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- The Little Lady of the Big House - 30/60 -


By this time Dick's cigarette case and matches and Paula's second boot, belt, skirt-pin, and wedding ring had joined the mound of forfeits. Mrs. Tully, her face set in stoic resignation, was silent.

"Jong-Keena, Jong-Keena," Paula laughed and sang on, and Graham heard Ernestine laugh to Bert, "I don't see what she can spare next."

"Well, you know her," he heard Bert answer. "She's game once she gets started, and it certainly looks like she's started."

"_Hoy_!" Paula and Dick cried simultaneously, as they thrust out their hands.

But Dick's were closed, and hers were open. Graham watched her vainly quest her person for the consequent forfeit.

"Come on, Lady Godiva," Dick commanded. "You hae sung, you hae danced; now pay the piper."

"Was the man a fool?" was Graham's thought. "And a man with a wife like that."

"Well," Paula sighed, her fingers playing with the fastenings of her blouse, "if I must, I must."

Raging inwardly, Graham averted his gaze, and kept it averted. There was a pause, in which he knew everybody must be hanging on what she would do next. Then came a giggle from Ernestine, a burst of laughter from all, and, "A frame-up!" from Bert, that overcame Graham's resoluteness. He looked quickly. The Little Lady's blouse was off, and, from the waist up, she appeared in her swimming suit. It was evident that she had dressed over it for the ride.

"Come on, Lute--you next," Dick was challenging.

But Lute, not similarly prepared for _Jong-Keena_, blushingly led the retreat of the girls to the dressing rooms.

Graham watched Paula poise at the forty-foot top of the diving scaffold and swan-dive beautifully into the tank; heard Bert's admiring "Oh, you Annette Kellerman!" and, still chagrined by the trick that had threatened to outrage him, fell to wondering about the wonder woman, the Little Lady of the Big House, and how she had happened so wonderfully to be. As he fetched down the length of tank, under water, moving with leisurely strokes and with open eyes watching the shoaling bottom, it came to him that he did not know anything about her. She was Dick Forrest's wife. That was all he knew. How she had been born, how she had lived, how and where her past had been--of all this he knew nothing.

Ernestine had told him that Lute and she were half sisters of Paula. That was one bit of data, at any rate. (Warned by the increasing brightness of the bottom that he had nearly reached the end of the tank, and recognizing Dick's and Bert's legs intertwined in what must be a wrestling bout, Graham turned about, still under water, and swam back a score or so of feet.) There was that Mrs. Tully whom Paula had addressed as Aunt Martha. Was she truly an aunt? Or was she a courtesy Aunt through sisterhood with the mother of Lute and Ernestine?

He broke surface, was hailed by the others to join in bull-in-the- ring; in which strenuous sport, for the next half hour, he was compelled more than once to marvel at the litheness and agility, as well as strategy, of Paula in her successful efforts at escaping through the ring. Concluding the game through weariness, breathing hard, the entire party raced the length of the tank and crawled out to rest in the sunshine in a circle about Mrs. Tully.

Soon there was more fun afoot, and Paula was contending impossible things with Mrs. Tully.

"Now, Aunt Martha, just because you never learned to swim is no reason for you to take such a position. I am a real swimmer, and I tell you I can dive right into the tank here, and stay under for ten minutes."

"Nonsense, child," Mrs. Tully beamed. "Your father, when he was young, a great deal younger than you, my dear, could stay under water longer than any other man; and his record, as I know, was three minutes and forty seconds, as I very well know, for I held the watch myself and kept the time when he won against Harry Selby on a wager."

"Oh, I know my father was some man in his time," Paula swaggered; "but times have changed. If I had the old dear here right now, in all his youthful excellence, I'd drown him if he tried to stay under water with me. Ten minutes? Of course I can do ten minutes. And I will. You hold the watch, Aunt Martha, and time me. Why, it's as easy as--"

"Shooting fish in a bucket," Dick completed for her.

Paula climbed to the platform above the springboard.

"Time me when I'm in the air," she said.

"Make your turn and a half," Dick called.

She nodded, smiled, and simulated a prodigious effort at filling her lungs to their utmost capacity. Graham watched enchanted. A diver himself, he had rarely seen the turn and a half attempted by women other than professionals. Her wet suit of light blue and green silk clung closely to her, showing the lines of her justly proportioned body. With what appeared to be an agonized gulp for the last cubic inch of air her lungs could contain, she sprang up, out, and down, her body vertical and stiff, her legs straight, her feet close together as they impacted on the springboard end. Flung into the air by the board, she doubled her body into a ball, made a complete revolution, then straightened out in perfect diver's form, and in a perfect dive, with scarcely a ripple, entered the water.

"A Toledo blade would have made more splash," was Graham's verdict.

"If only I could dive like that," Ernestine breathed her admiration. "But I never shall. Dick says diving is a matter of timing, and that's why Paula does it so terribly well. She's got the sense of time--"

"And of abandon," Graham added.

"Of willed abandon," Dick qualified.

"Of relaxation by effort," Graham agreed. "I've never seen a professional do so perfect a turn and a half."

"And I'm prouder of it than she is," Dick proclaimed. "You see, I taught her, though I confess it was an easy task. She coordinates almost effortlessly. And that, along with her will and sense of time-- why her first attempt was better than fair."

"Paula is a remarkable woman," Mrs. Tully said proudly, her eyes fluttering between the second hand of the watch and the unbroken surface of the pool. "Women never swim so well as men. But she does.-- Three minutes and forty seconds! She's beaten her father!"

"But she won't stay under any five minutes, much less ten," Dick solemnly stated. "She'll burst her lungs first."

At four minutes, Mrs. Tully began to show excitement and to look anxiously from face to face. Captain Lester, not in the secret, scrambled to his feet with an oath and dived into the tank.

"Something has happened," Mrs. Tully said with controlled quietness. "She hurt herself on that dive. Go in after her, you men."

But Graham and Bert and Dick, meeting under water, gleefully grinned and squeezed hands. Dick made signs for them to follow, and led the way through the dark-shadowed water into the crypt, where, treading water, they joined Paula in subdued whisperings and gigglings.

"Just came to make sure you were all right," Dick explained. "And now we've got to beat it.--You first, Bert. I'll follow Evan."

And, one by one, they went down through the dark water and came up on the surface of the pool. By this time Mrs. Tully was on her feet and standing by the edge of the tank.

"If I thought this was one of your tricks, Dick Forrest," she began.

But Dick, paying no attention, acting preternaturally calmly, was directing the men loudly enough for her to hear.

"We've got to make this systematic, fellows. You, Bert, and you, Evan, join with me. We start at this end, five feet apart, and search the bottom across. Then move along and repeat it back."

"Don't exert yourselves, gentlemen," Mrs. Tully called, beginning to laugh. "As for you, Dick, you come right out. I want to box your ears."

"Take care of her, you girls," Dick shouted. "She's got hysterics."

"I haven't, but I will have," she laughed.

"But damn it all, madam, this is no laughing matter!" Captain Lester spluttered breathlessly, as he prepared for another trip to explore the bottom.

"Are you on, Aunt Martha, really and truly on?" Dick asked, after the valiant mariner had gone down.

Mrs. Tully nodded. "But keep it up, Dick, you've got one dupe. Elsie Coghlan's mother told me about it in Honolulu last year."

Not until eleven minutes had elapsed did the smiling face of Paula break the surface. Simulating exhaustion, she slowly crawled out and sank down panting near her aunt. Captain Lester, really exhausted by his strenuous exertions at rescue, studied Paula keenly, then marched to the nearest pillar and meekly bumped his head three times against the concrete.

"I'm afraid I didn't stay down ten minutes," Paula said. "But I wasn't much under that, was I, Aunt Martha?"

"You weren't much under at all," Mrs. Tully replied, "if it's my opinion you were asking. I'm surprised that you are even wet.--There, there, breathe naturally, child. The play-acting is unnecessary. I remember, when I was a young girl, traveling in India, there was a school of fakirs who leaped into deep wells and stayed down much longer than you, child, much longer indeed."

"You knew!" Paula charged.

"But you didn't know I did," her Aunt retorted. "And therefore your conduct was criminal. When you consider a woman of my age, with my


The Little Lady of the Big House - 30/60

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