“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.