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- The Little Lady of the Big House - 20/60 -

according to the scientific methods embodied in our instructions. The land is uniform. Every holding is like a pea in the pod to every other holding. The results of each holding will speak in no uncertain terms. The failure of any farmer, through laziness or stupidity, measured by the average result of the entire two hundred and fifty farmers, will not be tolerated. Out the failures must go, convicted by the average of their fellows.

"It's a fair deal. No farmer risks anything. With the food he may grow and he and his family may consume, plus a cash salary of a thousand a year, he is certain, good seasons and bad, stupid or intelligent, of at least a hundred dollars a month. The stupid and the inefficient will be bound to be eliminated by the intelligent and the efficient. That's all. It will demonstrate intensive farming with a vengeance. And there is more than the certain salary guaranty. After the salary is paid, the adventure must yield six per cent, to me. If more than this is achieved, then the entire hundred per cent, of the additional achievement goes to the farmer."

"Which means that each farmer with go in him will work nights to make good--I see," said the _Gazette_ man. "And why not? Hundred- dollar jobs aren't picked up for the asking. The average farmer in the United States doesn't net fifty a month on his own land, especially when his wages of superintendence and of direct personal labor are subtracted. Of course able men will work their heads off to hold to such a proposition, and they'll see to it that every member of the family does the same."

"'Tis the one objection I have to this place," Terrence McFane, who had just joined the group, announced. "Ever one hears but the one thing--work. 'Tis repulsive, the thought of the work, each on his twenty acres, toilin' and moilin', daylight till dark, and after dark-- an' for what? A bit of meat, a bit of bread, and, maybe, a bit of jam on the bread. An' to what end? Is meat an' bread an' jam the end of it all, the meaning of life, the goal of existence? Surely the man will die, like a work horse dies, after a life of toil. And what end has been accomplished? Bread an' meat an' jam? Is that it? A full belly and shelter from the cold till one's body drops apart in the dark moldiness of the grave?"

"But, Terrence, you, too, will die," Dick Forrest retorted.

"But, oh, my glorious life of loafing," came the instant answer. "The hours with the stars and the flowers, under the green trees with the whisperings of breezes in the grass. My books, my thinkers and their thoughts. Beauty, music, all the solaces of all the arts. What? When I fade into the dark I shall have well lived and received my wage for living. But these twenty-acre work-animals of two-legged men of yours! Daylight till dark, toil and moil, sweat on the shirts on the backs of them that dries only to crust, meat and bread in their bellies, roofs that don't leak, a brood of youngsters to live after them, to live the same beast-lives of toil, to fill their bellies with the same meat and bread, to scratch their backs with the same sweaty shirts, and to go into the dark knowing only meat and bread, and, mayhap, a bit of jam."

"But somebody must do the work that enables you to loaf," Mr. Wombold spoke up indignantly.

"'Tis true, 'tis sad 'tis true," Terrence replied lugubriously. Then his face beamed. "And I thank the good Lord for it, for the work- beasties that drag and drive the plows up and down the fields, for the bat-eyed miner-beasties that dig the coal and gold, for all the stupid peasant-beasties that keep my hands soft, and give power to fine fellows like Dick there, who smiles on me and shares the loot with me, and buys the latest books for me, and gives me a place at his board that is plenished by the two-legged work-beasties, and a place at his fire that is builded by the same beasties, and a shack and a bed in the jungle under the madroņo trees where never work intrudes its monstrous head."

Evan Graham was slow in getting ready for bed that night. He was unwontedly stirred both by the Big House and by the Little Lady who was its mistress. As he sat on the edge of the bed, half-undressed, and smoked out a pipe, he kept seeing her in memory, as he had seen her in the flesh the past twelve hours, in her varied moods and guises--the woman who had talked music with him, and who had expounded music to him to his delight; who had enticed the sages into the discussion and abandoned him to arrange the bridge tables for her guests; who had nestled in the big chair as girlish as the two girls with her; who had, with a hint of steel, quelled her husband's obstreperousness when he had threatened to sing Mountain Lad's song; who, unafraid, had bestridden the half-drowning stallion in the swimming tank; and who, a few hours later, had dreamed into the dining room, distinctive in dress and person, to meet her many guests.

The Big House, with all its worthy marvels and bizarre novelties, competed with the figure of Paula Forrest in filling the content of his imagination. Once again, and yet again, many times, he saw the slender fingers of Dar Hyal weaving argument in the air, the black whiskers of Aaron Hancock enunciating Bergsonian dogmas, the frayed coat-cuffs of Terrence McFane articulating thanks to God for the two- legged work-beasties that enabled him to loaf at Dick Forrest's board and under Dick Forrest's madroņo trees.

Graham knocked out his pipe, took a final sweeping survey of the strange room which was the last word in comfort, pressed off the lights, and found himself between cool sheets in the wakeful dark. Again he heard Paula Forrest laugh; again he sensed her in terms of silver and steel and strength; again, against the dark, he saw that inimitable knee-lift of her gown. The bright vision of it was almost an irk to him, so impossible was it for him to shake it from his eyes. Ever it returned and burned before him, a moving image of light and color that he knew to be subjective but that continually asserted the illusion of reality.

He saw stallion and rider sink beneath the water, and rise again, a flurry of foam and floundering of hoofs, and a woman's face that laughed while she drowned her hair in the drowning mane of the beast. And the first ringing bars of the Prelude sounded in his ears as again he saw the same hands that had guided the stallion lift the piano to all Rachmaninoff's pure splendor of sound.

And when Graham finally fell asleep, it was in the thick of marveling over the processes of evolution that could produce from primeval mire and dust the glowing, glorious flesh and spirit of woman.


The next morning Graham learned further the ways of the Big House. Oh My had partly initiated him in particular things the preceding day and had learned that, after the waking cup of coffee, he preferred to breakfast at table, rather than in bed. Also, Oh My had warned him that breakfast at table was an irregular affair, anywhere between seven and nine, and that the breakfasters merely drifted in at their convenience. If he wanted a horse, or if he wanted a swim or a motor car, or any ranch medium or utility he desired, Oh My informed him, all he had to do was to call for it.

Arriving in the breakfast room at half past seven, Graham found himself just in time to say good-by to the _Gazette_ man and the Idaho buyer, who, finishing, were just ready to catch the ranch machine that connected at Eldorado with the morning train for San Francisco. He sat alone, being perfectly invited by a perfect Chinese servant to order as he pleased, and found himself served with his first desire--an ice-cold, sherried grapefruit, which, the table-boy proudly informed him, was "grown on the ranch." Declining variously suggested breakfast foods, mushes, and porridges, Graham had just ordered his soft-boiled eggs and bacon, when Bert Wainwright drifted in with a casualness that Graham recognized as histrionic, when, five minutes later, in boudoir cap and delectable negligee, Ernestine Desten drifted in and expressed surprise at finding such a multitude of early risers.

Later, as the three of them were rising from table, they greeted Lute Desten and Rita Wainwright arriving. Over the billiard table with Bert, Graham learned that Dick Forrest never appeared for breakfast, that he worked in bed from terribly wee small hours, had coffee at six, and only on unusual occasions appeared to his guests before the twelve-thirty lunch. As for Paula Forrest, Bert explained, she was a poor sleeper, a late riser, lived behind a door without a knob in a spacious wing with a rare and secret patio that even he had seen but once, and only on infrequent occasion was she known to appear before twelve-thirty, and often not then.

"You see, she's healthy and strong and all that," he explained, "but she was born with insomnia. She never could sleep. She couldn't sleep as a little baby even. But it's never hurt her any, because she's got a will, and won't let it get on her nerves. She's just about as tense as they make them, yet, instead of going wild when she can't sleep, she just wills to relax, and she does relax. She calls them her `white nights,' when she gets them. Maybe she'll fall asleep at daybreak, or at nine or ten in the morning; and then she'll sleep the rest of the clock around and get down to dinner as chipper as you please."

"It's constitutional, I fancy," Graham suggested.

Bert nodded.

"It would be a handicap to nine hundred and ninety-nine women out of a thousand. But not to her. She puts up with it, and if she can't sleep one time--she should worry--she just sleeps some other time and makes it up."

More and other things Bert Wainwright told of his hostess, and Graham was not slow in gathering that the young man, despite the privileges of long acquaintance, stood a good deal in awe of her.

"I never saw anybody whose goat she couldn't get if she went after it," he confided. "Man or woman or servant, age, sex, and previous condition of servitude--it's all one when she gets on the high and mighty. And I don't see how she does it. Maybe it's just a kind of light that comes into her eyes, or some kind of an expression on her lips, or, I don't know what--anyway, she puts it across and nobody makes any mistake about it."

"She has a ... a way with her," Graham volunteered.

"That's it!" Bert's face beamed. "It's a way she has. She just puts it over. Kind of gives you a chilly feeling, you don't know why. Maybe she's learned to be so quiet about it because of the control she's learned by passing sleepless nights without squealing out or getting sour. The chances are she didn't bat an eye all last night-- excitement, you know, the crowd, swimming Mountain Lad and such things. Now ordinary things that'd keep most women awake, like danger, or storm at sea, and such things, Dick says don't faze her. She can

The Little Lady of the Big House - 20/60

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