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THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY
OF CALIFORNIA

LOS ANGELES



BLIX



BY FRANK NORRIS



AUTHOR OF

"McTAGUE," "MORAN OF THE LADY LETTY"

ETC.




NEW YORK:
INTERNATIONAL

ASSOCIATION OF NEWSPAPERS AND AUTHORS
1901



COPYRIGHT, 1899,

BY
FRANK A. MUNSEY

COPYRIGHT, 1899,

BY

DOUBLEDAY & McCLURE CO.



NORTH RIVER BINDERY
PRINTERS AND BINDERS
NEW YORK CITY, N. Y.



TS
,24 ?2






631954



IT had just struck nine from the cuckoo
clock that hung over the mantelpiece in
the dining-room, when Victorine brought
in the halved watermelon and set it in
front of Mr. Bessemer's plate. Then
she went down to the front door for the
damp, twisted roll of the Sunday morn
ing's paper, and came back and rang the
breakfast-bell for the second time.

As the family still hesitated to appear,
she went to the bay window at the end.
of the room, and stood there for a mo
ment looking out. The view was won
derful. The Bessemers lived upon the
Washington-Street hill, almost at its very



2 Blix

summit, in a flat in the third story of
the building. The contractor had been
clever enough to reverse the position of
kitchen and dining-room, so that the lat
ter room was at the rear of the house.
From its windows one could command a
sweep of San Francisco Bay and the
Contra Costa shore, from Mount Diablo,
along past Oakland, Berkeley, Saucelito,
and Mount Tamalpais, out to the Golden
Gate, the Presidio, the ocean, and even
on very clear days to the Farrallone
islands.

For some time Victorine stood looking
down at the great expanse of land and
sea, then faced about with an impatient
exclamation.

On Sundays all the week-day regime
of the family was deranged, and break
fast was a movable feast, to be had any
time after seven or before half -past nine.
As Victorine was pouring the ice-water,
Mr. Bessemer himself came in, and ad
dressed himself at once to his meal, with-



Blix 3

out so much as a thought of waiting for
the others.

He was a little round man. He wore
a skull-cap to keep his bald spot warm,
and read his paper through a reading-
glass. The expression of his face,
wrinkled and bearded, the eyes shadowed
by enormous gray eyebrows, was that of
an amiable gorilla.

Bessemer was one of those men who
seem entirely disassociated from their
families. Only on rare and intense oc
casions did his paternal spirit or instincts
assert themselves. At table he talked
but little. Though devotedly fond of his
eldest daughter, she was a puzzle and a
stranger to him. His interests and hers
were absolutely dissimilar. The chil
dren he seldom spoke to but to reprove ;
while Howard, the son, the ten-year-old
and terrible infant of the household, he
always referred to as "that boy."

He was an abstracted, self-centred old
man, with but two hobbies homoeopathy



4 Blix

and the mechanism of clocks. But he
had a strange way of talking to himself
in a low voice, keeping up a running,
half-whispered comment upon his own
doings and actions ; as, for instance, upon
this occasion : "Nine o'clock the clock's
a little fast. I think I'll wind my
watch. No, I've forgotten my watch.
Watermelon this morning, eh? Where's
a knife? I'll have a little salt. Vic-
torine's forgot the spoons ah, here's a
spoon! No, it's a knife I want."

After he had finished his watermelon,
and while Victorine was pouring his
coffee, the two children came in, scram
bling to their places, and drumming on
the table with their knife-handles.

The son and heir, Howard, was very
much a boy. He played baseball too
well to be a very good boy, and for the
sake of his own self-respect maintained
an attitude of perpetual revolt against his
older sister, who, as much as possible, took
the place of the mother, long since dead.



Blix 5

Under her supervision, Howard blacked
his own shoes every morning before
breakfast, changed his underclothes twice
a week, and was dissuaded from playing;
with the dentist's son who lived three,
doors below and who had St. Vitus' dance..
His little sister was much more trac
table. She had been christened Alberta,
and was called Snooky. She promised
to be pretty when she grew up, but was
at this time in that distressing transi
tional stage between twelve and fifteen;
was long-legged, and endowed with all
the awkwardness of a colt. Her shoes-
were still innocent of heels; but on
those occasions when she was allowed
to wear her tiny first pair of corsets she
was exalted to an almost celestial pitch
of silent ecstasy. The clasp of the
miniature stays around her small body
was like the embrace of a little lover,
and awoke in her, ideas that were as
vague, as immature and unformed, as the.
straight little figure itself.



6 Blix

When Snooky and Howard had seated
themselves, but one chair at the end
of the breakfast-table, opposite Mr. Bes
semer remained vacant.

"Is your sister is Miss Travis going
to have her breakfast now? Is she got
up yet ? " inquired Victorine of Howard
and Snooky, as she pushed the cream
pitcher out of Howard's reach. It was
significant of Mr. Bessemer's relations
with his family that Victorine did not
address her question to him.

"Yes, yes, she's coming," said both
the children, speaking together; and
Howard added: "Here she comes now."

Travis Bessemer came in. Even in
San Francisco, where all women are more
or less beautiful, Travis passed for a
beautiful girl. She was young, but tall
as most men, and solidly, almost heavily
built. Her shoulders were broad, her
chest was deep, her neck round and firm.
She radiated health; there were exuber
ance and vitality in the very touch of her



Blix 7

foot upon the carpet, and there was that
cleanliness about her, that freshness, that
suggested a recent plunge in the surf and
a " constitutional " along the beach. One
felt that here was stamina, good physical
force, and fine animal vigor. Her arms
were large, her wrists were large, and her
fingers did not taper. Her hair was of a
brown so light as to be almost yellow.
In fact, it would be safer to call it yel
low from the start not golden nor flaxen,
but plain, honest yellow. The skin of
her face was clean and white, except
where it flushed to a most charming pink
upon her smooth, cool cheeks. Her lips
were full and red, her chin very round
and a little salient. Curiously enough,
her eyes were small small, but of
the deepest, deepest brown, and always
twinkling and alight, as though she were
just ready to smile or had just done
smiling, one could not say which. And
nothing could have been more delightful
than these sloe-brown, glinting little eyea



8 Blix

of hers set off by her white skin and
yellow hair.

She impressed one as being a very
normal girl: nothing morbid about her,
nothing nervous or false or overwrought.
You did not expect to find her introspec
tive. You felt sure that her mental life
was not at all the result of thoughts and
reflections germinating from within, but
rather of impressions and sensations that
came to her from without. There was
nothing extraordinary about Travis. She
never had her vagaries, was not moody
depressed one day and exalted the
next. She was just a good, sweet, nat
ural, healthy - minded, healthy - bodied
girl, honest, strong, self-reliant, and good-
tempered.

Though she was not yet dressed foi
church, there was style in her to the
pointed tips of her patent-leather slippers.
She wore a heavy black overskirt that
rustled in delicious fashion over the
colored silk skirt beneath, and a white



Blix 9

shirt-waist, striped black, and starched
to a rattling stiffness. Her neck was
swathed tight and high with a broad rib
bon of white satin, while around her
waist, in place of a belt, she wore the
huge dog-collar of a St. Bernard a chic
little idea which was all her own, and of
which she was very proud.

She was as trig and trim and crisp as
a crack yacht : not a pin was loose, not a
seam that did not fall in its precise right
line; and with every movement there
emanated from her a barely perceptible
delicious feminine odor an odor that
was in part perfume, but mostly a subtle,
vague smell, charming beyond words,
that came from her hair, her neck, hex
arms her whole sweet personality. She
was nineteen years old.

She sat down to breakfast and ate
heartily, though with her attention di
vided between Howard who was atro
ciously bad, as usual of a Sunday morning
and her father's plate. Mr. Bessemer



io Blix

was as like as not to leave the table
without any breakfast at all unless his
fruit, chops, and coffee were actually
thrust under his nose.

"Papum," she called, speaking clear
and distinct, as though to the deaf,
" there's your coffee there at your elbow ;
be careful, you'll tip it over. Victorine,
push his cup farther on the table. Is it
strong enough for you, Papum ? "

"Eh? Ah, yes yes yes," mur
mured the old man, looking vaguely
about him ; " coffee, to be sure " and he
emptied the cup at a single draught,
hardly knowing whether it was coffee
or tea. "Now, I'll take a roll," he
continued, in a monotonous murmur.
"Where are the rolls? Here they are.
Hot rolls are bad for my digestion I
ought to eat bread. I think I eat too
much. Where's my place in the paper?
always lose my place in the paper.
Clever editorials this fellow Eastman
writes, unbiassed by party prejudice



Blix 1 1

unbiassed unbiassed." His voice died
to a whisper.

The breakfast proceeded, Travis super
vising everything that went forward,
even giving directions to Victorine as
to the hour for serving dinner. It was
while she was talking to Victorine as
to this matter that Snooky began to
whine.

"Stop!"

"And tell Maggie," pursued Travis,
"to fricassee her chicken, and not to
have it too well done "

" Sto-o-op ! " whined Snooky again.

" And leave the heart out for Papum.
He likes the heart "

"Sto-o-op!"

"Unbiassed by prejudice," murmured
Mr. Bessemer, " vigorous and to the point.
I'll have another roll."

" Pa, make Howard stop ! "

" Howard ! " exclaimed Travis ; " what
is it now ? "

" Howard's squirting watermelon-seeds



1 2 Blix

at me," whined Snooky, "and Pa won't
make him stop."

" Oh, I didn't so ! " vociferated Howard.
* I only held one between my fingers, and
it just kind of shot out."

"You'll come upstairs with me in just
five minutes," announced Travis, "and
get ready for Sunday-school."

Howard knew that his older sister's
decisions were as the laws of the Persians,
and found means to finish his breakfast
within the specified time, though not
without protest. Once upstairs, how
ever, the usual Sunday-morning drama
of despatching him to Sunday-school in
presentable condition was enacted. At
every moment his voice could be heard
uplifted in shrill expostulation and de
late. No, his hands were clean enough,
and he didn't see why he had to wear
that little old pink tie ; and, oh ! his new
shoes were too tight and hurt his sore
toe; and he wouldn't, he wouldn't no,
not if he were killed for it, change his



Blix 1 3

shirt. Not for a moment did Travis lose
her temper with him. But "very well,"
she declared at length, " the next time she
saw that little Miner girl she would tell
her that he had said she was his beau-
heart. Now would he hold still while
she brushed his hair? "

At a few minutes before eleven Travis
and her father went to church. They were
Episcopalians, and for time out of mind
had rented a half -pew in the church of
their denomination on California Street,
not far from Chinatown. By noon the
family reassembled at dinner-table, where
Mr. Bessemer ate his chicken-heart
after Travis had thrice reminded him of
it and expressed himself as to the ser
mon and the minister's theology : some
times to his daughter and sometimes to
himself.

After dinner Howard and Snooky fore
gathered in the nursery with their be
loved lead soldiers; Travis went to her
room to write letters ; and Mr. Bessemer



14 Blix

sat in the bay window of the dining-
room reading the paper from end to end.

At five Travis bestirred herself. It-
was Victorine's afternoon out. Travis
set the table, spreading a cover of blue
denim edged with white braid, which
showed off the silver and the set of delft
her great and never-ending joy to
great effect. Then she tied her apron
about her, and went into the kitchen to
make the mayonnaise dressing for the
potato salad, to slice the ham, and to
help the cook (a most inefficient Irish
person, taken on only for that month
during the absence of the family's be
loved and venerated Sing Wo) in the
matter of preparing the Sunday-evening
tea.

Tea was had at half-past five. Never
in the history of the family had its menu.
varied : cold ham, potato salad, pork and
beans, canned fruit, chocolate, and the
inevitable pitcher of ice- water.

In the absence of Victorine, Maggie



Blix 15

waited on the table, very uncomfortable
in her one good dress and stiff white
apron. She stood off from the table,
making awkward dabs at it from time to
time. In her excess of deference she
developed a clumsiness that was beyond
all expression. She passed the plates
upon the wrong side, and remembered
herself with a broken apology at inop
portune moments. She dropped a spoon,
she spilt the ice-water. She handled the
delft cups and platters with an exagger
ated solicitude, as though they were glass
bombs. She brushed the crumbs into
their laps instead of into the crumb-tray,
and at last, when she had set even Travis'
placid nerves in a jangle, was dismissed
to the kitchen, and retired with a gasp
of unspeakable relief.

Suddenly there came a prolonged trill
ing of the electric bell, and Howard
flashed a grin at Travis. Snooky jumped
up and pushed back, crying out: "I'll
go! I'll go!"



1 6 Blix

Mr. Bessemer glanced nervously at
Travis. "That's Mr. Rivers, isn't it,
daughter?" Travis smiled. "Well, I

think I'll I think I'd better " he

began.

"No," said Travis, "I don't want you
to, Papum ; you sit right where you are.
How absurd ! "

The old man dropped obediently back
into his seat.

"That's all right, Maggie," said Travis
as the cook reappeared from the pantry.
"Snooky went."

" Huh ! " exclaimed Howard, his grin
widening. " Huh ! "

"And remember one thing, Howard,"
remarked Travis calmly; "don't you ever
again ask Mr. Eivers for a nickel to put
in your bank. "

Mr. Bessemer roused up. "Did that
boy do that? " he inquired sharply of
Travis.

"Well, well, he won't do it again,"
said Travis soothingly. The old man



Blix 17

glared for an instant at Howard, who
shifted uneasily in his seat. But mean
while Snooky had clamored down to the
outside door, and before anything further
could be said young Rivers came into
the dinins-room.



n

FOR some reason, never made suffi
ciently clear, Elvers' parents had handi
capped him from the baptismal font with
the prsenomen of Conde", which, how
ever, upon Anglo-Saxon tongues, had
been promptly modified to Condy, or
even, amongst his familiar and intimate
friends, to Conny. Asked as to his
birthplace . for no Californian assumes
that his neighbor is born in the State
Condy was wont to reply that he was
"bawn 'n'rais'" in Chicago; "but," he
always added, " I couldn't help that, you
know." His people had come West in
the early eighties, just in time to bury
the father in alien soil. Condy was an
only child. He was educated at the
State University, had a finishing year at
Yale, and a few months after his return



Blix 19

home was taken on the staff of the San
Francisco Daily Times as an associate
editor of its Sunday supplement. For
Condy had developed a taste and talent
in the matter of writing. Short stories
were his mania. He had begun by an
inoculation of the Kipling virus, had
suffered an almost fatal attack of Hard
ing Davis, and had even been affected by
Maupassant. He " went in " for accuracy
of detail ; held that if one wrote a story
involving firemen one should have, or
seem to have, every detail of the de
partment at his fingers' ends, and should
* bring in " to the tale all manner of
technical names and cant phrases.

Much of his work on the Sunday sup
plements of The Times was of the hack
order special articles, write-ups, and
interviews. About once a month, how
ever, he wrote a short story, and of late,
now that he was convalescing from Mau
passant and had begun to be somewhat
Mmself, these stories had improved in



20 Blix

quality, and one or two had even been
copied in the Eastern journals. He
earned $100 a month.

When Snooky had let him in, Rivers
dashed up the stairs of the Bessemers'
flat, two at a time, tossed his stick in
to a porcelain cane-rack in the hall,
wrenched off his overcoat with a sin
gle movement, and precipitated himself,
panting, into the dining-room, tugging
at his gloves.

He was twenty-eight years old nearly
ten years older than Travis; tall and
somewhat lean; his face smooth-shaven
and pink all over, as if he had just given
it a violent rubbing with a crash towel.
Unlike most writing folk, he dressed
himself according to prevailing custom.
But Condy overdid the matter. His
scarfs and cravats were too bright, his
colored shirt-bosoms were too broadly
barred, his waistcoats too extreme.
Even Travis, as she rose to his abrupt
entrance, told herself that of a Sunday



Blix 21

evening a pink shirt and scarlet tie were
a combination hardly to be forgiven.

Condy shook her hand in both of his,
then rushed over to Mr. Bessemer, ex
claiming between breaths: "Don't get
up, sir don't think of it ! Heavens ! I'm
disgustingly late. You're all through.
My watch this beastly watch of mine
I can't imagine how I came to be so
late. You did quite right not to wait. "

Then as his morbidly keen observation
caught a certain look of blankness on
Travis' face, and his rapid glance noted
no vacant chair at table, he gave a quick
gasp of dismay.

" Heavens and earth ! didn't you expect
me? " he cried. "I thought you said I
thought I must have forgotten I must
have got it mixed up somehow. What a
hideous mistake, what a blunder ! What
a fool I am ! "

He dropped into a chair against the
wall and mopped his forehead with a
blue-bordered handkerchief.



22 Blix

"Well, what difference does it make >
Condy ? " said Travis quietly. " I'll put
another place for you."

" No, no ! " he vociferated, jumping up.
"I won't hear of it, I won't permit it!
You'll think I did it on purpose ! "

Travis ignored his interference, and
made a place for him opposite the chil
dren, and had Maggie make some more
chocolate.

Condy meanwhile covered himself with
opprobrium.

"And all this trouble I always make
trouble everywhere I go. Always a
round man in a square hole, or a square
man in a round hole."

He got up and sat down again, crossed
and recrossed his legs, picked up little
ornaments from the mantelpiece, and
replaced them without consciousness of
what they were, and finally broke the
crystal of his watch as he was resetting
it by the cuckoo clock.

" Hello ! " he exclaimed suddenly ;



Blix 23

* where did you get that clock ? Where
did you get that clock? That's new to
me. Where did that come from ? "

" That cuckoo clock ? " inquired Travis,
with a stare. "Condy Eivers, you've
been here and in this room at least twice
a week for the last year and a half, and
that clock, and no other, has always
hung there."

But already Condy had forgotten or
lost interest in the clock.

" Is that so ? is that so ? " he murmured
absent-mindedly, seating himself at the
table.

Mr. Bessemer was murmuring : " That
clock's a little fast. I cannot make that
clock keep time. Yictorine has lost the
key. I have to wind it with a monkey-
wrench. Now I'll try some more beans.
Maggie has put in too much pepper. I'll
have to have a new key made to
morrow."

"Hey? Yes yes. Is that so?" an
swered Condy Eivers, bewildered, wish-



24 Blix

ing to be polite, yet unable to follow the
old man's mutterings.

"He's not talking to you," remarked
Travis, without lowering her voice.
"You know how Papum goes on. He
won't hear a word you say. Well, I
read your story in this morning's Times. "

A few moments later, while Travis
and Condy were still discussing this
story, Mr. Bessemer rose. "Well, Mr.
Rivers," he announced, "I guess I'll say
good-night. Come, Snooky."

"Yes, take her with you, Papum, " said
Travis. " She'll go to sleep on the lounge
here if you don't. Howard, have you
got your lessons for to-morrow? "

It appeared that he had not. Snooky
whined to stay up a little longer, but at
last consented to go with her father.
They all bade Condy good-night and
took themselves away, Howard lingering
a moment in the door in the hope of the
nickel he dared not ask for. Maggie re
appeared to clear away the table.



Blix 25

"Let's go in the parlor," suggested
Travis, rising. "Don't you want to? "

The parlor was the front room over
looking the street, and was reached by
the long hall that ran the whole length
of the flat, passing by the door of each
one of its eight rooms in turn.

Travis preceded Condy, and turned up
one of the burners in a colored globe of
the little brass chandelier.

The parlor was a small affair, peopled
by a family of chairs and sofas robed in
white druggets. A gold-and-white effect
had been striven for throughout the room.
The walls had been tinted instead of
papered, and bunches of hand-painted
pink flowers tied up with blue ribbons
straggled from one corner of the ceil
ing. Across one angle of the room
straddled a brass easel upholding a
crayon portrait of Travis at the age of
nine, "enlarged from a photograph." A
yellow drape ornamented one corner
of the frame, while another drape of



26 Blix

blue depended from one end of the
mantelpiece.

The piano, upon which nobody ever
played, balanced the easel in an opposite
corner. Over the mantelpiece hung in a
gilded frame a steel engraving of Priscilla
and John Alden ; and on the mantel itself
two bisque figures of an Italian fisher boy
and girl kept company with the clock, a
huge timepiece, set in a red plush palette,
that never was known to go. But at the
right of the fireplace, and balancing the
tuft of parnpa-grass to the left, was an
inverted section of a sewer-pipe painted
blue and decorated with daisies. Into it
was thrust a sheaf of cat-tails, gilded,
and tied with a pink ribbon.

Travis dropped upon the shrouded sofa,
and Condy set himself carefully down on
one of the frail chairs with its spindling
golden legs, and they began to talk.

Condy had taken her to the theatre
the Monday night of that week, as had
been his custom ever since he had known



Blix 27

Tier well, and there was something left for
them to say on that subject. But in ten
minutes they had exhausted it. An en
gagement of a girl known to both of them
had just been announced. Condy brought
that up, and kept conversation going for
another twenty minutes, and then filled
in what threatened to be a gap by telling
"her stories of the society reporters, and
how they got inside news by listening to
telephone party wires for days at a time.
Travis' condemnation of this occupied
another five or ten minutes ; and so what
with this and with that they reached
nine o'clock. Then decidedly the even
ing began to drag. It was too early to
go. Condy could find no good excuse
for taking himself away, and, though
Travis was good-natured enough, and met
him more than half way, their talk lapsed,
and lapsed, and lapsed. The breaks be
came more numerous and lasted longer.
Condy began to wonder if he was boring
her. No sooner had the suspicion en-



28 Blix

tered his head than it hardened into a
certainty, and at once what little fluency
and freshness he yet retained forsook him
on the spot. What made matters worse
was his recollection of other evenings
that of late had failed in precisely the
same manner. Even while he struggled
to save the situation Condy was wonder
ing if they two were talked out if they
had lost charm for each other. Did he
not know Travis through and through by
now her opinions, her ideas, her con
victions? Was there any more freshness
in her for him ? Was their little flirta
tion of the last eighteen months, charm
ing as it had been, about to end? Had
they played out the play, had they come
to the end of each other's resources? He
had never considered the possibility of
this before ; but all at once as he looked
at Travis looked fairly into her little
brown-black eyes it was borne in upon


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