The Gay Cockade/Sandwich Jane
"No man," said O-liver Lee, "should earn more than fifteen dollars a week. After that he gets—soft."
O-liver sat on a box in front of the post-office. He was lean and young and without a hat. His bare head was one of the things that made him unique. The other men within doors and without wore hats—broad hats that shielded them from the California sun; or, as in the case of Atwood Jones, who came from the city, a Panama of an up-to-the-minute model.
But O-liver's blond mane waved in every passing breeze. It was only when he rode forth on his mysterious journeys that he crowned himself with a Chinese straw helmet.
Because he wore no hat his skin was tanned. He had blue eyes that twinkled and, as I have said, a blond mane.
"Fifteen dollars a week," he reaffirmed, "is enough."
Fifteen dollars was all that O-liver earned. He was secretary to an incipient oil king. As the oil king's monarchy was largely on paper he found it hard at times to compass even the fifteen dollars that went to his secretary.
The other men scorned O-liver's point of view and told him so. They were a rather prosperous bunch, all except Tommy Drew, who dealt in a dilettante fashion in insurance, and who sat at O-liver's feet and worshiped him.
It was Saturday and some of the men had drifted in from the surrounding ranches; others from the cities, from the mountains, from the valleys, from the desert, from the sea. Tinkersfield had assumed a sudden importance as an oil town. All of the men had business connected in some way with Tinkersfield. And all of them earned more than fifteen dollars a week.
Therefore they disputed O-liver's statement. "If you had a wife——" said one.
"Ah," said O-liver, "if I had——"
"Ain't you got any ambition?" Henry Bittinger demanded. Henry was pumping out oil in prodigious quantities. He had bought a motor car and a fur coat. It was too hot most of the time for the coat, but the car stood now at rest across the road—long and lovely—much more of an aristocrat than the man who owned it.
"Ambition for what?" O-liver demanded.
Henry's eyes went to the pride of his heart.
"Well, I should think you'd want a car."
"I'd give," said O-liver, "my kingdom for a horse, but not for a car."
O-liver's little mare stood quite happily in the shade; she was slim as to leg, shining as to coat, and with the eyes of a loving woman.
"I should think you'd want to get ahead," said Atwood Jones, who sold shoes up and down the coast. He was a junior member of the firm, but still liked to go on the road. He liked to lounge like this in front of the post-office and smoke in the golden air with a lot of men sitting round. Atwood had been raised on a ranch. He had listened to the call of the city, but he was still a small-town man.
"Ahead of what?" asked O-liver.
Atwood was vague. He felt himself a rising citizen. Some day he expected to marry and set his wife up in a mansion in San Francisco, with seasons of rest and recreation at Del Monte and Coronado and the East. If the shoe business kept to the present rate of prosperity he would probably have millions to squander in his old age.
He tried to say something of this to O-liver.
"Well, will you be any happier?" asked the young man with the bare head. "I'll wager my horse against your car that when you're drunk with dollars you'll look back to a day like this and envy yourself. It's happiness I'm talking about."
"Well, are you happy?" Atwood challenged.
"Why not?" asked the young man lightly. "I have enough to eat, money for tobacco, a book or two—an audience." He waved his hand to include the listening group and smiled.
It was O-liver's lightness which gave him the whip hand in an argument. They were most of them serious men; not serious in a Puritan sense of taking thought of their souls' salvation and the world's redemption, but serious in their pursuit of wealth. They had to be rich. If they weren't they couldn't marry, or if they were married they had to be rich so that their wives could keep up with the wives of the other fellows who were getting rich. They had to have cars and money to spend at big hotels and for travel, money for diamonds and furs, money for everything.
But here was O-liver Lee, who said lightly that money weighed upon him. He didn't want it. He'd be darned if he wanted it. Money brought burdens. As for himself, he'd read and ride Mary Pick.
"Anyhow," said Henry, with his hands folded across his stomach—Henry had grown fat riding in his car—"anyhow, when you get old you'll be sorry."
"I shall never grow old," said O-liver, and stood up. "I shall be young—till I—die."
They laughed at him outwardly, but in their hearts they did not laugh. They could not think of him as old. They felt that in a hundred years he would still be strong and sure, his blond mane untouched by gray, his clear blue eyes unblurred.
Atwood rounding them all up for a drink found that O-liver wouldn't drink.
"Drank too much, once upon a time," he confessed frankly. "But I'll give you a toast."
He gave it, poised on his box like a young god on the edge of the world.
"Here's to poverty! May we learn to love her for the favors she denies!"
"Queer chap," said Atwood to Henry later.
Henry nodded. "He's queer, but he's great company. Always has a crowd round him. But no ambition."
"Pity," said Atwood. "How'd he get that name—O-liver?"
"One of the fellows got gay and called him 'Ollie.' Lee stopped him. 'My name is Oliver Lee. If you want a nickname you can say "O-liver." But I'm not "Ollie" from this time on, understand?' And I'm darned if the fellow didn't back down. There was something about O-liver that would have made anybody back down. He didn't have a gun; it was just something in his voice."
"Say, he's wasted," said Atwood. "A man with his line of talk might be President of the United States."
"Sure he might," Henry agreed. "I've told him a lot of times he's throwing away his chance."
The office of the incipient oil king was on the main street of the straggling town. At the back there was a window which gave a view of a hill or two and a mountain beyond. The mountain stuck its nose into the clouds and was whitecapped.
It was this view at the back which O-liver faced when he sat at his machine. When he rested he liked to fix his eyes on that white mountain. O-liver had acquired of late a fashion of looking up. There had been a time when he had kept his eyes on the ground. He did not care to remember that time. The work that he did was intermittent, and between his industrious spasms he read a book. He had a shelf at hand where he kept certain volumes—Walt Whitman, Vanity Fair, Austin Dobson, Landor's Imaginary Conversations, and a rather choice collection of Old Mission literature. He had had it in mind that he might some day write a play with Santa Barbara as a background, but he had stopped after the first act. He had ridden down one night and had reached the mission at dawn. The gold cross had flamed as the sun rose over the mountain. After that it had seemed somehow a desecration to put it in a painted scene. O-liver had rather queer ideas as to the sacredness of certain things.
Tommy Drew, who had a desk in the same office, read Vanity Fair and wanted to talk about it. "Say, I don't like that girl, O-liver."
"Well, she's a grafter. And her husband was a poor nut."
"I'm afraid he was," said O-liver.
"He oughta of dragged her round by the hair of her head."
"They don't do it, Tommy," O-liver was thoughtful. "After all a woman's a woman. It's easier to let her go."
An astute observer might have found O-liver cynical about women. If he said nothing against them he certainly never said anything for them. And he kept strictly away from everything feminine in Tinkersfield, in spite of the fact that his good looks won him more than one glance from sparkling eyes.
"He acts afraid of skirts," Henry had said to Tommy on one occasion.
"He?" Tommy was scornful. "He ain't afraid of anything!"
Henry knew it. "Maybe it's because you can't do much with women on fifteen a week."
"Well, I guess that's so," said Tommy, who made twenty and who had a hopeless passion.
His hopeless passion was Jane. Jane lived with her mother in a small rose-bowered bungalow at the edge of the town. She and her mother owned the bungalow, which was fortunate; they hadn't a penny for rent. Jane's father had died of a weak lung and the failure of his oil well. He had left the two women without an income. Jane's mother was delicate and Jane couldn't leave her to go out to work. So Jane dug in the little garden, and they lived largely on vegetables. She sewed for the neighbors, and bought medicine and now and then a bit of meat. She was young and strong and she had wonderful red hair. Tommy thought it was the most beautiful hair in the world. Jane was for him a sort of goddess woman. She was, he felt, infinitely above him. She knew a great deal that he didn't, about books and things—like O-liver. She sewed for his mother, and that was the way he had met her. He would go over and sit on her front steps and talk. He felt that she treated him like a little dog that she wouldn't harm, but wouldn't miss if it went away. He told her of Vanity Fair and of how he felt about Becky.
"If she had been content to earn an honest living," Jane stated severely, "the story would have had a different ending."
"Well, she wanted things," Tommy said.
"Most women do." Jane jabbed her needle into a length of pink gingham which, when finished, would be rompers for a youngster across the street. "I do; and I intend to have them."
"How?" asked the interested Tommy.
"Work for them."
"O-liver says that fifteen dollars a week is enough for anybody to earn."
Jane had heard of O-liver. Tommy sang his constant praises.
"After that you get soft."
Jane laid down the length of pink gingham and looked at him. She hated to sew on pink; it clashed dreadfully with her hair.
"I should say," she stated with scorn, "that your O-liver's lazy."
"No, he isn't. He only wants enough to eat and enough to smoke and enough to read."
"That sounds all right, but it isn't. What's he going to do when he's old?"
"He ain't ever going to grow old. He said so, and if you'd see him you'd know."
Jane felt within her the stirring of curiosity. But she put it down sternly. She had no time for it.
"Tommy," she said, "I've been thinking. I've got to earn more money, and I want your help."
Tommy's faithful eyes held a look of doglike affection.
"Oh, if I can——" he quavered.
"I've got to get ahead." Jane was breathless. Her eyes shone.
"I've got to get ahead, Tommy. I can't live all my life like this." She held up the pink strip. "Even if I am a woman, there ought to be something more than making rompers for the rest of my days."
"You might," said the infatuated Tommy, "marry."
"Marry? Marry whom?"
Tommy wished that he might shout "Me!" from the housetops. But he knew the futility of it.
"I shall never marry," she said, "until I find somebody different from anything I've ever seen."
Jane's ideas of men were bounded largely by the weakness of her father and the crudeness of men like Henry Bittinger, Atwood Jones and others of their kind. She didn't consider Tommy at all. He was a nice boy and a faithful friend. His mother, too, was a faithful friend. She classed them together.
Her plan, told with much coming and going of lovely color, was this: She had read that the way to make money was to find the thing that a community lacked and supply it. Considering it seriously she had decided that in Tinkersfield there was need of good food.
"There's just one horrid little eating house," she told Tommy, "when the men come in from out of town."
"Nothing fit to eat either," Tommy agreed; "and they make up on booze."
She nodded. "Tommy," she said, and leaned toward him, "I had thought of sandwiches—home-made bread and slices of ham—wrapped in waxed paper; and of taking them down and selling them in front of the post-office on Saturday nights."
Tommy's eyes bulged. "You take them down?"
"Why not? Any work is honorable, Tommy."
Tommy felt that it wouldn't be a goddess role.
"I can't see it." The red crept up into his honest freckled face. "You know the kind of women that's round on Saturday nights."
"I am not that kind of woman." She was suddenly austere.
He found himself stammering. "I didn't mean——"
"Of course you didn't. But it's a good plan, Tommy. Say you think it's a good plan."
He would have said anything to please her. "Well, you might try."
The next day he found himself talking it over with O-liver. "She wants to sell them on Saturday nights."
"Tell her," said O-liver, "to stay at home."
"But she's got to have some money."
"Money," said O-liver, "is the root of evil. You say she has a garden. Let her live on leeks and lettuce."
"Leeks and lettuce?" said poor Tommy, who had never heard of leeks.
"Her complexion will be better," said O-liver, "and her peace of mind great."
"Her complexion is perfect," Tommy told him, "and she isn't the peaceful kind. Her hair is red."
"Red-haired women"—O-liver had his eye on Vanity Fair—"red-haired women always flaunt themselves."
Tommy, softening O-liver's words a bit, gave them in the form of advice to Jane: "He thinks you'd better live on leeks and lettuce than go down-town like that."
Jane gasped. "Leeks and lettuce? Me? He doesn't know what he's talking about! And anyhow, what can you expect of a man like that?"
A week later Jane in a white shirt-waist and white apron came down with her white-covered basket into the glare of the town's white lights. The night was warm and she wore no hat. Her red hair was swept back from her forehead with a droop over the ears. She had white skin and strong white teeth. Her eyes were as gray as the sea on stormy days. Tommy came after her with a wooden box, which he set on end, and she placed her basket on it. The principal stores of the small town, the one hotel and the post-office were connected by a covered walk which formed a sort of arcade, so that the men lounging against doorways or tip-tilted in chairs seemed in a sort of gallery from which they surveyed the Saturday-night crowd which paraded the street.
Jane folded up the cloth which covered her basket and displayed her wares. "Don't stick round, Tommy," she said. "I shall do better alone."
But as she raised her head and saw the eyes of the men upon her a rich color surged into her cheeks.
She put out her little sign bravely:
Home-made Sandwiches—Twenty Cents
With a sense of adventure upon them the men flocked down at once. They bought at first because the wares were offered by a pretty girl. They came back to buy because never had there been such sandwiches.
Jane had improved upon her first idea. There were not only ham sandwiches; there were baked beans between brown bread, thin slices of broiled bacon in hot baking-powder biscuit. Henry Bittinger said to Atwood Jones afterward: "The food was so good that if she had been as ugly as sin she'd have got away with it."
"She isn't ugly," said Atwood, and had a fleeting moment of speculation as to whether Jane with her red hair would fit into his plutocratic future.
Jane had made fifty sandwiches. She sold them all, and took ten dollars home with her.
"I shall make a hundred next time," she said to Tommy, whom she picked up on the way back. "And—it wasn't so dreadful, Tommy."
But that night as she lay in bed looking out toward the mountain, silver-tipped in the moonlight, she had a shivering sense of the eyes of some of the men—of Tillotson, who kept the hotel, and of others of his kind.
O-liver had stayed at home that Saturday night to write a certain weekly letter. He had stayed at home also because he didn't approve of Jane.
"But you haven't seen her," Tommy protested.
"I know the type."
On Sunday morning Tommy brought him a baked-bean sandwich. "It isn't as fresh as it might be. But you can see what she's giving us."
There were months of O-liver's life which had been spent with a grandmother in Boston. His grandmother had made brown bread and she had baked beans. And now as he ate his sandwich there was the savor of all the gastronomic memories of a healthy and happy childhood.
"It's delicious," he said, "but she'd better not mix with that crowd."
"She doesn't mix," said Tommy.
"She'll have to." O-liver had in mind a red-haired woman, raw-boned, with come-hither eyes. Her kind was not uncommon. Tommy's infatuation would of course elevate her to a pedestal.
"She's going to make a hundred sandwiches next week," Tommy vouchsafed.
O-liver's mind could scarcely compass one hundred sandwiches. "She'd better stick to her leeks and lettuce."
He rode away the next Saturday night. It was his protest against the interest roused in the community by this Jane who sold sandwiches. He heard of her everywhere. Some of the men were respectful and some were not. It depended largely on the nature of the particular male.
O-liver rode Mary Pick and wore his straw helmet. His way led down into the valley and up again and down, until at last he came to the sea. Then he followed the water's edge, letting Mary Pick dance now and then on the hard beach, with the waves curling up like cream, and beyond the waves a stretch of pale azure to the horizon.
He reached finally a fantastic settlement. Against the sky towered walls which might have inclosed an ancient city—walls built of cloth and wood instead of stone. Beyond these walls were thatched cottages which had no occupants; a quaint church which had no congregation; a Greek temple which had no vestals, no sacred fire, no altar; hedges which had no roots. O-liver weighing the hollowness of it all had thought whimsically of an old nursery rime:
The first sent a goose without a bone;
The second sent a cherry without a stone;
The third sent a blanket without a thread;
The fourth sent a book that no man could read.
At the end of the settlement was a vast studio lighted by a glass roof. Entering, O-liver was transported at once to the dance hall on the Barbary Coast—a great room with a bar at one end, the musicians on a platform at the other, a stairway leading upward. Groups of people waited for a signal to dance, to drink, to act whatever part had been assigned them—people with unearthly pink complexions. The heat was intense.
With her face upturned to the director, who was mounted on a chair, stood a childish creature who was pinker, if possible, than the rest. She had fluffy hair of pale gold. She ran up the stairway presently, and the light was turned on her. It made of her fluffy hair a halo. In the strong glare everything about her was overemphasized, but O-liver knew that when she showed up on the screen she would be entrancing.
He had first seen her on the screen. He had met her afterward at her hotel. She had seemed as ingenuous as the parts she played. Perhaps she was. He could never be quite sure. Perhaps the money she had made afterward had spoiled her. She had jumped from fifty dollars a week to a thousand.
After that O-liver could give her nothing. He had an allowance from his mother of three thousand a year. Fluffy Hair made as much as that in three weeks. Where he had been king of his own domain he became a sort of gentleman footman, carrying her sables and her satchels. But that was not the worst of it. He found that they had not a taste in common. She laughed at his books, at his love of sea and sky. She even laughed at his Mary Pick, whose name suggested a hated rival.
And so he left her—laughing.
A certain sense of responsibility, however, took him to her once a month, and a letter went to her every week. She was his wife. He continued in a sense to watch over her. Yet she resented his watching.
From her stairway she had seen him, and when a rest was granted she came down to him.
"I'll be through presently," she said. "We can go to my hotel."
Her rooms in the hotel overlooked the sea. There was a balcony, and they sat on it in long lazy chairs and had iced things to drink.
O-liver drank lemonade. His wife had something stronger.
"I have not been well," she said; "it's a part of the doctor's prescription."
She had removed the pink from her face, and he saw that she was pale.
"You are working too hard," he told her. "You'd better take a month in the desert, out of doors."
She shivered. She hated the out-of-doors that he raved about. They had spent their honeymoon in a tent. She had been wild to get back to civilization. It had been their first moment of disillusion.
She showed him before he went some of the things she had acquired since his last visit—an ermine coat, a string of pearls.
"I saw them in your last picture," he told her. "You really visit me by proxy. I find your name on the boards, and walk in with a lot of other men and look at you. And not one of them dreams that I've ever seen the woman on the screen."
"Well, they wouldn't of course." She had never taken his name. Her own was too valuable.
When he told her good-bye he asked a question: "Are you happy?"
For a moment her face clouded. "I'm not quite sure. Is anybody? But I like the way I am living, Ollie."
He had a sense of relief. "So do I," he said. "I earn fifteen dollars a week. The papers say that you earn fifteen hundred—and you're not quite twenty."
"There isn't a man in this hotel that makes so much," she told him complacently. "The women try to snub me, but they can't. Money talks."
It seemed to him that in her case it shouted. As he rode back on Mary Pick he thought seriously of his fifteen dollars a week and her fifteen hundred; and of how little either weighed in the balance of happiness.
It was not until the following Saturday that he saw Jane. She had made two hundred sandwiches. She had got Tommy's mother to help her. She had invented new combinations, always holding to the idea of satisfying the substantial appetites of men.
There would be no use, she argued, in offering five-o'clock-tea combinations.
She was very busy and very happy and very hopeful.
"If this keeps up," she told her mother, "I shall rent a little shop and sell them over the counter."
Her mother had an invalid's pessimism. "They may tire of them."
They were not yet tired. They gave Jane and her basket vociferous greeting, crowding round her and buying eagerly. Atwood and Henry having placed orders hung back, content to wait for a later moment when she might have leisure to talk to them.
Tommy helped Jane to hand out sandwiches and make change. He felt like the faithful squire of a great lady. He had read much romantic literature, and he served as well if not as picturesquely as a page in doublet and hose.
So O-liver saw them. He had been riding all the afternoon on Mary Pick. He had gone up into the Cañon of the Honey Pots. No one knew it by that name but O-liver, but at all the houses one could buy honey. Up and down the road were little stands on which were set forth glasses and jars of amber sweet. The bees flashed like motes in the sunlight, the air was heavy with the fragrance of the flowers which yielded their largess to the marauders.
It was dark when he rode down toward the town. It lay before him, all twinkling lights. Above it hung a thin moon and countless stars. It might have been a fairy town under the kindly cover of the night.
But when he reached the central square the illusion ceased. It was what men had made it—sordid, cheap. He stopped Mary Pick under a pepper tree and surveyed the scene.
Jane and her basket were the center of an excited group. She had almost reached the end of her supplies, and some one had suggested auctioning off the remainder. Jane had protested, but her protests had not availed. She had turned to Tommy for help, to Henry, to Atwood. They had done their best. But the man who led the crowd had an object in his leadership. It was Tillotson of the little hotel—red-faced, whisky-soaked.
"Sandwich Jane, Sandwich Jane!" he shouted. "That's the name for her, boys."
And they took it up and shouted "Sandwich Jane!"
It was at this moment that O-liver stopped under the pepper tree. The bright light fell directly on Jane's distressed face. He saw the swept-back brightness of her hair, her clear-cut profile, her white skin, her white teeth. But he saw more than this. "By Jove," he said, "she's a lady!"
If he had been talking to the men he would have said "Gosh!" It was only when he was alone that he permitted himself the indulgence of more formal language.
That Jane was harried he could see. And suddenly he rode forward on Mary Pick.
The crowd made way for him expectantly. There were always interesting developments when O-liver was on the scene.
"Gentlemen," he said, "let the lady speak for herself. I am not sure what you are trying to do, but it is evidently something she doesn't want done."
Jane flashed a grateful glance up at him. He was the unknown knight throwing down the gauntlet in her defense. He was different from the others—his voice was different.
"They want to auction off my sandwiches," she explained, "and they won't listen."
"I'm sure they will listen." O-liver on Mary Pick, with his hat off and his mane tossed back, might have been Henry of the white plumes. "Of course they'll listen."
And they did!
Jane stood on her box and addressed them.
"I don't want to get any more for my sandwiches than they are worth," she said earnestly. "I make good ones, and I sell them for twenty cents because they are the best of their kind. I am glad you like them. I want to earn my living and my mother's. She is sick, and I have to stay at home with her. And I don't mind being called 'Sandwich Jane.' It's a good name and I shall use it in my business. But I don't like being treated as you have treated me to-night. If it happens again I shall have to stop selling sandwiches; and I'd be sorry to have that happen, and I hope you'd be sorry too."
Her little speech was over. She stepped down composedly from the box, folded her cloth and picked up her basket. She said "Thank you" to O-liver, "Come on" to Tommy, and walked from among them with her light step and free carriage; and they stared after her.
O-liver sitting later in front of the post-office with his satellites round him found himself compelled to listen to praise of Jane.
"She's made a hit," Atwood said earnestly. "When a woman talks like that it's the straight goods."
Henry agreed. "She's got grit. It's her kind that get ahead. But it's a pity that she's got to work to make a living."
Atwood, too, thought it was a pity. And presently he and Henry fell into silence as they fitted Jane into various dreams. Atwood's dream had to do with a mansion high on Frisco's hills. But Henry saw her beside him in his long and lovely car. He saw her, too, in a fur coat.
"I feel," said Jane, "like a murderer." Tommy and O-liver had stopped at her front gate to leave her some books.
"Why?" It was O-liver who asked it.
"Come and see." She led them round the house. Death and destruction reigned.
"I poured gasoline into the ants' nests and set them on fire—and now look at them!"
There were a few survivors toiling among the ruins.
"They are taking out the dead bodies," Jane explained. "It's so human that it's tragic. I'll never do it again."
"You can't let them eat you up."
"I know. It's one of the puzzles." She sat looking down at them. "How busy they are!"
"Too busy," O-liver stated. "They are worse than bees. There are at least some drones in the hive."
"Poor drones," said Jane.
"To miss the best."
"Is work the best?"
She said "Yes," adding after a little: "I don't just mean making sandwiches. That's just a beginning. There's everything ahead."
She said it as if the world were hers. O-liver, in spite of himself, was thrilled. "How do you know that everything is ahead?"
"I shall make it come"—securely.
They sat in silence for a while; then O-liver said: "I have brought you a book."
It was an old copy of Punch.
"I shall like it," she said. "Sometimes the evenings are dull when my work is over."
"Dullness comes for me when work begins."
Her straight gaze met his. "You say that with your lips; you don't mean it."
"How do you know?"
"I'm not sure how I know. But you haven't found the thing yet that you like—the incentive."
"Tommy wants me to go into politics. He and Henry Bittinger. Henry says I ought to be President." O-liver chuckled.
But she took it seriously. "Why not? You've the brains and the magnetism. Can't you see how the crowd draws to you on Saturday nights?"
"Like bees round a honey pot? Yes." His face grew suddenly stern. "But so will mosquitoes buzz round a stagnant pool."
"You're not a stagnant pool and you know it."
"What am I?"
She made a sudden gesture as if she gave him up. "Sometimes I think you are like the sea—on a lazy day—with a storm brewing."
He wondered as he went home—what storm?
He had seen a good deal of Jane since that Saturday night when he had championed her cause. It had been fall then, with the hills brown and the berries red on the pepper trees. It was spring now, with all the world green and growing.
She had spoken of him to Tommy, and Tommy had been a faithful go-between. He had played upon their mutual love of books. At first O-liver had sent her books, then he had taken them. He had met her mother, had seen her in her home doing feminine things, sewing on lengths of pink and blue—filling the vases with the flowers that he brought.
And as they had met and talked his veins had been filled with new wine. He had never known intimately such a woman. His mother transplanted from the East by her marriage to a Western man had turned her eyes always backward. Her son had been born in the East, he had spent his holidays and vacations with his Eastern relatives. He had gone to an Eastern school to prepare for an Eastern college. Except for this one obsession with regard to her son's education his mother was self-centered. She was an idolized wife, a discontented woman—- she had shown O-liver no heights to which to aspire.
And so he had not aspired. He had spent his days in what might be termed, biblically, riotous living. His mother had hoped for an aristocratic and Eastern marriage. When he married Fluffy Hair she had allowed him three thousand a year and had asked him not to bring his wife to see her. His father had refused to give him a penny. O-liver's wild oats and wilfulness cut him off, he ruled, from parental consideration. "You are not my son," he had said sternly. "If the time ever comes when you can say you are sorry, I'll see you."
O-liver having married Fluffy Hair had found her also self-centered—not a lady like his mother, but fundamentally of the same type. Neither of them had made him feel that he might be more than he was. They had always shrunk him to their own somewhat small patterns.
Jane's philosophy came to him therefore like a long-withheld stimulant. "You might be President of the United States."
When Henry or Atwood or Tommy had said it to him he had laughed. When Jane said it he did not laugh.
And so it came about that one day he rose and went to his father. And he said: "Dad, will you kill the fatted calf?"
His father lived in a great Tudor house which gave the effect of age but was not old. It had a minstrels' gallery, a big hall and a little hall, mullioned windows and all the rest of it. It had been built because of a whim of his wife's. But O-liver's father in the ten years he had lived in it had learned to love it. But more than he loved the house he loved the hills that sloped away from it, the mountains that towered above it, the sea that lay at the foot of the cliff.
"It is God's country," he would say with long-drawn breath. He had been born and bred in this golden West. All the passion he might have given to his alien wife and alien son was lavished on this land which was bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.
And now his son had ridden up to him over those low hills at the foot of the mountain and had said: "Father, I have sinned."
O-liver had not put it scripturally. He had said: "I'm sorry, dad. You said I needn't come back until I admitted the husks and swine."
There was a light on the fine face of the older man. "Oliver, I never hoped to hear you say it." His hand dropped lightly on the boy's shoulders. "My son which was dead is alive again?"
"What brought you to life?"
The hand dropped. "Not——"
"Not my wife. Put your hand back, dad. Another woman."
He sat down beside his father on the terrace. The sea far below them was sapphire, the cliffs pink with moss—gorgeous color. Orange umbrellas dotted the distant beach.
"Your mother is down there," Jason Lee said. "Sun baths and all that. You said there was another woman, Oliver."
"Yes." Quite simply and honestly he told him about Sandwich Jane. "She's made me see things."
"Well, she thinks I've got it in me to get anywhere. She insists that if I'd put my heart into it I might be—President."
One saw their likeness to each other in their twinkling eyes!
"She says that men follow me; and they do. I've found that out since I went to Tinkersfield. She wants me to go into politics—there's a gang down there that rules the town—rotten crowd. It would be some fight if I did."
His father was interested at once. "It was what I wanted—when I was young—politics—clean politics, with a chance at statesmanship. Yes, I wanted it. But your mother wanted—money."
"Money hasn't any meaning to me now, dad. If I slaved until I dropped I couldn't make fifteen hundred a week."
"Does—your wife make that now?"
"Yes. She's making it and spending it, I fancy."
Silence. Then: "What of this—other woman. What are you going to do about her?"
O-liver leaned forward, speaking earnestly. "I love her. But I'm not free. It's all a muddle."
"Does she know you're married?"
"No. I've got to tell her. But I'll lose her if I do. Her comradeship, I mean. And I don't want to give it up."
"There is of course a solution."
"It wouldn't be a solution for Jane. She's not that kind. Marriage with her means till death parts. I'll have to lose her. But it hurts."
It was when Jane rented an empty room fronting on the arcade and set up a sandwich shop that Tillotson saw how serious the thing was going to be.
He had had all the restaurant and hotel trade. Men coming up in motors or on horseback, dusty and tired, had eaten and drunk at his squalid tables, swearing at the food but unable to get anything better. And now here was a woman who covered her counters with snowy oilcloth—who had shining urns of coffees, delectable pots of baked beans, who put up in neat boxes lunches that made men rush back for more and more and more—and whose sandwiches were the talk of the coast!
It had to be stopped.
The only way to stop it was to make it uncomfortable for Jane. There were many ways in which the thing could be done—by small and subtle persecutions, by insinuations, by words bandied from one man's evil mouth to another. Tillotson had done the thing before. But he found as the days went on that he had not before had a Jane to deal with. She was linked in the minds of most of the men with a whiteness like that of her own spotless shop.
Gradually Jane became aware of a sinister undercurrent. She found herself dealing with forces that threatened her. There were men who came into her shop to buy, and who stayed to say things that set her cheeks flaming. She mentioned none of these things to Henry or Atwood or Tommy. But she spoke once to O-liver.
"Tillotson must be at the bottom of it. Two drunken loafers stumbled in the other day, straight from the hotel. And when I telephoned to Tillotson to come and get them he laughed at me."
Tillotson was the sheriff. It was an office which he did not honor. In a month or two his term would be up. O-liver riding alone into the mountains stated the solution: "I've got to beat Tillotson."
But first he had things to say to Jane. Since his talk with his father he had known that it must come. He had stayed away from her as much as possible. It had not been a conspicuous withdrawal, for she was very busy and had little time for him. Tommy's mother kept her little home in order and looked after the invalid, so that Jane could give undivided attention to her growing business. O-liver saw her most often at the shop, when he stopped in for a pot of beans—eating them on the spot and discoursing on many things.
"My Boston grandmother baked beans like this," he told her on one occasion. "She was a great little woman, Jane, as essentially of the East as you are of the West. She held to the traditions of the past; you are blazing new ways for women, selling sandwiches in the market-place. By Jove, it was superb the way you did it, Jane!"
She was always in a glow when he left her. Here was a man different from her father, different from Henry Bittinger and Atwood Jones. She smiled a little as she thought of Atwood. He had asked her to marry him. He had told her of the things he had ahead of him that he wanted her to share. And he had been much downcast when she had refused him. She had, he felt, smudged the brightness of his splendid future. He couldn't understand a woman throwing away a thing like that.
But he bore her no grudge and was still her friend. Henry, too, was her friend. He had not yet tried his fate with Jane, but he still dreamed of her as lovely in his long car and a fur coat. And he hoped to make his dreams come true.
Tommy had set aside all selfish hopes. He had a feeling that Jane liked O-liver. He loved them both. If he could not have Jane he wanted O-liver to have her. He kept a wary eye therefore on Henry and Atwood.
It was Tommy who found out first about Fluffy Hair. She had never cared to have the world know of her marriage. She had felt that those who loved her on the screen would prefer her fancy free. But it was known at the studio, and some one drifting up to Tinkersfield recognized O-liver and told Tommy.
Tommy for once in his life was stern. "He oughta of told Jane. Somebody's got to tell her."
So the next day he took it on himself—feeling a traitor to his friend.
"Jane," he said, sitting on a high stool in her little sandwich shop—"Jane, O-liver's married."
Jane on the other side of the spotless counter gave him her earnest glance. "Yes," she said; "he told me."
"He did? Well, I'm glad. It wasn't a thing to keep, was it?"
"No," said Jane; "it wasn't. But you mustn't blame him, Tommy, and now that we both know, everything is all right, isn't it?"
"Yes," Tommy agreed; "if Tillotson doesn't get hold of it."
For it had been decided that O-liver was to run against Tillotson in the next election, and beat him if he could.
O-liver had told Jane about his marriage on the night before Tommy came to her. He had asked her to ride with him. "If you'll go this afternoon at four you shall have Mary Pick, and I'll take Tommy's horse."
They had carried their lunch with them and had eaten it at sunset in a lovely spot where the cañon opened out to show a shining yellow stretch of sea, with the hills like black serpents running into it.
Yet it was dark, with the stars above them and the sea a faint gray below, before O-liver said to her what he had brought her there to say.
He told her of his father and mother. Of Fluffy Hair.
"I waked up at last to the fact that I was letting two women support me. So I came here and began to work at fifteen dollars a week. And for the first time in my life I respected myself—and was content. And then I met you and saw things ahead. You made me see them."
He turned toward her in the dark. "Jane, I'm finding that I love you—mightily." He tried to speak lightly. "And I'm not free. And because I love you I've got to keep away. But I want you to understand that my friendship is the same—that it will always be the same. But I've got to keep away."
She was very honest about it. "I didn't dream that you felt like that—about me."
"No, you wouldn't. That's a part of your splendidness. Never taking anything to yourself. Jane, will you believe this—that what I may be hereafter will be because of you? If I ever do a big thing or a fine thing it will be because I came upon you that night with your head high and that rabble round you. You were light shining into the darkness of Tinkersfield. Jove, I wish I were a painter to put you on canvas as you were that night!"
They had ridden down later under the stars, and as they had stood for a moment overlooking the lights of the little town O-liver had said: "I make my big speech to-morrow night to beat Tillotson. I want you to be there. Will you? If I know you are there somewhere in the dark I shall pour out my soul—to you."
Was it any wonder that Jane, talking to Tommy the next morning about O-liver, felt her pulses pounding, her cheeks burning? She had lain awake all night thinking of the things he had said to her. It seemed a very big and wonderful thing that a man could love her like that. As toward morning the moonlight streamed in and she still lay awake she permitted herself to let her mind dwell for a moment on what her future might mean if he were in it. She was too busy and healthy to indulge in useless regrets. But she knew in that moment in the moonlight if he was not to be in her future no other man would ever be.
O-liver's speech was made in the open. There was a baseball park in Tinkersfield, bounded at the west end by a grove of eucalyptus. With this grove as a background a platform had been erected. From the platform the rival candidates would speak. At this time of the year it would be daylight when the meeting opened. Tillotson was not to speak for himself. He had brought a man down from San Francisco, a big politician with an oily tongue. O-liver would of course present his own case. The thing, as Atwood told Henry, promised to be exciting.
Jane came with Tommy. There was a sort of rude grand stand opposite the platform, and she had a seat well up toward the top. She wore a white skirt, a gray sweater and a white hat. She had a friendly smile for the people about her. And they smiled back. They liked Jane.
O-liver spoke first. Bare-headed, slender, with his air of eternal youth, he was silhouetted against the rose red of the afterglow.
When he began he led them lightly along paths of easy thought. He got their attention as he had so often got it in front of the post-office. He made them smile, he made them laugh, he led them indeed finally into roaring laughter. And when he had brought them thus into sympathy he began with earnestness to speak of Tinkersfield.
Jane, leaning forward, not missing a word, felt his magnetism. He spoke of the future of Tinkersfield. Of what must be done if it was to fulfill its destiny as a decent town. He did not mince his words.
"It will be just what you make up your minds now to have it—good and honest and clean, a place that the right kind of people will want to live in, or the place that will attract loungers and loafers."
He laid upon them the burden of individual responsibility. If a town was honest, he said, it was because the men in it were honest; if it was clean it was because its men were clean. It was for each man to decide at this election whether Tinkersfield should have a future of darkness or of light. There were men in that crowd who squared their shoulders to meet the blows of his eloquence, who kept them squared as they made their decision to do their part in the upbuilding of Tinkersfield.
Yet it was not perhaps so much the things that O-liver said as the way he said them. He had the qualities of leadership—a sincerity of the kind that sways men level with their leaders—the sincerity of a Lincoln, a Roosevelt. For him a democracy meant all the people. Not merely plain people, not indeed selected classes. Rich man, poor man, one, working together for the common good.
Back of his sincerity there was fire—and gradually his audience was lighted by his flame. They listened in a tense silence, which broke now and then into cheers. To Jane sitting high up on the benches he was a prophet—the John the Baptist of Tinkersfield.
"And he's mine, he's mine!" she exulted. This fineness of spirit, the fire and flame were hers. "If I know you are there somewhere in the dark I shall pour out my soul—to you——"
The darkness had not yet fallen, but the dusk had come. The platform was illumined by little lights like stars. Back of the platform the eucalyptus trees were now pale spectres, their leaves hanging nerveless in the still air.
O-liver sitting down amid thunders of applause let his eyes go for the moment to Jane. A lamp hung almost directly over her head. She had taken off her wide hat and her hair was glorious. She was leaning forward a little, her lips parted, her hands clasped, as if he still spoke to her.
As Tillotson's sponsor rose Jane straightened up, smiled at Tommy, and again set herself to listen.
The unctuous voice of the speaker was a contrast to O-liver's crisp tones. There were other contrasts not so apparent. This man was in the game for what he could get out of it. He wanted Tillotson to win because Tillotson's winning would strengthen his own position politically. He meant indeed that Tillotson should win. He was not particular as to methods.
He said the usual things: Tinkersfield was no Sunday school; and they weren't slaves to have their liberty taken from them by a lot of impractical reformers. And Lee was that kind. What had he ever done to prove that he'd make good? They knew Tillotson. They didn't know Lee. Who was Lee anyhow?
He flung the interrogation at them. "What do you know about Lee?"
The pebble that he threw had widening circles. People began to ask themselves what, after all, they knew of O-liver. From somewhere in the darkness went up the words of an evil chant:
What's the matter with O-liver, O-liver,
Ask Jane, Sandwich Jane,
O-liver, white liver,
Jane, Jane, Jane.
Jane felt her heart stand still. Back of her she heard Tommy swearing: "It's all their damned wickedness!" She saw O-liver start from his chair and sink back, helpless against the insidiousness of this attack.
The speaker went on. It would seem, he said, from what he could learn, that Tillotson's honorable opponent was sailing under false colors. He was a married man. He had deserted his wife. He sat among them as a saint, when he was really a sinner.
"A sinner, gentlemen." The speaker paused for the effect, then proceeded with his argument. Of course they were all sinners, but they weren't hypocrites. Tillotson wasn't a hypocrite. He was a good fellow. He didn't want Tinkersfield to be a Sunday school. He wanted it to be a town. You know—a town that every fellow would want to hit on Saturday night.
There were those in the crowd who began to feel that a weak spot had been found in O-liver's armor. Secrecy! They didn't like it. There were signs of wavering among some who had squared their shoulders. After all, they didn't want to make a Sunday school of Tinkersfield. They wondered, too, if there wasn't some truth in the things that were being hinted by that low chant in the darkness:
Ask Jane, Sandwich Jane,
O-liver, white liver,
Jane, Jane, Jane.
O-liver was restless, his hands clenched at his sides. Atwood and Henry were restless. Tommy was restless. They couldn't let such insults go unnoticed. Somebody had to fight for Jane!
Tillotson's supporters kept the thing stirring. If the meeting could end in a brawl the odds would be in favor of Tillotson. The effect of O-liver's uplift would be lost. Even his friends couldn't sway a fighting crowd back to him.
But they had forgotten to reckon with Jane!
She had seen in a sudden crystal flash the thing which might happen. A fight would end it all for O-liver. She had seen his efforts at self-control. She knew his agony of soul. She knew that at any moment he might knock somebody down—Tillotson or Tillotson's sponsor. And it would all be in the morning papers. There would be innuendo—the hint of scandalous things. And O-liver's reputation would pay the price. It was characteristic that she did not at the moment think of her own reputation. It was O-liver who must be saved!
And so when Tillotson's backer sat down Jane stood up.
"Please, listen!" she said; and the crowd turned toward her. "Please, listen, and stop singing that silly song. I never heard anything so silly as that song in my life!"
Before her scorn the chant died away in a gasp!
"The thing you've got to think about," she went on, "isn't Tillotson or O-liver Lee. It's Tinkersfield. You want an honest man. And O-liver Lee's honest. He doesn't want your money. He's got enough of his own. His father's the richest man in his part of the state and his wife's a movie actress and makes as much as the President. It sounds like a fairy tale, but it isn't. If O-liver Lee wanted to live on his father or his wife he could hold out his hand and let things drop into it. But he'd rather earn fifteen dollars a week and own his soul. And he isn't a hypocrite. His friends knew about his marriage. Tommy Drew knew, and I knew. And there wasn't any particular reason why he should tell the rest of you, was there? There wasn't any particular reason why he should tell Tillotson?"
A murmur of laughter followed her questions. There was a feeling in the crowd that the joke was on Tillotson.
"I wonder how many of you have told your pasts to Tinkersfield! How many of you have made Tillotson your father confessor?
"As for me"—her head was high—"I sell sandwiches. I am very busy. I hardly have time to think. But when I do think it is of something besides village gossip."
She grew suddenly earnest; leaned down to them. "You haven't time to think of it either," she told them; "have you, men of Tinkersfield?"
Her appeal was direct, and the answer came back to her in a roar from the men who knew courage when they saw it; who knew, indeed, innocence!
And it was that "No" which beat Tillotson.
"The way she put it over," Atwood exulted afterward, "to a packed crowd like this!"
"The thing about Jane"—Henry was very seriously trying to say the thing as he saw it—"the thing about Jane is that she sees things straight. And she makes other people see."
Well, Tillotson was beaten, and the men who supported O-liver came out of the fight feeling as if they had killed something unclean.
And the morning after the election O-liver had a little note from Jane.
"I've got to go away. I didn't want to worry you with it before this. I have saved enough money to start in at some college where I can work for a part of my tuition. I have had experience in my little lunch room that ought to be a help somewhere.
"When I finish college I'm going into some sort of occupation that will provide a pleasant home for mother and me. I want books, and lovely things, and a garden; and I'd like to speak a language or two and have cultured friends. Then some day when you are made President you can say to yourself: 'I am proud of my friend, Jane.' And I'll come to your inauguration and watch you ride to the White House, and I'll say to myself as I see you ride, 'I've loved him all these years.'
"But I shan't let myself say it now. And that's why I'm going away. And I'm going without saying good-bye because I think it will be easier for both of us. You and I can't be friends. What we feel is too big. I found that out about myself that night when you sat there on the platform, and I wanted to save you from Tillotson. If I'm going to work and be happy in my work I've got to get away. And you will work better because I am gone. I mustn't be here—O-liver."
Jane had indeed seen straight. O-liver laid the note down on his desk and looked up at the mountain. He needed to look up. If he had looked down for a moment he would have followed Jane.
And now there was no sandwich stand in Tinkersfield. But there was a good hotel. O-liver saw to that. He got Henry Bittinger to put up the money, with Tommy and his mother in charge. O-liver lived in the hotel in a suite of small rooms, and when Atwood Jones passed that way the four men dined together as O-liver's guests.
"Some day we'll eat with you in Washington," was Atwood's continued prophecy.
They always drank "To Jane." Now and then Atwood brought news of her. First from the college, and then as the years passed from the beach resort where she had opened a tea room. She was more beautiful than ever, more wonderful. Her tea room and shop were most exclusive and artistic.
"Sandwich Jane!" said O-liver. "How long ago it seems!"
It was five years now and he had not seen her. And next month he was to go to Washington. Not as President, but representing his district in Congress. Tommy's hotel had outgrown the original modest building and was now modern and fireproof. Henry was married, he had had several new cars, and his wife wore sables and seal.
The old arcade was no more; nor the old post-office. But O-liver still talked to admiring circles in the hotel lobby or to greater crowds in the town hall.
He still would take no money from his father, but he saw much of him, for Mrs. Lee was dead. The Tudor house was without a mistress. It seemed a pity that O-liver had no wife to grace its halls.
The newspapers stated that Fluffy Hair's income had doubled. Whether this was true or not it sounded well, and Fluffy Hair still seemed young on the screen. Jane would go now and then and look at her and wonder what sort of woman this was who had laughed at O-liver.
Then one day a telegram came to O-liver in his suite of rooms. And that day and for two nights he rode Mary Pick over the hills and through the cañon and down to the sea, and came to a place where Jane's tea room was met in the center of a Japanese garden—a low lovely building, with its porches open to the wide Pacific.
He had not seen her for so long that he was not quite prepared for the change. She was thinner and paler and more beautiful, with an air of distinction that was new. It was as if in visualizing his future she had pictured herself in it—as first lady of the land. Such a silly dream for Sandwich Jane!
They were quite alone when he came to her. It was morning, and the porches were empty of guests. Jane was in a long wicker chair, with her pot of coffee on an hour-glass table. Far down on the terrace two Jap gardeners clipped and cut and watered and saw nothing.
"You are younger than ever," Jane said when they had clasped hands. "Will you ever grow old, O-liver?"
"The men say not." He seated himself opposite her. "Jane, Jane, it's heavenly to see you. I've been—starved!"
She had hungered and thirsted for him. Her hand shook a little as she poured him a cup of coffee.
"I told you not to come, O-liver."
He laid the telegram before her. Fluffy Hair was dead!
The yellow sheet lay between, defying them to speak so soon of happiness.
"To-morrow," O-liver said, "I go to Washington. When will you come to me, Jane?"
Her hand went out to him. Her breath was quick. "In time to hear your first speech, O-liver. I'll sit in the gallery, and lean over and listen and say to myself, 'He's mine, he's mine!'"
She heard many speeches in the months that followed, and sometimes Tommy or Atwood or Henry, traveling across the continent, came and sat beside her. And Atwood always clung to his prophecy: "He'll be governor next; and then it'll be the White House. Why not?"
And Jane, dreaming, asked herself "Why?"
The East had had its share. Had the time not come for a nation to seek its leader in the golden West?