Book II
Chapter III
 

I

Gora waited until her brother had finished his bath and returned to his room. When she was admitted he had a brush in either hand polishing his pale brown immaculately cut hair. He turned to her, startled, his good American gray eyes showing no trace of sleep. He always awoke with alert mind and refreshed body.

"What is it? Not--"

Gora nodded. "At two this morning. Alexina wouldn't let me call you--"

His wide masculine eyebrows met. It was correct to be angry and he was. "I never heard of such a thing--"

"She was not a bit overcome and wrote letters to her brothers and friends for at least two hours. It really wouldn't have been worth while to disturb you--I must say I was astonished; thought she'd go to pieces--but you never know."

"I'll go to her at once."

"I'd dress first. Aileen Lawton is with her."

Gora knew that Alexina had gone out at four in the morning and returned half an hour since, but the cat in her was of the tiger variety and never descended to small game.

"Oh, of course!" Mortimer gave a groan of resignation as he hunted out a pair of black socks. "I like Aileen well enough, but she has altogether too much influence over Alexina. She'd have more than myself if I didn't keep a close watch."

"I have an idea that no one will have much influence over Alexina as time goes on. She hasn't that jaw and chin for nothing. They mean things in some people."

He gave her a quick suspicious glance, but her pale gray eyes were fixed on the windmill beyond the window, that odd old landmark in a now fashionable quarter of San Francisco.

"I shall always control her," he said, setting his large finely cut lips. "I wish her to remain a child as long as possible, for she is quite perfect as she is. She is bright and all that, but of course she has no intellect--"

Gora forgot her message of death and laughed outright.

"Men--American men, anyhow--are really the funniest things in the world. Even intellectual men are absurd in their patronizing attitude toward the cleverest of women; but when it conies to mere masculine arrogance...don't you really respect any woman's brains?"

"I never denied that some women were clever and all that, but the best of them cannot compare with men. You must admit that."

"I admit nothing of the sort, but I know your type too well to waste any time in argument--"

"My type?"

She longed to reply: "The smaller a man's brain the more enveloping his mere male arrogance. Instinct of self-defense like the turtle's shell or the porcupine's quills or the mephitic weasel's extravasations." But she never quarreled with Morty, and to have shared with him her opinion of his endowments would have been to deprive herself of a good deal of secret amusement.

"Oh, you're all alike," she said lightly, and added: "Don't be too sure that Alexina hasn't intellect-the real thing. When she emerges from this beatific dream of youth she has almost hugged to death for fear it might escape her, and begins to think--"

"I'll do her thinking."

"All right, dear. You have my best wishes. But keep on the job....I'll clear out; you want to dress--"

"Wait a moment." He sat down to draw on his socks. "I'm really cut up over Mrs. Groome's death. She was my only friend in this damn family, and I coveted her money so little that I wish she could have lived on for twenty years."

"I wondered how you liked them as time went on."

He brought his teeth together and thrust out his jaw. "I hate the whole pack of superior patronizing condescending snobs, and it is all I can do to keep it from Alexina, who thinks her tribe perfection. But, by God!"--he brought down his fist on his knee--"I'll beat them at their own game yet. I simply live to make a million and build a house at Burlingame. They really respect money as much as they think they don't; I've got oil to that. When I'm a rich roan they'll think of me as their equal and forget I was ever anything' else."

"Well, don't speculate," said Gora uneasily. "Remember that luck was left out of our family."

"My luck changed with that legacy. I am certain of it. I have only to wait until this period of dry rot passes--"

"But you're not speculating?"

He looked at her with eyes as cold as her own.

"I answer questions about my private affairs to no one."

"They are my affairs to the extent of half your capital."

"You have received your interest regularly, have you not?"

"Yes."

"Then you have nothing to worry about. I understand business, as well as the man's opportunities, and you do not."

"I did not ask out of curiosity, but because I shall be glad when you are doing well enough to let me have my eight thousand--"

"What do you want of it? Where could you get more interest?"

"Nowhere, possibly. But some day I shall want to take a vacation, a fling. I shall want to go to New York and Europe."

"And you would throw away your capital!"

"Why not? I have other capital in my profession; and, although you will find this difficult to grasp, in my head. I have practiced fiction writing for years. It is just ten months since I tried to get anything published, and I have recently had three stories accepted by New York magazines: one of the old group and two of the best of the popular magazines."

He looked at her with cold distaste, which deepened in a moment to alarm. "I hope you will not use your own name. These people who think themselves so much above us anyhow, look upon authors and artists and all that as about on a level with the working class--"

"I shall use my own name and ram it down their throats. They worship success like all the rest of the world. Their fancied distaste for people engaged in any of the art careers--with whom they practically never come in contact, by the way--is partly an instinctive distrust of anything they cannot do themselves and partly because they have an Elizabethan idea that all artists are common and have offensive manners."

"I don't like the idea of your using your own name. Ladies may unfortunately be obliged to earn their own living--and that you shall never do when I am rich--but they have no business putting their names up before the public like men."

Gora looked at his rigid indomitable face; the face of the Pilgrim fathers, of the revolutionary statesmen, which he had inherited intact from old John Dwight who had sat in the first congress; the American classic face that is passing but still crops out as unexpectedly as the last drop from a long forgotten "tar brush," or the sly recurrent Biblical profile.

"We will make a bargain," she said calmly. "I will ask you no more questions about your business for a year--when, if convenient, I should like my money--and you will kindly ignore the literary career I mean to have. It won't do you the least good in the world to formulate opinions about anything I choose to do. Now, better concentrate on Alexina. You've got your hands full there. See you at breakfast." And she shut the door on an indignant worried and disgusted brother.