They laid before her conquering feet The spoils of many lands; Their crowns shone red upon her head Their scepters in her hands. She heard two murmuring at night, Where rose-sweet shadows rest; And coveted the blossom red He laid upon her breast.
When Madam Weatherstone shook the plentiful dust of Orchardina from her expensive shoes, and returned to adorn the more classic groves of Philadelphia, Mrs. Thaddler assumed to hold undisputed sway as a social leader.
The Social Leader she meant to be; and marshalled her forces to that end. She Patronized here, and Donated there; revised her visiting list with rigid exclusiveness; secured an Eminent Professor and a Noted Writer as visitors, and gave entertainments of almost Roman magnificence.
Her husband grew more and more restive under the rising tide of social exactions in dress and deportment; and spent more and more time behind his fast horses, or on the stock-ranch where he raised them. As a neighbor and fellow ranchman, he scraped acquaintance with Ross Warden, and was able to render him many small services in the process of settling.
Mrs. Warden remembered his visit to Jopalez, and it took her some time to rearrange him in her mind as a person of wealth and standing. Having so rearranged him, on sufficient evidence, she and her daughters became most friendly, and had hopes of establishing valuable acquaintance in the town. “It's not for myself I care,” she would explain to Ross, every day in the week and more on Sundays, “but for the girls. In that dreadful Jopalez there was absolutely no opportunity for them; but here, with horses, there is no reason we should not have friends. You must consider your sisters, Ross! Do be more cordial to Mr. Thaddler.”
But Ross could not at present be cordial to anybody. His unexpected good fortune, the freedom from hated cares, and chance to work out his mighty theories on the faithful guinea-pig, ought to have filled his soul with joy; but Diantha's cruel obstinacy had embittered his cup of joy. He could not break with her; she had not refused him, and it was difficult in cold blood to refuse her.
He had stayed away for two whole weeks, in which time the guinea-pigs nibbled at ease and Diantha's work would have suffered except for her mother's extra efforts. Then he went to see her again, miserable but stubborn, finding her also miserable and also stubborn. They argued till there was grave danger of an absolute break between them; then dropped the subject by mutual agreement, and spent evenings of unsatisfying effort to talk about other things.
Diantha and her mother called on Mrs. Warden, of course, admiring the glorious view, the sweet high air, and the embowered loveliness of the two ranch houses. Ross drew Diantha aside and showed her “theirs”—a lovely little wide-porched concrete cottage, with a red-tiled roof, and heavy masses of Gold of Ophir and Banksia roses.
He held her hand and drew her close to him.
He kissed her when they were safe inside, and murmured: “Come, darling—won't you come and be my wife?”
“I will, Ross—whenever you say—but—!” She would not agree to give up her work, and he flung away from her in reckless despair. Mrs. Warden and the girls returned the call as a matter of duty, but came no more; the mother saying that she could not take her daughters to a Servant Girls' Club.
And though the Servant Girls' Club was soon removed to its new quarters and Union House became a quiet, well-conducted hotel, still the two families saw but little of each other.
Mrs. Warden naturally took her son's side, and considered Diantha an unnatural monster of hard-heartedness.
The matter sifted through to the ears of Mrs. Thaddler, who rejoiced in it, and called upon Mrs. Warden in her largest automobile. As a mother with four marriageable daughters, Mrs. Warden was delighted to accept and improve the acquaintance, but her aristocratic Southern soul was inwardly rebellious at the ancestorlessness and uncultured moneyed pride of her new friend.
“If only Madam Weatherstone had stayed!” she would complain to her daughters. “She had Family as well as Wealth.”
“There's young Mrs. Weatherstone, mother—” suggested Dora.
“A nobody!” her mother replied. “She has the Weatherstone money, of course, but no Position; and what little she has she is losing by her low tastes. She goes about freely with Diantha Bell—her own housekeeper!”
“She's not her housekeeper now, mother—”
“Well, it's all the same! She was! And a mere general servant before that! And now to think that when Ross is willing to overlook it all and marry her, she won't give it up!”
They were all agreed on this point, unless perhaps that the youngest had her inward reservations. Dora had always liked Diantha better than had the others.
Young Mrs. Weatherstone stayed in her big empty house for a while, and as Mrs. Warden said, went about frequently with Diantha Bell. She liked Mrs. Bell, too—took her for long stimulating rides in her comfortable car, and insisted that first one and then the other of them should have a bit of vacation at her seashore home before the winter's work grew too heavy.
With Mrs. Bell she talked much of how Diantha had helped the town.
“She has no idea of the psychic effects, Mrs. Bell,” said she. “She sees the business, and she has a great view of all it is going to do for women to come; but I don't think she realizes how much she is doing right now for women here—and men, too. There were my friends the Pornes; they were 'drifting apart,' as the novels have it—and no wonder. Isabel was absolutely no good as a housekeeper; he naturally didn't like it—and the baby made it all the worse; she pined for her work, you see, and couldn't get any time for it. Now they are as happy as can be—and it's just Diantha Bell's doings. The housework is off Isabel's shoulders.
“Then there are the Wagrams, and the Sheldons, and the Brinks—and ever so many more—who have told me themselves that they are far happier than they ever were before—and can live more cheaply. She ought to be the happiest girl alive!”
Mrs. Bell would agree to this, and quite swelled with happiness and pride; but Mrs. Weatherstone, watching narrowly, was not satisfied.
When she had Diantha with her she opened fire direct. “You ought to be the happiest, proudest, most triumphant woman in the world!” she said. “You're making oodles of money, your whole thing's going well, and look at your mother—she's made over!”
Diantha smiled and said she was happy; but her eyes would stray off to the very rim of the ocean; her mouth set in patient lines that were not in the least triumphant.
“Tell me about it, my friend,” said her hostess. “Is it that he won't let you keep on with the business?”
“And you won't give it up to marry him?”
“No,” said Diantha. “No. Why should I? I'd marry him—to-morrow!” She held one hand with the other, tight, but they both shook a little. “I'd be glad to. But I will not give up my work!”
“You look thin,” said Mrs. Weatherstone.
“Do you sleep well?”
“And I can see that you don't eat as you ought to. Hm! Are you going to break down?”
“No,” said Diantha, “I am not going to break down. I am doing what is right, and I shall go on. It's a little hard at first—having him so near. But I am young and strong and have a great deal to do—I shall do it.”
And then Mrs. Weatherstone would tell her all she knew of the intense satisfaction of the people she served, and pleasant stories about the girls. She bought her books to read and such gleanings as she found in foreign magazines on the subject of organized house-service.
Not only so, but she supplied the Orchardina library with a special bibliography on the subject, and induced the new Woman's Club to take up a course of reading in it, so that there gradually filtered into the Orchardina mind a faint perception that this was not the freak of an eccentric individual, but part of an inevitable business development, going on in various ways in many nations.
As the winter drew on, Mrs. Weatherstone whisked away again, but kept a warm current of interest in Diantha's life by many letters.
Mr. Bell came down from Jopalez with outer reluctance but inner satisfaction. He had rented his place, and Susie had three babies now. Henderson, Jr., had no place for him, and to do housework for himself was no part of Mr. Bell's plan.
In Diantha's hotel he had a comfortable room next his wife's, and a capacious chair in the firelit hall in wet weather, or on the shaded piazza in dry. The excellent library was a resource to him; he found some congenial souls to talk with; and under the new stimulus succeeded at last in patenting a small device that really worked. With this, and his rent, he felt inclined to establish a “home of his own,” and the soul of Mrs. Bell sank within her. Without allowing it to come to an issue between them, she kept the question open for endless discussion; and Mr. Bell lived on in great contentment under the impression that he was about to move at almost any time. To his friends and cronies he dilated with pride on his daughter's wonderful achievements.
“She's as good as a boy!” he would declare. “Women nowadays seem to do anything they want to!” And he rigidly paid his board bill with a flourish.
Meanwhile the impressive gatherings at Mrs. Thaddler's, and the humbler tea and card parties of Diantha's friends, had a new topic as a shuttlecock.
A New York company had bought one of the largest and finest blocks in town—the old Para place—and was developing it in a manner hitherto unseen. The big, shabby, neglected estate began to turn into such a fairyland as only southern lands can know. The old live-oaks were untouched; the towering eucalyptus trees remained in ragged majesty; but an army of workmen was busy under guidance of a master of beauty.
One large and lovely building rose, promptly dubbed a hotel by the unwilling neighbors; others, smaller, showed here and there among the trees; and then a rose-gray wall of concrete ran around the whole, high, tantalizing, with green boughs and sweet odors coming over it. Those who went in reported many buildings, and much activity. But, when the wall was done, and each gate said “No admittance except on business,” then the work of genii was imagined, and there was none to contradict.
It was a School of Theosophy; it was a Christian Science College; it was a Free-Love Colony; it was a Secret Society; it was a thousand wonders.
“Lot of little houses and one big one,” the employees said when questioned.
“Hotel and cottages,” the employers said when questioned.
They made no secret of it, they were too busy; but the town was unsatisfied. Why a wall? What did any honest person want of a wall? Yet the wall cast a pleasant shadow; there were seats here and there between buttresses, and, as the swift California season advanced, roses and oleanders nodded over the top, and gave hints of beauty and richness more subtly stimulating than all the open glory of the low-hedged gardens near.
Diantha's soul was stirred with secret envy. Some big concern was about to carry out her dream, or part of it—perhaps to be a huge and overflowing rival. Her own work grew meantime, and flourished as well as she could wish.
The food-delivery service was running to its full capacity; the girls got on very well under Mrs. Jessup, and were delighted to have a house of their own with the parlors and piazzas all to themselves, and a garden to sit in as well. If this depleted their ranks by marriage, it did not matter now, for there was a waiting list in training all the time.
Union House kept on evenly and profitably, and Diantha was beginning to feel safe and successful; but the years looked long before her.
She was always cheered by Mrs. Weatherstone's letters; and Mrs. Porne came to see her, and to compare notes over their friend's success. For Mrs. Weatherstone had been presented at Court—at more than one court, in fact; and Mrs. Weatherstone had been proposed to by a Duke—and had refused him! Orchardina well-nigh swooned when this was known.
She had been studying, investigating, had become known in scientific as well as social circles, and on her way back the strenuous upper layer of New York Society had also made much of her. Rumors grew of her exquisite costumes, of her unusual jewels, of her unique entertainments, of her popularity everywhere she went.
Other proposals, of a magnificent nature, were reported, with more magnificent refusals; and Orchardina began to be very proud of young Mrs. Weatherstone and to wish she would come back.
She did at last, bringing an Italian Prince with her, and a Hoch Geborene German Count also, who alleged they were travelling to study the country, but who were reputed to have had a duel already on the beautiful widow's account.
All this was long-drawn gossip but bore some faint resemblance to the facts. Viva Weatherstone at thirty was a very different woman front the pale, sad-eyed girl of four years earlier. And when the great house on the avenue was arrayed in new magnificence, and all Orchardina—that dared—had paid its respects to her, she opened the season, as it were, with a brilliant dinner, followed by a reception and ball.
All Orchardina came—so far as it had been invited. There was the Prince, sure enough—a pleasant, blue-eyed young man. And there was the Count, bearing visible evidence of duels a-plenty in earlier days. And there was Diantha Bell—receiving, with Mrs. Porne and Mrs. Weatherstone. All Orchardina stared. Diantha had been at the dinner—that was clear. And now she stood there in her soft, dark evening dress, the knot of golden acacias nestling against the black lace at her bosom, looking as fair and sweet as if she had never had a care in her life.
Her mother thought her the most beautiful thing she had ever seen; and her father, though somewhat critical, secretly thought so, too.
Mrs. Weatherstone cast many a loving look at the tall girl beside her in the intervals of “Delighted to see you's,” and saw that her double burden had had no worse effect than to soften the lines of the mouth and give a hint of pathos to the clear depths of her eyes.
The foreign visitors were much interested in the young Amazon of Industry, as the Prince insisted on calling her; and even the German Count for a moment forgot his ancestors in her pleasant practical talk.
Mrs. Weatherstone had taken pains to call upon the Wardens—claiming a connection, if not a relationship, and to invite them all. And as the crowd grew bigger and bigger, Diantha saw Mrs. Warden at last approaching with her four daughters—and no one else. She greeted them politely and warmly; but Mrs. Weatherstone did more.
Holding them all in a little group beside her, she introduced her noble visitors to them; imparted the further information that their brother was fiance to Miss Bell. “I don't see him,” she said, looking about. “He will come later, of course. Ah, Miss Madeline! How proud you all must feel of your sister-in-law to be!”
Madeline blushed and tried to say she was.
“Such a remarkable young lady!” said the Count to Adeline. “You will admire, envy, and imitate! Is it not so?”
“Your ladies of America have all things in your hands,” said the Prince to Miss Cora. “To think that she has done so much, and is yet so young—and so beautiful!”
“I know you're all as proud as you can be,” Mrs. Weatherstone continued to Dora. “You see, Diantha has been heard of abroad.”
They all passed on presently, as others came; but Mrs. Warden's head was reeling. She wished she could by any means get at Ross, and make him come, which he had refused to do.
“I can't, mother,” he had said. “You go—all of you. Take the girls. I'll call for you at twelve—but I won't go in.”
Mr. and Mrs. Thaddler were there—but not happy. She was not, at least, and showed it; he was not until an idea struck him. He dodged softly out, and was soon flying off, at dangerous speed over the moon-white country roads.
He found Ross, dressed and ready, sulking blackly on his shadowy porch.
“Come and take a spin while you wait,” said Mr. Thaddler.
“Thanks, I have to go in town later.”
“I'll take you in town.”
“Thank you, but I have to take the horses in and bring out my mother and the girls.”
“I'll bring you all out in the car. Come on—it's a great night.”
So Ross rather reluctantly came.
He sat back on the luxurious cushions, his arms folded sternly, his brows knit, and the stout gentleman at his side watched him shrewdly.
“How does the ranch go?” he asked.
“Very well, thank you, Mr. Thaddler.”
“Them Chinks pay up promptly?”
“As prompt as the month comes round. Their rent is a very valuable part of the estate.”
“Yes,” Mr. Thaddler pursued. “They have a good steady market for their stuff. And the chicken man, too. Do you know who buys 'em?”
Ross did not. Did not greatly care, he intimated.
“I should think you'd be interested—you ought to—it's Diantha Bell.”
Ross started, but said nothing.
“You see, I've taken a great interest in her proposition ever since she sprung it on us,” Mr. Thaddler confided. “She's got the goods all right. But there was plenty against her here—you know what women are! And I made up my mind the supplies should be good and steady, anyhow. She had no trouble with her grocery orders; that was easy. Meat I couldn't handle—except indirectly—a little pressure, maybe, here and there.” And he chuckled softly. “But this ranch I bought on purpose.”
Ross turned as if he had been stung.
“You!” he said.
“Yes, me. Why not? It's a good property. I got it all fixed right, and then I bought your little upstate shop—lock, stock and barrel—and gave you this for it. A fair exchange is no robbery. Though it would be nice to have it all in the family, eh?”
Ross was silent for a few turbulent moments, revolving this far from pleasing information.
“What'd I do it for?” continued the unasked benefactor. “What do you think I did it for? So that brave, sweet little girl down here could have her heart's desire. She's established her business—she's proved her point—she's won the town—most of it; and there's nothing on earth to make her unhappy now but your pigheadedness! Young man, I tell you you're a plumb fool!”
One cannot throw one's host out of his own swift-flying car; nor is it wise to jump out one's self.
“Nothing on earth between you but your cussed pride!” Mr. Thaddler remorselessly went on. “This ranch is honestly yours—by a square deal. Your Jopalez business was worth the money—you ran it honestly and extended the trade. You'd have made a heap by it if you could have unbent a little. Gosh! I limbered up that store some in twelve months!” And the stout man smiled reminiscently.
Ross was still silent.
“And now you've got what you wanted—thanks to her, mind you, thanks to her!—and you ain't willing to let her have what she wants!”
The young man moistened his lips to speak.
“You ain't dependent on her in any sense—I don't mean that. You earned the place all right, and I don't doubt you'll make good, both in a business way and a scientific way, young man. But why in Hades you can't let her be happy, too, is more'n I can figure! Guess you get your notions from two generations back—and some!”
Ross began, stumblingly. “I did not know I was indebted to you, Mr. Thaddler.”
“You're not, young man, you're not! I ran that shop of yours a year—built up the business and sold it for more than I paid for this. So you've no room for heroics—none at all. What I want you to realize is that you're breaking the heart of the finest woman I ever saw. You can't bend that girl—she'll never give up. A woman like that has got more things to do than just marry! But she's pining for you all the same.
“Here she is to-night, receiving with Mrs. Weatherstone—with those Bannerets, Dukes and Earls around her—standing up there like a Princess herself—and her eyes on the door all the time—and tears in 'em, I could swear—because you don't come!”
They drew up with a fine curve before the carriage gate.
“I'll take 'em all home—they won't be ready for some time yet,” said Mr. Thaddler. “And if you two would like this car I'll send for the other one.”
Ross shook hands with him. “You are very kind, Mr. Thaddler,” he said. “I am obliged to you. But I think we will walk.”
Tall and impressive, looking more distinguished in a six-year-old evening suit than even the Hoch Geborene in his uniform, he came at last, and Diantha saw him the moment he entered; saw, too, a new light in his eyes.
He went straight to her. And Mrs. Weatherstone did not lay it up against him that he had but the briefest of words for his hostess.
“Will you come?” he said. “May I take you home—now?”
She went with him, without a word, and they walked slowly home, by far outlying paths, and long waits on rose-bowered seats they knew.
The moon filled all the world with tender light and the orange blossoms flooded the still air with sweetness.
“Dear,” said he, “I have been a proud fool—I am yet—but I have come to see a little clearer. I do not approve of your work—I cannot approve of it—but will you forgive me for that and marry me? I cannot live any longer without you?”
“Of course I will,” said Diantha.