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.