Free Air/Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII

THE GRAEL IN A BACK YARD IN YAKIMA

"I MUST say that you two have chosen a fine pastoral scene!" observed Mr. Boltwood.

"Hhhhhhhhow did you get here?" gasped Claire.

"Auto 'bus over Blewett Pass, train here from Ellensburg. That woman--everything all right?"

"Yes, everything's fine. We were just starting back, sir," implored Milt.

"Huh!"

"Awfully sorry, sir, to take Claire on such a hike----"

"I don't blame you particularly. When that young woman gets an idea into her head, the rest of us are pawns. Why, even me--she's dragged me all over the Rocky Mountains. And I will admit, Claire, that it's been good for me. But I begin to feel human again, and I think it's about time I took charge. We'll catch the afternoon train for Seattle, Claire. The trip has been extremely interesting, but I think perhaps we'll call it enough. Daggett, want to get you to drive the Gomez on to Seattle. Beach tells me your car is completely wrecked. Lose any money in it?"

"No, sir. Had my roll in the bug. I'll have to go back to it and get some clothes out of it, though."

"Well, then, will you drive my car in? Charge me anywhere up to fifty dollars, if you want to----"

"I'd rather not----"

"It's a perfectly honest job--I'd do it, too quick! Or if your confounded pride won't let you charge anything, bring the car on anyway. Come, dolly, I have a jitney here, please observe my graceful use of 'jitney,' and I have the bags. We'll hustle to the station now. No! No arguments, chick!"

On the station platform, Claire and Milt were under the surveillance of Mr. Boltwood, who was extremely irritable as every two minutes the train was reported to be two minutes later. They tramped up and down, speaking in lowered voices, very meek but in their joint naughtiness very intimate.

"That was a nice place to end a transcontinental drive--in the back yard of Mr. Johnny Kloh, with an unrestricted view of tin cans!" lamented Claire.

"Still, your drive didn't end at Kloh's; it ended way up in the mountains."

Mr. Boltwood bumbled down on them: "Another minute late! Like to know what the matter is!"

"Yes, father!"

When Mr. Boltwood's impatiently waiting back was turned, Claire gripped Milt's hand, and whispered to him, "You see, I'm captured! I thought I was father's lord and chauffeur, but he sniffs the smoke of the ticker. In his mind, he's already back in the office, running things. He'll probably turn me over to Jeff, for disciplining! You won't let them change me back into a pink-face, will you? Come to tea, at the Gilsons', just as soon as you reach Seattle."

"Tea---- Now we're so near your Gilsons, I begin to get scared. Wouldn't know what to do. Gee, I've heard you have to balance a tea-cup and a sandwich and a hunk o' cake and a lot of conversation all at once! I'd spill the tea, and drop crumbs, and probably have the butler set on me."

"You will not! And if you did--can't you see?--it wouldn't matter! It just wouldn't matter!"

"Honestly? Claire dear, do you know why I came on this trip? In Schoenstrom, I heard you say you were going to Seattle. That moment, I decided I would, too, and get acquainted with you, if murder would do it. But, oh, I'm clumsy."

"You've seen me clumsy, in driving. You taught me to get over it. Perhaps I can teach you some things. And we'll study--together--evenings! I'm a thoroughly ignorant parasite woman. Make me become real! A real woman!"

"Dear--dear----"

Mr. Boltwood loomed on them. "The train's coming, at last. We'll have a decent sleep for once, at the Gilsons'. I've wired them to meet us." He departed.

"Terribly glad your father keeps coming down on us, because it scares me so I get desperate," said Milt. "Golly, I think I can hear the train. I, uh, Claire, Claire dear----"

"Milt, are you proposing to me? Please hurry, because that is the train. Isn't it absurd--some day you'll have to propose all over again formally, for the benefit of people like father, when you and I already know we're partners! We've done things together, not just danced together! When you're an engineer, you'll call me, and I'll come a-running up to Alaska. And sometimes you'll come with me to Brooklyn--we'll be a couple of bombs---- There's the train. Oh, playmate, hurry with your engineering course! Hurry, hurry, hurry! Because when it's done, then---- Whither thou goest, there I go also! And you did bully me, you did, you did, and I like it, and---- Yes, father, the bags are right here. Telephone me, minute you reach Seattle, dear, and we'll have a private lesson in balancing tea-cups---- Yes, father, I have the tickets. So glad, dear, the trip smashed up like this--shocked me into reality--made me realize I've been with you every hour since I dismissed you, back in Dakota, and you looked at me, big hurt eyes, like a child, and---- Yes, father, Pullman's at the back. Yes, I'm coming!"

"W-wait! D-did you know I was going to propose?"

"Yes. Ever since the Yellowstone. Been trying to think of a nice way to refuse you. But there isn't any. You're like Pinky--can't get rid of you--have t' adopt you. Besides, I've found out----"

"You love me?"

"I don't know! How can I tell? But I do like to drive with my head on your shoulder and---- Yesssss, father, coming!"