LOVE IN A HURRY
The ingenious invention of the celebrated Mr. Pullman presents a fair target to Master Cupid
ALL-A-BOARD-D-D— Ot-ta-wa-a— Sud-bur-y-y —Win-ni-peg-g—and all points west-t,” droned the train announcer of Windsor Station as the hands of the Concourse clock jumped to 10.10. At Gate Number One there was evident that decorum proper to the departure of the transcontinental. The hv "T.-L-iets, please!” as he passed each redcap am.neu che accompanying passenger’s transwas uaflurried as befitted the occasion. ï-tn-smie resembled somewhat the sailing of an
The hands Number One
of cue concourse clock jerked to 10.14. gateman grasped the handle of his gong in readiness co pull after the lapse of sixty seconds— Clang-clang-clang, went the gong. “A-board,” intoned
the gateman and started the heavy gate rolling on its way across the opening.
At that instant a redcap thrust open the street door with a heave of a heavy bag. With the quick shuffling steps which redcap experience has evolved, he bore down on Gate Number One. A tall, well dressed man, his hat awry, muffler streaming, despatch case entangling itself in heavy overcoat, followed in pursuit.
The redcap shot through the closing gateway, and the traveller, waving his tickets, managed to squeeze through just before the iron grille shut with a click. The gateman’s protest passed unheeded. Jumping to a run, the traveller broke unceremoniously through a wedding party clustered round the car entrance and met his redcap as the latter stepped off the train. He hurriedly tipped the boy and as the long train slowly gathered way, he swung himself aboard.
But a despatch case, however light, and a cane and chamois gloves and tickets are but poor assistants when boarding trains. Harry Stead caught the left hand rail firmly with one hand, and as he swung round with the impetus of his leap, managed to deposit his suit case on the
top step before he stumbled.
, His hand, full of cane and
gloves, brought up against the top step, wh'ch was
fortunate, as the metal bound tread of a railway step is not the softest
place to choose as a,cushion for the face.
His recovery of balance was delayed. For, as his nose came within an inch of the step, his eyes gave notice to his brain that in the immediate vicinity was something well worth investigation.
In the midst of scattered confetti were two fawn colored shoes, higharched, brilliantly buckled, and in them fawn colored stockings enclosing two slender ankles and legs, the most graceful he thought he’d ever seen. Ideal combination of straight line and curve; flesh alluringly covering bone; bone appearing again in delicate outline! It wasí a symphony! That was the word he found. That, he thought was the only word adequate to describe them. And as he found that word, and began to straighten up, there was a flareout of a smart skirt, and he found himself staring at an empty platform.
He got quickly to his feet, dusted his knees with flicks of the chamois gloves, straightened the hat on his head and, picking up his suitcase, entered the rear car. A belated porter hurried up. “Be with you, sah, in one second,” and hastened out to close up the vestibule. “Was this your bag, sah?” asked the porter, returning
with a big portmanteau. The tickets, now a crumpled mass, were still grasped firmly in Harry’s hand. He straightened them out. “Compartment C, yes sah,” and he was ushered to his stateroom along the passage.
Pausing only a second before the mirror to reassure himself as to his appearance, Harry made his way to the observation end of the car. The place was filled with men and women reading and talking, the usual transcontinental crowd. Nowhere could he discover a trace of the bride and bridegroom whose presence the confetti had led him to expect.
Harry sat down and began to glance at a magazine picked haphazardly from the rack at the end of the car. It was plain his interest was not concentrated on literature. It was divided between reading and a careful scrutiny of such feminine extremities as were visible from where he sat. By a process of elimination, a method dear to scientists, he was forced to conclude that there were but two hypotheses; the girl was not at that moment in view, or she had changed her footwear.
Considering the short interval that had elapsed since his stumble, the first hypothesis appealed the more strongly to him. He morosely turned back to his reading and, finding that a bore, retired early.
As a matter of fact, his first supposition was the correct one. Shortly after the train had pulled out of the station a tired girl had taken off a pair of fawn colored stockings, and, having stepped out of the rest of her attire, had comfortably ensconced herself between the sheets of her berth. A quaint smile lingered at the corners of her mouth.
Harry Stead’s curiosity remained unassuaged that night.
TNINING car stewards are most penetratingly observant people. They find it pays. Little extra attentions to patrons make all the difference between incomes of three and four figures in the course of the year. This particular steward, hawk-eyed, had caught a glimpse of the tiny piece of confetti, which, in spite of a vigorous brushing by the owner, remained half hidden in the ribbon of Iris Manders’ hat.
He had noticed it the moment he had come forward with his, “Good morning, Madam. Table for—-?” and, without waiting for her reply, had placed her at one of the tables for two. Nothing could be plainer, he thought, than that she was a bride of the night before trying to conceal that fact by coming to breakfast without her husband.
There were several tables empty when Harry Stead came into the diner by way of the igloo-like tunnel which Mr. Pullman in his wisdom has decreed the inevitable adit to his restaurants. Harry had his usual morning appetite with him, and, the fact that within sight and smell of breakfast his attention should be diverted below-tablewards, says a good deal for the impression that a slim limbed girl had made on him the night before.
' His eyes being thus occupied, he missed the high color that spread like a conflagration over Iris’ face. He missed, too, seeing her hastily snatch up the menu card and begin studying that harmless document with an interest out of all proportion to the value of its context.
Providence must certainly have been watching over Mr. Stead. As he advanced up the aisle, he was not able to pierce the shadows and ascertain the color of the feminine footwear. And, seeing that Iris’ feet were at the moment, in that annoying feminine fashion, tucked nearly underneath her chair, he might have passed by and lost a golden opportunity had it not been for his guardian angel materializing in the body of the steward.
That watchful individual was not to be deceived, as he thought, by the absurd behavior of this sprucely dressed bridegroom pretending to ignore his bride the first morning of their honeymoon. The girl’s vivid blush confirmed his diagnosis beyond Question of a doubt. Without hesitation, he blocked Harry’s farther progress and drew out the chair opposite Iris, whose crimson face he tactfully ignored.
But, as a sop to his vanity and as a means of showing
that it was impossible to escape his professional acumen, he remarked as he left them: “I hope, madam, that you and your husband will enjoy breakfast,” which made Harry reasonably sure that he had at last met the bride of the night before.
It was delightful, Harry thought, to find in his vis-avis, a girl whose sense of humor was equal to this strain. A wild desire to laugh, evident on Iris’ face, only needed the encouraging beginnings of a smile from Harry, for it to be given full rein. Once started, her throaty gurgles of laughter brought the tears freely to her eyes.
As these gurgles showed no signs of abating, realization that there was nothing so ludicrous about a fairly nice looking man, as he modestly described himself, being mistaken for the bridegroom, came as an irritating shock to Harry. Not sufficiently ludicrous, he decided, to elicit quite such a spasm of merriment. And, as the enthusiasm of his laugh abruptly died away, the girl managed to find her tongue.
“You poor man, you don’t know the cream of the joke!”
The cream, whatever it was, evidently sufficed to postpone, still further, her explanation.
“It may not be quite so funny when your real husband comes along and finds me breakfasting with his most recent wife,” Harry interjected severely.
“But that’s just the joke of it. I haven’t a husband.”
“Not looking for one, by any chance?” put in Harry quickly. There was sufficient humor in his look to rob the remark of any offence.
“Yes, and no,” laughed Iris. “You must admit, though, it’s very thoughtful of the steward to provide me one for breakfast.
Perhaps he imagines it gives a zip to the food.
Maybe it’s a habit with him.”
The vision of the fawn shoes the night before flashed back to Harry. He was positive he hadn’t imagined the confetti. This must be the bride he was breakfasting with.
“Wasn’t it you I fell all over when I caught the train last night?” he demanded. “Of course, I didn’t get a chance to see you—that is—but there was a lot of confetti around.”
“Seems to annoy you quite a bit—my not having a husband, I mean—” she said, “but I’m doing my best. I’m on my way to get married. That explains the confetti, but not your absorbing interest in it.”
The smile returned to hover round the corners of her mouth. He knew she was deliberately teasing him.
“You know I never realized there was so much to study about confetti,” she continued, “I thought confetti was nothing but small bits of paper. I must have missed something.”
There was no use trying to explain, Harry thought. Women are much too clever at tangling a man up in his excuses to make it advisable to give this girl the chance. He would only flounder, and this young thing with the glorious black brown eyes would be amused. He took cover by changing the subject.
“Don’t you think it would be a shame, downright cruelty in fact, to take this delusion away from our friend the steward? The poor man would be mortified.
I think I’ll have to be your vicarious husband, at least for breakfast.” And as the girl gave no sign of dissent, he added: “It isn’t quite fair, we’re not both starting scratch. Somehow or other you knew, oh, well you knew I was me, so to speak, as soon as I sat down.”
“You mean that I was able to recognize last evening’s Ankle Inspector?” she corrected him, laughing in that husky, throaty gurgle which he found so delightful.
“Because, now that I’ve met you, the scientific explanation, that you were interested in confetti, seems incongruous. I can only give you credit for being interested in ankles. You ought to go far,” she added mock-seriously, “if thoroughness is any sign.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way, but it’s hard to prove an alibi, and, any way, I don’t have to. What I was inspecting was worth far more study than I was allowed to give. But you still haven’t answered me. How did you recognise, this morning, the man, let’s say, who almost buried his nose in your feet?”
“Let’s put it down to intuition,” she smiled at him. “No, that won’t go with me. Tell me how you did it?” And the inflection of command in his voice surprised him as much as Iris.
“Obstinate matter-of-fact person,” she said; “must have the detective complex. Well, just to please you, your first impression made me think you had taken quite a liking to my feet. No don’t interrupt. I thought you must be a connoisseur, and felt extremely flattered. The habit was still upon you when you came into the diner. So when I saw a man of about the same height as my scrutineer of last night appear to be engaged in examining the stockings the women in the diner were wearing, why, I was sure it must be my friend the ankle expert. Are you satisfied, Mr. Watson?”
“Quite,” he replied. “It’s nice having breakfast with a girl who has brains.”
“Thank you, kind sir,” she answered lightly. “But
how about breakfast? I don’t know whether you are one of those toast-and-cereal hounds, but I’m not. I’m a good breakfaster, and I want it right away.”
Harry found that the appetite he had brought to the diner and which had been deprived of its rightful satisfaction was, in consequence, more ravenous than ever. He noted with satisfaction the breakfast Iris began to jot down on her order pad. It was splendid, he thought, to have a real breakfaster, a two course breakfaster, three if you counted grapefruit, sitting opposite you. Harry believed in starting the day nobly. How otherwise could one tackle business or anything else with the proper amount of enthusiasm? It warmed his
heart to find in his vis-a-vis quite as able a breakfaster as himself.
TNINING cars can be particularly noisy places in summer, with screens on every window and the upper ventilators wide open letting in the rattle and roar of the moving train. In the colder months, and it was chilly that early spring morning, the train rumbles along smoothly, the sounds are muffled, blurred, placed at a distance. And that very fact gives a sense of security, a feeling as of being far removed from the mechanical details of travelling. Talk is in low tones. And in speaking quietly, there at once arises a sense of greater intimacy. Somehow, Harry felt he could ask more intimate questions. Personal topics were appropriate, not discordant to the surroundings.
“About this husband of yours,” he began, after the first edge of their appetite had been assuaged by grapefruit and porridge. “Quite romantic and all that, travelling out to him. I suppose you have met him before. Not taking a shot in the dark, as it were? You really should tell me what the man I’m doubling for is like.”
She avoided the last question by answering the first. “You see he was down in Montreal on business. He’s with Douglas Stoneman & Co., the accountants. Y hen one of their Montreal staff died, he was moved down from Winnipeg temporarily.”
“Order! Order! protested Harry. “You’ll have to tell me his name. It’s all very well for you think of him as ‘he,’ but that’s not the way I can picture him.”
He raised his coffee cup to his lips. He was feeling remarkably light-hearted and gay. Like the sediment of gall in the wane cup of happiness, his eye at that moment, caught the flash from a small hoop of diamonds on her finger. ‘He’ could not be too w'elloff, the size of the engagement ring suggested.
She must have noticed his look, perhaps read his thought, for, before replying she turned the ring round on her finger.
“Herbert Cushing,” she replied docilely; “I thought I’d told you.”
“Well,” he began again, “now' that you’ve been obliging about him, perhaps it would be simpler to get the subject of names cleared up for good by telling me your owm.”
“Seems to have obsessions for names,” Iris said w'ith a pretence of thinking to herself. She lifted up her pewter coffee pot and vainly aimed the spout at the dodging cup. Some genius invented kinks in railway tracks apparently w'ith the malicious intent of assuring that, just as the coffee is being poured, the cup is wdiisked to one side. If luck be good, the saucer receives a baptism, if not, the tablecloth suffers.
“Passions for names,” she w'ent on, after succeeding in half filling her cup, “and passion for confetti. It’s really amusing the characters you meet traveling, isn’t it, Mr. Inspector” and the curve of a smile came round the corner of r » her mouth again.
J ^ \ “Harry Stead,” he said,
v Ï. "I apologise. Ought to have mentioned it first thing. But that doesn't let you off.”
“Persistent! Well, it’s no mystery. I’m Iris Manders.”
“John Manders’ daughter?”
Harry had known the well-thought-of merchant who had died some years previously. \ aguely he recalled Manders had left a very small estate, contrary to expectations.
“Oh, did you know Dad?” the girl asked. It sounded as if for a long while she had been waiting for someone to give her news of some lost friend.
“Sorry,” he answered, “but I didn't—not very well, that is. I’ve had a game or two of poker with him at the club, that’s all.”
He wras certain his inability to supply her need disappointed the girl, but she made no response.
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His eye caught the thin-necked carafe. The swaying train surged the water from side to side. In a crystalizing retrospect, he harked back over his career. Commencing with pennies and courage and most of all enthusiasm, he had built up the immense organization of Stead & Stead, Importers. There was only one Stead. Stead and Stead had been his jest with fate. The double name he had shrewdly calculated would command greater weight. It had.
Was this the man sitting at breakfast with an adorable girl and every moment growing more and more absorbed in her? And yet, wasn’t it in keeping with his business methods? Didn’t he move swiftly whenever he saw a good thing? Wasn’t his success due to his quick judgment and tenacity of purpose? Wasn’t that why he was on his way to China? To secure an agency before the other fellow could get it?
He met Iris’ accusing glance. He was neglecting her shamefully.
“I don’t think you’re the amusing person you gave promise of being,” she said. “You’ve been miles away. Shakesspeare was right—there’s only one thing that interests a man—himself.”
“The annoying part of it is,” he retorted, “that with me miles away and Mr. Cushing still farther, you were deprived for the moment of the only thing that interests a woman—man.”
“I see I’ll have to make good,” he went on. “Give me one more chance. Suppose we try the end platform. It looks such a splendid day and I’m sure it won’t be too cold in the sun. You’ll be able to tell me all about Mr. Cushing —and yourself.”
“You aren’t shy. Are you?”
“Poorest policy in the world. The only thing it gets you is the habit of doing without.”
It was becoming more and more difficult to refrain from staring into the depths of those black brown eyes; staring in a vain attempt to fathom the real person behind them; trying to get beyond the automatic harriers people interpose between themselves and those whom they meet. And then it seemed to him that each moment it became harder and harder to take his gaze away.
“Well, that’s settled,” he said, having heard no protest from her. “Thank you ever so much for being willing to tear your thoughts away from ‘him’ and amusing only me.”
He picked up both of the face-down¡ ward checks from the edge of the table.
A second too late, Iris made a snatch at the one nearest her.
“Oh,” she cried aghast, “I couldn’t think of such a thing. I’m sent prepaid, you know,” and hastily fumbling in her bag she produced as evidence two ten dollar bills. “Mother managed to spare me that for my wedding present.”
“But you forget, I’m your vicarious husband,” he protested firmly, “and if there’s one meal more than another which the man should pay for, it’s their first together. Why deprive me of the least of a husband’s privileges? No, Miss Manders, I really couldn’t allow it.”
There was a finality in Harry’s tone to which the girl yielded. It was a finality put there by the thought of Mrs. Manders sending Iris away on her wedding trip— a thousand miles—with only twenty dollars. Harry placed a bill on top of the checks. That’s all right,” he indicated to the waiter.
“Thank you, sir,” came from that gratified individual as he pulled out Iris’ chair.
As she preceded him down the aisle, Harry involuntarily glanced down to make sure that she was the girl with the fawn coloured shoes and stockings of the night before. With a swift turn of her head, Iris caught him in the act.
“Yes, it’s really I!” she said with amusement in her voice. “They are the same ones I had on last night.” Then as an after thought she added over her shoulder, “it must have been Satan whispering to me. I had another pair all ready to put on this morning, but I just couldn’t resist seeing what impression ankles could create.”
Without waiting to gloat further over his confusion, she continued on her way. Harry grinned. “Mother Eve!” he said to himself, “you do keep cropping up in every one of your daughters.”
He admired the astuteness of the girl. Iris Manders! Not a day over twentytwo. Ages older than he was in some way; younger, young as a child in experience; much too young, he decided after another look, to be sent out by herself to marry this young clerk in the West.
And then he stopped thinking altogether and gave himself up to watching her swaying form as she made her way through the rocking train. Fawn suede shoes and fawn stockings; two slim legs disappearing under a short skirt of old rose; smartly cut coat, a small felt hat of slightly deeper hue. And between
suit and hat just the line of darkish hair, -Amazingly lovely combination! Symphony! He was going batty!
And as they went from car to car through the narrow passages, it was the greatest effort in the world to restrain himself from catching up that entrancing figure in front of him. It was with a feeling of relief that they emerged finally into the observation car, and were projected into the midst of the reading, smoking and talking passengers.
I '! 1
TN the shelter of the rear vestibule, where, under Harry’s direction, the porter had installed them comfortably, the sun beat a warming welcome. Yet it was still sufficiently chilly for their breaths to go curling up like streamers of smoke and finally be jerked away in the back draught of the train.
The rear platform was another world. It was like not being on the train at all; occupying no set place in space. The instant Harry mentally said to himself: “We’re here!” the train had carried them far past that spot. The mere fact of their location being so indefinite, emphasized the sensation of having the girl all to himself; gave, so Harry thought, a delightful illusion of an actual honeymoon. He passed his cigarettes over and she took one; he lit it for her.
“Now,” he said, crisply, as if innumerable obstacles had been brushed aside, “tell me all about this double of mine.” “You are amusing, aren’t you? So peremptory!” and a peep of a laughing face shot up to him from under the saucily turned up brim of the red hat. He was allowed to see a bright eye and part of a glowing peaches and cream cheek. And as she talked, occasionally a bit of auburn hair threw decorum to the winds and blew across, completely concealing her for a second from him. He would wait eagerly for her face to be revealed again.
“Well, where shall I begin, then? He’s--”
“Oh, no, begin with yourself, of course.” There was nothing novel in the story; a rich man’s daughter suddenly plunged by her father’s death into what, to her mother and herself, was abject poverty. Mrs. Manders, a cold, hard, calculating woman, so Harry deduced, only too
eagerly exploited the attentions of Herbert Cushing. In the end, Iris and Cushing had become engaged. Harry could imagine the pressure the mother must have brought to bear, but throughout the recital he was acutely aware that the girl gave no hint of the match being distasteful to her. The way she spoke cf Cushing would seem to preclude any such idea.
Harry dimly remembered Mrs. Manders; someone had pointed her out to him once. The impression she had made at the time was that of a woman who went haughtily about as if still endowed with the charm of youth. He could imagine no worse hell than being her daughter and refusing, after the crash came, to take the first chance to marry.
They talked of books and wandered on to plays and by easy gradations to that time-worn topic of likes and dislikes. How often their tastes agreed seemed to them remarkable. Alike with others in the same hot flush of dawning interest, they did not realize that ideals are universal, and if two people talk on abstract subjects, they must of necessity be agreed. Every fresh agreement but added fuel to the fire of his regard; its discovery seemed more momentous than the achievements of Columbus. So that, at times, when he remembered Cushing, it became at once harder and yet more imperative that he should keep his feelings to himself.
How could he intrude what he felt on this bride so happily setting out ot meet her fate? As the morning wore on, he couldn’t trust himself to speak; he sat silent while she talked. Only, his eyes feasted themselves o.i her young beauty.
It was torture ; it was exquisite pleasure. Merely to be with her thrilled his whole being; shook his body with excitement. He couldn’t have told whether it was cold out there, he only knew a warm glow, a feeling of the most buoyant enthusiasm racing through him. He couldn’t tear himself away, and yet, as the train slowed down to stop at some small station and simultaneously the waiter announced lunch, he had all the sensation of a criminal being granted a reprieve.
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Iris jumped to her feet. “I have to send a telegram. No, don’t come with me,” she said as he got up to follow her, “I hate people near me when I’m trying to restrain my words, to my means.”
He sat down again to wait for her. His eyes idly followed the back stretch of track, the strips of steel converging in the far distance. He was still sitting there when the “Psst—psst—psst,” of the conductor’s starting signal sounded, and the long heavy train began to rumble into motion. As the end of his car came abreast of the station, he was appalled to see Iris rush out of the ticket office.
Without a moment’s hesitation, he found himself undoing the brass gate and dropping to the platform. He stumbled and fell, but there was sufficient snow to break his fall. He was brushing himself off as Iris hurried up.
“No time for explanations,” he broke in. “Wait here.”
He had caught sight of a motor handcar on a siding and running over met the section boss coming away from it.
“Give you fifty dollars to run us to the next station and catch the train.” Then, as the station master joined them, he pulled a dollar from his pocket. “Wire the train to wait for us.”
He beckoned Iris to come, without waiting for the section boss’s consent. There was that about Harry which made people fall in with his wishes. Without argument, the section boss helped them on to the handcar and, pushing and running beside it, elicited welcome ‘put-puts.’
The switch was opened for them, and, as they took the main line, the section boss pulled his throttle over and the noisy exhaust drowned whatever attempts at conversation they might have made.
It was a cold run; the wind whistled past them and tore at their faces; the section boss seemed oblivious to it and kept tuning up his engine till it howled out a deafening stacatto of shots. Harry sat facing the girl to shield her as much as possible. The bitter wind made the few miles run seem a hundred, before sweeping round a curve, they saw the station in front of them and the waiting train. Harry paid off the section boss, and, having hurried Iris on to the train, had to spend some time placating an enraged and surly conductor.
He found Iris in the observation car and insisted on her going to lunch at once. And it was only when he had seen the last bit of hot bouillon consumed, that his fear of her having taken a chill, abated.
As he sat opposite her a new feeling crept into their relations, a feeling of proprietorship. After all he had rescued her from an awkward predicament. That, he consoled himself, was something that Herbert Cushing could not take away from him.
It was Iris, not Harry, who suggested that an afternoon nap might not come amiss. "I’m afraid—damn it all—I’ve been boring you?” he cried in consternation.
“No, you haven’t, you’ve been most frightfully kind,” she protested, as she left him at the door of her stateroom. Harry would have liked to have detected a note of more than passing regret n her
voice, but common-sense told him that she had merely uttered a conventional platitude. As he left her, he decided Mrs. Manders must worship the God of Appearances; she would insist on spending the money for a compartment which gave an ‘air,’ and only give the girl twenty dollars for a wedding present which nobody would see.
He went to his own compartment with the intention of running over some business papers. Sitting on the edge of his berth, he found the estimated trade figures, which once had held his attention more closely than the most exciting story, had become all at once dull and dry. They lay idly on his knees. The morning air had made him drowsy; he lay back and was asleep instantly.
He awoke with that unsatisfactory feeling of having neglected something. The sunlight streaming in outlined a trapezoid on the wall several feet above the floor, and he cursed himself as he realized how long he must have slept. Wouldn’t they arrive in Winnipeg the next day? And then—he refused to finish that thought. He sprang to his feet, and, tidying himself, went out in search of Iris.
“Thought you’d fallen off the train, or been poisoned by that lunch,” came her welcome. All was right with the world, he decided; evidently he had been missed!
The struggle between desire and decency tore his composure to shreds; took his appetite from him at dinner; hardly left him the use of his wits.
“You poor boob,” desire stormed at his. “What is the matter with you? Don’t you want the girl? Isn’t she just a bit interested in you? Take a chance! Tell her! Carry her off her feet!”
“Don’t be a spoiled sport,” decency clamored. “Don’t upset a girl the night before her wedding. She hardly knows you. She’s been nice to a chance traveling acquaintance. Play the game, if you can!”
And all that evening he was sitting beside her listening in a golden haze. Golden lights in her face, in the depths of her eyes. The darkness had shut out the countryside, drawing them into closer intimacy; the voices in the car grew lower and softer.
“You’ll be glad to get this journey over,” he tortured himself with, as they parted for the night. “And to-morrow will be the great day, won’t it?”
“Why, I think it will be the most tremendous day in my life. I’m so excited, I don’t know what I’m doing. Don’t you feel sometimes thatthere’ssomething, some great surprise just round the corner? Something absolutely new, something that will change everything for you?”
The quickly uttered words, the air of excitement about her, all spoke to Harry of a girl desperately in love. He put away desire, put it away resolutely, and wished her good-night.
“Good-night, and thank you ever so much, Mr. Stead,” Iris said, slipping her warm strong hand into his.
T_TARRY STEAD could never quite recapture the incidents of the next day. The thought of having to see her
go out of his life at Winnipeg, of her marrying Cushing when the train arrived some time after eight o’clock, had a blurring effect on his mind. Vaguely, of course, he could recall breakfast, lunch and dinner, milestones of time that mercifully interposed action to distract his tortured feelings.
It was snowing as the train cautiously lumbered into the Winnipeg yards. Great shavings of snow came tumbling down as if Winter, enraged at Spring’s temerity, had determined to make one last challenging gesture. But there was that in the air which still suggested it was the last flicker, the dying spasm.
Harry had kept resolutely away from Iris after dinner. He had managed to extend his good wishes. From his seat he watched her follow the porter down the side passage to the door. He wanted to avoid seeing the meeting on the platform, and yet at the same time he found it quite impossible to remain quietly in the car.
When the train finally came to a stop, he made for the door. He was surprised to see Iris still on the bottom step of the car. He paused and, as he did so, the sound of singing and shouting came to him from up the platform. He put his head out and saw a band of young men advancing, arms locked tightly in one another’s, hats on the back of their heads, white mufflers rumpled and their ends flapping over swaying shoulders.
“That a boy, Herb!” One last pull and a pull altogether!” “Tough going up this hill; should never build stations so steep!” “Magnificent welcome for the bride. Hope she appreciates all we’re doing.” “Now! All together, fellows!” And somehow the crowd of them caught the chant in unison and there poured forth the strangest welcome a girl ever received at the end of her journey to her bridegroom.
“Here comes the Bride! Here comes the Bride!-——”
It evidently was such a success and they were so pleased with their efforts, that, quite naturally under the circumstances, they forgot all about the lady they were serenading. Three by three, they marched down the length of the train. In the first trio, Harry guessed, by the look on Iris’ face, that the young man being supported, dragged along in the middle was Herbert Cushing. Their contribution to the general entertainment was an unqualified success. Every window was filled with peering faces. The porters forgot to look after alighting passengers; a broad row of grins showed whitely on their faces.
Harry stepped down to the platform and watched the cavalcade. It must stop by the rear end of the train, he judged. Unfortunately the words which they were singing were not written synchronously with their arrival at that point. Music such as that, they evidently decided was too great an achievement to be halted in the middle of a stanza. Without the quiver of a hesitation, they continued marching down the narrowing platform and when the platform ended stepped off on to the tracks.
The chorus and their progress ended with their arrival at a signal point. The jabber of voices sounded more incoherent than ever. Harry could see one figure detach itself from the rest and make a sweeping bow to the switch target. A brief consultation followed and then as if some momentous decision had been reached, they re-formed into line of march and returned over the way they had come.
Harry turned to look at Iris, his embarrassment flushing his face. To his astonishment she was no longer there. An instant before she had been standing not six feet from him by the steps of their car. Glancing quickly up the platform he was in time to see the top of her hat disappearing into the well of the stairway. He was sure she would hate above all things that he should have been a
witness of the scene, yet he felt he couldn’t possibly leave her to the mercies of that hilarious band.
As he stood irresolute, he remembered the diminutive purse filled with all sorts of odds and ends that a girl deems essential, and for capital only two ten dollar bills! Fancy a woman like Mrs. Manders sending her daughter off to marry a man in Winnipeg and only giving her twenty dollars for emergencies! The woman ought to be shot!
The hilarious wedding party had passed him. They were descending the stairs leading to the Concourse. He walked quickly after them and as he caught up, he could hear them attempting to console the bridegroom.
“Poor old Herb! ’S too bad! No bride to fall into his arms! No wedding breakfast! Never mind, Herb, we’re here, we’ll stand by you. An’ we did have a hell of a fine dinner last night, I’ll tell the world.”
“Thanksh, fellows,” came thickly from Cushing. “Feel shleepy. Must be late. Don’t worry ’bout me. Not keen ’bout marryin’ ’tall.”
“Mush take care of old Herb. Might break his heart. Lesh go up to Dinty’s and have a drink. Only thing to do, I ’sure you. Only thing.”
Passing through the Concourse, they hailed three taxis and began to stumble in. Harry came closer. One lone figure resisted all attempts the others made to get him to embark.
“Might have made mishtake,” he protested. “Might have looked for wrong girl. ‘Sure you know her by sight, Herb?” he asked as that bright idea occurred to him. “Sure you know what she’s like?”
“Herb doesn’t want to get married, ’sfact, just said so,” announced the man nearest the door as he grabbed at the swaying figure and began pulling him in. “Get in. What Herb wants is a drink.”
Herb was sound asleep in the depths of the taxi so that he missed seeing, even if he had been able to recognise, Iris Manders coming out from the Concourse and watching her wedding party leave the station.
As the last taxi swept up the street and disappeared, Iris turned to find Harry at her side.
“Oh,” she gasped, in dismay.
The crimson rushed to spread over her neck and face. Yet she contrived to hold her head with an indescribably gallant air, glancing past him up the empty street. Harry would have given anything to see her eyes. If he could, he felt he would find the answer to the question he had been asking himself the last ten minutes: Did she care for Cushing?
And if not—could she care for him?
“I wonder,” he began and then stopped. It was an old trick to make her look up and it succeeded. She gave him the merest flash of a glance, but it satisfied Harry. “Now, I don’t wonder any more,” he cried, triumphantly; “we’ve just got half an hour.”
He held up his hand and a taxi came lunging up from the waiting line. He | handed her in, amazement keeping her speechless. He gave the driver directions ! in a low tone and jumping in, shut the door with a clash.
“Half an hour for what?” she asked, and he could feel what a struggle it was to keep her voice cool and steady.
“Get a license, find a minister, and get back to the train in time to continue our honeymoon.” He could have shouted it for joy.
“Oh,” gasped Iris again, but this time there was no dismay in her tones, only a new note of happiness which ended in the deep laugh he adored.
“You know,” a moment later came muffled from somewhere below his shoulder, “you’re just where you were at first.”
“Where’s that?” Harry demanded.
“Don’t you remember? Why, at my feet, of course.”