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He was in no more satisfactory frame of mind when, on the next afternoon, he shouldered his gun and set out for the country. He went directly to the fairy pool, and waited there in a very fever of anxiety. Despite the coolness and peace of the place, he felt his pulses throb and his face burn. If she came, it would mean everything to him. If she stayed away-why, then he would have to believe that, after all, the real Gertrudis Garavel had spoken last night at the opera, and that the sprightly, mirthful little maid who had bewitched him on their first meeting no longer existed. An odd bashfulness overtook him. It did not seem to him that it could possibly have been he who had talked to her so boldly only the evening before. At the thought of his temerity he felt almost inclined to flee, yet he would not have deserted his post for worlds. The sound of a voice shot through his troubled thoughts like a beam of sunlight through a dark room.
"Oh, Senor Antonio! How you startled me!"
Instantly his self-possession came back. He felt relieved and gay.
"Good-afternoon, queen!" He rose and bowed politely. "I thought I saw one underneath the waterfall just now."
"Who would have expected you to be here?" she cried, with an extreme and obviously counterfeit amazement that filled him with delight.
"I'm lost," he declared; then, after one look into her eyes, he added, "Absolutely, utterly, irretrievably lost."
"It is very fortunate that I chanced to be passing, for this is a lonely spot; nobody ever comes here."
"Well, I hardly ever lose myself in busy places. Won't you sit down?"
"Since we have met quite by accident, perhaps it would not be so very improper," She laughed mischievously.
"You know I've been lost now for several months. It's a delightful feeling-you ought to try it."
She settled uncertainly beside him like a butterfly just alighting, ready to take flight again, on the instant.
"Perhaps I can help you to find your way, senor?" she said, with ingenuous politeness.
"You are the only one who can, Miss Garavel. I don't know that I ever told you, but I'm in love."
"I am the most miserably happy person in the world, for I have just this moment begun to believe that the young lady likes me a little bit."
"Oh! But I forgot the real reason why I came. I have something I must tell you."
"All right. But honestly now, didn't you WANT to come?"
She turned upon him in a little burst of passion. "Yes!" she cried. "Of course I did! I wished to come, madly, senor. There is no use to lie. But wait! It is wholly because I am a-what you call fleert-a very sad fleert." No one could possibly describe the quaint pronunciation she gave the word. "It makes my heart patter, like that"--she made her little fingers "patter"-"to be wooed even by a Yankee. But I do not love you in the least. Oh no! Even if I wished to do so, there are too many reasons why I could not, and when I explain you will understand."
"I know; it's Ramon Alfarez. You're half-way engaged to him--but you know you don't love him."
"Ah! It is not too sure. He is of fine family, he is rich, he is handsome-not possibly could I care for any man who was not all of those. All my life I have thought him a very sweet gentleman, and for a long time it has been agreed that I should be his wife. Even all the young ladies are furious at me, which is very nice also-so it is only because I am disobedient that I rebelled. But I was punished for my evil disposition." She sighed mournfully. "And now it is all arranged once more."
"Is it really signed, sealed, stamped, and delivered in the presence of?"
"No, no; but 'Arco siempre armado'-"
"Of course. Is that a prescription?"
'"A bow long bent grows weak.' And there are so many reasons why I should say yes."
"You haven't mentioned any that would be binding in law."
"My father's wish. Is not that sufficient?"
"You disregarded that once."
"That was but a flutter. All the time I knew I should be Ramon's wife when the time arrived. But it made him so unhappy that I was quite pleased. Only for those ugly blue dresses, I would have greatly enjoyed my penance. Perhaps I could refuse to wed a man my father chose for me, but no nice Spanish girl would dare to wed a man her father did not like. Do you see?"
"But it's no cinch your father won't positively hunger for me, once we get chummy."
"And I for Ramon? How sad that would be, eh?"
"Really, now, couldn't you bring yourself to marry a chap who wasn't aristocratic, rich, and handsome? You know that's a tough combination. Most aristocratic people are poor, and the rich ones have dyspepsia."
"Oh no! I am quite certain."
"Suppose I should show you a family tree that you couldn't throw a stone over?"
"It would not do at all. I am so extravagant."
"I fully intend to be rich, some time."
"But you are not handsome, senor." Her eyes travelled over him with a mischievous twinkle. "You are too beeg."
"I'm very durable; I'd last a long time."
She shook her dark head decisively, and he saw the lights that rippled in her profuse crown of hair.
"You are too different, you disregard our customs, you are bold. You continue to come here against my wishes, which no Spanish gentleman would dare to do."
"Oh, I'm no Spanish gentleman. I'm just an emotional blond; but I'm bound to marry you."
"If one of my countrymen found me so indiscreet as to talk with him alone like this, he would go away and never come back. I am amazed at you, senor. Have you no pride?"
"Not a bit; and now that I have met all your objections, let's arrange the details. Shall it be a church wedding?"
She laughed deliciously. "What a nice game it is we have played! But now I must talk seriously."
"You witch!" he breathed. "Do you think I could ever give you up?"
She checked him gravely. "Truly, it was just a game--and yet it was not altogether so, either. But here is what I came to say. The strangest thing has happened-not until last night after the opera did I even dream of it, and-even now I cannot believe. Oh, I am so proud!"
"More bad news for me, I suppose."
"Yes. But such good news for me that I am sure you will be glad." Timidly he reached out and touched a fold of her white dress. She seemed to be slipping from him. "Coming home from the theatre my father told me-oh, the most wonderful thing! He said-but how shall I speak of such a secret?"
"Evidently you don't intend to."
"I promised very faithfully not to tell, so-he is to be the next President of Panama."
"Pres--" Anthony stared at her in frank amazement. "Why, I thought old man Alfarez--"
"It seems your country does not like him because he hates Americans-see? This is the work of that Mr. Cortlandt. Think! Is it not wonderful? Now that you know the truth, you must see at once that by no means could I marry to a person like you."
"Ohe! Don't you understand? I shall be the finest lady in the Republic. All men will adore me. I will have suitors-not one or two as now, but many. I will be 'the beautiful Senorita Garavel,' for all the great people are beautiful. I shall be proud, also, and I shall not even speak to Yankees any more. My father will be the most famous man of all the Republic-perhaps in the whole world, I don't know."
"I don't think it will make any difference with him when he knows who I am."
"Then you also are a great man, eh?" She hitched herself about, to face him more squarely. "That is truly interesting. He would scarcely wish a railroad conductor to address the daughter of President Garavel."
"Oh, I've been promoted since I was out here last. Anyhow, I guess my dad is pretty nearly as good as anybody in Panama."
"He is, then, of blue blood?"
"Oh, but a gentleman!"
"He is now. He used to be a brakeman."
"You appear to be-proud of such a thing! How strange! My father's blood runs back to the conquistadors; even in the earliest books one finds Garavels. They were conquerors, they ruled this country and all these people."
"That's something to be proud of, but it isn't everything. High- bred horses run well, but they can't pull. It's the old farm nag that delivers the merchandise. But I'll tackle your father, and I'll promise to vote for him."
"You are very fonny." She gazed at him seriously, one tiny foot curled under her, her chin nestling into her palm.
"Do you love me?"
"Not one single speck. I merely like you to make love at me and cause my heart to jomp! But that is not fair to you, is it?-since you can have no hope."
The little hypocrite continued to voice words of warning and denial, though her eyes invited him, and for a long time they continued this delightful play of pleading and evasion. But at last Chiquita jumped up with a great appearance of alarm.
"Heavens! the time," she cried. "I have stayed too long by much. Stephanie will miss me."
He rose and stretched out his hand as if to hold her.
"Shall I come again to-morrow?"
She grew suddenly earnest.
"No, no, senor. That is something you should not ask. If ever we are to meet again, it must be with my father's consent. Please! Do not urge, for truly I would have to refuse." She let her palm rest in his an instant, and her cheek went scarlet as he pressed it to his lips. Then she said: "Go, Mr. Brazen One. How greatly it surprised me to find you here I cannot say. It gave me such a start! And, Senor Antonio--my father may be found any day at his bank." Before he could detain her she was gone, flitting up the path with just one flashing smile of mischief over her shoulder.
Anthony went home with his head in the clouds. All his doubts were now at rest; for while Chiquita had stubbornly denied him all encouragement, he felt sure that her heart had answered. It was in the highest spirits, therefore, that he opened a letter he found awaiting him, and read as follows:
DEAR KIRK,--I hope you are heartily sick of yourself and ready to do something decent for a change. Knowing your aristocratic habits as I do, I realize you must owe a lot of money by this time, and your new friends must be getting tired of you. I have been expecting you to draw on me daily, and am taking this occasion to warn you in your own expensively acquired college English that "THERE IS NOTHING DOING"--except upon one condition. If you will agree to behave yourself in future, I will pay your debts, send you West, and give you a job as operator at forty dollars a month. BUT--you will go where I send you, and you will stay where you are put. I will do the thinking for both of us and judge of your associates. Maybe if you prove to be any good at all, I will arrange with the police to let you spend your vacations in "that dear New York," which still shows signs of your red--paint brush. I would be pleased to have an apology by return mail, so that I may meet you in New Orleans and start you off once more on the road to decency and self-respect. You will never be a success at anything, but I am always ready to do my duty. This is my last offer, and if you refuse you may distinctly and definitely go to the devil. As ever,
Your loving father, DARWIN K. ANTHONY.
P.S.--I can get GOOD operators for thirty dollars a month. The extra ten dollars is pure sentiment.
Kirk had known in advance just about what the letter contained, and now laughed aloud. It was so like the old gentleman! Why, he could almost hear him dictating it.
Spurred by his present exhilaration, he wrote an answer, which he read with a good deal of satisfaction before sealing it up.
DEAR DAD,-Your affectionate letter, with the kind offer to take charge of a siding out in the Dakotas, is at hand. I would like to help you along with your business, but "Upward and onward" is my motto, and you'll have to raise that salary a bit. I am drawing two hundred and twenty-five dollars a month at present, quarters furnished and promotion promised. I have made some good investments, and there are no debts to settle. Enclosed find my last bank statement, which will doubtless prove a great disappointment to you.
If you need a good Master of Transportation, I would be pleased to consider an offer at any time, provided the salary is satisfactory, but your proposal to edit my acquaintances is out of the question. My decency and self respect are doing well, thank you, and I like the climate.
Outside my window a mocking-bird sings nightly, and I have a tame rabbit with ears like a squirrel and baby-blue eyes--also a Jamaican negro boy who, I fear, could not stand our harsh Northern winters.
The salary would have to be about six thousand a year. As always,
Your devoted and obedient son, KIRK.
P.S.--I would not care to locate farther west than Buffalo. My wife might not like it.
"If he survives the first part, that tag line will put him down for the count," mused the writer, with a grin. "And, yet, something tells me he will not embrace my offer. Ah, well! Promotion is slow." He whistled blithely as he sent Allan off to the post-office.
Kirk lost no time in calling at the bank, but was disappointed to learn that Senor Andres Garavel had left the city for an unexpected business tour of the Provinces and would not return for at least two weeks. At first he was inclined to doubt the truth of this statement, but a casual inquiry from Mrs. Cortlandt confirmed it, and, cursing his luck, he sought distraction where he could most easily find it.
In the days that followed he saw nothing of Gertrudis, but a good deal of Edith Cortlandt. She had redeemed her promise of getting him a good horse-something rare in this country-and he was grateful for the exercise, which came as a welcome relief from his indoor toil. They rode almost daily; he dined at her house, and once again made one of her party at the opera. Soon their old friendly intercourse was going on as if it had never been interrupted.
As for Edith, this unsatisfying, semi-public intimacy came to be quite as much a pain as a pleasure to her. During these past few weeks she had been plunged in a mental turmoil, the signs of which she had concealed with difficulty. She had fought with herself; she had tried to reason; she had marshalled her pride, but all in vain. At last she awoke to the terrifying certainty that she was in love. It had all begun with that moment of impulsive surrender at Taboga. The night following had been terrible to her. In its dark hours she had seen her soul for the first time, and the glimpse she got frightened her. Following this, she became furious with herself, then resentful toward Anthony; next she grew desperate and reckless.
She began to look upon her husband with a quickened curiosity, and found him a stranger. For years she had made allowance for his weaknesses, ignoring them as she ignored his virtues; but never before had he appeared so colorless, so insignificant, above all so alien. She had barely tolerated him hitherto, but now she began to despise him.
If Cortlandt was aware of her change of feeling and its cause, his method of dealing with her showed some keenness. Silent contempt was what she could least endure from him of all men; yet this was just what his manner toward her expressed-if it expressed anything. Beyond those words as they were leaving the island, he had said nothing, had never referred to the incident, had not so much as mentioned Anthony's name unless forced to do so, and this offended her unreasonably. She caught him regarding her strangely at times with a curious, faltering expression, but he was so icy in his reserve, he yielded so easily to her predominance, that she could divine nothing and turned the more fiercely to her inward struggle. Even if he did suspect, what then? It was no affair of his; she was her own mistress. She had given him all he possessed, she had made a man of him. He was her creature, and had no rights beyond what she chose to give. They saw less and less of each other. He became more formal, more respectfully unhusbandlike. He spent few daylight hours in the house, coming and going as he pleased, frequenting the few clubs of the city, or riding alone. On more than one occasion he met her and Anthony on their horses. Only before others, or at their frequent political councils, were they quite the same as they had been.
Of Anthony, on the other hand, she arranged to see more than ever, flattering him by a new deference in her manner, making him feel always at ease with her, watching him vainly for the least sign of awakening desire. In their frequent rides they covered most of the roads about the city, even to the ruins of old Panama. Then they began to explore the by-paths and trails.
One afternoon they turned into an unfrequented road that led off to the jungle from the main highway, walking their horses while they marvelled at the beauty of the foliage. The trail they knew led to a coffee plantation far up among the hills, but it was so little travelled that the verdure brushed them as they went, and in many places they passed beneath a roof of branches. Before they had penetrated a quarter of a mile they were in the midst of an unbroken solitude, shut off from the world by a riotous glory of green, yellow, and crimson. They had not spoken for a long time, and were feeling quite content with the pleasant monotony of-- their journey, when they burst out into a rocky glen where a spring of clear water bubbled forth. With a common impulse they reined in; Twenty feet farther on the trail twisted into the screen of verdure and was lost.
"What a discovery!" exclaimed Edith. "Help me down, please, I'm going to drink."
Kirk dismounted and lent her a hand; the horses snorted appreciatively, and stepping forward, thrust their soft muzzles eagerly into the stream, then fell to browsing upon the tender leaves at their shoulders.
Edith quenched her thirst, shook the cramp from her limbs, and said: "Some time we will have to see where this road leads. There may be more surprises beyond." She broke a flower from its stem and fastened it in Kirk's buttonhole, while he gazed down at her with friendly eyes.
"You're looking awfully well lately," he declared.
Glancing up, she met his gaze and held it for an instant. "It's the open air and the exercise. I enjoy these rides with you more than I can say." Something in her look gave him a little thrill of embarrassment.
"I think I'll give Marquis and Gyp their dessert," he said, and, turning aside, began to gather a handful of the greenest leaves. The instant his eyes were off her, she took the horses by their bridles, swung them about, and with a sharp blow of her riding- crop sent them snorting and clattering down the trail. Kirk wheeled barely in time to see them disappearing.
"Here!" he cried, sharply. "What are you doing?"
"They'll hike straight for town. Now I'll have to chase--" He glanced at her sharply. "Say, why did you do that?"
"Because I wanted to. Isn't that reason enough?" Her eyes were reckless and her lips white.
"You shouldn't do a thing like that!" he cried, gruffly. "It's foolish. Now I'll have to run them down."
"Oh, you can't catch them."
"Well, I'll have a try at it, anyhow." He tossed away his handful of leaves.
"Silly! I did it because I wanted to talk with you."
"Well, those horses wouldn't overhear."
"Don't be angry, Kirk. I haven't seen you alone since that night."
"Taboga?" he said, guiltily. "You're not going to lecture me again? I'm sorry enough as it is." Never in all his life had he felt more uncomfortable. He could not bring himself to meet her gaze, feeling that his own face must be on fire.
"What a queer chap you are! Am I so unattractive that you really want to rush off after those horses?" He said nothing, and she went on after a moment of hesitation: "I have known men who would have thought it a privilege to be left alone with me like this."
"I--have no doubt."
"You remember, for instance, I told you there was one man at Taboga whom I did not wish to see?"
"Yes--at the sanitarium."
"Well, something like this happened once--with him--and I told Stephen."
"And did you tell Mr. Cortlandt what I did?"
"Do you think I would have come riding with you if I had?" She shook her head. "Kirk, I used to think you were an unusually forward young man, but you're not very worldly, are you?"
"N-no--yes! I guess I'm as wise as most fellows."
"Sometimes I think you are very stupid."
He began firmly: "See here, Mrs. Cortlandt, you have been mighty good to me, and I'm indebted to you and your husband for a whole lot. I am terribly fond of you both."
She clipped a crimson bloom from its stem with a vicious blow of her crop, then, with eyes fixed upon the fallen flower, broke the awkward pause that followed.
"I suppose," she said, half defiantly, "you know how things are with Stephen and me--everybody must know, I suppose. I have done a lot of thinking lately, and I have made up my mind that the last appeal of what is right or wrong lies with one's self. I'm not going to care any longer what the world thinks of my actions so long as my own heart justifies them. Happiness--that is what I want, and I will have it--I will have it at any cost. It is my right. Because a woman marries without love, is it right for her to forego love all her life? I think not."
She looked up, and with a change of tone ran on swiftly: "I have studied you for a long time, Kirk. I know the sort of man you are. I know you better than you know yourself. Very lately I have begun to study myself, too, and I know, at last, the sort of woman I am." She drew near and laid a hand on each shoulder, forcing him to look straight into her eyes. "I am not like most women; I can't do things by halves; I can't temporize with vital things; I prefer to experiment, even blindly. I used to think I was born to rule, but I think now that a woman's only happiness lies in serving; and I used to believe I was contented, when all the time I was waiting for something and didn't know it. Don't be silly now; you're just like every other man."
"I can't pretend to misunderstand you, although--Listen!" He cut his words short. "Here comes some one."
She turned her head, as from the direction their mounts had taken came the sound of approaching hoots.
"Natives from the hills." She nodded carelessly toward the purple mountains back of them. But the next moment she gave a little gasp of consternation. Out from the overhung path, with a great rustling of leaves, came, not the expected flea-bitten Panama horse, but a familiar bay, astride of which was Stephen Cortlandt. He was leading Marquis and Gyp by their bridles, and reined in at sight of his wife and her companion.
"Hello!" he said. "I caught your horses for you."
"Jove! That's lucky!" Kirk greeted the husband's arrival with genuine relief. "They bolted when we got down to take a drink, and we were getting ready for a long walk. Thanks, awfully."
"No trouble at all. I saw them as they came out on the main road." Cortlandt's pigskin saddle creaked as he bent forward to deliver the reins. He was as cool and immaculate as ever. He met Edith's eyes without the slightest expression. "Nice afternoon for a ride."
"If I had known you were riding to-day you might have come with us," she said.
He smiled in his wintry fashion, then scanned the surroundings appreciatively.
"Pretty spot, isn't it? If you are going back, I'll ride with you."
"Good enough. May I give you a hand, Mrs. Cortlandt?" Kirk helped Edith to her seat, at which her husband bowed his thanks. Then the three set out in single file.
"Which way?" inquired Stephen as they reached the highroad.
"Back to town, I think," Edith told him, "And you?"
"I'm not ready yet. See you later." He raised his hat and cantered easily away, while the other two turned their horses' heads toward the city.
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