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- A Phyllis of the Sierras - 6/17 -
visiting The Lookout, solely on your account, my dear fellow."
"But I wrote him that I was much better, and it wasn't necessary for him to come," said Mainwaring.
"He makes an excuse of some law business with me. I suppose he considers the mere fact of his taking the trouble to come here, all the way from San Francisco, a sufficient honor to justify any absence of formal invitation," said Bradley, smiling.
"But he's only--I mean he's my father's banker," said Mainwaring, correcting himself, "and--you don't keep a hotel."
"Not yet," returned Bradley, with a mischievous glance at the two women, "but The Lookout is elastic, and I dare say we can manage to put him up."
A silence ensued. It seemed as if some shadow, or momentary darkening of the brilliant atmosphere; some film across the mirror- like expanse of the open windows, or misty dimming of their wholesome light, had arisen to their elevation. Mainwaring felt that he was looking forward with unreasoning indignation and uneasiness to this impending interruption of their idyllic life; Mrs. Bradley and Louise, who had become a little more constrained and formal under Minty's freedom, were less sympathetic; even the irrepressible Minty appeared absorbed in the responsibilities of the dinner.
Bradley alone preserved his usual patient good-humor. "We'll take our coffee on the veranda, and the ladies will join us by and by, Mainwaring; besides, I don't know that I can allow you, as an invalid, to go entirely through Minty's bountiful menu at present. You shall have the sweets another time."
When they were alone on the veranda, he said, between the puffs of his black brier-wood pipe,--a pet aversion of Mrs. Bradley,--"I wonder how Richardson will accept Minty!"
"If I can, I think he MUST," returned Mainwaring, dryly. "By Jove, it will be great fun to see him; but"--he stopped and hesitated--"I don't know about the ladies. I don't think, you know, that they'll stand Minty again before another stranger."
Bradley glanced quickly at the young man; their eyes met, and they both joined in a superior and, I fear, disloyal smile. After a pause Bradley, as if in a spirit of further confidence, took his pipe from his mouth and pointed to the blue abyss before them.
"Look at that profundity, Mainwaring, and think of it ever being bullied and overawed by a long veranda-load of gaping, patronizing tourists, and the idiotic flirting females of their species. Think of a lot of over-dressed creatures flouting those severe outlines and deep-toned distances with frippery and garishness. You know how you have been lulled to sleep by that delicious, indefinite, far-off murmur of the canyon at night--think of it being broken by a crazy waltz or a monotonous german--by the clatter of waiters and the pop of champagne corks. And yet, by thunder, those women are capable of liking both and finding no discord in them!"
"Dancing ain't half bad, you know," said Mainwaring, conscientiously, "if a chap's got the wind to do it; and all Americans, especially the women, dance better than we do. But I say, Bradley, to hear you talk, a fellow wouldn't suspect you were as big a Vandal as anybody, with a beastly, howling saw-mill in the heart of the primeval forest. By Jove, you quite bowled me over that first day we met, when you popped your head out of that delirium tremens shaking mill, like the very genius of destructive improvement."
"But that was FIGHTING Nature, not patronizing her; and it's a business that pays. That reminds me that I must go back to it," said Bradley, rising and knocking the ashes from his pipe.
"Not AFTER dinner, surely!" said Mainwaring, in surprise. "Come now, that's too much like the bolting Yankee of the travellers' books."
"There's a heavy run to get through tonight. We're working against time," returned Bradley. Even while speaking he had vanished within the house, returned quickly--having replaced his dark suit by jean trousers tucked in heavy boots, and a red flannel shirt over his starched white one--and, nodding gayly to Mainwaring, stepped from the lower end of the veranda. "The beggar actually looks pleased to go," said Mainwaring to himself in wonderment.
"Oh! Jim," said Mrs. Bradley, appearing at the door.
"Yes," said Bradley, faintly, from the bushes.
"Minty's ready. You might take her home."
"All right. I'll wait."
"I hope I haven't frightened Miss Sharpe away," said Mainwaring. "She isn't going, surely?"
"Only to get some better clothes, on account of company. I'm afraid you are giving her a good deal of trouble, Mr. Mainwaring," said Mrs. Bradley, laughing.
"She wished me to say good-by to you for her, as she couldn't come on the veranda in her old shawl and sun-bonnet," added Louise, who had joined them. "What do you really think of her, Mr. Mainwaring? I call her quite pretty, at times. Don't you?"
Mainwaring knew not what to say. He could not understand why they could have any special interest in the girl, or care to know what he, a perfect stranger, thought of her. He avoided a direct reply, however, by playfully wondering how Mrs. Bradley could subject her husband to Miss Minty's undivided fascinations.
"Oh, Jim always takes her home--if it's in the evening. He gets along with these people better than we do," returned Mrs. Bradley, dryly. "But," she added, with a return of her piquant Quaker-like coquettishness, "Jim says we are to devote ourselves to you to- night--in retaliation, I suppose. We are to amuse you, and not let you get excited; and you are to be sent to bed early."
It is to be feared that these latter wise precautions--invaluable for all defenceless and enfeebled humanity--were not carried out: and it was late when Mainwaring eventually retired, with brightened eyes and a somewhat accelerated pulse. For the ladies, who had quite regained that kindly equanimity which Minty had rudely interrupted, had also added a delicate and confidential sympathy in their relations with Mainwaring,--as of people who had suffered in common,--and he experienced these tender attentions at their hands which any two women are emboldened by each other's saving presence to show any single member of our sex. Indeed, he hardly knew if his satisfaction was the more complete when Mrs. Bradley, withdrawing for a few moments, left him alone on the veranda with Louise and the vast, omnipotent night.
For a while they sat silent, in the midst of the profound and measureless calm. Looking down upon the dim moonlit abyss at their feet, they themselves seemed a part of this night that arched above it; the half-risen moon appeared to linger long enough at their side to enwrap and suffuse them with its glory; a few bright stars quietly ringed themselves around them, and looked wonderingly into the level of their own shining eyes. For some vague yearning to humanity seemed to draw this dark and passionless void towards them. The vast protecting maternity of Nature leant hushed and breathless over the solitude. Warm currents of air rose occasionally from the valley, which one might have believed were sighs from its full and overflowing breast, or a grateful coolness swept their cheeks and hair when the tranquil heights around them were moved to slowly respond. Odors from invisible bay and laurel sometimes filled the air; the incense of some rare and remoter cultivated meadow beyond their ken, or the strong germinating breath of leagues of wild oats, that had yellowed the upland by day. In the silence and shadow, their voices took upon themselves, almost without their volition, a far-off confidential murmur, with intervals of meaning silence--rather as if their thoughts had spoken for themselves, and they had stopped wonderingly to listen. They talked at first vaguely to this discreet audience of space and darkness, and then, growing bolder, spoke to each other and of themselves. Invested by the infinite gravity of nature, they had no fear of human ridicule to restrain their youthful conceit or the extravagance of their unimportant confessions. They talked of their tastes, of their habits, of their friends and acquaintances. They settled some points of doctrine, duty, and etiquette, with the sweet seriousness of youth and its all-powerful convictions. The listening vines would have recognized no flirtation or love-making in their animated but important confidences; yet when Mrs. Bradley reappeared to warn the invalid that it was time to seek his couch, they both coughed slightly in the nervous consciousness of some unaccustomed quality in their voices, and a sense of interruption far beyond their own or the innocent intruder's ken.
"Well?" said Mrs. Bradley, in the sitting-room as Mainwaring's steps retreated down the passage to his room.
"Well," said Louise with a slight yawn, leaning her pretty shoulders languidly against the door-post, as she shaded her moonlight-accustomed eyes from the vulgar brilliancy of Mrs. Bradley's bedroom candle. "Well--oh, he talked a great deal about 'his people' as he called them, and I talked about us. He's very nice. You know in some things he's really like a boy."
"He looks much better."
"Yes; but he is far from strong yet."
Meantime, Mainwaring had no other confidant of his impressions than his own thoughts. Mingled with his exaltation, which was the more seductive that it had no well-defined foundation for existing, and implied no future responsibility, was a recurrence of his uneasiness at the impending visit of Richardson the next day. Strangely enough, it had increased under the stimulus of the evening. Just as he was really getting on with the family, he felt sure that this visitor would import some foreign element into their familiarity, as Minty had done. It was possible they would not like him: now he remembered there was really something ostentatiously British and insular about this Richardson--something they would likely resent. Why couldn't this fellow have come later--or even before? Before what? But here he fell asleep, and almost instantly slipped from this veranda in the Sierras, six thousand miles away, to an ancient terrace, overgrown with moss and tradition, that overlooked the sedate glory of an English park. Here he found himself, restricted painfully by his inconsistent night-clothes, endeavoring to impress his mother and sisters with the singular virtues and excellences of his American host and hostesses--virtues and excellences that he
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