"YOU can’t judge men by their looks,—still less women,” said Archibald. “Fate, or gods, as you will, love the clash, the contradictoriness, the element of ‘surprise’ that editors clamor for in their fiction.”
Archibald, surnamed Mainwaring (which you must pronounce Mannering) stood before the mirror, adjusted his faultlessly tied cravat, and drew the suspicion of a crease out of his dark vest with the robin-egg blue dots on it.
“Take my own case,” he pursued. “Phrenological persons declare that the planner of my ego shaped an end for me to be reached by the cool sequestered path of a bishopric-shovel hat, gaiters, and everything. My own inclination is toward poetry of the vers libre order, where you can say just what is on your mind, saucy or smug, without harassing yourself in the least over details of meter, rhyme, or sense. And as anti-climax, here I am in the meat-packing business, reducing beef on the hoof to terms of tin cans, and so utterly transmuting the joyous pig that even his squeal and grunt are disposed of to gramophone makers, to create overtures for the records of soprano and basso profundo.”
He dropped into a chair and lit a cigarette. Archibald was close on the forties, tall, lean, with an ascetic face that suggested there might have been something in the bishopric notion. He was a member of the firm of Payne and Mainwaring, ranchers and meat packers of Dereham in the Canadian West, having charge of the Eastern selling branch. Any man who was disposed to regard him either in the bishopric or vers libre light in business, was apt to wake with a shock.
“So I say,” he resumed, “that it does not do to judge men by looks. The biggest bluff I ever knew was a man of the Jim Jefferies physical conformation with a John L. Sullivan voice—kind of like a lion with sore throat—voicing his remonstrance against the dilatoriness of the beef-cart man, round dinner time. On the other hand the wickedest fighter I ever came across was the Reverend Eustace Lamb, B.A. (Only one A remember). He had the aspect of a consumptive angel. When Mr. Wilson’s Fourteen Points are agreed to and the millennium arrives, and the meek inherit the earth, the Reverend Eustace will be a very large landed proprietor. It happened that Sam Burrow's, a two hundred pound member of his flock, was in convivial mood, breaking up furniture and proposing to transfer the kitchen stove to the backyard through the closed window, when the Reverend Eustace was seen in the offing by the troubled Mrs. Burrows. Ecclesiastical authority would certainly awe Sam into decency.
“ 'I beg of you to desist, Brother Burrows. It is most discreditable,’ urged the curate.
“ ‘And if I don’t, you short change for a bum dollar?’ demanded Sam, with other frilly observations.
“ ‘For the happiness of your wife, the good of your pocket, and the prosperity of your soul, I shall make you,’ said Eustace.
‘Make me? Oh boy!’ shouted Sam gleefully. ‘Make me! Did you get that, Maudie?’ he asked his better half, reaching meantime for the kitchen clock wherewith to open the conflict.
“ ‘Brother—for the last time,’ said Eustace as if he were calling the banns in church.
‘You mean it—honest Injun?’ demanded Sam in joyful hope. ‘And you won’t have me up for assault or murder? I’ve always hankered for a little riffle with something that wore that kind of collar and close-faced vest.’
‘If Paul fought with beasts at Ephesus—’ observed the minister, taking off his long coat and rolling back his sleeves, ‘there is sufficient patristic precedent.’
“And if Paul at Ephesus did half to the poor beasts there that his Reverence did to Sam Burrows, it is well we have been spared the revolting details. It seemed that the curate had been light-weight champion at his University, and he went round Sam like a cooper round a barrel, converting him soundly with a miracle of an upper-cut.
“NOW without further introduction or rigmarole, I’ll get on with my story,” continued Archibald, and this is what he proceeded to tell:
There were three of us in the long sitting-room of the ranch. The hour was just after dinner, and dinner had come on the heels of a long ride over to Dereham, and round a good bit of the big stock-farm. An ideal spot for such an hour is Payne’s house; it is the last word in comfort—man comfort. Payne is a bachelor, though there is no necessary association between the two facts. Of course all marriage is compromise, give and take—usually the man attends to the first, the woman to the second, and all compromise involves personal limitation. Payne was standing with his back to the hearth, fiddling with a cranky pipestem. I, his guest, was doing nothing, very deliciously, and Agnes was at the piano, playing melodious jiggy little things, as they came to her.
Agnes Payne played well, as she did most things. She was Bob Payne’s niece, kept house for her uncle, and was just short of twenty-four. She was dressed in a gown of white material, and looked, as usual, perfectly charming. That was a way Agnes had. When you saw her perched on her big bay horse in fetching riding-costume, you swore that nothing could possibly suit her so admirably. Then, when she sat at the head of her uncle’s table, all feminine delight, gowned daintily, you thought that here she showed at her best. For my own part, she never seemed more absolutely satisfactory than at breakfast table, or when she was flitting through the house, seeing that the domestic motor was hitting right on all twelve. She was a bit of an autocrat, as such women are by nature and the suffrage of mankind, and ran the establishment perfectly, steel hand in velvet glove. Never a man led by his nose so absolutely as Bob Payne—for his own good, of course—and never a man who believed so fatuously that he did what he liked.
She was as keen a sportswoman as he a sportsman, could ride anything on four legs, shoot, golf, and had she taken up football or lacrosse, she would have been a star in those firmaments too.
Of course there were aspiring lovers hanging round the place on and off most of the time, for it was absurd to imagine such a girl wasted on spinsterhood, but she had a business-like way of disposing of them. She treated love on the sound principle that when you have anything wrong with your system, the best thing is to get it out of the said system with the utmost rapidity. She treated love as a species of headache, internal disorder, fever—the lover a person to be pitied rather than censured, to be dosed and dismissed. Presuming there is a right man for most of the women in the world, the particular right one had not yet drifted within the ken of Agnes Payne.
If you know anything at all about Dereham, you know it is a rising town of the prairie, with notable railway facilities that will make it—in Dereham opinion—a northern Chicago one of these days. (By the way its name is not Dereham, or anything like it, but this will serve here.)
It is on the map because of its elevators, the surrounding wheat and cattle country, the meat-packing establishments of Payne and Mainwaring and partly also because of its rival town Milby, and the furious sporting antagonisms of the two places. Both have baseball, hockey, and lacrosse teams, and if Dereham were to float a Ping-Pong Club tomorrow, Milby would have one two days later, and be out with challenges to the universe. If Dereham can put a sleep wallop over on Milby, in any department of sport, it asks little more of life, while if Milby can pin the shoulders of the Dereham gladiators to the mat, it is ready to chant the Nunc Dimittis. Old Milby—after whom the other town had been named—and Bob Payne would sit together on the grand-stand, eating peanuts between apoplectic encouragements to their henchmen—but just the same it was war to the knife between these two old boys.
At this particular season lacrosse loomed large in the local sky, with, according to local forecasts, the odds favoring the Milby folks. It seemed that the Dereham lot, victors of the previous year, had been somewhat broken up, two or three of the best men having gone elsewhere, and efficient substitutes having failed to appear. Curwen, outdoor manager of the Payne ranch and soul of its athletic being, had been on the still hunt—for Dereham sports fuss little over matters such as registration of players beforehand. If you can ring in a top-notcher on the eve of battle, all the better for you, the possibility adds piquancy to the encounter. Still, Curwen’s quest, so far, had not been at all successful, and the Dereham prospects were far from rosy.
SUCH was the situation on that particular evening, when Agnes played and Payne fiddled with his pipe. There came a tap on the door, and in walked Curwen, Agnes peeped round over her shoulder, but went on playing. I had a notion that she did not care much for Curwen, and as he was in and out of the house often in course of the day it was not necessary to greet him on this occasion, so she played on. It seemed, from the conversation that developed between Curwen and Payne, that a new man—something to do with book-keeping—had been expected on the place. Payne asked if he had turned up.
“Yes, came in this afternoon, queer name—John Breeze; I guess he’s as queer as his name.”
“What’s the matter with him?” asked Payne.
“Landed with a steamer trunk, three suit cases, two leather bags, raft of sticks and umbrellas and rugs, and—a leather hatbox for one of them long, tall hats. I don’t believe he ever saw a cow before except, maybe, in a picture. And he wears pants with creases in ’em, stiff as the ridge of a horse's back, and a waistcoat with what looks like another white one inside it, with edges sticking out, and a coat with cute little tails to it. His collar seems to act like a check rein, and he’s got them muffler things on his varnished shoes like what Mr. Archibald here wears, to keep off the chilblains. Besides all that he has a cute little moustache like a lacrosse match—twelve a side. He may be all right, but he don’t look to me like one of the regular Payne brand.”
“We don’t need a Jess Willard to keep books,” said Payne. “We advertised for an accountant, and this John Breeze sized up to requirements. I guess what you’d like, Curwen, is for us to advertise for a good centre who wouldn’t mind putting in his odd moments over the books.”
“Well, Milby is sure enough crowing, and there’s reason for it, as it appears to me,” said Curwen. “They got one almighty whizzer of a team, fast, slick stick-handlers, and a home that whips ’em in like chain-lightning. Our defense is pretty good, but it takes goals to win a match, and our home is all to pieces. I did have a sort of hope that this new man might have something useful in him, but that’s all off. You’ve only to pass your eyes over this Breeze man to know that he’ll be no use outside the cubbyhole where the books are kept. We’re in for a licking, I guess, Mr. Payne.”
“Lots can happen between now and then,” grunted Payne. “And you can’t always judge from looks. Might ask Breeze to step over if he’s nothing better to do.”
"WHEN Curwen had gone Agnes wheeled round on the Piano stool. She was greatly interested in the forthcoming match, and knew, as well as Curwen, the weakness of the home team.
“Play or sing something, Agnes,” asked Payne. “That fellow Curwen is a croaker if ever there was one. Of course the situation is awkward, and Tom Milby threatens what’s going to happen every time I meet him. Anyway, sing, Agnes.”
“What shall I sing?” she asked.
“Something lively like ‘Storm along, John!’ ”
Payne was a Boer War veteran, and you may remember Henley’s verse written about that time and set to catchy music. It was written to celebrate the coming of the Dominion and Colonies to the aid of the Mother Country in the first big pinch. And Agnes could sing. She put into the music all the fire that belongs to the words.
“Storm along, John, all your Britains are out,
Melbourne and Sydney got up with a shout,
Wellington, Ottawa, Brisbane, their best
Send with Cape-Town and the riding Nor’ West.
Horses, men, guns, for you! India’s aflame,
How the lads of Natal have been playing the game!
From Gib to Vancouver, from Thames to Yukon,
The live air is loud with you—Storm along, John!”
And then came the chorus, Payne roaring out a great tenor,
“Storm along, John! Storm along, John!
Half the world's yours, and the rest may look on
Mum, at the rip from Quebec to Ceylon,
Storm along! Storm along! Storm along, John!”
The echoes were still in the room when a maid entered. “Mr. John Breeze!” she announced.
THE name struck me oddly, coming on the heels of “Storm along, John!” I glanced over at Agnes, and she was looking at me. There was laughter on her mouth, or, in her eyes, and she seemed to be humming the tune. Then she lifted her gaze past mine, rose and went forward to meet the disappointing Mr. Breeze in the motherly-hostess fashion she had. It was a most disarming way. It checked inclination to familiar frivolity.
She was wonderfully fascinating that evening with her blend of gravity and her mischief, solemn brown eyes, with bits of sparkling fire in them, peach-blow cheeks set upon ivory white, sweetness on the mouth, strength on the firm little chin. John Breeze proved to be a reserved, self-contained, unembarrassed young man. He had come out into the wilderness to see a ranch and a packing-house, and to keep the accounts of both in ship-shape order, and had discovered a quite exceptional kind of a girl. He stayed about an hour, talking mostly about business to Payne, and then the latter went with him over to the boarding-house to see that he was made comfortable. When they had gone, Agnes left the piano to which she had returned, and took a chair across the hearth from me.
“What do you think of him, Archibald?” she asked.
“Your opinion would be the more valuable,” I replied.
“I think Curwen was astonishingly correct,” she said. “I had no idea he was so observant, and so shrewd a judge. Mr. Breeze seems quite of the city type. Of course one would not look for spaciousness of mind in one to whom all things are reduced to a double-entry basis. Still he seems quite pleasant and agreeable, in his way. It would have been a great relief if, by any chance, he’d been an athlete. One of these days Colleges and Universities will add subjects of really useful knowledge to their courses. If ever I am awfully rich I think I shall endow a Chair of Golf, or a Professorship of Football, or Lectureship in Lacrosse.”
“But what has this to do with John Breeze?”
“Nothing whatever,” she replied. “I had nearly forgotten all about him. One rambles on so. Still I hope he’ll not be too uncomfortable among the rough men we have. He seems very gentle and nice.”
“A zephyr rather than a breeze,” I suggested, but she paid no heed to the small joke.
“Milby will simply annihilate us,” she mourned. “Why were you not a lacrosse player, Archibald? I am sure you would have been a perfect wonder with your elusive gracefulness.”
"Gracefulness, doubtless, but elusiveness—decidedly not,” I told her. “I tried the game once and was really doing rather well, when a fellow on the other side, in checking, confused my head with the ball. I spent the ensuing month in hospital. My vers libre addiction dates from that moment.”
THERE are natural affinities, and, equally so, natural antipathies. Curwen and Breeze were bound to clash from the first—it was so written in the stars. The man of brawn is apt to despise the man of intellect, on the principle that most men profess to despise what they do not possess. Curwen was big and husky, good among cattle and punchers, and a live-wire in sport. He was the backbone of the lacrosse and hockey teams, and a terror as a soccer full-back, scaring many a nervous forward helpless as he neared goal, by the avalanche rush of his fast bulk. Perhaps the fact that, as time wore on, Agnes was more in the company of the last comer than she had been in that of any other man about the place, had something to do with the strength of Curwen’s antipathy. Ever since the world began woman has made choice of the intellectual man when he and the cave man have been rivals, in spite of the accepted view of things. Of course, a man who twines her hair round his wrist and lugs her off to his cave has an argument in his favor, but given free choice, in a civilized world, and the Jacobs win over the Esaus, not only with mothers, but with sweethearts.
You see Breeze could talk, knew books and men and movements, and had seen things, and the prairie is apt to be arid in such matters.
“Agnes,” I ventured to remonstrate with her one day, “I have viewed your friendship with Mr. John Breeze in a missionary light heretofore, but it has occurred to me that the missionary is falling under the spell of the heathen, so to speak, rather than drawing the heathen to the missionary."
“Is the difference really so great?” she inquired. “But sometimes the subtle does not appeal to you, dear. ‘In vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird,’ and I do not recall that I ever announced myself as a missionary.”
“Not in so many words, perhaps,” I admitted. “But it would only be natural to a girl with your goodness of heart to seek to direct a youth into right paths. This John Breeze lacks pep, but instead of putting it into him, you encourage his placidity. I know he reads Browning to you, and, I more than suspect, Ella Wheeler Wilcox. I heard him singing that luscious ‘Maud’ thing to you the other day most earnestly and you know your name is not Maud at all, though he seemed to think it was. Then I heard you both warbling a wish that you two were maying, over sheep-trimmed downs, or under whisp’ring trees, and those kinds of lonely places.”
“One has to keep in practice,” she urged with some meekness. “I mean, of course, with one’s singing, and he does sing rather well. It is a relief from ranch singing, which seems to be limited to ‘Hail! Hail! the gang’s all here,’ or ‘Silver threads among the gold.’ ”
“I notice you never sing ‘Storm along, John!’ ’’ I said.
“No, it would seem rather personal, don’t you think?”
“It would be a recommendation to assimilate more pep undoubtedly,” I agreed.
“There is pep—and pep,” she observed. “In some respects he does not show any conspicuous lack of it.”
“But it must be hard to put pep into book-keeping,” I submitted. “I suppose that is what you mean? Quite an achievement."
“Archibald, you are an old dear, but fearfully inquisitive sometimes,” she rebuked. “Why, there comes Mr. Breeze.”
SURE enough, there he was coming up the drive. Then it appeared that he had arranged to go along with Agnes to the Athletic field to see the teams, first and scrub, in action. They invited me to join them, and I was mean enough to accept. We climbed on to the empty grandstand and watched the practice game, Agnes having one of us on each side of her. She was very nice and painstaking with Breeze, probably because of his abysmal ignorance. He appeared to be as familiar with the details of the game as of the Choctaw tongue. He wanted to know why the players used such a funny stick, and doubted its adaptability for propelling a ball, and he wondered why the men seemed to be littered all over the ground in pairs, like prisoners enjoying the luxury of individual warders.
‘‘It seems a rather futile sort of game,” he declared.
“Not at all,” she denied. “It is one of the livest and prettiest in the whole world of games. Of course all games look absurd till you know them, preferably till you play them. Did you ever play games, Mr. Breeze?”
“Games? Why, yes,” he told her. “Checkers and parcheesi, and at tiddlywinks I could land in the cup twice out of three times, within reasonable shooting distance. Then I used to be rather a dab at croquet, though one finds that somewhat violent at times.”
She turned the battery of her eyes on him coldly, but he was staring out into the field.
“I said games, not things like Postman’s Knock,” she said.
“I was a wonder at that too. I suppose your kind of Postman’s Knock here is much the same kind we play in the East? I am outside the door, for example, and I knock, I have a letter, say for Miss Agnes Payne, and the fellow at the door wants to know what’s to pay for postage. Then you come out and pay up for the stamps, usually about twenty kisses in a case of that kind,” he explained.
“I am afraid you are not following the game in the field there,” she said with icy indifference. “Ah, here comes Mr. Curwen. I think he looks awfully fine in his playing uniform, don’t you? So aggressive, challenging, masterful in a nice way.”
“Rounding them into shape, Mise Agnes,” said Curwen, coming up and seating himself on the rail of the stand. He certainly did look one mighty figure of a live athlete, and was quite conscious of the fact. “When we fill up a gap or two we won’t be afraid of our chances with the Milby lot, good as they are said to be. What do you think, Mr. Mainwaring?”
“Hope you’ve luck,” I told him. “The team doesn’t seem to be shaping badly.”
“No combination,” admitted Curwen confidentially. "A bit showy, but they lack pep and the real stuff that’s wanted when you’re up against a live lot. It’s one thing to sling ’em round in practice, and another to do the same thing when there’s somebody round bent on spoiling your play. You ought to be inside a uniform, Breeze, instead of taking things easy on the stand. I guess you aren’t as old as I am, within four or five years.”
Breeze watched the practice but made no reply.
“Well, I suppose every man to his own fancy, but, for my part, I always like to be in the thick of any mix-up that’s going. Come on, now, we’ll put you in uniform and show you the points. Never begin any younger,” urged Curwen, a grin on his face.
“I think not,” answered John. “It looks rather rough. What do you say to a walk round the field, Miss Payne?”
“Don’t you think this is much better?” she responded, the far-away chilly tone in her voice. “The practice is so awfully interesting, and the view from here so good."
“How about it, Breeze?” interposed Curwen with the irritating persistence of a large deer fly. “We’ll give orders that you are not to be mussed up too much. You won’t? Well, I guess we can’t make you.”
JOHN BREEZE could affect deafness as well as any man I ever saw, and what Curwen said wasn’t half as insolent as the way in which he put it. I happened to be looking in Agnes’ direction, and caught the flash in her eyes—just a single illuminating flash, and then brown placidity again. Breeze was being estimated sharply.
“I think I would like to walk round the field, if it is not too dangerous with the ball flying about. Perhaps you would not mind coming with me, Mr. Curwen, I should feel quite safe then,” she said.
The way of a fish in the sea, a serpent on a rock, a man with a maid, are, as the Wise Man said, mysteries defying the craftiest Sherlock; but trivial, very trivial when compared to that of a maid with a man.
She smiled in a kind of absently apologetic way to Breeze and me, and went off with that self-conscious lump of tallow, Curwen, who walked as if he were a human pouter-pigeon that had just won first prize.
The little minx! She was as much afraid of the ball as of rose leaves, and could play the game as well as most boys.
If Breeze hadn’t been a double-entry kind of man and so owlishly in love with that attractive bit of mischief, he would have smoked a philosophic cigarette or two, sitting pat till she came round again, thereby letting her down with a firm little flop. But, alas, they never do. Breeze got red in the face, his collar seemed suddenly to pinch, he adjusted the crease on the legs of his trousers again. There was a glary look in his eyes that boded no good for Curwen. Generally speaking, he was making of himself a triple-distilied, amatory ass.
“Awfully nice, sociable girl, Agnes,” I observed. “So discriminatingly comprehensive in her attitude toward mankind. Like the blessed sun, she shines on the evil and the good, the just and the unjust.”
He did not seem convinced that it was her duty to smile on chaps like Curwen, though he did not say so in so many words.
When she came back from the hazardous trip along the edge of the field, she did not join us on the stand, but called from below that she positively had to go home at once. Breeze, who was as talkative as a slumbering clam on the road back, left us at the gate.
I DON’T know what it was that Agnes had been in such a hurry about, for she did not even go to her room to remove her hat and coat, but came into the sitting-room with me, and stood at the windows, staring out. Then she went to the piano and began to play. From the way she set to work on the inoffensive instrument I knew she had something on her mind that she wanted to get off, hence the stormy music. A few minutes later she came over and sat near me for about three seconds, then got up and began to re-arrange the bric-a-brac on the mantel-piece.
“He surely does need pep,” she said, and I saw that she was thinking of Breeze. “I could have pushed that Curwen man right over the stand rail. Swank! Because he’s big and fat.” Curwen would have died on the spot had he heard this last slander. “He thinks men are to be weighed like live beef. And I could have pushed that John Breeze over after him. Nothing seems to stir him the littlest least bit. I’d have gone down and had a try, if I’d been him, even if it killed me. You heard his silly talk about Postman’s Knock?”
“Yes, rather amusing, wasn’t it?”
“I think it was disgusting. And the effeminacy of the thing!”
“Oh, I don’t know! There are worse amusements, if the girl is nice,” I told her.
“Archibald, you are rather repellent in your present mood. But I suppose all men are alike?” she sighed.
“Much of a muchness,” I admitted. “But so much depends on the girl. Still I should not worry about Breeze.”
“I don’t worry,” she replied. “But I hate to see a man crawl.”
“He didn’t crawl,” I affirmed.
“Well, perhaps not, strictly speaking,” she allowed. “But Curwen crowed pretty loudly.”
“If I were Breeze I’d challenge him to a duel with book-keeping weapons; the boot would be on the other leg then,” I told her.
“Book-keeping!” she scoffed. “There are fundamental things that show grit. Without them, nothing seems worthwhile.
“I don’t think your John lacks grit in his way,” I said.
“My John!” The repudiation was vicious.
“I mean, of course, the ranch John, the Payne John, therefore in some sense your John, and my John,” I explained.
“I detest double meanings,” she declared. “However, we have talked quite too much about the man. If you would care to, Archibald, I’d like to take a long, long gallop between now and dinner time.”
IT was plain to me that she was interested in this John person, and she was one of those women who are fightingly jealous for the repute and standing of the men they like.
However, to get back to my tale. Toward the end of this imperfect day in came Payne, in rather blizzardly fashion.
“Life's just one so-and-so thing after another!” he said after bawling for his slippers.
“What has dared to ruffle the sweet old lovekins?” demanded Agnes, stroking his hair the uphill way.
“That Breeze chap’s taken himself off! No sense, nor reason, whatever about him, and he was a wonder with books. They're like print, instead of something spiders have been doing tricks with. He wouldn't say what was up—just wants to go—miffed about something, I could see." Then he looked fixedly at Agnes, as if a new slant on the situation was presented to him. “You haven’t been treating him rough, eh?” he demanded.
“I? Uncle Bob, how perfectly ridiculous! I hardly knew the man really. He seemed quite his usual, silent, gentle self, when he left us this afternoon, didn’t he, Archibald?” And of course this was so.
“Where is he going, or has gone?” she asked.
“Don’t know and don’t care!” snapped Payne. “He’s a mule, a vicious mule. There’s a look to him I don’t like. Of course his references were A1, but he looks to me like a man who might give you a jar when you least expected it.”
“Well, he’s gone,” reflected Agnes. “He was a little difficult here. In a way I rather liked him. He was quite literary, had a nice voice, and rather made one aspire to nobler things than beef, pork, and by-products. I hope he will find a more congenial sphere, and be happier than he was here.”
“Humph!” grunted Payne. “I'd give a dollar or two to know who threw the shoe into the machine that was working so slick."
“It would be quite worth it,” commented Agnes placidly.
THERE was something suspicious about the way Payne was preaching the coming downfall of the Dereham team. It was nothing but one long, weepy Jeremiad from cockcrow to sundown. Now, when Bob Payne is at his most lugubrious and resigned, it is time to look out for the sleep wallop. From his wails you would infer that there was nothing to be done in the Dereham-Milby affair but to fill the grave of Dereham hope and lay the wreaths on top. Then he and Curwen went off somewhere East, leaving Agnes and an Aunt of hers to look after me and the other household things. I drew my own conclusions as to the nature of the mysterious errand. In times of stress such trips were not unusual. The two were away about eight days. Then, they returned, and the change apparently had done them a world of good. In the sequel, a few days later a couple of well-dressed, husky men drove up to the ranch.
Was Mr. Payne at home? He was. Could he find two industrious and able-bodied men jobs? He could. The next morning these knights of labor were hard at work, putting stamps on outgoing mail, and smoking cigarettes at more than Union rate.
Curiously enough, it turned out that both played lacrosse, and indeed were quite nifty at it. Quite providential!
“Ringers!” said old Milby, when he heard about it. “What’s their names, Bob?” he asked Payne, making a special trip over in his big car for the purpose.
“John Smith and William Jones,” replied Payne.
“Gosh blarm me!” said Milby peevishly. “They’re always Smith and Jones, when they don’t happen to be Brown and Robinson? Give us a change, call the next batch Algernon and Percival. Well, too bad to be throwing away such scads of money for nothing. We’ll whale the everlasting tar out of your lot worse than it ever was done since the Smiths came out of Mesopotamia, and the Jones’ from Wales.”
AFTER Breeze had gone and done the Arab tent trick, folding up and silently stealing away, the house seemed a bit lonelier in the evenings. Sometimes it seemed to me that Agnes was like a little canary who wanted a pal to whistle “Maying” things in the other cage. Then, the night before the big game, who should drop in at the Payne place but the errant John, himself. It seemed that he had been somewhere along the line, and, coming back, thought he’d run out to the ranch and pick up some stuff he had left behind. He seemed chirpier than ordinary, and wanted to sing, but Agnes said she had a touch of sore throat, so they had to fall back on cards. The game did not last long, though, for Payne was too excited over the morrow’s event to want to play much.
“You’ll join us on the stand to-morrow, Breeze?” he asked the visitor hospitably. “By the time the Milby funeral is over you will be a 33rd degree fan. Quite a nice little party to witness poor old Tom’s obsequies—Agnes and Archibald, you and me. You cool chaps will keep Agnes and me in order.”
‘‘I’m afraid I won’t be able to,” said the preposterous Breeze. “The fact is, I have an important engagement.”
“Engagement!” snorted Payne. “Why every man-jack and woman-jenny in the country hereabouts will be there. It’s the Derby Day, John, and if you stay away Agnes ’ll never forgive you.”
“What nonsense!” Agnes laughed. “You can’t expect Mr. Breeze to be interested in our rural amusements.”
John blurted something about being sorry and a most urgent engagement, but it did not mend matters. Agnes sauntered pianoward and began to play, softly at first, then louder as old Bob took up the theme. It was “Storm along, John.”
“That’s a rattling fine thing, Miss Payne,” said John. “What is it?” She told him and he laughed.
“Sounds rather personal,” he said.
“Yes, quite so.” There was that wicked blandness in her voice. “It was a kind of exultant paean over the fact that when the Empire’s pinch came, there were others than grandstand folk in the Dominions.”
“I see. It’s fine. Good-night, Miss Payne.” And he was off.
“And he didn’t have the decency even to wish us good-luck,” observed Agnes sharply.
THERE was a jammed field on Saturday afternoon. The weather was perfect—clear, sunny sky and but little wind.
All the countryside was there—on foot, in cars and every imaginable kind of vehicle—men, women, children, babes in arms. The stands were gaily decorated with flags and bunting. In the middle of the front row of the big stand sat Bob Payne and Tom Milby, side by side, each in high spirits. Payne was now openly boasting that he had a rod in pickle for his adversary, while Milby listened to the threats with a satisfied air. I don’t ever remember Agnes looking more charming. Perhaps it was because there was a grave note in her that made for attractiveness. More than once I caught her eyes as they roved over the field, scanning the people. I guessed she was wondering whether John Breeze might not, after all, have changed his mind, and thrown important engagements to the winds. She caught my look, and countered.
“Isn’t it delightful, Archibald? Positively everybody’s here,” said the sinful little prevaricator.
“I haven’t seen Breeze storming along yet,” I observed. “Probably he’s too busy thinking up new double-entry tips. Funny chap, because he’s so awfully serious, this John Breeze!”
“But don’t you think it is rather fine for a young man to have so strict a sense of duty, Archibald? He’ll never be either one of Kipling’s flannelled fools or muddied oafs,” she said.
“As to your question, Agnes,” I replied. "I don’t think it at all fine.’^ She gripped me quite pleasantly by the arm.
“And, truthfully, neither do I,” she whispered. “It’s awfully nice of you to agree with me. I think John Breeze is fearfully mean. Still, our world revolved quite nicely before he arrived, and will probably continue to do so, now that he’s gone.”
“Of course it will,” I agreed.
“You are a wonderful comfort, Archibald.” And she gave my arm another confidential little squeeze. “It’s nice to have someone who agrees with you, and is not fearfully opinionated, or so superior that he can’t condescend to one’s small interests. Isn’t it a great sight and a perfect day! I hope we smash Milby utterly.”
“What’s that you’re saying, Agnes? asked Old Tom. She repeated her aspiration courageously.
“Dereham will be in sackcloth and ashes to-night!” he declared. “I’ll bet you a dozen pairs of gloves against that ribbon in your hair.” She nodded and laughed at gallant old Milby.
THEN came a loud yell as the Dereham team emerged from beneath the stand. They seemed a lively crowd as they flitted over the turf, whipping the ball hither and thither in short, quick passes, running, checking, slashing the ball with bullet-like speed toward the goal. A few minutes later the Milby crowd appeared and the roaring was louder than.ever.
“Ataboy!” yelled old Milby, climbing on a seat and waving his hat while the sun played magic lantern with his bald head.
Payne was also on his feet, but was calmer. He had field glasses to his eyes, and was scanning the personnel of the Milby crowd, prepared for some kind of a surprise to match his own. But no, they were the regular bunch, and he sat down with a sigh of relief.
“They’re our meat, Archibald!” he declared. Then he rose again and counted the host of the adversary, to make quite sure. He could only make out eleven—Milby was one short. Who was the last man?
“There he comes!” shouted someone below, and a player dodged under the rope from among the spectators and entered the field. Up went Uncle Bob’s glasses again, and he stared long.
“Bless my soul!” he exclaimed, taking down the glasses and turning to Agnes and me. “It’s that John Breeze! Tom Milby, what does this mean?”
“He’s a new player I landed a little while back, and he’s a little bit of all right, let me tell you beforehand,” grinned Milby. “He’s my man, Jack Breeze, and that’s his honest-to-goodness name, and no ringer with Smith or Jones tin-canned to his tail. I didn’t go East and plank down boodle to get him here. Local talent, so to speak—bona-fide—home product, or acquirement. Plays third home. Look at him, fastest boy, trickiest dodger, finest shot in this part of the country. A college star. Say good-bye to your hair-ribbon, Agnes.”
“Of all the mean, treacherous, despicable, disloyal creatures in this wide world!” said Agnes in my ear. “And he pretended to know nothing about the game. See that pick-up? Oh what a shot! I never thought I could dislike any person so much. There he’s playing opposite Curwen. I hope—”
But she did not say what she hoped, for just then the teams lined up for the start. The centre men came to the middle and faced-off, out came the ball. The prettiest of all outdoor games began in earnest.
THE first and second quarters were hotly contested, and at the finish the score was tied. The third twenty minutes had only been in progress a short time when a chance long shot took the Milby goalkeeper by surprise, and Dereham was one goal ahead. Until ten minutes from the close of the last quarter the score stood the same, and it looked as if Bob Payne’s jubilation was about to be justified. Still Milby was always dangerous, and, of the two, had had the better of the play. Breeze kept Curwen more than busy, and the effort of the big heavy man in holding his lively opponent in check was telling on him. As the minutes sped, Dereham gave up serious attacking and contented themselves with trying to hold the lead they had gained. This made the game duller and slower, but suddenly it opened up again. The Milby home got off with a pretty passing run. The defense drew a little to one side to check an attack coming from that quarter; the ball was whipped across to Breeze, who was away like a flash, swinging in toward the goal and whipping in a shot at close range that gave the goalkeeper no chance whatever.
With the score all square and but five minutes to go, both sides threw caution to the winds and went to the task with everything they could muster. From one end of the field to the other the ball flashed. The checking became heavier. No quarter was asked and none given. The crowd was half crazy with excitement, the cheering one long, sustained roar. Both teams had the narrowest escapes half a dozen times. Then Milby summoned all their remaining energy, in response to old Tom’s whoops, and made another dash on the citadel of the enemy.
From stick to stick the ball was passed until it rested in that of Breeze, and again he bored in. Curwen was in his path, all set, waiting catlike to pounce on the lighter man. With a quick lob, while travelling full speed, Breeze tossed the ball over Curwen’s left shoulder. The latter turned swiftly in that direction, but the faster man whipped round his right, made the pick-up, and was off like the wind. The goalkeeper came out a step, grasping his stick for the final effort, but the shot came like a lightning streak, shaving the inside of the post and finding its billet.
Before the ball could be faced-off again, time was up and the game over, Milby had won.
BOB PAYNE took the big disappointment as a sportsman should, going down with old Tom to congratulate the winners and mourn with the losers.
I had the pleasure of escorting Agnes home. She was very silent. One could guess at her emotions by the coming and going of the color in her face. She, too, was a sportswoman of the first grade. Her team was beaten, and that was all there was to it. The other side had proved the better when the pinch came. We had left the crowd behind at the turning of the road to the ranch. Only then did she speak of the matter uppermost in her mind.
“I didn’t think it of John Breeze,” she said. “I never would have believed it.”
“Oh, well, never mind,” I sought to comfort her. “Anyway, he’s the real thing."
“But why couldn’t he tell us he was a star?” she lamented.
“Because he may possess the vice of modesty,” I suggested. “And then, he never got a chance. He was put in the dude list at the start by Curwen, who made the mistake of judging by looks and size. I bet Curwen never had such a showing up in all his giddy young life as John Breeze gave him this afternoon.”
“I really can scarcely believe it now. To have been the means of defeating his own friends!” she mourned.
“Stormed along to some tune, eh?—and talking about pep!” I observed. “It was so fine and dashing—the running and dodging and shooting, that I wondered when I looked at you, if you could not be generous to such an opponent.”
She stopped in the road, facing me very soberly and firmly.
“You didn’t really hear me, Archibald?” she asked. “I tried to hold my handkerchief to my mouth.”
“Hear what?” I asked.
“I caught myself actually rooting against my own side—not for Milby, you understand, but for John Breeze.”
"That rooting for him was awfully noble, Agnes,” I approved. "Knowing that you had really not liked him, that he had gone over to the enemy, and that he had beaten us rather treacherously—I say it was quite fine of you to be so forgiving.”
“I said nothing about forgiveness,” she said. “The two things are quite distinct.”
“Still, it might have been as well had we asked him up to dinner. Coals of fire—and so forth. If thine enemy hunger—and that kind of thing, don’t you know,” I reminded her.
“No, that would have been quite overdoing things,” she said.
BUT as it turned out, Bob Payne brought the miscreant up, together with Tom Milby, for dinner.
“I’ll thank you for that ribbon, Agnes?” Tom demanded, when she shook hands with Milby. She had it ready, wrapped up.
“And we brought Jack Breeze along. I guess he would have been too scared to come alone. Now he’s here, let him fight his own battles,” said Tom, quite callously.
Agnes shook hands with John Breeze in her motherly-hostess way, as if there was no such thing as lacrosse in the world, and as if she were promising, if he would sit still and not bother, she would have an extra large chunk of cake for him later on.
“ I WISH you would play for us, Agnes,” said Payne after dinner. “Let’s have that ‘Storm Along!’ thing, and we can all get into it.”
And so we did.
"Storm along, John! Storm along, John!
Not in the best of the years that have gone
Has the star which is yours thus tremendously shone,
Storm along! Storm along! Storm along, John!”
Then we went to cards—that is three of us and a chap who dropped in after dinner. Agnes and John lingered at the piano. Presently I woke up to realize that the music had died away, imperceptibly.
I looked piano-wards—the two had vanished as completely as if they had seer, a Snark that had turned out to be a Boojun—softly and silently.
Payne went off to take Tom Milby home presently, and I knew what that meant. He would appear with the milk in the morning. I went out into the garden, the night being soft and balmy with a near-full moon riding in the sky. I must have dozed in my chair, and when I woke I heard voices.
“And am I quite forgiven, Agnes? To make quite sure, please forgive me again in the same sweet way.” Then there was a sort of hiatus one was sensible of.
“You are sure it never—never will occur again? You will never fight against me?” This was the voice feminine.
“How could it, darling—now?” One might know who that was.
“I suppose not—now that you really belong to the Paynes, that is to one of them,” said Agnes. “I was fearfully angry at first, John, and then I was less angry, and then I hoped you might pull the match off. It was horribly deceitful of me, rooting for the enemy, and poor old Uncle Bob at my side saying more prayers in five minutes than he says—in public at least—all the year. Wasn’t it treacherous?”
“You were and are and ever will be the dearest, sweetest, most utterly lovable girl in the Universe,” he intimated.
“Not sweetest, I am sure,” she said doubtfully, and seemed happy to be contradicted.
It was rather a baffling situation for me If I got up to go they would know that i knew, while if I stayed they would probably meander off, and what they did not know of what I knew would never hurt them.
Then Agnes began to sing softly. I was getting a bit tired of that song, but it was apt,
“Storm along, John! Storm along, John!
Half the world’s yours, and the rest may look on.”
Then she had to stop, evidently under some firm compulsion.
“Not Half the World, dearest. The whole of it,” said the book-keeping marvel, with double-entry hankering for precision.
There was a curious sound in the sudden silence, a sibilant, not to say labial, sound. I guessed John was saluting his world.
Then they moved off slowly. Agnes was wearing a white dress—which no experienced girl does, who minds onlookers, under such circumstances—and the dark belt round her waist was no ribbon; of that I am quite sure.