Chapter XXXI
 

The new coherence in society began to manifest itself in one important way: public gambling declined. In the "old days" it was said that everybody but clergymen frequented the big gambling halls. They were a sort of club. But now the most influential citizens began to stay away. Probably they gambled as much as ever, but they took such pleasures in private. Two or three only of the larger places remained in business. Save for them, open gambling was confined to the low dives near the water front. There was no definite movement against the practice. It merely fell off gradually.

During these busy years the Sherwoods had quite methodically continued to lead their customary lives. He read his morning paper on the veranda of the Bella Union, talked his leisurely politics, drove his horses, and in the evening attended to his business. She drove abroad, received her men friends, gave them impartial advice and help in their difficulties, dressed well, and carried on a life of many small activities. The Sherwoods were always an attractive looking and imposing couple, whenever they appeared. About three or four times a year they drove into the residential part of town and made a half-dozen formal calls--on the Keiths among others. Probably their lives were more nearly ordered on a routine than those of any other people in the new city.

One afternoon Sherwood came in at the usual hour, deposited his high hat carefully on the table, flicked the dust off his boots, and remarked casually:

"Patsy, I've sold the business."

Mrs. Sherwood was pinning on her hat. She stopped short, her hand halfway to her head, as though turned to marble. After a moment she asked in a quick, stifled voice:

"What do you mean?"

"Well," replied Sherwood, continuing methodically to readjust his dress, "I've been thinking for some time that times were changing. The gambling business is losing tone. I don't see the same class of people I used to see. Public sentiment--of the very best people, I mean--is drifting away from it. In the future, in my judgment, it's not going to pay as it ought. I've been thinking these things for some time. So when a bona fide purchaser came along----"

But he got no further. With a smothered cry she let her arms drop. Her customary poise had vanished. She flung herself on him, laughing, crying, gasping.

"Why, Patsy! Patsy!" he cried, patting her small, sleek head as it pressed against his shoulder. "What is it, dearie? Tell me? What's wrong?"

He was vastly perturbed and anxious, for she was not at all the type that loses control readily.

"Nothing! nothing!" she gasped. "I'll be all right in a minute. Don't mind me. Just let me alone. Only you told me so suddenly----"

"Don't you want me to sell?" he asked, utterly bewildered.

Gradually he gathered from her disjointed exclamations that this was just the one thing she had wanted, secretly, for years; the thing she had schooled herself not to hope for; the last thing in the world she had expected. And to his astonishment he gathered further that now she was free she could take her place with the other women----

"But I hadn't the slightest idea you wanted to!" he interrupted at this point. "You've never showed any signs of paying the slightest attention to them before!"

She was drying her eyes, and looking a little happily foolish.

"I knew better than to give them a chance to snub me," she told him. "Now I'm respectable."

But at this Sherwood reared his crest.

"Respectable!" he snorted, "What do you mean? Haven't you always been respectable? I'd like to see anybody who would hint--"

"You're a dear, but you're a man," she broke in more calmly. "Don't you know that a gambler's wife isn't respectable--in their sense of the word?"

"But every mother's son of them gambles!" cried Sherwood. "It's a perfectly legal and legitimate occupation!"

"The men do; we'd always get along if it was only a question of the men. But the women make distinctions--"

"Look here!" he broke out wrathfully. "There's Dick Blatchford mixed up in dirty work for dirty money I wouldn't lay my fingers on; and Terry, or Brannan, or McGowan, or all the rest of the boodling, land-grabbing, pettifogging crew! Why, if I made my living or spare cash the way that gang of pirates and cutthroats do I'd carry a pair of handcuffs for myself. Honest! Respectable! I've got no kick on their methods; it's, none of my business. But their wives are all right. I don't see it!"

"It's all names, I acknowledge," she soothed, "just names, I attach no more weight to them than you do. Don't you suppose I'd have said something if I had thought you were doing anything wrong? But that's the way they play the game, and it is their game. If we play it we've got to accept their rules. Don't you see?"

"Well, it's a mighty poor game," grumbled Sherwood, "and they strike me as an exceptionally stupid lot of women. They'd drive me to drink. I don't see what you want to bother with them for."

"They are," she agreed. "They won't amuse me much--you couldn't understand --it's just the idea of it--But I won't be looked down on, even by my inferiors! Tell me, Jack, when we sell the business are we going to be wealthy, will we have plenty of money?"

A hurt look came into his fine, straightforward eyes.

"Haven't you always had all you wanted, Patsy?" he inquired.

"Of course I have, you old goose! But I want to know what our resources are before I plan my campaign."

"Going in up to your neck, are you?" he commented ruefully.

She nodded. Her eyes were bright, and a spot of colour glowed in either cheek.

"Course I am. What can I spend?"

"You can have whatever you want."

"That's too vague, too indefinite. How rich--or poor--are we going to be?"

"We'll be rich enough."

"Very?"

"Well--yes, very. The business has paid, investments have panned out. I got a good cash purchase price."

"How much can I spend a year?" she persisted. "It doesn't matter whether it's much or little, but I want to know."

"What a mercenary little creature!" he cried facetiously, then sobered as he saw by the expression of her face that this, apparently trivial thing meant a great deal to her. "Oh, fifty thousand or so won't cripple us."

"A year?" she breathed, awed.

He nodded.

"Oh!" she cried rapidly. "Then we'll have a house--a house built for our very own selves, our very own plans!"

"Why, I thought we were very comfortable here!" he protested, a little dismayed. "Haven't we room enough? I'll make Rebinot cut a door----"

"No! no! no! a house of my own!" She was on fire with excitement, walking restlessly up and down. He watched her a moment or so. His slower imagination was kindling. He was beginning to grasp the symbolism of it, what it meant to her, the release of long-pent secret desires. As she passed him, he seized her and drew her gently to his knee.

"Patsy!" he cried contritely, "I didn't realize! I didn't guess you weren't perfectly contented here!"

She brushed his cheek with hers.

"Of course you didn't," she reassured him.

"If you'd the slightest----"

She threw her head back proudly, her breast swelled.

"I married you to lead your life. Jack, whatever it was," she told him, "to be your helpmate."

"You're the game little sportsman in this town!" he cried. "And if you want to make those flub-dubs crawl, by God you sail in! I'll back you!"

Ten minutes later she asked him:

"What are you going to do, yourself, Jack? Somehow, I can't imagine you idle."

"Well," said Sherwood, "the boys are organizing a stock exchange, and it struck me that it might be a good idea if I went into that."

She began to laugh softly, in affectionate amusement.

"Stop it!" he commanded indignantly. "I know that laugh, What have I done now?"

"I was just thinking what a nice, respectable gambler you are going to be now," she said, "It's in your blood, Jack, and I love it--but it's funny!"