The little lady of the big house (chapter 1) by jack london

THE LITTLE LADY OF THE BIG HOUSE

BY JACK LONDON

Author of "The Valley of the Moon,"
"The Star Rover," "The Sea Wolf,"
Etc.

CHAPTER I

He awoke in the dark. His awakening was simple, easy, without movement
save for the eyes that opened and made him aware of darkness. Unlike
most, who must feel and grope and listen to, and contact with, the
world about them, he knew himself on the moment of awakening,
instantly identifying himself in time and place and personality. After
the lapsed hours of sleep he took up, without effort, the interrupted
tale of his days. He knew himself to be Dick Forrest, the master of
broad acres, who had fallen asleep hours before after drowsily putting
a match between the pages of "Road Town" and pressing off the electric
reading lamp.

Near at hand there was the ripple and gurgle of some sleepy fountain.
From far off, so faint and far that only a keen ear could catch, he
heard a sound that made him smile with pleasure. He knew it for the
distant, throaty bawl of King Polo — King Polo, his champion Short Horn
bull, thrice Grand Champion also of all bulls at Sacramento at the
California State Fairs. The smile was slow in easing from Dick
Forrest's face, for he dwelt a moment on the new triumphs he had
destined that year for King Polo on the Eastern livestock circuits. He
would show them that a bull, California born and finished, could
compete with the cream of bulls corn-fed in Iowa or imported overseas
from the immemorial home of Short Horns.

Not until the smile faded, which was a matter of seconds, did he reach
out in the dark and press the first of a row of buttons. There were
three rows of such buttons. The concealed lighting that spilled from
the huge bowl under the ceiling revealed a sleeping-porch, three sides
of which were fine-meshed copper screen. The fourth side was the house
wall, solid concrete, through which French windows gave access.

He pressed the second button in the row and the bright light
concentered at a particular place on the concrete wall, illuminating,
in a row, a clock, a barometer, and centigrade and Fahrenheit
thermometers. Almost in a sweep of glance he read the messages of the
dials: time 4:30; air pressure, 29:80, which was normal at that
altitude and season; and temperature, Fahrenheit, 36°. With another
press, the gauges of time and heat and air were sent back into the
darkness.

A third button turned on his reading lamp, so arranged that the light
fell from above and behind without shining into his eyes. The first
button turned off the concealed lighting overhead. He reached a mass
of proofsheets from the reading stand, and, pencil in hand, lighting a
cigarette, he began to correct.

The place was clearly the sleeping quarters of a man who worked.
Efficiency was its key note, though comfort, not altogether Spartan,
was also manifest. The bed was of gray enameled iron to tone with the
concrete wall. Across the foot of the bed, an extra coverlet, hung a
gray robe of wolfskins with every tail a-dangle. On the floor, where
rested a pair of slippers, was spread a thick-coated skin of mountain
goat.

Heaped orderly with books, magazines and scribble-pads, there was room
on the big reading stand for matches, cigarettes, an ash-tray, and a
thermos bottle. A phonograph, for purposes of dictation, stood on a
hinged and swinging bracket. On the wall, under the barometer and
thermometers, from a round wooden frame laughed the face of a girl. On