Chapter XII
 

Next morning Keith allayed what little uneasiness his conscience might harbour by remarking, as he adjusted his collar:

"Mrs. Morrell is an amusing type, don't you think? She's a bit vulgar, but she seems good hearted. Wonder what colour her hair used to be?"

"I suppose they are all right," said Nan. "They are a little rowdy. They gave me a headache."

Illogically rehabilitated in his own self-esteem, Keith went on dressing. He was "on" to Mrs. Morrell; her methods were pretty obvious. Wonder if she thought she had really fooled him? Next time he would be on guard and beat her at her own game. She was not a woman to his taste, anyway--he glanced admiringly at Nan's clean profile against the light--but she was full of vitality, she was keen, she was brimming with the joy of life.

The long drive over the Peninsula to the sea and back, the episode of the Spanish people, the rowdy supper party, had one effect, however: it had made so decided a break in the routine that Keith found himself thrust quite outside it. He had worked feverishly all the week, at about double speed; and in ordinary course would have gone on working feverishly at double speed for another week. Now, suddenly, the thought was irksome. He did not analyze this; but, characteristically, discovered an irrefutable reason for not going on with it. They rescued Gringo from Sam's care, and drove up to the house. On the way Keith said:

"Look here, Nan; do you suppose you and Wing can get on all right this morning? All the heavy work is done. I really ought to be settling the office and getting some lines laid for business."

"Why, of course we can get on, silly!" she rejoined. "This isn't your job, anyway. Of course you ought to attend to your business."

Keith again consulted Palmer, Cook & Co. The same clerk showed him offices. He was appalled at the rents. Even a miserable little back room in the obscurer blocks commanded a sum higher than he had anticipated paying. After looking at a dozen, he finally decided on a front room in the Merchants' Exchange Building. This was one of the most expensive, but Keith was tired of looking. The best is the greatest economy in the long run, he told himself, and with a lawyer, new-come, appearances count for much in getting clients. Must get the clients, though, to support this sort of thing! The rest of the morning he spent buying furniture.

About noon he walked back to the Bella Union. His horse and buggy were not hitched to the rail, so he concluded Nan had not yet returned for lunch. Mrs. Sherwood, however, was seated in a rocker at the sunny end of the long veranda. She looked most attractive, her small smooth head bent over some sort of fancywork. Before she looked up Keith had leisure to note the poise of her head and shoulders, the fine long lines of her figure, and the arched-browed serenity of her eyes. Different type this from the full- breasted Morrell, more--more patrician! Rather absurd in view of their respective places in society, but a fact. Keith found himself swiftly speculating on Mrs. Sherwood's origin and experience. She was endowed with a new glamour because of Mrs. Morrell's enigmatic remark the evening before, and also--for Keith was very human--with a new attraction. Feeling vaguely and boyishly devilish, Keith. stopped.

She nodded at him, laying her work aside.

"You are practically invisible." she told him.

"Making ourselves a habitation. Seen Mrs. Keith?"

"No. I don't think she's come in."

Keith hesitated, then:

"I think I'll go up to the house for her."

Mrs. Sherwood nodded, and resumed her work calmly, without further remark.

At the house Keith found Nan, her apron on, her hair done up under a dust cap, very busy.

"Noon?" she cried, astonished. "It can't be! But I can't stop now. I think I'll have Wing pick me up a lunch. There's plenty in the house. It's too much bother to clean up."

Keith demurred; then wanted to stay for the pick-up lunch himself. Nan would have none of it. She was full of repressed enthusiasm and eagerness, but she wanted to get rid of him.

"There's not enough. I wouldn't have you around. Go away, that's a good boy! If you'll leave Wing and me entirely alone we'll be ready to move in to-morrow."

"Where's Gringo?" asked Keith by way of indirect yielding--he had really no desire for a picked-up lunch.

"The little rascal! He started to chew everything in the place, so I tied him in the backyard. He pulls and flops dreadfully. Do you think he'll strangle himself?"

Keith looked out the window. Gringo, all four feet planted, was determinedly straining back against his tether. The collar had pulled forward all the loose skin of his neck, so that his eyes and features were lost in wrinkles.

"He doesn't yap," volunteered Nan.

Keith gave it as his opinion that Gringo would stop short of suicide, commended Gringo's taciturnity and evident perseverance, and departed for the hotel. In the dining-room he saw Mrs. Sherwood in a riding habit, eating alone. Keith hesitated, then took the vacant seat opposite. She accorded this permission cordially, but without coquetry, remarking that Sherwood often did not get in at noon. Immediately she turned the conversation to Keith's affairs, inquiring in detail as to how the settling was getting on, when they expected to get in, how they liked the house, whether they had bought all the furniture.

"You remember I directed you to the auctions?" she said.

She asked all these questions directly, as a man would, and listened to his replies.

"I suppose you have an office picked out?" she surmised.

At his mention of the Merchants' Exchange Building she raised her arched eyebrows half humorously.

"You picked out an expensive place."

Keith went over his reasoning, to which she listened with a half smile.

"You may be right," she commented; "the reasoning is perfectly sound. But that means you must get the business in order to make it pay. What are your plans?"

He confessed that as yet they were rather vague; there had not been time to do much--too busy settling.

"The usual thing, I suppose," he added: "get acquainted, hang out a shingle, mix with people, sit down and starve in the traditional manner of young lawyers."

He laughed lightly, but she refused to joke.

"There are a good many lawyers here--and most of them poor ones," she told him. "The difficulty is to stand out above the ruck, to become noticed. You must get to know all classes, of course; but especially those of your own profession, men on the bench. Yes, especially men on the bench, they may help you more than any others--"

He seemed to catch a little cynicism in her implied meaning, and experienced a sense of shock on his professional side.

"You don't mean that judges are--"

"Susceptible to influence?" She finished the sentence for him with an amused little laugh. She studied him for an instant with new interest, "They're human--more human here than anywhere else--like the rest of us-- they respond to kind treatment--" She laughed again, but at the sight of his face her own became grave. She checked herself. "Everything is so new out here. In older countries the precedents have all been established. Out here there are practically none. They are being made now, every day, by the present judges. Naturally personal influence might get a hearing for one point of view or the other--"

"I see what you mean," he agreed, his face clearing.

"Join a good fire company," she advised him. "That is the first thing to do. Each company represents something different, a different class of men."

"Which would you advise?" asked Keith seriously.

"That is a matter for your own judgment. Only, investigate well. Meet all the people you can. Know the newspaper men, and the big merchants. In your profession you must cultivate men like Terry, Girvin, Shattuck, Gwin. Keep your eyes open. Be bold and use your wits. Above all, make friends; that's it, make friends--everybody, everywhere. Don't despise anybody. You will get plenty of chances." She was sitting erect, and her eyes were flashing. Her usual slow indolent grace had fallen from her; she radiated energy. Her slender figure took on a new appearance of knit strength. "Such chances! My heavens! if I were a man!"

"You'd make a bully man!" cried Keith. Mrs. Morrell, uttering the same wish, had received from him a different reply, but he had forgotten that.

She laughed again, the tension broke, and she sank back into her usual relaxed poise.

"But, thank heavens, I'm not," said she.