The dinner, which the skillful hands of John Scovil—while all the servants of the house were outside—had prepared and served, had quickly disappeared, as he and Nancy hurriedly harassed it. For in this one respect the last-mentioned was the true daughter of her father. The languor dissipated from him when he saw the well-laden plate before him, and the touch of knife and fork had the same effect on Nancy as the touch of a Stradivarius on a fiddler.
Tonight, he had shown a great deal of appreciation for the meal his father had prepared and served. The father knew from old experience that Nancy’s presence in the kitchen would be worse than useless, but when he had finished his work, his heart was forcibly warmed by a fluttering paternal pride as he watched the considerable quantities of food his daughter consumed.
Nancy was very attractive, and ate with pretended laziness, like a cat playing with a mouse — she seemed sleepily disapproving of everything that appeared before her — but still the rations disappeared. Although her accomplishments delighted her father, the way she performed made John Scovil want to twist his neck upside down.
In the geometric series, lamb chops disappeared as the girl gestured nonchalantly. Smiling distractedly, he ate a portion of chopped and grated potatoes and poured a full glass of milk into his hollow bowels.
Carelessly, he banished a heaping platter of canned peas and several tender fried trout out of sight of this world. His father watched and tried his hand. After secretly loosening his belt, he went back to the dishes. But when she had reached the ultimate limit of her eating capacity, Nancy still calmly continued her work of destruction.
»Nan!» exclaimed the father, delighted, when this activity finally ended.
»You really do credit to my cooking skills.»
“Yes,” muttered Nan Scovil, “this thin air makes me crave quantity and not judge quality.”
“What?” growled John Scovil, blinking. But curiosity got the better of her, and she asked: »Where are you going to put it, Nan? Where does it go?”
And with astonishment, he stared at his daughter’s rounded, but undeniably slender body.
»This harsh, active life», answered the girl with a yawn, »creates a need for food in a person.»
“This stern, active—Good God, Nan—” Scovil stood up suddenly. »Alright, let’s put away the dishes now.»
Her daughter casually raised her eyebrows.
»I said: let’s wash the dishes now, Nan.»
»Oh, dear father,» cried the girl, »how absolutely absurd you are».
Scovil stared at his daughter in silence.
“Do you mean to say,” he said slowly, “that you would not even clear the dishes from the table — but would leave this whole mess waiting for the kitchen servant?”
»Well, he’s had a day off today. And you yourself say, father, that everything good in the world has to be paid for.»
His father stared off into space.
“How long?” he whispered quietly. “How long?”
“Besides,” added Nancy Scovil, “you know I always fall asleep after dinner.”
And he stood up and walked leisurely to his bedroom, which was accessed from the dining room of the ranch house.
The girl turned and stifled a yawn.
»What in heaven’s name would inherit you if I died and left you no money to live on?»
»I never torture myself with impossible thoughts,« answered another.
»I believe, I sincerely believe, that you would sit where you are and starve to death.»
»Oh, no. I’d call Bobby.”
»You would marry that impossible young tolvana?»
“He’s not so annoying if you don’t listen to his ramblings,” defended Nan. »Besides, he has a nice home.»
»You would sell yourself?» muttered Scovil hoarsely.
»I would be a reasonable father; that’s all.”
And he left the door of his room.
His father stood silent for a long time, almost suffocating. She moved frantically to follow her daughter, but stopped in place as if afraid she would lose her temper. Finally he stepped to the door and slammed it behind him.
But the angry words dried up on his lips. Nancy rested on her bed. His eyes were already closed, and there was a smile on his lips as he always did when he slept. John Scovil hit his forehead hard with his knuckles and turned slowly back into the dining room.
“Neighbor,” said a stout voice from the opposite door, “hands up — screw up!”
John Scovil spun around to see a revolver aimed at him across from him, held by a dark-blooded giant. Behind this man, another scarecrow with fiery red hair and a wide grin split his thin face into two unpleasant halves pushed into the room. And behind him, a third one appeared, smaller than both others — an alert-looking, meowing knife.
“He doesn’t have a revolver, Dwarf,” remarked the redhead. »It’s not worth checking him.»
»You have your own technique, and I have mine,« snapped Kääpiö coldly. »Hands up, my friend; otherwise I will shoot your heart to pieces.»
John Scovil slowly raised his hand.
»If you demand money, men,» he said completely calmly, »you will find a nice amount in the wallet in the pocket of that coat hanging on the nail. Take it yourself! No offense whatsoever.»
“Shut up!” growled Pete. »You speak when you are asked something.»
He then quickly patted his victim’s hips.
»Okay,« he agreed. »Put your hands down again — but don’t try to make any tricks with them! I’ll keep an eye on you, my friend.»
“Calm down, Dwarf, calm down,” soothed the redhead.
“Shut up, Mack!” snarled Pete. This matter must be handled according to the correct formula or be left alone.»
»What about the girl?» presented the third member of the party.
“That’s your business, Jerry.”
“He must be in that other room,” remarked Jerry.
John Scovil jumped in front of the door of his daughter’s room and blocked the way for Jerry, who approached with a big mutt in his arm. Pete’s hand gripped the revolver tighter.
»Men, what do you want from my daughter?» said Scovil hoarsely.
“Out of the way!” commanded Jerry coldly. »Otherwise I will order my men to tie you up and take you away like a big hunk of pork.»
“I won’t budge,” replied John Scovil with certainty, “until I know that my daughter—”
»He’s going on a long riding trip, and you’re going with him. Move out of the way. Dwarf, shove this fat bait into the corner and sit on him!”
Pete obeyed with brutal thoroughness. John Scovil was a big man and strong, though he was already middle-aged, but he squirmed in Pete’s arms as vainly as a child squirms in its mother’s grasp. Pete grabbed her by one arm and one leg, lifted her into the air and flung her across the room. Pete himself followed along, and then this strongman held his victim firmly on the floor by sitting on top of him.
»Nice!» roared the victim-polo as he tried in vain. “This is going too far—do you hear?”
And he pointed at Jerry Aiken as defiantly as his position would allow.
“What do you mean — going too far?” mocked Jerry Aiken. »I lead this game, and you follow my orders.» He turned to Pete. »If he opens his mouth one more time, put a stick in that fat scumbag’s mouth!» he commanded calmly. »And now I’m going to deal with his daughter.»
“If you—” Scovil began to mutter, but his words turned into a muffled, muffled grunt, for the Dwarf placed his broad, tanned hand on the millionaire’s throat and leaned against it—very quietly.
After taking one more look and grinning at them, Jerry opened the door to Nancy’s room.
He did it carefully. The girl was certainly already scared by the commotion coming from the outer room and either hid or armed herself and could act quickly in self-defense. Slowly, very slowly, he pushed the door open, a centimeter at a time, until he heard a low, faint, soft sound, no more than a whisper, but whose meaning could not be mistaken. The woman was sleeping and snoring in her sleep.
Jerry slammed the door behind him, stepped inside and closed the door behind him.