"Dot, do you remember Kirke Waldron?"
Dorothy Broughton, daintily manipulating her breakfast grapefruit, her shapely young arm showing interesting curves through the muslin and lace of her morning gown--made by her own clever fingers--looked up at her brother Julius. He was keeping her company at her late and solitary breakfast, sitting casually on the arm of his brother-in-law's empty chair, his long legs crossed, his arms folded upon his chest. His bright eyes surveyed his sister as he spoke, from the crown of her carefully ordered hair to the tips of her white shoes--he could see them from his position at one side, and he observed that they were as white and as fresh as her gown. That was one of the things Julius heartily approved of in his pretty sister--her fastidiousness in such matters. He was fastidious himself to a degree; nothing more correct in its way than his own morning attire could have been imagined.
"Waldron?" Dorothy repeated. "That tall, solemn boy who used to stumble over himself on his way to the blackboard?"
"And then had the rest of the class looking like a set of dough-heads while he covered the blackboard with neat little figures that always came out right; a perfect shark at 'math.' Yes, he's the one. Five classes ahead of us then--fifteen now. We aren't in it, any of us, with Kirkie Waldron these days."
"I've never heard nor thought of him since then," averred his sister. "Do you mean he's made something of himself? I should never have thought it."
"No, you'd never have thought it, because he stumbled over his own feet when he was a kid. Well, let me tell you it's the only thing he's ever stumbled over. He's just been taken into the office of Haynes and Ardmore, consulting mining engineers, and everybody says that'll mean a partnership some day. And that brings me to my point. He hasn't taken a day's vacation for two years. Day after to-morrow he sails for South America to stay six months, looking after the development of a new mine down there in Colombia. He can take to-morrow for a holiday, and I've asked him out--with Bud's permission. And I want you to help me give him the time of his life."
"Me?" Dorothy opened her brown eyes. "Oh, but I can't give you to-morrow! The bridal party's going on an all-day motor trip."
Julius ran his hand through the crisp, half-curly locks of his black hair. "Cut it out. You don't need to be on every last one of their junketings. Get 'em to let you off for to-morrow."
"I can't possibly. I'm to be maid of honour, you know. Irene would never forgive me, nor--some of the others."
Julius frowned. "See here, you're not letting Ridge Jordan get any headway with you, are you? If you are you'd certainly better make him take a day off while you see what a real man is like. After you've had a good look at Kirke Waldron you'll be ready to let Tom Wendell and Ridge Jordan and the rest of those bridal party men go to thunder. I don't suppose Waldron was ever an usher or best man at a wedding in his life, but I tell you he'll make every one of those little society men look like copper cents, just the same."
Dorothy rose from her chair. Her brown eyes surveyed her brother from between heavy chestnut lashes, and just now they were very haughty eyes. Her curving, crimson lips were scornful. "I find it difficult to believe," she observed, "that a boy whom I particularly detested, one of the most awkward, solemn-faced, uninteresting boys I ever saw in my life, can have blossomed into such a wonder. As for Ridgeway Jordan, I like him very much. He may be a society man--which is no crime, I believe--but he is also making quite as good, in his way, as your friend, Mr. Waldron. And I certainly am not going to throw over an engagement as binding as this one to give anybody 'the time of his life.'"
She walked out of the room, cancelling the effect of her haughtiness by turning to throw back a smile at her brother, as ravishing a smile as if he were no brother at all.
Her sister, Mrs. Jack Elliot, entering in time to glance curiously from Dorothy's smile to Julius's scowl, inquired of Julius what might be the matter.
He shook his head. "I don't like the symptoms. She takes it more and more seriously when I hit Ridge Jordan in any way. I like Ridge myself, but I wouldn't see Dot marry him for a good deal."
"I don't believe there is the least danger," his elder sister replied. She looked a mere girl herself. She was immolating herself just now, as was everybody else in the suburban town, on the altar of the Clifford-Jordan bridal party. That the dinners and dances, drives and luncheons might proceed without hindrance many family schedules were being upset. Mrs. Jack's one anxiety at present was to have her charming sister's bloom remain unworn by fatigue. Thus far Dorothy was holding out better than any of the other bridesmaids. "Her colour was just as good as ever, wasn't it?" Mrs. Jack murmured absently, preparing to remove Dorothy's fruit plate. "I don't believe she ate a thing but fruit," she murmured.
"Best thing she could do. After the stuff she undoubtedly got away with at midnight her only salvation's a light breakfast. As to her colour, I enriched it," he explained grimly, "by mentioning my feeling about Ridge. If I thought, after all the attentions that girl has had, that she'd take Ridge Jordan--with all his money! Dot's no girl to care such a lot about money. It's this crazy bridal-party business that's upset her, I'll go you! The thing's contagious. Lord Harry! I don't know that I could look long at Irene and Harold myself without getting a touch of it."
"A touch! You and Sally?" Mrs. Jack smiled.
"Oh, well; that's different." Her brother thrust his hands into his pockets and walked over to the window. "Entirely different. Sally and I were intended for each other from the beginning; everybody knows that. But now--what in thunder am I going to do with Waldron? Tell me that. I've got him to come down here expressly to meet Dot. Of course I didn't tell him so; he's not that sort. And now she's off for all to-morrow with that confounded bridal party."
"Can't he come some other time?"
"I should say not; certainly not for months. He's off to South America for a long stay--has this one day to himself. You see it wasn't till I met him yesterday that I realized what the fellow had become; and then it came over me all at once what it might mean to have him meet Dot just now. I'm no matchmaker--"
"I should say that is just what you are!"
"No; but--'There is a tide,' you know. And Dot certainly has me worried to death over Ridge Jordan."
"But, Julius"--Mrs. Jack's voice took on a tinge of anxiety--"we've always thought well of Ridge. I don't just see--"
"I know you don't. He's not the man for Dot. I want a real man for her. I've got him. Wait till you see Kirke!"
"You seem to think it's very simple--"
"By George, I think it is! I know how he felt about her when she was a youngster: adored the ground she walked on. She never looked at him. I tell you she'll look at him now; he's worth looking at."
"If he's so fine looking he may be engaged to some other girl."
"He's not. I made sure of that," declared Julius, audacity gleaming in his eyes as usual. "Besides, I tell you, he's not that sort. He's no matinee idol for looks; maybe you wouldn't even call him good looking. I do; he's got the goods in his face, handsome or not. I tell you he's a real man. Dot hasn't seen one yet. I'll make her see Kirke--somehow. You wait."
He marched away, head up, eyes thoughtful, lips pursed in a whistle.
Next morning, when three luxurious motor cars stopped at Mrs. Jack's door, Julius was lounging on the porch. It was his Senior vacation; he could be forgiven for lounging. In his flannels, hands in pockets, he strolled down the steps with his sister to see her off, though Ridgeway Jordan was escorting her devotedly. He surveyed her, as he followed her, with brotherly pride.
"That sister of mine has all the rest of them beaten at the quarter-mile," was his inward reflection. "Not much money to do it on, but she certainly knows how to get herself up to look as if she'd just walked out of a tailor's box and a milliner's bandbox. Made that stunner of a hat herself, I'll wager. Fresh as a peach, her face, too. The others look a bit jaded."
Along with these inner comments he was keeping up a running fire of talk with two of the bridesmaids, whom he knew well. His bright black eyes, however, noted that Dorothy's place in the first car was next that of Ridgeway Jordan, and that the face of that young man was soberer than usual.
"Bad sign," he reflected as he turned away, after a hot-and-heavy exchange of banter with certain of the men as the car prepared to start. "When a chap begins to look solemn, sitting beside a girl you know he's in love with, you can be sure he has it on his mind to have it out with her before the day is over. If I could have just got Kirke to her yesterday! Ridge may do it any time now; I can see it in his eye--and she may take him. I don't know what's got into Dot. A month ago she'd have laughed at the idea of marrying him; but now I can't be sure of her. It's this idiotic bridal hysteria that's got her in its grip. By George, she shan't take him!"
An hour later, in his brother-in-law's trap, Julius drove to the station to meet his guest. Kirke Waldron, descending from the train, found his old schoolmate, younger than himself, but well remembered as the imp of the High School, waiting for him on the station platform.
"Mighty glad to be sure of you," Julius declared, shaking hands. "Until I actually caught sight of you I was still expecting a wire saying you couldn't afford even the one day."
"The coast is clear," Waldron answered, returning the grip with equal vigor. "I closed every account at midnight and have my one day as free as air."
"The question is," Julius lost no time in beginning, as the two walked along the trim, flower-bordered suburban platform toward the waiting trap, "what sort of a day do you want? Outdoors, of course; no question of that in hot weather. But--with people or away from them? I can take you to my sister's for luncheon; to tell the truth, she's counting on that. But afterward I have a little plan to carry you up into the mountains to a place I know for an all-afternoon tramp and a dinner at the best little inn in the country. Back in the late evening, a dash down to our river and a swim by moonlight. How does that programme suit you?"
"It's great," agreed Kirke Waldron decidedly. "Nothing could suit me better. Vacation, to me, means outdoors always. And it's a long time since I've done any tramping in the home State."
"I knew you weren't one of the hammock-and-novel vacation sort," Julius said as he put his new-old friend into the trap. "I'm not myself. Though"--he confessed with honesty--"I have been known to sit with my heels in the air for a longer consecutive period than you've ever done if all your sittings were lumped together."
"What do you know as to where I've kept my heels?"
"On the ground, planting one before the other without rest, day in and day out, ever since I first knew you. That's why you're where you are; it doesn't take a soothsayer to tell that."
Waldron laughed. "You're a flatterer," he said.
Julius shook his head. "Not a bit of it. It's written all over you. If I got caught in the middle of an earthquake anywhere, and the ground stopped shaking and I looked around me to find out what to do next, and my eye fell on you out of hundreds bunched around me, I should simply--follow you out of the mess!"
"That's a great tribute," Waldron admitted, "from a fellow whom I used to know as the cleverest at getting himself out of scrapes of all the boys who were resourceful in getting into them."
"Having exchanged large-sized bouquets," Julius observed with sudden gravity, "we will now drive home. Do you know I'm mighty sorry my sister Dorothy isn't there? You remember her, do you?--or maybe you don't. She was just a 'kid' with a couple of long tails of hair down her back. My second sister, Barbara--we call her 'Bud'--was in your class, I believe. She remembers you all right; says she was tremendously impressed by the way you slew the fractions on the blackboard. Bud married Jack Elliot, as I told you yesterday; and a great old boy he is, too, for a brother-in-law."
Discoursing of his family, with occasional mention of his sister Dorothy, Julius took his friend to the Elliot home. Mrs. Jack, fresh and charming, made them welcome. Jack himself, by some happy chance, had been able to come out for luncheon, and the three men found each other thoroughly congenial.
After luncheon Julius contrived a chance to exchange a brief colloquy with Mrs. Jack on the subject of the guest.
"What do you think of him, Bud? Pretty fine sort to have developed from the grub who did the stunts with fractions, with his freckled face turning lobster colour because you girls were looking at him?"
"I can't believe he's the same," Mrs. Jack whispered, looking through the open window at the figure on the porch outside, its side turned toward her. "I haven't seen a man in a long time with so much character in his face. He's not exactly handsome, but--yes, I certainly do like his face very much. I wish--I really wish Dot were here."
"Oh, no, not at all!" Julius objected. "Dot's satisfied with Ridge Jordan, or thinks she is. So are you."
"I have always liked Ridge," Mrs. Jack insisted; "but--well, Mr. Waldron is quite another type."
"Yes, quite another," Julius murmured, and returned to the porch.
Before the two took the train for the mountains Julius managed to let Waldron see a photograph of Dorothy. As a matter of fact; photographs of Dorothy were all about the house, but in Julius's own room hung one which the brother considered the gem of them all. It showed one of those straight-out-of-the-picture faces which are sometimes so attractive, the eyebrows level above the wonderful eyes, the lips serious and sweet, the head well poised upon the lovely neck, the whole aspect one of youth unconscious of its charm, yet feeling a subtle power of its own.
Waldron, his attention called to the photograph, surveyed it with a quiet comment: "I should have known she would look like this when she grew up"; and turned away without undue lingering. Yet Julius was satisfied that Waldron would know the face again when he saw it, as it was intended that he should.
It was a journey of an hour and a half by rail up into the mountain resort where, by certain artfully veiled investigations, Julius had ascertained that the bridal party would stop for dinner. Scheming joyously, he led his companion from the train at a station several miles from Saxifrage Inn, alighting at a mere flag station in the midst of a semi-wilderness. The promised tramp began without the knowledge of the guest as to where it was to end or hint as to what might be found there.
Coats over their arms, the two young men swung away upon the trail--a wide, much-used trail, which could be followed without difficulty. The warm summer air was fragrant with the scent of balsam, pine, and fern; pine needles carpeted the path; faint forest sounds came to their ears--the call of a loon from a distant lake, the whirr of a partridge, the chatter of a squirrel, the splash of falling water. Waldron took off his straw hat and tucked it under his arm, baring his forehead to the spice-laden breeze that now and then filtered through the forest, stirring languid leaves to motion.
"Ah, but I'd like to be just setting out on a fortnight of this!" he breathed. "Dressed for the part, a pack on my back--or a canoe. When I was a boy I used to go on long canoeing trips, following our river to its mouth. I don't like the tropics as well as I do the temperate zones."
"If you weren't such a tremendous grind you would do it now," Julius offered. "A fellow needs a vacation, now and then, if he's to keep in shape."
Waldron glanced at him, smiling. "So he does. But somehow I've managed to keep in shape. I inherit from my father a fairly tough constitution, and also the love of work, the seeing my job through to the finish without loss of time. I suspect that's what keeps me going."
They fell into talk about Waldron's work.
In answer to Julius's questions Waldron told him a good deal about the work itself--little, as Julius afterward realized, of his own part in it. The miles fell away beneath their steadily marching feet, and in due season, by Julius's management, they emerged from the trail at a certain rocky bluff overlooking the distant country, upon which was perched the small but county-famous inn where they were to have dinner.
A string of automobiles stood along the driveway, and among them Julius readily recognized the three with which he was familiar as those which had been conveying the Clifford-Jordan bridal party to and from its places of entertainment for the last fortnight. No sign of the party itself was to be seen upon the side piazzas which encompassed the inn. But this was easily understood. From some distance away the sounds proceeding from a shrubbery-screened point upon the bluff before the inn betrayed the presence of a company of revellers. This was as it should be. Even Julius Broughton's audacity was not to be carried to the point of forcing himself and his friend, uninvited, upon a set of young people already carefully selected and for the time being rigidly separated from the rest of mankind by metaphorical white ribbons stretched to insure privacy.
Julius left Waldron upon the porch and went into the inn to ascertain, if might be, from the management where the bridal party would be dining. Learning, as he had expected, that a private apartment was devoted to their use, he went to the public dining room and selected a table. Being early he was able to secure one in an alcove, looking out through an open window upon the path along which the bridal party, returning from the bluff, would be sure to approach. To this he presently led Waldron and seated him so that he faced the path outside, the vista of distant countryside beyond. The young people of the Clifford-Jordan party were to dine at eight, and it lacked only a few minutes of this hour when they appeared down the path.
Julius had just given his order and leaned comfortably back in his chair when he caught sight of them. "By George!" he ejaculated. "Well, well! so this is where they've come! Been mighty mysterious about where they meant to spend the day, but we've caught 'em. Started in the opposite direction this morning, too--just for a blind. You see there are a lot of practical jokers among Clifford's friends, and their attentions haven't been confined to the hour of the wedding itself. I say, recognize the girl in the lead with the bride's brother, that light-haired fellow?"
Drawing back so that he was concealed by the curtains of the window Waldron looked out at the approaching bevy of young people. Up the path they came, talking, laughing, shifting like a pattern in a kaleidoscope, gay, handsome, sophisticated, modishly dressed, unconventionally mannered, yet showing, most of them, the traces of that youthful ennui so often betrayed in these modern days by those who of all the world should feel it least.
Julius's brotherly eye rested upon his sister, as it had done that morning, with cool satisfaction. Some of the girls looked in disarray, hair tumbled, frocks rumpled, faces burned. Dorothy's simple white serge suit was unmussed, her hair was trim under her plain white hat with its black velvet band, her colour was even, her dark eyes clear. Although Ridgeway Jordan was bestowing upon her the most devoted attentions, his eyes constantly seeking--but seldom finding--hers, she was showing no consciousness of it beyond the little, curving, half-smile with which she was answering him. In a word, her brother felt, Dot was sweet--strong and sweet and unspoiled--fascinating, too, being a woman and not without guile. Didn't she know--of course she did--that it was just that noncommittal attitude of hers, amused and pleased and interested, but unimpressed by their regard, that drew the men like a magnet?
Behind Dorothy and young Jordan one of the bridesmaids, an extraordinarily pretty girl, was laughing hysterically, clutching at her attendant's sleeve and then pushing him away. He was laughing with her--and at her--and his eyes, all the time, were following Dorothy Broughton. It seemed to Julius, as the party came on, that most of the girls were behaving foolishly--and quite all the men. Perhaps it was because they had all seen so much of each other during these days and nights of merry-making that they had reached the borders of a dangerous familiarity. A little tired of one another most of them had become, it was more than probable. Against this background Dorothy showed easily the most distinction of them all; she looked in her simple attire, contrasted with the elaborate costumes of the other bridesmaids, like a young princess reigning over a too frivolous suite.
Kirke Waldron looked, unperceived, out of his window, and Julius, turning his eyes from the picture before him, observed his friend. Waldron's face was not what might be called an expressive one; it was the face of a man who had learned not to show what he might be feeling. There was no mask there; only cool and balanced control, coupled with the keenest observation. But Julius imagined that Waldron's close-set lips relaxed a little as he stared at Dorothy.
The party came on into the inn; the sound of their voices and laughter died away. Some young people at a table near, who also had been looking out of a window, made various comments to which Julius listened with interest.
"Swell-looking lot. Wonder who they are."
"Must be the bridal party they have here to-night. Dining privately."
"Awfully pretty girls," was one young woman's opinion; "better looking than the men. Why are the men in bridal parties never as good looking as you expect?"
"Bridegroom doesn't want himself cut out. He has no advantage of a veil and train; he has to stand out in his raw black and white and compete with the other men on his own merits."
"I wonder if that was the bride, that prettiest girl in front."
"Don't know. Probably. If she is, the chap's lucky who gets her."
Julius felt a desire to get up and explain that his sister was nobody's bride, and wasn't going to be anybody's until the right man came along. Instead he sat still and stared at his plate. As he had watched his sister coming toward him, with Ridgeway Jordan beside her looking into her face with that look of eager hopefulness, he had experienced a powerful longing to go out and lead Ridge away to some secluded spot and explain to him that he wasn't good enough. It wasn't as if there were anything against young Jordan; there was certainly nothing specific. Julius found himself wishing there were.
Upon the bluff in the cool darkness the two young men spent the following hour, enjoying to the full the refreshing, woods-laden breath of the night air, their pipes sending up clouds of fragrant smoke and keeping them free from the onslaughts of the insects which otherwise at that hour would have been very annoying. From time to time Julius lighted matches and consulted the unrelenting face of his watch. They did not talk much; it was a time for silence and the comradeship of silence.
The station at which the tram would stop was not a dozen rods from the hotel. Until the last minute, therefore, they could linger. But at half after nine Julius sprang up.
"Let's go back to the hotel and wait on the porch," he proposed.
The two paced back to the porch, which hummed with talk. The whole small company of the inn's few permanent guests was gathered there, obviously to see the bridal party when it should appear and take to its motors. There was not much to amuse hotel guests up here in the mountains; they could not afford to miss so interesting a departure.
From not far in the distance suddenly a whistle pierced the night air. "I say, that's too bad!" cried Julius low to his friend. "I hoped they'd come out before you had to go and you could meet Dot. Just our luck!"
"We'd better be off," said Waldron, and he led the way. It was a flag station, as he had learned, and he could not afford to lose the train. It would be after midnight before he could get back to the city as it was, and he was to leave the city at nine in the morning for his long absence.
Someone was waving a lantern as they approached the station. The forest hid the track in both directions, but the roar of the nearing train could now be plainly heard.
Walking fast, a trifle in advance, Waldron suddenly turned and spoke over his shoulder: "I suppose my ears deceive me, but that certainly sounds as if it were coming from the wrong direction."
"Your ears do deceive you, of course," Julius responded. "All sounds are queer in the night. Still--by George! it certainly does seem to come from--"
The train, puffing and panting from its pull up the grade, now showed its headlight through the trees. There was no question about it, it was coming from the wrong direction, and therefore, unquestionably, was going in the wrong direction.
"Must be two trains pass here," cried Julius, and he ran ahead to the hotel hand who was still waving his lantern, although the train was slowing to a standstill. "There's another train to-night?" he questioned.
"No, sir. This one's all the' is to-night."
Julius turned and looked at his friend. "Well, I certainly have got you into a nice scrape," he said solemnly.
"It looks like it," Waldron answered shortly. "The thing is now, how to get out of it. We must hire something and drive back--or to a station somewhere."
They debated the question. They hurried back to the office and interviewed the management, which shook its head dubiously. The little mountain resort was far from stations where trains could be had for the city fifty miles away. The inn had no conveyance to offer except one work team of horses and a wagon, guests invariably coming by train or motor. There were three automobiles out on the driveway, but they belonged to the bridal party. There had been other automobiles, but they had all left soon after dinner, their passengers having come for the dinner only, and proceeding on their way in time to make some other stopping place by bedtime. There seemed to be no way to get Waldron back except to ask a favour of Ridgeway Jordan.
Kirke Waldron knit his brows when Julius made this suggestion as a last resort. "I certainly hate to ask such a favour in the circumstances," he said. "But it's a case of 'must.' I wouldn't miss that ship to-morrow morning for any sum you could name; I can't miss it."
"I'll call Ridge out," said Julius promptly, "or--well, good luck! here he comes."
Wheeling, he advanced to meet a slim young man who was hurrying down the wide staircase to the lobby. Jordan's first glance was one of astonishment, his second of suspicion. The reputation of Julius Broughton for mischief, particularly at times like these, was one not to be lightly overlooked. But Julius's air of earnestness was disarming.
"No joking, Ridge," he said. "Mr. Waldron and I wandered over here on a long tramp. Dot wouldn't tell me where you people were going. We meant to take the train at nine forty-five, but--well, you know timetables. It turned out to be an up train instead of a down train. It was all my fault. It wouldn't matter, but Mr. Waldron will miss a more than important engagement with a ship sailing for South America if he doesn't get back to catch the eleven-fifty to town. You see there isn't a conveyance here--"
But of course there was no need to explain further. Jordan was a gentleman, and even if he had doubted Julius there was no doubting the expression in the eyes of the man to whom Julius now presented him. Young Jordan knew a man of serious affairs when he saw one; unquestionably he saw one now. He promptly offered seats in one of the cars.
Waldron expressed his regret that they should be obliged to force themselves upon a private party, and Jordan assured him that it would be a pleasure to serve them, although he said it with one more appraising glance at Julius. He added that he would take them in his own car, that being the only one which had two seats to spare. As Julius had noted this fact in the morning he was not surprised, only grateful that he had not had to scheme for this distribution of the company.
Jordan went to the desk and gave an order, then returned to his party upstairs.
Julius and Waldron retired to the porch.
Presently the party came trooping out, arrayed for the trip. Dorothy in an enveloping white coat, her hat replaced by a particularly effective little rose-coloured bonnet of her own clever manufacture, found herself confronted upon the lantern-lighted porch, as she was about to step into the car, by her brother with a strange man at his elbow.
She looked straight up at him, as Julius presented him. He looked straight down at her, and for an appreciable period of time the two pairs of eyes continued to dwell upon each other. Until this extraordinarily thorough mutual survey was over neither said a word. The rest of the party, diverting themselves with the usual laughter and badinage--some of it of a recognizably sleepy character--took their places, and only those nearest noted the addition to the list of passengers. The other man and girl of Jordan's car were an engaged pair, absorbed in each other, an astute reason for his selection of them to accompany himself and Dorothy.
The rear seat of the great car easily held four people. Ashworth and Miss Vincent occupied two of the places; during the day Jordan and Dorothy had held the other two. Ashworth had already handed in Miss Vincent. The two chaperons of the party young Jordan had throughout the day thoughtfully bestowed in the other cars.
"Put my friend beside Sis, will you, Ridge?" suggested Julius in his host's ear. "They used to be old schoolmates and haven't met for years. He's off to-morrow for a long stay. It's their only chance to talk over old times."
Jordon nodded; there was nothing else to do. He could joyfully have taken his friend Julius by the scruff of his neck and hurled him out into the night, if by some miracle he could suddenly have become that young man's superior in strength. But social training prevailed over natural brute instinct, and it was with entire politeness that he made this arrangement of his guests.
He then put Julius into the seat beside the chauffeur, and himself took one of the extra folding seats, swinging it about to half face those upon the rear seat. In this manner he was nearly as close to Miss Dorothy Broughton as he would have been beside her--nearly, but not quite! To his notion there was all the difference in the world.
Kirke Waldron, understanding intuitively the position as come-between in which he had been placed in Ridgeway Jordan's big automobile by Julius's misreading of the railway timetable, and, as far as that part of the situation was concerned, wishing himself a hundred miles away, was also keenly alive to that which the gods--and Julius--had given him by seating him beside Dorothy. As the car hummed down the long trail from the inn he played his part with all the discretion of which he was capable; and he had learned many things since the days when he had fallen over his own awkward feet on the way to the blackboard. He talked a little with Dorothy--not too much; he talked considerably more with Ridgeway Jordan--but not more than was necessary; the greater part of the time he was silent with the rest, as was most fitting of all in the summer moonlight and the balmy night air.
Dorothy, sitting beside him, reminded Julius, as from time to time he glanced contentedly back at her from, his place beside the chauffeur, of a particularly demure kitten in the presence of two well-bred but definitely intentioned hunting dogs. She was very quiet, and only now and then he caught a word or two from her or the low sound of her attractive contralto laugh.
Just once, as the car whirled through a brightly lighted square in a small village where a country festival of some sort was in progress, he saw her take advantage of a moment when everybody's attention was caught by the scene, and look suddenly and absorbedly at Kirke Waldron's face in profile. But when Ridge Jordan whirled about upon his folding seat, to call her attention to the antics of a clown in the square, she was ready for him with a smile and a gay word of assent. Julius laughed to himself. There was no question that Kirke's face, even in profile, was one to make Ridge's look insignificant. As for the man himself--
The car, rushing on through the summer night, its powerful searchlights sending ahead a long, clear lane of safety where the road was straight, but making the dark walls on either side resolve into black pockets of mystery where the curves came, approached one of those long, winding descents, followed by a second abrupt turn and a corresponding ascent, which are--or should be--the terror of motorists. All good drivers, at such places, hurling themselves through the darkness, sound warning signals, lest other cars, less cautious, be rushing toward them without sound of their coming.
Jordan's chauffeur, sending his car on down the winding hill with hardly appreciable loss of speed, took this precaution, and the mellow but challenging notes of his horn were winding a long warning when the thing happened which was to happen. No accident, but the horror of one which comes so close that it all but seizes its victims, and leaves them weak and shuddering with what might have been.
Another car dashed around the lower turn, apparently not hearing the warning, or determined to ignore it, that no momentum with which to climb the steep grade coming should be lost. There was an instant in which the two drivers glimpsed each other out of the gloom of the unlighted curve; then quick action upon the part of both--lightning-like swerves to avoid the danger--two great cars rocking each on the brink of disaster, then righting themselves and running on into safety, no pausing to let any look back and ponder upon the closeness of the escape.
It was all over so quickly that it was like the swift passage of a hideous thought, but there had been time for every soul in the car to look death in the face. And in that moment of peril there had been individual action--instantaneous--the action which is instinctive and born of character.
Julius himself had sat absolutely still beside the chauffeur, his muscles tensely bracing themselves for whatever might come. Ashworth had caught Miss Vincent, rigid with fear, into his arms. Waldron, throwing up the arm next to Dorothy to grasp her with it, felt her hand leap toward him, and with his free hand seized it in his own.
Staring straight ahead then they saw a strange thing, yet not so strange when one remembers human nature. Ridgeway Jordan had leaped to his feet and thrown one leg over the side of the car ready to jump, when, before he could complete the movement, the car righted itself and he sank back into his seat.
"Holy smoke!" Julius murmured under his breath, and glanced at the chauffeur.
That nearly imperturbable youth grunted in return. His hands were steady upon the wheel, but he laughed a little shakily.
Then Julius gazed back into the depths of the car. He could not see much, for the trees at this point were heavily overshadowing the road, but he made out that Ridge Jordan was sitting stiffly in his seat, with--strange to observe!--his head turned toward the front of the car. Behind him the other figures were still and silent. Julius guessed that nobody felt like speaking; he did not feel like it himself. It had been a little too near a thing to discuss at first hand.
Dorothy, her heart beating in a queer, throat-choking way, became conscious that her hand was held close and warm in another hand. An arm that had been about her, whose clasp she had not consciously felt but now remembered, had been withdrawn at the moment that the danger had passed. But evidently--for the car had now gone a quarter of a mile beyond the crucial point and was running smoothly along a wider and less dangerous highway--her hand had been imprisoned in this strange grasp for some time.
She made a gentle but decided effort to withdraw it, an effort which secured its release at once but brought a low question in her ear:
"Are you all right?"
"I--think so," she murmured in reply.
It was not only the shock of the just avoided danger which held her in its grip, but the other and even more startling revelations which had come with it. Her head was whirling, her pulses were thrilling with the conflict of new and strange impressions. Since three minutes ago a new Heaven and an old earth had suddenly shown themselves.
The low voice pressed the question: "Not faint--nor frightened?"
She looked up at him then for an instant, although she could barely see the outlines of his face. "Not with you here," she answered breathlessly, with the impulse toward absolute honesty with which such an experience sometimes shakes the spirit out of its conventionalities.
He was like a statue beside her for the space of six of her heartbeats. Then his hand again found hers, pressed it in both of his, and let it go; and his quiet speech, the note deeper than before, came once more in her ear:
"I shall never forget that."
They went on in silence.
After a time Ridge Jordan turned about and made a carefully worded inquiry into the comfort of his guests, which they answered with as careful assurances that they were entirely comfortable and confident.
Ridge's voice was not quite natural. A biting shame was harassing him, whose only alleviation was the possibility that nobody--or at least Dorothy--had noticed in the excitement of the part that he had played. He was saying to himself, wretchedly, that he had not known it of himself, that he could not have believed it of himself. How could he have done it--have had the impulse, even, to leap to safety and leave her behind? Had she seen--had she seen? Yet when, after a time, she leaned forward and spoke to him of her own accord, her voice was so kind, rang with such a golden note, that he felt with sudden relief that she could not have seen.
He turned about and began to talk again, growing more and more secure in his belief that at the supreme moment of danger nobody had thought of anybody but himself or herself, and by the time the car drew into the home town Jordan was serene again.
Under the first of the arc lights Julius took counsel with his watch. He swung about and spoke tersely: "You and I'd better jump out here and make the station, Waldron. It's closer to train time than I thought. We're awfully obliged to you, Ridge."
"We'll go that way. It's only a block or two out of our course," Jordan insisted, eager to speed the parting guest.
The car drew toward the string of electrics which lighted the small suburban station at which Waldron had arrived in the morning. The glancing, silver-arrowed radiance illumined the whole interior of the car under its wide-spreading, hooded top. Waldron could see Dorothy's brilliant eyes, the curve of her lips, the rose colour in her cheeks repeating warmly the deeper rose colour of the little silk bonnet which kept her dark hair in order--all but one wild-willed little curly strand which had escaped and was blowing about her face. Dorothy, in her turn, could see Waldron's clean-cut, purposeful face, his deep-set eyes, the modelling of his strong mouth and chin, the fine line of his cheek.
As they had looked at each other when they first met, so they looked at each other again before they parted. Yet between that meeting and that parting something had happened. It was in his eyes as he looked at her; it was in her eyes as for one instant, before she dropped bewildering lashes, she gave him back his look. It meant that South America was not so far away but that a voyager could come back over the same high seas which had conveyed him there. And that when he came--
"I'm grateful to you, Mr. Jordan," Waldron said, shaking hands beside the car, "more than I can say to you. You have done me a greater kindness than you know. Good-night--to you all!"
He went away with Julius without a glance behind after the salute of his lifted hat, which included everybody.
By some common impulse the rest of the party all looked after the two as they walked away toward the station door.
"Seems like an uncommonly nice chap," was Ashworth's comment. "I'll wager he's something, somewhere."
"He has a very interesting face," his fiancee conceded.
"Yes, hasn't he?" Dorothy agreed lightly, something evidently being expected of her.
"He may be the tenth wonder of the world," declared Ridgeway Jordan, springing in to take his old place beside her for the drive of an eighth of a mile left to him; "but I grudge him this hour by you. Jove, but I thought the drive would never end!"
Julius, after seeing his friend off with a sense of comradeship more worth while than any he had known, walked rapidly back, eager for a word with Dorothy. Quick as he was, however, she was quicker, and he found her locked into her own room. By insisting on talking through the door he got her to open it, but there was not so much satisfaction in this as he had expected, because she had extinguished her lights.
"How did you like him?" was his first eager question.
"Very well," said a cool, low voice in the darkness. "Much better than the trick you used to carry out your wishes."
"Trick!" her brother exclaimed, all the angel innocence he could summon in his voice. "When you wouldn't tell me a word of where you were going!"
"You guessed it. It was abominable of you."
"Oh, see here! If I hadn't managed it you wouldn't have seen him--and he wouldn't have seen you."
"And what of that?" queried the cool voice, cool but sweet. Dot's voice, even in real anger, was never harsh.
"Well, what of it?" was the counter-question. "Can you honestly say you wish you hadn't met him, a real man like that?"
There was silence. Julius moved cautiously across the room, avoiding chairs as best he could. "Be honest now. Isn't he the real thing? And isn't Ridge Jordan--"
"Please don't talk about poor Ridge that way, Jule."
"Poor Ridge!" cried Julius. "Well, well, you didn't speak of him that way this morning. What's happened?"
"Nothing has happened. That is--"
He came close. There was a queer little shake in Dorothy's voice. She began to laugh then quite suddenly to cry. Julius came near enough to pat her down-bent head.
"Did that confounded close call shake you up a bit?" he inquired sympathetically. "By George! when I think what I let you and Kirke and everybody in for, starting earlier than they meant and all that, so we were just in time to meet that fool in the worst place on the road--"
Dorothy looked up. To his astonishment she sprang to her feet and clasped him about the neck, burying her face on his shoulder. She began to say something into his ear, laughing and crying at the same time, so that all he was at length able to gather was that she didn't regret the close call at all, for it had shown her--had shown her--
Julius had not seen Ridge Jordan make his move to spring from the car, but he had felt it--felt Ridge's hand strike his shoulder, his knee hit his back. He had not taken in its meaning at the instant, but when he had turned about and seen Ridge sitting stiffly facing ahead it came to him what had happened at the crisis. He had wondered whether Dot had seen it. Now he knew. Not that she said it. In fact, she said nothing intelligible, but she held her brother tight before she sent him away; and somehow he understood that Fate had helped him to show Dorothy her "real man."
Somehow she had known that Waldron would write. It was impossible to recall his face and not know that he was a man of action. He would not go away for six months and leave behind him only a memory to hold her thoughts to his. She wondered only when his letter would come.
Four times a day the postman was accustomed to leave the mail in an interesting heap upon the table in Mrs. Jack Elliot's hall. Dorothy, from the very morning after the trip to Saxifrage Inn, had found herself scanning the pile with a curious sense of anticipation. She wondered what Waldron's handwriting was like. She recalled his workmanlike little figures upon the blackboard, and made up her mind that his penmanship would be of a similar character, compact and regular. Another man would have sent her flowers before he sailed. Instinctively she knew that Waldron would not do this; she did not expect nor wish it. But he would write--unquestionably. How would he write? That was the question which made her pulses thrill.
It was some time before the letter came, as she had guessed it would be. He had written on shipboard, and the letter came back to her from Greater Inagua, the first West Indian island at which his ship had touched. Coming in one September evening from a long walk through the hazy air, its breath fragrant with the peculiar pungent odour of distant forest fires, Dorothy found the letter on the hall table. She knew it was his before she saw the postmark; recognized, as if she had often seen it, the clean cut, regular lettering, the mark of the man of exactness and order, of the well-trained mind. Her heart leaped at sight of it, a heart which had never before really leaped at sight of any man's handwriting. She picked up the letter and went away upstairs with it to her room. Here she locked the door.
She placed the letter upon her dressing-table and studied its envelope while she removed her dress, brushed and arranged her hair, and put on the frock she intended to wear for the evening; she was going with Tom Wendell to a small dance at the home of a special friend. She did not open the letter, but left it, unopened, propped up against a little pink silk pincushion, giving it one last glance as she switched off the light before closing the door. On the evening of the Clifford-Jordan wedding Ridgeway Jordan, brother of the bride and best man to the bridegroom, had offered himself in marriage to the maid of honour, Dorothy Broughton. She had done her best to prevent him, but he had reached such a stage of despairing passion that he could no longer be managed and did the deed at a moment when she could not escape. Being gently but firmly refused, he had declared his life to be irretrievably ruined and immediately after the wedding had flung himself out of town, vowing that she should not be bothered with the sight of the work her hands had wrought. When another long-time friend, Thomas Wendell, seized the opportunity of Ridge's absence to further his own claims to Dorothy's preferment, she, profiting by painful experience, had somehow made it clear to him that only comradeship was in her thoughts. Even on these tacit terms Wendell was eager to serve as escort whenever she would allow it.
On this September evening he was on hand early and bore her away with ill-concealed satisfaction. "I say," he observed suddenly in the pause of a waltz, "did you happen to have a fortune left you to-day?"
"Why, Tommy?" Dorothy's face grew instantly sober.
"Oh, don't turn off the illumination. I'm sorry I spoke. It was only that you somehow seemed--well, not exactly unhappy to-night, and I couldn't get at the cause. I should like to flatter myself that I'm the cause, but I know better."
"I must be a gloomy person ordinarily if there seems any change to-night. Don't be foolish, Thomas; I've had no fortune left me; I never shall have."
She felt not unlike one with a fortune, however, a fortune of unknown character about to be made known to her, as, shortly after midnight--Dorothy kept comparatively early hours when she went to dances--she opened the door of her room again. Her first glance was for the letter. There it stood as she had left it. More than once during the evening she had caught herself fearing that something might happen to it in her absence. She might find the letter gone--forever gone--and unread! She smiled at it as she saw it standing there, but still she did not open it. She took off her dancing frock, braided her hair for the night in two heavy plaits, and slipped into a little loose gown of cambric, lace, and ribbon before at last she approached the waiting letter.
Why she did all this, putting off the reading of it until the latest possible moment, only a girl like Dorothy Broughton could have told. And even when she broke the seal it was with apparently reluctant fingers. It was so delightful not to know, yet to be upon the verge of knowing! But as soon as the first words met her eyes there was no longer any delay. She read rapidly, her glance drinking in the letter at a draught.
"ON BOARD S.S. "WESTERWALD," OFF GREATER INAGUA
"August 21, 19--
"DEAR DOROTHY BROUGHTON: The first time I saw you was the day you came to school for the first time. You wore a blue sailor dress with a white emblem on the sleeve, and your curly black hair was tied with red ribbons. You did not see me that day--nor any other day for a long time. I was simply not in your field of vision. That year I was wearing my older brother's suit, and I had pressed him rather closely in inheriting it, so that it was none too large for me. I remember that the sleeves were a bit short. Anyhow, whether it was the fault of the suit or not, I had a very indefinite idea what to do with my feet when they were not in action, and even less at times when they were. I recall vividly that there seemed to be a sort of ground swell between my desk and the blackboard, so that I never could walk confidently and evenly from one to the other. When by any chance I imagined your eyes were turned my way the ground swell became a tidal wave.
"Once, just once, I was allowed to help you with a lesson. You were unable to make head or tail of a problem in fractions; I don't think figures were your strong point! Miss Edgewood began to show you; an interruption came along. I happened to be at her elbow--I had a sort of reputation for figures--she called on me to help you out. I remember that at the summons my heart turned over twice, and its action after that was irregular, affecting my breathing and making my hand shake. Luckily it did not upset my brain, so that I was able to make the thing clear to you. I dared not look at you! You did not get it at first and you stamped your foot and said: "But I don't see any sense to it!" I replied with a tremendous effort at lightening the situation: "Plenty of cents, and dollars, too!" At which you turned and gave me a look--at first of pride and anger, then melting into appreciation of my wit, and ending by blinding me with the beauty of your laughter! We went on from that famously, and you saw the thing clearly and thanked me. I thought I knew you then--had made myself a friend of yours. Next day, alas! you passed me with a nod. But I never forgot what it might be like to know you.
"We are four days out from New York--shall call at Matthew Town to-day. Another eight days will bring us to Puerto Colombia; then for the river trip which will take me within thirty miles of the camp in the mountains. When I am up at the mines I shall write again. My address will be Puerto Andes, Colombia, the port of the Company. If some day, when I go down the trail to send off my report, I should find a letter from you, I should go back the happier.
"Meanwhile I am,
Dorothy went over and stood by the window, gazing out into the September night. It was an unpretentious letter enough, but she liked it--liked it very much. He had gone back to the beginning, picked up the one link between them in their past, the fact that they had been schoolmates. He had dared to remind her of his poverty, of his awkward schoolboy personality, and of the fact that even in those days he had cared how she might regard him. Well, as for the poverty, she knew his family; knew that it was of good stock, that his parents were people of education and refinement, and that circumstances wholly honourable had been the cause of their lack of resources.
Should she answer the letter? How should she not answer it? Delay, then, lest he think her too eager with her reply? Why?--when she knew as well as he, and he as well as she, that the thing was already done, that the mutual attraction had been of the sort which holds steadily to the end. Yet, being a woman, she could not fling herself into his arms at the first invitation. And indeed he had not invited. He had counted on her wish to begin at the beginning and play the beautiful, thrilling play through to the end, as if it were not already decided how it was to come out. The fact that she knew how it was to come out would not make it less the interesting play--in a world where, after all, strange things happen, so that no man may see the end from the beginning, nor count upon as inevitable an outcome which all the fates may combine to threaten and to thwart.
So she delayed a little before she wrote. She let one ship, two ships, sail without her message, so that it would not be at the first tramping of the trail into Puerto Andes that he should find the letter. When it finally left her hands it was a very little letter after all, and one which it could not be imagined would take three days to write--as it had!
"DEAR MR. WALDRON: I think I know quite well that the little girl of the curly black hair, red ribbons, and blue sailor dress was a very audacious, pugnacious little person, and I wonder that you were willing to help her through the tangle of fractions as you did so cleverly. I well remember thinking you a very wonderful scholar, but you were so much older than I that I admit not thinking about you very much. It was like that small girl to stamp her ridiculous foot; she has gone on stamping it, more or less, all her life. But I believe she has done some smiling, too.
"It will be very interesting to hear from the depths of Colombia; school days are so far gone by I had to look it up on the map. Is it very hot there, and do you live on bananas and breadfruit? I don't mind showing how little I know, because then you may tell me about it. I am really going to read up concerning South America at once, so that I may be an intelligent if not a "gentle" reader.
"Very good luck to you there,
"Wished you by
As promptly as the return mails could bring her a reply one came, although it was, of course, a matter of weeks. During those weeks Dorothy had not only "read up" on the subject of South America with especial reference to Colombia; she had also posted herself, so far as a general reader may, concerning the rather comprehensive subject of mining engineering. This knowledge helped her to an understanding of Waldron's next letter. He gave her a brief but graphic description of his surroundings in a camp upon the mountains, reached by a trail of nearly thirty miles from Puerto Andes. Certain long-delayed and badly needed machinery had arrived at ten o'clock of the previous evening, packed over the trail by mules. This had been unloaded by three in the morning, and the engineers had been so glad to see the stuff at last that they had been unwilling to go at once to bed, tired as they were. The mail had come in by the same route, and it had been by the smouldering campfire of the early morning that Waldron had read his letter from Dorothy. "Such a very short letter!" he said of it, and continued:
"Yet it was more welcome than you can guess. I had done a lot of speculating as to what it would look like when it came--if it came--and it looked not unlike what I had fancied. I was sure you wouldn't write one of those tall, angular hands, ten words to a page, which remind one of linked telegraph poles. Neither would you be guilty of that commonplace little round script which school-children are taught now, and which goes on influencing their handwriting all their days. There would be character in it, thought I--and there was!
"It made me long for more--that letter! I wonder if you have the least idea what it feels like to be off in a country like this, your only real companion another engineer. Splendid fellow, Hackett, and I couldn't ask a better; and the work is great. But there comes an hour now and then when there seems more beauty in one small letter postmarked "home" than in all the gorgeous sunsets of this wonderful country.
"May I write often and at length? I can think of no happier way to spend the hour before we turn in than in writing to you. And if you will answer my letters, as you have been so good as to do with my first one, I shall have the most compelling reason of my life to watch the mails.
"I want--as I wanted when a schoolboy--"to know you." I want you to know me. There is no way in which this can be accomplished for a long time to come except by letters. Won't you agree to this regular interchange? I don't mean that which I presume you mean when you say it will be "interesting to hear from Colombia." You mean, I suppose, a letter now and then, at the intervals which conventionality imposes at the beginning of a correspondence, possibly shortening as time goes on, but taking at least half a year to get under way. I want it to get under way at once! We can receive mail but once a fortnight at the best up here, and there are often delays. So if you answer my letters as soon as you get them I shall not hear from you too often. Please!
"I am an engineer, you know; that means a fellow who is trained to action--all the time. If he can't get results fast enough by working his men by day he works them by night also--day-and-night shifts--and works with them, too, much of the time. In that way--well, samples taken from our south drift assay more than we had dared to hope a ton, but not till we got well in. The vein may pinch out, of course, but there are no signs of it. I expect it to widen instead, and grow richer in quality. So--if you'll forgive the miner's analogy--with another vein I know of--the finest sort of gold!"
So the correspondence began. It was easy for a young woman of Dorothy's discernment to see that here was no case for a long-distance flirtation, if she had wanted one. From the moment when she had flung her left hand into Waldron's right, and that other moment when she had told him with absolute truth that she was not afraid with him beside her, he had taken her at her word. She could not play with him, even if he had been near her; far less now that thousands of miles separated them. She answered with a letter of twice the length of her first one, a gay little letter, full of incident and her comments thereon. The reply came promptly, and this time it was a long one. He told her many details of the situation as it was developing in these new, extraordinarily promising mines; and she found it as fascinating as a fairy tale. But, of course, although she read these pages many times over, she read more often certain opening and closing passages. One ran like this:
"Now to bed--and to work again with the dawn. While I am writing to you I forget everything about me. Natives may chatter near me; I don't hear them. My friend Hackett may come and fire a string of questions at me; he tells me afterward my answers wouldn't do credit to a monkey on a stick. I am lost in the attempt to put your face before me--your face as I saw it last. There was not much light in the car, but what there was fell on your face. I see rose colour always; what was it--the bonnet?--if they call those things bonnets! I see more rose colour--reflection? I see a pair of eyes which were not afraid to look into mine--for a minute; only for a minute--but I can see them.
"The night grows cold. Even in the tropics the nights may be cold in the mountains. My fire has burned down to a few coals. My bunk awaits me; I thought I was tired when I sat down to write. I'm not tired now--refreshed!
"Good-night! Sleep well--up there somewhere in the North!"
After this letter Dorothy Broughton went about like a girl in a dream.
Yet she was so practical a girl, had been so thoroughly trained to fill her days with things worth while, that she was able to keep up a very realistic appearance of being absorbed in the old round of duties and pleasures. She was leading a life by no means idle or useless. As for the happiness of it, she carried about with her a constant sense that something wonderful had happened, was happening--and was yet to happen--which made no task too hard for her newly vitalized spirit.
The day before Thanksgiving the arrival of a particularly thick letter from Colombia gave her a more than ordinarily delightful sense of anticipation. Her brother Julius, at home for the annual festival, saw it upon the hall table three seconds before she did, and captured it. He withdrew from his breast pocket another letter in a similar handwriting addressed to himself. With an expression of great gravity he compared the two while Dorothy held out her hand in vain.
"Don't be in a hurry," he advised her. "There is a curious likeness between these two addresses--not to mention the envelopes--which interests but baffles me. The word 'Broughton' in both cases begins with an almost precisely identical B. The small t is crossed in almost exactly the same manner--with a black bar of ink which indicates a lavish disposition. The whole address upon your letter seems to me to bear a close and remarkable resemblance to the address upon mine. Another point which should not be overlooked: both are postmarked with a South American stamp, a Colombian stamp, with--yes--with the same stamp. What can this mean? I--"
"When you are through with your nonsense--" Dorothy still extended her hand for her letter.
Julius sat down upon the third step of the staircase, his countenance indicating entire absorption in the comparison before him. He held the letters in one hand; with his other he made it clear to his sister that her nearer approach would be resisted. "There is one point where the likeness fails," he mused. "My letter is an ordinary one as to thickness; it consists of two meagre sheets of rather light-weight paper. Your letter, on the other hand, strikes me as extraordinarily bulky. Now there--"
"Jule, I'm busy. Will you please--"
"Just as I get on the trail of this thing you insist on diverting my mind," her brother complained bitterly. He held the two letters at arm's length, continuing to study them while his extended hand kept his sister away. But she now turned and walked off down the hall.
He looked after her with a sparkle in his black eyes. "Sis," he entreated, "don't go. I need your help. Have you by any chance an inkling as to the sender of these curiously similar epistles?"
She turned. Her eyes were sparkling, too. She shook her head.
"I'll tell you what," cried the inspired Julius, "let's read 'em together, paragraph by paragraph. Look here, I dare you to!" he suddenly challenged her. "Mine first." Stuffing his sister's letter into his pocket he spread forth his own. "I suppose you always read the last page first," said he, "I've understood women do. So we'll begin at the last page. Listen!"
She would have left him but he had walked over to her and now held her by the wrist while he began to read. It was impossible for her eyes to resist the drawing power of that now familiar penmanship.
"In this way forty-two miles of trail were cleared from ten to fourteen feet wide, most of our efforts being concentrated on the grading, bridges, and corduroying. Four pastures were cleaned out, of about seven, six, and four cabullos each, or about twenty-three to twenty-six acres in all. These pastures were burned and grass has started in most of them. We built palm houses or shacks at each stopping-place. We feel pretty well satisfied with the trail. You must not get the idea that we have an automobile road, for we haven't, but we are now much better prepared to handle supplies and machinery." Julius looked up. "Suppose yours is as thrilling as that? Now for a paragraph of yours. Shall I open it for you?"
But by a quick motion she escaped him and had the letter. She was laughing as she slipped it into some unknown place about her dress.
"Now see here," Julius persisted, following her up the stairs. "I have to look into this, as a brother. Judging by the bulk of that letter it is not the first one from the same person. How long have you two been corresponding in my absence and without my permission?"
Dorothy turned and faced him. Her face was full of vivid colour, but her eyes were daring. "Since August."
"Hm! Does he write entertaining letters?"
"Gives you a full report of his operations, I suppose, with a dip into the early history of the country and the result of his researches into the Spanish settlement."
"Ever touch on anything personal?--mutually personal, I mean, of course."
Julius scanned her face. "He writes me," said he, "that instead of staying only six months it's likely to be a year before he can come North. The Company who picked him to go down and put this thing through has decided to make a much bigger thing of it than was at first intended. Too bad, eh? Fine for him; but a year's quite a stretch for a chap who, as I recall it, went away with some reluctance--just at the last."
Dorothy met his intent eyes without flinching. "He is so interested in his work I should say it was not too bad at all," she responded.
She then was allowed to make her escape, while Julius went back downstairs, smiling to himself. "That shot told," he exulted.
In her room Dorothy opened her letter. If Julius's news were true she would soon know it. Out of the envelope fell a small packet of photographs, but it was not their presence alone which had made it so bulky. The letter itself was three times as long as her brother's.
Dorothy eagerly examined the photographs which had fallen out of Kirke Waldron's letter. They had been taken all about his camp in Colombia and the surrounding country, picturing the progress that had been made in the development of the mines. In one or two of the pictures, showing groups of native workmen, she made out Waldron's figure, usually presenting him engaged in conversation, his back turned to the lens. But one picture had been taken in front of his own shack with its palm-leaf thatching. He was standing by the door, leaning against the lintel, dressed in his working clothes, pipe in hand, looking straightforwardly out of the picture at her and smiling a little. The figure was that of a strong, well-built, outdoors man, the face full of character and purpose, lighted by humour. The steady eyes seemed very intent upon her, and it was a little difficult for her to remind herself that it was undoubtedly his fellow engineer and friend, Hackett, at whom he was gazing with so much friendliness of aspect rather than at her far-away self.
The letter, however, toward its close set her right upon this point. He had told her of his decision to stay and see the full development of the mine through, in spite of the wrench it cost him to think of remaining a year without a break. Then, going on to describe the taking of the photograph, he had written:
"The Company is very glad to get as much as we can send it of actual illustration of our labours, so we make it a point to snap these scenes from time to tune. There is one picture, however, which was not taken for the Company. Hackett asked me to hold the lens on him for a shot to send to somebody up North there, so he went inside and freshened up a bit and came out grinning. I grinned back as I took the picture, and said I was glad to see him so cheerful. He replied that the smile was not for me--that though he had apparently looked at me he had really been looking through me at a person about as different from myself as I could well imagine.
"It's a poor rule that doesn't work both ways, so I then took my place by the door of our palatial residence, and gazed--apparently--at Hackett's Indian-red visage. I found it entirely possible to forget, as he had done, the chap before me, and see instead--well--look at the picture! And please don't let those lashes drop too soon. When I imagine them they always do!"
It was thus that the correspondence went on. Dorothy never replied directly to such paragraphs as these, but she did send him, a few weeks after the arrival of the Colombian photographs, a little snapshot of herself taken in winter costume as she was coming down the steps of her home. It was an exquisite bit of portraiture, even though of small proportions, and it called forth the most daring response he had yet made:
"I know you wouldn't want it pinned up in the shack, and it's much too valuable to risk leaving it among my other possessions there. So I carry it about in an old leather letter case in my pocket. I hope you don't mind. I'm a little afraid of wearing it out, so I've constructed a sort of a frame for it, out of a heavy linen envelope, which will bear handling better than the little picture.... You are looking straight out at me--at me? I wish I knew it! Won't you tell me--Dorothy? You can trust me--can't you? There are some things which can't be said at long distance; they must wait. I get to feeling like a storage battery sometimes--overcharged! Meanwhile, trust me--Dorothy!"
But she would send him only this:
"Of course I was looking at you. Why not? It's only courtesy to recognize the salutation of a gentleman disguised in working clothes, standing in the door of a queer-looking South American residence. Besides--he looks rather well, I think!"
One April evening Mr. Julius Broughton, sitting comfortably in his room in a certain well-known building at a well-known university, was summoned to telephone. Bringing his feet to the floor with a thump, flinging aside his book and puffing away at his pipe, he lounged unwillingly to the telephone box. The following conversation ensued, causing a sudden and distinct change in the appearance of the young man.
"Broughton," he acknowledged the call. "Broughton? This is Waldron--Kirke Waldron."
"Waldron; up from Colombia, South America. Forgotten me?"
"What! Forgotten you! I say--when did you come? Where are you? Will you--"
The distant voice cut in sharply: "Hold on. I've just about one minute to spend talking. Can you come downtown to the Warrington Street Station? If you'll be there at ten, sharp, under the south-side clock, I can see you for ten minutes before I leave for the train. I want to see you very much. Explain everything then."
"Of course I'll come; delighted! Be right down. But aren't you going to--"
"I'll explain later," said Waldron's decisive voice again. "Sorry to ring off now. Good-bye."
"Well, great George Washington!" murmured Julius to himself as he replaced the receiver on the hook and reinserted his pipe in his mouth, to emit immediately thereafter a mighty puff of smoke. "I knew the fellow was a hustler, but I should suppose that when he comes up from South America to telephone he might spend sixty or seventy seconds at it. Must be a sudden move; no hint of it in his last letter."
He consulted his watch. He would have to emulate Waldron's haste if he reached the Warrington Street Station by ten o'clock. He made a number of rapid moves, resulting in his catching a through car which bore him downtown at express speed and landed him in the big station at a minute before ten. Hurrying through the crowd he came suddenly face to face with the man he sought.
Tanned to a seasoned brown, and looking as vigorous as a lusty pine tree, Waldron shook hands warmly.
But before Julius had more than begun his expressions of pleasure at seeing his friend again so unexpectedly Waldron turned and indicated a young man's figure in a wheelchair. "That's my friend and associate engineer, Hackett, over there. He's had a very bad illness and I'm taking him home. We'll go over and speak to him in a minute. Meanwhile, I shall have to talk fast. First--is your sister Dorothy well?" The direct gaze had in it no apology for speaking thus abruptly.
"Fine," Julius assured him. "Haven't you heard from her lately?"
"Not since I sailed--naturally--nor for a fortnight before that. I came away very unexpectedly, sooner than I should have done but for Hackett, who needed to get home. But the trip combines that errand with a lot of business--seeing the Company directors, consulting with the firm, looking up machinery and getting it shipped back with me on the next boat. I haven't an hour to spare anywhere but on this flying trip to Hackett's home, which will take twenty-four hours, and I shall have to work night and day. And--I want to see your sister."
Again the direct look, accompanied this time, by a smile which was like a sudden flash of sunshine, as Julius well remembered. Waldron did not smile too often, but when he did smile--well, one wanted to do what he asked.
"Does she know?" Julius demanded.
"Not a word; there was no way to let her know except to cable, and I--have no right to send her cable orders--or requests. Broughton, as I figure it out, I have just one chance to see her, and that only with your cooperation--and hers. I don't believe I need explain to you that it seems to me I must see her; going back without it is unthinkable. I don't know when I may be North again. Yet I can't neglect Hackett or my duty to the Company."
"Then--how the dickens--"
"I shall be coming back on the train that reaches this station at two o'clock Saturday morning. It will go through your home city at midnight. Would it be possible for you and Miss Dorothy to take that train when it leaves Boston Friday night, and so give me the time between there and your station?"
Julius Broughton, born plotter and situation maker as he was, rose to the occasion gallantly. It tickled him immensely, the whole idea. He spent five seconds in consideration, his eye fixed on the lapel of Waldron's coat; then he spoke:
"Leave it to me. I'll have to figure it out how to get around Dot. You mustn't think she's going to jump at the chance of going to meet a man instead of having him come to meet her. She's used to having the men do the travelling, you know, while she stays at home and forgets they're coming."
"I know. And you know--and I think she knows also--that only necessity would make me venture to ask such a favour."
"I may have to scheme a bit--"
"No, please don't. I prefer not to spend the time between stations explaining the scheming and apologizing for it. Put it to her frankly, letting her understand the situation--"
Julius shook his head. "She's not used to it. She'll find it hard to understand why you couldn't stop off and get out to our place, if only for an hour."
"Then show her this."
Waldron took from his breast pocket a card, on which, in very small, close writing and figures, was a concise schedule of his engagements for the coming five days, and, as he had said, nights.
Julius scanned it, and whistled softly a bar from a popular song, "Now Do You See?" "Do eating and sleeping happen to come in on this anywhere?" he queried gently.
"On the run. It's this trip up into New Hampshire that's crowding things; otherwise, I might have managed it very well."
"Couldn't anybody else have seen Mr.--Hackett home?" asked Julius.
"No." Waldron's tone settled that and left no room for dispute. "There are some things that can't be done, you know, and that's one of them." He glanced at the great clock over his head. "Come over and meet him."
A long, thin figure, wrapped in an ulster, reached out a hand, and a determinedly cheerful voice said, with an evident effort not to show the severe fatigue the journey was costing the convalescent: "Think of me as Sackett or Jackett or something. I'm no Hackett; they're a huskier lot."
"As you will be soon, of course," Julius broke in confidently.
"Colombia air is pretty fine, but New Hampshire air is better--for old New Hampshire boys," asserted Waldron. He nodded at a red-capped porter waiting near, and laid a hand on his friend's shoulder. "This chap is going to be all right when he gets where a certain little mother can look after him. Mothers and blood poisoning don't assimilate a bit. And now we have to be off, for I want to get my patient settled in his berth before the train pulls out, and it's going to be called in about thirty seconds."
He turned aside for a final word with Julius. "I'm not asking too much?"
"Do you think you are?"
The two pairs of eyes searched each other.
"I know Miss Dorothy is an orphan; I know, too, that you are her only brother. You understand that I mean to ask her to marry me, if I can have the chance. I couldn't do it--on paper. If you approve the match--and I think you do or you wouldn't have planned quite so cleverly last July--"
"You brought about that meeting, you know," said Waldron, smiling, with such a penetrating look that Julius felt it go past all defenses.
"How do you know I did?"
"By a certain peculiar twist to your left eyebrow when that train came in from the wrong direction. You forget that I went to school with you. I have seen that twist before; it meant only one thing."
"Well, I'll be--see here, it was after dark when that train--"
"The hotel hand had a lantern. You unwisely allowed its rays to strike your face."
Julius burst into a smothered laugh. "Well, you're a good one!"
"I'm glad you think so--since I'm asking of you this thing you so dislike to do."
"I don't dislike it; I'm delighted to have the chance. I'll have her on that train if I have to blindfold her."
"Don't do that. Show her the card."
The two shook hands with a strong grip of affection and understanding. Then Waldron, wheeling the chair himself, took his friend Hackett away as carefully as if he were convoying a baby. Julius, after seeing the party through the gates, went back to his college rooms, his wits busy with the task which so took hold of his fancy.
Julius would have enjoyed scheming involvedly, but Waldron had been too peremptory about that to allow of a particle of intrigue. So, before he slept, he sent his sister a special-delivery letter knowing she would receive it in the morning. It stated, after describing the situation to her (with a few private and characteristic touches of his own), that he would call her up by telephone to receive her reply, and that he would go through the city on a certain afternoon train on which she was to join him. This plan would give the pair time for a leisurely dinner in Boston before meeting Waldron upon the ten o'clock train. When he had Dorothy on the wire next morning he was not surprised that her first words were these:
"Julius--is it surely Julius? Well--I don't see how I can go!"
"Why not? Got the mumps--or any other disfiguring complaint?"
"Mercy, no! But--it can't be that it is necessary! He--he certainly could--"
"Did you read that schedule?"
Julius's voice had in it a commanding, no-compromise quality. He knew that this feminine evasiveness was probably inevitable; they were made that way, these girls; but he did not intend to let the time limit of an expensive long-distance call be exceeded by mere nonsense.
"Now listen. We've got three minutes to talk; we've used thirty seconds already saying nothing. I'm going to be on that train. I'm going to have that little trip with Kirke, and if you don't have it, it will be pure foolishness; and you'll cry your eyes out afterward to think you didn't. He can't get to you; if he could he'd do it; you must know him well enough for that if you've been hearing from him all these months. Now--will you be there?"
"Julius! I'm afraid I--"
"Will you be there?"
"Why--don't you think I--perhaps I ought to have Bud--"
"No, I don't. I'm all the chaperon you'll need for this affair. If you go and get another woman mixed up with it you'll lose half of your fun, for she'll be sure to forget she's the chaperon--you know Bud--and first you know you'll be chaperoning her. See? Will you be at the station? I'm going to hang up now in just fifteen seconds!"
"All right! I'll telephone down for the seats. Good-bye!"
He was on the vestibuled platform of his car to meet her when his train passed the home city from whose suburbs she had come in. His eager eye fell delightedly on the trimly modish figure his sister presented; he would be proud to take her back into his car. He knew just how two or three sleepy fellows of his own age, in chairs near his own, would sit up when they saw him return with this radiant girl. Dot certainly knew how to get herself up, he reflected, as he had often done before.
It was April and it was "raining cats and dogs" as Dorothy came aboard, but the blue rainproof serge of her beautifully fitting suit was little the worse therefor, and the close little black hat with the fetching feather was one to defy the elements, be they never so wildly springlike.
"You're a good sport!" was Julius's low-pitched greeting as he kissed her, the tail of his eye on one of his young fellow-passengers who had followed him to the platform for a breath of fresh air and stood with his hands in his pockets staring at the pretty girl close by.
"I feel like a buccaneer--or a pirate--or something very bold and wild and adventurous," she returned.
"You don't look it--except in your eye. I think I do see there the gleam of a desperate resolve." He bent over her devotedly as he put her in her chair, noting the effect on the young gentlemen who had been too slothful to leave the car, but who now, as he had predicted to himself, were "sitting up," both physically and mentally, as they covertly eyed his new travelling companion. "I admit it takes courage for a New England girl to start out to meet a barbarian from the wilds of South America, unchaperoned except by a perfectly good brother."
"If I could be sure the brother would be perfectly good--" she suggested, smiling at him as she slightly altered the position of her chair so that the attentive fellow-travellers were moved out of her line of vision.
"I'm sworn to rigorous virtue," he replied solemnly. "He attended to that for you."
Dorothy looked out of the window. She looked out of the window most of the way to Boston, so that the interested youths opposite were able to enjoy only the averted line of her profile.
Julius, however, took delight in playing the lover for their benefit, and his attention to his sister would have deceived the elect. The result was a considerably heightened colour in Dot's face, which added the last touch of charm to the picture and completed her brother's satisfaction.
Arrived in the city, Broughton treated his sister to a delicious little dinner at a favourite hotel, which he himself relished to the full. He questioned whether she knew what she was eating or its quality, but she maintained an appearance of composure which only herself knew was attained at a cost.
He then escorted her to a florist's and himself insisted upon pinning upon the blue serge coat a gorgeous corsage knot of deep-hued red roses and mignonette, which added to her quiet costume the one brilliant note that was needed to bring out her beauty as his artistic young eye approved.
She protested in vain. "I don't want to wear flowers--to-night, my dear boy."
"Why not? There's nothing conspicuous about that, these days. More conspicuous not to, you might say. You often do it yourself."
"I know, but--to-night!"
"He won't know what you have on. He's slightly delirious at this very minute, I have no doubt at all. When he sees you he'll go off his head. Oh, nobody'll know it to look at him; you needn't be afraid of that."
"Please stop talking about it," commanded his sister. But she did not refuse to wear the red roses. No sane young woman could after having caught a glimpse of herself in the florist's mirror. Even an indifferent shopgirl stared with interest after the pair as they left the place, wondering if, after all, flowers weren't more effective on the quiet swells than on those of the dashing attire.
"We're to meet him on the train, not in the station," Julius observed, as he hurried his sister across the great concourse. "He has to make rather a close connection. So we'll be in our seats when he arrives. Or, better yet, we'll get back on the observation platform and see him when he comes out the gates. That'll give you the advantage of the first look!"
Their car, it turned out, was the end one and their seats at the rear end, as Julius had tried to arrange but had not been sure of accomplishing. Dorothy followed him through the car and out upon the platform. Here the two watched the crowds hurrying through the gates toward their own and other trains, while the minutes passed. Julius, watch in hand, began to show signs of anxiety.
"He'd better be showing up soon," he announced as the stream of oncoming passengers began to thin. "It's getting pretty close to--There he is though! Good work. Come on, old fellow, don't be so leisurely! By George, that's not Kirke after all! Those shoulders--I thought it certainly was. But he'll come--oh, he'll come all right or break a leg trying!"
But he did not come. The last belated traveller dashed through the gates, the last signal was given, the train began very slowly to move.
"He's missed the connection," said Julius solemnly. "But we'll hear from him at the first stop; certainly we'll hear from him. We'll go inside the car and be prepared to answer up."
But neither at the first stop nor the second did the porter appear with a message for Mr. Broughton or for Miss Broughton, or for anybody whomsoever.
Dorothy sat quietly looking out of the window into the darkness, her cheek supported by her hand and shaded from her brother. She was perfectly cheerful and composed, but Julius guessed rightly enough that it was not a happy hour for her. She had come more than half-way to meet a man who had asked it of her, only to have him fail to appear. Of course there was an explanation--of course; but--well, it was not a happy hour. The red roses on her breast drooped a very little; their counterparts in her cheeks paled slowly as the train flew on. An hour went by.
Some miles after stopping at a station the train slowed down again.
"Where are we?" queried Julius, peering out of the window, his hand shading his eyes. "Nowhere in particular, I should say."
The train stopped, began to move again, backing; it presently became apparent that it was taking a siding.
"That's funny for this train," said Julius, and went out on the rear platform to investigate.
In a minute or two another train appeared in the distance behind, rushed on toward them, slowed down not quite to a stop, and was instantly under way again. A minute later their own train began to move once more.
"Perhaps he's chartered a special and caught up," said Julius, returning to his sister. "Perhaps he's made so much money down in Colombia that he can afford to hire specials. That was a special, all right--big engine and one Pullman. We wouldn't be sidetracked for anything less important, I'm quite sure."
He stretched himself comfortably in his chair again with a furtive glance at his sister. He sat with his back to the car, facing her. He now saw her look down the car with an intent expression; then suddenly he saw the splendid colour surge into her face. Her eyes took fire--and Julius swung about in his chair to find out the cause. Then he sprang up, and if he did not shout his relief and joy it was because well-trained young men, even though they be not yet out of college, do not give vent to their emotions in public.
"By George!" he said under his breath. "How in time has he made it?"
But Waldron, as he came back through the car, was not looking at Julius. Dorothy had risen and was standing by her chair, and though the newly arrived traveller shook hands with Julius as he met him in the aisle, it was only to look past him at the figure at the back of the car. The next instant his hand had grasped hers, and he was gazing as straight down into her eyes as a man may who has seen such eyes for the last nine months only in his dreams. "You came!" he said; and there were wonder and gratitude and joy in his voice, so that it was not quite steady.
She nodded. "There seemed to be nothing else to do," she answered, and her smile was enchanting.
"Did you want to do anything else?"
There must certainly have been something about him which inspired honesty. Quite naturally, from the feminine point of view, Dorothy would have liked not to answer this direct and meaning question just then. But, as once before, the necessity of speaking to this man only the truth was instantly strong upon her. Deep down, evade the issue as she might by saying that she would have preferred to have him come to her, she knew that she was glad to do this thing for him, since the other had been impossible.
So she lifted her eyes for an instant and let him see her answer before she slowly shook her head, while the quick breath she could not wholly control stirred the red roses on her breast.
"Now see here, old man," said Julius Broughton, "I know the time is short and all that, and I'm going to spend this next hour in the smoking-room and let you two have a chance to talk. But before I go my natural curiosity must be satisfied or I shall burst. Am I to understand that that gilt-edged special that passed us just now brought you to your appointment? And are you King of Colombia down there, or anything like that?"
Waldron turned, laughing. His browned cheek had a touch of a still warmer colour in it, his eyes were glowing.
"That certainly was wonderful luck," said he. "I reached the gate just as the tail-lights of this train were disappearing. As I turned away a man at my elbow asked if I minded missing it. I said I minded so much that if I could afford it I would hire a special to catch it. He said, very much as if he had been offering me a seat in his motor, that a special was to leave in a few minutes and that it would pass this train somewhere within an hour. He turned out to be the president of the road. We had a very interesting visit on the way down--or it would have been interesting if it had happened at any other tune. I was so busy keeping an eye out for sidetracked trains that I now and then lost the run of the conversation."
"If the president of the road hadn't turned up," suggested Julius, "would you mind saying what other little expedient would have occurred to you?"
"I should have wired you, begging you to give me one more chance," admitted Waldron. "I should have wired you anyway, if I hadn't felt that it would have spoiled my dramatic entrance at some siding. And I wanted all the auxiliaries on my side."
Julius went away into the smoking compartment forward with a sense of having had Fate for the second time take a hand in a more telling management of other people's affairs than even he, with all his love of pulling wires, could effect. He looked back as he went, to see Waldron taking Dorothy out upon the observation platform.
"It's lucky it's a mild April night," he said to himself. "I suppose it wouldn't make any difference if a northeast blizzard were on."
"Will it chill the roses?" Waldron asked with a smile as he closed the door behind them, shutting himself and Dorothy out into the cool, wet freshness of the night, where the two gleaming rails were slipping fast away into the blackness behind and only distant lights here and there betokened the existence of other human beings in a world that seemed all theirs.
"It wouldn't matter if it did," she answered.
"Wouldn't it? Can you possibly feel, as I do, that nothing in the world matters, now that we are together again?"
Again the direct question. But somehow she did not in the least mind answering; she wanted to answer. The time was so short!
With other men Dorothy Broughton had used every feminine art of evasion and withdrawal at moments of crisis, but she could not use them with this man.
She shook her head, laying one hand against her rose-red cheek, like a shy and lovely child--yet like a woman, too.
He gently took the hand away from the glowing cheek, and kept it fast in his.
"I fell desperately in love with you when I was fifteen," said Kirke Waldron. "I carried the image of you all through my boyhood and into manhood. I saw you at different times while you were growing up, although you didn't see me. I kept track of you. I thought you never could be for me. But when we met last summer I knew that if I couldn't have you I should never want anybody. And when--something happened that made you glad for just a minute to be with me, I knew I should never let you go. Then you gave me that last look and I dared to believe that you could be made to care. Dorothy--they were pretty poor letters from a literary point of view that I've been sending you all these months, but I tried to put myself into them so that you could know just what sort of fellow I was. And I tried to make you see, without actually telling you, what you were to me. Did I succeed?"
"They were fine letters," said Dorothy Broughton. "Splendid, manly letters. I liked them very much. I--loved them!"
"Oh!" said Kirke Waldron, and became suddenly silent with joy.
After a minute he looked up at the too brilliant electric lights which flooded the platform. He glanced in at the occupants of the car, nearly all facing forward, except for one or two who were palpably asleep--negligible certainly. Then he put his head inside the door, scanning the woodwork beside it. He reached upward with one hand and in the twinkling of an eye the observation platform was in darkness.
"Oh!" breathed Dorothy in her turn. But the next thing that happened was the thing which might have been expected of a resourceful young mining engineer, trained, as he himself had said, "to action--all the time!"
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