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- THE THREE PARTNERS - 20/36 -


The brief mountain twilight was giving way now to the radiance of the rising moon. He endeavored to fix his thoughts upon his partners who were to meet him at Hymettus after these long years of separation.

Hymettus! He recalled now the odd coincidence that he had mischievously used as a gag to his questioning fellow traveler; but now he had really come from a villa near Athens to find his old house thus classically rechristened after it, and thought of it with a gravity he had not felt before. He wondered who had named it. There was no suggestion of the soft, sensuous elegance of the land he had left in those great heroics of nature before him. Those enormous trees were no woods for fauns or dryads; they had their own godlike majesty of bulk and height, and as he at last climbed the summit and saw the dark-helmeted head of Black Spur before him, and beyond it the pallid, spiritual cloud of the Sierras, he did not think of Olympus. Yet for a moment he was startled, as he turned to the right, by the Doric-columned facade of a temple painted by the moonbeams and framed in an opening of the dark woods before him. It was not until he had reached it that he saw that it was the new wooden post-office of Heavy Tree Hill.

And now the buildings of the new settlement began to faintly appear. But the obscurity of the shadow and the equally disturbing unreality of the moonlight confused him in his attempts to recognize the old landmarks. A broad and well-kept winding road had taken the place of the old steep, but direct trail to his cabin. He had walked for some moments in uncertainty, when a sudden sweep of the road brought the full crest of the hill above and before him, crowned with a tiara of lights, overtopping a long base of flashing windows. That was all that was left of Heavy Tree Hill. The old foreground of buckeye and odorous ceanothus was gone. Even the great grove of pines behind it had vanished.

There was already a stir of life in the road, and he could see figures moving slowly along a kind of sterile, formal terrace spread with a few dreary marble vases and plaster statues which had replaced the natural slope and the great quartz buttresses of outcrop that supported it. Presently he entered a gate, and soon found himself in the carriage drive leading to the hotel veranda. A number of fair promenaders were facing the keen mountain night wind in wraps and furs. Demorest had replaced his coat, but his boots were red with dust, and as he ascended the steps he could see that he was eyed with some superciliousness by the guests and with considerable suspicion by the servants. One of the latter was approaching him with an insolent smile when a figure darted from the vestibule, and, brushing the waiter aside, seized Demorest's two hands in his and held him at arm's length.

"Demorest, old man!"

"Stacy, old chap!"

"But where's your team? I've had all the spare hostlers and hall- boys listening for you at the gate. And where's Barker? When he found you'd given the dead-cut to the railroad--HIS railroad, you know--he loped over to Boomville after you."

Demorest briefly explained that he had walked by the old road and probably missed him. But by this time the waiters, crushed by the spectacle of this travel-worn stranger's affectionate reception by the great financial magnate, were wildly applying their brushes and handkerchiefs to his trousers and boots until Stacy again swept them away.

"Get off, all of you! Now, Phil, you come with me. The house is full, but I've made the manager give you a lady's drawing-room suite. When you telegraphed you'd meet us HERE there was no chance to get anything else. It's really Mrs. Van Loo's family suite; but they were sent for to go to Marysville yesterday, and so we'll run you in for the night."

"But"--protested Demorest.

"Nonsense!" said Stacy, dragging him away. "We'll pay for it; and I reckon the old lady won't object to taking her share of the damage either, or she isn't Van Loo's mother. Come."

Demorest felt himself hurried forward by the energetic Stacy, preceded by the obsequious manager, through a corridor to a handsomely furnished suite, into whose bathroom Stacy incontinently thrust him.

"There! Wash up; and by the time you're ready Barker ought to be back, and we'll have supper. It's waiting for us in the other room."

"But how about Barker, the dear boy?" persisted Demorest, holding open the door. "Tell me, is he well and happy?"

"About as well as we all are," said Stacy quickly, yet with a certain dry significance. "Never mind now; wait until you see him."

The door closed. When Demorest had finished washing, and wiped away the last red stain of the mountain road, he found Stacy seated by the window of the larger sitting-room. In the centre a table was spread for supper. A bright fire of hickory logs burnt on a marble hearth between two large windows that gave upon the distant outline of Black Spur. As Stacy turned towards him, by the light of the shaded lamp and flickering fire, Demorest had a good look at the face of his old friend and partner. It was as keen and energetic as ever, with perhaps an even more hawk-like activity visible in the eye and nostril; but it was more thoughtful and reticent in the lines of the mouth under the closely clipped beard and mustache, and when he looked up, at first there were two deep lines or furrows across his low broad forehead. Demorest fancied, too, that there was a little of the old fighting look in his eye, but it softened quickly as his friend approached, and he burst out with his curt but honest single-syllabled laugh. "Ha! You look a little less like a roving Apache than you did when you came. I really thought the waiters were going to chuck you. And you ARE tanned! Darned if you don't look like the profile stamped on a Continental penny! But here's luck and a welcome back, old man!"

Demorest passed his arm around the neck of his seated partner, and grasping his upraised hand said, looking down with a smile, "And now about Barker."

"Oh, Parker, d--n him! He's the same unshakable, unchangeable, ungrow-upable Barker! With the devil's own luck, too! Waltzing into risks and waltzing out of 'em. With fads enough to put him in the insane asylum if people did not prefer to keep him out of it to help 'em. Always believing in everybody, until they actually believe in themselves, and shake him! And he's got a wife that's making a fool of herself, and I shouldn't wonder in time--of him!"

Demorest pressed his hand over his partner's mouth. "Come, Jim! You know you never really liked that marriage, simply because you thought that old man Carter made a good thing of it. And you never seem to have taken into consideration the happiness Barker got out of it, for he DID love the girl. And he still is happy, is he not?" he added quickly, as Stacy uttered a grunt.

"As happy as a man can be who has his child here with a nurse while his wife is gallivanting in San Francisco, and throwing her money-- and Lord knows what else--away at the bidding of a smooth-tongued, shady operator."

"Does HE complain of it?" asked Demorest.

"Not he; the fool trusts her!" said Stacy curtly.

Demorest laughed. "That is happiness! Come, Jim! don't let us begrudge him that. But I've heard that his affairs have again prospered."

"He built this railroad and this hotel. The bank owns both now. He didn't care to keep money in them after they were a success; said he wasn't an engineer nor a hotel-keeper, and drew it out to find something new. But here he comes," he added, as a horseman dashed into the drive before the hotel. "Question him yourself. You know you and he always get along best without me."

In another moment Barker had burst into the room, and in his first tempestuous greeting of Demorest the latter saw little change in his younger partner as he held him at arm's length to look at him. "Why, Barker boy, you haven't got a bit older since the day when-- you remember--you went over to Boomville to cash your bonds, and then came back and burst upon us like this to tell us you were a beggar."

"Yes," laughed Barker, "and all the while you fellows were holding four aces up your sleeve in the shape of the big strike."

"And you, Georgy, old boy," returned Demorest, swinging Barker's two hands backwards and forwards, "were holding a royal flush up yours in the shape of your engagement to Kitty."

The fresh color died out of Barker's cheek even while the frank laugh was still on his mouth. He turned his face for a moment towards the window, and a swift and almost involuntary glance passed between the others. But he almost as quickly turned his glistening eyes back to Demorest again, and said eagerly, "Yes, dear Kitty! You shall see her and the baby to-morrow."

Then they fell upon the supper with the appetites of the Past, and for some moments they all talked eagerly and even noisily together, all at the same time, with even the spirits of the Past. They recalled every detail of their old life; eagerly and impetuously recounted the old struggles, hopes, and disappointments, gave the strange importance of schoolboys to unimportant events, and a mystic meaning to a shibboleth of their own; roared over old jokes with a delight they had never since given to new; reawakened idiotic nicknames and bywords with intense enjoyment; grew grave, anxious, and agonized over forgotten names, trifling dates, useless distances, ineffective records, and feeble chronicles of their domestic economy. It was the thoughtful and melancholy Demorest who remembered the exact color and price paid for a certain shirt bought from a Greaser peddler amidst the envy of his companions; it was the financial magnate, Stacy, who could inform them what were the exact days they had saleratus bread and when flapjacks; it was the thoughtless and mercurial Barker who recalled with unheard-of accuracy, amidst the applause of the others, the full name of the Indian squaw who assisted at their washing. Even then they were almost feverishly loath to leave the subject, as if the Past, at least, was secure to them still, and they were even doubtful of their own free and full accord in the Present. Then they slipped rather reluctantly into their later experiences, but with scarcely


THE THREE PARTNERS - 20/36

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