The Hired Man
Downward into the abyss of failure young Worthing appears to be plunging—until he meets Natica Kemp, who shows him there may be something more worth while than polo, jazz, cocktails and time-serving
YOUNG Worthing made the score that won the game between the Hempstead Hunt Club team and the Nassau Freebooters. It was one of the preliminary matches in the Blizzard Cup series and play had been characterized frequently by brilliancy and at all times by reckless abandon.
As the bell rang ending the contest, Galen Hodge, chairman of the board of governors of the Hempstead Club and the last of the old Hell-for-leather regime, left the club house veranda, hurrying toward Worthing who had turned over his mount to a groom at the picketing place and was making his way toward the dressing-room in the rear of the elub
“I say, Don,” he cried, “splendid work, my boy, splendid!” Hodge was a precise, none too genial man and his enthusiasm was thus the more extraordinary. “I never saw a better offence than you played to-day, never in all myjexperience.”
“Thanks, Mr. Hodge. I think I was on my game rather.”
“Rather! Rath-er! You’ll be an internationalist next year, mark me. In the meantime we’ll roll up Rockaway in the semi-final. Then for Meadow Brook, eh! By the way, do you ever remember hearing of John Kimberly Kemp?”
Worthing raised his brows thoughtfully, then shook his head.
“No, I don’t think so. What is he, a polo player?”
“Polo player!” Hodge frowned. “No, he’s one of the most eminent engineers in this country. He wants to meet you. He’s over there on the veranda, he'and his daughter—a most attractive girl I should say.”
BUT when they reached the veranda Kemp was seated alone; a big man, splendidly set up, his face bronzed, his hair iron gray. He rose as the two men came up, extending a hand to Don.
“I’m not going to wait for an introduction to the son of Donald Worthing,” he said. “My name is Kemp. Years ago your father did me a service that made me in my profession. I’ve never forgotten it. We exchanged letters infrequently for several years. Then we lost touch as busy men will.”
“He’s—he’s dead, you know,” said the younger man, unaccountably at loss for words.
“I didn’t know it, until recently. I must have been in Nairobi for the British Government when his banking house went down—and he died.”
“Yes,” said Worthing simply, “it was a bad crash; nothing at all left. Mother died about three months before—a hunting accident. It was the two things that killed him.”
After a moment’s silence Worthing went on as though something were forcing him to speak.
“Curious, too; for father was about the livest man I ever knew. Master of Hounds here to the last and a great cross country rider.”
“You seem to have inherited his ability as a rider,” observed Kemp, who had been studying the young man intently. “You played beautiful polo to-day. Not”—he gestured—“that I know a great deal about the game. I’ve watched it in India and London. . .What are you doing other than playing polo?”
“He’s with my firm, Hodge and Co., Melinda[Strjet,” said Hodge as Worthing hesitated.
“I see; banking. You went to college?”
“McGill.” Don smiled. “I got a C. E. as it happens.” “An engineer, eh!” Kemp studied the younger man with increased interest. But Worthing grimaced.
“Oh, I don’t want you to think it amounts to anything. I took it because it looked easier than the classical side—and I happened to be pretty good at mathematics. You may imagine how much I got out of it.”
Kemp smiled without replying and then turned, hearing steps behind him. “Worthing,” he said, “this is my daughter, Natica.”
Don Worthing and Natica Kemp were young and standing eye to eye were immediately absorbed in each other, knew nothing save themselves. But Kemp and Hodge caught all the values—■ and felt their years. Slowly they withdrew into the club and neither Don nor Natica marked their going.
THE summer scene was theirs in all its placid beauty, created merely that their meeting might be glorified and thus made memorable. In the background lay the polo field with its hoof-torn turf; to one side through a break in a grove of oak lay the bay, serenely blue, flecked with sails. And all about were women in summer frocks and men in flannels—grouped sedately upon the greensward dappled with shadow and sun ray, or seated about the veranda tea tables.
“So you’re Don Worthing!” She smiled and her smile was beautiful. She was garbed as other girls and yet she was not as other girls—not to Worthing. The crinkling brown hair, the hazel eyes, alive with lights, the mobile lips and the delicately rich notes in the serene, oval face made her seem to the man an exotic—as though some Watteau figure had stepped out of her canvas invested in the habiliments of current mode.
"You may not remember it”—she smiled, flushing— “but once, when I was a little girl and you were a great big boy, three or four years older, I think, you held me upon—” she stopped suddenly.
Worthing’s eyes lighted amusedly. They were clear blue and the girl was struck by the contrast they afforded to his square, tanned face and the dark, but not black, hair. He was so completely her antithesis, so essentially the man of strenuous action that she forgot the embarrassment which had checked her sentence, ignored his little smile and studied him with frank interest.
She remembered that he had played quarterback on the university eleven and he was still of the ideal quarterback type, not tall but beautifully built, alertly set up.
The blue silk jacket he had worn in the game just played hung over his arm, his white shirt was open at the throat, grass and dirt stained from a rather thrilling fall.
“And you were that little girl,” he was saying. “I remember perfectly and—”
“Oh, I knew you would,” she interrupted mockingly. “Do you know, my heart was literally in my throat when you and your pony went down—” she ran on in that conversation-making way that girls have.
But she was not like other girls. This had been Worthing’s first thought of her and now it came back to him with emphasis the greater if only because he had beneath the current of outward form been speculating as to the cause of her curious effect upon him.
With the explanation in mind he began to lose interest. He was pretty much of a man’s man and the girls he knew best were those from whom he could borrow a cigarette if he happened to be without his case, who kept the cocktail pace with the men before and during dinner, or took highballs instead of tea in the afternoon. As pretty much all the girls did this now, he had no special preferences among them, and, in fact, rather favored the women of the married set whose cameraderie was much less forced and expected nothing of him except that he be entertaining and always ready to fill in a vacant place at dinner or cards—that is to say, with the exception of Nina Pond.
Just now out the corner of his eye he had caught a glimpse of Nina alone on the lawn near the driveway, a very distinguished figure, the most aristocratic in bearing and demeanor of any woman he knew. Immensely wealthy, a thoroughly ardent polo enthusiast, which game she played rather well, she had recently divorced her husband in Paris for reasons perfectly sound. Cold, more than a little imperious, she was not generally liked; but as Worthing had developed great proficiency in polo she had become very partial to him and the two were now good friends.
Nina was not more than two or three years older than he and Worthing had always got along with her very well. Indeed, soon after her return from Paris her attitude had begun to put strange thoughts into his mind. Suppose she were to fall in love with him—or, to put it more creditably, suppose they were to fall in love with each other? There were economic elements of value involved in such a contingency that Worthing could not eliminate from his thoughts. He tried to, manfully enough; none the less they persisted.
For while his position with Galen Hodge’s banking firm entailed no arduous, no complicated duties, his salary, by the same token, was not of appreciable significance. And probably never would be. Such as it was, Worthing strove not too conscientiously to earn it, what time he was not playing polo on borrowed mounts—all expenses bountifully furnished. A pleasant life on the whole—but vaguely unsatisfactory to Worthing in his more thoughtful moments.
/'YNE logical remedy was not to permit such moments Y^ to occur, and in this he had come to be very successful—but not invariably so. That was the trouble. Now Nina Pond—
Seeing him inattentive, the girl caught herself in the midst of a remark.
“Don’t let me keep you, Mr. Worthing,” she said hastily. “I know you want your bath—and here comes father.”
“Oh, you’re not keeping me, you know. This has been
immense.” He had a quick way with his head, a sort of upward sidewise jerk of the chin that she liked. “Of course I’m going to see you again.”_
“Why, I hope so.” She smiled uncertainly. “We’re living in the Bathgate house, next to the Sloanes. Sally Sloane is my cousin, you know.”
“Oh, she is!” Worthing smiled quizzically. “Then you won’t have to worry. You’ll get along all right here. Great to have seen you again, Miss—” he gestured—“I don’t see why I should be formal with a girl I once held upon my knee, do you, Natica?”
“Why no, I don’t—Don.”
Their eyes met and then with a nod he turned away, not toward the dressing-room but toward Mrs. Pond. She greeted him with a smile.
“Don, I was waiting to tell you how perfectly gorgeous you were to-day. If you didn’t play a ten goal game no one ever did. I was utterly thrilled every minute.”
“Bully for you, Nina. That’s great! I don’t know who I’d rather get that from than you. Are you going to be home to-night?”
“Why—no. That is, I’m having a dreadfully stupid dinner, the Bishop and his wife; Galen Hodge—the pokiest sort of a crowd.” Her gray eyes lighted coldly. “It’s my annual penance feast and then, of course, you understand, under the circumstances, I have to be as decent to the Bishop as the law allows.. . Do you know, I’m tempted to make you come and suffer with me.” Worthing laughed, deciding upon impulse to be independent.
“No, thanks, lady, you can suffer alone.” Kissing his hand playfully he made his way to the club, remarking over his shoulder that he’d see her soon.
THE next afternoon, which was Saturday, the Sloanes gave a luncheon at the club house at Belsize Park, where Derrick Vallender’s famous two-year-old, Dreadnaught, was to run in the third race.
Worthing, who had motored over to the track in Callender’s car, found Natica Kemp under Sally’s protecting wing and evidently glad to be there. The older woman hailed him gaily.
“Look here, Don,” she said, drawing him aside, “do you suppose you can leave Nina Pond long enough to-day to be— Oh, don’t bat your eyes, old thing. It’s quite all right about Nina and we’re all interested and pulling for you both. What I wanted to ask you was, whether you’d be decent to my young cousin over there. You’re about the only one she knows.”
“That’s easy.” Worthing smiled and nodded. “Has she ever seen a race track before?”
“I doubt it,” laughed Sally. “I gave her a coming out party last year—you were in Del Monte, I think, playing polo. Then she and her mother went abroad where she’s be en studying something orother, designing, I imagine. Anyway, be nice to her, like a good chap.”
Worthing made his way to the girl very much in the spirit of one performing a not too thrilling duty. But immediately he confronted her with a nonchalant remark the strange fancy that had dominated his mood in the first few minutes of their meeting the previous day was again strongly assertive. Moved to savor the feeling, he sat down beside her, nodding and smiling at Nina Pond who had just come in. Frankly curious, he led the girl to talk of her life at school and her experiences abroad. She had, he found, a strong sense of color in all things, a lot of humor and intelligence and she was sweet and sincere and so thoroughly charming that when the party arose to see the first race he sug-
gested that they stay at the table and chat a while.
“I haven’t any bets on this race,” he said.
“Everyone bets, I’ve observed,” she said, settling back into her chair. “Do you know, really, I should think it would be rather stupid to bet on a horse you don’t know, or don’t love. I mean, what would be the sense?”
“Well—Worthing pondered this novel view and finally shrugged. “Come to think, what would be? Not,” he added, “that I don’t bet my head off when I can afford it.” He grimaced humorously. “Yet that’s nonsensical, too, since any horse I back positively refuses to win.”
She laughed and'then pursued her own thought.
“I did see Dreadnaught in his stable. Mr. Callender took us in to visit the pampered thing who, by the way, was so haughty and fidgety—I mean Dreadnaught, of course—and had such fierce eyes, that I didn’t love him one bit and wouldn’t bet on him for anything.”
“Of course not. I’m not betting on him either;—not because of personal dislike but because -the odds are so heavy on his winning that if he breaks his leg or dies of heart failure—which I hope he will—I stand to make my summer expenses.”
She studied him a moment but said nothing. They remained at the table talking until the third race and then went out with the rest to see Dreadnaught run. And since he did not break a leg or fall dead, he won rather easily and Worthing was bereft of the better part of a week’s salary which, if polo be excluded from the account, he had by no means earned.
Without waiting for other events of the card, they all motored to a distant beach resort.
Derrick Callender had reserved tables in a dazzling ocean-side restaurant, flawless dancing floor in the middle, and Worthing, whose mood was depressed as always, after a visit to the race track, found himself at Nina Pond’s side as they entered the room.
“Well, Don, you found that little girl adorable, didn’t you?”.
“Oh, rather.” He shrugged and pulled out a chair for his companion. “Sally Sloane asked me to look out for her. She’s a new sort all right; she’s got a lot to learn.”
He glanced at the girl. She was at an adjoining table talking to Peter Clayton, a thin, whippy man of thirty odd with rigidly waxed mustache, very high color and light blue, blood-set eyes—the horsey, Scotch whisky type. He was, in fact, a famous polo player and cross country rider and was reputed to have a way with women —-which in truth he had.
Callender suggested a general order for dinner and Worthing nodded a negligent acquiescence. Derrick was paying for the food; at least he should have the privilege of ordering. Worthing frowned quizzically. How long
ago had he paid for a dinner party? A good while; not since somebody’s horse had won something for him a year or so ago.
A waiter brought bottles of carbonated water and tall glasses and in good time Callender’s silver flask, which had about the dimensions and general outline of a flounder, came to him across the table. Someone was doing similar honors at the other table and as Worthing turned his head he saw Natica decline the proferred flask with a smile.
Well—she would. He shrugged slightly as he lifted the crisp, cold drink to his lips. Eventually the band, with all the grotesquery of dissonances; drones that rose suddenly to piercing wails, fugues conceived in imbecility and born hideously insane; sudden outbreaks, solus, as from the throat of a mammoth bull-frog, answering cackles and squawks that were shrill and discordant—the band, in brief, was calling to the dance.
Worthing laughed; it was in this way that jazz affected him.
“Come on, Nina, let’s show them something out there.”
As the woman, slender and lithe, hesitated, frowned and then rose, Worthing half turned and saw Natica observing him. He had a vague memory of catching her eyes when he took his second turn at Callender’s flask. Or was it the third? What difference?
Both he and Nina were beautiful dancers, expert in all phases of the modern mode; perhaps a bit advanced, but always artistically so if one doesn’t object to the term. Nina’s face was flushed now.
“You were brutal about my Bishop’s dinner. And you’ve neglected me shamefully all afternoon,” she added. “Aren’t you sorry?” Her voice was softer, more intimate than he had ever heard it.
“I would be,” he laughed, “if I had done that. But I haven’t. I was thinking about you all the time and always had that feeling—you know, that feeling you have when one you care a lot for is around.”
“Very pretty indeed.” She drew back her head, searching his face, the expression in her eyes haunted, appealing, yet dominated by a soft light that might become ecstatic in gentle abandonment. Her form relaxed slightly in his arm. He felt for a moment the firm pressure of her fingers. There came to him the warm knowledge that he and this attractive woman of millions had arrived upon a new footing, that the future as concerned them both lay for the time being7 at least, with him.
Yet with a hundred perspectives glowing in serenity before his eyes he became conscious of inward withdrawal. Was it instinct devising for him sage and seductive strategy? He had no way of knowing. He knew only that the strange mood was dominant and that he must yield.
He turned thereupon to his partner as the music
ceased and the dancers were calling for an encore.
“Nina, do you mind if I do a decent act? I prommised Sally Sloane I’d ask her cousin to dance. If I don’t take this chance I’ll forget and Sally’ll be off me for life. Do you mind?” “Oh—certainly not. Go ahead, by all means.” Without further word Nina turned abruptly and walked to her table, followed closely by Worthing who knew not whether the end of all things had come and somehow cared not.
Only Natica and Peter Clayton were at the other table. The girl’s face was highly flushed, her eyesturned toward the orchestra, while Clayton watched her with his cynically masterful smile.
“Natica, will you trust yourself to me out there?” She started, glanced at him hesitantly and then suddenly turned to Clayton^
“I’ve changed my mind, Mr. Clayton; I’ll dance if you still want to.” She smiled at Worthing. “Sorry, Don, but you see I had a previous bid.”
Clayton, who had sprung to Natica’s side upon the word, took her into his arms with all the ardor and something of the grace of a Valentino and swung into the encore.
“A cropper, eh what!” Nina Pond smiled derisively and then—since the incident had pleased her mightily —she was moved to magnanimity. “Do you know,” she said, “I never got a real line upon Peter until now as I see him trying to rub the bloom off that sweet thing. What a contrast! She’s like—like—old-fashioned flowers, Don, and Peter’s a beast, if you ask me.”
Worthing glanced at her quickly. This was interesting indeed. Peter Clayton and Nina had been good friends before her marriage and for a few weeks after her return from Paris there had been gossip of revived romance between the two. But now she had spoken very definitely, not without the emphasis of designed significance. So that was the end of that. Leaning forward, Don seized her hand, held it a moment, then withdrew with a little pat. And that was designedly significant, too. It was time to mend at least a few bridges.
Nina laughed low, contentedly and then with an amused exclamation touched Worthing upon the shoulder.
“Now Peter’s beginning to show her his stock of jiu-jitsu. She seems hardly to know what to make of it and-”
“Excuse me, Nina--” Worthing rose abruptly and
made his way out among the dancers until he came to Clayton whom he touched sharply upon the shoulder. “May I cut in on this?”
Clayton turned, his eyes glowing indignantly.
“Oh, I say, Worthing! No, nothing doing.”
But Don, not to be denied, pushed the man playfully, but none the less convincingly to one side, taking the girl by the arm.
“Natica, I want to talk with you. Come on, let’s go out on the boardwalk.”
SHE hesitated, then permitted him to escort her to her table, where he picked up her scarf from the back of the chair and led the way outside. They stood for a moment at the railing looking out upon the silvered sea. At length she turned to him smiling.
“You said you wanted to say something.”
“I did, but I don’t know what it was now. It’s nice just to be here with you.”
“Thank you, Don. . . . Why did you break up my dance with Mr. Clayton—just like an officious policeman?”
He stared at her thoughtfully.
“Frankly, Natica,” he said finally, “I don’t know why I did that. Somehow I had to.” He hesitated. “This is a pretty hectic life we lead. You seemed—Mrs. Pond said you were like old-fashioned roses or something, having the bloom rubbed off by Peter Clayton, who’s a sort of a rake. ... I don’t want you mixed up in this sort of thing.”
There was silence.
“Don, aren’t you mixed up in it?”
“Who, I?” He laughed. “That’s different.”
“I wonder.” Her voice was thoughtful. He leaned forward on the rail so that he might see her face. “What do you wonder?”
“Why, I wonder——■” she paused, as though embarrassed. “Tell me, isn’t it the fashion to end plays and stories in just that way—T wonder?’ You know it always sounds, oh, so awfully mysterious and significant and tragic.”
“Bunk, Natica, bunk! What were you wondering?” She thought a moment then turned to him decisively. “Do you know, Don, you’ve always been sort of a hero of mine, an—an ideal, ever since the time when that big boy, who was you, held me upon his knees and mussed up my hair.”
“Up at school,” she hurried on, “when you were playing football I—I—always had your picture in my room. I wrote you for it—you hadn’t the slightest memory who I was evidently—and you sent it with a nice little inscription. But of course you were everyone’s hero then. The papers used to say what a clean player you were, how, no matter what anyone did to you, you just went on and played the game. Then you remember up at McGill when you carried a hurt Varsity player to the sidelines. I was there with most of the school and saw that.”
“Don, when I met you yesterday and you stood there in the sunlight you—you looked everything I had ever thought and dreamed about you.” She paused, then touched him upon the shoulder. “To-night I watched you, I didn’t mean to—I couldn’t help it— and saw you drinking a lot and dancing—that way.
. . . That’s why I said I wondered.”
There was a moment’s silence.
“I’m afraid,” he said at length, “that college boy you made sort of an ideal of doesn’t exist any more.
You’d better take that picture, that football picture, if you still have it, and look at it as you would someone
who—who has died. You--”
Her hand went out, resting upon his arm. Her eyes were luminous, perhaps suffused.
“I’m not going to look at that picture in any such way. You see I hate to let ideals go. I—I—somehow I think I know you better than anybody. Does that sound silly? I suppose it does. But—you know, sometimes I have feelings I can’t explain. So there. . . . Now you must take me back, Don.”
That night when Worthing returned to the club where he lived he found a crowd in the smoking room and was hailed joyously. Going to his room two hours later he was taking various articles from his pockets when he felt something soft and fragile. It was a handkerchief, Natica’s. Unknown to her he had picked it from the floor beside her chair when they had returned from the boardwalk and in some access of sentiment had thrust it into his pocket.
Now he held it in his hand, gazing at it, smiling. A faint fragrance rose from it and reminded him of her. Yet now it did not move him. He was thinking of Nina Pond and had reason for feeling that additional indulgence in sentiment might prove somewhat costly.
Hè tossed the bit of linen upon his dresser and moved unsteadily. As usual a little too much to drink, all told. Well, he’d play himself back into shape to-morrow afternoon in the scratch polo game at Nina’s place at Eastbury and—he frowned—probably eat and drink himself out of shape again at the dinner which was to follow.
But he didn’t go to Eastbury. Loafing undecidedly about the club throughout the late morning, dallying with the Sunday newspapers, he finally called up Natica and found she would love to go out on horseback in the afternoon. So he telephoned Nina Pond, pleading indisposition resulting from a stormy night and laughed recklessly as he hung up the receiver and thought of the short shrift she had given him.
HE NEVER forgot that ride. Side by side they went over the sweep of level green plains, dipping thence into wooded valleys, topping gentle hills, talking inconsequentially, laughing at nothing—just a wholesome boy and a wholesome girl. But over and above all this, Worthing had a sense of something supernally beautiful, something that spread over all he thought and saw and felt a glow no less mellow than the delicate varnish a painter applies to a completed work and thereby anticipates the process of time.
“I’m going to remember this ride, Natica,” he said simply when they returned.
“And I, too—always.” Wheeling her horse suddenly she turned into the drive, waving her hand over her shoulder.
Don had declined her invitation to supper, although he would have liked very much to accept. But in making his excuses to Nina for the afternoon he had said he would turn up in time for dinner and so he had to go. Later he could not discover that he had gained anything by doing this. Nina’s indifference to him throughout the evening struck him as studied and he would have been ill at ease outwardly, as inwardly, had he not possessed a faculty for carrying such things off.
Next day his form in polo practice was extremely poor. So it was the following day and on Wednesday he played the worst polo of his career against Rockaway; sheer, blundering, fool polo that would have cost his team almost any ordinary game, but in this instance failed to bring about defeat because the rival outfit simply refused to accept the gift.
He was to dine at the Kemps that evening and had come to look forward to it with mingled emotions. For now he had come definitely to associate Natica with his failing form in polo. She had been in his thoughts a great deal, pretty constantly, in fact, and he felt the pull of compelling emotions that lay well beneath normal impressions.
It was utterly disconcerting. And now this rotten game against Rockaway! Coming out of the dressingroom after the match he had seen Nina Pond getting into her motor. He knew she had seen him, too; but knew also she was pretending she didn’t.
All told, his mood was vile. He would have liked to telephone the Kemps and break his engagement. But when he brought himself to the point he couldn’t do it. Very well, another method then. Helplessly involved in a silly, an utterly footless, tangle, there were ways —at least there was one way—in which Natica Kemp could be moved very promptly to act for them both.
U'lLLED with grim resolve he came to find his mood dissipating in the delightful atmosphere of her home. Kemp, who had done big things all over the world, was a striking personality and Mrs. Kemp was a lovely, vital woman who had carried into maturity a youthful figure and a youthful outlook. The four sat long at table over their coffee while Kemp in an unobtrusive way questioned Worthing, deftly leading him
on so^that eventually he gave a great deal of information concerning himself and his reactions toward life. He talked well and possessed an undoubted dynamic quality that would, Kemp decided, carry him far in whatever he undertook that might interest him. The great thing would be to get the boy interested.
Later, when Don and Natica were alone he relapsed into something of his former mood, the impelling influence being a sudden catching in his throat as she seated herself in the mellow glow of a lamp. She was in a white dinner frock, caught at a point on either shoulder by little knots of silver. Her brown, curly hair, the mobile lips, had never seemed more exotic, and Worthing, who had not thought much about the art that lies in the modeling of a girl’s foot, was struck by the grace and beauty of the shining white ankles and the silver slippers. She was studying him curiously.
“What’s the matter, Don? You seem—■—”
He shrugged, scowling. "
“I don’t know. Things haven’t been breaking too well for me lately. I’m off my game in polo, have been all week. To-day in the match I was rank, rotten.” “That’s too bad.” She shook her head sympathetically. “But after all, you won. That’s the main thing. I called up the club after the game to find out.”
Suddenly with an exclamation he rose and confronted the girl, seizing her hand as she, too, rose, staring into his face. She met his eyes, not afraid, smiling, but her lips were slightly parted. She was breathing swiftly.
She knew he was strangely overwrought, but she did not know that he was upon the verge of taking her into his arms and kissing her, tearing away ruthlessly, desperately, a fabric of beautiful sentiment that seemed to invest her—perhaps invested them both—and filled him with emotions that were stronger than he was qualified to embody—and much too costly. His hands rose to her shoulders, gripping them. He drew her near to him, his eyes filled with a fierce light. Then suddenly, before her serene gaze his fingers relaxed, his hands fell to his side.
“Yes, Don--” Her voice had infinite dignity,
“I’ve got to go. It’s been great to be here. I—forget
about me, Natica. It’s—it’s--” His hand went out.
“Good night, dear girl.”
Before she could speak he hurried out of the room and was going through the hall when Kemp c'ame out of the library.
“Don,” he said, “would you mind coming in here for a moment?”
Turning in surprise, Worthing, still tense, under strong emotions, followed the man into the apartment, seating himself as Kemp gestured toward a big leather chair.
“Don, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about you. First of all, I’ve never seen a young man who possessesmore possibilities than you do—in certain fields. I’m wondering if you feel you are giving the world all that’s in you in that brokerage office?”
“I don’t think I’m setting the world on fire there.” “No. Well, I want to give you the chance to do just that thing—in your profession, Don.”
“My profession!” Worthing rose from his chair. “Precisely. Our profession. You know—or perhaps you don’t—that I’m the president of an engineeringfirm that is internationally important. What I amproposing to do is to give you a chance just as your father, at a more advanced stage in my own career, gave me a chance, to do something big, to justify yourself as a clean, strong, able-bodied Canadian. The country, the world, needs men of your sort, Don. What do you say?”
“What do you want me to do?” Worthing’s voicewas husky.
“I want you to clear out of here bag, and baggage, go down to Panama, the straits, where we are working; on a sea-level proposition, take your transit—you’re tobegin at the bottom you see—and go to work. It is a man’s job, no polo—just gutty stuff of the sort you’recapable of doing. You’ll be watched by me personally and you’ll be shot ahead as you deserve promotion. I’m betting you’ll go fast.” He came to Worthing,, placing a hand upon his shoulder. “Well, my boy? I advise you to make the sacrifice and I’m not underestimating what a sacrifice it is.”
There was silence for a moment. At length Don raised his head.
“All this is pretty sudden, Mr. Kemp. I’m gratefulfor your interest. I thank you a lot. Will you let me turn it over in my mind?”
“A week, yes. Then I’m leaving for London for a month. Think it over.” He paused. “And I hope you’ll take the thing up. Good night, my boy.”
“Good night.” They were out in the hall now. Worthing looked about with a strained face. “Will you say good night again to Natica for me?”
Continued on page 67
The Hired Man
Continued from page 18
The cool fresh air of summer night, laden with the smell of the turf and the fragrance of the trees, rushed upon Worthing. He straightened up as though engulfed in a flood of invigorating water.
FROM the veranda of Sally Sloane’s house, lying deeply back in a lawn filled with the dusky mystery of tree and bush and garden, came the sound of laughter. Lights glowed through leaf and branch; a motor racketed and coughed. The sky was filled with stars. All were sights and sounds that Worthing knew, that had been part of his life, a major part—decent people; all luxuries and comforts and diversions that money can buy. The thrill of clean sport. He couldn’t buy them, to be sure, but there were many eager, happy to buy them for him, not gratuitously, but in return for the much he had to give socially and in sport. A fair enough bargain, wasn’t it?
And, for that matter, Nina Pond—his head jerked upward. He had been playing a pretty poor hand, that was certain. Not too late to retrieve himself, though. A slashing game in the Blizzard Cup final; a little imph'ed contrition. A smile spread over Worthing’s face. He turned toward the house.
It was a gesture pretty much of relief; for there had come into his mind the thought that his refusal to accept Kemp’s offer would be the end of his friendship for Natica. Good enough! It was a far better solution than the plan he had formulated, and had been unable to carry out, to shatter her illusions and make himself detestable in her eyes by mauling and kissing her—or, if she had accepted the approach, to find her just average and ordinary like the rest, and hence an ideal broken like clay.
A low, reckless laugh came from his lips grimly set. Love for the sake of love was extravagant. He wasn’t hitting the ball nine feet. And Nina Pond was vexed. Even Galen Hodge, his employer, had been pointedly off him of late. Yes, damnably extravagant.
With a sudden movement he turned toward his roadster. He paused, standing irresolutely, facing the house. From the Sloanes’ drifted the music of a piano, a chorus of light laughter. Immediately, as upon a screen, there came before his mind a picture of burning sands; a metallic blue sea, radiating heat waves; swamps pungent of slimy odors. Shivering slightly he raised his head.
“Natica—! Too rich for my blood—too rich!”
Driving at abandoned speed he sent his car skimming over the vague, desolate little hills toward a glow in the sky that betrayed Eastbury lurking beneath.
Nina Pond, as he knew, was having two tables of bridge following a dinner to which ordinarily he would have been invited. She might be furious at his appearance, or she might take it as a compliment to her pride and be pleased. But in his mood, now, he had definitely chosen his way, he had to chance it.
As it turned out she evinced no emotions of whatever sort, although he caught the suggestion she accepted his coming as a matter of course—which was something. The games had broken up and drinks were being served on the garden veranda.
WORTHING took a cigarette from the smoking table, settling into a wicker chair amid a chorus of affectionate badinage. Taking a tall icy glass he filled it with aerated water and settled back. His own people—his own life! His eyes were narrowing under a surge of complacent emotion when he saw Nina and
Peter Clayton out in the garden on a marble seat, withdrawn. . .
Too rich for his blood! Worthing smiled grimly as he tooled his car over a back road to Hempstead. So much for sentiment when extracted from an empty bank account. As for Peter Clayton—the man had plenty of money and was pretty much of a chap, after all. He certainly could play polo—and that was an asset with Nina Pond, as he knew.
Worthing bent forward over the wheel, scowling. The final polo match for the Blizzard Cup lay but three days off—and Clayton was playing back for Meadow Brook. All right, Peter would have to be up to his handicap. Heretofore Worthing had played polo for sport. But now a vital stake was involved and any man who got in his way would have to look out for himself. No more funny business. . .
With decision thus made he lost no time the following day in writing a short note to Kemp, thanking him in warm terms for his kindly interest and concluding with the statement he had plans in mind that would preclude acceptance of his offer. He enclosed three tickets for admission to the club house stand for the Blizzard Cup final.
Besides, he wrote also to Nina Pond saying that every minute of his time was involved in preparations for the event and that he was beginning to feel he would play the game of his career. Just why he should have felt this way, however, was not apparent in practice and on the eve of the match Galen Hodge and his colleagues shook their heads gravely and even discussed sending young Tommy Tripp in at No. 1 in Don’s place, and would have done so had not common sense suggested that even with Worthing off his game he still was far better than any one who could be secured to replace him.
THERE was much about the Hempstead field next afternoon that was suggestive of the ancient color and panoply and circumstance of ancient chivalry. Motors were parked upon both sides of the great, green rectangle; the club house veranda was a mass of color, brave with flags and men and women in summer attire.
Worthing, who had come out of the club dressing-room when his polo string was led to the Hempstead picket, talked with the groom for a moment and then, moved by anxiety for a word with Nina Pond whom he had not seen for several days—she had not answered his note—he crossed the field, making his way toward the club house. But just as he stepped over the boundary board he saw Natica Kemp on the lawn. He stopped suddenly, frowned and turned off at a sharp angle, almost running into Galen Hodge and Nina Pond. The attitude of both indicated what he had been expecting from Hodge all week and had been surprised he had not received—a good stiff prodding. Only now he didn’t care. He felt like polo; knew he would be at the top of his game.
“You’re a cheerful prevaricator, aren’t you?” Nina’s face was flushed. “You wrote me you were set to play the game of your career. Yet Mr. Hodge is telling me you’ve never been worse than you have been this week.”
Don stiffened. Her manner was altogether sharp.
“Wait,” he said simply.
“Wait!” Her eyes glowed with smouldering lights. “The betting is two to one against us and Peter Clayton says we haven’t a chance. So does Mr. Hodge, thanks to you.”
"I shall." Nina nodded decisively. "This game's pretty much up to you, Don Worthing. My grandfather started this club. And never in our history have we won the Blizzard Cup." She stared at him hard-eyed. "Take my advice. You be at your best to-day. I want this cup to be won."
These were definite orders. For an instant resentment seized Worthing. Then he nodded, a bit pale, but smiling. "Righto." He was turning away when Hodge caught him by the arm. "Just a minute, my boy." Hodge was looking and feeling very important with his official badge and all his official func tions. But now he was not acting a part. Worthing's failing form at a time when Hempstead had built up a rattling good polo team and had a right to expect to win the famous trophy, had been gnawing his very vitals and since the whiplash was needed in this emergency he meant to apply it.
Y ou know," he said, "we governors have been pretty decent to you. You've had things pretty soft, living at the club [[or practically nothing, a cinch job in my office, playing polo all over the country at other men's expense whenever you like. Mow just a minute; don't go off the handle I'm speaking for your own good-because I want you to go in like hell and win this gsme. You're being paid, in a manner of speaking, you know, for eight goals, not two. Now you-" lodge's voice broke into a mitigating laugh-"you go in and deliver, do you understand? And fin ally-"
T HE interruption came from Natica Kemp. She stood surveying the group with angry eyes. To Don, flushing with the shameful knowledge that this girl must have heard everything, she seemed taller, almost a goddess in her beauty and indig nation.
one appruacnea vv orEning, eyeing mm teadily. "Could I have a moment with you, if rs. Pond and Mr. Hodge have finished?" "Oh," Hodge laughed in the manner of ightness-"we've finished. We've given urn his stirrup cup. Sort of before-the ame orations. You have the field, Miss Kemp. Take my advice and give him fits, 00." A.. ..4-....1 ..~...........
iodge and Nin'~ Pond turned toward t~ 1uh house. When he glanced at the girl hey were alone. "Don," she said, "if you have any self `espect you'll throw this game to the vinds. I mean, you won't play at all. 3ut-" she nodded-"you will play. 3ecause you have to. That's your business -your business is to please." "Natica-" his voice was low, tense`I've had enough. I've-" She went on as though he had not poken.
"Last week when you said the college boy I used to know and believe in had died, I thought I got what you meant. I know how all of us change as we grow older and yield things to life. We have to, I suppose. That was what I thought you meant. Now I know it wasn't." A sob broke her voice. "You meant totally dead-a shell of the old Don Worthing; nothing left hut a good-looking outside. Let me finish, please." She threw back her head in her charac teristic way.
"I came out to see you this afternoon to tell you I believed in you, even if you wouldn't accept father's offer. I know now, just why he made that offer. I didn't before. So I told him you'd come through in your own way-big. But-but-I didn't know the way you were living; didn't know there was nothing for you but to take orders from Mrs. Pond and accept insults from Mr. Hodge. Didn't know you were nothing but a hired man. Oh-" she stamped-"I could have died as I heard those two talking to you as they did and you taking it just-" Natica-stop!" Worthing's face had gone dead white. Pushing her away from him he lurched about and strode across the field. Half snarling at the groom, Worthing thrust his foot into the stirrup and galloped out upon the turf. So overwrought was he that he ranged himself with the Meadow Brook team for the photograph, altering his position when the players laughingly called his attention to the slip.
HE SAW Clayton’s glance fixed upon him with peculiar meaning. But now he didn’t care. The sort of game he would play this day wouldn’t bother Clayton or anyone else— except Hodge and Nina and the governors of the Hempstead Hunt Club. So he was being paid for eight goals instead of two! Well, Hodge would be mighty lucky_ if he got even a two goal game out of him.
As for Nina Pond—he stared, blinking into vacancy. Then the bell rang calling the teams to the center of the field where the referee sat upon his horse, ball in hand, waiting. _ The next instant Worthing was in the midst of the melee, fishing with his stick for the glistening willow sphere. A Meadow Brook man deflected it to his pony’s feet. He hit it cleanly and then disengaging himself from the welter went down the field like a Cossack, driving the ball ahead of him. Just what transformation had taken place in his mood he knew not. He knew only now that he had a game of polo to win and the thought absorbed him utterly.
On he went. Peter Clayton, whose mount had the heels of the wind, overtook Don near the goal, hustling him roughly out of his drive for the goal. Both wheeled near the goal posts just as Darrell, the Meadow Brook No. 2, cut the ball over to the sidelines. But Randall, the Hempstead back, picked it off the boundary board and centered it beautifully for Worthing who delivered a whistling line drive, the ball going through the goal on a level flight like a golf ball. Cheers and cries from the grooms massed along the boundary, a clatter of hand-clapping and screaming motor horns attested to the enthusiasm which this spirited rally and score had aroused. Don didn’t hear it. His lips were moving constantly in inaudible words. His eyes glowed with an unnatural light. And he was fury personified.
Galloping to save his goal, later in the period, Peter Clayton was about to deliver a back hander when Worthing launched into him from the side, not only preventing the drive but staggering Clayton’s mount so that he almost fell. Clayton, livid, cursed at his opponent; Worthing in reply laughed harshly and shot his pony into the play.
Taking its tempo from Worthing, the game developed into a bitter affair, the spirit of the virtual duel that Worthing and Clayton were fighting communicating to the other players so that quarter was neither claimed nor allowed, while all the sweating, frothy-lipped pack constantly infringed upon those rules designed to reduce as far as possible the risk to life and limb. Oaths rattled back and forth, sticks clashed like broad-swords. Leg rasped leg and horse crashed against horse.
But it was Worthing who stood out as supreme-—more of a flame than a human embodiment. When the melee disintegrated and a horseman flashed forth into the open, the ball in his possession, nine times out of ten it was Worthing. His cries were the rallying cries for his team; his indomitable personality, his blazing horsemanship, his deadly accuracy in stroking and in following the ball were the elements that set his whole team on fire and made them play better than they knew.
Peter Clayton went down in the seventh period, pony and all, the score at the time being eight for Hempstead to five for Meadow Brook. Without conscious thought Don leaped from his mount almost before he had pulled him up and was at Clayton’s side. The fallen steed, rolling clear of the rider, had struggled to his feet and was loping down the field. But Clayton’s leg was broken. He was carried off the field, a substitute back was put in and the game went on.
And now as the eighth period drew to its close, Hempstead not scoring, but holding the other team safe, and it became apparent that after all the years the Blizzard Cup was to be won, there was a general exodus from the motor cars, a surging forward of those who sat upon the club veranda; a tense indrawing of breath that was as thrilling as a vast volume of sound.
Worthing got the ball on a pass from Randall, knocked it a hundred yards, a vast lofting drive and then, just as the bell rang he won the race to where it, lay and drove it between the posts like a rifle shot.
FOR a moment as the game ended he sat like a statue upon his horse. Then turning his head he glanced up and down the polo field and to each side as though
trying to establish some picture in his memory. His hand fell upon his pony’s neck.
“Good old boy,” he murmured.
As a groom took his mount, he turned, hearing a low, throaty exclamation. It was Nina. Her face was flushed. Her eyes were filled with tears. Her hat, set awry in the throes of enthusiasm, had not been adjusted; a tremendous spectacle in a woman usually so self-contained.
“Don!” Suddenly she dashed at him, her arms about his shoulders and kissed him upon the mouth. Then she stepped back laughing. “I’ll be at home to-night —alone. I want you. You’ll have your polo dinner with the governors, I know. Come after that. I’ll be waiting, no matter how late. No excuse now. I want you, do you hear?”
“All right, Nina.”
She nodded and hurried away as Galen Hodge came up, radiant.
“Well!” His hands clashed together. “You did bring home the bacon. There’ll be an increase of a thousand dollars a year at the office for you, beginning Monday. Don, this has been the biggest day of my life. You made it so. As for Nina—look here, my boy, it doesn’t take a blind man to see how the land lies. Think of it! Congratulations!”
Worthing raised his hand, then without a word turned toward the club house.
TN ACCORDANCE with an old estab1 lished custom at Hempstead, members of a winning club team bring their polo sticks to a Governor’s dinner.
Worthing with his mallet under his arm was the last man to arrive and Hodge, who had been impatiently pacing the floor, gestured toward the diningroom.
“Late, Don. What was the matter?”
“Nothing.” Worthing’s voice was crisp.
“All right. Let’s go in.”
As the diners seated themselves Worthing stepped from his place and came to Hodge’s side at the ræad of the table.
“Gentlemen,” he said in a forced, strained voice, “I didn’t come here to dine to-night. No—” his voice rose emphatically above a chorus of protestation— “it’s altogether impossible. I come here to say simply this: I received my orders to-day. I delivered the goods. I was told I was being carried on here in return for eight goals, not for two. Well, I think maybe I gave ten. So that’s all right.
“But—but—I haven’t any hard feelings toward Mr. Hodge, nor anyone. It was an open and shut proposition and all business men such as you are want your pound of flesh. Only, only somehow it never really had occurred to me as a business proposition. I sort of felt at home, as though I had a right here. Took things for granted without thinking. That was foolish. To-day I had my eyes opened.
I saw myself for what I was. . .Now, keep still, everybody, please, and let me finish.
I got my orders to-day, was shown my place good and plenty. That was all right, so far as you governors .were concerned. Y ou want value.” He paused. “Y ou want value out of a steward, a footman—or a kept polo player. Quite right.
“I think I did more than anyone of the team to win the Blizzard Cup to-day. I don’t say this to boast, but merely to emphasize my feeling that I’ve delivered. So—so I’m merely here to say that to-day you saw me play my last game of polo.”
With a sudden dramatic movement he whipped his polo stick across his knee. The next instant came the sharp splitting of bamboo. Then in silence he laid the two pieces upon the table in front of Galen Hodge, who struggled to his feet.
“Don’t be a damned fool, Worthing.”
Don turned upon him.
“I don’t consider that I am, Mr. Hodge.”
“Well, anyway—” Sam Randall moved swiftly to Worthing’s side. An athlete himself, he well knew the reactions that come to a man after a strenuous ordeal— especially after a stiff drink or two. “Anyway, Don, old boy, whether you’re through with polo or not, you can sit down and eat your dinner.”
“No—no.” Don shook his head slowly. “Sorry, old man.” He hesitated, looked around the room from face to face.
“You see, fellows, I’m dining at the Kemps to-night. And—and—on Monday—” his voice rose proudly—“on Monday I’m leaving for Panama in connection with my profession of civil engineer.”
Turning abruptly, he walked out of the room.