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   Chapter 8 No.8

It Pays to Smile By Nina Wilcox Putnam Characters: 18114

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


One of the most annoying things which the outbreak of the war of 1914 did was to completely ruin our tour of Europe.

We had planned to visit Belgium, where Mr. Pegg intended to launch some citrus project or other, and afterward make a tour of Germany. And, of course, that ungentlemanly, uncalled-for war entirely upset our plans. To say that it was an annoyance is to put it mildly. I was terribly provoked, especially as my collection of the flora of Europe was far from complete. I had been gathering specimens whenever opportunity afforded, pressing them, and pasting them in a blank book. Then I would write in the proper names, both Latin and popular, in a neat lettering of black ink picked out with red. It promised to be a most interesting souvenir of my trip and was intended as a gift for Euphemia. But the interruption of this small personal enterprise was, of course, only one of the many annoyances which the outbreak of the war occasioned.

It was terrible that Peaches should be cut off in the midst of her education, and terrible, too, that I should have the prospect of a return to Boston staring me in the face. Also Peaches needed diversion. Ever since the disappearance of the duke she had drooped like a-well like a eucalyptus tree, let us say, though she, who as a rule was so free in pouring out exact statements regarding her inmost emotions, was absolutely silent on this most interesting subject. I had fully expected that she would make a sort of confessor of me and postpone my nightly slumbers to the point of ultimate endurance upon every possible occasion, as she had during what I may call the chauffeur epoch, when she imagined herself in love with Richard. But from the day of the duke's disappearance she became singularly reticent about her emotions, and as is always the case with a woman who refuses to allow herself to talk, it made her quite ill, though she kept up and about and all that.

Mr. Pegg, Abby and myself consulted about what was the best course to take, and after failing utterly to elicit any information from the police regarding the crime, if any, of which our gallant Sandy was accused, we tried the government officials, the American consul, and even went so far as to drive to the homestead of the Monteventi, in hope of obtaining a clew as to what had caused this mysterious performance. But in no direction was any information to be gained.

The castle of the missing duke was closed-a desolate, half-ruined place it was-the villagers proved as dumb as the authorities, and we concluded that they were so for the same reason-to wit, because they knew nothing. If only some definite fact concerning Sandro could have been ascertained even though it had been to his detriment, Alicia's mind would have been given an opportunity at least of escaping the thought of him by a definite rejection. The terrible uncertainty of the cause of his action was what troubled her the most, I felt sure.

But having failed to gain any real information we had simply to conclude that either Sandro was mixed up in some private feud or that the police were just too reticent for anything. Foreign police are that way-not a bit like democratic America, where, Richard, the chauffeur, assured me, the police statements to the newspapers are the native criminals' most reliable source of information.

Well, at any rate, as we could get hold of nothing to tell Peaches either for her comfort or disillusionment we conspired for her diversion. And just as I had arranged to take her upon an exhaustive tour of the cathedral towns of Germany that annoying war broke out and spoiled everything. A rush of appreciation of America seemed all at once to overwhelm even the most ardent tourists, and Mr. Pegg did not escape being affected by the contagion. With his usual decisiveness we were told to pack for home, and then I was summoned for the private interview with him which I knew was inevitable, and to which I looked forward with dread, as it could hardly mean anything except my return ticket to Boston.

We were at Nice at the moment and Mr. Pegg awaited my coming upon the balcony of the royal suite of the hotel. He was chewing a cigar and very serious about it-our interview, that is. As I appeared he gave me a curious look which took me in from my newly waved hair to the tips of my high-heeled slippers, and I do verily believe that he observed them for the first time. My dear father used to say that men always see things suddenly or not at all, and this was one of those cases. Mr. Pegg always saw very clearly what was going on in his own mind, but perception of outside things seemed to be, as it were, cumulative.

However, though he made no remark upon my appearance I saw him change his mind about something or other in the transparent manner so common in men, and he abandoned the overworked cigar.

"Miss Talbot," he began, "in a couple of hours more or less we are going to be in the refugee, or immigrant class, because we are fortunate enough to be able to go home steerage, which is a damn sight better than not going home at all. And what I mean to say is that I think it would be awfully good for you to spend a few months in California. It would sort of round out your European experiences by giving you a real genuine standard of comparison-show you a country worth talking about. So I suggest that you stick by this outfit and take a little graft of Boston culture out to the home ranch for us, where maybe we can improve some of the wild stock with it."

This was so different from what I had anticipated-the polite apology for the war's having interfered with our trip and being so sorry that we must part, and so on-that I could not refrain from an outburst of appreciation.

"Oh, Mr. Pegg!" I exclaimed, clasping my hands in delight. "How truly wonderful! Indeed, I shall be most pleased to remain in your employ and to see Golden California. The more especially as dear Alicia needs me to look after her in her affliction! I accept!"

"Good!" said Mr. Pegg, beginning upon a fresh cigar, a sure sign that our business was at an end. "Good! And you can get a lot of specimens for that dried-flower morgue of yours out there, too, if the Germans don't put us to picking seaweed instead, on the way home!"

But the Germans didn't.

Abandoning Europe was a relief for many reasons. There was Cousin Abby, whom we left behind, for one thing, and I confess I admired her attitude and encouraged it. You see she had been traveling with us, and Mr. Pegg had quite unnecessarily, I thought, offered to get her back to America. But Abby was firm in her refusal. A strange fiery look came into her eyes and her head went up like-like a battle horse, I do declare.

"No, thanks awf'ly, old dear!" she said. "But I'm off to San Remo. That's home now. I've lived there twenty years and it's part of me. We'll go into this war any day, and somebody has to be there to see that it's on the side of the Allies!"

It was extremely noble of her, or, as Peaches put it, thoroughly sporting. And so she left us, and we all upheld her in so doing, I'm sure. It was a fine sacrifice and we all admire the spectacle of a sacrifice, especially when some close friend is making it, if you understand me.

Well, so much for the war. At least so far as it concerned us for a long time. The next phase which directly affects my story is my own first impression of the golden state, which began of course when our train left Chicago on the Santa Fe. I don't know why, but the West seems to reach East that far. Perchance I am mistaken and the Western influence really begins at Buffalo, but at that point I was not in a state of mind to make the usual traveler's observations, being wholly obsessed with the problem of trying to obtain a little privacy in a sleeping car. After the first night I entirely abandoned the hope, and therefore was more sensitive to other impressions. A great many people had, it seems, decided to go to California that week, and the war had necessitated Mr. Pegg's immediate return to the coast, as he called it, though I would have said we had landed upon the only real coast-well, at any rate, he had to go on at once, and Peaches insisted that we all go with him, but we were unable to obtain staterooms, and Mr. Pegg's attempt to buy up an entire car was a complete failure. Indeed he was able to get only three lower berths, with the result that Richard, the chauffeur, was parked above me. The term is his own. I should have said, to follow out his chosen symbolism, that he was parked, but with the engine running, and not too well throttled down, either. In other words, he snored; and I think I have mentioned that he had an extremely competent nose. Of course that trip in the steerage had inured me somewhat to hardship, but I had not anticipated that America would be so quickly affected by the war-or so slow in noticing that it was affected.

At any rate, my real observations did not begin until we left Chicago behind us, and then

, not unnaturally, the first thing I observed was Peaches' extraordinary behavior.

She was not flirting. The fact speaks for itself and gains in importance when I make mention of the circumstance that there were no less than two very attractive strange men in our car, and that one of them was a well-known motion-picture actor. But Peaches paid them absolutely no attention despite that before we were two hours out Richard was growling at them like an angry watchdog-usually a sufficient reason for Peaches to exercise her love of tormenting him. Instead she sat by the window and stared out into the swift-moving blackness.

Mr. Pegg at once disappeared into a den where I have a deep-rooted suspicion some sort of card game was in progress, and he hardly reappeared again, except for food, during the remainder of the trip.

At any rate the lack of necessity for actively chaperoning my charge left me free to make notes upon that part of America which was foreign to me. Indeed, I was glad of the opportunity, for though I had been several times from Boston to Plymouth, and had once visited an aunt in Philadelphia, I felt there was yet much of my native land for me to see. And there was. Very much.

How very, very much I had really no conception in advance, nor can any language adequately describe it. To do so would be like reading the unabridged dictionary aloud. Indeed, the term "unabridged" is the only one which conveys any sense of the country one crosses. And it was so amazing to find it really existed. One had been told about Kansas plains and the northern Arizona deserts, but the statements made by travelers were somehow not convincing. Nobody's statements about travel ever are. But now I saw those, as I may call them, illimitable spaces and stupendous mountains. There were actually Indians! Upon my word of honor, though not nearly so realistic as the ones who used to sell worm medicine in Bigelo's drug store window on Bank Street. Still they were undoubtedly genuine, and even accepted a little money from me at Albuquerque. It was most thrilling.

I felt singularly small and incompetent and ignorant, whirling along through this infinite territory. It made me ashamed, curiously enough, to realize that I had ever thought that the original thirteen colonies were America; that I had actually once entertained the supposition that that portion of the country situated west of Buffalo was something to be vaguely apologetic for! It made Europe seem small and insignificant, with its toy railways and funny little huddled towns and neatly apportioned fields-even its terrible present situation; or rather made America seem enormously safe, sane and resourceful.

I had always been proud of being a New Englander, and now I began to be impressed with the stupendous fact of being an American. In one thing only was I disappointed.

My dear father used to say that absence made the heart grow fonder because there was no reality present to hamper the imagination. And I believe that this must be particularly true of Californians.

All during my time with them in Europe, indeed since my joining them, I had heard little comment on anything European from either Peaches or her father except in disparaging comparison to the Californian equivalent. And now upon the train, from the moment of our departure from the Grand Central Terminal, everything I admired elicited a chorused response, "Wait until you see California!"

Naturally I waited. In the nature of things I could not do otherwise. But happily the railroad train did not. Meanwhile I existed in excited anticipation of a degree scarcely to be endured. Never shall I forget the first morning when casaba melons appeared in the dining car, and Peaches and Mr. Pegg exchanged a half-pleased, half-contemptuous glance over the first spoonful. To me it tasted like nectar but--

"Santa Clara fruit!" said Mr. Pegg in the same tone in which Euphemia might have said "Those common people!"

"Yes!" nodded Peaches. "Wait until you have a San Bernardino melon, Free!"

"Can it be possible that California is divided against itself?" I asked, aghast.

"You said it!" spoke up Richard, the chauffeur, who had doffed his uniform and imperceptibly slipped back into his earlier relationship with the family, even to the point of eating with us; a fact which seemed curiously without offense. "You said it, Aunt Mary! Los Angeleans are the Smiths of California, and San Franciscans are the Talbots. And yet I come from Los Angeles myself."

"I should say so, if I get you right!" exclaimed Peaches. "Why, Free, southern California has nothing but the climate-absolutely nothing! While San Francisco is full of-of--"

"Fogs," said Richard promptly; "and earthquakes!"

"It was a fire!" said Peaches fiercely.

"Hey, you!" interrupted Mr. Pegg, laying down his Kansas City paper. "Hey, you two-you was both raised in Oroville ever since I knew you."

"But, dad, I don't want Free to get a wrong idea about the south," replied Peaches. "You know it's just one vast mixture of real estate and movie enterprises."

"Better than living among a lot of hop pickers!" retorted Dick. "Burning up in summer and getting your trees frozen in winter!"

"Thank the Lord!" said Mr. Pegg reverently. "There is some doubt as to if I was born in Santa Monica or Oroville. It has kep' me unprejudiced, what with owning orchards in both ends of the State. Let me tell you, Miss Freedom, that our golden land is a bower and a horn of plenty from one end to the other. It is all good enough for this native son!"

Now, of course, when people discourse to you in such a fashion of any land you expect it to be green, at least. You anticipate great groves of trees, wooded hills and flowery dales with rushing streams, o'erhung with primrose and-er-tortillas and other native fruits and flowers.

But California was not green that particular first week in September. There were not even any trees to be seen except an occasional lonely yellow clump of cotton-wood or a thin straggling line of eucalyptus. We were headed straight for San Francisco, and from the moment when we branched north I looked in vain for redwoods such as I had seen pictures of in geography books and other printed sources of information. Indeed, I began to fear that there existed but the one redwood I had seen pictured and that it was not situated near the railroad track. At the railroad stations were a few palmettos, and as for the rest-brown-brown-brown; burned hills and almost improperly naked purple mountains. It was a shock, a disappointment beyond belief. I felt I had been deliberately misled and made game of.

But Peaches suddenly came to life. Her drooping figure had straightened and her eyes glistened. Her eager golden head turned this way and that. She seemed to see things in the barren landscape that were invisible to me.

Her father, too, was strangely affected by the fact that we had passed the State boundary line, and abandoned his game, which I discovered to have been named after a famous Boston confection called Black Jack, and stood upon the rear platform in company with other returning native sons, all looking eagerly at-something! The brown grass was all I saw.

As for Richard, the chauffeur, he had shed the last vestige of his servitude and he, too, seemed looking at something-something very beautiful. And then all at once I realized what it was. When California is wet she is green and they were looking at her through a veil of happy tears that transfigured the landscape. I ventured, most delicately, to intimate my understanding to Peaches, when to my amazement, she turned on me with a laugh.

"Think I want to see it green?" she said. "Why, it's just as beautiful when it's brown! Just as much home, just as big and bountiful and full of promise. Want to see it green? When the time comes. But do you always want New England to be green? Don't you ever want to see it white? Well!"

I thought then that I understood, but I didn't. Not until long after. But as I stood beside her, abashed, a gentleman whose acquaintance I had made when he first got on the train the evening before, and with whom I had had a most pleasant and innocent chat without either of us revealing our names, approached us with an expression of surprise.

"Peaches!" he exclaimed, flushing up to the roots of his thin gray hair. "How are you!"

"Mr. Markheim!" said my charge in her turn astonished. "When did you get aboard?"

"I'm just up from Coronado," he replied. "Got on last night! What luck to find you! What luck, what luck!"

"This is Miss Talbot, my chaperon," said Peaches sweetly. "Meet Mr. Sebastian Markheim, Free."

"We have already met!" he exclaimed blandly. "But I had no idea that--"

"We spoke in the observation car last night," I said as primly as the awkward circumstances permitted.

"Free!" exclaimed Peaches severely. "You picked him up! I tell you I'll breathe easier once I have you safely on the ranch!"

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