old Figueroa. Honor looked and listened and commented
intelligently, but--_where was Jimsy?_

The old house looked mellow and beautiful; the Japanese garden was a
symphony of green plush sod and brilliant color--the Bougainvillæa
almost smothering the little summerhouse and a mocking-bird who must be
a grandson of the one of her betrothal night was singing his giddy heart
out. Kada was waiting in the doorway, bowing stiffly, sucking in his
breath, beaming; the cook just behind him, following him in sound and
gesture, and the Japanese gardener, hat in hand, stood at the foot of
the steps as she passed to say, "How-do? Veree glod! Veree glod! Tha's
nize you coming home! Veree glod!"

Honor shook hands with them all. Then she turned to look at her
stepfather and he followed her into his study.

"And we've got three new dogs, Honor, and two cats, and----" the
smallest Lorimer besieged her at the door but she did not turn. She was
very white now and trembling.

"Stepper, where is Jimsy?"

"Top Step, I--it's like Evangeline, rather, isn't it? He went straight
through from the north without even stopping over here. He's gone to
Mexico, to his uncle's ranch. And Carter got a leave of absence and went
with him. I--you want the truth, don't you, Top Step?"

"Yes," said Honor.

"I'm afraid Jimsy rather ran amuck, in the bitterness of it all. His
father took it very hard, in spite of my explanations to him, and wrote
the boy a harsh letter; that started things, I fancy. That's when I
cabled you. Carter telephoned his mother from the station here as they
went through--they were on that special from San Francisco to Mexico
City--and she told your mother that Jimsy was pretty well shot to pieces
and that Carter didn't dare leave him alone."

"Didn't he write me?"

"He may have, of course, T. S., but there's nothing here for you. Mrs.
Van Meter told Carter that I had cabled for you, so Jimsy knows."

"Yes." She stood still, her hat and cloak on, deliberating. "Do the
trains go to Mexico every day, Stepper?"

"Why, yes, I believe they do, but you needn't wait to write, T. S. You
can telegraph, and let----"

"I didn't mean about writing," said Honor, quietly. "I meant about
going. Will you see if I can leave to-day, Stepper? Then I won't unpack
at all, you see, and that will save time."

"Top Step, I know what this means to you, but--your mother.... Do you
think you'd better?"

"I am going to Mexico," said Honor. "I am going to Jimsy."

"I'll find out about trains and reservations," said her stepfather.



CHAPTER X


For a few moments it moved and concerned Honor to see that she was the
cause of the first serious quarrel between her mother and her
stepfather. She was shocked to see her mother's wild weeping and Stephen
Lorimer's grim jaw and to hear the words between them, but nothing could
really count with her in those hours.

She took her mother in her arms and kissed her and spoke to her as she
had to her little brothers in the years gone by, when they were hurt or
sorry. "There, there, Muzzie _dear_! You can't help it. You must just
stop caring so. It isn't your fault."

"People will think--people will say----" sobbed Mildred Lorimer.

"No one will blame you, dear. Every one knows what a trial I've always
been to you."

"You have, Honor! You have! You've never been a comfort to me--not since
you were a tiny child. And even then you were tomboyish and rough and
queer."

"I know, Muzzie."

"I never heard of anything so brazen in all my life--running after him
to Mexico--to visit people you never laid eyes on in all your days,
utter strangers to you----"

"Jimsy's aunt and uncle, Muzzie."

"Utter strangers to _you_, forcing yourself upon them, without even
telegraphing to know if they can have you----"

"No. I don't want Jimsy to know I'm coming."

"Where's your pride, Honor Carmody? When he's done such dreadful things
and got himself expelled from college--a young man never lives _that_
down as long as he lives!--and gone the way of all the 'Wild Kings,' and
hasn't even written to you! That's the thing I can't understand--your
running after him when he's dropped you--gone without a word or a line
to you."

"He may have written, Muzzie. Letters are lost, you know, sometimes."

"Very seldom. _Very_ seldom!" Mrs. Lorimer hotly proclaimed her faith in
her government's efficiency. "I haven't lost three letters in forty
years. No. He's jilted you, Honor. That's the ugly, shameful truth, and
you're too blind to see it. If you knew the things Carter told his
mother----"

"I don't want to know them, Muzzie."

"Of course you don't. That's just it! Blind! Blind and
stubborn,--determined to wreck and ruin your whole life. And I must
stand by, helpless, and see you do it. And the _danger_ of the thing!
With Diaz out of the country it's in the hands of the brigands. You'll
be murdered ... or worse! Well--I know whose head your blood will be on.
Not mine, thank Heaven!" There was very little that day, Mildred Lorimer
felt, that she could thank Heaven for. It was not using her well.

"You know that Stepper will give me letters and telegraph ahead to the
train people," said Honor. "And you mustn't believe all the hysterical
tales in the newspapers, Muzzie dear. Here's Stepper now."

Stephen Lorimer was turning the car in at the driveway and a moment
later he came into the house. He looked very tired but he smiled at his
stepdaughter. "You're in luck, Top Step! I've just come from the Mexican
Consulate. Met some corking people there, Mexicans, starting home
to-morrow. They'll be with you until the last day of your trip! Mother
and father and daughter,--Menéndez is the name. Fascinating creatures.
I've got your reservations, in the same car with them! Mildred," he
turned to his wife, still speaking cheerily but begging for absolution
with his tired eyes, "Señora Menéndez--Menéndez y García is the whole
name--sent her compliments and said to tell you she would 'guard your
daughter as her own.' Doesn't that make you feel better about it?"

"She can defend her from bandits, I suppose?"

"My dear, there will be Señor Menéndez, and they tell me the tales of
violence are largely newspaper stuff,--as I've told you repeatedly. They
will not only look after Honor all the way but they will telegraph to
friends to meet her at Córdoba and drive her out to the Kings'
_rancho_--I explained that she wished to surprise her friends. I don't
mind telling you now that I should have gone with her myself if these
people hadn't turned up."

"Stepper, dear!"

"And I'll go now, T. S., if you like."

"No, Stepper. I'd rather go alone, really--as long as I'm going to be so
well looked after, and Muzzie needn't worry."

"'Needn't worry!'" said Mildred Lorimer, lifting her hands and letting
them fall into her lap.

"Honestly, Muzzie, you needn't. If you do, it's because you let
yourself. You must know that I'll be safe with these people."

"Your bodily safety isn't all," her mother, driven from that corner,
veered swiftly. "The thing itself is the worst. The _idea_ of it--when I
think--after all that was in the paper, and every one talking about it
and pitying you--_pitying_ you, Honor!"

Her daughter got up suddenly and crossed over to her mother. "Every one
but you, Muzzie? Can't you manage to--pity me--a little? I think I could
stand being pitied, just now." It was indeed a day for being mothered.
There was a need which even the best and most understanding of
stepfathers could not fill, and Mildred Lorimer, looking into her white
face and her mourning eyes melted suddenly and allowed herself to be
cuddled and somewhat comforted but the heights of comforting Honor she
could not scale.

"I think," said the girl at length, "I'd like to go up to my room and
rest for a little while, if you don't mind, Muzzie,--and Stepper."

"Right, T. S. You'll want to be fresh for to-morrow."

"Do, dear--and I'll have Kada bring you up some tea. Rest until dinner
time, because Mrs. Van Meter's dining with us," she broke off as she saw
the small quiver which passed over her daughter's face and defended
herself. "I had to ask her, Honor. I couldn't--in common decency--avoid
it. She's so devoted to you, and think what she's done for you, Honor!"

Honor sighed. "Very well. But will you make her promise not to let
Carter know I am coming?"

"My dear, how could she? You'll be there yourself as soon as a letter."

"She might telegraph." She turned to her stepfather. "Will you make her
promise, Stepper?"

"I will, Top Step. Run along and rest. I daresay there will be some of
the Old Guard in to see you this evening." He walked with her to the
door and opened it for her. The small amenities of life had always his
devoted attention. He smiled down at her. "_Rest!_" he said.

"I can rest, now, Stepper." It was true. When she reached the haven of
her big blue room she found herself relaxed and relieved. Again the
direct simplicity of her nature upheld her; she had not found Jimsy, but
she would find him; she was going to him without a day's delay; she
could "rest in action."

The soft-footed, soft-voiced Kada brought her a tea tray and arranged it
deftly on a small table by the window. He smiled incessantly and kept
sucking in his breath in his shy and respectful pleasure. "Veree glod,"
he said as the gardener had said before him, "Veree _glod_! I lige veree
moach you comin' home! Now when thad Meestair Jeemsie comin' home too,
happy days all those days!" He had brought her two kinds of tiny
sandwiches which she had favored in the old tea times, chopped olives
and nuts in one, cream cheese and dates in the other, and there was a
plate of paper-thin cookies and some salted almonds and he had put a
half blown red rose on the shining napkin.

"Kada, you are very kind. You always do everything so beautifully! How
are you coming on with your painting?"

"Veree glod, thank-you-veree-moach!" He bowed in still delight.

"You must show me your pictures in the morning, Kada."

"Thank-you-veree-moach! Soon I have one thousand dollar save', can go
study Art School."

"That's fine, Kada!"

"_Bud_"--his serene face clouded over--"veree sod leavin' theeze house!
When you stayin' home an' thad Meestair Jeemsie here I enjoy to work
theeze house; is merry from moach comedy!"'

He bowed himself out, still drawing in his breath and Honor smiled.
"Merry from much comedy" the house had been in the old gay days; dark
from much tragedy it seemed to-day. What would it be to her when she
came back again? But, little by little, the old room soothed and stilled
her. There were the sedate four-poster bed and the demure dresser and
the little writing desk, good mahogany all of them; come by devious
paths from a Virginia plantation; the cool blue of walls and rugs and
hangings; the few pictures she had loved; three framed photographs of
the Los Angeles football squad; a framed photograph of Jimsy in his
class play; a bowl of dull blue pottery filled now with lavish winter
roses. It was like a steadying hand on her shoulder, that sane and
simple girlhood room.

The window gave on the garden and the King house beyond it. She wondered
whether she should see James King before she went to Mexico. She felt
she could hardly face him gently,--Jimsy's father who had failed him in
his dark hour. In view of what his own life had been! She leaned forward
and watched intently. It was the doctor's motor, the same seasoned old
car, which was stopping before the house of the "Wild Kings," and she
saw the physician hurry up the untidy path and disappear into the house.
James King was ill again. She would have to see him, then. Perhaps he
would have a good message for Jimsy. She finished her tea and slipped
into her old blue kimono, still hanging in the closet, turned back the
embroidered spread and laid herself down upon the bed. She took Jimsy's
ring out of the little jewel pocket where she carried it and put it on
her finger. "I will never take it off again," she said to herself. Then
she fell asleep.

"Fresh as paint, T. S.," said her stepfather when she came down.

"My dear, what an adorable frock," said her mother. "You never got
_that_ in Italy!"

"But I did, Muzzie!" Honor was penitently glad of the sign of
fellowship. "There's a really lovely little shop in the Via Tournabouni.
Wait till my big trunk comes and you see what I found for you there! Oh,
here's Mrs. Van Meter!"

She hurried to the door to greet Carter's mother. Marcia Van Meter
kissed her warmly and exclaimed over her. She was thinner but it was
becoming, and her gown suited her perfectly, and--they were seated at
dinner now--was that an Italian ring?

"Yes," said Honor, slowly, looking first at her mother, "it is an
Italian ring, a very old one. Jimsy gave it to me. It has been in the
King family for generations. Isn't it lovely?"

"_Lovely_," said Mrs. Van Meter, coloring. She changed the subject
swiftly but she did not really seem disconcerted. Indeed, her manner
toward Honor during the meal and the hour that followed was
affectionate to the point, almost, of seeming proprietary and maternal.
Some boys and girls came in later and Mrs. Van Meter rose to go. "I'll
run home, now, my dear, and leave you with your young friends."

"I'll go across the street with you, Mrs. Van Meter," said Stephen
Lorimer, flinging his cigarette into the fire. He had already extracted
her promise not to telegraph Carter but he meant to hear it again.

"Thanks, Mr. Lorimer, but I'm going to ask Honor to step over with me. I
have a tiny parcel for Carter and a message. Will you come, Honor?"

She slipped her arm through the girl's and gave it a little squeeze as
they crossed the wide street. "Hasn't the city changed and grown, my
dear? Look at the number of motors in sight at this moment! One hardly
dares cross the street. I declare, it makes me feel almost as if I were
in the East again." She gave her a small, tissue wrapped parcel for her
son and came out on to the steps again with her. "Be careful about
crossing, Honor!"

"Yes," said Honor, lightly. "That would hardly do,--to come alone from
Italy and then get myself run over on my own street. What's that
Kipling thing Stepper quotes:


     To sail unscathed from a heathen land
     And be robbed on a Christian coast!


Well, good-night, Mrs. Van Meter, and good-by, and I'll write you how
Carter is!"

The older woman put her arms about her and held her close. "Dearest
girl, Carter told me not to breathe to any one, not even to your mother,
about--about what happened last summer--and--and what he asked you, and
I haven't, but I _must_ tell you how glad...." then, at the bewilderment
in Honor's face in the light of the porch lamp,--"he showed me the
telegram you sent him to the steamer."

"Oh,--I remember!" Her brief wire to him, promising to forgive and
forget his wild words of the evening before. She had quite forgiven, and
she had so nearly forgotten that she could not imagine, at first, what
his mother meant. And now, because the older woman was trembling, and
because Carter must have told her of how he had lost control of himself
and been for a moment false to his friend, she gave back the warm
embrace and kissed the pale cheek. "Yes. And I _meant_ it, Mrs. Van
Meter!"

"You _blessed_ child!" Marcia Van Meter wiped her eyes. "You've made me
very happy."

Honor ran across Figueroa Street between flashing headlights on
automobiles, and her heart was soft within her. _Poor_ old Cartie! How
he must have grieved and reproached himself, and how seriously he must
have taken it, to tell his mother! Fancy not forgiving people! Her
stepfather had marked a passage for her in her pocket "R. L. S."...
"The man who cannot forgive any mortal thing is a green hand in life,"
Stevenson had said. Honor believed him. She could even forgive James
King, poor, proud, miserable James King, for failing Jimsy. It was
because he cared so much. As she started up her own walk some one called
to her from the steps of the King house.

"That you, Honor?"

"Yes, Doctor! I just came home to-day. How are you?" She ran over to
shake hands with him. "Is Mr. King very sick?"

"He's dying."

"Oh, Doctor _Deering_!"

"Yes. No mistake about it this time. Wants to see you. Old nigger woman
told him you were home. Will you come now?"

"Of course." She followed him into the house and up the long, shabbily
carpeted stairs. She had never seen a dying person and she began to
shiver.

As if he read her thought the doctor spoke. "Isn't going to die while
you're here. Not for a week--perhaps two weeks. But he'll never be up
again." His voice was gruff and his brow was furrowed. He had been with
Jeanie King when Jimsy was born and when she died, and he had cherished
and scorned James King for long years.

There was a chair beside the bed and Honor seated herself there in
silence. Presently the sick man opened his eyes and his worn and ravaged
look of his son caught at her heart.

"So," he said somberly, "you came home."

"Yes, Mr. King. I came because Jimsy was in trouble, and to-morrow I'm
going to him."

His eyes widened and slow, difficult color came into his sharply boned
face. "You're going ... to Mexico?"

"Yes; alone."

The color crept up and up until it reached the graying hair, crisply
waved, like Jimsy's. "No King woman ever ... held harder ... than that!"
he gasped. "You're a good girl, Honor Carmody. They knew ... what to ...
name you, didn't they?"

She leaned nearer, holding her hand so that the rays of the night light
fell on the ring. "Didn't you know I'd 'hold hard' when you let Jimsy
give me this?"

He hauled himself up on an elbow and stared at it with tragic eyes.
"Jeanie wore it five years.... My mother wore it thirty.... Honor
Carmody, you're a good girl.... You make me ... ashamed.... Tell the boy
that ... I'm sorry ... that letter. Bring him back ... in time...." He
fell back, limp, gasping, and the doctor signaled to the girl to go. As
she was slipping through the door the sick man spoke again, querulously.
"Damn that mocking-bird ... make somebody shoot him!... There was one
singing when Jimsy was born ... and when Jeanie went ... and this one
now, mocking, mocking...."

She ran back to him. "Oh, Mr. King," she said, with shy fervor, "he
isn't making fun of _us_!--Only of the bad, hard things! One sang out
near Fiesta Park the day we thought Greenmount would win the
championship, and one was singing the night Jimsy and I found out that
we loved each other,--and this one was singing when I came home to-day!"
It was a long speech for Honor and she was a little shy and breathless.
"I _know_ he doesn't mean it the way you think! He's telling us that
the sad, hard, terrible things are not the real things!" Suddenly she
bent and kissed his cold forehead. "Oh, Mr. King, if you listen to him
with--with your _heart_--you'll hear it! He's mocking at trouble and
disgrace,--and misunderstanding and silly pride! He's--_hear him
now!_--he's mocking at pain and sorrow and--and _death_!"

Then she ran out of the room and down the long stairs and across the
lawn to her own house, where a noisy and jubilant section of the Old
Guard waited.



CHAPTER XI


It was happily clear at breakfast that Stephen Lorimer had more or less
made his peace--and Honor's peace--with his wife. Like his beloved Job,
whom he knew almost by heart, he had ordered his cause and filled his
mouth with arguments, and Mildred Lorimer had come to see something
rather splendidly romantic in her daughter's quest for her true love.
Stephen, who never appeared at breakfast, was down on time, heavy-eyed
and flushed, and Honor saw with a pang, in the stern morning light, that
he was middle-aged. Her gay young stepfather! His spirit had put a
period at nineteen, but his tired body was settling back into the slack
lines of the late fifties. Her mother had changed but little, thanks to
the unruffled serenity of her spirit and the skillful hands which cared
for her.

"Muzzie," Honor had said, meeting her alone in the morning, "you are a
marvel! Why, you haven't a single gray hair!"

"It's--well, I suppose it's because I have it taken care of," said Mrs.
Lorimer, flushing faintly. "It's not a dye. It's not in the least a
dye--it simply _keeps_ the original color in the hair, that's all. I
wouldn't think of using a dye. In the first place, they say it's really
dangerous,--it seeps into the brain and affects your mind, and in the
second place it gives your face a hard look, always,--and besides, I
don't approve of it. But this thing Madame uses for me is _perfectly_
harmless, Honor."

"It's perfectly charming, Muzzie," said her daughter, giving her a
hearty hug. It was a good world this morning. The breakfast table was
gay, and Kada beamed. Takasugi had made countless pop-overs--Honor's
favorites--and Kada was slipping in and out with heaping plates of them.
"Pop-all-overs" the littlest Lorimer called them, steaming,
golden-hearted. Honor had sung for them and the Old Guard the night
before and even the smallest of the boys was impressed and was treating
her this morning with an added deference which flowered in many passings
of the marmalade and much brotherly banter. The girl herself was
radiant. Nothing could be very wrong in a world like this. Suppose Jimsy
had slipped once--twice--half a dozen times, when she was far away
across the water? One swallow didn't make a spring and one slip (or
several) didn't make a "Wild King" out of Jimsy. She was going to find
him and talk it over and straighten it out and bring him back here where
he belonged, where they both belonged, where they would stay. His
expulsion from Stanford really simplified matters, when you came to
think of it; now there need be no tiresome talk of waiting until he
graduated from college. And she had not the faintest intention of going
back to Italy. Just as soon as Jimsy could find something to do (and her
good Stepper would see to that) they would be married and move into the
old King house, and _how_ she would love opening it up to the sun and
air and making it gay with new colors! All this in her quiet mind while
she breakfasted sturdily with her noisy tribe. Good to be with them
again, better still to be coming back to them, to stay with them, to
live beside them, always.

Her train went at ten and the boys would be in school and her mother had
an appointment with the lady whose ministrations kept her hair at its
natural tint and Honor would not hear of her breaking it, so it was her
stepfather only who took her to the station. She was rather glad of that
and it made her put an unconscious extra fervor, remorsefully, into her
farewells to the rest. Just as she was leaving her room there was a
thump on her door and a simultaneous opening of it. Ted, her eldest
Carmody brother, came in and closed the door behind him. He was a Senior
at L. A. High, a football star of the second magnitude and a personable
youth in all ways, and her heart warmed to him.

"Ted,--dear! I thought you'd gone to school!"

"I'm just going. Sis,--I"--he came close to her, his bonny young face
suddenly scarlet--"I just wanted to say--I know why you're going down
there, and--and I'm for you a million! He's all right, old Jimsy. Don't
you let anybody tell you he isn't. I--you're a sport to pike down there
all by yourself. _You're all right_, Sis! I'm strong for you!"

"Ted!" The distance between them melted; she felt the hug of his hard
young arms and there was a lump in her throat and tears in her eyes, but
she fought them back. He would be aghast at her if she cried. He
wouldn't be for her a million any longer. She must not break down though
she felt more like it than at any time since her arrival. She kept
silent and let him pat her clumsily and heavily till she could command
her voice. "I'm glad you want me to go, Teddy."

"You bet I do. You stick, Sis! _And don't you let Carter spill the
beans!_"

"Why, Ted, he----"

"You keep an eye on that bird," said the boy, grimly. "You keep your
lamps lit!"

She repeated his words to her stepfather as they drove to the station.
"Why do you suppose he said that, Stepper?"

Stephen Lorimer shrugged. "I don't think he meant anything specific,
T. S., but you know the kids have never cared for Carter."

"I know; it's that he isn't their type. They haven't understood him."

"Or--it's that they have."

"Stepper! You, too?" Honor was driving and she did not turn her head to
look at him, but he knew the expression of her face from the tone of her
voice. "Do you mean that, seriously?"

"I think I do, T. S. Look here,--we might as well talk things over
straight from the shoulder this morning. Shall we?"

"Please do, Stepper." She turned into a quieter street and drove more
slowly, so that she was able to face him for an instant, her face
troubled.

"Want me to drive?"

"No,--I like the feel of the wheel again, after so long. You talk,
Stepper."

"Well, T. S., I've no tangible charge to make against Carter, save that
his influence has been consistently bad for Jimsy since the first day
he limped into our ken. Consistently and--_persistently_ bad, T. S. You
know--since we're not dealing in persiflage this morning--that Carter is
quite madly, crazily, desperately in love with you?"

"I--yes, I suppose that's what you'd call it, Stepper. He--rather lost
his head last summer,--the night before you sailed."

"But the night before we sailed," said her stepfather, drawing from his
neatly card-indexed memory, "it was with me that you held a little last
session."

"Yes,--but on my way upstairs. The lift had stopped, you know. I was
frightfully angry at him and said something cruel, but the next morning
he looked so white and wretched and wrote me such a pathetic letter,
asking me to forgive and forget and all that sort of thing, and I sent
him a wire to the steamer, saying I would."

"Ah! That was his telegram. We wondered."

"And he's been very nice since, in the few letters I've had from him."

"I daresay. But Ted's right, Top Step. In the parlance of the saints you
_do_ 'want to keep your lamps lit.' Carter, denied health and strength
and physical glory, has had everything else he's ever wanted except
you,--and he hasn't given you up yet."

Honor nodded, her face flushed, her eyes straight ahead.

"And now--more plain talk, T. S. This is a fine, sporting, rather
spectacular thing you're doing, going down to Mexico after Jimsy, and
I'm absolutely with you, but--if the worst should be true--if the boy
really has gone to pieces--you won't marry him?"

"No," said the girl steadily, after an instant's pause. "If Jimsy should
be--like his father--I wouldn't marry him, Stepper. There shouldn't
be--any _more_ 'Wild Kings.' But I'd never marry any one else, and--oh,
but it would be a long time to live, Stepper, dear!"

"I'm betting you'll find him in good shape,--and keep him so, Top Step.
At any rate, however it comes out, you'll always be glad you went."

"I know I will."

"Yes; you're that sort of woman, T. S.,--the 'whither thou goest' kind.
I believe women may roughly be divided into two classes; those who
passively let themselves be loved; those who actively love. The former
have the easier time of it, my dear." His tired eyes visioned his wife,
now closeted with Madame. He sighed once and then he smiled. "And they
get just as much in return, let me tell you,--more, I really believe.
But I want you to promise me one thing."

"What?"

"That you'll never give up your singing. Keep it always, T. S. There'll
be times when you need it--to run away to--to hide in."

She nodded, soberly.

His eyes began to kindle. "Every woman ought to have something! Men
have. It should be with women as with men--love a thing apart in their
lives, not their whole existence! Then they wouldn't agonize and wear on
each other so! I believe there's a chapter in that, for my book, Top
Step."

"I'm sure there is," said Honor, warmly. They had reached the station
now and a red cap came bounding for her bags. "And I won't even try to
thank you, Stepper, dear, for all----"

"Don't be a goose, T. S.,--look! There are your Mexicans!"

Honor followed his eyes. "Aren't they _delicious_?" They hurried toward
them. "The girl's adorable!"

"They all are." Stephen Lorimer performed the introductions with proper
grace and seriousness and they all stood about in strained silence until
the Señora was nervously sure they ought to be getting on board. "Might
as well, T. S.," her stepfather said. She was looking rather white, he
thought, and they might as well have the parting over. Honor was very
steady about it. "Good-by, Stepper. I'll write you at once, and you'll
keep us posted about Mr. King?" She stood on the observation platform,
waving to him, gallantly smiling, and he managed his own whimsical grin
until her train curved out of sight. One in a thousand, his Top Step.
How she had added to the livableness of life for him since the day she
had gravely informed her mother that she believed she liked him better
than her own father, that busy gentleman who had stayed so largely Down
Town at The Office! Stephen Lorimer was too intensely and healthily
interested in the world he was living in to indulge in pallid curiosity
about the one beyond, but now his mind entertained a brief wonder ...
did he know, that long dead father of Honor Carmody, about this glorious
girl of his? Did he see her now, setting forth on this quest; this
pilgrimage to her True Love, as frankly and freely as she would have
gone to nurse him in sickness? He grinned and gave himself a shake as he
went back to the machine,--he had lost too much sleep lately. He would
turn in for a nap before luncheon; Mildred would not be out of her
Madame's deft hands until noon.

The family of Menéndez y Garcí­a beamed upon Honor with shy cordiality.
Señor Menéndez was a dapper little gentleman, got up with exquisite care
from the perfect flower on his lapel to his small cloth-topped patent
leather shoes, but his wife was older and larger and had a tiny, stern
mustache which made her seem the more male and dominant figure of the
two. Mariquita, the girl, was all father, and she had been a year in a
Los Angeles convent. The mother wore rich but dowdy black and an
impossible headgear, a rather hawklike affair which appeared to have
alighted by mistake on the piles of dusky hair where it was shakily
balancing itself, but Mariquita's narrow blue serge was entirely modish,
and her tan pumps, and sheer amber silk hose, and her impudent hat. The
Señor spent a large portion of his time in the smoker and the Señora
bent over a worn prayer book or murmured under her breath as her fingers
slipped over the beads in her lap, but the girl chattered unceasingly.
Her English was fluent but she had kept an intriguing accent.

"Ees he not beautiful, Mees Carmody, my Pápa?" She pushed the accent
forward to the first syllable. "And my poor _Madrecita_ of a homely to
chill the blood? _But_ a saint, my mawther. Me, I am not so good. Also
_gracias a Dios_, I am not so----" she leaned forward to regard herself
in the narrow strip of mirror between the windows and--a wary eye on the
Señora--applied a lip stick to her ripe little mouth. She wanted at once
to know about Honor's sweethearts. "_A fe mia_--in all your life but one
_novio_? Me, I have now seex. So many have I since I am twelve years I
can no longer count for you!" She shrugged her perilously plump little
shoulders. "One! Jus' like I mus' have a new hat, I mus' have a new
_novio_!"

They were all a little formal with her until after they had left El Paso
and crossed the Mexican border at Juarez, when their manner became at
once easy, hospitable, proprietary. They pointed out the features of the
landscape and the stations where they paused, they plied her unceasingly
with the things they purchased every time the train hesitated long
enough for _vendadors_ to hold up their wares at the windows,--_fresas_
(the famous strawberries in little leaf baskets), _higos_ (fat figs),
_helado_ (a thin and over-sweet ice cream), and the delectable _Cajeta
de Celaya_, the candy made of milk and fruit paste and magic. They were
behind time and the train seemed to loiter in serenest unconcern. Señor
Menéndez came back from the smoker with a graver face every day. The
men who came on board from the various towns brought tales of unrest and
feverish excitement, of violence, even, in some localities.

If his friends could not be sure of meeting Honor at Córdoba and driving
her to the Kings' _hacienda_ the Señor himself would escort her, after
seeing his wife and daughter home. Honor assured him that she was not
afraid, that she would be quite safe, and she was thoroughly convinced
of it herself; nothing would be allowed to happen to her on her way to
Jimsy.

"Your father is so good," she said gratefully to Mariquita.

"Yes," she smiled. "My Pápa ees of a deeferent good; he ees glad-good,
an' my _Madrecita_ ees sad-good. Me--I am _bad_-good! You know, I mus'
go to church wiz my mawther, but my Pápa, he weel not go. He nevair say
'No' to my mawther; he ees _too_ kind. Jus' always on the church day he
is seek. _So_ seek ees my poor Pápa on the church day!" She flung back
her head and laughed and showed her short little white teeth.

But Señor Menéndez had an answer to his telegram on the morning of the
day on which they were to part; his friend, the eminent _Profesor_,
Hidalgo Morales, accompanied by his daughter, Señorita Refugio, would
without fail be waiting for Miss Carmody when her train reached Córdoba
and would see her safely into the hands of her friends. Honor said
good-by reluctantly to the family of Menéndez y García; the beautiful
little father kissed her hand and the grave mother gave her a blessing
and Mariquita embraced her passionately and kissed her on both cheeks
and produced several entirely genuine tears. She saw them greeted by a
flock of relatives and friends on the platform but they waved devotedly
to her as long as she could see them. Then she had a quiet and solitary
day and in the silence the old anxieties thrust out their heads again,
but she drove them sturdily back, forcing herself to pay attention to
the picture slipping by the car window,--the lovely languid _tierra
caliente_ which was coming to meet her. The old _Profesor_ and his
daughter were waiting for her; shy, kindly, earnest, less traveled than
the Menéndez', with a covered carriage which looked as if it might be a
relic of the days of Maximilian. Conversation drowsed on the long drive
to the Kings' coffee plantation; the Señorita spoke no English and
Honor's High School Spanish got itself annoyingly mixed with Italian,
and the old gentleman, after minute inquiries as to her journey and the
state of health of his cherished friend, Señor Felipe Hilario Menéndez
y García, sank into placid thought. It was a ridiculous day for winter,
even to a Southern Californian, and the tiny villages through which they
passed looked like gay and shabby stage settings.

The _Profesor_ roused at last. "We arrive, Señorita," he announced, with
a wave of his hand. They turned in at a tall gateway of lacy ironwork
and Honor's heart leaped--"_El Pozo_." Richard King.

"The name is given because of the old well," the Mexican explained. "It
is very ancient, very deep--without bottom, the _peóns_ believe." They
drew up before a charming house of creamy pink plaster and red tiles,
rioted over by flowering vines. "I wait but to make sure that Señor or
Señora King is at home." A soft-eyed Mexican woman came to the door and
smiled at them, and there was a rapid exchange of liquid sentence. "They
are both at home, Señorita. We bid you farewell."

The servant, wide-eyed and curious, had come at his command to take
Honor's bags.

"Oh--but--surely you'll wait? Won't you come in and rest? It was such a
long, warm drive, and you must be tired."

He bowed, hat in hand, shaking his handsome silver head. "We leave you
to the embraces of your friends, Señorita. One day we will do ourselves
the honor to call upon you, and Señor and Señora King, whom it is our
privilege to know very slightly. For the present, we are content to have
served you."

"Oh," said Honor in her hearty and honest voice, holding out a frank
hand, "this is the _kindest_ country! _Every one_ has been so good to
me! I wish I could thank you enough!"

The old gentleman stood very straight and a dark color surged up in his
swarthy face. "Then, dear young lady, you will perhaps have the
graciousness to say a pleasant word for us in that country of yours
which does not love us too well! You will perhaps say we are not all
barbarians." He gave an order to his coachman and the quaint old
carriage turned slowly and precisely and started on its long return
trip, the _Profesor_, still bareheaded, bowing, his daughter beaming and
kissing her hand. Honor held herself rigidly to the task of seeing them
off. Then--_Jimsy!_ Where was he? She had had a childish feeling that he
would be instantly visible when she got there; she had come from Italy
to Mexico,--from Florence to a coffee plantation beyond Córdoba in the
_tierra caliente_ to find him,--and journeys ended in lovers' meeting,
every wise man's son--and daughter--knew. The nods and becks and
wreathed smiles of the serving woman brought her back to earth.

"Señora King?" She asked, dutifully, for her hostess--her unconscious
hostess--first.

"_Si Señorita! Pronto!_" The servant beckoned her into a dim, cool
_sala_ and disappeared. "Well, I know what that means," Honor told
herself. "'Right away.' Oh, I _hope_ it's right away!"

But it was not. The Kings, like all sensible people, were at their
_siesta_; twenty racking moments went by before they came in. Richard
King was older than Jimsy's father but he had the same look of race and
pride, and his wife was a plain, rather tired-looking Englishwoman with
very white teeth and broodingly tender blue eyes which belied the
briskness of her manner.

"I am Honor Carmody."

"You are----" Mrs. King came forward, frowning a little.

"I--I am engaged to your nephew--to Jimsy King. I think you must have
heard of me."

"My dear, of course we have! How very nice to see you! But--how--and
where did you----"

The girl interrupted breathlessly. "Oh, please,--I'll tell you
everything, in a minute. But I must know about him! I came from Italy
because--because of his trouble at college. Is he--is he----" she kept
telling herself that she was Honor Carmody, the tomboy-girl who never
cried or made scenes--Jimsy's Skipper--her dear Stepper's Top Step; she
was not a silly creature in a novel; she would not scream and beg them
to tell her--_tell her_--even if they stood there staring at her for
hours longer. And then she heard Richard King saying in a voice very
like his brother's, a little like Jimsy's:

"Why, the boy's all right! Ab-so-lutely all right! Isn't he, Madeline?
Steady as a clock. That college nonsense----"

And then Honor found herself leaning back in a marvelously comfortable
chair by an open window and Mr. King was fanning her slowly and strongly
and Mrs. King was making her drink something cool and pungent, and
telling her it was the long, hot drive out from Córdoba in the heat of
the day and that she mustn't try to talk for a little while. Honor
obeyed them docilely for what she was sure was half an hour and which
was in fact five minutes and then she sat up straight and decisively.
"I'm _perfectly_ all right now, thank you. Will you tell me where I can
find Jimsy?"

"I expect he's taking his nap down at the old well. I'll send for him.
You must be quiet, my dear."

She got to her feet and let them see how steady she was. "_Please_ let
me go to him!"

"But Josita will fetch him in less time, my dear, and we'll have Carter
called, too, and----" Mrs. King stopped abruptly at the look in the
girl's eyes. "Josita will show you the way," she said in quite another
tone. "You must carry my sunshade and not walk too quickly."

Honor tried not to walk too quickly but she kept catching up with the
Mexican serving woman and passing her on the path, and falling back
again with a smile of apology, and the woman smiled in return, showing
white, even teeth. It was not as long a walk as it seemed, but their
pace made it consume ten interminable minutes. At length the twisting
walk twisted once more and gave on a cleared space, meltingly green,
breathlessly still, an ancient stone well in its center.

Josita gestured with a brown hand. "_Alla esta Señorito Don Diego!
Adios, Señorita!_"

"_Gracias!_" Honor managed.

"_Te nada!_" She smiled and turned back along the way they had come. "It
is nothing!" she had said. Nothing to have brought her on the last stage
of her long quest! Jimsy was asleep in the deep grass in the shade. She
went nearer to him, stepping softly, hardly breathing. He was stretched
at ease, his sleeves rolled high on his tanned arms, his tanned throat
bare, his crisp hair rolling back from his brow in the old stubborn
wave, his thick lashes on his cheek. His skin was as clean and clear as
a little boy's; he looked a little boy, sleeping there. She leaned over
him and he stirred and sighed happily, as if dimly aware of her
nearness. She tried to speak to him, to say--"Jimsy!" but she found she
could not manage it, even in a whisper. So she sat down beside him and
gathered him into her arms.



CHAPTER XII


They had a whole hour entirely to themselves and it went far toward
restoring the years that the locusts had eaten. It was characteristic of
them both that they talked little, even after the long ache of silence.
For Jimsy, it was enough to have her there, in his arms, utterly his--to
know that she had come to him alone and unafraid across land and sea;
and for Honor the journey's end was to find him clear-eyed and
clean-skinned and steady. Stephen Lorimer was right when he applied
Gelett Burgess' "caste of the articulate" against them; they were very
nearly of the "gagged and wordless folk." Yet their silence was a rather
fine thing in its way; it expressed them--their simplicity, their large
faith. It was not in them to make reproaches. It did not occur to Jimsy
to say--"But why didn't you let me know you were coming?--At least you
might have let me have the comfort of knowing you were on this side of
the ocean!" And Honor never dreamed of saying "But Jimsy,--to rush from
Stanford down here without sending me a line!"

Therefore it was somewhat remarkable that it came out, in the brief
speeches between the long stillnesses, that Honor knew that Carter had
telephoned to his mother as they passed through Los Angeles, and that
Mrs. Van Meter had spoken of Honor's return, and she had naturally
supposed he would tell Jimsy; and that Jimsy had written her a ten page
letter, telling with merciless detail of the one wild party of protest
in which he had taken part, of his horror and remorse, of his
determination to go to his people in Mexico and stay until he was
certain he had himself absolutely in hand and had made up his mind about
his future.

"Well, it will be sent back to me from Florence," said Honor,
contentedly.

"Funny it wasn't there almost as soon as you were--I sent it so long
ago!--The night after that party, and I didn't leave for over two weeks,
and that makes it--well, anyhow, it's had time to be back. But it
doesn't matter now."

"No, it doesn't matter, now, Jimsy. I won't read it when it does come,
because it's all ancient history--ancient history that--that never
really happened at all! But I'm glad you wrote me, dear!" She rubbed
her cheek against his bronzed face.

"Of course I'd tell you everything about it, Skipper."

"Of course you would, Jimsy."

They were just beginning to talk about the future--beyond hurrying back
to Jimsy's father--when Carter came for them. He called to them before
he came limping into the little cleared space, which was partly his tact
in not wanting to come upon them unannounced, and partly because he
didn't want, for his own sake, to find them as he knew he would find
them, without warning. As a matter of fact, while Honor lifted her head
with its ruffled honey-colored braids from Jimsy's shoulder, he kept his
arm about her in brazen serenity.

Carter's eyes contracted for an instant, but he came close to them and
held out his hand. "Honor! This is glorious! But why didn't you wire and
let us meet you? We never dreamed of your coming! Of course, the mater
told me you were on your way home, but I didn't tell old Jimsy here, as
long as you hadn't. I knew you meant some sort of surprise. I thought
he'd hear from you from L. A. by any mail, now."

"Say, Cart', remember that long letter I wrote Skipper, the night after
the big smear?"

"Surely I do," Carter nodded.

"Well, she never got it."

"It passed her, of course. It will come back,--probably follow her down
here."

"Oh, it'll show up sometime. I gave it to you to mail, didn't I?"

"Yes, I remember it distinctly, because it was the fattest one of yours
I ever handled."

He grinned ruefully. "Yep. Had a lot on my chest that night."

"Mrs. King thought you ought to rest before dinner, Honor."

"At least I ought to make myself decent!" She smoothed the collar
Jimsy's arms had crumpled, the hair his shoulder had rubbed from its
smooth plaits. "She must think I'm weird enough as it is!"

But the Richard Kings had lived long enough in the turbulent _tierra
caliente_ to take startling things pretty much for granted. Honor's
coming was now a happily accepted fact. A cool, dim room had been made
ready for her,--a smooth floor of dull red tiles, some astonishingly
good pieces of furniture which had come, Mrs. King told her when she
took her up, from the Government pawnshop in Mexico City and dated back
to the brief glories of Maximilian's period, and a cool bath in a tin
tub.

"You are so good," said Honor. "Taking me in like this! It was a
dreadful thing to do, but--I had to come to him."

The Englishwoman put her hand on her shoulder. "My dear, it was a
topping thing to do. I--" her very blue eyes were pools of
understanding. "I should have done it. And we're no end pleased to have
you! We get fearfully dull, and three young people are a feast! We'll
have a lot of parties and divide you generously with our friends and
neighbors--neighbors twenty miles away, my dear! We'll do some
theatricals,--Carter says your boy is quite marvelous at that sort of
thing."

"Oh, he _is,"_ said Honor, warmly, "but I'm afraid we ought to hurry
back to his father!"

"I'll have Richard telegraph. Of course, if he's really bad, you'll have
to go, but we do want you to stay on!" She was moving about the big
room, giving a brisk touch here and there. "Have your cold dip and rest
an hour, my dear. Dinner's at eight. Josita will come to help you." She
opened the door and stood an instant on the threshold. Then she came
back and took Honor's face between her hands and looked long at her.
"You'll do," she said. "You'll do, my girl! There's no--no royal road
with these Kings of ours--but they're worth it!" She dropped a brisk
kiss on the smooth young brow and went swiftly out of the room.

To the keen delight of the hosts there was a fourth guest at dinner, a
man who was stopping at another _hacienda_ and had come in to tea and
been cajoled into staying for dinner and the night. He was a personage
from Los Angeles, an Easterner who had brought an invalid wife there
fifteen years earlier, had watched her miraculous return to pink plump
health and become the typical California-convert. He had established a
branch of his gigantic business there and himself rolled semiannually
from coast to coast in his private car. Honor and Jimsy were a little
awed by touching elbows with greatness but he didn't really bother them
very much, for they were too entirely absorbed in each other. He seemed,
however, considerably interested in them and looked at them and listened
to them genially. The Kings were thirstily eager for news of the
northern world; books, plays, games, people--they drank up names and
dates and details.

"We must take a run up to the States this year," said Richard King.

"It would be jolly, old dear," said his wife, levelly, her wise eyes on
his steady hands. "If the coffee crop runs to it!"

"There you have it," he growled. "If the coffee crop is bad we can't
afford to go,--and if it's good we can't afford to leave it!"

"But we needn't mind when we've house parties like this! My word,
Rich'--fancy having four house guests at one and the same blessed time!"
She led the way into the long _sala_ for coffee.

"Yes,--isn't it great? Drink?" Richard King held up a half filled
decanter toward his guest.

The personage shook his head. "Not this weather, thanks. That enchanted
well of yours does me better. Wonderful water, isn't it?"

"Water's all right, but it's a deuce of a nuisance having to carry every
drop of it up to the house."

"Really? Isn't it piped?"

"Ah, but it will be one day, Rich'! I expect the first big coffee crop
will go there, rather than in a trip to the States. But it is rather a
bother, meanwhile."

"But you have no labor question here."

"Haven't we though? With old Diaz gone the old order is changed. This
bunch I have here now are bad ones," King shook his head. "They may
revolute any minute."

"Oh, Rich'--not really?"

"I daresay they'll lack the energy when it comes to a show-down,
Madeline. But this man Villa is a picturesque figure, you know. He
appeals to the _peón_ imagination."

The guest was interested. "Yes. Isn't it true that there's a sort of
Robin Hood quality about him--steals from the rich to give to the
poor--that sort of thing?"

"That's more or less true, but the herd believes it utterly." He sighed.
"It was a black day for us when Diaz sailed."

Jimsy King had been listening. "But, Uncle Rich', they _have_ had a
rotten deal, haven't they?"

His uncle shrugged. "Got to treat 'em like cattle, boy. It's what they
are."

"Well, it's what they'll always be if you keep on treating 'em that
way!" Jimsy spoke hotly and his uncle turned amused eyes on him.

"Don't let that Yaqui fill you up with his red tales!"

"But you'll admit the Yaquis have been abused?"

"Well, I believe they have. They're a cut above the _peón_ in
intelligence and spirit. But--can't have omelette without breaking
eggs." He turned again to his elder guest. "This boy here has been
palling about with a Yaqui Indian he made me take in when he was here
last time."

The great man nodded. "Yes,--I've seen them together. Magnificent
specimen, isn't he?"

"They are wonderfully built, most of them. This chap was pretty badly
used by his master--they are virtually slaves, you know,--and bolted,
and Jimsy found him one night----"

The boy got up and came over to them. "Starving, and almost dead with
weakness and his wounds,--beaten almost to death and one of his ears
hacked off! And Uncle Rich' took him in and kept him for me."

His uncle grinned and flung an arm across his shoulder. "And had the
devil--and many _pesos_ to pay to the local _jefe_ and the naturally
peevish gentleman who lost him. But at that I'll have to admit he's the
best man on the _rancho_ to-day." He threw a teasing look at Honor,
glowing and misty-eyed over Jimsy's championing of the oppressed. "The
only trouble is, I suppose Jimsy will take him with him when he sets up
housekeeping for himself. What do you think, Maddy? Could Yaqui Juan be
taught to buttle?"

"No butlers for us, Uncle Rich'!" Jimsy was red but unabashed. "We might
rent him for a movie star and live on his earnings. We aren't very clear
yet as to what we _will_ live on!"

The personage looked at him gravely. "You are going to settle in Los
Angeles?"

"_Yes!_" said Jimsy and Honor in a breath. The good new life coming
which would be the good old life over again, only better!

"Oh," said Mrs. King, "I forgot,--I asked them to come up from the
quarters and make music for you! They're here now! Look!" She went to
the window and the others followed. The garden was filled with vaguely
seen figures, massed in groups, and there was a soft murmur of voices
and the tentative strumming of guitars. "Shall we come out on the
veranda? You'll want a _rebozo_, Honor,--the nights are sharp." She
called back to the serving woman. "Put out the lights, Josita."

They sat in the dusk and looked out into the veiled and shadowy spaces
and the dim singers lifted up their voices. The moon would rise late;
there was no light save the tiny pin points of the cigarettes; it gave
the music an elfin, eerie quality.

"Pretty crude after Italy, eh, Honor?" Richard King wanted to know.

"Oh, it's delicious, Mr. King! Please ask them to sing another!"

"May we have the _Golondrina_?" the eldest guest wanted to know.

"Well--how about it, Maddy? Think we're all cheerful enough? We know
that two of us are! All right!" He called down the request and it seemed
to Honor that a little quiver went through the singers in the shadow.
The guitars broke into a poignant, sobbing melody.

"I don't know what the words mean," said the personage under his breath.
"I don't believe I want to know. I fancy every one fits his own words to
it."

"Or his own need," said Richard King's wife. She slipped her hand into
her husband's. The melody rose and fell, sobbed and soared. Honor drew
closer to Jimsy and he put his arm about her and held her hard. "Yes,"
he whispered. "I know." The man who had asked for _Golondrina_ sat with
bent head and his cigar went out. Only Carter Van Meter, as once long
ago in Los Angeles, seemed unmoved, unstirred, scatheless.

There was a little silence after the music. Then the personage said,
"You know, I fancy that's Mexico, that song!"

Jimsy King wheeled to face him through the dusk. "Yes, sir! It's true!
That _is_ Mexico,--everything that's been done to her,--and everything
she'll do, some day!"

"It's--beautiful and terrible," said Honor. "I had to keep telling
myself that we are all safe and happy, and that nothing is going to
happen to us!"

Carter laughed and got quickly to his feet. "I suggest indoors and
lights--and Honor! Honor must sing for us!"

She never needed urging; she sang as gladly as a bird on a bush. The
Kings were parched for music; they begged for another and another. She
had almost to reproduce her recital in Florence. Jimsy listened, rapt
and proud, and at the end he said--"Not too tired for one more, Skipper?
Our song?"

"Never too tired for that, Jimsy!" She sat down again and struck her
stepfather's ringing, rousing chords. Instantly it ceased, there in the
room, to be Mexico; it was as if a wind off the sea blew past them. The
first verse had them all erect in their chairs. She swung into the
second, holding a taut rein on herself:


     The sand of the desert is sodden red;
     Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
     The gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
     And the regiment blind with dust and smoke:
     The River of Death has brimmed his banks;
     And England's far and Honor's a name,
     But the voice of a school boy rallies the ranks--
     Play up! Play up! and--Play the Game!


Honor sat still at the piano. She did not mean to lift her eyes until
she could be sure they would not run over. Why did that song always
sweep her away so?--from the first moment Stepper had read her the words
in the old house on South Figueroa Street, all those years ago? Why had
she always the feeling that it had a special meaning for her and for
Jimsy--a warning, a challenge? Jimsy came over to stand beside her,
comfortably silent, and then, surprisingly, the personage came to stand
beside Jimsy.

"I've been wondering," he said, "if you hadn't better come in to see me
one day, when we're all back in Los Angeles? You haven't any definite
plans for your future, have you?"

"No, sir," said Jimsy. "Only that I've got to get something--quick!" He
looked at Honor, listening star-eyed.

The great man smiled. "I see. Well, I think I can interest you. I've
watched you play football, King. I played football, forty years ago. I
like the breed. My boys are all girls, worse luck--though they're the
finest in the world----"

"Oh, _yes_," said Honor, warmly.

"But I like boys. And I like you, Jimsy King." He held out his hand.
"You come to me, and if you're the lad I think you are, you'll stay."

"Oh, I'll come!" Jimsy stammered, flushed and incoherent. "I'll come!
I'll--I'll sweep out or scrub floors--or--or anything! But--I'm afraid
you don't----" he looked unhappily at Honor.

"Yes, Jimsy. He's got to know."

Jimsy King stood up very straight and tall. "You've got to know that I
was kicked out of college two months ago, for marching in a parade
against----"

"For telling the truth," cried Honor, hot cheeked, "when a cowardly lie
would have saved him!"

"But just the same, I was kicked out of college, and----"

"Lord bless you, boy," said the personage, and it was the first time
they had heard him laugh aloud, "I know you were! And that's one reason
why I want you. _So was I!_"



CHAPTER XIII


There were telegrams from Stephen Lorimer and the doctor; James King's
condition remained unchanged. Honor and Jimsy decided to return at once,
but Richard King flatly refused to let them go. The next train after
Honor's had been held up just beyond Córdoba by a band of brigands,
supposed to be a section of Villistas, the passengers robbed and
mistreated and three of the train men killed.

"Not a step without an escort," said Jimsy's uncle.

Then Jimsy's new friend came to the rescue. He was eager to get home but
cannily aware of his own especial risk,--two wealthy Americans having
been recently taken and held for ransom. He had influence at the
Capital; he wrote and telegraphed and the replies were suave and
reassuring; reliable escort would be furnished as soon as
possible,--within the week, it was hoped. Meanwhile, there was nothing
for it but to wait. He went back to the _hacienda_ where he had been
visiting, and life--the merry, lyrical life of _El Pozo_, moved forward.
Jimsy's only woe was that he was condemned by her own decision to share
Honor lavishly with his uncle and aunt and their friends and Carter.
"Skipper, after all these years, leaving me for a darn' tea!"

"Jimsy, dear," she scolded him, "you know that it's the very least I can
do, now isn't it--honestly? Think how lovely she's been to us, and how
much it means to her, having people here. And we've got all our lives
ahead of us, Jimsy! Be good! And besides"--she colored a little and
hesitated--"it's--not kind to Cartie." Then, at the sobering of his
face, "You know he--cares for me, Jimsy, and I don't believe it's just
cricket for us to--to sort of wave our happiness in his face all the
time."

He sighed crossly. "But--good Lord, Skipper,--he's got to get used to
it!"

"Of course,--but need we--rub it in, just now?" The fact was that Honor
was anxious. Carter was pallid, haggard, morose. The brief flare of
composure with which he had greeted her was gone; he showed visibly and
unpleasantly what he was suffering at the sight of their vivid and
hearty happiness. Mrs. King had commented pityingly on it to Honor and
it was simply not in the girl to go on adding to his misery. She began
to be very firm with Jimsy about their long walks or rides alone; she
accepted all Mrs. King's invitations and plans for them; she included
Carter whenever it was possible. These restrictions had naturally the
result of making Jimsy the more ardent in their scant privacy, and
Honor, amazingly free from coquetry though she was, must have sensed it.
Perhaps the truth was that she had in her, after all, something of
Mildred Lorimer's feeling for values and conventions; having flown from
Florence to Córdoba to her lover she was reclaiming a little of her
aloofness and cool ladyhood by this discipline. But she was entirely
honest in her wish to spare Carter so far as possible. Once, when Jimsy
was briefly away with his Yaqui henchman she asked Carter to walk with
her, but he decided for the dim _sala;_ the heat which seemed to
invigorate and vitalize Jimsy left him limp and spent.

He brushed her generalities roughly aside. "Are you happy, Honor?"

She lifted her candid eyes to his bleak young face. "Yes, Cartie.
Happier than ever before--and I've been happy all my life."

He was silent for a moment as if sorting out and considering the things
he might say to her. "Well, you have a marvelous effect on Jimsy. I
don't believe he's taken a drop since you've been here."

"He hasn't touched a drop since he came to Mexico, Carter,--Mr. King
told me that, and Jimsy told me himself!" Honor was a little declamatory
in her pride and he raised his eyebrows.

"Really?" He limped over to the table where the smoking things were and
the decanter of whiskey and siphon of soda. "Let me have a look...." He
picked up the decanter and held it to the light. "The last time I looked
at it, it came just to the top of the design here,--and it does yet.
Yes, it's just where it was."

"Carter! I call that spying!"

He turned back to her without temper. "I call it looking after my
friend," he said gently. "I don't suppose you've let him tell you very
much about what happened at college?"

"No, Carter. What's the use of it, now? He wrote it all to me, but the
letter must have passed me. It's a closed chapter now."

"I hope to God it will stay closed," he said, haggardly. "But I'm
afraid, Honor; I'm horribly afraid for you."

"I'm not afraid, Carter,--for myself or for Jimsy." She got up and
walked to the window; she was aware that she hated the dimness of the
_sala_; she wanted the honest heat of the sun. "Look!" she said, gladly.
Carter limped slowly to join her. Jimsy King was swinging toward them
through the brazen three o'clock glare, his Yaqui Juan by his side. They
were a sightly and eye-filling pair. They might have been done in bronze
for studies of Yesterday and To-day. "_Look_!" said Honor again. "Oh,
Carter, do you think any--any horrible dead trait--any clammy dead
hand--can reach up out of the grave to pull him down?"

Carter was silent.

A high and cleanly anger rose in the girl. "Carter, I don't want to hurt
you,--oh, I know I hurt you all the time, in one way, and I can't help
that,--I don't want to be unkind, but--are you sure it isn't because
you--care--for me that you have this hopeless feeling about Jimsy?" She
faced him squarely and made him meet her eyes. "Carter! Tell me."

His unhappy gaze struggled with her level look and slipped away. "Of
course I want you myself, Honor. I want you--horribly, unbearably, but I
do honestly feel it's wrong for you to marry Jimsy King."

"But, Carter--see how nearly his father won out! Every one says that if
his mother had lived--And his Uncle Richard! He's absolutely free from
it, now. And the very look of Jimsy is enough to show you----"

But Carter had turned and was staring moodily at the decanter. "It comes
so suddenly, Honor ... with such frightful unexpectedness. Remember,
when we were youngsters, the World's Biggest Snake, 'Samson,'--exhibited
in a vacant store on Main Street, and how keen we all were about him?"

Honor kindled to the memory. "I adored him. He had a head like a nice
setter's and he wasn't cold or slimy a bit!"

"Remember what the man told us about his hunger? How he'd go three
months without anything, and then devour twenty live rabbits and
chickens and cats?"

She nodded, frowning. "I know. It was awful."

"But the point was the suddenness. They never knew when the hunger would
seize him. The fellow said that it came like a flash. He was gentle as a
lamb for weeks on end--and then it came. He'd pounce on the keeper's pet
rabbit--his dog--the man himself if he were within reach. He was an
utterly changed creature; he was just--an _appetite_." He stood staring
somberly at the decanter. "That's the way it comes, Honor."

It seemed to be getting dimmer and dimmer in the _sala_. Honor found
herself wishing with all her heart for her stepfather. Stephen Lorimer
would know how to answer; how to parry,--to combat this thing. She felt
her own weapons clumsy and blunt, but such as they were she would use
them.

"But it isn't coming ever again, Carter! I tell you it isn't coming! And
I want you to stop saying and thinking that it is! Now I'm going to
Jimsy!"

In the wide out-of-doors, under the unbelievably blue sky and the
stinging sun, with Jimsy and Yaqui Juan, life was sound and whole again.
The Indian, tall as a pine, looked at her with eyes of respectful
adoration and smiled his slow, melancholy smile, as she swung off with
the boy, down the path which led to the old well.

"Juan approves of me, doesn't he?" said Honor, contentedly.

"Of course; you're my woman!" She loved his happy impudence. "Aren't
you, Skipper?" They had passed the twist in the path--the path which was
like a moist green tunnel through the tropic jungle--which hid them from
the house and she halted and went swiftly into his arms.

"Yes, Jimsy! _Yes!_ And--I've been stingy and mean to you but I won't
be, any more. Carter must just--stand things."

"_Skipper!_" He wasn't facile with words, Jimsy King, but he was able to
make himself clear.

"Jimsy, isn't it wonderful--the all-rightness of everything? Being
together again, and----"

"Going to be together always! And my job waiting! Isn't the old boy a
wonder? I saw him, just now. He says he's heard from Mexico City and
it's O. K. to start Thursday. They're going to send the escort."

"In two days," said Honor, blissfully, "we'll be on our way home! Jimsy,
in two days!"

But in two days dizzyingly, terrifyingly much had happened. The pleasant
little comedy of life at _El Pozo_ had changed to melodrama, crude and
strident. They had been attacked by a band of _insurrectos_, a wing of
Villa's hectic army, presumably; the _peóns_, with the exception of the
house servants and Yaqui Juan, had gone gleefully over to the enemy;
Richard King had been wounded in his hot-headed defense of his
_hacienda_, shot through the shoulder, and was running a temperature;
the telephone wires were cut; infinitely worse than all, the besiegers
had taken possession of the well and they were entirely without water.

There had been, of course, the usual supply in the house at the time of
the attack and it had been made to last as long as was humanly possible,
the lion's share going to the wounded man, but they had arrived, now, at
the point of actual suffering. His rôle of helpless inaction was an
intolerable one for Jimsy King to play. To know that--less than a
quarter of a mile away, down the moist green path through the tropic
verdure--was the well; to see Honor's dry lips and strained eyes,
Carter's deathly pallor, to hear his uncle, out of his head, mercifully,
most of the time, begging for water, meant a constant battle with
himself not to rush out, to make one frantic try at least, but he knew
that the deeper courage of patient waiting was required of him. They
could only conjecture what the invaders meant to do,--whether they
intended to have them die of thirst, whether they meant to rush the
house when it suited their pleasure--raggedly fortified and guarded by
Jimsy and Carter and the half dozen of the faithful. Jimsy had talked
the latter probability over steadily with Honor and she understood.

"Jimsy," she managed not to let her teeth chatter, "it's like a play
or--or a Wild West tale, isn't it? Like a 'Frank Merriwell'--remember
when you used to adore those things?"

"No, Skipper, it's not like a 'Frank Merriwell'; he could always _do_
something...." Jimsy's strong teeth ground together.

"Yes--'Blooey, blooey! Fifteen more redskins bit the dust!'"

"Skipper, you _wonder_! You brick!"

"Jimsy, I--there's no use talking about things that may never happen,
because _of course_ help will get here, but if it should not--if they
should rush us, and we couldn't keep them out"--her hoarse voice
faltered but her eyes held his--"you won't--you wouldn't let them--take
me, Jimsy?"

"No, Skipper."

"Promise, Jimsy?"

"Promise, Skipper. 'Cross my heart!'" The old good foolish words of the
old safe days, here, now, in this hideous and garish present!

With that pledge she was visibly able to give herself to a livelier
hope. "But of course Yaqui Juan got through to the Grants' _hacienda_!
Can you imagine him failing us, Jimsy?"

He shook his head. "He'll make it if any man living could." The Indian
had slipped through the _insurrectos_ in the first hour, as soon as it
had been known that the wires were cut. Unless the Grants, too, were
besieged, they would be able to telephone for help for _El Pozo_, and
if they were likewise in duress, Yaqui Juan would go on to the next
_rancho_,--on and on until he could set the wheels of rescue in motion.
"I wish to God I had his job. _Doing something_----"

Carter came into the _sala_. He was terrifyingly white but with an
admirable composure. "Steady, old boy," he said, putting his frail hand
on Jimsy's shoulder. "Sit tight! We depend on you. And you're doing"--he
looked at the decanter, as if measuring its contents with his
eye--"gloriously, splendidly, old son! I know the strain you're under.
You're a bigger man even than I thought you were, Jimsy."

Honor went away to sit with Mrs. King and the sick man and both boys
stared unhappily after her. "If Skipper were only out of this----" Jimsy
groaned.

"And whose fault is it that she's in it?" Carter snarled. Two red spots
sprang into his white cheeks.

"Why--Cart'!" Jimsy backed away from him, staring.

"Whose fault is it, I say?" Carter followed him. "If she hadn't been
terrified over you, if she hadn't the insane idea of duty and loyalty to
you, would she have come? Would she?"

Jimsy King sat down and looked at him, aghast. "Good Lord,
Cart'--that's the truth! That shows what a mutt I am. It hasn't struck
me before. It's all my fault."

"Whatever happens to Honor--_whatever happens to her_--and death
wouldn't be the worst thing, would it?--it's your fault. Do you hear
what I say? It's all your fault!" In all the years since he had known
him Jimsy had never seen Carter Van Meter like this,--cool Carter, with
his little elegancies of dress and manner, his studied detachment. This
was a different person altogether,--hot-eyed, white-lipped, snarling.
"Your fault if she dies here, dies of thirst; your fault if they get in
here and carry her off, those filthy brutes out there."

"They'll never ... get her," said Jimsy King. His face was scarlet and
he was breathing hard and clenching and unclenching his hands.

"Yes," Carter sneered, "yes! I know what you mean! You feel very heroic
about it. You feel like a hero in a movie, don't you? Noble of you,
isn't it? Slay the heroine with your own hands rather than let her----"

"Oh, for God's sake, Cart'!" Jimsy got up and came toward him. "Cut it
out! What's the good of talking like that? We're in it now, all of us,
and we've got to stick it out. I know it's harder on you because you're
not strong, but----"

"Damn you! 'Not strong--' Not built like an ox--muscles in my brain
instead of my legs! Because I cared for something else besides rolling
around in the mud with a leather ball in my arms----"

"Key down, old boy." Jimsy was cool now, unresentful; he understood.
Poor old Cart' ... he couldn't stand much suffering.

"That's how you got Honor, when she was a child, with no sense of
values, but you haven't held her! You can't hold her."

"Cart', I'm not going to get sore at you. I know you're about all in.
You don't know what you're saying."

"Don't I? Don't I? You listen to me. Honor Carmody never really loved
you; it was a silly boy-and-girl, calf love affair, and when she
realized it she stood by, of course,--she's that sort. She kept the
letter of her promise, but she couldn't keep the spirit."

"Key down, old top," said Jimsy King again, grinning. "I'm not going to
get sore, but I don't want to use up my breath laughing at you.
_Skipper_--going back on me!" He did laugh, ringingly.

"She hasn't gone back on you; except in her heart. Good God, Jimsy
King, what do you think you are to hold a girl like that--with her
talent and her success and her future? She's only stuck by you because
it was her creed, that's all."

"Look here, Cart', I'm not going to argue with you. It's not on the
square to Skipper even to talk about it, but don't be a crazy fool.
Would she have come to me here--from Italy, if she didn't----"

"Yes. Yes, she would! She's pledged to see it through--to stand by you
as all the other miserable women have stood by the men of your
family,--if you're cad enough to let her."

That caught and stuck. "If I'm--cad enough to let her," said Jimsy in a
curiously flat voice. But the mood passed in a flash. "It's no use
talking like that, Carter. Of course I know I'm not good enough or
brainy enough--or _anything_ enough for Skipper, but she thinks I am,
and----"

"You poor fool, she doesn't think so. I tell you she's only standing by
because she said she would. I tell you she cares for some one else."

"That's a lie," said Jimsy King with emphasis but without passion. The
statement was too grotesque for any feeling over it.

Carter stopped raving and snarling and became very cool and coherent.
"I think I can prove it to you," he said, quietly.

"You can't," said Jimsy, turning and walking toward the door.

"Are you afraid to listen?" He asked it very quietly.

"No," said Jimsy King, wheeling. "I'm not afraid. Go ahead. Get it off
your chest."

"Well, in the first place,--hasn't she kept you at arm's length here?
Hasn't she insisted on being with other people all the time,--on having
me with you?"

"Cart', I hate to say it, but that's because she's sorry for you."

"And for herself."

The murky dimness of the _sala_ was pressing in on Jimsy as it had on
the girl, that other day. He was worn with vigil and torn with thirst,
sick with dread of what might any moment come to them,--with remorse for
bringing Honor there, tormented with his helplessness to save her. Even
at his best he was no match for the other's cleverness and now he was in
the dust, blaming and hating himself. He stood there in silence,
listening, and Carter's hoarse voice, Carter's plausible words, went on
and on. "But I don't believe it," Jimsy would say at intervals. "She
doesn't care for you, Cart'. She's all mine, Skipper is. She doesn't
care for you."

"Wait!" Carter took out his wallet of limp leather with his initials on
it in delicately wrought gold letters and opened it. "I didn't mean to
show you this, but I see that I must. It was last summer. I--I lost my
head the night before we sailed, and let Honor see.... Then I asked
her.... I didn't say, 'Will you marry me?' because I knew there was no
hope of that so long as she thought there was a chance of saving you by
standing by you. I asked her--something else. And she sent me this wire
to the boat at Naples."

Jimsy did not put out his hand to take the slip of paper which Carter
unfolded and smoothed and held toward him. It was utterly still in the
_sala_ but from an upper room came the sound of Richard King's voice,
faint, thick, begging for water, and from somewhere in the distance a
muffled shot ... three shots.

Carter held the message up before Jimsy's eyes:


     Carter Van Meter care Purser S. S. _Canopic Naples_
                          Yes.
                                                 HONOR.



CHAPTER XIV


If Stephen Lorimer, far to the north in the safe serenity of the old
house of South Figueroa Street, could have envisaged the three of them
that day his chief concern would not have been for their bodily danger.
It would have seemed to him that the intangible cloud settling down over
them was a more tragic and sinister thing than the _insurrectos_
besieging them, than the thirst which was cracking their lips and
swelling and blackening their tongues.

He was to remember and marvel, long afterward, that his thought on that
date had tugged uneasily toward them all day and evening. Conditions, so
far as he knew, were favorable; the escort for the personage would be a
stout one and under his wing the boy and girl would be safe, and James
King was waiting for them, spinning out his thread of life until they
should come to him. Nevertheless, he found himself acutely unhappy
regarding them, aware of an urgent and instant need of being with them.

They had never, in all their blithe young lives, needed him so cruelly.
He could not have driven back the bandits, but he could have driven back
the clouds of doubt and misery and misunderstanding; he could not have
given them water for their parched throats but he could have given them
to drink of the waters of understanding; he could have relieved the
drought in their wrung young hearts. He would have seen, as only a
looker-on could see, what was happening to them. He would have yearned
over Honor, fronting the bright face of danger so gallantly but stunned
and crushed by the change in Jimsy, over Jimsy himself, setting out to
do an incredibly stupid, incredibly noble deed, absolutely convinced by
the sight of her one-word telegram that she loved Carter (and humbly
realizing that she might well love Carter, the brilliant Carter, better
than his unilluminated self), seeing the thing simply and objectively as
he would be sure to do, deciding on his course and pursuing it as
definitely as he would take a football over the line for a touchdown. He
would even have yearned over Carter, at the very moment when the youth
fulfilled his ancient distrust of him. He would have understood as even
Carter himself did not, by what gradual and destructive processes he had
arrived at the point of his outbreak to Jimsy; would have realized in
how far his physical suffering--infinitely harder for him than for the
others--had broken down his moral fiber; how utterly his very real love
for Honor had engulfed every other thought and feeling. And he would
have seen, in the last analysis, that Carter was sincere; he had come at
last to believe his own fabrications; he honestly believed that Honor's
betrothed would go the way of all the "Wild Kings"; that Honor would be
ruining her life in marrying him.

But Stephen Lorimer was hundreds and thousands of miles away from them
that day of their bitter need, making tentative notes for a chapter on
young love for his unborn book, listening to the inevitable mocking-bird
in the Japanese garden, waiting for Mildred Lorimer to give him his tea
... wearing the latest of his favorites among her gowns....

Madeline King was spent with her vigil and Honor had coaxed her to lie
down for an hour and let her take the chair beside Richard King's bed.

"Very well, my dear. I'll rest for an hour. I'll do it because I know I
may want my strength more, later on." She seemed to have aged ten years
since the day Honor had come to _El Pozo_, but she came of fighting
blood, this English wife of Jimsy's uncle. "I'm frightfully sorry you're
let in for this, Honor, but it's no end of a comfort, having you. Call
me if he rouses. I daresay I shan't really sleep."

Honor sat on beside him, fanning him until her arm ached, resting it
until he stirred again, trying to wet her dry lips with her thickened
tongue. She wasn't thinking; she was merely waiting, standing it. It was
a relief not to talk, but she must talk when she was with the boys
again; it helped to keep them up, to keep an air of normality about
things.

Jimsy King had read the message Carter held up to him and gone away
without comment, and Carter had stayed on in the _sala_. It was almost
an hour before Jimsy came back. Honor's stepfather would have marked and
marveled at the change so brief a little space of time had been able to
register in the bonny boy's face. The flesh seemed to have paled and
receded and the bones seemed more sharply modeled; more insistent; and
the eyes looked very old and at the same time pitifully young. He was
very quiet and sure of himself.

"Jimsy," said Carter, "I shouldn't have told you, _now_, but I went off
my head."

Jimsy nodded. "The time doesn't matter, Cart'. I just want to ask you
one thing, straight from the shoulder. I've been thinking and thinking
... trying to take it in. Sometimes I seem to get it for a minute, that
Skipper cares for you instead of me, and then it's gone again. All I can
seem to hang on to is that telegram." The painful calm of his face
flickered and broke up for an instant and there was an answering
disturbance in Carter's own. "I keep seeing that ... all the time. But
there's no use talking about it. What I want to ask you is this,
Cart'"--he went on slowly in his hoarse and roughened voice--"you
honestly think Skipper is sticking to me only because she thinks it's
the thing to do? Because she thinks she must keep her word?"

Carter swallowed hard and tried to moisten his aching throat, and he did
not look at his friend.

"Is that what you honestly believe, Cart'?"

Carter brought his eyes back with an effort and his heart contracted.
Jimsy King--_Jimsy King_--the boy he had envied and hated and loved by
turns all these years; Jimsy King, idolized, adored in the old safe
days--the old story book days--


     King! King! King!
     K-I-N-G, KING!
     G-I-N-K, GINK!
     He's the King Gink!
     He's the King Gink!
     He's the King Gink!
     K-I-N-G, King! KING!


The Jimsy King, the young prince who had had everything that all the
wealth of Ali Baba's cave couldn't compass for Carter Van Meter ...
standing here before him now, his face drained of its color and joy,
begging him for a hope. There was a long moment when he hesitated, when
the forces within him fought breathlessly and without quarter, but--long
ago Stephen Lorimer had said of him--"_there's nothing frail about his
disposition ... his will doesn't limp._" He wrenched his gaze away
before he answered, but he answered steadily.

"That is what I believe."

Jimsy was visibly and laboriously working it out. "Then, she's only
sticking to me because she thinks I'm worth saving. If she thought I was
a regular 'Wild King,' if she believed what her mother and a lot of
other people have always believed, she'd let go of me."

"I believe she would," said Carter.

"Then," said Jimsy King, "it's really pretty simple. She's only got to
realize--to _see_--that I'm not worth hanging on to; that it's too late.
That's all."

"What do you mean?"

He walked over to the little table and picked up the decanter of whisky
and looked at it, and the scorn and loathing in his ravaged young face
were things to marvel at, but Honor Carmody, coming into the room at
that moment, could not see his expression. His back was toward her and
she saw the decanter in his hand.

"_Jimsy!_" She said it very low, catching her breath.

His first motion was to put it down but instead he held it up to the
fast fading light at the window and grinned. "It's makin' faces at me,
Skipper!"

"_Jimsy_," she said again, and this time he put it down.

Honor began hastily to talk. "Do you think Juan will try to come back,
or will he wait and come with the soldiers?"

"He'll come back," said Jimsy with conviction. "He must have found the
wires down at the first place he tried, or he'd have been here before
this. Yes--as soon as he's got his message through, he'll come back to
us. I hope to God he brings water."

"But did he realize about the well? He got away at the very first, you
know, and they weren't holding the well, then."

"He'll have his own canteen, won't he?" said Jimsy crossly.

Honor's eyes mothered him. "Mrs. King really slept," she said
cheerfully. "She said she had a good nap, and dreamed!" She sat down in
a low chair and made herself relax comfortably; only her eyes were
tense. She never did fussy things with her hands, Honor Carmody; no one
had ever seen her with a needle or a crochet hook. She was either doing
things, vital, definite things which required motion, or she was still,
and she rested people who were near her. "Well, he'll be here soon
then," she said contentedly. "And so will the soldiers. Our Big Boss
will have us on his mind, Jimsy. He'll figure out some way to help us.
Just think--in another day--perhaps in another hour, this will all be
over, like a nightmare, and we'll be back to regular living again. And
_won't_ we be glad that we all stood it so decently?" It was a stiff,
small smile with her cracked lips but a stout one. "You know, I'm pretty
proud of all of us! And won't Stepper be proud of us? And your dad,
Jimsy, and your mother, Cartie!" Her kind eyes warmed. "I'm glad she
hasn't had to know about it until we're all safe again." She was so
hoarse that she had to stop and rest and she looked hopefully from one
to the other, clearly expecting them to take up the burden of talk. But
they were silent and presently she went on again. "You know, boys, it's
like being in a book or a play, isn't it? We're--_characters_--now, not
just plain people! I suppose I'm the leading lady (though Mrs. King's
the real _heroine_) and we've got two heroes and no villain. The
_insurrectos_ are the villain--the villain in bunches." Suddenly she sat
forward in her chair, her eyes brightening and a little color flooding
her face. "Boys, it's our song come true! Now I know why I always got so
thrilled over that second verse,--even the first time Stepper read it to
us,--remember how it just bowled me over? And it seemed so remote from
anything that could touch our lives,--yet here we are, in just such a
tight place." They were listening now. "There isn't any desert or
regiment or gatling, and Mr. King isn't dead, only dreadfully hurt, but
it fits, just the same! We've got this thirst to stand ... and it's a
good deal, isn't it? Those _insurrectos_ down there,--planning we don't
know what, perhaps to rush the house any moment--


     The River of Death has brimmed his banks;
     And England's far, and Honor's a name--


That means to us that L. A. is far, and South Figueroa Street ... all
the safe happy things that didn't seem wonderful then...."

"'_Honor's a name_,'" said Jimsy under his breath.

"Oh," said the girl, "I never noticed that before! Isn't that funny?
Well--


     The voice of a school boy rallies the ranks!


That fits! And won't we be thankful all our lives--all our snug, safe,
prosy lives--that we were sporting now?-- That we all played the
game?" Her eyes were on Jimsy, reassuring him, staying him. "When this
is all over----"

He cut roughly into her sentence. "Oh, for God's sake, Skipper, let's
not talk!"

Again he had to bear the mothering of her understanding eyes. "All
right, Jimsy. We won't talk, then. We'll sit here together"--she changed
to the chair nearest his and put her hand on his arm--"and wait for Juan
and----"

He sprang to his feet. "I wish you'd leave me alone!" he said. "I wish
you'd go upstairs and stay with Aunt Maddy and Uncle Rich'. I want to be
by myself."

She did not stir. "I think I'll stay with you, Jimsy."

His voice was ugly now. "When I don't want you? When I tell you I'd
rather be alone?"

Honor was still for a long moment. She rose and went to the door but
she turned to look at him, a steady, intent scrutiny. "All right, Jimsy.
I'll go. I'll leave you alone. I'll leave you alone because--I know I
_can_ leave you alone." She seemed to have forgotten Carter's presence.
She held up the hand which wore the old Italian ring with the hidden
blue stone of constancy. "I'm 'holding hard,' Jimsy."

Soon after dark Yaqui Juan came. He had been waiting for three hours,
trying to get past the sentries; it had been impossible while there was
any light. He was footsore and weary and had only a little water in his
canteen, but he had found the telephone wires still up at the second
_hacienda_, the owner had got the message off for him, and help was
assuredly on the way to them. There was the off chance, of course, that
the soldiers might be held up by another wing of the _insurrectos_, but
there was every reason to hope for their arrival next day. Jimsy King
sent the Yaqui up to Honor with the canteen, and the Indian returned to
say that the Señorita had not touched one drop but had given it to the
master.

Carter dragged himself away to his room and Jimsy and Yaqui Juan talked
long together in the quiet _sala_. It was a cramped and halting
conversation with the Indian's scant English and the American's halting
Spanish; sometimes they were unable to understand each other, but they
came at last to some sort of agreement, though Juan shook his head
mutinously again and again, murmuring--"_No, no! Señor Don Diego! No!_"

It was almost midnight when Jimsy called them all down into the _sala_.
They came, wondering, one by one, Carter, Mrs. King,--Richard King had
fallen asleep after his half dozen swallows of water--and Honor, and
Josita, her head muffled in her _rebozo_, her brown fingers busy with
her beads.

Jimsy King was standing in the middle of the room, standing insecurely,
his legs far apart, the decanter in his hand, the decanter which had
been more than half full when Honor left the room and had now less than
an inch of liquor in it. Yaqui Juan, his face sullen, his eyes black and
bitter, crouched on the floor, his arms about his knees.

Honor did not speak at all. She just stood still, looking at Jimsy until
it seemed as if she were all eyes. _"It comes so suddenly_,"--Carter had
told her--"like the boa constrictor's hunger ... _and then he was
just--an appetite_."

"Ladies'n gem'mum," said Jimsy, thickly, "goin' shing you lil' song!"
Then, in his hoarse and baffled voice he sang Stanford's giddy old saga,
"The Son of a Gambolier."

They all stiffened with horror and disgust. Mrs. King wept and Josita
mumbled a frightened prayer, and Carter, red and vehement, went to him
and tried to take the decanter away from him. Only Honor Carmody made no
sign.


     I'm a son of a son of a son of a gun of a son of a Gambolier,


sang Jimsy King. He looked at every one but Honor.


     Like every honest fellow, I love my lager beer----


--"And my 'skee!" he patted the decanter.

Madeline King put her arms about Honor. "Come away, my dear," she said.
"Come upstairs."

"No," Jimsy protested. "Don' go 'way. Got somep'n tell you. Shee this
fool Injun here? Know wha' he's goin' do? Goin' slide out'n creep down
to ol' well. Says _insur_--_insur-rectos_ all pretty drunk now ...
pretty sleepy.... Fool Injun's goin' take three--four--'leven canteens
... bring water back for you. Not f' me! _I_ got somep'n better. 'Sides,
he'll get killed ... nice'n dead ... _fancy_ dead ... cut ears off ...
cut tongue out firs'! Not f' me! _I'm_ goin' sleep pret' soon. Firs'
I'll shing you lil' more!" Again the rasping travesty of melody:


     Some die of drinkin' whisky,
     Some die of drinkin' beer!
     Some die of diabetes,
     An' some----


"Shut up, you drunken fool!" said Carter, furiously.

"Oh," said Jimsy, blinking his eyes rapidly, bowing deeply. "Ladies
present. I shee. My mishtake. My mishtake, ladies! Well, guesh I go
sleep now. Come on. Yac', put me to bed 'fore you go. Give you lil'
treat. All work'n no play makes Yac' a dull boy!" He roared over his own
wit. The Indian, his face impassive, had risen to his feet and now Jimsy
cast himself into his arms and insisted on kissing him good-night,
clinging all the while to the decanter with its half inch of whisky.

Carter wrenched it away from him. "You'll kill yourself," he said, in
cold disgust.

"Well," said his friend, reasonably, "ishn't that the big idea? Wouldn'
you razzer drink yourself to death'n die of thirst?"

They were making for the door now in a zigzag course, and when they
passed Honor, Jimsy stayed their progress. He held out his hand and
spoke to her, but he did not meet her eyes. "Gimme ring," he said,
crossly.

"What do you mean?" said Honor.

"Gimme back ring ... busted word ... busted engagement ... want ring
_anyway_ ... maybe nozzer girl ... _you_ can't tell!" His hoarse voice
rose querulously. "Gimme ring, I shay!"

Honor shrank back from him against Mrs. King. "Jimsy," she said, "when
the boy that gave me this ring comes and asks me for it, he can have it.
_You_ can't!"

His legs seemed to give way beneath him, at that, and Yaqui Juan half
led, half dragged him out of the room.

Mrs. King wept again but Honor's eyes were dry. Carter started to speak
to her but she stopped him. "Please, Carter ... I can't ... talk. I
think I'd like to be alone."

"Oh, my dear, please come up with me," Mrs. King begged, "it's so cold
here, and----"

"I have to be alone," said Honor in her worn voice.

"Then you must have this," said the older woman, finding comfort in
wrapping her in her own _serape_. It was a gay thing, striped in red and
white and green, the Mexican colors; it looked as if it had been made
to wear in happy days.

They went away and left her alone in the _sala_. She didn't know how
long she had sat there when she saw a muffled figure crawling across the
veranda. She opened the door and stepped out, nodding to the _peón_ on
guard there, leaning on his gun. "Juan?" she called softly.

The crouching, cringing figure hesitated. "Si," came the soft whisper.
He kept his head shrouded. She knew that he was sick with shame for the
lad he had worshiped; he did not want to meet her gaze. She could
understand that. It did not seem to her that she could ever meet any
one's eyes again--kind Mrs. King's, Carter's--her dear Stepper's.
Suddenly it came to her with a positive sense of relief and escape that
perhaps there would be no need for facing any one after to-night....
Perhaps this was to be the last night of all nights. It might well be,
when Jimsy King slept in a drunken stupor and a Yaqui Indian slave went
out with his life in his hands to help them. She crossed the veranda and
leaned down and laid her hand on the covered head. Her throat was so
swollen now that she could hardly make herself heard. "_Tu es amigo
leal, Juan_," she said. "Good friend; good friend!" Then in her careful
Spanish--"Go with God!"

He had been always an impassive creature, Yaqui Juan, his own personal
sufferings added to the native stoicism of his race, but he made an odd,
smothered sound now, and caught up the trailing end of her bright
_serape_ and pressed his face against it for an instant. Then he crept
away into the soft blackness of the tropic night and Honor went back
into the empty _sala_. She wished that she had seen his face; she was
mournfully sure she would never see it again. It did not seem humanly
possible for any one to go into the very midst of their besiegers
encamped about the well, fill the canteens and return alive, but it was
a gallant and splendid try, and she would have liked a memory of his
grave face. It would have blotted out the look of Jimsy King's face,
singing his tipsy song. She thought she would keep on seeing that as
long as she lived, and that made it less terrible to think that she
might not live many more hours.



CHAPTER XV


They would not leave her alone. Carter came to stay with her and she
sent him away, and then Madeline King came, her very blue eyes red
rimmed and deep with understanding, but Honor could not talk with her
nor listen to her. She went away, shaking her head, and Josita came in
her place. Honor did not mind the little Mexican serving woman. She did
not try to talk to her. She just crouched on the floor at her feet and
prayers slipped from her tongue and her fingers:


     _Padre Nuestra qui estás en los cielos--_


and presently:


     _Santa Maria--_


Honor found herself listening a little scornfully. Was there indeed a
Father in the heavens or anywhere else who concerned Himself about
things like this? Josita seemed to think so. She was in terror, but she
was clinging to something ... somewhere.... Honor decided that she did
not mind the murmur of her voice; she could go on with her thinking just
the same. _Jimsy._ _Jimsy King_--Jimsy--"Wild"--King. What was she going
to do? What had she promised Stepper that day on the way to the train?
It all came back to her like a scene on the screen--the busy
streets--the feel of the wheel in her hands again--Stepper's slow
voice--"But, if the worst should be true, if the boy really has gone to
pieces, you won't marry him?" And her own words--"No; if Jimsy should
be--like his father--I wouldn't marry him, Stepper. There shouldn't be
any _more_ 'Wild Kings.'"

That was her promise to her stepfather, her best friend. But what had
been her promise to Jimsy, that day on the shore below the Malibou Ranch
when they sat in the little pocket of rocks and sand and sun, and he had
given her the ring with the clasped hands? Hadn't she said--"I do
believe you, Jimsy. I'll never stop believing you!" Yes, but how was she
to go on believing that he would not do the thing she saw him do? How
compass that? Her love and loyalty began to fling themselves against
that solid wall of ugly fact and to fall back, bruised, breathless.

Jimsy King of the hard muscles and wingèd heels, the essence of
strength and sunny power; Jimsy King, collapsed in the arms of Yaqui
Juan, failing her in the hour of her direst need. Jimsy, her lover, who
had promised her she should never go alive into those dark and terrible
hands ... Jimsy, who could not lift a finger now to defend her, or to
put her beyond their grasp. It became intolerable to sit still. She
sprang up and began to walk swiftly from wall to wall of the big room,
her heels tapping sharply on the smooth red tiles. Josita lifted
mournful eyes to stare at her for an instant and then returned to her
beads. Honor paused and looked out of the window. She could see nothing
through the inky blackness. Perhaps Yaqui Juan was creeping back to them
now, the canteens of precious water hung about his neck,--and perhaps he
was dead. There had been no shots, but they would not necessarily shoot
him. There were other ... awfuller ways. And Jimsy King was asleep. What
would he be like when he wakened, when he came to himself again? Could
he ever face her? Would he _live_?... And suppose she cast him
off,--then, what? She would go back to Italy, to the mountainous
_Signorina_. She would embrace her warmly and there would emanate from
her the faint odor of expensive soap and rare and costly scents, and
she would pat her with a puffy hand and say--"So, my good small one? The
sun has set, no? Ah, then, it does not signify whether one feel joy or
sorrow, so long as one feels. To feel ... that is to live, and to live
is to sing!" And she would go to work again, and sing in concert, and
take the place offered to her in the opera. And some day, when she went
for a holiday to Switzerland (she supposed she would still go on
holidays; people did, no matter what had happened to them) she would
meet Ethel Bruce-Drummond, hale and frank as the wind off the snow, and
she would say--"But where's your boy? I say, you haven't thrown him
over, have you?"

Well, could you throw over what fell away from you? Could you? She
realized that she was gripping the old ring with the thumb and fingers
of her right hand, literally "holding hard." Was this what James King
had meant? Had Jeanie King, Jimsy's firm-chinned Scotch mother who so
nearly saved her man, had she held on in times like this? Surely no
"Wild King" had ever failed his woman as Jimsy had failed her, in the
face of such hideous danger. But did that absolve her? After all (her
love and loyalty flung themselves again against the wall and it seemed
to give, to sway) _was_ it Jimsy who had failed her? Wasn't it the
taint in his blood, the dead hands reaching up out of the grave, the
cruel certainty that had hemmed him in all his days,--the bitter
man-made law that he must follow in the unsteady footsteps of his
forbears?

It wasn't Jimsy! Not _himself_; not the real boy, not the real man. It
was the pitiful counterpart of him. The real Jimsy was there,
underneath, buried for the moment,--buried forever unless she stood by!
(The wall was swaying now, giving way, crumbling.) Her pride in him was
gone, perhaps, and something of her triumphant faith, but her loyalty
was there and her love was there, bruised and battered and breathless;
not the rosy, untried, laughing love of that far-away day in the sand
and sun; a grave love, scarred, weary, argus-eyed. (The wall was down
now, a heap of stones and mortar.) She went upstairs to Jimsy's room and
knocked on the door. There was no answer. She knocked again, and after
an instant she tried to open it. It was locked, and she could not rouse
him, and a sense of bodily sickness overcame her for the moment.

Madeline King came out of her husband's room and hurried to her. "Ah, I
wouldn't, my dear," she said. "Wait until he--wait a little while." She
put her arm about her and pulled her gently away.

"I'll wait," said Honor in her rasping whisper. "I'll wait for him, no
matter how long it is."

The Englishwoman's eyes filled. "My dear!" she said. "Do you mind
sitting with Richard a few moments? I find it steadies me to move about
a bit."

"Of course I'll sit with him," said Honor, docilely, "but I'll always be
waiting for Jimsy." She sat down beside Richard King and took up the
fan.

"He's been better ever since that bit of water," said his wife,
thankfully. "And Juan will fetch us more! Good soul! If ever we come out
of this, Rich' must do something very splendid for him."

Carter went down into the _sala_. Honor had asked him to leave her, but
he found that he could not stay away from her; the remembrance of her
eyes when she looked at Jimsy was intolerable in the loneliness of his
own room. The big living room was empty but he supposed Honor would be
back presently, and he sat down in an easy chair and leaned his head
back and stared at the ceiling. He had arrived, very nearly, at the end
of his endurance. He knew it himself and he was husbanding his failing
strength as best he could. All his life, at times of illness or stress,
he had been subject to fainting fits; miraculously, in these dreadful
days, he had not fainted once, but now waves were rising about him,
almost submerging him. If the Indian came soon with the water ... if he
could once drink his fill ... if he could drink even a few drops ... he
could hold out. But the Indian had been gone for more than an hour, and
there was grave doubt of his ever coming back.

His eyes, skimming the ceiling, dropped to the shelves of books which
ran about the room and rose almost to meet it. They came to a startled
halt on a vase of ferns on a high shelf. A vase of ferns. There must
have been water in it. _Perhaps there was water in it now!_ He was so
weak that it was a tremendous effort for him to drag himself out of his
chair and across the room, to climb up on the book ladder and reach for
it. He grew so dizzy that it seemed as if he must drop it. He shook it.
_Water!_ He lifted out the ferns and looked. It was almost full. He
stood there with it in his hand, his eyes on the doors. He wanted with
all his heart to call Honor, to share it. His heart and his mind wanted
to call her, but his hands lifted the vase to his dry lips and he drank
in great gulps. He stopped himself before he was half satisfied. He was
equal to that. Then he put the ferns back in the vase and the vase back
on the shelf and went into the hall and called upstairs to her.

Honor came at once. "Oh, Carter, has Juan come?"

"No, not yet! But I think--I hope--I've made a discovery! Look!" He
pointed to the vase.

She caught her breath. "There might be water in it?"

"Yes, I'm sure there is." Again, more steadily this time, he mounted the
little sliding book ladder and reached for the vase, and Honor stood
watching him with wide eyes, her cracked lips parted.

"_Water?_" she whispered.

He nodded solemnly, shaking the tall vase for her to hear the heartening
sound of it. When he stood on the floor he held it toward her. "You
first, Honor."

"No." She was trembling. "We'll pour it out into a pitcher. If there's
enough to divide, we'll all have some. If there's just a little, we'll
give it to Mr. King." She went away, walking a little unsteadily,
putting out a hand here and there against the wall or the back of a
chair, and in a moment she came back with a tall glass pitcher.
"Careful, Cartie ... mustn't spill a drop...."

There was less than a cupful of dark, stale water, with bits of fern
fronds floating in it.

"Only enough for him," said Honor, her chin quivering. "Oh, Cartie, I'm
so thirsty ... so crazy thirsty...."

"You must take it yourself," said Carter, sternly. "Every drop." He held
the pitcher up to her.

Honor hesitated. "Cartie, I couldn't trust myself to drink it out of the
pitcher ... I'm afraid ... but I'll pour out about two teaspoonfuls for
each of us...." She poured an inch of water into a tiny glass. "You
first, Carter."

"No," said Carter, "I'm not going to touch it. It's for you and the
Kings."

"Carter! You're wonderful!" She drank her pitiful portion in three sips.
"There ... now you, please, Cartie! Just one swallow!"

But Carter shook his head. "No; I don't need it. Shall I take this to
Mrs. King?"

"Yes." Her sad eyes knighted him.

Carter took the pitcher of water to Mrs. King without touching a drop of
it and helped her to strain the fern bits out of it through a
handkerchief before she began to give it to her husband in spoonfuls.
With the first sip he ceased his uneasy murmuring and she smiled up at
the boy. "Thank you, Carter. It's very splendid of you. Won't you take a
sip for yourself?"

Carter said he did not need it.

"You do look fresher, really. You've stood this thing extraordinarily
well. Did you give Honor some?"

"She would take only a taste."

Madeline King's eyes filled. "This is a black night for her, Carter. The
thirst--and the _insurrectos_--are the least of it for Honor."

Carter's eyes were bleak. "But she had to know it some time. She had to
find it out, sooner or later. She couldn't have gone on with it, Mrs.
King."

She sighed. "I never was so astounded, so disappointed in all my life.
One simply cannot take it in. He has been so absolutely steady ever
since he came down,--and so fine all through this trouble! And to fail
us now, when we need him so,--with Honor in such danger--" She gave her
husband the last of the water and then laid on his forehead the damp
handkerchief through which she had strained it. "It will break his
uncle's heart. He was no end proud of him."

"She had to know it some time," said Carter, stubbornly. "Is there
anything I can do, Mrs. King?"

"Nothing, Carter."

"Then I'll go back to Honor."

Something in his expression, in the way his dry lips said it, made the
woman smile pityingly. "Carter, I--I'm frightfully sorry for you, too."

He drew himself up with something of the old concealing pride. "I'm
quite all right, thank you."

She was not rebuffed. "You are quite all wretched," she said, "you poor
lad, and I'm no end sorry, but--Carter, don't think this ill wind of
Jimsy's will blow you any good."

He flushed hotly through his strained pallor.

"Ah," said the Englishwoman, gently, "you were counting on it. It's no
good, Carter. It's no good. Not with Honor Carmody."

Carter did not answer her in words but there was angry denial in the
tilt of his head as he limped away, and she looked after him sadly.

He found Honor limply relaxed in a long wicker chair. "Carter," she
whispered, "I wish I'd asked you to give Jimsy a taste of that water."

"You think he deserves it?" He couldn't keep the sneer out of his voice.

"No," she answered him honestly. "I don't think he deserves it ... but
he needs it."

The words repeated themselves over and over in the other's mind. He
didn't deserve it, but he needed it. That was the way--the weak,
sentimental, womanish way in which she would reason it out about
herself, he supposed ... Jimsy King didn't deserve her, but he needed
her. He was deep in his bitter reflections when he realized that she
was speaking to him.

"Cartie, I must tell you how fine I think you are! You were splendid ...
about the water ... not taking any ... when I know how you're
suffering." She had to speak slowly, and if Stephen Lorimer had stood
out in the hall he would never have recognized his Top Step's voice. "Of
course we believe help is coming ... that we'll be safe in a few hours
... but because we may not be ... this is the time for telling the
truth, isn't it, Carter? I want to tell you ... how I respect you....
Once I said you were weak, when I was angry at you.... But now I know
you're strong ... stronger than--Jimsy ... with the best kind of
strength. I want you to know that I know that, Carty."

"_Honor_!" The truth and the lie spun round and round in his aching
head; he _was_ stronger than Jimsy King; he hadn't made a drunken beast
of himself; suppose he had taken the first sip of the water?--He hadn't
taken it all. He was a better man than Jimsy King. He made a swift
motion toward her, saying her name brokenly in his choked voice, but he
crumpled suddenly and slid from his chair to the floor and was still.

Honor flew to the foot of the stairs and called Mrs. King. "Carter has
fainted! Will you help me?"

Mrs. King called the Mexican guard in from the porch to lift him to the
couch, and she and the girl fanned him and chafed his thin wrists. When
he came to himself he was intensely chagrined. "I'm all right," he said
impatiently, sitting up. "I wish you wouldn't bother."

"Lie still for a bit," said Mrs. King. "You've had a nasty faint."

Honor saw his painful flush. "Cartie, it's no wonder you fainted,--I
feel as if I might, any minute. And I did nearly faint once, didn't I,
Mrs. King? The day I arrived here--remember?" She remembered all too
keenly herself ... the instant of relaxed blackness that followed on the
sound of Richard King's hearty voice--"Why, the boy's all right!
Ab-so-lutely all right! Isn't he, Madeline? Steady as a clock. That
college nonsense--" And the contrast between that day of faith
triumphant and this dark night was so sharp and cruel that she could not
talk any more, even to comfort Carter. They were all silent, so that
they clearly heard the unlocking, the opening, the closing of the door
of Jimsy's room, and then a step--a swift, sure step upon the stair.

Then Yaqui Juan walked into the _sala_.

"_Juan!_" They sprang at him, galvanized into life and vigor at the
sight of him. But he stood still, staring at them with a look of scorn
and dislike, his arms folded across his chest.

"_Juan_," Mrs. King faltered,--"_no agua_?" It was incredible. He was
back, safely back, untouched, not even breathing hard. Where was the
water he had risked his life to bring them? The Englishwoman began to
cry, childishly, whimpering. "I can't bear it ... I can't bear it ... I
wanted it for Rich' ... for Rich'!"

The Indian did not speak, but his scornful, accusing eyes, raking them
all, came to rest on Honor, fixing her with pitiless intensity.

The girl was shaking so that she could hardly stand; she caught hold of
the back of a tall chair to steady herself. "Juan,--you came out of
Señor Don Diego's room?" she whispered.

"_Si, Señorita._" He was watching the dawning light in her face, but the
sternness of his own did not soften.

"You didn't go at all," wept Mrs. King, rocking to and fro and wringing
her hands. "You didn't go at all!"

"_No, Señora._"

Honor Carmody screamed, a hoarse, exultant shout. It was as she had
screamed in the old good days when Jimsy King, the ball clutched to his
side, tore down the field and went over the line for a touchdown. "Jimsy
went! Jimsy went! _Jimsy went!_ It was Jimsy! _Jimsy!_" She flung her
arms over her head, swaying unsteadily on her feet. Tears streamed from
her eyes and ran down over her white cheeks and into her parched mouth.
In that instant there was room for no fear, no terror; they would come
later, frantic, unbearable. Now there was only pride, pride and faith
and clean joy. "Jimsy! _Jimsy!_" Her legs gave way beneath her and she
slipped to the floor, but she did not cease her hoarse and pitiful
shouting.

"How could he?" said Carter Van Meter. "It was impossible--in that
condition! Honor, he couldn't----"

But Yaqui Juan strode to the little table where the empty decanter
stood, stooped, picked up a rough jug of decorative Mexican pottery from
an under shelf. Then, pausing until he saw that all their eyes were upon
him, he slowly poured its contents back into the decanter. The liquor
rose and rose until it reached the exact spot which Carter had pointed
out to Honor--the top of the design engraved on the glass. "_Mira_!"
said the Indian, sternly.

"_God_," said Carter Van Meter.

"He was acting! He was acting!" wept Mrs. King.

But Jimsy's Skipper sat on the floor, waving her arms, swaying her body
like a yell leader, still shouting his name in her cracked voice, and
then, crazily, her eyes wide as if she visualized a field, far away, a
game, a gallant figure speeding to victory, she sang:


     _You can't beat L. A. High!_
     _You can't beat L. A. High!_
     _Use your team to get up steam_
     _But you cant beat L. A. High!_



CHAPTER XVI


The Indian looked at Honor and the bitterness in his eyes melted a
little. "_Esta una loca_," he said.

It was quite true. She was a madwoman for the moment. They tried to
control her, to calm her, but she did not see or hear them. "Let her
alone," said Mrs. King. "At least she is happy, Carter. She'll realize
his danger in a minute, poor thing." She turned to Yaqui Juan at the
sound of his voice. He told her that he was going out after his young
lord. He was going to find Señor Don Diego, alive or dead. He had
promised him not to leave the locked room for two hours; he had kept his
word as long as he could endure it. Señor Don Diego had had time to come
back unless he had been captured. Now he, Yaqui Juan, whom the young
master had once saved, would go to him, to bring him back, or to die
with him. The solemn, grandiloquent words had nothing of melodrama in
them, falling from his grave lips. He took no pains to conceal his deep
scorn for them all.

Madeline King thought of her husband, wounded, helpless. "Oh,
Juan--must you leave us? If--if something has happened to him it only
means your life, too!"

"_Voy_!" said the Indian, "_I go_!" He turned and looked again at Honor,
this time with a warming pity in his bronze face. "_I will bring back
your man, Señorita_," he said in Spanish. "And this great strong
one"--he pierced Carter through with his black gaze--"shall guard you
till I come again." Then he smiled and flung at him that stinging
Spanish proverb which runs, "In the country of the blind the one-eyed
man is king!" Then he went out of the house, dropping to his hands and
knees, hugging the shadows, creeping along the tunnel of tropic green
which led to the ancient well.

Honor stopped her wild singing and shouting then, but she still sat on
the floor, striking her hands softly together, her dry lips parted in a
smile of utter peace.

"Come, Honor, take this chair!" Carter urged her, bending over her.

"I don't want a chair, Cartie," she said, gently. "I'm just waiting for
Jimsy." She looked up and caught the expression on Madeline King's face.
"Oh, you mustn't worry," she said, contentedly. "He'll bring him back.
Yaqui Juan will. He'll bring him back _safe_. Why, what kind of a God
would that be?--To let anything happen to him, _now_?" Her defense was
impregnable.

"Let her alone," said Mrs. King again. "She'll realize, soon enough,
poor child. Stay with her, Carter. I must go back to my husband." She
went away with a backward, pitying glance which yet held understanding.
She knew that danger and death and thirst were smaller things than
shame, this wife of a King who had held hard in her day.

Carter sat down and watched her drearily. He wasn't thinking now. He was
nothing at all but one burning, choking thirst, one aching resentment
... Jimsy King, who had won, after all ... who had won alive or dead.

Honor was silent for the most part but she was wholly serene. Sometimes
she spoke and her speech was harder to hear than her happy stillness.
"You know, Cartie, I can be glad it happened." She seemed to speak more
easily now, almost as if her thirst had been slaked; her voice was
clearer, steadier. "I should never have known how much I cared. It was
easy enough, wasn't it, to look at my ring and talk about 'holding hard'
when there wasn't really anything to hold _for_? I really found out
about caring to-night ... what it means. I guess I never really loved
him before to-night, Carter." She was not looking at him, hardly talking
to him; she seemed rather to be thinking aloud. Even if she had looked
him full in the face she would not have realized what she was doing to
him; there was only one realization for her now. "I guess I just loved
what he _was_--his glorious body and his eyes and the way his hair
_will_ wave--and what he could _do_--the winning, the people cheering
him. But to-night, when I thought--when I believed the very worst thing
in the world of him--when I thought he had failed me--then I found out.
Then I knew I loved--_him_." She leaned her head back against the arm of
the chair, and her hands rested, palm upward, in her lap. "It's worth
everything that's happened, to know that." She was mercifully still
again. Carter thought once that she must be asleep, she was breathing so
softly and evenly, but after a long pause she asked, with a shade of
difference in her tone, "How long has Juan been gone, Carter?"

He looked at his watch. "Twenty minutes. Perhaps half an hour."

Honor rose to her feet. "Well, then," she said with conviction, "they'll
be here soon! Any minute, now."

"They may not come." He could not help saying it.

"Oh, they'll come! They'll come very--" she stopped short at the sound
of a shot. "What was that?" she asked, childishly.

"That was a shot," said Carter, watching her face.

"But it wouldn't hurt Jimsy or Juan. They're nearly here! That was far
away, wasn't it, Carter?" Still her bright serenity held fear at bay.

"Not very far, Honor." He wanted to see that calm of hers broken up; he
wanted cruelly to make her sense the danger.

"But, Cartie," she explained to him, patiently, "you know nothing is
going to happen to Jimsy now, when I've just begun really to care for
him!" She opened the door and stepped out on the veranda, and he
followed her. "See--it's almost morning!" The east was gray and there
was a drowsy twittering of birds.

"It's the false dawn," said Carter stubbornly. "Listen--" another shot
rang out, then three in quick succession. "I believe they're chasing
Juan!"

The Mexican who was on guard held up a hand, commanding them to listen.
They held their breath. Through the soft silence they began to get the
sound of running feet, stumbling feet, running with difficulty, and in
another moment, up the green lane came Yaqui Juan, bent almost double
with the weight of Jimsy King across his back.

"Honor!" Carter tried to catch her. "Come back! You mustn't--Are you
crazy?"

But Honor and the Mexican who had been on guard at the steps were
running, side by side, to meet them. Yaqui Juan flung a word to the
_peón_ and he stood with his gun leveled, covering the path.

"_Mira_!" said the Indian, proudly. "_Señorita_, I have brought back
your man!"

"Skipper," cried Jimsy King in a strong voice, "get in the house! Get
_in_! I'm all right!"

Then, unaccountably, inconsistently, all the terror she had not suffered
before laid hold on her. "Jimsy! You're hurt! You're wounded!"

"Just a cut on the leg, Skipper! That's why I was so slow. It's nothing,
I tell you,--get in the house!"

But Honor, running beside them, trying to carry a part of him, kept pace
beside them until Yaqui Juan had carried Jimsy into the house and up the
stairs and laid him on his own bed.

"There are five canteens," said Jimsy. "Here--one's for you, Skipper.
Take the rest to Mrs. King, Juan. Skipper, drink it. Just a little at
first, you know--careful! Don't you hear what I'm saying to you?
Drink--the water--out of this canteen!"

Mechanically, her eyes always on his face, Honor loosened the cap and
opened the canteen and drank.

"There,--that's enough!" said Jimsy, sharply. "Now, wait five minutes
before you take any more." He took the canteen away from her. "Sit
down!" He was not meeting her eyes.

"Did you have any, Jimsy?"

"Gallons. I didn't have any trouble to speak of, really. Only one fellow
actually on guard. We had a little rough-house. He struck me in the leg,
and it bled a lot. That's what kept me. And it took--some time--with
him."

"Jimsy, is it bad? Is it still bleeding? Let me see!"

He pushed her away, almost roughly. "It's all right. Juan tied it up.
It'll do. I guess you can have a little more water, now,--but take it
slowly.... There! Now you'd better go and see about the rest. Don't let
them take too much at first."

"I'm not going away," said Honor, quietly. "I'm not going to leave you
again, ever." She pulled her chair close beside the bed and took his
hand in both of hers. "Jimsy, I know. I know everything."

"That darn' Indian," said Jimsy, crossly. "If he'd stayed in here, with
the door locked! I'd have been back in half an hour longer."

"And he poured the whisky back into the decanter. Oh, Jimsy----"

"Well, I suppose it was a fool stunt, but I knew I could put it over. I
did a booze-fighter in the Junior play,--and I guess it comes pretty
easy!" He turned away from her, his face to the wall. "I'd like to be
alone, now, Skipper. You'd better look after Cart'. Watch him on the
water. He'll kill himself if he takes too much."

"Jimsy, I'm not going to leave you."

He lifted himself on his elbow. "Skipper, dear," he said gently, "what's
the use? I suppose I took a crazy kid way to show you I wasn't worth
your sticking to, and I guess I'm not, if it comes to that, but the fact
remains, and we can't get away from it."

"What fact, Jimsy?"

"That you--care--for Carter."

"Jimsy, have you lost your senses? I--care for _Carter_?"

"He told me."

"Then," said Honor, her eyes darkening, "he told you a lie."

He dropped back on the pillow. He had lost a lot of blood before Yaqui
Juan found him and tied up his cut, and he looked white and spent. "Oh,
Skipper, please.... Let's not drag it out. I saw your message to him."

"What message?"

"The one you sent to the steamer, after he'd lost his head and told you
he loved you,--and--and asked you if you loved him." Difficult words;
grotesque and meaningless, but he must manage with them. "I'm not
blaming you, Skipper. I know I'm slow in the head beside Cart' and he
can give you a lot that I can't. And nothing--hanging over him. You'd
have played the game through to the last gun; I know that. But it
wouldn't have been right for any of us. I'm glad Cart' blew up and told
me."

Honor laid his hand gently back on the bedspread of exquisite Mexican
drawnwork and stood up. "Carter showed you the telegram I sent him from
Genoa?"

"Yes. He carries it always in his wallet."

"He told you it meant that I loved him?"

"Skipper, don't feel like that about it. It had to come out, some time."
His voice sounded weary and weak.

She bent over him, speaking gently. "Be quiet, Jimsy; lie still. I'm
going to bring Carter up here."

"Oh, Skipper, what's the use? You--you make me wish that greaser had
finished me, down at the well. Please----"

"Wait!"

He heard her feet in the hall, flying down the stairs, and he turned his
face to the wall again, his young mouth quivering.

She found Carter lying on the wide couch, one arm trailing limply over
the side of it, the emptied canteen dangling from his hand, and he was
breathing with difficulty. His face was darkly mottled and congested but
Honor did not notice it. "Carter," she said, "I want you to come with me
and tell Jimsy how you lied to him. I want you to tell him what my
message really meant."

"I--can't come--now," he gasped. "I can't--" he tried to raise himself
but he fell back on the pillows.

"Then give me your wallet," she said, implacably, bending over him.

"No, _no_! It isn't there--wait! By and by I'll----" but his eyes
betrayed him.

Roughly, with fierce haste, she thrust her hand into his coat pocket and
pulled out his wallet of limp leather with the initials in slimly
wrought gold letters.

"Please, Honor! Please,--let me--I'll give you--I'll find it--" he
clutched at her dress but she stepped back from the couch and he lost
his balance and fell heavily to the floor.

When she pulled out the bit of closely folded paper with a sharp sound
of triumph there came with it a thick letter which dropped on the red
tiles. He snatched at it but Honor's downward swoop was swifter. She
stood staring at it, her eyes opening wider and wider, turning the plump
letter in her hands.

"Jimsy's letter to me," she said at last in a flat, curious tone. "The
one he gave you to mail." She was not exclamatory. She was too utterly
stunned for that. She seemed to be considering a course of action, her
brows drawn. "I won't tell Jimsy; I'm--afraid of what he'd do. I'll let
him go on believing in you, if you go away."

He looked up at her from his horrid huddle on the floor, through his
bloodshot eyes, the boy who had taught her so much about books and plays
and dinners in restaurants and the right sort of music to admire, and it
seemed to him that her long known, long loved face was a wholly strange
one, sharply chiseled from cold stone.

"If you'll go away," she went on, "I won't tell him about the letter."
She was looking at him curiously, as if she had never seen him before.
"All these years I've been sorry for you because you limped. But I
haven't been sorry enough. I see now; it's--your soul that limps. Well,
you must limp away, out of our lives. I won't have you near us. You've
tried and tried to drag him down but something--somewhere--has held him
up! As soon as help comes-to-morrow--to-day--I'm going to marry him,
here, in Mexico, and I'll never leave him again as long as we live. Do
you hear?"

She turned to go, but he made a smothered, inarticulate sound and she
looked down at him, and down and down, to the depths where he lay. "You
poor--thing," she said, gently. "Oh, you poor thing!"

She ran up to Jimsy and sat down on the edge of his bed and gathered him
into her arms, so that his head rested on her breast. "Carter--poor
Carter," she said, "is too weak to come upstairs now, but I am going to
tell you the whole truth, and you are going to believe me. Listen,
dearest----"

They were still like that, still talking, when Madeline King rushed into
the room. "Children," she cried, "oh, my dears--haven't you heard them?
Don't you know?"

"No," they told her, smiling with courteous young attention.

"They're here--the soldiers! It's all right!" She was crying
contentedly. "Rich' is conscious,--he understands. My dears, we're
saved! I tell you we're saved!"

"Oh, we knew that," said Honor, gravely.





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