Chapter 6




IN THE WIND-SHELTER


When Mrs. Western, anxiously watching the passengers come aboard from the last launch, had failed to see Bobby Boynton, she was partly reassured by young Vaughn, who was quite confident he had seen her on the dock. Not being satisfied, however, she made a tour of the crowded decks, looking into the music room, the writing-room and even the smoking-room, It was not until she went below and peeped into Bobby's empty cabin that she became seriously alarmed. Hurrying back on deck, she found, to her consternation, that the gang-planks had been lifted and the ship had weighed anchor. In great excitement she rushed to the bridge to find the captain, but he was not there. Five interminable minutes had been lost before she found him and stated her case.

The captain of an ocean-liner is too used to false alarms to be easily excited, and it was only after another thorough search was made, and no trace of Bobby and the Englishman found, that Captain Boynton concerned himself. Just what he said need not be chronicled. It was extremely crude and extremely personal, and punctuated by phrases that would have shocked the delicate sensibilities of the Honorable Percival.

His humor was not improved by the dictatorial messages that began to arrive by wireless:

Have chartered launch. Hold steamer,

HASCOMBE.

Distance too great for launch. Meet us halfway.

HASCOMBE.

Have started, Meet us.

HASCOMBE.

The exciting news that somebody was left soon traveled from deck to deck, and when the steamer began slowly and laboriously to come about, the railing's were crowded with passengers. Presently a small dark object was visible in the distance, rising and falling unsteadily on the waves that lay between the steamer and the dim shore-line. Gradually the launch came nearer, and with some difficulty succeeded in getting alongside.

A cheer of welcome went up as Bobby and Percival scrambled up the ship's-ladder. Their hats were adorned with trailing wreaths of smilax, and about their shoulders were garlands of carnations. It was a stage entrance, sufficiently conspicuous and effective to have satisfied the soul of the most exacting manager.

Percival's abhorrence of publicity, which had been overshadowed by his anxiety, now took complete possession of him. With punctilious formality he handed Bobby on deck, then, with a manner sufficiently forbidding to discourage all questions and remarks, pushed his way haughtily through the laughing crowd and went below.

It was not until he entered his state-room that he recalled the grievance that ostensibly had sent him ashore. In the middle of his berth was an open suitcase, with its contents widely distributed. Three pairs of shoes lay in the middle of the floor, a bunch of variegated neckties depended from the door-knob, and a stack of American magazines and newspapers lay upon the sofa, Percival stood on the threshold sniffing. There was no mistaking the odor. It was white rose, a perfume forever associated with the perfidious Lady Hortense! Was he to suffer this refinement of cruelty in having the very air he breathed saturated with her memory? He rang furiously for his valet.

"Judson, see that that person's things are put upon his side of the room and kept there, and under no condition allow the port-holes to be closed."

"Very good, sir. Will you dress now for dinner!"

But Percival was in no mood for the long table d'hôte dinner, with its inevitable comments upon the affair of the afternoon. He preferred a sandwich and a glass of wine in a secluded corner of the smoking-room, after which he played a few games of solitaire, then betook himself to bed. His sleep was not a restful one, being haunted by departing steamers, arriving Chinamen, and an endless procession of scornful Lady Hortenses.

He was awakened the next morning long before his accustomed time by some one stirring noisily about the state-room. After lying in indignant silence for a while behind his drawn curtains, he touched the electric bell. When Judson's respectful knock responded, he said in tones of icy formality:

"Judson, tell the steward to draw my tub."

"I say," broke in a voice on the outer side of the curtain, "while you are drawing things, I wish you'd try your hand at this cork."

There was a brief parley at the door, and a "Very good, sir," from Judson.

Percival's anger rose. It was bad enough to share his room with a stranger, but to share his valet as well was out of the question. When a second tap announced that his bath was ready, he slipped a long robe over his silk pajamas and emerged imperiously from his berth. It is not easy to maintain a haughty dignity in a bath-robe, with one's hair on end, but Percival came very near it.

The effort was wasted, however, for a cheerful "Good morning, Partner," greeted him, and his cold eye discerned not a slant-eyed Oriental, but a round, pink American face, partly covered with lather, beaming upon him.

"My name is Black," continued the new-comer--"Andy Black. And yours?"

"Hascombe," said Percival, haughtily aware of all that that name stood for in the annals of southern England.

"Oh, you're the fellow that got left! Any kin to the Texas Hascombes?" asked the youth, drawing the razor over his upper lip as if there were real work for it to do.

"None whatever," said Percival. "I'll trouble you for my sponge-bag."

When Percival got down to breakfast he found that the enforced proximity of Mr. Andy Black was not to be confined to the state-room. The plump, red-headed young man, with the complexion of a baby and a smile that impartially embraced the universe, was seated at his elbow.

"Who is the girl at the captain's right?" he demanded eagerly as Percival took his seat.

"His daughter," Percival said curtly, painfully aware of the amused glances that had followed his entrance.

"Some looker!" said Andy. "I see my finish right now."

The sight of it eventually pleased him, for he turned his back upon Percival, and became hilariously appreciative of the captain's jokes, even contributing one or two of his own. Before the meal was over he had informed the whole table that he was on his way to Hong-Kong in the interests of the Union Tobacco Company, that he had done business in every State in the Union, and that he had crossed the Pacific five times.

During the course of the day Percival visited the purser at regular intervals, demanding that his room-mate be removed. But the purser was a sturdy Hamburger, and the very sight of a monocle affected his disposition. Meanwhile Mr. Andy Black had made good use of his time. At the end of twenty-four hours he had spoken to virtually everybody on board, including the gray-haired old missionary who passed cream-peppermints about the deck at a quarter to ten every morning. He had played quoits with Elise Weston, punched the bag with the college boys, and taught Bobby Boynton to dance the tango. So obnoxious was the sight of him to the Honorable Percival that he turned his chair to the wall and buried himself in "Guillim's Display of Heraldry." He considered it as a personal affront on the part of Fate that just as he was beginning to find the voyage endurable this prancing young montebank should appear to spoil everything.

For the next two days he sternly avoided Bobby Boynton. His somewhat pompous letter of apology to the captain, in which he set forth at length the various unforeseen accidents that had caused him to miss the steamer, was curtly and ungraciously received, and strained relations ensued. Moreover, as he viewed the recent adventure in retrospect, he decided that he had been most negligent in observing those rules by which the conduct of an English gentleman should be regulated. In condescending to be amused he had gone too far, and it was now incumbent upon him to nip in the bud any gossip that might have risen concerning his attentions to the daughter of that odious captain.

Bobby survived the withdrawal of his favor with amazing indifference. What puzzled and annoyed him beyond measure was that the more oblivious of him she seemed, the more acutely aware of her he became. Twenty times a day he assured himself that it made no earthly difference to him whether she was playing quoits with the Scotchman or bean-bag with Andy Black, and yet not a page of his book would become intelligible until he made a round of the deck to find out what she was doing. The evenings were even worse: midnight often found him wrapped in his rug in his steamer-chair or morosely pacing the deck, waiting for some festivity in which Bobby was engaged to come to an end. The shocking lack of chaperonage and the liberty allowed young girls in the States served as themes for more than one bitter letter home.

But his cold aloofness was not destined to last. One morning when most of the passengers were concerned with the appearance of Bird Island on the horizon, he stumbled quite by accident upon Bobby curled up behind a wind-shelter on the other side of the deck, contributing some large salt tears to the brine of the ocean. Now, in that circle of society in which it had pleased Providence to place Percival it was considered the height of bad form to exhibit an emotion. His imagination could not picture one of the ladies of Hascombe Hall sitting in a public place with her hair tumbled over her face, and her shoulders shaking with sobs.

Nevertheless, the sight of this hitherto buoyant young creature in distress moved him to sit down beside her, and in the softly modulated tones upon which we have already commented coax her to tell him what was the matter.

Unlike the historic Miss Muffet who repulsed a similar attention from the spider, she welcomed his arrival. She even asked him if he had an extra handkerchief, her own having been reduced to a wet little ball. He had. He not only proffered it, but helped to wipe away the tears.

"I don't know what makes me so everlastingly silly," she said fiercely, trying to swallow the rising sobs, "but he won't understand!"

"Who won't?"

"The captain. I don't care if he is my father. Sometimes I don't like him a bit."

Neither did Percival. It was strange how the common antagonism drew them together. He was about to ask for further details when the old Peppermint Lady scurried past and, seeing them, turned back to impart the burning news that Bird Island was in sight.

"Yes," said Percival, shamelessly, "we have seen it."

"He doesn't know me if he thinks I'll give in," went on Bobby where she had left off. "I am just as stubborn as he is."

"There, now, I shouldn't talk about it if it made me cry," advised Percival, patting her shoulder.

"But I've got to talk to somebody," she said almost savagely. "What did he give me to the Fords for if he didn't think they were good enough? Pa Joe's as good as he is any day in the week."

"Who is Pa Joe?" asked Percival, groping in the dark.

"He's the darlingest old man in the world, and he owns the best cattle ranch in Wyoming. Anybody'll tell you so. He's been a real father to me, and the boys are real brothers--at least three of them are. They are just as good as anybody that ever lived, I don't care what the captain says."

There was another passionate burst of tears, and Percival had just succeeded in stemming the tide when the Scotchman bore down upon them.

"I beg your pardon, but did you know we were passing Bird Island?" he asked them.

"Yes," said Percival, hastily getting up and piloting him safely past. "As a matter of fact, some one was just asking for you in the smoking-room."

"I told the captain," sobbed Bobby, beating her hands together and apparently oblivious of interruptions, "that I'd come on this trip with him, but that it wouldn't make a bit of difference, and it hasn't."

"No, of course it hasn't," agreed Percival, soothingly, not in the least comprehending the drift of her remarks, but pleasantly aware that he was being confided in and that something very limp and lovely was under his protection.

"Isn't there a--a--Mrs. Ford on the ranch?" he asked by way of prolonging the interview.

"Not now. Dear Aunt Kitty died four years ago. That was when they sent me in to Cheyenne to school. But I'm finished now, and I'm going to stay on the ranch and take care of Pa Joe and the boys."

"Can't say it sounds exciting. How many children are there?"

"Children! Why, they are all as tall as you are, except Piffles. There's Ted, and Dick, and Piffles, and--Hal. I guess you saw Hal that day at the station."

For the first time since he had known her, her black lashes drooped consciously over her blue eyes. They were very long and thick lashes, and as they swept her flushed cheek, Percival not only forgot what she was saying, but went so far as to forget himself.

"I saw only one thing that day at the station," he said, with such an ardent look that it made Bobby smile through her tears. As a rule he disliked dimples, especially the stationary kind. But the one that now occupied, his attention was a very shy and elusive affair that kept the beholder watching very closely for fear he should miss it.

"Come," he said, taking advantage of the momentary sunshine, "you are a bit of a sportsman, you know. You mustn't come off by yourself and cry like this. Makes you feel so beastly seedy afterward, doesn't it?"

"Yes. But you don't understand. I want to do something that the captain's perfectly determined I sha'n't do. He didn't bring me on this trip just to give me a good time. Not on your life! He brought me to make me forget."

"Oh, that's the game, is it? Scuttling you off to sea to make you forget. Deuced interesting! I don't mind telling you I'm in something of the same sort of a hole myself."

"Really?" Her interest was roused instantly.

A mysterious change was taking place in their acquaintance. Bobby's tears had in some unaccountable manner taken all the starch out of Percival's manner.

"You mean," she went on, "that they are sending you off to keep you from marrying some one they don't like?"

"Not exactly. I shouldn't put up with that for a moment, you know."

"Of course you wouldn't, because you are a man. But suppose you were a girl, and your father was perfectly unreasonable. What would you do then?"

"I'd drop the matter for a bit," advised Percival, at a venture. "Let him think you didn't care a tuppeny. Pretend to be awfully keen about something else, and, likely as not, he'll come round. Not a bad idea that, by Jove! I've tried it."

"Do you think it would work?" asked Bobby, scanning his finely chiseled profile as eagerly as if she were consulting the Delphic oracle.

"No harm in trying. Keep him on tenter-hooks, at any rate."

"Ship ahoy!" came in joyous tones from Andy Black as he rounded the corner of the saloon, clinging to his cap. "Been looking for you all over. Say, did you all know we were passing Bird Island?"

"If we don't," said Percival, with his most deliberate stare, "it is not because we have failed to be informed of the uninteresting fact every five minutes for the last half-hour."

"Consider me the third stanza," said Andy; "please omit me!"

Bobby laughed as he disappeared, and pushed back her tumbled hair.

"I love to hear you say 'hawf,'" she said; then she added impetuously, "You aren't a bit like anybody I ever saw before."

"I dare say," said Percival, returning her smile.

"Not only your talk, but your walk, and the way you wear your clothes."

"I suppose my tailor does rather understand my figure," said Percival; "but what puzzles you about my speech?"

"I don't know. It's different. And then I never can tell what you are thinking about."

"Do you wish to know what I'm thinking about just now?"

"Yes."

"I am wondering why you wear high-heeled, gold-beaded slippers in the morning."

Bobby thrust forth two dainty feet and contemplated them in surprise.

"What's wrong with them?" she asked.

"Rather dressy for the morning, aren't they?" he gently suggested.

"I don't know," she said good-humoredly. "I've got a trunkful of clothes down in my state-room, but I never know which ones to put on. You see, we never dike up like this on the ranch. When the captain brought me to San Francisco, he handed me over to a woman at the hotel and told her to rig me out for the trip."

"Did--did she buy your steamer-coat?" asked Percival.

Bobby's laugh rang out contagiously.

"Isn't it a tulip? I knew it was wrong the minute I came on board and saw Elise Weston's. Honest, now, have I got anything else as bad as that?"

"No, oh, no; I was a beastly cad to mention it. You are most awfully charming in anything you choose to wear. But as a matter of fact, I do like you best in white, with your hair low, as it is now."

"Hair low, shoes high, all in white. Anything else you'd like?" All trace of tears had vanished, and her eyes were dancing audaciously.

"Yes," said Percival, leaning forward, "there is."

At this critical juncture a well-built figure in a uniform started down the stairway above them, paused a moment unobserved, then quietly retraced his steps to the bridge.

"See here, I must be going," said Bobby, rising abruptly. "I promised to practise for the tableaux at ten, and it's half-past now. Say, you were a brick to brace me up! I'm going to take your advice, too; you see if I don't. May I count on your help!"

"At your service," said Percival, rising, and clasping the hand she held out.

The captain's Chinese boy glided up unobserved and stood at attention.

"Captain say missy please come top-side right away. Wantchee see Bird Island."

Percival, still holding her hand, smilingly shook his head.

"Damn Bird Island!" he murmured softly.




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