An Intervention at Providence
GILBERT P. COLEMAN IN THE NEW ENGLAND MAGAZINE
The story of a meeting by chance.
THE “Boston Limited,” swinging round the curve with a hiss of steam and a grinding of brakes, came to a halt in the big station at Providence, and the passengers filed out from the vestibuled platforms and hurried across the maze of tracks to the waiting-room and the street.
Among the passengers, a tall, striking girl dressed in blue seemed to be particularly agitated. She stood for a moment in nervous indecision and then stepped up to the gateman.
“Is there another train in from Provincetown ?”
The gateman stared at her in very evident admiration before he consulted his watch.
“Yes, ma’am,” he replied, reassuringly, “three-ten. Expecting somebody? You’ll have plenty of time to catch ’em before the Cape train leaves.”
“Or they’ll have plenty of time to catch me,” she murmured, as she thanked the man and turned away, dropping her long blue veil over her face. “I must be on board my train before the other comes in, in case of pursuit. But first I’ll go and have something to eat. Why didn’t I have dinner on the train? So foolish of me to be nervous. Just as I didn’t have a perfect right to go alone—why, where is my purse?”
She stood rigid, hand deep in the pocket of her traveling coat, and listened to her heart as it thumped in hideous dismay. And well it might, for she had lost, with her purse, her railroad ticket, her trunk check, all her money, and—the freedom which she had run away from home to obtain !
For a full minute she stood there; then, stumbling blindly towards a seat, she was almost run down by a porter wheeling a truckful of baggage. As she drew back out of his way, she realized the dread awk-
wardness of her position. Night was rapidly aproaching, there was no one whom she knew within a hundred miles, and she was utterly alone. For a moment she felt a wild desire to telegraph to her deserted aunt for help. But, alas, she couldn’t. She had no money !
A porter coming in through the gate with a grip in each hand passed directly before here. As he did she chanced to glance vaguely at the bags he carried. Then she took a sudden step forward, her face glowing with glad surprise, for—and she could scarce credit the evidence of her eyes —on a suit case which the porter had set down was painted the legend,
“D. Q. Brown, Phila.”
She knew then that she was safe. There could, of course, be but one Don Quixote Brown in her native city, probably only one in the world ; and he was the husband of Mary Brown, the friend to whose Summer home on the Cape she was fleeing for sanctuary.
She caught the porter by the sleeve.
“Where is the owner of this?” she demanded, breathlessly. “I must find him at once !”
The porter, thus accosted, gazed at her curiously.
“Indeed, ma’am, I couldn’t say,” he replied. “I guess he’ll be along in a minute—he told me to leave the grips here for him.”
With an air of anxious determination she stood there by the bags, scaning each man as he came hurrying in through the gate, but not one or them was Mr. Don Quixote Brown, of Philadelphia. Suppose be came too late to help her get that train? Suppose he didn’t come at all? Well, at any rate, she would never abandon that bag. She regarded it as her anchor of hope, her haven of refuge—the only friend she had left in the wide world. She even moved a step nearer as a
tall young man walked up and reached out his hands, one towardthe strange bag, one toward that bearing the familiar initials.
“Stop ! That isn’t yours !”
The young man checked himself abruptly and turned toward the girl as she seized hold of one end of the bag with both hands and looked up at him defiantly.
He raised his hat politely, still retaining his hold on the handle of the grip, however.
“Pardon me,” he said, affably, “I fear you have made some mistake.”
“It’s not yours,” she retorted, quite savagely, desperate with the fear of having this last sweet hope snatched from before her very eyes. “It belongs to a friend of mine, and I am waiting to see him—Mr. Don Brown. The porter said he would be here in a minute. I—I—something has hap-
pened, and when I saw his bag I knew, at least I thought—” and then she stopped miserably.
The stranger was eyeing her with a sudden look of interest.
“Is there anything I can do?” he asked kindly. “Your mistake was quite natural. And it wasn’t a mistake, after all ; for the bag, as you say, isn’t mine, and it does belong to Mr. Brown. But he is in Philadelphia, and I am on by way there. He asked me to bring the bag with me on my way back from Provincetown.”
Provincetown ! The place where the Browns spent their Summers ! He wasn’t an imposter, then— a sneak thief. She drew herself up with dignity.
“I hope you will pardon me. I— it was so unexpected—” Her voice faded away, her head swam dizzily. This blow, coming right after the loss of her purse and the ruin of her plans, was cruel. She made a feeble effort to smile.
“My dear young woman—Thank Heaven! I thought she was going to faint.”
He said this under his breath as he caught her in his arms, just as it seemed as if she were going to drop
to the floor.
“Come and sit down. It will be all right in a moment.”
As he spoke he led her to a quiet corner of the waiting-room, brought a glass of water, and sat down beside her.
“Tell me what has happened,” he said, when she had thanked him and he saw that the color was coming back to her face. “Where are you going?” His voice was reassuring, and she seemed so genuinely solicitous that the girl began to take comfort.
“Where? Why, let me see.” She passed her hand over her forehead, making an effort to pull herself together. “Why, to Princetown. To Mary’s—that is, to Mrs. Brown’s. I lost my purse—in the train, I suppose. I never thought to go back and look, and now it’s too late—I was so—so upset. I don’t know anybody and I can’t get away. My name is Vernon,’ she added, “Violet Vernon, of Philadelphia.”
She paused then in some confusion, realizing that the circumstances, though unusual, hardly warranted so complete an attitude of confidence. And yet somehow she could not but feel that this strange young man was a man to be trusted. He certainly looked honest, and he must be all right, for he was a friend of the Browns.
As for the young man, he began to regard her attentively, studying each feature of her face with an embarrassing minuteness.
“Oh,” he said, slowly, like one who sees light after darkness, “so you are Violet—I mean—pardon me—you are Miss Violet Vernon. I am very glad to meet you. My name is Blount— Oliver Blount. Mr. Brown and I are old friends. Of course you must let me help you. Just sit here a minute. I’ll see about your ticket.
His manner had changed from conventional courtesy to an eager, almost boyish enthusiasm as he left her abruptly and made his way over to the ticket office.
When he returned, the young woman was pinning up her hair and putting into practice various subtle, feminine devices to make herself appear
as if she had just stepped out of a bandbox instead of a hot, dusty railroad train.
“We have ten minutes to spare,” he said, briskly. “I have ordered a cup of tea for you in the lunchroom. It will brace you up for the rest of the journey. You came all the way from Philadelphia to-day, you say?”
He glanced at her tired, white face, with the heavy dark shadows under her eyes., which nevertheless met his without wavering, and repeated his request :
“Won’t you come and have some tea?”
“You musn’t lose your own train,” she said, as they sat down at the little table. “I don’t know how to thank you for doing this for me. I hope —perhaps you will be at the Brown’s again this Summer. You must give me your address so that I can send you the money,” she stammered, and then hurried on. “When you see Mr. Brown, if you don’t mind, tell him I’m all right. I know my aunt will have sent for him whçn she finds that I have disappeared, and he may be worried. I know he will understand, when I explain it all myself.”
She paused in confusion, while her companion looked at her inquiringly.
“Wouldn’t it be better for you to send a telegram, or even a letter to your aunt?”
The girl raised her head defiantly.
“It isn’t about her that I care,” she answered, coldly. “At least, it’s her own fault.”
“Oh, I see,’ said Mr. Blount, in the wholly unconvinced tone of one who did not see at all, at the same time glancing down at the innocent, youthful face, half visible under the broad hat-brim and fluttering veil.
“It must be the same girl,” he muttered to himself, as he led the way out of the waiting-room and across the tracks to the Cape train that had backed in on a siding. “So very much like the photograph, though even prettier—and the same name ;—and knows the Browns. But what on earth is she doing here alone?’
“But aren't you rather cruel to your aunt?” he ventured, giving her his hand to help her up the steps of the cars.
“Cruel !” repeated the girl. “If you only knew—” and then she paused for very indignation.
He followed her into the car and took a seat at her side. She turned and looked at him in surprise, tinged possibly with a suspicion of aloofness.
“You must hurry,” she said, with suppressed excitement, “the train has started now.”
“Yes, I know it,’ replied the young man, peacefully. “I’m going back with you to Provincetown.”
For a moment she stared at him, unable to speak. She had guessed rightly. He thought that she was an imposter ! He was going back with her to find out whether she had told the truth, to be sure of getting her money back—to report her conduct to her aunt. He was a spy, pickpocket, a—a—
She gazed at him hopelessly as these disconcerting suspicious crowded her brain, sitting rigidly in her place, not hearing at all what he was saying to her until he leaned forward and asked :
“What is it, Miss Vernon? You don’t want me to go? Forgive me. please. I had no intention of taking a liberty.” He had started to his feet.
She watched him go without a word. But no sooner had he disappeared than her resentment turned to repentance and she wished she had the courage to run after him and call him back. The train would stop at the next station in a few minutes, he would get ofï, and it would be too late !
With a swift resolve she rose, made her way along the swaying aisle, and was half through the narrow passage at the end which leads to the door when a man loomed suddenly before her.
And then she stoped short. It was he—Mr. Blount—and he had stopped, too, and was waiting expectantly.
But her courage had suddenly failed her. She had never traveled alone before ; had never in all her quiet life had as much excitement and trouble
as in this one clay. She was so very, very tired, and confused and cruelly dismayed by all that had happened. And as she met his eyes she drew herself up against the side of the passage, making way for him to step by.
But he also, with a better sense of propriety, had flattened himself against the side oposite, waiting for her to move. And thus, for a few miserable seconds, they stood facing each other in silent embarrassment. At length he said formally, without a trace of his former enthusiasm :
“I wa'S just coming back to tell you that you must change at Yarmouth. And be sure to get the right train ; two go out at the same time. I will speak to the conductor and ask him to show you.”
For a moment longer they stood there, gazing at each other solemnly. And then the car gave a violent lurch as it rounded a sharp curve. The girl threw out her hands instinctively to save herself, and the young man, fully as instinctively, braced himself against the side of the passage with one hand, and caught her with the other in a tight—a necessarily very tight embrace.
They remained thus for the briefest moment—long enough, however, for each to flush suddenly and look blankly into the eyes of the other. Then the girl released herself, the car having settled down to its good behavior.
“O Mr. Blount,” she exclaimed, “thank you so much ! Oh dear, no ! I don’t mean that ! Please don’t go. Fm sory. I’m ever so grateful, really. Only, Fm so very tired. I think I’m losing my mind, or something.” And as she finished this coherent apology they both laughed, the girl rather shakily.
He became instantly serious.
“I understand just how you feel,” , he said, sympathetically, while the tears started in spite of her. “But if you knew all Fve been through you wouldn’t be surprised at having me cry—just a little.”
“I’m not a bit surprised,” he protested. “The only wonder is that you didn’t cry long ago.”
When they had resumed their seats he turned to her encouragingly.
“Now tell me all about it. What has happened? If you want anybody killed, you can depend upon me.”
“I think I should like to get rid of myself first,” she laughed. It was a comfort to have him take everything into his own hands this way. He seemed so cheerful, so strong—so nice !
She hesitated for a moment, apparently pondering deeply, and then she looked up at him, half timidly, half desperately.
“Mr. Blount,” she said, finally, how would you feel if you were a man, and—and were invited to visit a girl’s aunt and—and quite unsuspectedingly went, and when you arrived, found that you had been—had been—entrapped into meeting the girl in the hope that you would—would settle the problem of what should be done with her. Wouldn’t you have run away?”
“But you are not a man,” he replied, endeavoring to straighten out the problem.
“It seems to me,” he continued, “that this is a case of how the girl felt.”
“Well/ she demanded, “suppose you were a girl. No girl with an atom of pride would stay and be met that way, would she? To be just like a— a bait.”
“I don’t know many girls,” he replied, simply.
“That’s just the way with this man/ she went on, eagerly, “and that’s what makes me so indignant. He’s just a good, kind-hearted, generous, unsuspecting, manly man, and merely because he is so fine this girl’s aunt is trying to ensnare him.”
As she came to the end of this enthusiastic eulogy he looked at her with a smile of keen amusement.
“You must know this wonderful man pretty well,” he said, “to be convinced of his virtues as you seem to be.”
“Why, I don’t really know him,” she admitted, “but I know all about him. At least I know enough to make me just despise my aunt for doing as she did. I suppose you think it is
dreadful for me to talk so, but—”
“Oh, so you are the princess of the fairy tale,” he laughed; “you are, to use your own expression, the bait with which this charming individual was to be hooked.”
“Oh !” she exclaimed, blankly. “How stupid!” And then realizing the futility of any further subterfuge, she continued.
“Well, yes—it was I. But don’t you think that, under the circumstances, I did perfectly right to run away?”
“No—yes—I think—I don’t know.”
He pondered this lucid reply for a moment.
“But if you do admire him,” he persisted, “it seems strange that you should run off just as he was about to make his appearance. Did you think that, merely because he had been invited to meet you, you couldn’t go on liking him—couldn’t like him even more ?”
“I knew I should like him,” she replied. “I really wanted to meet him. He seemed so different, so free from all the petty schemes of other people. But I knew, I was certain, that he would be disapointed and disgusted when he found out the truth —that he was being lured on just to be—be bagged !”
“Well?” he said, when she paused.
“Well, do you wonder I ran away?” she exclaimed, hotly. “Don’t you think Aunt Susan was perfectly— perfectly—”
“Perfectly right,” he broke in, tranquilly.
She stared at him in amazement.
“Yes,’ he said, with great deliberation. “She was doing what she thought would bring hapiness to a poor, forlorn devil who was not likely to find it where he was. I regard it as an act of great kindness and consideration to him, though it may have been rather rough on the girl.”
She was looking at him now with the wide-open eyes of ingenuous wonder.
“Kindness to him”—“rough on the girl !” This was turning the tables with a vengeance.
“You see,” he went on, imperturbably, resting his foot on the fateful bag bearing the name of their common friend, “this man—this good, kind-hearted, generous, unsuspecting, manly man—” and he smiled grimly as he said it—“had proved a dismal failure in the highly civilized society of the East, where he had gone to college. He was wholly incompetent in business, he had no profession, and he yearned for the more open, natural, freer atmosphere of the West. So he pulled up stakes and went out into the wilderness to see whether he could fill his empty life. He wanted to be good for something, and there wasn’t very much chance in the city for a man of thirty who hadn’t been trained for any particular career.”
He stopped and looked down at the girl, who was gazing at him in hopeless astonishment.
“But,” he went on, “even after the man had settled down to life on his ranch, he wasn’t happy. He missed something. He became desperately lonesome. And when he got a letter from Philadelphia from an old friend of the family asking him to come on and see her in regard to certain investments in Western stocks, and when, in addition, his college chum, Don Brown, begged him to come back out of the hot desert and spend the Summer on Cape Cod, why—he came. He just left the ranch to his partner and traveled east until he came to Provincetown.
“And when he got there,” he went on, rapidly now, apparently absorbed in his own recital, “one of the first things that he saw was the picture of a girl. She was called Violet—”
The girl suddenly dropped her eyes, and her cheeks once more took on a hue of the deepest crimson.
“Her name was Violet. He came to speak of her familiarly as Violet, and, strange as it may seem, he simply couldn’t detach himself from that picture. In fact, he was caught several times with it in his possession. Mrs. Brown—Mary Brown—told him who the girl was—told him that she was an impetuous, whole-hearted girl, given to act on impulses, but the nicest girl in the world, who, on account of
the extreme sensitivenes of her nature, was about the most unhappy.
“Well, as this man was not very happy either, and as he saw how happy his chum was, and what a jolly time two people like Don and Mary could have together, he asked Mrs. Brown to tell him some more about the nicest girl in the world, and lo and behold !—she belonged to the aunt in Philadelphia, where he had been asked to call on this little matter of business.
“No—now listen, Miss Vernon. I haven’t finished this man’s story.” He laid a quieting hand on her as she was about to interrupt him.
“When he had learned this, he said to himself, ‘I believe I have found what will make me a happy man, if I can only obtain it, and I'll go down to Philadelphia to investigate.’ So he wrote to this girl’s aunt to say that he was coming at once, and to Don Brown to meet him and take him to his home. Don Brown, who is a very practical man, answered immediately, saying that his house was at his friend’s disposal, but suggesting that said friend bring Don Brown’s suit case, which he had been obliged to leave behind. And, on his way to Philadelphia, this man from the west —this unhappy, forlorn soldier of misfortune—by the greatest good luck in the world, met the girl !”
He stopped abruptly here, and looked down into the face of the young woman beside him.
“Do you know what the man thinks now that he has seen the girl?” he asked, in a low voice.
She drew a breath quickly, and stared fixedly out of the window.
“Do you care at all what he thinks?”
He leaned forward, gazing eagerly at the girl, who drew away from, still staring out of the window.
“Don’t you care at all,” he went on, bluntly. “It it nothing—will it always be nothing to you that the man has found all, and more than he dreamed of, or dared to hope for?”
She turned slowly, opened her lips, and closed them, without speaking a word.
But her eyes had answered him, and he was satisfied.
Original thought is a prize to be striven for and coaxed into being. Originality is one of the most precious of faculties and is the distinguishing mark of the leaders all the world over, whether they be leaders in thought or in politics, in business or in invention.