OUT OF THE PRIMITIVE
BY ROBERT AMES BENNET
Author of "Into the Primitive," etc.
WITH FOUR ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLORS BY ALLEN T. TRUE
TO MY FRIEND JAMES COLLIER
The second night north of the Zambezi, as well as the first, the little tramp rescue steamer had run out many miles into the offing and laid-to during the hours of darkness. The vicinity of the coral reefs that fringe the southeast coast of Africa is decidedly undesirable on moonless nights.
When the Right Honorable the Earl of Avondale came out of his close, hot stateroom into the refreshing coolness that preceded the dawn, the position of the Southern Cross, scintillating in the blue-black sky to port, told him that the steamer was headed in for the coast. The black surface of the quiet sea crinkled with lines of phosphorescent light under the ruffling of the faint breeze, which crept offshore heavy with the stench of rotting vegetation. It was evident that the ship was already close in again to the Mozambique swamps.
Lord James sniffed the rank odor, and hastened to make his way forward to the bridge. As he neared the foot of the ladder, his resilient step and the snowy whiteness of his linen suit attracted the attention of the watcher above on the bridge.
"Good-morning, m' lord," the officer called down in a bluff but respectful tone. "You're on deck early."
"Hullo, Meggs! That you?" replied his lordship, mounting the steps with youthful agility. "It seems you're still earlier."
"Knowing your lordship's anxiety, I decided to run in, so that we could renew the search with the first glimmer of daylight," explained the skipper. "We're now barely under headway. According to the smell, we're as near those reefs as I care to venture in the dark."
"Right-o! We'll lose no time," approved the young earl. "D'you still think to-day is apt to tell the tale, one way or the other?"
"Aye, your lordship. I may be mistaken; but, as I told you, reckoning together all the probabilities, we should to-day cover the spot where the Impala must have been driven on the coral—that is, unless she foundered in deep water."
"But, man, you said that was not probable."
"A new boat should be able to stand the racking of half a dozen cyclones, m' lord, without straining a bottom plate. No; it's far more probable she shook off her screw, or something went wrong with the steering gear or in the engine room. I've recharted her probable course and that of the cyclone. It was as well for us to begin our search at the Zambezi, as I told your lordship. But if to-day we fail to find where she piled her bones on the coral, it's odds we'll not to-morrow. On beyond, at Port Mozambique, we got only the north rim of the storm. I put in there for shelter when the barometer dropped."
"That was on your run south. Glad I had the luck to chance on a man who knows the coast as you do," remarked Lord James. "Look at those steamers Mr. Leslie chartered by cable—a good week the start of us, and still beating the coverts down there along Sofala! Wasting time! If only I'd not gone off on that shunt to India—And they six weeks in these damnable swamps—if they won ashore at all! You still believe they had a chance of that?"
"Aye. As I explained to your lordship, if the Impala hadn't lost all her boats before she struck, there's a fair probability that the water inside the reefs—"
"Yes, yes, to be sure! If there was the slightest chance for any one aboard—Lady Bayrose, Miss Leslie and their maids, the only women passengers, and a British ship! Everything must have been done to save them. While Tom—he'd be sure to make the shore, if that was within the bounds of possibility. Yet even if they were cast up alive—six weeks on the vilest stretch of coast between Zanzibar and the Zambezi! They may be dying of the fever now—this very hour! Deuce take it, man! d'you wonder I'm impatient?"
"Aye, m'lord! But here's the dawn, and McPhee is keeping up a full head of steam. We'll soon be doing seven knots."
As he spoke, the skipper turned to step into the pilot house. Lord James faced about to the eastern sky, where the gray dawn was beginning to lessen the star-gemmed blackness above the watery horizon. Swiftly the faint glow brightened and became tinged with pink. The day was approaching with the suddenness of the tropical sunrise. In quick succession, the pink shaded to rose, the rose to crimson and scarlet splendor; and then the sun came leaping above the horizon, to flood sea and sky with its dazzling effulgence.
Captain Meggs had entered the pilot house in the blackness of night. He came out in the full glare of day. Lord James had turned his back to the sun. He was staring at the bank of white mist that, less than two miles to westward, shrouded the swampy coast. Meggs had brought out two pairs of binoculars, one of which he handed to his charterer.
"Your lordship sees," he remarked. "We're none too far out from the reefs."
"Beastly mist!" complained Lord James, his handsome high-bred face creased with impatience and anxiety. "D'you fancy we're anywhere near the islet from which we put off last evening?"
"I've tried to hold our position, m'lord. But these Mozambique Channel currents are so strong, and shift so with the tides, we may have been either set back or ahead."
Already the bank of morning mist was beginning to break up and melt away under the fervent rays of the sun. The young earl raised his glasses and gazed southwards along the face of the dissolving curtain. Through and between the ghostly wreaths and wisps of vapor he could see the winged habitants of the swamps—flamingoes, cranes, pelicans, ibises, storks, geese, all the countless tropical waterfowl—swimming and wading about the reedy lagoons or circling up to fly to other feeding grounds. Opposite the steamer the glasses showed with startling distinctness a number of hideous crocodiles crawling out on a slimy mudbank to bask in the sunshine. But nowhere could the searcher discern a trace of man or of man's habitation.
"Gad! not a sign! Rotten luck!" he muttered.
He turned and swept the four-mile curve of coast around to the north- northeast. Suddenly he stiffened and held the glasses fixed.
"Look!" he cried. "Off there to the northwards—cliffs!"
"Cliffs? Aye, a headland," confirmed the skipper.
"Put about for it immediately," directed Lord James. "If they were cast up here, they'd not have lingered in these vile bogs—would have made for the high ground."
Meggs nodded, and called the order to the steersman. The ship's bows swung around, and the little steamer was soon scuttling upcoast towards the headland, along the outer line of reefs, at a speed of seven knots.
From the first, Lord James held his glasses fixed on the barren guano- whitened ledges of the headland. But though he could discern with quickly increasing distinctness the seabirds that soared about the cliff crest and nested in its crevices, he perceived no sign of any signal such as castaways might be expected to place on so prominent a height.
When, after a full half-hour's run, the steamer skirted along the edge of the reefs, close in under the seaward face of the headland, the searcher at last lowered his binoculars, bitterly disappointed.
"Not a trace—not a trace!" he complained. "If they've been here, they've either gone inland or—we're too late! Six weeks—starvation— fever!"
Meggs shook his head reassuringly. "The top of the headland may be inaccessible, m'lord. We may find that they—Heh! what's that?"
He leaned forward to peer through his glasses at a second headland that was swinging into view around the corner of the cliffs.
"Smoke!" he cried. "Smoke!—and a flag!"
"Gad!" murmured Lord James, hastily bringing his own glasses to bear.
The second headland was about five miles away. The thin column of smoke that was ascending from its crest near the outer end, could plainly be seen with the naked eye. But a sunlit cloud beyond necessitated the full magnifying power of the binoculars to disclose the white signal flag that flapped lazily on a slender staff near the beacon.
Lord James drew in a deep breath, and his gray eyes glowed with hope. Here was evidence that not all aboard the wrecked or foundered Impala had been lost.
"Meggs," he cried, "you're the one and only skipper! It must be their signal—it is their signal! But which of them?—who went under and who escaped!—Miss Genevieve? Tom?"
"This Mr. Blake?" ventured Meggs. "I take it, he's some relation to your lordship."
"No; chum—American engineer. Gad! if he went down! But it's impossible—Most resourceful man I ever knew. He must have won ashore with the others. And the women—a British captain! It must be we'll find crew and all safe!"
"Not on this coast," replied Meggs. "They'd have lost most their boats before the Impala struck."
"In that event—Deuce take it! will we never get there? If I had my motor-boat now! By Jove, this stretch here between the headlands is not swamp. It's dry plain—and black. Been burnt over. There's a place—tree-trunks still smouldering. The grass has been fired within the last day or two."
"No one in sight as yet, on the cliffs," said the skipper, who had continued to scrutinize the northern headland. "No watch above; no sign of any one or any camp below. Must all be around on the far side. We'll clear the point, and run in through the first break in the reefs."
"If they fail to show up on this side," qualified Lord James, slowly sweeping the cliffs from foot to crest and inland along the dry fire- blackened plain.
About half a mile from the beach the wall of rock was cleft by a wooded ravine that ran up through the cliff ridge. At its foot was a grove of trees whose bright green foliage seemed to indicate an abundance of water. Above, a gigantic baobab tree towered out of the cleft and upreared its enormous cabbage-shaped crown high over the crest of the ridge.
In the midst of the general barrenness and aridity, the verdant oasis of the ravine appeared to be the most certain place to look for the castaways. Lord James fancied that he could discern a slight haze of smoke rising out of the cleft beneath the baobab. But if there was a camp in the cleft bottom, it was hidden from view by the trees and cliff walls. The only certain sign of man within sight was the signal flag and the smoke of the smouldering fire in the midst of the seabird colony near the outer end of the cliff crest.
The steamer was gliding along, with slackened headway, close in under the headland, when a breath of air opened out the folds of the tattered white flag. Meggs had been watching it through his binoculars. He lowered the glasses, and remarked knowingly: "Thought so. That's no ship's canvas. It's linen or duck—A woman's skirt ripped open."
"What! Then at least one of the women got ashore!"
"Aye. But d' you make out how that cloth is lashed to the bamboo? It was knotted on by a landsman. We'll find neither officers nor crew among the survivors."
The steamer was now opposite the face of the headland, Meggs sprang into the pilot house. Within the next few moments the speed of the vessel fell off to less than a knot. Slowly the old steamer swung her bows around towards the shore and began feeling her way into a narrow gap through the half hidden barrier of the reefs, which here were merged into a single line.
For the time being all the attention of Meggs was concentrated upon the safe conning of his ship through the dangerous passage. It was otherwise with Lord James. The last two shiplengths before the turn had opened up the view around the north corner of the headland. From the flank of the cliff ridge a wedge of brush-dotted plain extended a quarter-mile or so to a dense high jungle bordering a small river. The first glance had shown his lordship that it was of no use to look beyond the river. The coast trended away northwards in another vast stretch of fetid swamps and slimy lagoons.
With almost feverish eagerness, he turned to scan the little plain. First to catch his eye were a dozen or more graceful animals dashing away from the shore in panic-stricken flight. He turned his glasses upon them and saw that they were antelope. This was not encouraging. That the timid animals had been feeding in the vicinity of a human habitation a full hour after dawn was not probable. Nor did a careful search of the plain through the glasses disclose any sign of a hut or tent or the smoke of a camp-fire.
An order from Meggs preparatory for letting go anchor roused Lord James from his momentary pause. He faced the skipper, who was leaning from a window of the pilot house.
"Sound your siren, man!" he exclaimed. "There's no camp in sight. Yet they must be within hearing."
Meggs nodded, called an order for the lowering of a boat, and drew back into the pilot house. As he reappeared in the doorway, to step out on the bridge, the tramp's siren shrilled a blast loud enough to carry for miles. It echoed and re-echoed along the cliff walls, and was flung back upon the little steamer in a deafening blare.
Lord James turned to sweep the border of the river jungle with his glasses. A herd of fat ungainly hippopotami, on the bar out beyond the mangroves of the river mouth, fixed his gaze. But a moment afterwards one of the sailors in the bows pointed upwards and yelled excitedly: "Hi! hi!—there aloft! Lookut th' bloomin' mad 'un!"
At last—one of the castaways! High above, on the very brink of the precipice, near the outer end of the headland, a man stood waving down to the ship in wild excitement.
Lord James hastily focussed his glasses upon the beckoner. Seen through their powerful lenses, he seemed to leap to within a few feet —so near that Lord James could see the heaving of his broad chest under the tattered flannel shirt as he flung his arms about his head and bellowed down at the steamer in half frantic joy.
The looker wasted no second glance on the rude trousers of spotted hyena skin or the big lean body of the castaway. Neither the wild whirling of the sun-blackened arms nor the bristly stubble of a six weeks' growth of beard could prevent him from instantly recognizing the face of his friend.
"Tom!—Tom!" he hailed. "Hullo! hullo, old man! Come down!"
Even as he cried out he realized that he could neither be heard nor recognized at so great a distance. Though the binoculars enabled him to see his friend with such wonderful distinctness, the deep shouts that the other was uttering were hardly audible above the clatter aboard the steamer. But now the ship's siren began to answer the hails of the castaway with a succession of joyous shrieks.
In the same moment Lord James perceived that a second castaway—a woman—was running forward along the crest of the headland. Fearlessly she came darting down the broken ledges, to stand on the cliff edge close beside the man. Lord James stared wonderingly at her dainty girlish form, clad in a barbaric costume of leopard skin. Her bare arms, slender from privation and burned brown by the sun, were upraised in graceful greeting above the sensitive high-bred face and its crown of soft brown hair.
"Genevieve!" murmured the earl. "What luck! Gad! what luck! Even if Hawkins went to the bottom and took the jewels with him! She's safe— both of 'em safe! Hey! what's that? Signalling towards the far side— There he bolts, and she after him! Couldn't run that way if they had the fever!"
He whirled about and sprang to descend the ladder, but paused to direct the skipper. "I'll command the boat. Men are not to land. D'you take me? There's at least one of the ladies here. Have a sling ready, and tell the stewardess her services will soon be required."
Before Meggs could reply, he was down the ladder and darting across to the side. But there he turned and ran aft to the cabin. The stewardess, a buxom Englishwoman, stood at the head of the companionway, gazing towards the cliff top. At his order, she followed him below. After several minutes he reappeared with a lady's dust-coat folded over his arm. The boat was already lowered and manned. He swung himself outboard and went down the tackle hand under hand.
As he dropped lightly into the sternsheets beside the cockswain he signed the men to thrust off. The boat shot out across the still water, and headed shorewards on a slant for the south corner of the headland. Urged on by their impatient passenger, the rowers bent to their oars with a will, despite the broiling heat of the sun in the dead calm air under the lee of the cliffs.
They were well in to the shore before the cockswain discovered a submerged ledge that ran out athwart their course almost to the coral reefs. This compelled them to put about and follow the ledge until they could round its outer end. As the boat at last cleared the obstruction and headed in again for the shore, the south flank of the cliffs came into view.
A short distance inland, the two castaways that had appeared on the cliff top were running towards the beach, the girl clinging to the hand of the man.
"Give way! give way, men!" urged Lord James. "At least let's not keep them waiting!"
Spurred to their utmost, the oarsmen drove the boat shorewards so swiftly that it was less than thirty yards out when the castaways came flying out the rocky slope of the cliff foot and scrambled down to the water's edge.
Lord James sprang up and waved his yachting cap.
"Miss Leslie!—Tom, old man!" he joyously hailed them. "You're safe!— both safe!"
"Good Lord! That you, Jimmy?" shouted back the man, "Well, of all the —Hey! down brakes! 'Ware rocks!"
At the warning, the boat's crew backed water and came on inshore with more caution. Without stopping to ask her permission, the man caught up the panting, excited girl in his arms, and waded out to meet the boat.
"That's near enough. Swing round," he ordered.
The boat came about and backed in a length, to where he stood thigh- deep in the still water, with the blushing girl upraised on his broad shoulder. Lord James again lifted his cap. His bow could not have been more formal and respectful had the meeting occurred in the queen's drawing-room.
"Miss Leslie! This is a very great pleasure, 'pon my word! But you've overheated yourself. You should not have run," he remonstrated. As Blake lifted her in over the stern, he deftly unfolded the silk dustcoat and held it open for her." Permit me—No need of such haste, y'know. I assure you, we're not so strict as to our hour of sailing."
"I—I—Of course we—" stammered the girl.
"To be sure! Ah, no hat! I should have foreseen. Very stupid of me not to've brought a hat or parasol. But I dare say you'll make out till we get back aboard ship."
His conventional manner and quiet conversational tone alike tended to ease her of her embarrassment. By the time she had slipped on the coat and seated herself, the crimson blushes that had flooded her tanned cheeks were fast subsiding, and she was able to respond with a fair degree of composure: "That was extremely thoughtful of you, Lord Avondale!"
"Not at all, not at all," he disclaimed. "Cocks'n, if you'll be so kind as to go forward, I'll take the tiller. Tom, old man! don't stand there all day. You'll get your feet damp. Climb in!"
"No; pull out," replied Blake, his eyes hardening with sudden resolve. "I forgot something. Got to go back to the cleft. You take Jen—Miss Leslie aboard at once."
"Oh, no, Tom!" hastily protested the girl. "We'll wait here for you."
"Here?" he demanded. "And without your hat?"
Miss Leslie put her scarred and begrimed little hands to her dishevelled hair.
Blake went on in an authoritative tone: "It won't do for you to get a sunstroke now—after all these weeks. Jimmy, take her straight aboard. I've got to go back, I tell you. We didn't stop for anything. There's a jarful of mud and so forth that we sure can't leave to the hyenas." He met the girl's appealing glance with firm decision. "You must get aboard, out of this sun, fast as they can take you."
"Yes, of course, if you think it best—Tom," she acquiesced.
Her ready docility would of itself have been sufficient to surprise Lord James. But, in addition, there was a soft note in her voice and a glow in her beautiful hazel eyes that caused him to glance quickly from her to his friend. Blake was already turning about to wade ashore. From what little could be seen of his bristly face, its expression was stern, almost morose. The powerful jaw was clenched.
Though puzzled and a trifle discomposed, Lord James quietly seated himself beside the girl, and signing the men to give way, took the tiller.
"My dear Miss Leslie," he murmured, "if you but knew my delight over having found both you and Tom safe and well!"
"Then you really know him?" she replied. "Yes, to be sure; he called you by your first name. Wait! I remember now. One day soon after we were cast ashore—the second day, when we were thinking how to get fire, to drive away the leopard—"
"Leopard? I say! So that's where you got this odd gown?"
"No—the mother leopard and the cubs. I was going to say, Tom remarked that James Scarbridge had been his chum."
"Had been? He meant is!"
"Then it's true! Oh, isn't it strange and—and splendid? You know, I did not connect the remark with you, Lord James. He had told me to try to think how we were to find food for the next meal. His reference to you was made quite casually in his talk with Winthrope."
"Winthrope!" exclaimed Lord James. "Then he, too, reached shore? Yet if so—"
The girl put her hand before her eyes, as if to shut out some terrible sight. Her voice sank to a whisper: "He—he was killed in the second cyclone—a few days ago."
"Ah!" muttered the young earl. After a pause, he asked in a tone of profound sympathy, "And the others—Lady Bayrose?"
"Don't ask! don't ask!" she cried, shuddering and trembling.
But quickly she regained her composure and looked up at him with a calm unwavering gaze that told him how much she had undergone and the strength of character she had gained during the fearful weeks that she had been marooned on this savage and desolate coast.
"How foolish of me to give way!" she reproached herself. "It is what you might have expected of me before—before I had been through all this, with his example to uplift me out of my helplessness and inefficiency. Believe me, Lord Avondale, I am a very different young woman from the shallow, frivolous girl you knew during those days on the Mediterranean."
"Shallow! frivolous!" he protested. "Anything but that, Miss Genevieve! You must have known how vastly different were my—er— impressions. If Lady Bayrose hadn't so suddenly shunted you off at Aden to the Cape boat—Took me quite by surprise, I assure you. Had you kept on to India, I had hoped to—er—"
She gave him a glance that checked his fast-mounting ardor.
"I—I beg pardon!" he apologized. "This of course is hardly the time— About the others, if I may ask—that is, if it's not too painful for you. I infer that Lady Bayrose—that she did not—reach the shore."
The girl's thorn-scarred, sun-blistered hands clasped together almost convulsively. But she met his look of concern with unflinching braveness.
"Poor dear Lady Bayrose!" she murmured. "They had put her and the maids into one of the boats—there at the first, when the ship crashed on the reef. They ran back to fetch me, but before they could rush me across, a wave more terrible than all the others swept the ship. It tore loose the boat and whirled them away, over and over!"
"Gad!" he exclaimed.
"It also carried away the captain and most of the crew. Between the breakers, Winthrope and Tom and I were flung into the one remaining boat. Winthrope cut the rope before the sailors could follow, and then—then the steamer slipped back off the reef and went down."
"I say! Only the three of you left! The boat brought you safe ashore?"
"No, we were overturned in the breakers, but were washed up—flung up —how, I cannot tell. The wind was frightful. It must have blown us out of the surf and along with the water that was being driven up and over into the lagoon. The first I knew, I was behind a little knoll with Winthrope. Tom was near—in a pool. He—he crawled out. It was nearly dark. We were all so beaten and exhausted that we slept until morning. When we awoke, there was no sign of—of any one else, or of the boat— nothing; only the top of the highest mast sticking up above the water, out beside the reef. Tom swam out to it; but he couldn't get anything —even he couldn't."
"Swam out, you say? These waters swarm with sharks. They're keen to nip a swimmer!"
The girl's eyes flashed. "Do you believe he'd fear them?—that he'd fear anything?"
"Not he! I fancy I ought to know, if any one. Knocked about with him, half 'round the world. I dare say he's told you."
"Would it be like him to claim the credit of your friendship? No! Before, on the steamer, we had mistaken him to be—to be what he appears to strangers—rough, almost uncouth. Yet even that frightful morning—it was among the swamps, ten miles or more up the coast. He carried us safe out of them, me nearly all the way—out of the bog and water, safe to the palms; and he as much tortured with thirst as were we!"
"Fancy! No joke about that—thirst!"
"Yet it was only the beginning of what he did for us. Starvation and wild beasts and snakes and the fever—he saved us from all. Yet he had nothing to begin with—no tools or weapons, only his burning glass. Can you wonder that I—that I—"
She stopped and looked down, the color mounting swiftly under the dark coat of tan that covered the exquisite complexion he remembered so pleasantly.
"My word!" he remonstrated, amazed and disquieted. "Surely not that! It's—it's impossible! It can't be possible!"
"Do you think so?" she whispered. "If you but knew the half—the tenth—of what he has done!"
The rusty side of the tramp loomed up above them. The boat crew flung up their oars, and Lord James steered in alongside, under the sling that was being lowered for the rescued lady. She pointed up at it, and met the reproachful, half-dazed glance of her companion with a look of compassionate regret for his disappointment. Yet she made no effort to conceal the love for his friend and rival that shone with tender radiance from her candid eyes.
"You should know him—his true, his real self!" she said. "Hasten back. Do not delay to come aboard with me. Hasten ashore and to the cleft. See for yourself."
She caught the descending sling with a dexterity that astonished him, and seated herself in it before he could rise to assist her.
"Haul away," she called in a clear voice that held no note of timidity. Those above at the tackle hastened to obey. As she was swung upwards, she looked down at the earl and waved him to put off.
"Hasten!" she urged. "Do not wait. I am all right now. Even if he is returning, go to the cleft and see."
He shook his head, and waited until she had been hauled up the ship's side. But as her little moccasined feet cleared the bulwarks and Meggs himself leaned out to draw her inboard, he signed the oarsmen to thrust off again.
Knowing the course, they made direct for the end of the sunken ledge. Blake had not returned, nor was he anywhere in sight. They skirted in along the rocky slope of the cliff foot to where it curved away into the sand beach of the plain. Lord James sprang ashore alone and hastened inland along the base of the cliffs.
A brisk walk of ten minutes over the sandy plain brought him to the grove at the foot of the cleft. In the midst of the trees was a pool, half choked with the dried mud and rubbish of a recent flood from the ravine. The wash had obliterated all tracks below; but there were traces of a trail leading up the ravine over a four-foot ledge. He took the rock at a bound, and hastened on upwards between the lofty walled sides of the cleft.
At the first turn he was brought to an abrupt halt. From side to side, between two outjutting corners of rock, the ravine had been barricaded with a twelve-foot boma of thorn scrub. It was a fence high enough and strong enough to stop even a hungry lion. In the centre was a low opening, partly masked by the dry spiky fronds of a small date palm.
"Gad!" murmured the Englishman. "Some of Tom's engineering! And she said he started without weapons or tools—on this coast! . . . Yet for him to have won her—No, no, it's impossible! impossible! American or not, she's a lady—thoroughbred! He's a true stone, but in the rough— uncut, unpolished! A girl of her breeding—He's worth it, 'pon my word, he is; though I never would have fancied that she, of all girls —She's so different. No! it's impossible! it can't be! Must be pure fancy on her part—gratitude. It can't be anything more!"
A heavy step sounded on the far side of the barrier, and a deep voice called out to him: "Hello, there! That you, Jimmy? Thought it about time you were due. What you doing?—telling yourself how to climb over? Abase yeh noble knee to the dust and crawl through, me lud."
Without pausing to reply, Lord James stooped and crept through the narrow passage under the thorny wall. As he straightened up on the inner side, Blake caught and gripped his hand in a big calloused palm.
"Jimmy!" he exclaimed, his pale blue eyes glistening with the soft light of deep friendship. "Jimmy boy! to think you beat 'em to it! I figured ten to one odds that it was a tramp chartered by Papa Leslie— And then to see you pop up in the sternsheets, spic and span as a laundry ad! When you sang out—Lord!"
"Ring off, bo! Those're my fingers you're mashing!" objected the victim.
As Blake released him, he stepped aside and ran his eye up and down the sinewy rag-and-skin-clad form of the engineer. He nodded approvingly.
"Lean, hard as nails, no sign of fever—and after six weeks on this beastly coast! How'd you do it, old man? You're fit—deuced fit!"
"Fit to give pointers to the Wild Man from Borneo," chuckled Blake. He drew out a silver cigarette case and snapped open the lid. "See those little beauties?—No! hands off! Good Lord! those're my arrow tips, soaking in snake poison! A scratch would do for you as sure as a drink of cyanide. Brought down an eland with one of those little points— antelope big as a steer."
"Poison! fancy now!" exclaimed Lord James.
"Yes; from a puff adder that almost got Miss Jenny—fellow big as my leg. Struck at her as she bent to pick an amaryllis. If it had so much as grazed her hand or arm—God!"
He looked away, his teeth clenched together and the sweat starting out on his broad forehead. What he thought of Genevieve Leslie was plainly evident in his convulsed face and dilated eyes. If he could be so overwrought by the mere remembrance of a danger that she had escaped, he must love her, not as most men love, but with all the depth and strength of his powerful nature. Lord James's lips pressed together and his gray eyes clouded with pain.
"Close shave, heh?" he muttered.
"Yes," replied Blake. He drew in a deep breath, and added, "Not the first, though, nor the last. But a miss is as good as a mile, hey, Jimmy boy?"
"Gad, old man, that sounds natural! Can't say you look it, though—not altogether. Must get you aboard and into another style of fine raiment. Fur trousers not good form in this climate, y'know. You picked up that shirt at a remnant counter, I take it. Come aboard. Must mow that alfalfa patch before any one suspects you're trying to raise a beard."
The friendly banter seemed to have the contrary effect from that intended. Blake's face darkened.
"Good Lord, no!" he rumbled. "Go aboard with her? What d'you take me for?"
"Give you my word, I don't take you at all," replied the puzzled Englishman.
"What! Hasn't she told you? But of course she wouldn't—unless she saw you alone," muttered Blake. "Come on up the canon. I've thought it all out—just what must be done. But it'll take some time to explain. Wait! Did you come alone?—any one follow you?"
"No. Told 'em to stay near the boat."
"Just the same, I'll make sure," said Blake. He dived into the barricade passage, and quickly reappeared, dragging at the butt of the date palm. "There, me lud; the door is shut. Nobody is going to walk in on our private conference now. Come on."
LORD AND MAN
Blake turned about and swung away up the ravine. Lord James followed in the half-obliterated path, which led along the edge of a tiny spring rill. The cleft was here closed in on each side with sheer walls of rock from twenty to thirty feet high. At the point where this small box canon intersected the middle of the cliff ridge, the gigantic baobab that Lord James had seen from the steamer, towered skyward, its huge trunk filling a good third of the width of the gorge. Across from it and nearer at hand was a thicket of bamboos, around which the spring rill trickled from a natural basin in the rock.
But the visitor gave scant heed to the natural features of the place. His glance passed from a great antelope hide, drying on a frame, to the bamboo racks on which sun-seared strips of flesh were curing over a smudge fire. Looking to his left, he saw a hut hardly larger than a dog kennel but ingeniously thatched with bamboo leaves. Then his glance was caught and held by a curious contrivance of interwoven thorn branches and creepers, fitted into a high narrow opening in the trunk of the baobab.
"What's that?—hollow tree?" he asked.
"Yes," answered Blake, without turning. "Sixteen-foot room inside. That's where the she-leopard and the cubs were smothered. Fired the gully to drive out the family. All stayed at home and got smothered 'cept old Mr. Leopard. He ran the gantlet. Lord, how he squalled, poor brute! But they'd have eaten us if we hadn't eaten them. He landed in the pool, too scorched to see. Settled him with my club."
"Clubbed him?—a leopard! I say now! A bit different, that, to snipe shooting."
"Well, yes, a trifle different, Jeems—a trifle," conceded Blake.
"My word! What haven't you been through!" burst out the Englishman. "And to think she, too, went through it all—six weeks of it!"
"That's it!" enthused Blake. "She's the truest, grittiest little girl the sun ever had the good luck to shine on! If she thinks now I can't realize—that I'm not going to do the square thing by her! I've been thinking it all over, Jimmy. I've got it all mapped out what I'm going to do. Wait, though!"
He sprang ahead and pulled at the thorny contrivance that stopped the opening in the baobab trunk. It was balanced midway up, on a crossbar. Almost at a touch, the lower part swung up and outward and the upper half down and inward. He stepped in under it, hesitated a moment, and went on into the hollow, with an exclamation of relief: "No, 't isn't her room any more, thank God!"
Lord James stared. Well as he knew the sterling qualities of his friend, he had never suspected him of such delicacy. He gazed curiously around at the unshapely but flawless sand-glazed earthenware set on a bamboo rack beside the open stone fireplace, at the rough- woven but strong baskets piled together near the foot of the baobab, at the pouch of antelope skin, the grass sombreros, the bamboo spits and forks and spoons—all the many useful utensils that told of the ingenuity and resourcefulness of his friend.
But, most of all, he was interested in the weighty hardwood club leaning against the tree trunk and the great bamboo bow hanging above in a skin sheath beside a quiver full of long feather-tipped arrows. He was balancing the club when Blake came out of the tree-cave, carrying a young cocoanut in one hand, and in the other a small pot seemingly full of dried mud. Lord James replaced the club, and waved his hand around at the camp.
"'Pon my word, Tom," he commented, "you've out-Crusoed old Robinson!"
"Sure!" agreed Blake. "He had a whole shipful of stuff as a starter, while we didn't have anything except my magnifying glass and Win's penknife and keys."
He pulled out a curious sheath-knife made of a narrow ribbon of steel set in a bone back. "How's that for a blade? Big flat British keys— good steel. I welded 'em together, end to end."
"Gad! the pater's private keys!" gasped Lord James. "You don't tell me the rascal was imbecile enough to keep those keys in his pocket?— certain means of identification if he'd been searched!"
"What!" shouted Blake. "Then the duke he cleaned out was your dad. Whew!"
He whirled the mud-stoppered jug overhead and dashed it down at his feet. From amidst the shattered fragments he caught up a dirty cloth that was quilted across in small squares. He held it out to Lord James.
"There you are, Jimmy—my compliments and more or less of your family heirlooms."
"My word!" murmured the earl, catching eagerly at the cloth. "You got the loot from him? That's like you, Tom!"
"Look out!" cautioned Blake. "I opened one square to see what it was he had hidden. You'll find he hadn't been too daffy to melt the settings—keys or no keys. Say, but it's luck to learn they're yours! Hope they're all there."
"All the good ones will be. He couldn't have sold or pawned any of the best stones after we cabled. Gad! won't the pater be tickled! Ah!"
From the open square of which Blake had spoken, his lordship drew out a resplendent ruby. "Centre stone of Lady Anne's brooch!"
He ran his immaculate finger-tips over the many squares in the cloth. "A stone in every one—must be all of the really valuable loot! The settings were out of date—small value. How'd you get it from him, Tom?"
Blake hesitated, and answered in a low tone: "He got hurt the night of the second cyclone. But he wasn't responsible—poor devil! He must have been dotty all along. It didn't show much before—but I felt uneasy. That's why I built that thorn door—so she could bar herself in."
Lord James stared in horrified surprise. "You really do not mean—?"
"Yes—and it almost happened! God!" Again Blake clenched his teeth and the cold sweat burst out on his forehead.
"My word! That's worse than the snake!" murmured Lord James.
"She—she'd left the door up—heat was stifling," explained Blake. "I had gone off north, exploring. The beast was crawling in—But I've got to remember he wasn't responsible—a paranoiac!"
"Ah, yes. And then?" questioned the Englishman, tugging nervously at the tip of his little blond mustache.
"Then—then—" muttered Blake. "He got what was coming to him. Cyclone struck like a tornado. Door whirled down and knocked him out of the opening—smashed him!"
"The end he had earned!"
"Yes—even if he wasn't responsible, he had become just that—a beast. She had saved his life, too—night I ran down to the beach after eating a poison fish. Barricade hadn't been finished. He was down with the fever. They were attacked—jackals, hyenas. She got him safe inside the tree, with the yelling curs jumping at her."
"My word! she did that?—she? Of all the young ladies I've ever known, she was the very last I should have expected—"
"What! you've met her before?" demanded Blake.
"Then she hasn't told you?" replied his friend. "Lady Bayrose was one of my old friends, y'know. Met 'em aboard ship—sailed on the same steamer, after my run home."
"You did?" muttered Blake, in blank astonishment. "You know her?"
"You must have heard me sing out to her from the boat. Yes, I—er—had the voyage with her through the Mediterranean and down the Red Sea. But Lady Bayrose got tiffed at me, and at Aden shifted to a Cape boat. I had to go on to India alone."
"India?" queried Blake.
"Trailing Hawkins. He first went to India. But he doubled back and 'round to Cape Colony."
"So that's why you didn't get here sooner," said Blake.
"Yes. Didn't notice that the Impala was posted. Didn't know either you or Miss Leslie was aboard her until after I learned you'd thrown up the management of that Rand mine. Traced you to Cape Town. Odd that you and she and Hawkins should all have booked on the same steamer!"
"Think so?" said Blake. "I don't. Winthrope—Hawkins, that is—was smooth enough to know he'd not be suspected if travelling as a member of Lady Bayrose's party. He had already wormed himself into her favor. As for me—well, they had come to look at the mine, and I had shown Jenny through the workings. Does that make it clear why I threw up the job and followed them to Cape Town?"
"She had not given you any reason to—surely, not any encouragement? No, I can't believe it!"
"Course not, you British doughhead! It was all the other way 'round. Think I didn't realize? She, a lady, and me—what I am! But I couldn't help it—I just couldn't help myself, Jimmy. Knew her father, too—all about his millions and how he made them! He did me—twice. You'd think the very name would have turned me. Yet the minute I set eyes on her— say!"
"You're certainly hard hit!" murmured the young earl. He flushed, bit his lip, hesitated, and burst out with impulsive generosity: "Gad, old man! If it's true—if she really—er—has come to love you, I own that you've won her fair and square—all this, y'know." He waved his hand around in a sweeping gesture. "Saved her from all this. Yes—if it's really true!"
Blake looked away, and spoke in a hushed voice: "It's—it's true, Jimmy! Only a little while ago, there on the cliff edge when we saw your steamer, she—she told me. It started yesterday after I bluffed off the lion. You see, she—"
"Lion?" ejaculated Lord James.
"Yes." Blake flung up his head in an impatient gesture. "The beast tried to stalk us. Jumped back into the grass when I circled out at him. I got the grass fired before he screwed up courage to tackle me. —Don't cut in!—It was then that Jenny—she—she tried to say something. But I streaked for home. This morning, though, when I saw we were safe, I was weak enough to let her—speak out."
Lord James hesitated just perceptibly, and then caught his friend's big, ill-used hand in a cordial clasp. "So—you're engaged! Congratulations!"
"If only it was just that!" cried Blake. He flushed red under his thick coat of tan. "I—I suppose I've got to tell you, Jimmy—I must. I need your help to carry out my plan."
"Your plan?" repeated the Englishman wonderingly.
"To save her from—from committing herself. It isn't fair to her to let her do it now. She ought to wait till she gets back home, among her own people. You see she wants to—She—she says that ship captains can—" He caught his breath, and bent nearer, but with his face half averted. His voice sank to an almost inaudible murmur—"that ship captains can marry people."
"Ah!" gasped Lord James. But he recovered on the instant. "Gad! that is a surprise, old man. Always the lady's privilege, though, to name the day, y'know. I shipped a stewardess to wait on the women—had hoped they would all have been saved. She'll do for lady's maid. Also brought along some women's togs, in case of emergencies. As for yourself, between mine and Megg's and his own wardrobes, my man can rig you up a presentable outfit. Clever chap, that Wilton."
"You've gone back to a valet again!" reproached Blake, momentarily diverted. Then his fists clenched and his brows met in a frown of self-disgust. "Lord! for me to forget for a second! Look here, Jimmy, you're clean off. You don't savvy a little bit. Don't you see the point? I can't let her commit herself now—here! You know I can't. It wouldn't be fair to her, and you know it."
Lord James met his look with a clear and unfaltering gaze, and answered steadily: "That all depends on one thing, Tom. If she really loves you—"
"D'you think she's the kind to do it, if she didn't?" demanded Blake. "No, that's not the point, at all. I've tried to be square, so far. She saw what I'm like when I cut loose—there on the ship. I was two- thirds drunk when the cyclone flung us ashore. No excuse—except that all of them had turned me down from the first—there at Cape Town. Yes, she knows just what I'm like when the craving is on me. Yesterday, down there at the south headland, before the lion came around, I gave her some idea of what I've done—all that."
"You've lived a cleaner life than most who're considered eligible!" exclaimed Lord James. "I know that with respect to women, you're the cleanest—"
"Eligible!" broke in Blake. "No man is that, far as she's concerned, unless it's you, Jimmy."
"Chuck it! You're always knocking yourself. But about this plan that's bothering you? Out with it."
"That's talking! All right, here it is, straight—I want you to get back aboard and steam away, fast as you can hike. You can run into Port Mozambique, if you're going north, and arrange for a boat to call by for me."
"You're daft!" cried Lord James. "Daft! Mad as a hatter! Can you fancy for a moment I'd go off and leave you here?"
"Guess you can't help yourself, Jimmy. The most you can do is force me to take to the jungle. You can't get me aboard. I tell you, I've figured it all out. I won't go aboard and let her do—what she's planning to do. You ought to know. Jimmy, that when I say a thing, I mean it. She's not going to set eyes on me again until after she's back in America. Is that plain?"
"Tom—old man! that's like you!" cried the Englishman, and again he gripped the other's rough hand. "I see now what you're driving at. It's a thing few men would have the bigness to do. You're giving up a certainty, because your love for her is great enough, unselfish enough to consider only her good. D'you fancy I could do such a thing? You're risking everything. Shows you're fit, even for her!"
"It's little enough—for her!" put in Blake.
"That's like you to say it," rejoined his friend. "See here, old man. You've made a clean breast of it all. I should be no less candid. You know now that I met her before—was all those weeks with her aboard ship. Need I tell you that I, too, love her?"
"You?" growled Blake. "But of course! I don't blame you. You couldn't help it."
"It's been an odd shuffling of the cards," remarked his friend. "What if—Aren't you afraid there may be a new deal, Tom? If you don't come aboard, she and I will be together at least as far as Zanzibar, and probably all the way to Aden, before I can find some one else to take her on to England."
"What of that?" rejoined Blake. "Think I don't know you're square, after the months we roughed-it together?"
"Then—But I can't leave you here in this hell-hole! You've no right to ask me to do that, Tom. If I could bring my guns ashore and stay with you—But she'll never be more in need of some one, if you insist upon your plan. I say! I have it—We'll slip you aboard after dark. You can lie in covert till we reach Port Mozambique. I trust I'm clever enough to keep her diverted that long. Can put it that you're outfitting—all that, y' know."
"Say, that's not so bad," admitted Blake, half persuaded. "I could slip ashore, soon as we ran into harbor, leaving her a note to tell her why."
"Right-o, Tammas! But wait. I'll go you one better. You can write your note and give it out that you've shifted to another ship. But you'll stay aboard with us, under cover. Of all the steamers that touch at Aden, one will soon come along with parties whom either she or I know. Then off she goes to the tight little island, and we follow after in our little tramp or on another liner. Hey, Tammas?"
"Well, I don't know," hesitated Blake. "It sounds all right."
"It is all right," insisted the younger man. "You'll be aboard the same steamer with her as far as Aden, to keep an eye on me, y'know."
"You'd better. My word, Tom! don't you realize? If you—er—put it off, I'm bound to try for myself. Can't help it!"
"Think you've got a show, do you?" rallied Blake.
"I fancied I had as much chance as any one, before all this occurred. I at least should have been in the running, had it not been for the wreck—and you."
Blake stood for several moments, with his head down-bent and eyes fixed upon the ground. When he looked up and spoke, his face was grave and his voice deep and low.
"It's all of a piece, Jimmy. I don't blame you. Fact is, it's all the better. I've had all the advantage here. She and I've been living in the Cave Age, and I've proved myself an A-1 cave-man, if I do say it myself. It may be hard for her to get the right perspective of things, even after she's back in her own environment. Understand?"
"I take it, you mean she has seen the display of your strongest and best qualities, in circumstances that did not call for such non- essentials as mere polish—drawing room culture."
"You mean, for all that counts most with ninety-nine per cent of your class and hers," rejoined Blake. "And there's the craving, too. I'll have to fight that out before I'll be fit to let her do anything. Think I don't know the difference between us? No! I'm going to go the limit, Jimmy. I can't do less, and be square to her. So I give you full leave. You're free to play your hand for all there is in it. I'll stay here—"
"No—no! I'll not hear of it, Tom!"
"Yes, you will. I'll stay here, and you'll see her clear through to America—to Chicago—right to her papa's house and in through the door. Understand? I don't make a single condition. You're to try your best to win; and if you do, why—don't you see?—it'll show that this which she thinks is the real thing is all a mistake."
"My word, old man! you'd not give her up without a fight? That wouldn't be like you!"
"It all depends. I won't if it's true she loves me—God! no! I'd go through hell-fire for her!"
"If I know you, Tom, you'll suffer that and more, should the event prove she is mistaken as to the nature of her present feeling."
"What of it?" muttered Blake, with a look that told the other the uselessness of persuasion. "Think I'd let her marry me, long as there's a shadow of a chance of her being mistaken?"
"Very well, then," replied his friend. "You've said your say. Now I'll say mine. I can ease the tedium of Miss Leslie's trip up the coast; and I stand ready to do so—on two conditions. In the first place; you're to come aboard and stay aboard. After I find a chaperon for her at Aden, you're to go on home with me, to visit at Ruthby."
"Excuse me!" said Blake. "I can see myself parading around your ancestral stone-heap with your ducal dad!"
"You not only can, but will," rejoined the earl. "Come now. You'll be allowed to write that note at Port Mozambique, and keep in covert till Miss Leslie is safe off the ship. But you'll do the rest—you'll not stay here. Another thing—you have my word for it now—I shall endeavor no more than yourself to win her, until after she has returned to her home in the States."
"Lord, Jimmy! that's square—to me, I mean. But how about her?"
"No fear," reassured the Englishman. "She's received everywhere. She's been presented—at Court, y'know. If she stays over on this side a bit, there'll be dozens of 'em dancing attendance on her. Come, now; it's all settled."
"Well, I don't know," hesitated Blake.
"I tell you, you'll sail with us, else I shall leave her at Port Mozambique and come back for you."
"Um-m—if you take it that hard! But are you sure you can keep her satisfied till we put in there?"
"Trust me for that. If she becomes apprehensive, I'll put it that you'd rather be married in port, by the American consul."
"That's no lie. Say, what's the use of waiting till dark? You said there's a stewardess aboard. Jenny will sure be below with her until— until she's ready for the ceremony."
"Quite true, yes. Then it's all settled. At Port Mozambique, your note; you bunk forward, under cover, till Aden; then home with me for a visit; neither of us see her beyond Aden until we follow her to the States."
"Since you insist—yes, it's a go, Jimmy!" agreed Blake. He turned to hasten away along the gorge, past the baobab. "I'll be back soon. Got to pull down that flag."
Lord James followed, and saw him ascend to the cliff crest on the right, up a withered, leafless tree. The trunk had been burned through at the base in such manner that the top had fallen over against the edge of the rocky wall. A pile of stones offered an easy means of reaching the lower branches. The earl climbed up into the top, and watched his friend run forward over the broken ledges of the ridge.
The bamboo flagstaff was wrenched from its supports and lowered amidst a wild commotion of the nesting sea birds. Blake came back at a jog- trot, regardless of the fierce heat of the sun. In his arms were gathered the tattered folds of the signal flag.
"That's one thing I'm going to take away," he said, in response to the other's look of inquiry. "She sewed that leopard-skin dress all by herself, with a thorn for needle, so we could have her skirt for the flag."
"Fancy!" murmured the Englishman. "With a thorn, you say!"
Blake nodded, and followed him down the tree-ladder and back along the cleft to the baobab. There he paused to take down his archery outfit.
"Guess I'll keep these, too, as souvenirs," he remarked. He pointed to the blackened strips of flesh on the curing racks. "May I ask Lord Avondale to stay to dinner?"
"Very kind, I'm sure. But I've a previous engagement," declined his lordship.
"Now, now, Jeems. Needn't turn up your aristocratic nose at first- class jerked antelope. Ought to 've been with us the first three days. Great menu—raw fish, cocoanuts, more cocoanuts, and then, just when we were whetting our teeth for a nice fat snake or an entree of caterpillars, I landed that old papa leopard. Managed to haggle some of the india rubber off his bones. Tough!—but it was filling. All the same, we didn't wear out any more teeth on him after we got up the cleft and found the cubs. They were tender as spring lambs."
"And Miss Genevieve went through all that!"
"Yes. Told you she's the grittiest little girl ever—and a lady! My God, when I think of it all! . . . Well, she's come through it alive. What's more, she's not going to suffer any bad consequences from it, not if I can help it! Come on. Got your heirloom rag?"
"All right, then. Come on. You don't think I'm aching to hang 'round this cursed hole, do you?—now that she's gone!"
He flung his bow and quiver over his shoulder, thrust the signal flag into the skin pouch, and turned to go.
Lord James stepped before him, with hand outstretched.
"One moment, Tom! Here's for home and America—a fair field, and best man wins!"
"It's a go!" cried Blake, gripping the proffered hand. "May she get the one that'll make her happiest!"
THE EARL AND THE OTHERS
Miss Dolores Gantry shook the snow from her furs, and with the graceful assurance of a yacht running aslant a craft-swarming harbor, cut into the crowd that surged through the Union Station. She brought up in an empty corner of the iron fence, close beside the exit gate through which passengers were hurrying from the last train that had arrived. Her velvety black eyes flashed an eager glance at the out- pouring stream, perceived a Mackinaw jacket, and turned to make swift comparison of the depot clock and the tiny bracelet watch on her slender wrist.
As she again looked up she met the ardent gaze and ingratiating smile of an elegant young man who was sauntering up the train-platform to the exit gate, fastidiously apart from his fellow passengers. He raised his hat, and at the girl's curt nod of recognition, hastened through the gate for a more intimate greeting.
"My dear Dodie!" he exclaimed, reaching for her hand. "This is a most delightful surprise."
"My dear Laffie!" she mocked, deftly slipping both slender hands into her muff. "I quite agree as to it's being a surprise."
"Then you didn't come down to meet me?"
"You?" she asked, with an irony too fine drawn for his conceit. "Come to meet you?"
"Yes. Didn't you get my note saying that all work on my bridge was stopped by the cold and that I would run down to see you?"
"To see me—plus the world, the flesh, and the devil!"
"Now, Dodie!" he protested, with a smirk on his handsome, richly colored face.
The girl's eyes hardened into black diamonds as she met his assured gaze. "Mr. Brice-Ashton, you will hereafter kindly address me as 'Miss Gantry.' You must be aware that I am now out."
"Oh, I've no objections, just so we're not out," he punned.
She gave him her shoulder, and peered eagerly through the pickets of the iron fence at a train that was backing into the station. Ashton shrugged, lighted a gilt-tipped cigarette, and asked: "Permit me to inquire, Miss Gon-tray, if I'm not the happy man for whom you wait, who is?"
She replied without turning: "How can I tell until I see him? I think it will be the hero. If not, it will be the earl."
"Hero?—earl?" repeated Ashton.
"Yes, whichever one Vievie leaves for me."
"What! Genevieve? Miss Leslie? She's not—Is she really coming home so soon?—when she had such a chance for a gay season in London?"
"Don't give yourself away. The London season is in summer."
"You don't say! Well, in England, then. Why didn't you write me?"
"I'm not running a correspondence-school or news agency, Mr. Brice- Ashton."
"Oh, cut it, Dodie! Post me up, that's a good girl! What I've heard has been so muddled. This hero business, for a starter—what about it? I thought it was an English duke that chartered the steamer to rescue Genevieve."
"No, only the son of a duke,—James Scarbridge, the Right Honorable the Earl of Avondale."
"It's in the jack-pot, and as good as lost. What chance have you now to win Genevieve,—with a real earl and a real hero in the field?"
"Earl and hero? I thought he was the hero."
"That's one of the jokes on mamma. Earl Jimmy had nothing to do with the rescue ships that Uncle Herbert cabled to search the Mozambique coast. No; Jeems chartered a tramp steamer on his own account, to look for friend Tommy. He found the heroic Thomas and, incidentally, the fair Genevieve—who wasn't so very fair after weeks of broiling in that East African sun."
"It's wonderful—wonderful! To think that she alone of all aboard her steamer should have survived shipwreck on that savage coast!"
"She didn't survive alone—she couldn't have. That's where Tommy came in. There was another man, but he didn't count for much, I guess. Vievie merely wrote that he died during the second cyclone."
"What an experience!—and for a girl like Genevieve!"
"She, of all girls!" chimed in Dolores enviously. "You remember she never went in for sports of any kind, not even riding. And for her to be flung out that way into the tropical jungles, among lions and crocodiles and snakes and things! Why can't I ever have romantic adventures?"
"You wouldn't give the man a chance to prove himself a hero," objected Ashton. "You'd shoot the lions yourself."
"I am good at archery. A bow and arrows, you know, were all that Mr. Blake had."
"Blake?" repeated Ashton in rather a peculiar tone.
"Yes, Tommy the hero, otherwise Mr. Thomas Blake."
"Blake—Thomas Blake?" echoed Ashton.
"I—rather odd—I once—seems to me I once knew a man of that name. You don't happen to know if he's a—that is, what his occupation is, do you?"
Ashton was not the kind of man from whom is expected hesitancy of speech. The girl spared him a swift glance from the out-flocking stream of passengers. His fixed gaze and slack lower jaw betrayed even more uneasiness than had his voice.
"Don't be afraid," she mocked. "He's not a minister; so he couldn't marry her without help, and he's not done it since the rescue."
"Not done it?" repeated Ashton vaguely.
"No. According to mamma's letter, Earl Jimmy outgeneraled the low- browed hero. At Aden he put Vievie on a P. and O. steamer, in the charge of Lady Chetwynd. He and the hero followed in the tramp steamer to England, where he kept friend Thomas at his daddy's ducal castle until Vievie made mamma start home with her. You know mamma streaked it for London, at Uncle Herbert's expense, the moment Vievie cabled from Port Mozambique that she was safe. Uncle Herbert would have sent me, too, but mamma wouldn't have it. Just like her! It was her first chance to do England and crowd in on Vievie's noble friends. She said I might spoil the good impression she hoped to make, because I'm too much of a tomboy."
"But if it's your mother and Genevieve you're waiting for—I understood you to say the earl and that man Blake."
"Oh, they followed on the next steamer. Mamma wired that they are all coming on together from New York." "Where's Mr. Leslie? Did he go to meet them?"
"He? You should know how busy Uncle Herbert always is. I called by his office for him. He sent out word to go on. He would follow."
"What! after all Genevieve went through, all those hardships and dangers? You'd think that even he—"
"Look I oh, look I there she is now!" cried the girl, pressing close against the fence and waving her handkerchief between the pickets.
"Where? Yes, I see! beside your mother!" exclaimed Ashton, and he lifted his hat on his cane.
The signals won them recognition from the approaching ladies, the younger of whom responded with a quietly upraised hand. Beside her walked a rosy-cheeked blonde young Englishman, while in front a big square-built man thrust the crowd forward ahead of them. They were followed by two maids, a valet, and two porters, with hand luggage.
As the party emerged from the gateway the younger lady leaned forward and spoke in a clear soft voice: "Turn to the left, Tom."
The big man in the lead swerved out of the crowd and across the corner past Miss Gantry, who was advancing with outstretched arms, her eyes sparkling with joyous excitement.
"Vievie!" she half shrieked.
Blake glanced over his shoulder and stopped short at sight of the girls locked in each other's arms. After a moment's fervent embrace, Dolores thrust her cousin out at arm's-length and surveyed her from top to toe with radiant eyes.
"Vievie! Vievie! I really can't believe it! To think you're home again—when we never expected to see you—and you've got almost all the tan off already!"
Genevieve looked up into the vivacious face of the younger girl with an affectionate smile on her delicately curved lips and tears of joy in her hazel eyes.
"It is good to be home again, dear!" she murmured. She drew Dolores about to face the big man, who stood looking on with rather a surly expression, in his pale blue eyes. "Tom," she said, "this is my cousin, Miss Gantry. Dolores, Mr. Blake."
"The hee-row!" sighed Dolores, clasping a hand dramatically on her heart.
Blake's strong face lighted with a humorous smile. "Guess I've got to own up to it, Miss Dolores. Anything Jenny—Miss Leslie—says goes."
As he spoke he raised his English steamer cap slightly and extended a square powerful hand. Dolores entrusted her slender fingers to the calloused palm, which closed upon them with utmost gentleness.
"Really, Mr. Blake!" she exclaimed," I mean it. You are a hero."
Blake's smile broadened, and as he released her hand, he glanced at her mother, who had drawn a little apart with the Englishman. "Don't let me shut out your mamma and Jimmy."
"Oh, mamma believes that any display of family affection is immodest," she replied. "But duty, you know—duty!"
She whirled about and impressed a loud salute upon the drooping jowl of the stately Mrs. Gantry.
"Dolores!" admonished the dame. "When will you remember you're no longer a hoyden? Such impetuosity—and before his lordship!"
"Goodness! Is he really?" panted her daughter, surveying the Englishman with candid curiosity.
"Is he really!" Mrs. Gantry was profoundly shocked. "If you weren't out, I'd see that you had at least two more years in a finishing school."
"Horrors! that certainly would finish me. But you forget yourself, mamma. You keep his earlship waiting for his introduction."
The Englishman shot a humorous glance at Blake, and drew out his monocle. He screwed it into his eye and stared blandly at the irrepressible Miss Gantry, while her mother, with some effort, regained a degree of composure. She bowed in a most formal manner.
"The Right Honorable the Earl of Avondale: I present my daughter."
The earl dropped his monocle, raised his cap, and bowed with unaffected grace. Dolores nodded and caught his hand in her vigorous clasp.
"Glad to meet you," she said. "It's rare we meet a real live earl in Chicago. Most of 'em are caught in New York, soon as they land."
"It's good of you to say it, Miss Gantry," he replied, tugging at the tip of his little mustache. "I've been over before, you know. Came in disguise. This time I was able to march through New York with colors flying, thanks to your mother and Miss Leslie."
Dolores sent her glance flashing after his, and saw Genevieve responding coldly to the effusive greeting of Ashton. The young man was edging towards the earl. But Genevieve turned to introduce him first to her companion.
"Mr. Blake, Mr. Brice-Ashton."
"I'm sure I'm—pleased to meet you, Mr. Blake," murmured Ashton, his voice breaking slightly as Blake grasped his gloved hand in the bare calloused palm.
"Any friend of Miss Jenny's!" responded Blake with hearty cordiality. But as he released the other's hand, he muttered half to himself, "Ashton?—Ashton? Haven't I met you before, somewhere?"
As Ashton hesitated over his reply, Genevieve spoke for him: "No doubt it's the familiarity of the name, Tom. Mr. Brice-Ashton's father is Mr. George Ashton, the financier."
"What! him?" exclaimed Blake. "But no. It's his face. I remember now. Met him in your father's office."
"In father's office?"
"When I was acting as secretary for your father, Miss Genevieve," Ashton hastened to explain. "You remember, I was in your father's office for a year. That was before I succeeded with my—plans for the Michamac cantilever bridge and went to take charge of the construction as resident engineer."
"Your plans?" muttered Blake incredulously.
"To be sure. I remember now," said Genevieve absently, and she turned to look about, with a perplexed uptilting of her arched brows. "But, Dolores, where is papa?"
"Coming—coming, Viviekins," reassured her cousin, breaking short an animated conversation with the earl. "Don't worry, dear. He'll be along in a few minutes."
Genevieve stepped forward beside Blake to peer at the crowd. Dolores took pity on Ashton, who had edged around, eager for an introduction to the titled stranger.
"Oh, your earlship," she remarked, "this, by the way, is Mr. Laffie Brice-Ashton. I'd like to present him to you, but I'm afraid your Right Honorableness wouldn't take him even as a gift if you knew him as well as I do."
"Oh, now, Do—Miss Gon-tray!" protested Ashton.
The Englishman bowed formally and adjusted his monocle, oblivious of the hand that Ashton had stripped of its glove.
"Your—your grace—I should say, your lordship," stammered Ashton, hastily dropping his hand, "I'm extremely delighted—honored, I mean— at the unexpected pleasure of meeting your lordship."
"Ah, really?" murmured his lordship.
"Mr. Brice-Ashton's father is one of our most eminent financiers," interposed Mrs. Gantry.
"Ah, really? What luck!" politely exclaimed the Englishman. He stepped past the son of the eminent financier, to address Genevieve in an impulsive, boyish tone, "I say, Miss Leslie, hop up on a suitcase between Tom and me. You'll see over their heads."
"Hold on," said Blake, who was staring towards the outer door. "He's coming now."
"Where? Are you sure, Tom?" asked Genevieve, here eyes radiant.
"Sure, I'm sure," said Blake. "Met your father once. That was enough for me."
"Tom! You'll not-?"
"Enough for me to remember him," he explained with grim humor. "Don't worry. I don't want a row any more than you do."
"Or than he will! He'll not forget that had it not been for you—"
"Chuck it, old man," put in Lord James. "Miss Leslie knows as well as you do that one or more of the steamers chartered by her father must certainly have sighted your signal flag within a fortnight. I merely had the luck to be first."
"A lot of things can happen inside two weeks, down on the Mozambique coast. Eh, Miss Jenny?" said Blake.
For the moment, forgetful even of her father, Genevieve clasped her gloved hands and gazed upwards over the heads of the rushing multitude at a vision of swampy lagoons, of palm clumps and tangled jungles, of towering cliffs, and hot sand beaches, all aglare with the fierce downbeat of the tropical sun.
A REFRACTORY HERO
A short, stout, gray-haired man burst out of the crowd, jerked off his hat to Mrs. Gantry, and hastened forward, his gray-brown eyes fixed hungrily upon Genevieve. A moment later he had her in his arms. She returned his embrace with fervor yet with a well-bred quietness that drew a nod of approval from Mrs. Gantry.
"So! you're home—at last—my dear!" commented Mr. Leslie, patting his daughter's back with a sallow, vein-corded hand.
"At last, papa! I should have hurried to you at once, in spite of your cables, if you hadn't said you were starting for Arizona."
"Couldn't tell how long I'd be on that trip. Wanted you to enjoy the month in England, since Lady Chetwynd had asked you. But come now. I must see you started home. Cut short one Board meeting. Must be at another within half an hour."
He stepped apart from her and jerked out his watch.
"Yes, papa, only—" She paused and looked at him earnestly. "Did you not receive my telegram, that we had met Mr. Blake and Lord James in New York, and that they were to come on with us?"
"Hey?" snapped Mr. Leslie, his eyes glinting keen and cold below their shaggy brows. First to be transfixed by their glance was young Ashton, who stood toying with the fringe of Dolores' muff. "What's this, sir? What you doing here?"
Ashton gave back a trifle before the older man's irascibility, but answered with easy assurance: "I thought it would do no harm to run down for a few days. All work at Michamac is stopped—frozen up tight."
"It's not the way your father got his start in life—frivolity! Stick to your work all the time—stick!" rejoined Mr. Leslie. He turned and met the monocled stare of the earl. "H'm. This, I suppose, is the gentleman who—"
"My dear Herbert, permit me," interposed Mrs. Gantry. "Ah—the Right Honorable the Earl of Avondale: I have the honor to present—"
"Glad to meet you, sir!" broke in Mr. Leslie, clutching the Englishman's hand in a nervous grip. "Glad of the chance to thank you in person!"
"But, I say, I'm not the right man, y' know," protested Lord James. "The small part I had in it is not worth mentioning." He laid a hand on Blake's broad shoulder. "It's my friend Thomas Blake you should thank."
Mr. Leslie stepped back and eyed Blake's impassive face with marked coldness. "Your friend Blake?" he repeated.
"Old friend—camp-mate, chum—all over Western America and South Africa. It's he who's entitled to the credit for the rescue of Miss Leslie."
"We'll talk about your part later. You'll, of course, call on us," said Mr. Leslie. He fixed his narrowing eyes on Blake. "H'm. So you're Tom Blake—the same one."
"That's no lie," replied Blake dryly.
"You heard me say I'm busy. Have no time to-day. I'll give you an appointment for to-morrow, at my office, ten A. M. sharp."
"Thanks. But you're a bit too previous," said Blake. "I haven't asked for any appointment with you that I know of."
"But, Tom!" exclaimed Genevieve, astonished at the hostility in his tone, "of course you'll go. Papa wishes to thank you for—for all you've done. To-day, you see, he's so very busy."
Blake's hard eyes softened before her appealing glance, only to stare back sullenly at her father.
"I'm not asking any thanks from him, Miss Jenny," he replied.
The girl caught the arm of her father, who stood glowering irritably at Blake. "Papa, I—I don't understand why you and Tom—Couldn't you— won't you please be a little more cordial? Wait! I have it!" She flashed an eager glance at Blake. "Tom, you'll dine with us this evening."
He looked at Lord James, and replied steadily: "Sorry, Miss Jenny. You know I'd like to come. But I've got a previous engagement."
"If I ask you to break it, Tom?"
"Can't do it. I've given my word—worse luck!"
"But I do so wish you and papa to come to an understanding."
"Gaess I understand him already; so it's no use to—There now, don't worry. Long as you want me to, I'll accept his polite invitation for to-morrow."
"Ten A.M. sharp!" rasped Mr. Leslie. He drew Genevieve about, and rushed her off, with a curt call to Mrs. Gantry: "Come, Amice. Dolores brought the coupe. I'll put you in. The maids and baggage can follow in my car. Hurry up."
Genevieve was whirled away into the thick of the crowd, with scarcely time for a parting glance at Blake and Lord James. Mrs. Gantry lingered an instant to address the young Englishman:
"Pray do not forget, earl, you are to dine with me."
As Lord James bowed in polite agreement, Ashton, who had been scribbling on one of his cards, held it out. "Pardon me, your lordship. Here's a list of my favorite clubs. Look me up. I'll steer you to all the gay spots in little old Chi."
"Mr. Brice-Ashton is one of our hustling young grain speculators," explained Dolores. "Before he went to Michamac he almost cornered the market in wild oats."
"Now, Miss Dodie!" smirked Ashton. "Wait! I'll do your elbowing."
But the girl was already plunging into the crowd, in the wake of her mother, the maids, and the porters. Ashton hastened after, in a vain attempt to overtake her. Crowds part easier before a pretty, smiling, fashionably dressed girl than before a foppish young man who affects the French mode.
The card with the list of clubs fell from the hand that Lord James raised to screw in his monocle.
"Stow it, Jimmy," growled Blake. "I feel just prime for smashing that fool window."
Lord James slipped the monocle into his pocket, and twisted at the end of his short mustache.
"Don't blame you, old man," he remarked. "Her guv'nor was a bit crusty. Quite a clever girl that—the cousin—eh?"
"Miss Dolores? She sure is a hummer. Doesn't take after her mother; so she's all right," assented Blake. He added eagerly, "Say, Jimmy, she's just the one for you. You're so blondy blonde you need a real brunette to set off your charms."
"Sorry, Tom. Saw too much of some one else coming up to Aden—and before. Shouldn't have to remind you of that."
"Damn the luck!" swore Blake. "Well, we've come to the show-down. She's home now; agreement's off."
"To-morrow," corrected his friend.
"Lord! If only you weren't you! I'd knock you clean out of the running!"
"Rotten luck!" murmured Lord James sympathetically. "Had it been any other girl, now! But having met her before you did—Deuce take it, old man, how could I help it?"
"'T ain't your fault, Jimmy. You know I don't blame you. I don't forget you began to play fair just as soon as you got next to how matters stood between.—how they stood with me."
"Couldn't play the cad, you know. I say, though, it's time we talked it all over again. Give me your trunk check. I'll have my man send your luggage to my hotel. You're to keep on bunking with me."
"No," replied Blake. "It was all right, long as we were travelling. Now I've got to hunt a hallroom and begin scratching gravel."
"But at least until you find a position."
"No. I'm sure of something first pop, if old Grif is in town. You remember, I once told you all about him—M. F. Griffith, my old engineer—man who boosted me from a bum to a transitman. Whitest man that ever was! Last I heard, he'd located here in Chicago as a consulting engineer. He'll give me work, or find it for me; and Mollie—that's Mrs. Grif—she'll board me, if she has to set up a bed in her parlor to do it."
"Oh, if you're set on chucking me," murmured Lord James. "But I'll stay by you till you've looked around. If you don't find your friend, you're to come with me."
"Must think I need a chaperon," rallied Blake in a fond growl. "Well, signal your Man Friday, and we'll run a line to the nearest directory."
Lord James signed to his valet, who stood near, discreetly observant. On the instant the man stepped forward with his master's hand luggage, and reached down to grasp Blake's suitcase, which had been left by one of the porters. But Blake was too quick for him. Catching up the suitcase himself, he swung away through the crowd and up the broad stairway, to the Bureau of Information.
Two minutes later he was copying an address from the city business directory.
"Got his office O.K.," he informed his friend. "Over on Dearborn Street. Next thing's to see if he's in town. Shunt your collar- buttoner, and come on. We can walk over inside ten minutes."
Lord James instructed his valet to take a taxicab to the hotel. He himself proceeded to button up his overcoat from top to bottom and turn up the collar.
"Your balmy native clime!" he gibed, staring ruefully through the depot windows at the whirling snowstorm without. "If I freeze my Grecian nose, you'll have to buy me a wax one."
Blake chuckled. "Remember that night up in the Kootenay when the blizzard struck us and we lost the road?"
"Pleasant time to recall it!" rejoined Lord James, with a shiver. "But come on. I'm keen to meet your Mr. Griffith."
THREE OF A KIND
They reached the great office building on Dearborn Street, red-faced and tingling from the whirling drive of the powdery snow. It was so dry with frost that scarcely a flake clung to their coats when they pushed in through the storm doors. The elevator shot them up to the top floor of the building before they could catch their breath in the close, steam-heated atmosphere.
"Whew!" said Blake, stepping out and dropping his suitcase, to shed his English raincoat. "Talk about Mozambique! Guess you know now you're in Hammurica, me lud. All the way from the Pole to Panama in one swing of the street door."
"What was your friend's number?" asked Lord James, eying the doors across the corridor.
"Seventeen-fifteen. Must be down this way," answered Blake.
Catching up his suitcase, he led around to the rear corner of the building. At the end of the side hall they came to a door marked "No. 1715." On the frosted glass below the number there was painted in plain black letters a modest sign:
M. F. GRIFFITH, C. E. CONSULTING ENGINEER
Blake led the way in and across to the plain table-desk where a young clerk was checking up a surveyor's field book.
"Hello," said Blake. "Mr. Griffith in?"
"Why, yes, he's in. But I think he's busy," replied the clerk, starting to rise. "I'll see. What business?"
"Don't bother, sonny," said Blake. "We'll just step in and sit down."
The clerk stared, but resumed his seat, while Blake crossed to the door marked "Private," and motioned Lord James to follow him in. When they entered, a lank, gray-haired man sat facing them at a table-desk as plain as the clerk's. It was covered with drawings, over which the veteran engineer was poring with such intentness that he failed to perceive his callers.
"Hello! What's up now?" asked Blake in a casual tone. "Going to bridge Behring Straits?"
"Hey?" demanded the worker, glancing up with an abstracted look.
His dark eyes narrowed as he took in the trim figure of the earl and Blake's English cap and tweeds. But at sight of Blake's face he shoved back his chair and came hurrying around the end of the desk, his thin dry face lighted by a rare smile of friendship. He warily caught the tip of Blake's thick fingers in his bony clasp.
"Well! I'll be—switched!" he croaked. "What you doing here, Tommy? Thought we'd got rid of you for good."
"Guess you'll have to lump it," rejoined Blake. "I'm here with both feet, and I want a job—P-D-Q. First, though, I want you to shake hands with my friend, Jimmy Scarbridge—Hold on! Wait a second."
He drew himself up pompously, and bowed to Lord James in burlesque mimicry of Mrs. Gantry. "Aw, beg pawdon, m'lud. Er—the—aw—Right Hon'able the—aw—Earl of Avondale: I present—aw—Mistah Griffith."
"Chuck it! The original's enough and to spare," cut in his lordship. He turned to Griffith with unaffected cordiality. "Glad to meet one of Tom's other friends, Mr. Griffith."
"The only other," added Blake.
"Then I'm still gladder!" said Lord James, gripping the bony hand of Griffith. "Don't let Tom chaff you. My name's just Scarbridge—James Scarbridge."
"Owh, me lud! Himpossible!" gasped Blake, "And your papa a juke!"
At sight of Griffith's upcurving eyebrows, Lord James smiled resignedly and explained: "Quite true—as to His Grace, y'know. But I assure you that even in England I am legally only a commoner. It's only by courtesy—custom, you know—that I'm given my father's second title."
"That's all right, Mr. Scarbridge," assured Griffith, in turn. "Glad to meet you. Have a seat."
While the callers drew up chairs for themselves, he returned to his seat and hauled out a box of good cigars. Blake helped himself and passed the box to Lord James. Griffith took out an old pipe and proceeded to load it with rank Durham.
"Well?" he croaked, as he handed over a match-box. "What's the good word, Tommy?"
"Haven't you heard?" replied Blake. "I'm a hero, the real live article,—T. Blake, C. E. H. E., R. O.—Oh!"
"No joshing, you Injin," admonished Griffith, pausing with a lighted match above the bowl of his pipe.
Lord James gazed reproachfully at the grinning Blake. "He tries to belittle it, Mr. Griffith, but it's quite true. Haven't you seen about it in the press?"
"Too busy over this Arizona dam," said Griffith, jerking his pipe towards the drawings on his desk.
"What dam?" demanded Blake, bending forward, keenly alert.
"Zariba—big Arizona irrigation project. Simple as A, B, C, except the dam itself. That has stumped half a dozen of the best men. Promoters are giving me a try at it now. But I'm beginning to think I've bitten off more 'n I can chew."
"You?" said Blake incredulously.
"Yes, me. When it comes to applying what's in the books, I'm not so worse. You know that, Tommy. But this proposition—Only available dam site is across a stretch of bottomless bog, yet it's got to hold a sixty-five foot head of water."
"Je-ru-salem!" whistled Blake. "Say, you've sure got to give me a shy at that, Grif. It can't be worked out—that's a cinch. Just the same, I'd like to fool with the proposition."
Griffith squinted at the younger engineer through his pipe smoke, and grunted: "Guess I'll have to let you try, if you're set on it." He nodded to Lord James. "You know how much use it is bucking against Tommy. The boys used to call him a mule. They were half wrong. That half is bulldog."
"Aw, come off!" put in Blake. "You know it's just because I hate to quit."
"That's straight. You're no quitter. Shouldn't wonder if you held on to this dam problem till you swallowed it."
"Stow the kidding," said Blake, embarrassed.
"I'm giving it to you straight. This dam has made a lot of good ones quit. I'm about ready to quit, myself. But I'll be—switched if I don't think you'll make a go of it, Tommy."
"In your eye!"
"No." Griffith took out his pipe and fixed an earnest gaze on Blake. "I'm not one to slop over. You know that. I can put it all over you in mathematics—in everything that's in the books. So can a hundred or more men in this country. Just the same, there's something—you've got something in you that ain't in the books."
"Whiskey?" suggested Blake, with bitter self-derision.
"Tom!" protested Lord James.
"What's the use of lying about it?" muttered Blake.
"You've no whiskey in you now," rejoined Griffith. "I'm talking about what you are now,—what you've got in your head. It's brains."
"Pickled in alcohol!" added Blake, more bitterly than before.
"That's a lie, and you know it, Tommy. You're not yet on the shelf— not by a long sight."
Blake grinned sardonically at Lord James. "Hear that, Jimmy? Never take the guess of an engineer. They're no good at guessing. It's not in the business."
"Chuck it. You know you've got something worth fighting for now."
"Lots of chance I'll have to win out against you!" Blake's teeth ground together on his unlighted cigar. He jerked it from his mouth and flung it savagely into the wastebasket. But the violent movement discharged the tension of his black humor.
"Lord! what a grouch I am!" he mumbled. "Guess I'm in for a go at the same old thing."
Griffith and Lord James exchanged a quick glance, and the former hastened to reply: "Don't you believe it, Tommy. Don't talk about my guessing. You're steady as a rock, and you're going to keep steady. You're on the Zariba Dam now,—understand?"
"It's a go!" cried Blake, his eyes glowing. "That fixes me. You know my old rule: Not a drop of anything when I'm on a job. Only one thing more, and I'm ready to pitch in. I must get Mollie to put me up."
Griffith looked down, his teeth clenching on the pipe stem. There was a moment's pause. Then he replied in a tone more than ever dry and emotionless: "Guess my last letter didn't reach you. I lost her, a year ago—typhoid."
"God!" murmured Blake. He bent forward and gripped his friend's listless hand.
Griffith winced under the sympathetic clasp, turned his face away, coughed, and rasped out: "Work's the one thing in the world, Tommy. Always believed it. I've proved it this year. Work! Beats whiskey any day for making you forget ... I've got rooms here. You'll bunk with me. Pretty fair restaurant down around the corner."
"It's a go," said Blake. He nodded to Lord James. "That lets you out, Jimmy."
"Out in the cold," complained his lordship.
"What! With Mamma Gantry waiting to present you to the upper crust?—I mean, present the crust to you."
"Best part of the pie is under the crust."
"Now, now, none of that, Jimmy boy. You're not the sort to take in the town with a made-in-France thing like that young Ashton."
"Ashton?" queried Griffith. "You don't mean Laffie Ashton?"
"He was down at the depot to give our party the glad hand."
"Your party?" repeated Griffith. He saw Blake wink at Lord James, and thought he understood. "I see. He knows Mr. Scarbridge, eh? It's like him, dropping his work and running down here, when he ought to stick by his bridge."
"His bridge?" asked Blake. "Say, he did blow about having landed the Michamac Bridge. But of course that's all hot air. He didn't even take part in the competition. Besides, you needn't tell me he's anything more than a joke as an engineer."
"Isn't he, though? After you pulled out the last time—after the competition,—he put in plans and got the Michamac Bridge."
"You're joking!" cried Blake. "He got it?—that gent!"
"You'll remember that all who took part in the competition failed on the long central span," said Griffith.
"No!" contradicted Blake. "I didn't. I tell you, it was just as I wrote you I'd do. I worked out a new truss modification. I'd have sworn my cantilever was the only one that could span Michamac Strait."
"And then to have your plans lost!" put in Griffith with keen sympathy beneath his dry croak. "Hell! That bridge would have landed you at the top of the ladder in one jump."
"Losing those plans landed me on a brake-beam, after my worst spree ever," muttered Blake.
"Don't wonder," said Griffith. "What gets me, though, is the way this young Ashton, this lily-white lallapaloozer of a kid-glove C. E., came slipping in with his plans less than a month after the contest. I looked up the records."
"What were you doing, digging into that proposition?" demanded Blake.
"What d' you suppose? Ashton was slick enough to get an ironclad contract as Resident Engineer. His bridge plans are a wonder, but he's proved himself N. G. on construction work. Has to be told how to build his own bridge. I'm on as Consulting Engineer."
"You?" growled Blake. "You, working again for H. V. Leslie!"
"Give the devil his due, Tommy. He's sharp as tacks, but if you've got his name to a straightforward contract—"
"After he threw us down on the Q. T. survey?"
Griffith coughed and hesitated. "Well—now—look here, Tommy, you're not the kind to hold a grudge. Anyway, the bridge was turned over to the Coville Construction Company." He turned quickly to Lord James. "Say, what's that about his being in the papers? If it's anything to his credit, put me next, won't you? I couldn't pry it out of him with a crow-bar."
"So you're going to use a Jimmy instead, eh?" countered Blake.
"Right-o, Tammas," said Lord James. "We're going to open up the incident out of hand."
"Lord!" groaned Blake. He rose, flushing with embarrassment, and swung across, to stare at a blueprint in the far corner of the room.
Lord James flicked the ash from his cigar with his little finger, and smiled at Griffith.
"Tom and I had been knocking around quite a bit, you know," he began. "Fetched up in South Africa. American engineers in demand on the Rand. Tom was asked to manage a mine."
"He could do it," commented Griffith. "Was two years on a low-grade proposition in Colorado—made it pay dividends. Didn't he suit the Rand people?"
"Better than they suited him, I take it. I left for a run home. Week before I arrived a servant looted the family jewels—heirlooms, all that, you know—chap named Hawkins. Thought I'd play Sherlock Holmes. Learned that my man had booked passage for India. Traced him to Calcutta. Lost two months; found he'd doubled back and gone to the Cape. Cape Town, found he'd booked passage for England under his last alias—Winthrope. Steamer list also showed names of my friend Lady Bayrose, Miss Leslie, and Tom."
"Hey?" ejaculated Griffith, opening his narrowed eyes a line.
"Same time, learned the steamer had been posted as lost, somewhere between Port Natal and Zanzibar."
"Crickey!" gasped Griffith. "Then it was Tom who pulled H. V.'s daughter—Miss Leslie—through that deal! Heard all about it from H. V. himself, when he took me out to Arizona to look over this Zariba Dam proposition. But he didn't name the man. Well, I'll be—switched! Tommy sure did land in High Society that time!"
"They landed in the primitive, so to speak,—he and Miss Leslie and Hawkins,—when the cyclone flung them ashore in the swamps."
"Hawkins? Didn't you just say—"
"Rather a grim joke, was it not? Every soul aboard drowned except those three—Tom and Miss Leslie and Hawkins, of all men!"
"Bet Tommy shook your family jewels out of his pockets mighty sudden."
Lord James lost his smile. "He got them, later on, when the fellow— died."
"Eh? Well, God's country is good enough for me. Those tropical holes sure are hell. Tommy once wrote me about one of the Central American ports. You. don't ever catch me south of the U. S. This East African proposition, now? Must have been a tough deal even for Tommy."
"They were doing well enough when I found him, both he and Miss Leslie,—skin clothes, poisoned arrows, house in a tree hollow—all that, y'know."
"Well, I'll be—! But that's Tommy, for sure. He's got the kind of brains that get there. If he can't buck through a proposition, he'll triangulate around it. Go on."
"There's not much to tell, I fancy, now that you know he was the man. You're aware that, had it not been for his resourcefulness and courage, Miss Leslie would have perished in that savage land of wild beasts and fever. Yet there is something more than you could have heard from her father, something I'm not free to tell about. Wish I was, 'pon my word, I do! Finest thing he ever did,—something even we would not have expected of him."
"Dunno 'bout that," qualified Griffith. "There's mighty little I don't expect of him—if only he can cut out the lushing."
Lord James twisted his mustache. "Ever think of him as wearing a dress suit, Mr. Griffith?"
Griffith looked blank. "Tommy?—in a dress suit!"
"There's one in his box. When we landed in England I took him down to Ruthby. Kept him there a month. You'd have been jolly well pleased to see the way he and the guv'nor hit it off."
"Yes, my pater—father, y' know."
"So he's a governor? Then Tommy was stringing me about the earl and duke business."
"Oh, no, no, indeed, no. The pater is the Duke of Ruthby, seventh in the line, and twenty-first Earl of Avondale; but he's a crack-up jolly old chap, I assure you. Not all our titled people are of the kind you see most of over here in the States."
"But—hold on—if your father is a real duke, then you're not Mr.—"
"Yes, I must insist upon that. Even in England I am only Mr. Scarbridge—legally, y' know. Hope you'll do me the favor of remembering I prefer it that way."
"I'd do a whole lot for any man he calls his friend," said Griffith, gazing across at Blake's broad back. Lord James glanced at his watch, and rose. "Sorry. Must go."
"Well, if you must," said Griffith. "You know the way here now. Drop in any time you feel like it. Rooms are always open. If I'm busy, I've got a pretty good technical library—if you're interested in engineering,—and some photographs of scenery and construction work. Took 'em myself."
"Thanks. I'll come," responded Lord James. He nodded cordially, and turned to call slangily to Blake: "S' long, bo. I'm on my way."
Blake wheeled about from the wall. "What's this? Not going already?"
"Ah, to be sure. Pressing engagement. Must give Wilton time to attire me—those studied effects—last artistic touches, don't y' know," chaffed the Englishman.
But his banter won no responsive smile from his friend. Blake's face darkened.
"You're not going to see her to-day," he muttered.
"How could you think it, Tom?" reproached the younger man, flushing hotly. "I have it! We'll extend the agreement until noon to-morrow. You have that appointment with her father in the morning."
"That's square! Just like you, Jimmy. Course I knew you'd play fair— It's only my grouch. I remember now. Madam G. gave you a bid to dine with her."
Lord James drew out his monocle, replaced it, and smiled. "Er—quite true; but possibly the daughter may be a compensation."
"Sure," assented Blake, a trifle too eagerly, "You're bound to like Miss Dolores. I sized her up for a mighty fine girl. Not at all like her mamma—handsome, lively young lady—just your style, Jimmy."
"Can't see it, old man. Sorry!" replied his lordship. "Good-day. Good- day, Mr. Griffith."
THE HERO EXPLAINS
For half a minute after his titled friend had bowed himself out, Blake stood glowering at the door. The sharp crackle of a blueprint under the thrumming fingers of Griffith caused him to start from his abstraction and cross to the desk, where he dropped heavily into his former seat.
"Well?" demanded Griffith. "Out with it."
"You called him your friend. He's a likely-looking youngster, even if he is the son of a duke. Same time, there's something in the wind. Cough it up. Haven't happened to smash any heads or windows, have you, while you were—"
"No!" broke in Blake harshly. "It's worse than that, ten times worse! It's—it's Jenny—Miss Leslie!"
Griffith's thin lips puckered in a soundless whistle. "Well, I'll be—! Don't tell me you've gone and—Why, you never cared a rap for girls."
"No, but this time, Grif—It began when I showed her through that Rand mine. Jimmy has told you what followed."
Griffith blinked, and discreetly said nothing as to what lie had heard from Miss Leslie's father. "H'm. I'd like to hear it all, straight from you."
"Can't now. Too long a yarn. I want to tell you about the results. Couldn't do it to any one else," explained Blake, blushing darkly under his thick layer of tropical tan. He sought to beat around the bush. "Well, I proved myself fit to survive in that environment, tough as it was—sort of cave-man's hell. Queer thing, though, Jenny—Miss Leslie—proved fit, too; that is, she did after right at the start. She's got a headpiece, and grit!"