Chapter 6 The Girl from Hollywood by Edgar Rice Burroughs

It was May. The rainy season was definitely over. A few April showers had concluded it. The Ganado hills showed their most brilliant greens. The March pigs were almost ready to wean. White-faced calves and black colts and gray colts surveyed this beautiful world through soft, dark eyes, and were filled with the joy of living as they ran beside their gentle mothers. A stallion neighed from the stable corral, and from the ridge behind Jackknife Cañon the Emperor of Ganado answered him.

A girl and a man sat in the soft grass beneath the shade of a live oak upon the edge of a low bluff in the pasture where the brood mares grazed with their colts. Their horses were tied to another tree near by. The girl held a bunch of yellow violets in her hand, and gazed dreamily down the broad cañon toward the valley. The man sat a little behind her and gazed at the girl. For a long time neither spoke.

“You cannot be persuaded to give it up, Grace?” he asked at last.

She shook her head.

“I should never be happy until I had tried it,” she replied.

“Of course,” he said, “I know how you feel about it. I feel the same way. I want to get away—away from the deadly stagnation and sameness of this life; but I am going to try to stick it out for father’s sake, and I wish that you loved me enough to stick it out for mine. I believe that together we could get enough happiness out of life here to make up for what we are denied of real living, such as only a big city can offer. Then, when father is gone, we could go and live in the city—in any city that we wanted to live in—Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, London, Paris—anywhere.”

“It isn’t that I don’t love you enough, Custer,” said the girl. “I love you too much to want you to marry just a little farmer girl. When I come to you, I want you to be proud of me. Don’t talk about the time when your father will have gone. It seems wicked. He would not want you to stay if he knew how you felt about it.”

“You do not know,” he replied. “Ever since I was a little boy he has counted on this—on my staying on and working with him. He wants us all to be together always. When Eva marries, he will build her a home on Ganado. You have already helped with the plan for ours. You know it is his dream, but you cannot know how much it means to him. It would not kill him if his dream was spoiled, but it would take so much happiness out of his life that I cannot bring myself to do it. It is not a matter of money, but of sentiment and love. If Ganado were wiped off the face of the earth to-morrow, we would still have all the money that we need; but he would never be happy again, for his whole life is bound up in the ranch and the dream that he has built around it. It is peculiar, too, that such a man as he should be so ruled by sentiment. You know how practical he is, and sometimes hard—yet I have seen the tears come to his eyes when he spoke of his love for Ganado.”

“I know,” she said, and they were silent again for a time. “You are a good son, Custer,” she said presently. “I wouldn’t have you any different. I am not so good a daughter. Mother does not want me to go. It is going to make her very unhappy, and yet I am going. The man who loves me does not want me to go. It is going to make him very unhappy, and yet I am going. It seems very selfish; but, oh, Custer, I cannot help but feel that I am right! It seems to me that I have a duty to perform, and that this is the only way I can perform it. Perhaps I am not only silly, but sometimes I feel that I am called by a higher power to give myself for a little time to the world, that the world may be happier and, I hope, a little better. You know I have always felt that the stage was one of the greatest powers for good in all the world, and now I believe that some day the screen will be an even greater power for good. It is with the conviction that I may help toward this end that I am so eager to go. You will be very glad and very happy when I come back, that I did not listen to your arguments.”

“I hope you are right, Grace,” Custer Pennington said.

On a rustic seat beneath the new leaves of an umbrella tree a girl and a boy sat beside the upper lily pond on the south side of the hill below the ranch house. The girl held a spray of Japanese quince blossoms in her hand, and gazed dreamily at the water splashing lazily over the rocks into the pond. The boy sat beside her and gazed at the girl. For a long time neither spoke.

“Won’t you please say yes?” whispered the boy presently.

“How perfectly, terribly silly you are!” she replied.

“I am not silly,” he said. “I am twenty, and you are almost eighteen. It’s time that we were marrying and settling down.”

“On what?” she demanded.

“Well, we won’t need much at first. We can live at home with mother,” he explained, “until I sell a few stories.”

“How perfectly gorgeristic!” she cried.

“Don’t make fun of me! You wouldn’t if you loved me,” he pouted.

“I do love you, silly! But whatever in the world put the dapper little idea into your head that I wanted to be supported by my mother-in-law?”

“Mother-in-law!” protested the boy. “You ought to be ashamed to speak disrespectfully of my mother.”

“You quaint child!” exclaimed the girl, laughing gayly. “Just as if I would speak disrespectfully of Aunt Mae, when I love her so splendiferously! Isn’t she going to be my mother-in-law?”

The boy’s gloom vanished magically.

“There!” he cried. “We’re engaged! You’ve said it yourself. You’ve proposed, and I accept you. Yes, sure—she’s going to be your mother-in-law!”

Eva flushed.

“I never said anything of the kind. How perfectly idiotical!”

“But you did say it. You proposed to me. I’m going to announce the engagement—‘Mrs. Mae Evans announces the engagement of her son, Guy Thackeray, to Miss Eva Pennington.’”

“Funeral notice later,” snapped the girl, glaring at him. “Aw, come, now, you needn’t get mad at me. I was only fooling; but wouldn’t it be great, Ev? We could always be together then, and I could write and you could—could—”

“Wash dishes,” she suggested.

The light died from his eyes, and he dropped them sadly to the ground.

“I’m sorry I’m poor,” he said. “I didn’t think you cared about that, though.”

She laid a brown hand gently over his.

“You know I don’t care,” she said. “I am a catty old thing. I’d just love it if we had a little place all our very own—just a teeny, weeny bungalow. I’d help you with your work, and keep hens, and have a little garden with onions and radishes and everything, and we wouldn’t have to buy anything from the grocery store, and a bank account, and one sow; and when we drove into the city people would say, ‘There goes Guy Thackeray Evans, the famous author, but I wonder where his wife got that hat!’”

“Oh, Ev!” he cried laughing. “You never can be serious more than two seconds, can you?”

“Why should I be?” she inquired. “And anyway, I was. It really would be elegantiferous if we had a little place of our own; but my husband has got to be able to support me, Guy. He’d lose his self-respect if he didn’t; and then, if he lost his, how could I respect him? You’ve got to have respect on both sides, or you can’t have love and happiness.”

His face grew stern with determination.

“I’ll get the money,” he said; but he did not look at her. “But now that Grace is going away, mother will be all alone if I leave, too. Couldn’t we live with her for a while?”

“Papa and mama have always said that it was the worst thing a young married couple could do,” she replied. “We could live near her, and see her every day; but I don’t think we should all live together. Really, though, do you think Grace is going? It seems just too awful.”

“I am afraid she is,” he replied sadly. “Mother is all broken up about it; but she tries not to let Grace know.”

“I can’t understand it,” said the girl. “It seems to me a selfish thing to do, and yet Grace has always been so sweet and generous. No matter how much I wanted to go, I don’t believe I could bring myself to do it, knowing how terribly it would hurt papa. Just think, Guy—it is the first break, except for the short time we were away at school, since we have been born. We have all lived here always, it seems, your family and mine, like one big family; but after Grace goes it will be the beginning of the end. It will never be the same again.”

There was a note of seriousness and sadness in her voice that sounded not at all like Eva Pennington. The boy shook his head.

“It is too bad,” he said; “but Grace is so sure she is right—so positive that she has a great future before her, and that we shall all be so proud of her—that sometimes I am convinced myself.”

“I hope she is right,” said the girl, and then, with a return to her joyous self: “Oh, wouldn’t it be spiffy if she really does become famous! I can see just how puffed up we shall all be when we read the reviews of her pictures, like this—‘Miss Grace Evans, the famous star, has quite outdone her past successes in the latest picture, in which she is ably supported by such well known actors as Thomas Meighan, Wallace Reid, Gloria Swanson, and Mary Pickford.’”

“Why slight Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin?” suggested Guy.

The girl rose.

“Come on!” she said. “Let’s have a look at the pools—it isn’t a perfect day unless I’ve seen fish in every pool. Do you remember how we used to watch and watch and watch for the fish in the lower pools, and run as fast as we could to be the first up to the house to tell if we saw them, and how many?”

“And do you remember the little turtles, and how wild they got?” he put in. “Sometimes we wouldn’t see them for weeks, and then we’d get just a glimpse, so that we knew they were still there. Then, after a while, we never saw them again, and how we used to wonder and speculate as to what had become of them!”

“And do you remember the big water snake we found in the upper pool, and how Cus used to lie in wait for him with his little twenty-two?”

“Cus was always the hunter. How we used to trudge after him up and down those steep hills there in the cow pasture, while he hunted ground squirrels, and how mad he’d get if we made any noise! Gee, Ev, those were the good old days!”

“And how we used to fight, and what a nuisance Cus thought me; but he always asked me to go along, just the same. He’s a wonderful brother, Guy!”

“He’s a wonderful man, Ev,” replied the boy. “You don’t half know how wonderful he is. He’s always thinking of some one else. Right now I’ll bet he’s eating his heart out because Grace is going away; and he can’t go, just because he’s thinking more of some one’s else happiness than his own.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“He wants to go to the city. He wants to get into some business there; but he won’t go, because he knows your father wants him here.”

“Do you really think that?”

“I know it,” he said.

They walked on in silence along the winding pathways among the flower-bordered pools, to stop at last beside the lower one. This had originally been a shallow wading pool for the children when they were small, but it was now given over to water hyacinth and brilliant fantails.

“There!” said the girl, presently. “I have seen fish in each pool.”

“And you can go to bed with a clear conscience to-night,” he laughed.

To the west of the lower pool there were no trees to obstruct their view of the hills that rolled down from the mountains to form the western wall of the cañon in which the ranch buildings and cultivated fields lay. As the two stood there, hand in hand, the boy’s eyes wandered lovingly over the soft, undulating lines of these lower hills, with their parklike beauty of greensward dotted with wild walnut trees. As he looked he saw, for a brief moment, the figure of a man on horseback passing over the hollow of a saddle before disappearing upon the southern side.

Small though the distant figure was, and visible but for a moment, the boy recognized the military carriage of the rider. He glanced quickly at the girl to note if she had seen, but it was evident that she had not.

“Well, Ev,” he said, “I guess I’ll be toddling.”

“So early?” she demanded.

“You see I’ve got to get busy, if I’m going to get the price of that teeny, weeny bungalow,” he explained. “Now that we’re engaged, you might kiss me good-by—eh?”

“We’re not engaged, and I’ll not kiss you good-by or good anything else. I don’t believe in people kissing until they’re married.”

“Then why are you always raving about the wonderful kisses Antonio Moreno, or Milton Sills, or some other poor prune, gives the heroine at the end of the last reel?” he demanded.

“Oh, that’s different,” she explained. “Anyway, they’re just going to get married. When we are just going to get married I’ll let you kiss me—once a week, maybe.”

“Thanks!” he cried.

A moment later he swung into the saddle, and with a wave of his hand cantered off up the cañon.

“Now what,” said the girl to herself, “is he going up there for? He can’t make any money back there in the hills. He ought to be headed straight for home and his typewriter!”