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THE DUFFER.

BY FRANK H. SPEARMAN.

How the duffer of the Glen Ellyn golf links surprised the hero of the Grand Cañon and blocked the veteran of La Salle Street.


I.

WHEN they drove up past the lodge the rambling gables of the long club house hung somber and heavy among the pines on the slope of the hill; but the scene was a pretty one, for behind it the moon was rising full and into a cloudless sky. From the window openings light shot in bright patches across the broad verandas; the blaze and the shadow revealed, partly by suggestion, the lively groups through which slender, white capped maids picked their way.

Supper parties chatted and laughed around the porch tables, and young men in smart ties and peaked caps hung around the big porch columns, pulling gravely at briar pipes, or wandered in and out of the open doors.

Young women well up in diplomacy, and girls but peeping from their shells, strolled arm in arm across the lawn.

The scarlet coats of the men and the white of the women's skirts dashed the foreground sharply with color; laughter lightened the heavy gloom of the pines, and from under the oaks music came like incense. Dancers already wove changing silhouettes against the canvas walls of the pavilion.

They were so many. To watch the young people disappearing around shadowy corners wakened envy; their voices, echoing, brought a regret; so vast a happiness—and passing unshared.

Good natured banter and lively sallies; pretentious wit and irreverent retorts; tales cut by the clink of china; questions answered by the jingle of glass; through and over all the heavy hum of voices, fresh yet with enthusiasm, but already tempered by repression. It was Saturday night on the golf links at Glen Ellyn.

"Very, very attractive. I feared last night it could not possibly stand the test of sunrise. Daylight is such a cruel test," sighed Mrs. Van Der Hyde. "Does General Florence spend much time here, Bob?"

"He's been here 'most all the time since Blanche Bryson began playing."

"Isn't that Blanche over there now?" asked Mrs. Van Der Hyde, as she raised her lorgnette. "Yes; who's that with her?"

"That's Garrett Byrnham, the English crack. Say, auntie, he's a marvel; you should see him drive," young Capelle went on enthusiastically. "He gets his back right into the ball——"

"What sort of a game does Blanche play?"

"She's only just learning; Byrnham's coaching her."

"Oh, indeed!"

"Why?"

"I was wondering whether he might not pull off the heiress, don't you know."

"But everybody says she's going to marry General Florence."

Mrs. Van Der Hyde started; possibly it was a rheumatic twinge.

"Is he so devoted?"

"After her continually. There he goes now, the minute she gets away from Byrnham. See?"

On the lawn General Florence was just presenting his nephew.

"Most assuredly," Miss Bryson was saying; "it was the year of the World's Fair. I remember you well."

She spoke with a gratifying cordiality, recalling Jim Macalester by the fact that he was so stupid the evening he sat next her at dinner.

"Of course you play, Mr. Macalester?"

"Frankly, I never heard of the game until yesterday."

"Marvelous!"

"He's just out of the Black Hills," explained the general. "By the bye, do you know we have a round this morning? I give you three holes."

"Only three?" complained Miss Bryson; but she was not really thinking about the handicap. She was trying to recollect whether this weather beaten fellow had ever told her how he got the dreadful scar across his nose.

"If you're just from the Black Hills, you must tell me all about them," she added.

"You know they're really not black at all——"

"Oh, but I don't know! Pray don't assume I know anything. Did General Florence tell me you were a civil engineer?"

"I did," interposed the general. "And I tell you now that if we don't get off, we'll not be back for luncheon."

Miss Bryson smiled resignedly, and after they drove off Jim strolled back to the porch.

Luncheon was being served under the trees when the general brought Blanche in; but the activity which marked her approach was an incense. Not alone General Florence and Garrett Byrnham—George Fowler, Markham, the Maxwell boys, even Fred Bordele, all seemed galvanized together.

With a smile for every one, and especially for the mothers and the chaperons of the other girls, Miss Bryson nodded here and questioned there. She permitted Markham to supply a chair while General Florence brought a fan, and then she turned to hear George Fowler's latest golf story while Byrnham took away her cleekie for a little truing.

As he walked away, Miss Bryson told her nearest girl friends how much one round with Mr. Byrnham would do for them—knowing that they sorely envied her a distinction which was rarely accorded to them—and in the same breath she contrived to thank Fred Bordele for an apollinaris lemonade, and Bud Maxwell for an imported putter which she had just used for the first time—all with that delicate sense of proportion which left her creditors debtors still.

Her growing admiration for Byrnham disquieted General Florence.

"Jim, I've got to be on La Salle Street most of the time for the next few weeks," he said to his nephew one night, "and I just wish you'd use your kind offices while you're out here to keep that squirt Byrnham away from Blanche Bryson. We're not exactly engaged, you know, but we expect to be—see? I can't run a campaign in grangers and watch things here at the same time. Just see they don't sell me out, Jim, will you?"

"She seems to like Byrnham."

"Hanged if I can see anything much to the fellow!"

"Suppose you let me run the stock deal, and then you can look after this end of your business yourself."

"I can't—yet," declared the general. "Things don't look just right. This cussed Cuban business, Jim," he added moodily. "I've half a mind to go short on Missouri Pacific—just for a flier."

Anything like anxiety concerning Byrnham was directly reflected in the general's estimate of the business situation. He manifested periodically an insane impulse to go short on something; it didn't matter much what.

"Don't sell anything short this year, uncle."

"Confound it, Jim, don't call me uncle," protested the general tartly.

"I beg your pardon."

"See for yourself I'm getting bald."

"Nonsense! You look younger than I do this minute."

"Don't call me uncle, anyhow."

"And don't you go short on M. P."

 

II.

After many failures, Jim caught Miss Bryson early one morning on the porch.

"Go round with me?" repeated Blanche, touched by his persistence after many rebuffs. "Why, of course. But I thought you didn't play."

"I'm trying to pick up something of the game."

"In that case a round with Mr. Byrnham——"

"But I don't know him."

"Impossible! Why, I'll present you now. Oh, Mr. Byrnham!" she called, as the man in question came from the breakfast room.

"Miss Bryson, do you want to get rid of me?" Jim blurted in desperation.

"Mr. Macalester! The idea! Mr. Byrnham, my friend, Mr. Macalester. I want you to help him some time, will you? I'm just going to take him around."

"You couldn't be in better hands, sir," said Byrnham, bowing and smiling. "Be glad to take you out any time, Mr. Macintosh."

"Thank you," said Jim, as Byrnham passed on. "I was afraid you were going to shake me," he continued, turning to Miss Bryson with a grateful air.

"Impossible!"

"I'd hate to have him laugh at me while I'm blundering," Jim went on, ignoring her fling.

"Oh, is that it? You shouldn't try golf if you mind being laughed at. I shall laugh at you all I please."

"I don't mind you."

"Don't you, indeed?"

"I mean, I don't mind your laughing."

"It would make no difference if you did."

Jim very soon saw that it would not. When they reached the pond she was bordering on a helpless condition.

"We'll never get around," she exclaimed, sitting down on a velvety slope to rest. "Send the caddies back, do. You are quite hopeless. Sit down here, and tell me about the West. Do you know, I get so stupid meeting the same people all the time, with the same stories and the same airs! I'm starving for something new."

"You once told me you wanted to hear something about the Black Hills."

"The Black Hills? Oh, yes!"

"Well, what was it?"

"Mercy! I don't remember. What did I want to hear? Why, anything at all that's exciting, I suppose."

Jim looked rather at a loss. "I hardly know," he began——

"But what did you do out there?"

"Engineering."

"Was there anything at all maddening about that?"

"Why, no; not to speak of."

"What about Indians? You must have seen Indians, you know."

"On the contrary, they were total strangers to me."

She looked at him as if she thought that presumptuous.

"I heard you were shockingly wounded in an Indian fight," she next declared, looking audaciously at his battered nose.

"No; I never had a word with an Indian in my life. Who told you that?"

"I don't remember. Getting warm, isn't it?" smiled Miss Bryson resignedly. "Let's go back."

He had bored her, and to pay him she gave him a shot as they walked along.

"Mr. Byrnham's so interesting! He's been everywhere—all over the West. The other day he was telling me of a most dreadful adventure in the Grand Cañon of the Colorado. It's a perfectly hideous place."

"So I've heard."

"Mr. Byrnham is the only white man who ever got through the Grand Cañon."

"Is he, indeed?"

"I am told so," she replied, with a shade of annoyance at his tone. "Why, did you ever know of anybody who did?"

"Doubtless there was but one," he answered, after a pause. "If there were two—but that's unlikely. Still, it would be interesting if they should ever meet."

It was the only promising thing she had heard the man say. Unluckily, before she could follow up the clue, a madcap party of the very young set broke in on them. The next day General Florence arrived, and Mr. Macalester took his place on La Salle Street.

It was time. Byrnham was playing such golf as had never been seen on Glen Ellyn. The smart set was wild about him. The day he brought in seventy seven on medal play the excitement was unprecedented; and while the golf world wondered Bob Capelle, reinforced by Mrs. Van Der Hyde's check book, announced a swell dinner in Byrnham's honor.

The affair was planned to eclipse all previous efforts of the club—and in important respects it did.

On the day of the function General Florence began wiring Jim, who was in town, to sell out his line; but his nephew, instead of obeying, ran out to the golf grounds to ascertain whether his uncle showed any additional signs of paresis. He not only braced the veteran up, but induced him to attend Capelle's dinner.

General Florence found himself next Mrs. Van Der Hyde; Jim was opposite, under the wing of Gertrude Servallis. Byrnham sat at Bob's right, and next him Miss Bryson glowed in her simple youth and her really adorable organdie.

"I'm ever so glad to see you back, Mr. Macalester," she exclaimed. "Do you know, there's something I've been wanting ever so long to ask you, and now I can't recall what it is. Isn't that stupid?" But Miss Bryson drawled the word "stupid" so deliciously that a man must have been crabbed indeed to dispute her. Laughing, she told Mr. Byrnham what a dear, conscientious "duffer" her friend Mr. Macalester was, and again asked the great golfer if he would not take him around some time—this, because the suggestion was plainly unpalatable to both.

As the courses were served, each table seemed jollier than the others; by the time the coffee was brought on men loved their worst enemies and women their best friends.

"Did you know, general," Mrs. Van Der Hyde said, "that Mr. Byrnham has been a great wanderer as well as a great student of golf? Yes, he's had the most remarkable adventures—and many of them in the West. I understand that he is really the only white man who has ever gotten through the Grand Cañon of the Colorado. What? Oh, you are so skeptical!"

"Not about his ever getting through—only about his ever getting through talking about it."

"General Florence! Shocking! But wait, you shall hear;" and catching Byrnham's attention Mrs. Van insisted on the story.

"But really, Mrs. Van Der Hyde," protested Byrnham, "that's a gruesome sort of a story for a dinner, don't you know."

"Oh, Mr. Byrnham," cried Miss Bryson, with sudden animation, as if something important had at that instant flashed over her, "you must tell it; you must. Tell us the Grand Cañon adventure." Then, with a gratified smile, she looked quickly at Mr. Macalester.

"By all means," said Jim quietly, returning her look. Byrnham, perceiving that there was no escape, was already beginning.

"Possibly you remember, general," he said, "something of an attempt to run a railroad line down the Colorado River some ten years ago."

General Florence's response could scarcely be termed more than a grunt.

"It was a preliminary survey," went on Byrnham. "Seven of us started. Six of the poor fellows are down there yet. From the very beginning it was a hard luck story."

"I beg your pardon," said Jim, leaning forward; "but what party were you with, sir?"

"There never was but one party. Only one corps of engineers ever attempted the Grand Cañon."

"That was Bush's."

"Bush was a member," said Byrnham, looking patiently at his interrupter.

"Oh, tell us the exciting parts of it!" demanded Miss Bryson peremptorily. "We don't care whose party it was."

"It was all stirring," smiled Byrnham, unruffled; "but the wind up was really lively. There was a stretch there called the Apache Needles—rather a bad gorge for a couple of miles. The river's full of wells. Wells in a river? Most certainly; curious sort of holes scooped out of the rock bottom by the screw of the whirlpools. Odd, isn't it? Twenty feet deep. Gives one a fair idea of the absolutely terrific force of the water—the current, don't you know.

"We started with a tremendous outfit; but we lost a man in the water the first day. It was always a boat upset, or a bottom staved on the rocks, and a mixture of condensed milk and self registering thermometers and corned beef playing tag half a mile along the river. Positively we left enough scientific apparatus in that infernal cañon to equip a technological institute.

"Three of us reached the Needles alive—that was all. We had a sort of boat left—patched like a pair of caddie's breeches. Food? We'd been living on bullets and collar buttons for a week.

"But those Needles—they jut out of the water like shark's teeth, only thicker, and the water boils as if hellfire had a lick at it. Those Needles must be threaded or we must lie there till the buzzards gave us a lift up into the open—in instalments. There isn't a pass for fifty miles: the walls are sheer and seven thousand feet high.

"As I said, there were three of us. Oddly enough, one was the cook—he survived because his duties were so light, I guess. The other fellow was a peaked Colorado boy we called Mac. I remember him because he got so thin he used to say he couldn't tell a stomach ache from a back ache.

"Well, after we'd starved there a couple of days, I told the fellows to sew up the canoe with what was left of our boots, and try the Needles. There was a better chance for two than three in the cockle—better for one than two. It meant starvation to stay, and I counted it salvation sure to go. But after dining on leather belts for a week, a man is not hard to persuade. They didn't seem to want to leave me. I didn't argue at all—thought the water route quicker than the buzzard route, you see, and not so infernally dry, either, don't you know? So off we pushed.

"I had the leg of a theodolite tripod to sort of jolly the Needles with. We shot out like water bugs, and swung around rocks like hornpipe dancers. Every once in a while we would slide into eddies; they played with us as you would a trout. Half the time the confounded boat was on top. Then suddenly up jumped the cook with a scream to make you think of a madhouse, and took a header plump into the water. Then we played leapfrog with rocks as sharp as razors. 'Twas only half the trick to keep out of the water; the other half was to keep out of the air. All at once up went the bow! Ever had a horse rear on you, Bob? Exactly; that's the feeling—if you can fancy him spinning round on his hind legs with you, like a teetotum. We had struck a well—and a corker—and down we went in the suck, stern first."

Byrnham paused and moistened his lips.

"I parted with the remains of the tripod at that particular spot. The boy? The last I saw of the boy he was standing on his head about a hundred feet up in the air."

"But how did you ever get out?" cried Gertrude Servallis.

"I hardly know. Those wells—they suck you down and down and down. Then they spew; and up, up, up you go. I have no idea how long I spun in it; but I remember shooting down the gorge like a sliver. Sink? You couldn't sink a bag of shot in those rapids. When I came to I was lying on a sand bar with an Apache squaw trying to coax this ring off my finger. Luckily I had one pistol left. I argued the point till she gave me a bite—that's all. It's a deuced wet story—but dry telling."

Bob Capelle spoke first. "Show them that pistol, Garrett."

Byrnham drew from his pocket a revolver. The handle was of dark wood curiously chased in silver.

"Observe the chasing. Miss Bryson," said Byrnham. "There was only one other in the world just like it—and that's at the bottom of the Grand Cañon."

"Would you mind letting me see that?" said Jim Macalester, leaning forward.

With something of forbearance Byrnham passed the pistol over. It was hardly in Macalester's hands before he had it down. Part by part he devoured it; then he dexterously assembled the weapon and passed it back to Byrnham.

"So you lost the mate?" he asked.

"As I have related," replied Byrnham. "By the way, Miss Bryson——"

"No," exclaimed Jim bluntly; "not as you have related. There's the mate." So saying he drew from his pocket the very double of the revolver by Byrnham's plate.

The face of the golfer set. The mildly sated diners stirred with curiosity. Byrnham put out his hand mechanically, as if to reach the pistol in front of Macalester; but Jim's fingers slipped over the handle like a glove.

"Let me see it," said Byrnham coolly.

"Not that end of it," replied Jim quietly, but his voice was hard. "You have implied that you are an Englishman," he continued. "I know something of Englishmen. I have slept and eaten and starved with them. You an Englishman?" he exclaimed, with rage struggling in his tone. "You are an impostor!"

Byrnham started.

"Jim!" cried General Florence in dismay.

"Sit down, sir;" and General Florence did sit down. Blanche felt her flesh creeping. Her eyes flew from one to the other of the drawn faces before her. Guests at adjoining tables were hitching their chairs around.

"You said that was all. It is not all—nor half. What would these men and women say if they knew, as I know, that the cowardly cook who stole the boat while the engineer and the boy slept on the ledge also stole that pistol?" he cried, pointing to the one by Byrnham's plate. "The man who left his companions in the gorge to starve—and that you are that cook?"

Byrnham sprang to his feet, and reached for his pistol. Then he drew back his hand with an oath, for Macalester was quicker than he. "You're drunk, man," he said.

"You know me, do you?" cried Jim. "Yes, I'm the boy—I am Mac. Dead men do tell tales sometimes, Baxter—coward! thief! cannibal!"

Bob Capelle sprang up trembling. "I protest——" he began, but Macalester, leaning over the table, one bony finger stretched at Byrnham, took the words from his mouth.

"I protest," he cried sharply. "This wretch has told his story; I shall tell mine. Keep back, sir. I want these men and these women to know who it is they have dined here tonight. I want them to know why I carry this scar across my face. You can tell them, Baxter. Show them the butcher knife you cut into Jack Blair with—the knife you stabbed me with because I struck you when you offered me his flesh. You an Englishman?" he stormed in fury. "You an engineer? You are an Australian convict. Show them your brand!

"Take up your gun, you brute. If there's no law here for vermin like you, come into the open and take the law of the Grand Cañon on the thief and the cannibal!" he cried, pushing Baxter's weapon towards him. The women screamed as the adventurer seized it, and Capelle sprang in front of his friend.

"Let him come. Don't hold him; that's what he wants. Get back, will you?" cried Jim, starting around the table. General Florence darting forward, pinned his nephew's arms and besought him to stop, to listen.

"Get that man out!" he exclaimed wildly, as he felt Jim slipping from him. "Get him out, I say, and save bloodshed!"

But men shrank from him as though he were a leper. Perhaps the expression on the faces about him unnerved the adventurer even more than his danger; men waited breathless. Eying Macalester, Baxter moved rapidly toward the door.

"He'll shoot when he reaches the door," Jim said, struggling to free his pistol arm. "I know him, I tell you. Do you want him to murder me? Let me cover him, I say."

With a dexterous twist General Florence got in front of his infuriated nephew and at that instant Baxter slipped out. Clubmen crowded around and stared at Jim's parchment-like face. He spoke in a low tone to Bob Capelle, and watched him leave the room on General Florence's arm. Awe-stricken groups of women discussed in whispers the shocking developments.

Blanche, listening to it all, caught nothing of its meaning, yet stood, looking and listening. She only knew that she had heard the voice of a man, and it rang in her ears; that she had seen a man's eyes, and saw them still. Under her drooping lids she saw them yet—and, shivering deliciously, looked again.

 

III.

Miss Bryson was sitting on the porch, breathing the sweetness of the morning. Jim, leaning against a column at her side, was stammering an apology.

She interrupted him. "You need not apologize to me, Mr. Macalester. I know you would not hurt me. Tell me, how did you escape? How could you?"

"I crept from ledge to ledge of the cañon walls till my knees wore to the bone. I clung to roots with my teeth and dug into rock with the stumps of my fingers—my hands are not very pretty, are they? I crawled where lizards slipped and spiders hung by threads. Up and up and up! God! what won't a man do to live? You couldn't stand it, Miss Bryson, if I told you the whole story. A starving man will eat anything—anything but—— When I recognized that brute—he's a beast, if he is clever—I was wild. To steal our miserable boat, our precious cartridges—one of our pistols——"

"Is he here now?" she asked, almost in a whisper.

"No."

"You fought with him in the cañon?"

He answered evasively.

"You are going away?"

"Yes."

"Then you are going after him."

He looked directly at her, but she met his eyes steadily.

"Wouldn't you go after such a cur?"

"No, I shouldn't; not for worlds. You needn't laugh, Mr. Macalester."

I don't doubt your sincerity."

"Promise me something."

"Gladly."

"Not to follow that man."

"I can't—to be frank."

"Why not?"

"Because I promised poor Stiles that if God ever allowed me to get out of that hole alive I'd kill him."

"Promise me not to leave here for a week. Promise me that, won't you?"

"Don't think I am absolutely bloodthirsty, Miss Bryson. I'd hate to have you hold that opinion of me. I suppose if I stay," he added haltingly, "you'll take me round—once in a while—won't you?"

She rose to her feet, and there was a triumphant ring in her laugh; a conscious queenliness in her stature as she drew herself up—straight and symmetrical as only an American girl can grow. He stole a hungry look at her delicate nostrils and her parted lips.

"Get the clubs this minute," she cried. "But I shall insist on having a handicap, you know!"

The week flew fast and the very last night found her baffled; he would go.

They were sitting in the pavilion watching the dancers.

"You are going, then, tomorrow?" she asked.

"I must. My work is waiting in the Black Hills. But—you don't believe me?"

"How do you read my mind?"

"How do you read mine?"

Neither answered; answers sometimes carry too much.

When he spoke again it was in a lighter vein. When he paused, she repeated, as if the subject were quite new:

"So you are going tomorrow?"

"My work is waiting."

"You are getting a tolerable form."

"And I have my living to earn."

"Couldn't you just as well begin earning your living a week from tomorrow? I mean—would it be very dreadful if you didn't?"

He made no answer. With a flash of audacity she spoke again. "Is that the only reason?" she said.

If she had seen the scar, she would have been frightened, for it was white now.

"Frankly, it is not," he answered.

"I knew it."

"Don't misunderstand me."

"I wish I could."

"Oh, but you do, Miss Bryson."

"Stay another week; then I'll believe that you have given up following him."

"On my honor, I dare not."

"Honor won't comfort you when it's too late."

"God help me, then; nothing else will. Let us get out of here. It is very close."

She looked at her chatelaine. "Yes," she said, "I must go in."

As they walked toward the club house the moon was peering over the pines. The porches rang with the confusion of gaiety. Everything brought back the first night he had ridden into this fairyland.

"I wonder if every poor devil is given an hour in paradise in order to make hell more realistic," he said grimly.

"I don't know. I'm not a philosopher—only a woman."

They were at the porch steps. A caddie handed Jim a telegram. Blanche would have passed on, but, putting his hand under her arm, he walked up with her. The mere contact intoxicated them.

At the foot of the stairs he bowed low, and with a smile and a nod she said good night.

The office was deserted. Throwing himself into a chair, Jim tried to read the despatch. While the words swam around, Mrs. Van Der Hyde bobbed in.

"Oh, Mr. Macalester! Alone?"

He rose.

"You look shockingly forlorn. Going tomorrow? Are you really? Well, what on earth's the matter? Have you proposed?"

"No," he snapped fiercely.

"Where's Blanche?"

"Gone to bed."

"Bed? And it's not one o'clock. Did you have supper?"

He shook his head.

"You are a veritable duffer! Stay here a minute."

"But, Mrs. Van Der Hyde——"

"Stay there, will you?" she said sharply, half way up stairs.

Presently he heard her voice and Blanche's above. "I'm not going to supper alone, so you might as well stop talking," Mrs. Van was declaring. "Why, there's Mr. Macalester," she added naïvely at the office door. "Aren't you hungry, Mr. Macalester?"

Before he could fairly pull himself together, they were in the grill room and Mrs. Van was ordering.

"I don't feel very hungry. I think I'll just take an ice," Jim said feebly to the waiter.

"An ice?" echoed Mrs. Van, with a fine scorn. "An ice? A frost! Bring him a broiled lobster and a claret glass of sherry," she said peremptorily. "Ice fiddlesticks! Child," she said gently to Blanche, "suppose we have ours à la Newburgh—with that special tabasco?"

Her fire was contagious; it thawed a circle, melting care into playfulness and restraint into gaiety. Jim began telling stories—and with a spirit never yet dreamed of. He developed a marvelous dash.

Just how or when the supper ended he never knew. He remembered getting hungry after the lobster, and ordering a rum omelet for himself. In a lucid interval he noted a blue flame leaping from a salver of kirsch peaches in front of Miss Bryson; but Mrs. Van seemed to have disappeared.

"By gad, I like her anyhow," he declared with tremendous emphasis, as he and Blanche strolled out on the lawn. "Has her husband been dead very long, Miss Bryson?"

"Yes, a long time—a very long time," repeated Blanche blandly; "but she only buried him last year."

Already they were beyond the arc lights, and the shadows in front of them were deep.

"Where are you taking me?" she said.

"Where I've been so long myself, Blanche—in the dark. If I dared say that I love you, Blanche, would there be any light for me?"

As they walked slowly on she clung to his arm, but was silent. For an awful instant Jim felt that perhaps it would have been better for him if he had slipped—slipped and fallen headlong among the Apache Needles.

"Mercy!" she cried suddenly, shrinking against him.

"What is it?"

"I stepped on something."

"Perhaps it's my heart," he said gravely, stooping to see what it was.

She restrained him with a lovely petulance. "Don't pick it up!"

"Why?"

"Because—don't you know?—that's where I want—it at my feet."

 

IV.

{{sc|It was past midnight again. On the porch stood a group just out of the supper room. There were two men and two women.

"It was all my fault, uncle," murmured the younger of the women. The older man snorted. "It was all my fault," she purred again. "You must forgive us, mustn't he, Mrs. Van Der Hyde?"

Then she pinched Jim to say something; but the instant Jim tried to, the veteran trumpeted like a war horse.

"It's the damnedest——"

"Oh, uncle!"

"Rascalliest——"

"We are such young things," murmured Blanche, cuddling under the angry arm.

"Most outrageous——"

"I haven't any papa at all," sighed Blanche.

"So you must need make an ass of me," snorted the general.

"No; only of your nephew."

"I see the duffer has me blocked, Mrs. Van," growled the general. "I'm stymie!"

"Maybe a little English, general," suggested Mrs. Van laughingly.

General Florence shook his head.

"No, Mrs. Van; I fancy a little Dutch—patrician, I mean—is my only salvation now."

"Well, you needn't expect to make that sort of a play on a gobble," declared the little lady with spirit. It tickled the general immensely.

"Come, uncle," urged Blanche, seizing the propitious moment, "you must do something, you know. Are you going to embrace us—that is, jointly? Or what are you going to do?"

General Florence hesitated.

"Hanged if I know exactly what to do!" admitted the veteran with some chagrin. "But I'll be everlastingly whipsawed," he exclaimed with a decision which alarmed the duffer until he heard the finish, "if I don't sell Missouri Pacific short tomorrow, any way. I mean—just for a flier. What do you think, Mrs. Van Der Hyde?"

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1937, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.