IN COLLUSION WITH FATE
E. Perry Pemberton, artist, connoisseur, and prosperous vagabond, was perusing the following letter, which he had just received from his sister, Mrs. Arlington, resident in New York:
"Dear Brother: Circumstances of a peculiarly detestable kind have conspired to deprive me of the European trip to which I looked forward with so much pleasure. And now I am worried to death at the thought of poor Valeria, who, as you know, is at school in Fontainebleau, and whom I cannot now bring home, as I had intended. Then it came to me as an inspiration, dear Perry, that you might take my place and spread your protecting masculine wing over the dear child, and convey her in safety across the Atlantic. As you are her own uncle, and her senior by no end of years, there could, of course, be no objection on the score of the proprieties. But the question is: Are you willing to ruffle the glossy plumage of your bachelor comfort ever so little for your sister's sake? I should dislike very much to give my daughter in charge of some German or English steamboat captain (the French, of course, are out of the question), and have her shipped across the great pond with her name and address on a label, sewed on the collar of her dress. I have known that to be done, and no harm resulting. But then there was no brother or other relative to appeal to, who might justly regard it as a reflection upon his own reputation for trustworthiness, if a stranger were preferred."
There was a great deal more, the bearing of which upon the question at issue was a matter of feeling rather than of argument. Pemberton read and reread it with frowning attention. It annoyed and perplexed him. Was it a service which his sister asked of him, or was it a favor which she conferred? As far as he could infer from her letter it was both. She had apparently started with the former assumption and ended with the latter. But from whatever point of view he chose to regard it, there was no denying that it was a serious affair. A handsome bachelor of thirty-one, self-absorbed, fastidious, and precise, with a taste for bric-à-brac—to whom his own peculiarities were matters of scientific interest—how could he undertake to chaperone a young lady across the Atlantic? He remembered his niece vaguely as a noisy and alarmingly enterprising child of twelve, who prided herself on various unfeminine accomplishments, such as taking headers, swimming on her back, treading water, riding bareback, etc.; and his general impression of her resolved itself into a fatigued resignation alternating with an uneasy apprehension as to what she was going to do next. He remembered that she had professed no great liking for him; and that he had cordially reciprocated her sentiments. That was six years ago, and of course six years are a long time in the life of a girl. Fontainebleau had, no doubt, polished her off and acquainted her with some of the arts of civilization. She was probably polyglot, odiously "smart," and bent upon having a good time, regardless of European proprieties.
Pemberton, having viewed the subject from all possible sides, was strongly inclined to cable his sister some polite fiction, explaining his inability to comply with her request. He was in Ostend at the time, and though it was in the height of the season, he found the place mortally dull. The doll-like little villas on the digue, where ladies might be seen making their toilet in the full light of publicity, had ceased to interest him, and the eternally repeated promenade concert at the Cursaal, had become a positive affliction.
In an artistic way he had accomplished nothing of any consequence since he left Rome, four months ago. He seemed to be suffering from fatigue of spirit; all the world wore a thick coating of dust, which dimmed its color and blurred its outline. That fresh distinctness of vision which he had brought with him from home, ten years ago, had become blunted, and the absence of any vigorous stimulus to effort had made effort increasingly difficult. He had undoubted talent; nay, he had been told by his Parisian master (who was a star of the first magnitude in the firmament of art) that he lacked but one qualification for becoming a great painter, viz., poverty. His father, who had never taken Perry's art seriously, had intended him to become a banker; and finding him after a brief trial to be of the stuff that bankers are not made of, transferred his paternal hopes and ambitions to his second son, and permitted the elder to drift as he pleased.
It was in deference to an inferred parental wish that he had gone to Harvard, and managed to leave behind him a not discreditable record at that famous seat of learning. He was the sort of man that without the least effort becomes extremely popular. Nay, his very indifference to the arts, which are supposed to be conducive to college popularity, testified to a superior kind of self-esteem, and made him seem a very desirable acquaintance. He was so well-dressed, so gentlemanly, and altogether the ideal friend to take home with you for the Easter vacation. His superb imperturbability might, at first glance, be mistaken for hauteur; but on closer acquaintance you soon discovered that he was neither conceited nor proud, but simply reserved. He liked to confer favors, and hated to accept them. He held himself, no doubt, to be a superior article, as men go; but that opinion implied no disdain of his neighbor who might be less happily circumstanced. There is always a danger in being too gently reared, in having life bolstered and cushioned for you from the very cradle; and I shall not maintain that Perry Pemberton, with all his fastidious refinements, was as robust a personality as he would have been if he had known the discipline of hardship.
It was in no agreeable frame of mind that Perry walked up and down the digue at Ostend, considering the various aspects of the problem which his sister's letter had thrust upon him. It was all very well that the young lady was his niece; in whatever way he chose to regard her, she presented herself in the light of an embarrassment. What under the sun should he do with her during the two weeks that would elapse until the date for which he had engaged his passage? But, on the other hand, having engaged his passage for July, and having communicated this fact to his family, how could he, without the most brazen mendacity, wriggle out of an obligation which was so obvious, so rational, so inexorable? He might let the girl do as she liked, and merely exercise over her the lightest sort of avuncular supervision. He might kiss her good-morning and good-night, if she was so inclined, in token of the relationship; but it must be a strictly perfunctory avuncular kiss, destitute of all tender significance. He must treat her a trifle de haut en bas, so as to exclude undue familiarity, or perhaps with that humorous tolerance which he had extended to her in her pinafore period. At any rate, it began to dawn upon him that a modus vivendi might be established. The tangled skein began to unravel. And at the end of an hour he had composed a cablegram to Mrs. Arlington placing himself at her disposal, asking for instructions. To this a reply arrived the next day, requesting him to meet Valeria at Brussels, July 3d, at the Gare du Midi. He would have time enough, then, to arrange all details, and adjust himself to his novel situation. Truth to tell, the next week was considerably pervaded by the thought of Valeria; and there were moments when he regretted his rash generosity. However, there was no help for it now. The die was cast. He had crossed the Rubicon.
At 5 p.m. Pemberton found himself in the midst of an elbowing crowd at the Gare du Midi in the Belgian capital. It was the train from Paris which was expected; and there were evidently a considerable number of Belgians, who on that day were returning from a jaunt across the border. There were scores of people who looked like parents expecting sons or daughters; and he had an impression that not a few resembled uncles sent to welcome embarrassing nieces. However, that may nave been a mere delusion, conjured up by a bad conscience. For, to be frank, he wished his own niece at this moment in Jericho. The train came rolling in—not with the terrific clangor, snorting, and uproar of an American train, but with an unobtrusive and half-muffled rumble, so that Pemberton scarcely noticed that it was there, before he saw a multitude of passengers descending from the closed coupes which the guards were unlocking. He pressed forward to intercept the young woman he was in search of; but for fully two minutes he stood staring helplessly, having scarcely the remotest idea of the style of lady he ought to look for. He remembered that Valeria Arlington was a dark-eyed brunette; and that she had two heavy braids hanging down her back. But might she not have discarded those braids, with her pinafores and short skirts, in which case he would have to trust to luck for her identification? He wished he had thought of asking for a recent photograph, or at least a description of her travelling costume.
There was a great commotion round about him. All sorts of tender demonstrations were in progress, and there was a perpetual running hither and thither of excited people, which was highly confusing. Then all of a sudden he saw a tall and beautiful young damsel rush toward him with extended arms, whereupon he found himself embraced and kissed with delightful girlish vehemence. "Oh, you dear uncle," she cried, with a sort of joyous tearfulness, "how glad I am to see you!"
Pemberton was about to assure her, as politeness required, that he heartily reciprocated her sentiments, when, as he disentangled himself from her embrace, a sudden chill stole over him. What did it mean? Could he be mistaken? The young lady was blond! The idea shot through his brain that women possess the art of changing the color of their hair, and that his niece was scarcely to be condemned for disguising herself in accordance with the present fashion. But then—there were her eyes—the color of which he had always supposed to be fast. A horrible doubt seized him. Drawing back a step, he lifted his hat with extreme politeness to his charming assailant, who was now blushing furiously, and said:
"My dear young lady—pardon me—but I fear you have kissed the wrong uncle."
He spoke playfully, half wishing and even expecting to be refuted; but, to his unutterable dismay, the girl darted away from him as if she had been burned, and with lovely confusion faltered: "Are you—are you not—Mr. Carleton Humphrey, of Baltimore?"
"No; I wish on your account that I were, but unhappily I am Mr. Perry Pemberton, of New York."
The situation was getting simply unendurable. The less said of it the better. He had an insane impulse, which he promptly dismissed, to treat the matter lightly, and offer to return the kiss with which he had been wrongfully favored. But he saw in an instant that that would make the matter worse. "If there is any reparation I can offer you," he began; but that, too, was obviously wrong; for she drew herself erect with chilling hauteur, and an angry tear trembled on her eyelashes. Presently he discovered a man of about his own age and size, and wearing a peaked blond beard, staring about him in a vaguely inquiring way, until he caught sight of the young lady, whereupon he walked rapidly up to her and said:
"Well, I suppose you are my niece Polly. Shouldn't have known you, by Jove; you've grown stunningly handsome."
"Yes, Uncle Will," she answered demurely and without the least demonstration of pleasure, "I am Polly. But you, too, have changed. I never should have recognized you."
"Well, tempus fugit. No help for that, my dear. But your aunt is waiting for you at the hotel. Give me the receipt for your luggage."
They walked along the platform as they talked, and were soon out of hearing. Never once did Polly look about to give Pemberton a parting greeting or in any way relieve the weight of embarrassment which oppressed him. It was evident that she had not chosen to relate her adventure to her relative, or to explain to him how he came to be defrauded of the kiss of welcome, to which he was evidently entitled, and which it had been in her heart to give him.
Pemberton waited at the railway station until the last passenger had departed; and seeing no one who by any stretch of imagination could be presumed to be his niece, he returned in a much perturbed frame of mind to his hotel. There he found, on inquiry, that a telegram had arrived for him at noon, which by some one's negligence had failed to be delivered. It read as follows:
"Shall arrive by nine o'clock train. Do not fail to meet me.
Pemberton repeated to himself this odd message half a dozen times, as he strolled up and down the tessellated esplanade in front of the Hôtel de Flandre, and the more he thought of it the less he liked it. A certain disrespect seemed to be implied in the emphatic injunction to do what as a gentleman he could not very well omit doing. At nine o'clock he was in a less amiable frame of mind than he had been at five; but resolved to disguise the fact as far as possible. The train arrived on time; and as there were but a few scores of first- and second-class passengers, he had no difficulty in recognizing a tall bustling girl, with a flaring big hat, as the one addressed to him. She was accompanied by a little, dumpy, and vivacious Frenchwoman, who was spying anxiously about her, talking all the while with bewildering Gallic fluency. Pemberton lost no time in introducing himself to the two ladies and informing them that he had a carriage waiting for them. His niece, who was superbly stylish and handsome, gave him her cheek to kiss, in the cool and perfunctory way adapted toward elderly relatives; and he had an impression that she was subjecting him to a rather critical inspection, and concluding with a sense of relief that he would pass muster. "This is my uncle, Mr. Pemberton, madame," she said in French to her companion; "Mr. Pemberton—Madame Bournouville."
Pemberton lifted his hat once more and executed an elaborate bow to the lady, who, he observed, was viewing him with marked approval. But as he had had no announcement of her coming he was at a loss to know what position to assign her. Was she a chance travelling acquaintance, or was she a teacher whom Mrs. Arlington, on second thought, had engaged to accompany her daughter and release him from his responsibility? If the latter hypothesis was correct he had, indeed, been most shabbily treated. But putting this grievance aside for future consideration, he promptly relieved the ladies of their shawl-straps and handbags and led the way to the carriage. A vague embarrassment possessed him, and apparently also Valeria; while Madame Bournouville was perfectly at her ease and poured out a stream of light talk about everything under the sun. "Il est bien distingué, votre oncle," he heard the lady remark, sotto voce, to Valeria, as they mounted the stairs of the Hôtel de Flandre; "il est tout-à-fait gentilhomme."
He was falling behind for fear of overhearing more complimentary comments, and had just reached the(where he had engaged rooms for his charges) when he heard a girlish shriek of delight, and he saw Valeria rush into the arms of some one who responded with a shriek in the same key and a shower of enthusiastic kisses, "Why Polly Stanton—you dear old thing! How did you get here? How awfully, awfully glad I am to see you."
Then more embraces, more kisses, more shrill staccato ejaculations! There seemed to be just a suspicion of theatricals in the scene to Pemberton; and he fell discreetly still farther in the rear, with an acute sense of being de trop amid all this noisy femininity. He could not suppress a vague annoyance and irritation. It seemed eminently proper that he should excuse himself, at least temporarily; he was stepping forward with this intention, when, behold! he found himself face to face with the lady whom, since five o'clock, he had vainly endeavored to dismiss from his memory. There was something of alarm—almost of hostility in her startled glance of recognition, while Valeria, with the blandness of ignorance, presented each to the other.
"Why, Polly, you must know my uncle, Mr. Pemberton," she cried with empressement; then turning to Pemberton, she proceeded in the same tone of exaggerated animation, "and you, Uncle Perry, you must know my dearest bosom friend, Miss Polly Stanton."
The young man stiffly raised his hat and stared at Miss Stanton in hard perplexity. He wished to leave to her the option of accepting or repudiating his acquaintance. There was a troubled intensity in the gaze she fixed upon him in return, as she made a scarcely perceptible inclination of her head, in response to his greeting. Then, with a creepy disappointment, he saw her draw back a couple of steps, struggling with an unconquerable embarrassment, and give Valeria her hand as if she were about to retreat. But when the latter with eyes full of puzzled reproach seemed at a loss to comprehend such a precipitate withdrawal, she paused and made a visible effort to master herself. With an air of recovered lucidity and composure she stepped forward again, and, with a charming little laugh, said:
"I am very glad to meet you, Mr. Pemberton; Valeria and I are, as you may perhaps have heard, chums at school; and you may imagine that we have discussed all our relatives, both near and remote."
"Then I may, perhaps, be so bold as to hope that you are not wholly unacquainted with me," he remarked, smiling down upon her flushed face.
It was far from his purpose to allude to the scene at the railway station; but she was in a sensitive frame of mind and seemed to ponder for an instant whether she ought not to take offence. She was like a wary bird, ready to take flight at the least suspicious movement. His most vivid impression was that she was adorably young; vet she was neither awkward, self-conscious, fidgety, nor angularly youthful. There was a certain fine salubrity about her, a beautiful maidenly vigor, and barring her momentary perturbation, a great fund of warm and sweet womanliness. Her eyes, which were dark blue, with flame-like lines radiating from the pupils, seemed to have a quiet depth in them which gave hints of a charming personality. He had heard more than once, and as frequently endorsed, the remark that girls of eighteen are not individuals but merely specimens of the feminine gender. But he observed, while looking at Polly Stanton, how utterly crude and untenable such generalization was.
It is always a difficult thing for a man of thirty-one to talk naturally and without patronage or condescension to a young lady under twenty. The years somehow interpose invisible obstacles which he has perpetually to be climbing, or to run his head against, if he does not suspect them. And in the case of Pemberton and Miss Stanton, there was the ghost of that embarrassing incident which rose up between them and refused to be laid. He had kissed that lovely mouth. He could not get over that fact. The kiss yet burned upon his lips. And she—no matter how much she strove to get away from it—felt with a sense of outraged modesty that this stranger had held her in his arms, and she had bestowed upon him vehement caresses which only close blood-relationship warranted. She had not seen one of her own kin for so many years, that her joy had carried her away; and she had probably made a goose of herself. After her mother's death, six years ago, her father had sent her to the school at Fontainebleau, and as he had married again and had children by his second wife, she could well understand why he had not betrayed any anxiety to get her home. But now, as she had not only completed the course in the seminary. but (in order to perfect herself in a variety of accomplishments) had stayed one year beyond, in the capacity of a "parlor boarder," her stepmother's ingenuity was no longer equal to inventing excuses for delaying her return. Her uncle Humphrey, her mother's brother, who had been spending the winter at Cannes, on account of his wife's health, had finally settled the matter by volunteering to pilot her across the Atlantic; and being himself childless, had declared his willingness to adopt her, if her father would relinquish all claim upon her. This her father had, however, hesitated to do, in spite of his wife's persuasions; and the matter was left in abeyance until some good reason could be found for deciding it one way or the other.
Valeria, who had a dim perception that something was wrong, put her arm about Miss Stanton's waist, and nodding to her uncle, dragged her toward the door of her room, which a bell-boy had opened; Pemberton, with a sense of ill-usage, and somewhat ruffled in spirit, remained behind, looking inquiringly at his hat, which he was holding in his hand.
Pemberton had abundant opportunity for becoming acquainted with his niece during a prolonged tête-à-tête in the railway coupé which conveyed them from Brussels to Ostend; and he had a further surfeit of her company on the steamboat which carried them to Dover, and the train which deposited them late in the afternoon in Southampton. It was perfectly irrational, of course, on his part, to hold Valeria responsible for Miss Stanton's disappearance, and yet he could not help thinking that there was some sort of collusion between them, and that they were privately having a little fun at his expense.
Madame Bournouville, whom they had left behind at Brussels, he learned, incidentally, was a faded gentlewoman who had once had a great salon, but was now teaching in the school at Fontainebleau. Mrs. Arlington had engaged her services for Valeria's chaperon to Brussels, paying her something over and above her expenses. And this led to a conversation on school-life in general, during which Pemberton asked the sort of questions that one asks little girls, to all of which his niece responded with cheerful amplitude, while he lost himself in abstraction, starting up every now and then with a spasmodic effort to be agreeable. The fact was, he was in a fever to elicit some information regarding Miss Stanton; but he was quite ashamed of his interest in her, and lacked the courage to avow it. How lovely was her confusion when she discovered her mistake; how she quivered with a sense of outraged modesty; how adorably feminine was her ignoring of him afterward, and her flushed precipitancy to escape when chance again brought them together! He caught himself again and again in mentally reviewing the incident. It was imbecile, it was silly; it was unworthy of a grown-up man with a serious pursuit. But then, on the other hand, it had its artistic phase, too, which he might be capable of utilizing. He had never in his life received such a beautiful vivid impression of womanhood.
It was about two o'clock in the afternoon, on the day after their arrival in Southampton that Pemberton and his niece boarded the tug which took them alongside the great German steamer, the Transylvania, anchored in the outer harbor. Fully two hours were required to transfer the passengers, the mail-bags, and a mountain of baggage from the smaller to the larger vessel, and Pemberton, after having taken possession of his state-room, and installed Valeria in hers, seated himself on the upper deck, lighted a cigar and began to make desultory sketches of sailors and fellow-travellers. Presently the screw began to make some spasmodic, experimental revolutions, a slender steam escape began to hum with a strained, throbbing intensity; the gangway was hauled aboard, and the great, beautiful monster of a ship glided out to sea with majestic calm. It was a most impressive spectacle, and to Pemberton seemed every time to signalize afresh the last and highest triumph of man. There always seemed to him to be a more complex and imposing combination of the subtlest brain labor of generations in these marvellous marine structures than in any other contrivance of human ingenuity or skill. He could never contemplate a ship like the Majestic or Fürst Bismarck without tacitly congratulating himself on being a man.
There was a great commotion on board. Among the hundred and fifty odd passengers who had embarked at Southampton a goodly number were engaged in finding their steamer-chairs, securing the best seats at the table, and experimentally asserting all sorts of rights with a ruthlessness which made their more civilized countrymen ashamed of them. Amid all this confusion and occasional uncaging of beasts, which on shore are rarely seen at large, Pemberton saw his niece making her way toward him with tear-stained face and a much perturbed manner.
"Why, Uncle Perry, I have hunted for you everywhere," she began in a key of high excitement, "and I could not find you."
"I have been sitting here sketching for at least half an hour."
"But, Uncle Perry, you surely engaged my state-room for me alone, didn't you?"
"I certainly did."
"Only think of it, there is a dreadful German woman there, who says she has engaged half of it—that is one berth—and she refuses to budge."
"There must be some mistake surely. I remember distinctly telegraphing for a whole state-room."
He rose with vague annoyance, shut up his sketch-book with a snap, and reflected within himself that nieces were not an unqualified blessing.
"Come, my dear," he said aloud, "we'll go to the chief steward and have this tangle straightened out."
She took his arm with girlish confidence and clung to it, while they gently pushed through the crowd. She was glad that she had a male protector of her own kin, and she was conscious of a vindictive gratification at the prospect of his energetic intercession in her behalf. But alas, he was destined again to disappoint her. His statement of the affair to the chief steward was exceedingly mild—so mild, in fact, that she had to interrupt it repeatedly with indignant exclamations. So far from desiring to oust the intruder by summary process, he proposed to negotiate with her with a view to persuading her that she was a trespasser, as if she did not know that already! Valeria was ready to choke with wrath at such pusillanimous behavior, and she made the distance between Uncle Perry and herself as wide as possible when they returned to the deck pending the steward's decision. Truth to tell, Pemberton was acutely conscious of having fallen short of her expectations. He did not feel in the least heroic. But surely he could not invade a lady's state-room and forcibly eject her, even though she were a trespasser. With a somewhat troubled conscience he seated himself on a camp-chair outside one of the deck cabins and again hauled out his sketch-book, while Valeria, with startling suddenness, burst into tears.
"I suppose you—expect me to sleep—sleep—on deck—" she ejaculated between her sobs. "I ought to have known—that an old bachelor—like you—wouldn't care what—what became of me. What do you think—mamma will say, when she hears that you allowed—a horrid German woman—to take my state-room—state-room—away—from—from me—under your very nose?"
Pemberton heaved a sigh, and swore inwardly a long, voluminous and satisfying oath; when there slowly defined itself to his vision a luminous figure which eclipsed the officer upon the bridge, the snorting engine, the shouting sailors—nay, sea and sky and the very daylight. For a moment he seemed to be having his head up in the rigging, and looking down upon her; but in the next instant he was standing up, with his eyes slightly above the level of hers, confronting Polly Stanton at his full height, with a sort of imperious inexorableness. He was not exactly surprised to meet her; it seemed so completely, so delightfully reasonable that she should be there, that he could only rejoice rather than wonder. Was it the intensity of his desire which had conquered the inertia of matter and forced her to follow him. "Miss Stanton," he said, lifting his hat, and ignoring her blushes, "you see it is useless to repudiate me. For five or six days, at least, you are my prisoner."
"Why, Mr. Pemberton," she responded, with a strained little smile, "I surely have no wish to repudiate you. And there is dear Valeria, too," she added, rushing forward, and embracing her friend, "how perfectly lovely to see you again, and how did it happen that you didn't tell me you had taken passage by the Transylvania?"
"I didn't know it myself," Valeria replied, pressing a handkerchief, done up into a ball, against her moist eyes.
"Nor did I know it," for that matter, Polly observed, "that is, not until I met Uncle Will in Brussels."
"I know you will think me horrid for saying so," Valeria remarked, pouting, "but I wish I had never seen the Transylvania."
"Why? Are you not comfortably fixed."
"No, I am most detestably fixed."
Valeria hastened to relate the tale of her woes, with dramatic touches and decorations, and a fresh burst of tears seemed imminent, when Pemberton, being consumed with a desire to talk with Polly Stanton, made an effort to stop her. But she would take no hints, and relentlessly persevered. Then it was that Polly was suddenly seized with a luminous idea.
"Why, Valeria," she cried in glee, "how perfectly lovely! I have a whole state-room to myself—and it is a deck cabin too. You are welcome to half of it."
"Polly," exclaimed her friend in ecstatic accents, "you are simply an angel! You are perfectly grand."
Then followed a little interlude of protestations, asseverations, and affectionate gabble, which ended (as was foreseen by both from the beginning) with Valeria's acceptance of Polly's offer. The German lady was left in undisputed possession of her usurpations, and two passing waiters were pressed into service to transfer Valeria's movable property to her new and highly desirable abode.
Pemberton would have liked to retard the speed of the Transylvania as she ploughed her way at the preposterous rate of sixteen knots an hour through the shining waters of the British Channel. He wished he had taken the slowest Dutch steamer at Rotterdam—if Miss Stanton were but his fellow-passenger—or even a sailing ship, where they might have had six spacious weeks at their disposal. He had no very great confidence in his powers as a charmer. He was a fairly good-looking man, and fairly well placed in the world, but as a compensating disadvantage he accounted his lack of dexterity, lack of feminine experience, and his comparative inconspicuousness as an artist. He had never painted with his heart's blood; his works had never sprung warm and throbbing out of his own experience. They had been more or less clever, superficial observations which he had caught on the wing and transferred with a good deal of point and dash to his canvasses. Could a young girl of eighteen, presumably ambitious and romantic, be expected to take an interest in a man who had crawled so noiselessly, so listlessly, across his thirtieth meridian, and now was sauntering at the same leisurely pace toward his thirty-fifth?
He had not yet found any probable response to this query, when, at the end of an hour, Miss Stanton reappeared on deck, in a new and exceedingly becoming costume. She wore a blue sailor cap, with the German imperial crown above the visor, a blue cloth dress, very high in the neck, a silver dog-collar, and dark russet leather shoes which were neat and delightfully sophisticated. There was something marvellously fresh and alluring in the free and graceful way her head was set upon her shoulders, and simply ravishing was the effect of her neck and chin above the dim lustre of the silver collar. The light ulster, which was cut to the figure, had two very mannish pockets, and flapped in the breeze when Polly began her brisk walk up and down the deck, turning the corners of the smoking cabin with an abruptness and despatch which were distinctly nautical. She was presently joined by her uncle, Mr. Humphrey, who was attired from head to foot in coarse, grayish-brown tweed, of the most perfect fit. His cap matched his clothes, and his mustache very nearly matched his cap. He was artistically complete, single eye-glass, slight stoop, British drawl, and the rest. No one but an Englishman could possibly have mistaken him for an American. When Valeria presently came on deck, in equally stunning toggery, Pemberton was moved in pure self-defence to get up and promenade with her in the opposite direction. The two girls nodded gayly to each other when they met, and the two gentlemen, after having passed and repassed each other half a dozen times, could scarcely escape being confronted and subjected to an introduction. Both submitted with good grace, shook hands with glacial formality, and grunted some polite assurances, which sounded like vague subterranean rumbles, indicating that all was not peaceful within. The fact was, the two gentlemen took a violent dislike to each other at first sight. But Pemberton feasted his vision upon Polly's loveliness, as she stood there so bright, clear-eyed, and touchingly inexperienced, with her fair bloom and her sweet, alert look, listening to their interchange of courteous platitudes. He would cheerfully have endured the Humphreys, for the sake of the impression he received, newly aroused, whenever he saw her, of such pure, unspoiled girlishness, such rosy suffusion of hope and health, such placid equipoise of mind and body. There is a jealousy in the masculine creature which resents even the suspicion of a predecessor in the affection of the beloved one, and there was to Pemberton something deeply comforting in the thought that Polly had spent six years within the cloistered walls of a French seminary.
It seemed an enviable lot, indeed, to be the first to arouse this slumbering soul, to awaken all the beautiful sentiments that now lay curled up like pale petals in the bud, unconscious of their wealth and warmth of color.
I do not believe that any Ariel could frame more favorable conditions for courtship than those of a great ocean steamer. You are reduced to a sort of paradisaical isolation with the girl who attracts you. You are detached from your environment; the great world has receded out of sight and out of hearing, and the vast blank of sea and sky has, somehow, the effect of projecting you and her against the background of eternity. Though she be as shy as a wren and as retiring as an oyster, she becomes, with every day that passes, a more absorbing phenomenon from whom there is no escape. You have no choice but to meet her twenty times a day, and fate takes a cruel pleasure in thwarting your half-hearted designs to eschew the desired rendezvous. The rest of the ship's company fade into insignificance; you do not see them, or you see them through the small end of a telescope. They have no sort of reality to you, and their uncharitable comments on your behavior, which you suspect, are to you matters of sublime indifference. You begin to realize why Adam could not in that gloriously empty world have escaped falling in love with Eve, and what serious consequences would have resulted if he had resisted her attractions.
Perry Pemberton passed through all these moods, and a dozen more, during the first day of his sojourn on the Transylvania. He had fallen completely under the spell of Polly Stanton's eyes. He knew that he was furnishing a spectacle, and an amusing one, to his fellow-passengers, and he swore to himself that he would play whist in the smoking cabin all the afternoon, and take no moonlight walks on deck in the evening; but when he caught glimpses of various odious young men hovering about Polly, he would suddenly forget what was trumps and make his partner tear his hair. While Valeria made indiscriminate acquaintances, and was no less interested in the young man who was travelling for a Massachusetts shoe house doing a business of two million and a half a year, by George! than in the Honorable Algernon Clavering, the brother of Lord Bullerton, Polly strictly confined the area within which her sweetness shone, and was gratifyingly arctic outside of that delightfully tropical zone. But to Pemberton, though he was himself a dweller in the sunny clime of her favor, her tropical zone was much too populous to suit his taste. There was first the Honorable Algernon, not to speak of two Yale youths, who were so young that they did not even suspect how young they were. They could talk nonsense with a joyous grace which made Pemberton wither with envy, and when Polly laughed at their sophomoric wit, as she was constantly doing, he could have strangled them with enthusiasm. For her laugh had never that gay and hearty ring when he told her his studio jokes, or related the last brilliant saying of Gérôme or Bouguereau or Detaille. He did have some enchanting moonlight promenades with her, during one of which she permitted him the discreetest little peep behind the curtain of her private relations. Her father's second marriage; her stepmother's youth and beauty; her small, unknown brother and sister, etc., were lightly touched upon, as if they were the most natural things in the world, and not the remotest chance did she afford him to expend any sympathy upon her. For all that, he more than suspected the tumult of feeling which her placid exterior concealed. Though no word of hers would have justified the inference, he fancied that she looked forward with more dread than pleasure to the meeting with the new Mrs. Stanton, and he disliked that lady quite cordially, and felt her intrusion into the family to be unwarranted. He was by no means superstitious; but there was yet a sort of fascination to him in the thought that the kiss which she had given him had established an airy bond between them; that it had a prophetic significance and gave him a claim upon her confidence. Wherever she went, however long she lived, she could never wholly destroy the subtile tie which bound them together. Again and again he caught a swift, strange glimpse in her eye of a similar consciousness on her part. Though she appeared to have utterly forgotten it, he had a conviction that she was no less intensely conscious of this kiss than he was, and by a half fantastic reasoning he persuaded himself that she also recognized the ethereal claim which he lacked the courage to assert.
During the first three days of the voyage the weather had been delightful. Late in the afternoon of the fourth day a sudden damp chill pervaded the atmosphere, and a gray wall of fog, which for a full hour seemed to be stationary on the northern horizon rolled its fleecy sheet out over the ocean. The ship went at half speed; the distressing fog-whistle began to blow, and blue and red lanterns were swung from the spars and the mastheads. In the saloon the passengers were amused by an exhibition of living pictures, in the arrangement of which Pemberton easily outstripped the Honorable Algernon and the Yale youths, while Polly, variously draped in plain and gorgeous garments, represented a Spanish Infanta by Velasquez, the Duchess of Devonshire by Gainsborough, and a Dutch market-woman by Van Ostade. She looked ravishing behind the gauze in whatever guise he chose to exhibit her, and as his draping was exceedingly effective, his partiality was humorously and not maliciously commented upon. Valeria and half a dozen other ladies were likewise pressed into service as Madonnas, Judiths, Dianas, and what not, and an equal number of men posed as Mars, Moses, St. Peter, St. John, and other pagan and Christian dignitaries. The success of the entertainment was most pronounced, and everybody went to bed a little after midnight in an animated frame of mind and with Pemberton's praises on their lips. Perry himself retired in the most preposterously light-hearted mood to his state-room, and repeatedly surprised himself, while undressing, by bursting into unmelodious song. He had kissed Valeria good-night, simply because he had to kiss somebody, and Valeria had asked him, half reproachfully (though not à propos of the kiss), why, if he could be so enchanting, he did not choose to let his amiability shine before men a little oftener. That query gave him a good deal to think of, and he resolved in future to be less chary of his favor, less haughtily aloof, less condescending and more matured, as it were, with the milk of human kindness. With this laudable resolve he turned off the electric light, stretched himself out in his narrow bunk, and was soon peacefully slumbering, in spite of the hoarse screams of the fog-whistle.
He did not know how long he had slept when he was awakened by a heavy thud, followed by a tremulous shock, as if something was scraping along the sides of the ship. Then came a moment, that deadly alarming silence produced by the stopping of the machinery. Then a wild piercing shriek of terror. Pemberton leaped out of bed, stepped into his slippers and flung his big ulster about him. In the hall he ran against a young woman in the lightest of negligés who clutched him desperately, and with a white face asked him if they had struck an iceberg, and implored him to assure her that there was no danger, and then, before he could give any sort of reply, hurried up the stairs to the saloon. Pemberton, remembering that Valeria and Polly occupied a deck cabin, rushed after her, encountering on the way scores of white wraiths of the elegant people from whom he had parted in the best of spirits an hour ago. Some of the ladies were crying, but most of them seemed half-stupefied with dread, and ran aimlessly to and fro, wringing their hands in agony, stopping this one and that one to ask senseless questions. He heard the word "iceberg" again and again, and there is no denying that it sent a shiver down his spine. But he had, nevertheless, perfect command of himself, and was, barring an inward numbness, much calmer than would have been expected.
On deck there was an ominous stillness, except for the sound of axes and the same aimless running to and fro, as if everybody had lost his head, and were merely moving because of the impossibility to stand still. Orders had been given to lower the life-boats; but as the painted ropes were too stiff to slide through the pulleys they were being cut, and two officers were shouting the names of the crew of each boat, summoning them for service. Through the dense darkness Pemberton groped his way to deck cabin No. 8, and to his astonishment found it locked. He thumped on the door with all his might, and presently heard a frightened voice asking what he wanted. "There has been an accident," he replied in his coolest accents; "dress as quickly as you can, and come out."
He had scarcely uttered the words when Valeria tore open the door, and both girls, wrapped in long, fur-lined cloaks, came rushing out. They clutched him one by each arm, and shivering with cold and with terror stood staring helplessly into his countenance.
"Are we—are we—going to the bottom, Uncle Perry?" asked Valeria, with chattering teeth.
"I don't know," he answered; "I wish I did."
Through the dense fog there came a strange, wild yell, which seemed to cleave the fog like a knife and float away over the ship.
"Why, that came from the sea," cried Pemberton; "it's not an iceberg we have struck, but a ship."
"O God—O God," moaned Valeria, wringing her hands, "what shall we do?"
"Let us find out," began Polly bravely; but the rest of her sentence stuck in her throat, and it was with a piteous break in her voice that she finished, "what it is best to do."
"I am not sure that anything we could do would be of the least use," Perry responded, drearily, "unless," he added, more cheerfully, "we try to find out what our chances are of looking at to-morrow's sun."
"Yes, let us do that," said Polly, in a strained whisper. It seemed suddenly to him as if she were crying to him out of a deep and dark abyss, and for the first time he realized with an icy shudder what the next minutes might bring. With a horrible benumbing force the sense of his own helplessness overwhelmed him. Though the wind was not high, the wild gusts that swept with a fierce hum through the rigging gave him an impression of a mighty, uncontrollable fury, that filled the vast vault of the sky, and might in the next instant engulf the ship, and all that it contained. There was something awful in the thought of the cold chasm which he felt with little rippling shudders yawning beneath his feet.
Fully five minutes had now passed, two of the life-boats were launched, but he could not observe that the ship lay deeper in the water, nor did it careen, but kept tossing with a terrible, listless monotony on the heavy ground-swell. The cries in the water sounded like feeble child voices that were blown sky-ward and were lost; and they seemed more and more distant.
"Let us go forward and find out something definite," said Perry, suddenly rousing himself as from a hideous trance. He drew his breath vehemently, and strove to dispel a vague, aching contraction in the region of his heart. Putting his arm about Valeria's waist, and then, without further ado, also about Polly's, he pushed his way through the crowd in the steerage. The deck seemed to rise before his feet and he had no sensation of touching it, except by a benumbed shock, which the contact caused. People ran against them, and would have knocked them down, if he had not with the same ruthlessness knocked against them. The captain's great voice rang through the fog; but it was not reassuring. A score of frightened women in night-dresses, with shawls and plaids flung over their shoulders, were pressing in a shivering group about the purser, who shook his head dismally but could give no information. After many collisions, entailing bumps and bruises, Pemberton reached the forward hatch, where there was a clear space, with a dim lantern swinging from the fore-yard. "Here is where we struck," he said, with forced calm; "if we can open this hatch we can look into the forward compartment. If it is not full of water there is no danger."
He released the two girls, and stooping down was about to pull up the hatch, when a strange pulsating sound struck his ear, and again that fierce gusty resonance swept through the air above him. His knees shook, and he felt wilted in his very marrow. Savagely he braced himself to overcome a disposition to shiver. He scarcely dared to lift the hatch. That dull pulsation could only mean that the water was pouring in. But through the cold whirlwind that threatened to sweep him off his feet, he seemed to feel the warm, trustful gaze of the young girl, to whom his show of energy was so deeply comforting. With a mighty pull he tossed the hatch aside—when, lo, two ship carpenters, each carrying a lantern and an axe, appeared on the ladder below, and thrust their heads out of the opening.
"Are we going down?" asked Pemberton, clinching his teeth quickly, lest they should chatter.
"No; we cut her clean in two," replied one of the men in German; "luckily she was a rotten old hull; scarcely a scratch did she give us."
"No water in the compartment?"
"Look for yourself."
The two carpenters stepped down a couple of rungs and held their lanterns at arms' length. Pemberton descended behind them, and observed with an intense relief that the compartment was dry though in the wildest confusion. The trunks which had been piled high along the walls had. been knocked helter-skelter, by the force of the collision, and the contents of many were strewn over the floor. The reaction from the intense strain was so sudden that it almost unnerved him. His head was in a whirl, and the ladder swayed under his feet, as he rushed up on deck and seizing both Polly's hands cried out:
"There's not a drop of water there. There is no danger!"
Scarcely had he uttered the joyous words when the girl fell forward, fainting, and he had just time to catch her in his arms or she would have plunged down the hatchway. Valeria, who had sunk down upon a coil of rope, wept silently, while the wind blew her hat across her face.
"Why, Uncle Perry," she cried, suddenly, as the carpenters with their lanterns passed in front of her, "Polly's foot is bleeding."
Pemberton begged the men for the loan of one of the lanterns, and discovered with amazement that the girl, who yet lay unconscious in his arms, was barefooted. She had lost her slippers in the crowd, and in her excitement scarcely felt the wound which some iron-heeled boot or sharp tool had inflicted. She lay pale and limp as he carried her back through the surging crowd to her own state-room. There he placed her upon the lounge, and left her to Valeria's care, while he hastened out to assure the passengers of their safety.
"There is no danger," he cried at the top of his voice; "I have just been in the forward compartment and there is not a drop of water coming in!"
He became instantly the centre of an eager group of ladies, some of whom in their delight could scarcely be restrained from embracing him. Again and again he repeated the welcome mes- sage, and dishevelled women, young and old, in all stages of disarray, with an utter disregard of the proprieties, clung about him and wept on his shoulders, in the mere need to give utterance to their overcharged emotions. Among the envious spectators he observed Humphrey, who was sitting in a state of semi-collapse on a sofa, glowering at him with a morose scowl, and Sir Algernon, who, with tumbled hair and arrayed in a gorgeous dressing-gown, was pacing up and down crying, derisively: "By Jove—ah! by George—ah!"
There could be no thought of sleep after such an excitement. Pemberton, disentangling himself from his tender persecutors, hurried to his state-room, where he completed his toilet, and betook himself thence to deck cabin No. 8, which was now brightly illuminated. In response to his knock he was told that Polly was all right, and that both ladies would join him as soon as they were dressed. In less than ten minutes they appeared, clothed and in their right minds, though a trifle pallid, tremulous, and distraught. The second officer met them with the assurance that there was no cause for alarm, and they thanked him as cordially as if they had had no previous information. The life-boats were now returning, having picked up all the survivors from the wrecked vessel, and the passengers leaned out over the bulwarks in their eagerness to catch a glimpse of the rescued men. It took a good while before the boats could heave alongside, and then fully fifteen minutes of shouting and swearing before anyone mounted the gangway-ladder. Then seven men, all except two in their night-clothes, came crawling up the steps, dripping wet and shivering with cold. Presently the machinery of the Transylvania began to rumble experimentally; the screw resumed its grateful throbbing, and the big ship ploughed its westward way under a full head of steam.
Never had Pemberton been more exuberantly happy than he was that night, groping his way through the populous dusk with Polly clinging so trustfully to his arm; Valeria, with rare intelligence, had excused herself, and was promenading with one of the Yale youths, who talked sport and boasted of his noble score from the foot-ball field. Polly and Pemberton viewed them with benevolent superiority. There was a sort of glorious, snug privacy in their own relation, and they were so blissfully indifferent to all the cackling crowd that surged to and fro, noisily discussing the catastrophe. They seemed so close to each other; and so complete was their mutual understanding that speech seemed superfluous. He knew, of course, that unless she chose to regard it in the same light, this community of intimate experiences gave him no claim upon her which he could confidently assert, but he felt in the very pressure of her hand upon his arm a vague assurance that she did so regard it, that she saw in the hints of destiny the same happy augury that shed its glamour over his future.
They were in the midst of a murmured monosyllabic conversation, and Pemberton was proclaiming himself thrice blessed in having so sweet a face to gaze upon, though only intermittingly, as they passed a chance lantern or illuminated doorway. He had to combat all sorts of affectionate impulses which rose imperiously within him, and, truth to tell, Polly, possessed by the same uncontrollable mood, did not seem to be at pains to second his laudable endeavors. For there was a cooing softness in her speech, which was simply distracting, and a warm radiance in her glances which neither fog nor darkness could obscure. They were just hovering on the verge of tender avowals when they were abruptly confronted by the second officer, who seized Pemberton by the lapel of his coat and asked him if he understood Italian.
"The fact is, he said," the skipper of the bark we ran down—it was the Vittorio Emanuele of Palermo—is in the captain's cabin, and he is going on like mad, cursing and howling, and none of us can understand a word of what he is saying. The captain demands a sworn declaration of him as to exactly what happened, and how the accident occurred, before he has time to concoct a story and confer with his mate. It is therefore of the utmost importance to find two passengers who understand Italian, who can act as witnesses and interpreters."
Pemberton, being thus ruthlessly buttonholed, was in the plight of the Wedding Guest in "The Ancient Mariner," "who could not choose but hear." He gave himself up to reluctant meditation. He could not deny that he understood Italian and he therefore had to admit it.
"But where are you going to get your second witness?" he asked, dimly hoping that a second witness might not be found.
"Perhaps—perhaps—the lady there is competent," cautiously suggested the officer.
And to Pemberton's amazement Polly chirruped, with the greatest promptitude:
"Yes; I am at your service."
"You speak Italian?"
"Yes. I've spent two winters in Rome; I speak it quite fluently."
The captain's cabin was magnificently upholstered and decorated with marine charts, telescopes in leather cases, compasses, and other instruments. Upon his desk stood framed photographs of his wife and children. It was but fitting that the commander of so large a ship should be a large man. His blond, slightly puffed, and weather-beaten face had something of the heaviness of that of a St. Bernard dog; while the swarthy, wild-eyed Italian, who stood opposite to him, was lean, wiry, and savagely alert like a tiger-cat. The captain rose with cumbrous marine gallantry as Polly entered, offered his chair to her, and gave Pemberton a seat at his side on the sofa. The Italian skipper, who had thrown a borrowed military cloak over his wet underclothes, stood gnashing his teeth and glaring suspiciously at everyone who entered. The second officer seated himself at Polly's side at the desk, apologized for incommoding her, and seizing a pen nodded to the captain.
"What is your name?" asked the latter, addressing the skipper.
Pemberton repeated the question in Italian, and received in reply a torrent of angry expostulations, which he did not translate. After a conciliatory colloquy of five minutes he was able to report that his name was Eltore Cherubino.
A number of questions were asked, each of which seemed to arouse the wrath of the excitable Italian, and Pemberton had need of all his diplomacy to pacify him and elicit intelligible replies. He ventured to suggest to the German captain that he permit the unfortunate man to put on dry clothes before proceeding with the investigation, and he offered to lend him what he needed from his wardrobe. But he received a curt refusal.
"If he will answer my questions plainly, I will be done with him in five minutes," the Teuton declared; "and will myself supply clothes both to him and his men. I have a great responsibility to bear; there will be a trial in New York, and I will not give him time to invent a false but plausible story."
The interrogation was accordingly continued. It turned largely upon the question whether the sunken vessel had complied with the marine regulations with regard to lanterns and other precautions against accident. The Sicilian stoutly maintained that he had; but on cross-examination, he was tripped up, contradicted himself, and grew terribly excited.
"You ran me down," be cried, shaking a threatening forefinger in the direction of his antagonist. "I saw your big ship loom out of the fog and bear right down upon me. I commanded hard a-port, and I would have slipped by under your stern, when you turned hard a starboard and cut my ship in two."
"I had no choice," the German captain replied, sternly. "You would not have slipped by under our stern, but you would have struck us squarely a little below midships; and I could not take the risk of that. I have fifteen hundred human lives on board; you had seven-teen. I did run you down; because if I had not, you would have run me down."
Pemberton found it very hard work to translate this ferocious candor into the soft vowels and liquid consonants of Boccaccio's speech. The perspiration burst out upon his brow, and he halted repeatedly as he watched the effect of each word upon the fiery southerner. To his surprise, when he came to the comparison between the seventeen and the fifteen hundred lives, the Italian flung himself across a chair and burst into passionate weeping.
"Ah, Gioconda mia," he cried, with piteous sobs; "carissima! E morta, nel onda frigida. Oime oime! Poverella mia!"
Pemberton, while he tried to comfort the poor man, could not but feel a trifle awkward. Gioconda was his wife, it appeared, and she was making her first voyage with him from Messina to New York, when the disaster occurred.
Polly was so moved by the wildly melodious lamentations that she was unable to restrain her tears, and let them course freely down her cheeks. To Pemberton this ready sympathy was so beautiful and shed such a lovely light upon Polly's character, that he became half unnerved and was not indisposed to drop a few tears of his own upon the memory of the dead Gioconda. The captain sat square and explosive, with a little spark of irritation smouldering in his eye, waiting for this emotional interlude to come to an end. Cherubino who, in spite of the violence of his grief, perceived that the situation had changed in his favor, half rose from the chair upon which he had been lying, and appealing with an eloquent gesture to Pemberton, burst forth:
"You have a heart, signore! I see by your face that you have a heart. How would you feel, if your own beautiful wife there were drifting about, dead, among the horrible sharks, that will devour her lovely body?"
Pemberton made a prompt effort to stop him; but, heeding no interruption, he continued, vehemently:
"You love your beautiful wife! So did I love mine. She was only twenty-two years old. I see your sweet lady shedding tears for my sake——"
"Stop," cried Pemberton, putting his hand upon his arm; "no more of that! If you have finished the examination," he continued, addressing the captain, "will your secretary kindly read the declaration, and Miss Stanton and I will both affix our signatures?"
He glanced at Polly while he spoke, and saw the blood mount to her cheeks, until her face and neck were suffused with the deepest scarlet. Her eyes, in their effort to avoid his, were roaming about the room, and at last were fixed in painful confusion upon the floor. He was troubled and grieved, yet he could do nothing to relieve her embarrassment. It was a shock to him, to observe how she writhed under the imputation of being his wife. He had fancied that there was an understanding between them—that she had met his advances, not unkindly. But perhaps he was mistaken, she might have regarded him in the light of a passing acquaintance, and indulged in a little steamboat flirtation for her own amusement.
Cherubino, dumfounded by the peremptoriness of Pemberton's tone, lapsed into a moody silence, and stood glowering at the captain as if he would like to spring at his throat. The minutes were read and found to be correct, and the signatures were attached, testifying to the accuracy of the translation.
When the two witnesses, after having been thanked for their services, stepped out into the passageway, the sky was clear and the stars shimmered brightly upon the vast nocturnal vault. Except the officer on the bridge and the look-out in the mast, not a soul was to be seen. The passengers had flocked to the saloon, where an improvised meal was being served, and the promenade deck was deserted. There was something festal and solemn in the stillness. The pulsation of the machinery was like the beating of a great heart, that was felt rather than heard. It pervaded but did not break the silence. Grand, inexpressibly grand, seemed the huge ship, as it glided through the night, with its strong and steady motion, a little world by itself, carrying so precious a cargo of human lives with their hates and loves, indolence and ambition, aspiration and despair.
It was long before Pemberton could find speech for the emotions which throbbed within him. He had resolved to postpone his proposal until he had made the acquaintance of Polly's family, and could in due form apply to her father for her hand. But now the feeling was forced upon him that he should, in that case, lose her altogether. He must speak now, or the chance would never be his again. He was quivering in every nerve with the sense of what the Italian skipper had been saying. Polly, strange to say, was no less agitated than he, but the blush upon her cheek, which the clear dusk could not hide, was not yet free from embarrassment. The strong and bracing air and the vastness of the sky above calmed and soothed her. She was walking at his side with downcast eyes all aglow with the delicious sense of loving and being loved. She was in no haste to precipitate the declaration. There was something in the unspoken assurance which was so delightful that she would have liked to hold it fast, linger over it—extort its last drop of sweetness.
The watch on the forecastle rang four bells, and a voice somewhere above them chanted: "All is well."
Lovers will catch at a straw. That melodious voice out of the night seemed to Pemberton a good omen.
"Miss Stanton," he said, placing himself squarely in front of her, "it is no use denying it. I am in collusion with Fate. You cannot escape me."
I do not know what Polly answered; nor am I sure that she answered at all.
"That kiss which I—I mean—which you but placed sealed my fate—and -I hope yours. Polly, from that moment until this, I have only had one wish and that is that you loved me as much as I love you."
"How much is that?" Polly was tempted to ask; but the spirit of mischief was swept away by a stronger emotion. Her face, as it was turned up to him, with its parted lips and the gentle glow in the dilated eyes, looked ineffably sweet. He seized it between his hands and kissed her. A little shiver shook her frame. Her breath seemed to come and go tremulously between her lips.
"I knew it had to come," she murmured, as he drew her softly into his arms. "I knew it from the first moment! It was all on account of that mistake," she added, with comical perplexity, as they sauntered toward the entrance to the saloon. "I knew it would be no use trying to correct it."
"It is vain to kick against Fate," Pemberton responded, with a happy laugh. "I verily believe that the collision, the fainting fit, and the Italian skipper's blunder were all incidents of the same conspiracy which has given me the loveliest girl in the world to have and to hold forevermore."
"I beg your pardon," Polly interposed, with a menacing light in her eves.
"The fainting fit——"
"Oh! I beg yours a thousand times. I meant—the wounded foot."
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