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Too Late For Love








From: Still Jim

"Honor is the thing that makes humans different from
dogs--some dogs! When women have it, it is mingled always
with tenderness."

MUSINGS OF THE ELEPHANT.


Jim jumped to his feet and took a stride toward Sara's couch, then
checked himself.

"Oh, I'm not accusing you of planning the thing!" sneered Sara. "I'd
have more respect for you if you had. Pen doesn't know that I know. If I
hadn't got hurt I'd probably never dreamed of it. Pen and I would have
raised a family and I'd have had no time to think of you. But it didn't
take more than a year of lying on my back and watching her to see that
it was more than my crippled condition that was changing Pen. Damn you!
Why should you have it all, health and success and Pen's love? I'll get
you yet, Jim Manning!"

Jim stood with his arms folded fighting desperately to keep his hands
off Sara. Deep in his heart Jim realized, there was none of the pity for
Sara's physical condition that civilized man is supposed to feel for the
cripple. Far within him was the loathing of the savage for something
abnormal; the loathing that once left the physically unfit to die. Yet
superimposed on this loathing was the veneer of civilization, that
forces kindness and gentleness and self-denial toward the fit that the
unfit may be kept alive.

So Jim gripped his biceps and ground his teeth and the crippled man in
the chair stared with bitter black eyes into Jim's angry gray ones. Jim
fought with himself until the sweat came out on his lips, then without a
word he left the tent, mounted his horse and rode back to the dam site.

He wanted time to think. It was very evident that Sara meant mischief,
but just how great was his capacity for doing him harm Jim could only
guess. The idea of his extremely friendly relations with Arthur Freet
bothered Jim now. If Freet were really trying to influence the sale of
the water power through Sara, the wise thing to do would be to send Sara
back to New York. And yet, if Sara went, Pen would go, too! Jim's heart
sank. He could not bear to think of the dam now without Pen. He squared
his shoulders suddenly. He would not send Sara away until he had some
real proof that his threats were more than idle. At any rate, it was not
his business to worry over the sale of the water power. If he produced
the power he was doing his share. And when he had fallen back on his old
excuse Jim gave a sigh of relief and went home to supper.

Henderson was in the office the next morning when Jim opened a letter
from the Director of the Service. He was sorry, said the director, that
there had been so much loss of time and property in the flood. He
realized, of course, that Jim had done his best, but people who did not
know him so well would not have the same confidence. The Congressional
Committee on Investigation of the Projects, on receipt of numerous
complaints regarding the flood, had decided to proceed at once to Jim's
project and there begin its work.

Jim tossed the Director's letter to Henderson and laid aside the
Secretary's letter, which he had planned to answer that morning.

"More time wasted!" grumbled Jim. "There will be a hearing and
talky-talk and I must listen respectfully while the abutments crumble.
Why in thunder don't they send a good engineer or two along with the
Congressmen? A report from such a committee would have value. How would
Congress enjoy having a committee of engineers passing on the legality
of the work it does?"

Henderson laid the letter down, rumpling his hair. "Hell's fire!" he
said gently. "My past won't stand investigating. You ask the Missis if
it will! I'm safe if they stick to Government projects and stay away
from the mining camps and the ladies."

Jim's eyes twinkled. "Perhaps your past is black enough to whiten mine
in contrast. I'll ask Mrs. Henderson."

Henderson suddenly brightened. "I've got a dying favor to ask of you.
Let me take the fattest of 'em to ride in Bill Evans' auto?"

Jim looked serious. "Your past must have been black, all right, Jack!
You show a naturally vicious disposition. Really, I haven't anything
personal against these men. It's just that they take so much time and
insist on treating us fellows as if we were pickpockets."

"I ain't as ladylike as you," said Henderson, in his tender way. "I just
naturally hate to be investigated. My Missis does all that I can stand.
I won't do anything vicious, though. I'll just show a friendly interest
in them. I might lasso 'em and hitch 'em behind the machine, but that
might hurt it and, anyhow, that wouldn't be subtle enough. These here
Easterners like delicate methods. I do myself. At least, I appreciate
them. The delicatest attention I ever had that might come under the head
of an investigation was by an Eastern lady. It was years ago on an old
irrigation ditch. Her husband was starting a ranch and I caught him
stealing water. I was pounding him up when she landed on me with a
steel-pronged garden rake. She raked me till I had to borrow clothes
from her to go home with. That sure was some delicate investigation."

"The world lost a great lyric soloist in you, Jack," commented Jim.
"Jokes aside, it's fair enough for them to investigate us. If the
members of the committee are straight, it ought to do a lot toward
stopping this everlasting kicking of the farmers. We've nothing to fear
but the delay they cause."

Jack sighed regretfully. "Well, I'll be good, if you insist. Let's give
'em a masquerade ball while they're here."

"Good," said Jim. "Will you take charge?"

"Bet your life!" replied Henderson, whose enthusiasm for social affairs
had never flagged since the day of the reception to the Director, up on
the Makon.

Jim spent a heavy morning on the dam, climbing about, testing and
calculating. Already the forms were back in place ready to restore the
concrete swept away by the flood. Excavation for the next section of
the foundation was proceeding rapidly. At mid-afternoon, Jim was
squatting on a rock overlooking the excavation when Oscar Ames appeared.

"Mr. Manning," he said angrily, "that main ditch isn't being run as near
my house as I want it. You'd better move it now, before I make you move
it."

"Go to my irrigation engineer, Mr. Ames," replied Jim shortly. "He has
my full confidence."

"Well, he hasn't mine nor nobody's else's in the valley, with his darned
dude pants! I am one of the oldest farmers in this community. I had as
much influence as anybody at getting the Service in here and I propose
to have my place irrigated the way I want it."

"By the way," said Jim, "you folks use too much water for your own good,
since the diversion dam was finished. Why do you use three times what
you ought to just because you can get it from the government free? Don't
you know you'll ruin your land with alkali?"

Ames looked at Jim in utter disgust. "Did you ever run an irrigated
farm? Did you ever see a ditch till eight years ago? Didn't you get your
education at a darned East college where they wouldn't know a ditch from
the Atlantic Ocean?"

"Look here, Ames," said Jim, "do you know that you are the twelfth
farmer who has been up here and told me he'd get me dismissed if we
didn't put the ditch closer to his ranch? I tell you as I've told them
that we've placed the canal where we had to for the lie of the land and
where it would do the greatest good to the greatest number when the
project was all under cultivation. Some of you will have to dig longer
and some shorter ditches. I can't help that. Isn't that reasonable?"

"It would be," sniffed Ames, "if you knew enough to know where the best
place was. That's where you fall down. You won't take advice. Just
because I don't wear short pants and leather shin guards is no reason
I'm a fool."

Jim's drawl was very pronounced. "The shin guards would help you when
you clear cactus. And if you'd adopt a leather headguard, it would
protect you in your favorite job of butting in."

"I'll get you yet!" exclaimed Ames, starting off rapidly toward the
trail. "I've got pull that'll surprise you."

Jim swore a little under his breath and began again on his interrupted
calculations. When the four o'clock whistle blew and the shifts changed,
some one sat down silently near Jim. Jim worked on for a few moments,
finishing his problem. Then he looked up. Suma-theek was sitting on a
rock, smoking and watching Jim.

"Boss," he began, "you sabez that story old Suma-theek tell you?"

Jim nodded. "Why don't you do it, then?" the old Indian went on.

Jim looked puzzled. Suma-theek jerked his thumb toward the distant tent
house. "She much beautiful, much lonely, much young, much good. Why you
no marry her?"

"She is married, Suma-theek," replied Jim gently.

"Married? No! That no man up there. She no his wife. Let him go. He bad
in heart like in body. You marry her."

Jim continued to shake his head. "She belongs to him. The law says so."

Suma-theek snorted. "Law! You whites make no law except to break it.
Love it have no law except to make tribe live. Great Spirit, he must
think she bad when she might have good babies for her tribe, she stay
with that bad cripple. Huh?"

"You don't understand, Suma-theek. There is always the matter of honor
for a white man."

Suma-theek smoked his cigarette thoughtfully for a moment and then he
said, wonderingly: "A white man's honor! He will steal a nigger woman or
an Injun woman. He will steal Injun money or Injun lands. He will steal
white man's money. He will lie. He will cheat. Where he not afraid,
white man no have honor. But when talk about steal white man's wife, he
afraid. Then he find he have honor! Honor! Boss, white honor is like
rain on hot sand, like rotten arrow string, like leaking olla. I am old,
old Injun. I heap know white honor!"

Old Suma-theek flipped his cigarette into the excavation and strode
away. Jim rose slowly and looked over at the Elephant with his gray eyes
narrowed, his broad shoulders set.

"On your head be it!" he murmured. "I am going to try!"

He climbed the trail to his house, washed and brushed himself and went
over to the tent house. Pen was sitting on the doorstep. Oscar Ames was
talking to Sara.

"Hello, Sara!" said Jim coolly. "Pen, I've got a free hour. Will you
come up back of the camp with me and let me show you the view from Wind
Ridge? It's finer than what you get from the Elephant."

Sara's face was inscrutable. Oscar said nothing. Pen laid aside her book
and picked up her hat.

"I knew there was something the matter with me," she said gaily. "It was
Wind Ridge I was missing though I never heard of it before! I won't be
long, Sara."

"Don't hurry on my account," said Sara, with a sardonic glance at Jim.

The trail led up the mountain slope with a steady twist toward a ridge
at the top that showed a sawtooth edge. Almost to the top the mountain
was dotted with little green cedars, dwarfed and wind-tortured. Up at
the saw edge they stopped. Here the wind caught them, wind flooding
across desert and mountain, clean, sweet, with a marvelous tang to it,
despite the desert heat.

"Why, it's a world of lavenders!" cried Pen.

Jim nodded and steadied her against the great warm rush of the wind. Far
to the east beyond the purple Elephant the San Juan mountains lay on the
horizon. They were the faintest, clearest blue lavender, with iridescent
peaks merging into the iridescent sky. The desert that swept toward the
Elephant was a yellow lavender. The mountain that bore the ridge was a
gray lavender. To the west, three great ranges vied with each other in
melting tints of purple, that now were blue, now were lavender. The two
might have been sitting at the top of the world, the sweep of the view
and the sense of exaltation in it were so great.

Mighty white clouds rushed across the sky, sweeping their blue shadows
over the desert, like ripples in the wake of huge sailing ships.

When Pen had looked her fill, Jim led her to a clump of cedars that
broke the wind and made a seat for her from branches. Then he tossed his
hat down and stood before her. Pen looked up into his face.

"Why so serious, Still Jim?" she asked.

"Penelope," asked Jim, "do you remember that twice I held you in my arms
and kissed you on the lips and told you that you belonged to me?"

Pen whitened. If he could only dream how the pain and sweetness of those
embraces never had left her!

"I remember! But let's not talk of that. We settled it all on the day
you got back from Washington. We must forget it all, Jim."

"We can never forget it, Pen. We're not that kind." Jim stood struggling
for words with which to express his emotion. It always had been this
way, he told himself. The great moments of his life always found him
dumb. Even old Suma-theek could tell his thoughts more clearly than he.
Jim summoned all his resources.

"Pen, it never occurred to me you wouldn't wait. There has never been
any other woman in my life and I suppose I just couldn't picture any
other man having a hold on you. But it all goes in with my general
incompetence to grasp opportunity. I felt that I had no right to go any
farther until I had more than hopes to offer you. I planned to make a
reputation as an engineer. I knew money didn't interest you. I wanted to
offer myself to you as a man of real achievement. You see how I failed.
I have made a reputation as a grafting, inefficient engineer with the
public. You are another man's wife. But, Penelope, I am not going to
give you up!

"One gets a new view of life out here. You are wrong in staying with
Saradokis. Why should three lives be ruined by his tragedy? Pen! Pen! If
I could make you understand the torture of knowing you are married to
Sara! You are mine! From the first day I came upon you in the old
library, we belonged to each other. Pen, I've tramped the desert night
after night on the Makon and here, sweating it out with the stars and I
have determined that you shall belong to me."

Pen, white and trembling, did not move her gaze from Jim's face. All her
tired, yearning youth stood in her eyes.

Jim spoke very slowly and clearly. "Penelope, I love you. Will you leave
Saradokis and marry me?"

Pen did not answer for a long moment. A to-hee trilled from the cedar:

"O yahee! O yahai!
Sweet as arrow weed in spring!"

The Elephant lay motionless. The flag rippled and fluttered, a faint red
spot far below on the mountainside. Pen's youth was fighting with her
bitterly won philosophy. Then she summoned all her fortitude.

"Jim, dear, it would be a cowardly thing for me to leave Sara."

"It would be greater cowardice to stay. Pen, shall you and I die as Iron
Skull did? I can marry no other woman feeling as I do about you. Sara's
life is useless. Let the world say what it will. Marry me, Penelope."

"Jim, I can't."

"Why not, Penelope?"

"I love you very dearly, but I've had enough of marriage. I've done my
duty. I don't see how I could keep on loving a man after I married him,
even if he weren't a cripple. The process of adjustment is simply
frightful. Marriage is just a contract binding one to do the
impossible!"

Jim scowled. More and more he was realizing how Sara had hurt Pen.

"You don't care a rap about me, Pen. Why don't you admit it?"

Pen gave a sudden tearful smile. "You know better, Jim. But just to
prove to you what a silly goose I am, I'll show you something. Girls in
real life do this even more than they do it in novels!"

Pen opened a flat locket she always wore. A folded bit of paper and a
tiny photograph fluttered into her lap. She gave both to Jim. The
picture was a snapshot of Jim in his football togs. The bit of paper,
unfolded, showed in Pen's handwriting a verse from Christina Rossetti:

"Too late for love, too late for joy;
Too late! Too late!
You loitered on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate:
The enchanted dove upon her branch
Died without a mate:
The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate:
Her heart was starving all this time
You made it wait."

Jim put the bit of paper into his pocket and gave Pen the picture. His
eyes were full of tears.

"Pen! Pen!" he cried. "Let me make it up to you! We care so much!
Suppose we aren't always happy. Oh, my love, a month of life with you
would make me willing to bear all the spiritual drudgery of marriage!"

White to the lips, Pen answered once more: "Jim, I will never leave
Sara. There is such a thing as honor. It's the last foundation that the
whole social fabric rests on. I promised to stay with Sara, in the
marriage service. He's kept his word. It's my business to keep mine,
until he breaks his."

Jim stood with set face. "Is this final, Penelope?"

"It's final, Still."

"Do you mind if I go on alone, Pen?"

Pen shook her head and Jim turned down the mountainside. And Pen, being
a woman, put her head down on her knees and cried her heart out. Then
she went back to Sara.

That night Jim answered the Secretary's letter:

"My work has always been technical. I know that the Projects are not the
success their sponsors in Congress hoped they would be, but I feel that
you ask too much of your engineers when you ask them not only to make
the dam but to administer it. I have about concluded that an engineer is
a futile beast of triangles and n-th powers, unfitted by his very
talents for associating with other human beings. I suppose that this
letter must be interpreted as my admission of inefficiency."

It was late when Jim had finished this letter. He was, he thought, alone
in the house. He laid down his pen. A sudden overpowering desire came
upon him for Exham, for the old haunts of his childhood. There it
seemed to him that some of his old confidence in life might return to
him. He dropped his arm along the back of his chair and with his
forehead on his wrist he gave a groan of utter desolation.

Mrs. Flynn, coming in at the open door, heard the groan and saw the
beautiful brown head bowed as if in despair. She stopped aghast.

"Oh, my Lord!" she gasped under her breath. "Him, too! Mrs. Penelope
ain't the only one that's broken up, then! Ain't it fierce! I wonder
what's happened to the poor young ones! I'd like to go to Mr. Sara's
wake. I would that! Oh, my Lord! Let's see. He's had two baths today. I
can't get him into another. I'll make him some tea. You have to cheer up
either to eat or take a bath."

She slipped into the kitchen and there began to bang the range and
rattle teacups. When she came in, Jim was sitting erect and stern-faced,
sorting papers. Mrs. Flynn set the tray down on the desk with a thud.
She was going to take no refusal.

"Drink that tea, Boss Still Jim, and eat them toasted crackers. You
didn't eat any supper to speak of and you're as pindlin' as a knitting
needle. Don't slop on your clean suit. That khaki is hard to iron."

She stood close beside him and made an imaginary thread an excuse for
laying her hand caressingly on Jim's shoulder. "You're a fine lad," she
said, uncertainly. "I wish I'd been your mother."

The touch was too much for Jim. He dropped the teacup and, turning, laid
his face against Mrs. Flynn's shoulder.

"I could pretend you were tonight, very easily," he said brokenly, "if
you'd smooth my hair for me."

Mrs. Flynn hugged the broad shoulders to her and smoothed back Jim's
hair.

"I've been wanting to get my hands on it ever since I first saw it, lad.
God knows it's as soft as silk and just the color of oak leaves in
winter. There, now, hold tight a bit, my boy. We can weather any storm
if we have a friend to lean on, and I'm that, God knows. It's a fearful
cold I've caught, God knows. You'll have to excuse my snuffing. There
now! There! God knows that in my waist I've got a letter for you from
Mrs. Penelope. She seemed used up tonight. Her jewel of a husband took
dope tonight, so she and I sat in peace while she wrote this. I'll leave
it on your tray. Good-night to you, Boss. Don't slop on your suit."





Next: Jim Makes A Speech

Previous: The Elephant's Love Story



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