One Man in a Million by Robert W. Chambers

I

Open quote

Do you desire me to marry him?” asked Miss Castle, quietly.

“Let me finish,” said her uncle. “Jane,” he added, turning on his sister, “if you could avoid sneezing for a few moments, I should be indebted to you.”

Miss Jane Garcide, a sallow lady of forty, who suffered with colds all winter and hay-fever all summer, meekly left the room.

Miss Castle herself leaned on the piano, tearing the pink petals from a half-withered rose, while her guardian, the Hon. John Garcide, finished what he had to say and pulled out his cigar-case with decision.

“I have only to add,” he said, “that James J. Crawford is one man in a million.”

Her youthful adoration of Garcide had changed within a few years to a sweet-tempered indifference. He was aware of this; he was anxious to learn whether the change had also affected her inherited passion for truthfulness.

“Do you remember a promise you once made?” he inquired, lighting his cigar with care.

“Yes,” she said, calmly.

“When was it?”

“On my tenth birthday.”

He looked out of the heavily curtained window.

“Of course you could not be held to such a promise,” he remarked.

“There is no need to hold me to it,” she answered, flushing up.

Her delicate sense of honor amused him; he lay back in his arm-chair, enjoying his cigar.

“It is curious,” he said, “that you cannot recall meeting Mr. Crawford last winter.”

“A girl has an opportunity to forget hundreds of faces after her first season,” she said.

There was another pause; then Garcide went on: “I am going to ask you to marry him.”

Her face paled a trifle; she bent her head in acquiescence. Garcide smiled. It had always been that way with the Castles. Their word, once given, ended all matters. And now Garcide was gratified to learn the value of a promise made by a child of ten.

“I wonder,” said Garcide, plaintively, “why you never open your heart to me, Hilda?”

“I wonder, too,” she said; “my father did.”

Garcide turned his flushed face to the window.

Years before, when the firm of Garcide & Castle went to pieces, Peter Castle stood by the wreck to the end, patching it with his last dollar. But the wreck broke up, and he drifted piteously with the débris until a kindly current carried him into the last harbor of all—the port of human derelicts.

Garcide, however, contrived to cling to some valuable flotsam and paddle into calm water, and anchor.

After a few years he built a handsome house above Fiftieth Street; after a few more years he built a new wing for Saint Berold’s Hospital; and after a few more years he did other things equally edifying, but which, if mentioned, might identify him.

Church work had always interested him. As a speculation in moral obligation, he adopted Peter Castle’s orphan, who turned to him in a passion of gratitude and blind devotion. And as she bade fair to rival her dead mother in beauty, and as rich men marry beauty when it is in the market, the Hon. John Garcide decided to control the child’s future. A promise at ten years is quickly made, but he had never forgotten it, and she could not forget.

And now Garcide needed her as he needed mercy from Ophir Steel, which was slowly crushing his own steel syndicate to powder.

The struggle between Steel Plank and James J. Crawford’s Ophir Steel is historical. The pure love of fighting was in Crawford; he fought Garcide to a standstill and then kicked him, filling Garcide with a mixture of terror and painful admiration.

But sheer luck caught at Garcide’s coat-tails and hung there. Crawford, prowling in the purlieus of society, had seen Miss Castle.

The next day Crawford came into Garcide’s office and accepted a chair with such a humble and uneasy smile that Garcide mistook his conciliatory demeanor and attempted to bully him. But when he found out what Crawford wanted, he nearly fainted in an attempt to conceal his astonishment and delight.

“Do you think I’d buy you off with an innocent child?” he said, lashing himself into a good imitation of an insulted gentleman.

Crawford looked out of the window, then rose and walked towards the door.

“Do you think you can bribe me?” shouted Garcide after him. Crawford hesitated.

“Come back here,” said Garcide, firmly; “I want you to explain yourself.”

“I can’t,” muttered Crawford.

“Well—try, anyway,” said Garcide, more amiably.

And now this was the result of that explanation, at least one of the results; and Miss Castle had promised to wed a gentleman in Ophir Steel named Crawford, at the convenience of the Hon. John Garcide.

The early morning sunshine fell across the rugs in the music-room, filling the gloom with golden lights. It touched a strand of hair on Miss Castle’s bent head.

“You’ll like him,” said Garcide, guiltily.

Her hand hung heavily on the piano keys.

“You have no other man in mind?” he asked.

“No, … no man.”

Garcide chewed the end of his cigar.

“Crawford’s a bashful man. Don’t make it hard for him,” he said.

She swung around on the gilded music-stool, one white hand lying among the ivory keys.

“I shall spare us both,” she said; “I shall tell him that it is settled.”

Garcide rose; she received his caress with composure. He made another grateful peck at her chin.

“Why don’t you take a quiet week or two in the country?” he suggested, cheerfully, “Go up to the Sagamore Club; Jane will go with you. You can have the whole place to yourselves. You always liked nature and—er—all that, eh?”

“Oh yes,” she said, indifferently.

That afternoon the Hon. John Garcide sent a messenger to James J. Crawford with the following letter:

My dear Crawford,—Your manly and straightforward request for permission to address my ward, Miss Castle, has profoundly touched me.

“I have considered the matter, I may say earnestly considered it.

“Honor and the sacred duties of guardianship forbid that I should interfere in any way with my dear child’s happiness if she desires to place it in your keeping. On the other hand, honor and decency prevent me from attempting to influence her to any decision which might prove acceptable to myself.

“I can therefore only grant you the permission you desire to address my ward. The rest lies with a propitious Providence.

“Cordially yours, John Garcide.

“P.S.—My sister, Miss Garcide, and Miss Castle are going to the Sagamore Club to-night. I’ll take you up there whenever you can get away.”

To which came answer by messenger:

Hon. John Garcide:

My dear Garcide,—Can’t go for two weeks. My fool nephew Jim is on his vacation, and I don’t know where he is prowling.
Hastily yours,
“James J. Crawford.

“P. S.—There’s a director’s meeting at three. Come down and we’ll settle all quarrels.”

To this the Hon. John Garcide telegraphed: “All right,” and hurriedly prepared to escort his sister and Miss Castle to the mid-day express for Sagamore Hills.

II

Miss Castle usually rose with the robins, when there were any in the neighborhood. There were plenty on the lawn around the Sagamore Club that dewy June morning, chirping, chirking, trilling, repeating their endless arias from tree and gate-post. And through the outcry of the robins, the dry cackle of the purple grackles, and the cat-bird’s whine floated earthward the melody of the golden orioles.

Miss Castle, fresh from the bath, breakfasted in her own rooms with an appetite that astonished her.

She was a wholesome, fresh-skinned girl, with a superb body, limbs a trifle heavy in the strict classical sense, straight-browed, blue-eyed, and very lovely and Greek.

Pensively she ate her toast, tossing a few crumbs at the robins; pensively she disposed of two eggs, a trout, and all the chocolate, and looked into the pitcher for more cream.

The swelling bird-music only intensified the deep, sweet country silence which brooded just beyond the lawn’s wet limits; she saw the flat river tumbling in the sunlight; she saw the sky over all, its blue mystery untroubled by a cloud.

“I love all that,” she said, dreamily, to her maid behind her. “Never mind my hair now; I want the wind to blow it.”

The happy little winds of June, loitering among the lilacs, heard; and they came and blew her bright hair across her eyes, puff after puff of perfumed balm, and stirred the delicate stuff that clung to her, and she felt their caress on her bare feet.

“I mean to go and wade in that river,” she said to her maid. “Dress me very quickly.”

But when she was dressed the desire for childish things had passed away, and she raised her grave eyes to the reflected eyes in the mirror, studying them in silence.

“After all,” she said, aloud, “I am young enough to have found happiness—if they had let me.… The sunshine is full of it, out-doors.… I could have found it.… I was not meant for men.… Still … it is all in the future yet. I will learn not to be afraid.”

She made a little effort to smile at herself in the mirror, but her courage could not carry her as far as that. So, with a quick, quaint gesture of adieu, she turned and walked rapidly out into the hallway.

Miss Garcide was in bed, sneezing patiently. “I won’t be out for weeks,” said the poor lady, “so you will have to amuse yourself alone.”

Miss Castle kissed her and went away lightly down the polished stairs to the great hall.

The steward came up to wish her good-morning, and to place the resources of the club at her disposal.

“I don’t know,” she said, hesitating at the veranda door; “I think a sun-bath is all I care for. You may hang a hammock under the maples, if you will. I suppose,” she added, “that I am quite alone at the club?”

“One gentleman arrived this morning,” said the steward—“Mr. Crawford.”

She looked back, poised lightly in the doorway through which the morning sunshine poured. All the color had left her face. “Mr. Crawford,” she said, in a dull voice.

“He has gone out after trout,” continued the steward, briskly; “he is a rare rod, ma’am, is Mr. Crawford. He caught the eight-pound fish—perhaps you noticed it on the panel in the billiard-room.”

Miss Castle came into the hall again, and stepped over to the register. Under her signature, “Miss Castle and maid,” she saw “J. Crawford, New York.” The ink was still blue and faint.

She turned and walked out into the sunshine.

The future was no longer a gray, menacing future; it had become suddenly the terrifying present, and its shadow fell sharply around her in the sunshine.

Now all the courage of her race must be summoned, and must respond to the summons. The end of all was at hand; but when had a Castle ever flinched at the face of fate under any mask?

She raised her resolute head; her eyes matched the sky—clear, unclouded, fathomless.

In hours of deep distress the sound of her own voice had always helped her to endure; and now, as she walked across the lawn bareheaded, she told herself not to grieve over a just debt to be paid, not to quail because life held for her nothing of what she had dreamed.

If there was a tremor now and then in her low voice, none but the robins heard it; if she lay flung face downward in the grasses, under the screen of alders by the water, there was no one but the striped chipmunk to jeer and mock.

“Now listen, you silly girl,” she whispered; “he cannot take away the sky and the sunshine from you! He cannot blind and deafen you, silly! Cry if you must, you little coward!—you will marry him all the same.”

Suddenly sitting up, alert, she heard something singing. It was the river flowing close beside her.

She pushed away the screen of leaves and stretched out full length, looking down into the water.

A trout lay there; his eyes were shining with an opal tint, his scarlet spots blazed like jewels.

And as she lay there, her bright hair tumbled about her face, she heard, above the river’s monotone, a sharp, whiplike sound—swis-s-sh—and a silvery thread flashed out across her vision. It was a fishing-line and leader, and the fisherman who had cast it was standing fifty feet away up-stream, hip-deep in the sunlit water.

Swish! swish! and the long line flew back, straightened far behind him, and again lengthened out, the single yellow-and-gilt fly settling on the water just above the motionless trout, who simply backed off down-stream.

But there were further troubles for the optimistic angler; a tough alder stem, just under water, became entangled in the line; the fisherman gave a cautious jerk; the hook sank into the water-soaked wood, buried to the barb.

“Oh, the deuce!” said the fisherman, calmly.

Before she could realize what he was about, he had waded across the shallows and seized the alder branch. A dash of water showered her as he shook the hook free; she stood up with an involuntary gasp and met the astonished eyes of the fisherman.

He was a tall, sunburned young fellow, with powerful shoulders and an easy, free-limbed carriage; he was also soaking wet and streaked with mud.

“Upon my word,” he said, “I never saw you! Awf’lly sorry; hope I haven’t spoiled your sport—but I have. You were fishing, of course?”

“No, I was only looking,” she said. “Of course I’ve spoiled your sport.”

“Not at all,” he said, laughing; “that alder twig did for me.”

“But there was a trout lying there—I saw him; and the trout saw me, so of course he wouldn’t rise to your cast. And I’m exceedingly sorry,” she ended, smiling in spite of herself.

Her hair was badly rumpled; she had been crying, and he could see it, but he had never looked upon such tear-stained, smiling, and dishevelled loveliness.

As he looked and marvelled, her smile died out; it came to her with a distinct shock that this water-logged specimen of sun-tanned manhood must be Crawford.

Are you?” she said, scarcely aware that she spoke.

“What?” he asked, puzzled.

“Mr. Crawford?”

“Why, yes—and, of course, you are Miss Castle,” he replied, smiling easily. “I saw your name in the guest-book this morning. Awf’lly glad you came, Miss Castle; hope you’ll let me show you where the big fellows lie.”

“You mean the fish,” she said, with composure.

The shock of suddenly realizing that this man was the man she had to marry confused her; she made an effort to get things back into proper perspective, for the river was swimming before her eyes, and in her ears rang a strangely pleasant voice—Crawford’s—saying all sorts of good-humored things, which she heard but scarcely comprehended.

Instinctively she raised her hands to touch her disordered hair; she stood there naïvely twisting it into shape again, her eyes constantly reverting to the sun-tanned face before her.

“And I have the pleasure of knowing your guardian, Mr. Garcide, very slightly—in a business way,” he was saying, politely.

“Ophir Steel,” she said.

He laughed.

“Oh, we are making a great battle,” he said. “I’m only hoping we may come to an understanding with Mr. Garcide.”

“I thought you had already come to an understanding,” she observed, calmly.

“Have we? I hope so; I had not heard that,” he said, quickly. “How did you hear?”

Without warning she flushed scarlet to her neck; and she was as amazed as he at the surging color staining her white skin.

She could not endure that—she could not face him—so she bent her head a little in recognition of his presence and stepped past him, out along the river-bank.

He looked after her, wondering what he could have said.

She wondered, too, and her wonder grew that instead of self-pity, repugnance, and deep dread, she should feel such a divine relief from the terror that had possessed her.

Now at least she knew the worst. This was the man!

She strove to place him, to recall his face. She could not. All along she had pictured Crawford as an older man. And this broad-shouldered, tanned young fellow was Crawford, after all! Where could her eyes have been? How absurd that her indifference should have so utterly blinded her!

She stood a moment on the lawn, closing her eyes.

Oh, now she had no difficulty in recalling his face—in fact the difficulty was to shut it out, for it was before her eyes, open or shut—it was before her when she entered her bedroom and sank into a cushioned chair by the breezy window. And she took her burning cheeks in both hands and rested her elbows on her knees.

Truly terror had fled. It shamed her to find herself thanking God that her fate was to lie in the keeping of this young man. Yet it was natural, too, for the child had nigh died of horror, though the courage of the Castles had held her head high in the presence of the inevitable. And now suddenly into her gray and hopeless future, peopled by the phantoms of an old man, stepped a living, smiling young fellow, with gentle manners and honest speech, and a quick courtesy which there was no mistaking.

She had no mother—nobody to talk to—so she had long ago made a confidante of her own reflection in the looking-glass. And to the mirror she now went, meeting the reflected eyes shyly, yet smiling with friendly sympathy:

“Silly! to frighten yourself! It is all over now. He’s young and tall and sunburned. I don’t think he knows a great deal—but don’t be frightened, he is not a bit dreadful, … only … it is a pity, … but I suppose he was in love with me, … and, after all, it doesn’t matter, … only I am … sorry … for him.… If he had only cared for a girl who could love him!… I don’t suppose I could, … ever!… But I will be very kind to him, … to make up.”

III

She saw him every day; she dined at the club table now.

Miss Garcide’s hay-fever increased with the ripening summer, and she lay in her room with all the windows closed, sneezing and reading Anthony Trollope.

When Miss Castle told her that Mr. Crawford was a guest at the club, Miss Garcide wept over her for an hour.

“I feel like weeping, too,” said Miss Castle, tremulously—“but not over myself.”

“Dot over hib?” inquired Miss Garcide.

“Yes, over him. He ought to marry a girl who could fall in love with him.”

Meanwhile Crawford was dining every evening with her at the great club table, telling her of the day’s sport, and how a black bear had come splashing across the shallows within a few rods of where he stood fishing, and how the deer had increased, and were even nibbling the succulent green stalks in the kitchen garden after nightfall.

During the day she found herself looking forward to his return and his jolly, spirited stories, always gay and humorous, and never tiresome, technical, nor conceited, although for three years he had held the club cup for the best fish taken on Sagamore water.

She took sun-baths in her hammock; she read novels; she spent hours in reverie, blue eyes skyward, arms under her head, swayed in her hammock by the delicious winds of a perfect June.

All her composure and common-sense had returned. She began to experience a certain feeling of responsibility for Crawford—a feeling almost maternal.

“He’s so amusingly shy about speaking,” she told Miss Garcide; “I suppose he’s anxious and bashful. I think I’ll tell him that it is all arranged. Besides, I promised Mr. Garcide to speak. I don’t see why I don’t; I’m not a bit embarrassed.”

But the days went shining by, and a new week dawned, and Miss Castle had not taken pity upon her tongue-tied lover.

“Oh, this is simply dreadful,” she argued with herself. “Besides, I want to know how soon the man expects to marry me. I’ve a few things to purchase, thank you, and if he thinks a trousseau is thrown together in a day, he’s a—a man!”

That evening she determined to fulfil her promise to Garcide as scrupulously as she kept all her promises.

She wore white at dinner, with a great bunch of wild iris that Crawford had brought her. Towards the end of the dinner she began to be frightened, but it was the instinct of the Castles to fight fear and overcome it.

“I’m going to walk down to the little foot-bridge,” she said, steadily, examining the coffee in her tiny cup; “and if you will stroll down with your pipe, I … I will tell you something.”

“That will be very jolly,” he said. “There’s a full moon; I mean to have a try at a thumping big fish in the pool above.”

She nodded, and he rose and attended her to the door.

Then he lighted a cigar and called for a telegram blank.

This is what he wrote:

James J. Crawford, 318 New Broad Street, N.Y.:
“I am at the Sagamore. When do you want me to return?
James H. Crawford.”

The servant took the bit of yellow paper. Crawford lay back smoking and thinking of trout and forests and blue skies and blue eyes that he should miss very, very soon.

Meanwhile the possessor of the blue eyes was standing on the little foot-bridge that crossed the water below the lawn.

A faint freshness came upward to her from the water, cooling her face. She looked down into that sparkling dusk which hangs over woodland rivers, and she saw the ripples, all silvered, flowing under the moon, and the wild-cherry blossoms trembling and quivering with the gray wings of moths.

“Surely,” she said, aloud—“surely there is something in the world besides men. I love this—all of it! I do indeed. I could find happiness here; I do not think I was made for men.”

For a long while she stood, bending down towards the water, her whole body saturated with the perfume from the fringed milkweed. Then she raised her delicate nose a trifle, sniffing at the air, which suddenly became faintly spiced with tobacco smoke.

Where did the smoke come from? She turned instinctively. On a rock up-stream stood young Crawford, smoking peacefully, and casting a white fly into the dusky water. Swish! the silk line whistled out into the dusk.

After a few moments’ casting, she saw him step ashore and saunter towards the bridge, where she was standing; then his step jarred the structure and he came up, cap in one hand, rod in the other.

“I thought perhaps you might like to try a cast,” he said, pleasantly. “There’s a good-sized fish in the pool above; I raised him twice. He’ll scale close to five pounds, I fancy.”

“Thank you,” said Miss Castle; “that is very generous of you, because you are deliberately sacrificing the club loving-cup if I catch that fish.”

He said, laughing: “I’ve held the cup before. Try it, Miss Castle; that is a five-pound fish, and the record this spring is four and a half.”

She took the rod; he went first and she held out her hand so that he could steady her across the stones and out into the dusk.

“My skirts are soaked with the dew, anyway,” she said. “I don’t mind a wetting.”

He unslung his landing-net and waited ready; she sent the line whirling into the darkness.

“To the right,” he said.

For ten minutes she stood there casting in silence. Once a splash in the shadows set his nerves quivering, but it was only a muskrat.

“By-the-way,” she said, quietly, over her shoulder, “I know why you and I have met here.”

And as Crawford said nothing she reeled in her line, and held out her hand to him as a signal that she wished to come ashore.

He aided her, taking the rod and guiding her carefully across the dusky stepping-stones to the bank.

She shook out her damp skirts, then raised her face, which had grown a trifle pale.

“I will marry you, Mr. Crawford,” she said, bravely,—“and I hope you will make me love you. Mr. Garcide wishes it.… I understand … that you wish it. You must not feel embarrassed, … nor let me feel embarrassed. Come and talk it over. Shall we?”

There was a rustic seat on the river-bank; she sat down in one corner.

His face was in shadow; he had dropped his rod and landing-net abruptly. And now he took an uncertain step towards her and sat down at her side.

“I want you to make me love you,” she said, frankly; “I hope you will; I shall do all I can to help you. But—unless I do—will you remember that?—I do not love you.” As he was silent, she went on: “Take me as a comrade; I will go where you wish. I am really a good comrade; I can do what men do. You shall see! It will be pleasant, I think.”

After a little while he spoke in a low voice which was not perfectly steady: “Miss Castle, I am going to tell you something which you must know. I do not believe that Mr. Garcide has authorized me to offer myself to you.”

“He told me that he desired it,” she said. “That is why he brought us together. And he also said,” she added, hastily, “that you were somewhat bashful. So I thought it best to make it easy for us both. I hope I have.”

Crawford sat motionless for a long while. At last he passed his hands over his eyes, leaning forward and looking into her face.

“I’ve simply got to be honest with you,” he said; “I know there is a mistake.”

“No, there is no mistake,” she said, bending her head and looking him in the eyes—“unless you have made the mistake—unless,” she said, quickly—“you do not want me.”

“Want you!” he stammered, catching fire of a sudden—“want you, you beautiful child! I love you if ever man loved on earth! Want you?” His hand fell heavily on hers, and closed. For an instant their palms lay close together; her heart almost stopped; then a swift flame flew to her face and she struggled to withdraw her fingers twisted in his.

“You must not do that,” she said, breathlessly. “I do not love you—I warned you!”

He said: “You must love me! Can’t you understand? You made me love you—you made me! Listen to me—it is all a mistake—but it is too late now. I did not dare even think of you—I have simply got to tell you the truth—I did not dare think of you—I must say it—and I can’t understand how I could ever have seen you and not loved you. But when you spoke—when I touched you—”

“Please, please,” she said, faintly, “let me go! It is not a mistake; I—I am glad that you love me; I will try to love you. I want to—I believe I can—”

“You must!”

“Yes, … I will.… Please let me go!”

Breathless and crimson, she fell back into her corner, staring at him. He dropped his arm on the back of the rustic seat.

Presently he laughed uncertainly, and struck his forehead with his open hand.

“It’s a mistake,” he said; “and if it is a mistake, Heaven help the other man!”

She watched him with curious dismay. Never could she have believed that the touch of a man’s hand could thrill her; never had she imagined that the words of a man could set her heart leaping to meet his stammered vows. A new shame set her very limbs quaking as she strove to rise. The distress in her eyes, the new fear, the pitiful shyness, called to him for mercy.

For a miracle he understood the mute appeal, and he took her hand in his quietly and bade her good-night, saying he would stay and smoke awhile.

“Good-night,” she said; “I am really tired. I would rather you stayed here. Do you mind?”

“No,” he said.

“Then I shall go back alone.”

He watched her across the lawn. When she had gone half-way, she looked back and saw him standing there in the moonlight.

And that night, as her little silver hand-glass reflected her brilliant cheeks, she veiled her face in her bright hair and knelt down by her bedside.

But all she could say was, “I love him—truly I love him!” which was one kind of prayer, after all.

IV

A deep, sweet happiness awoke her ere the earliest robin chirped. Never since the first pink light touched Eden had such a rosy day dawned for any maid on earth.

She awoke in love; her enchanted eyes unclosed on a world she had never known.

Unashamed, she held out her arms to the waking world and spoke her lover’s name aloud. Then the young blood leaped in her, and her eyes were like stars after a rain.

Oh, she must hasten now, for there was so little time to live in the world, and every second counted. Healthy of body, wholesome of soul, innocent and ardent in her new-born happiness, she could scarcely endure the rush of golden moments lost in an impetuous bath, in twisting up her bright hair, in the quick knotting of a ribbon, the click of a buckle on knee and shoe.

Then, as she slipped down the stairs into the darkened hall, trepidation seized her, for she heard his step.

He came swinging along the hallway; she stood still, trembling. He came up quickly and took her hands; she did not move; his arm encircled her waist; he lifted her head; it lay back on his shoulder, and her eyes met his.

“All day together,” he was saying; and her soul leaped to meet his words, but she could not speak.

He held her at arms’-length, laughing, a little troubled.

“Mystery of mysteries,” he said, under his breath; “there is some blessed Heaven-directed mistake in this. Is there, sweetheart?”

“No,” she said.

“And if there was?”

“Can you ask?”

“Then come to breakfast, heart of my heart!—the moments are flying very swiftly, and there is only this day left—until to-morrow. Listen! I hear the steward moving like a gray rat in the pantry. Can we endure a steward in Eden?”

“Only during breakfast,” she said, laughing. “I smell the wheaten flapjacks, and, oh, I am famished!”

There have been other breakfasts—Barmecide breakfasts compared with their first crust broken in love.

But they ate—oh, indeed, they ate everything before them, from flapjacks to the piles of little, crisp trout. And they might have called for more, but there came, on tiptoe, the steward, bowing, presenting a telegram on a tray of silver; and Crawford’s heart stopped, and he stared at the bit of paper as though it concealed a coiled snake.

She, too, suddenly apprehensive, sat rigid, the smile dying out in her eyes; and when he finally took the envelope and tore it open, she shivered.

Crawford, Sagamore Club:

“Ophir has consolidated with Steel Plank. You take charge of London office. Make arrangements to catch steamer leaving a week from to-morrow. Garcide and I will be at Sagamore to-night. James J. Crawford.”

He sat staring at the telegram; she, vaguely apprehensive for the safety of this new happiness of hers, clasped her hands tightly in her lap and waited.

“Any answer, sir?” asked the steward.

Crawford took the offered telegram blank and mechanically wrote:

“Instructions received. Will expect you and Garcide to-night.
James Crawford.”

She sat, twisting her fingers on her knees, watching him in growing apprehension. The steward took the telegram.

Crawford looked at her with a ghastly smile.

They rose together, instinctively, and walked to the porch.

“Oh yes,” he said, under his breath, “such happiness was too perfect. Magic is magic—it never lasts.”

“What is it?” she asked, faintly.

He picked up his cap, which was lying on a chair.

“Let’s get away, somewhere,” he said. “Do you mind coming with me—alone?”

“No,” she said.

There was a canoe on the river-bank below the lawn. He took a paddle and setting-pole from the veranda wall, and they went down to the river, side by side.

Heedless of the protests of the scandalized belted kingfishers, they embarked on Sagamore Water.

The paddle flashed in the sunlight; the quick river caught the blade, the spray floated shoreward.

V

Late in the afternoon the canoe, heavily festooned with dripping water-lilies, moved like a shadow over the shining sands. The tall hemlocks walled the river with palisades unbroken; the calm water stretched away into the forest’s sombre depths, barred here and there by dusty sunbeams.

Over them, in the highest depths of the unclouded blue, towered an eagle, suspended from mid-zenith. Under them the shadow of their craft swept the yellow gravel.

Knee to knee, vis-à-vis, wrapped to their souls in the enchantment of each other, sat the entranced voyagers. Their rods lay idle beside them; life was serious just then for people who stood on the threshold of separation.

“I simply shall depart this life if you go to-morrow,” she said, looking at him.

The unfeigned misery in his face made her smile adorably, but she would not permit him to touch her.

“See to what you have brought me!” she said. “I’m utterly unable to live without you. And now what are you going to do with me?”

Her eyes were very tender. He caught her hand and kissed it, and laid it against his face.

“There is a way,” he said.

“A way?”

“Shall I lead? Would you follow?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, amused.

“There is a way,” he repeated. “That thread of a brook leads to it.”

He pointed off to the westward, where through the forest a stream, scarcely wider than the canoe, flowed deep and silent between its mounds of moss.

He picked up the paddle and touched the blade to the water; the canoe swung westward.

“Where are you taking me?” she asked.

But the canoe was already in the narrow stream, and he was laughing recklessly, setting-pole poised to swing round the short turns.

“If we turned back now,” she said, “it would be sunset before we reached the club.”

“What do we care?” he laughed. “Look!”

Without warning, a yellow glory broke through the trees, and the canoe shot out into a vast, flat country, drenched with the rays of the sinking sun.

Blue woods belted the distance; all in front of them was deep, moist meadow-land, carpeted with thickets of wild iris, through which the stream wound in pools of gold.

The beauty of it held her speechless; the spell was upon him, too, and he sat motionless, the water dripping from his steel-tipped setting-pole in drops of fire.

There was a figure moving in the distant meadow; the sun glimmered on something that might have been a long reed quivering.

“An old friend fishing yonder,” he said, quietly; “I knew he would be there.” He touched her and pointed to the distant figure. “That is the parson of Foxville,” he said. “We will need him before we go to London.”

She looked across the purple fields of iris. Suddenly his meaning flashed out like a sunbeam.

“Do—do you wish—that—now?” she faltered.

He picked up the paddle; she caught his hand, trembling.

“No, no!”—she whispered, with bent head—“I cannot; don’t take me so—so quickly. Truly we must be mad to think of it.”

He held the paddle poised; after a while her hand slid from the blade and she looked up into his eyes. The canoe moved on.

“Oh, we are quite mad,” she said, unsteadily.

“I am glad we are,” he said.

The mellow dip! dip! of the paddle woke the drowsing red-winged blackbirds from the reeds; the gray snipe wheeled out across the marsh in flickering flight.

The aged parson of Foxville, intent on his bobbing cork, looked up in mild surprise to see a canoe, heavily hung with water-lilies, glide into his pool and swing shoreward.

The parson of Foxville was a very old man—almost too old to fish for trout.

Crawford led him a pace aside, leaving Miss Castle, somewhat frightened, knee-deep in the purple iris.

Then the old parson came toddling to her and took her hand, and peered at her with his aged eyes, saying, “You are quite mad, my child, and very lovely, and very, very young. So I think, after all, you would be much safer if you were married.”

Somebody encircled her waist; she turned and looked into the eyes of her lover, and still looking at him, she laid her hands in his.

A wedding amid the iris, all gray with the hovering, misty wings of moths—that was her fate—with the sky a canopy of fire above her, and the curlew calling through the kindling dusk, and the blue processional of the woods lining the corridors of the coming night.

And at last the aged parson kissed her and shook hands with her husband and shambled away across the meadows.

Slowly northward through the dusk stole the canoe once more, bearing the bride of an hour, her head on her husband’s knees. The stars came out to watch them; a necklace of bubbles trailed in the paddle’s wake, stringing away, twinkling in the starlight.

Slowly through the perfumed gloom they glided, her warm head on his knees, his eyes fixed on the vague water ahead.

A stag crashed through the reeds ashore; the June fawn stared with eyes like rubies in the dark.

Onward, onward, through the spell-bound forest; and at last the windows of the house glimmered, reflected in the water.

Garcide and Crawford awaited them on the veranda as they came up, rising in chilling silence, ignoring the offered hands of greeting.

“I’ve a word to say to you,” snarled the Hon. John Garcide, in his ward’s ear—“and another word for your fool of an aunt!”

She shrank back against her husband, amazed and hurt. “What do you mean?” she stammered; “we—we are married. Will you not speak to my—my husband?”

A silence, too awful to last, was broken by a hoarse laugh.

“You’re all right, Jim,” said the elder Crawford, slowly. “Ophir Steel won’t slip through your fingers when I’m under the sod. Been married long, Jim?”