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- Their Mariposa Legend - 10/12 -


"Why extraordinary?" That her cup of humiliation might brim to the full, resentment was added to confusion. "You consider me unworthy, then, of having had nobility among my ancestry? But, just the same, there was nothing strange about it. The colonies were chiefly English, you remember!" He smiled at her sarcasm. "The duke married one of Elizabeth's ladies-in-waiting after he went home and there was a younger son, and he had a younger son, and after a long time one of them came over to Virginia just like anybody else. They have always been good, loyal, highly respected American citizens," she told him fiercely, "and I'm proud of them! Besides - " with reckless emphasis, "I've always felt so sorry for Wildenai."

But at this point, quite incomprehensibly, Blair broke into peals of laughter.

"And by and by, after a long, long time, one of these good, loyal, American citizens that we're both so proud of had a hot-tempered, most disloyal little daughter who intends to show her employer his proper place before she dismisses him! But why are you sorry for Wildenai?"

With mischievous eyes he searched her face.

She flushed, then, looking squarely at him, "Because she was impulsive like me, and just for that reason Lord Harold ran away and left her," she said. "He's the only one of them I never had any use for."

Blair wandered the length of the cavern and back before he replied.

"You think him a coward, I suppose." He still looked as though he wanted to laugh, yet something in his tone seared her outraged pride. He might as well have touched an iron to quivering flesh. "You ought to remember, however, - I mean every woman ought to remember, - that when a girl lets a man know that she cares for him she generally forfeits, then and there, whatever interest she may have had for him. Wildenai risked too much. Of course, in her case there was some excuse. She was only an untrained barbarian. But, under ordinary circumstances, I tell you there's nothing a man despises so much!"

What was done or said after that Miss Hastings never could have told. She was possessed of but one desire, - to get away, to go back to the hotel, - home, anywhere beyond the reach of his voice and his eyes. For the moment she hated him, and although Blair, conscience smitten at he knew not what, waited in the lobby a full hour before going in to dinner, she did not come down.

Up in her room, mechanically brushing her hair for the night, Miss Hastings stormily addressed the girl in the glass who stared so scornfully back at her.

"I tell you I don't care a thing about it! He probably thought he was justified in every word he said. He's probably smiling this very minute because he thinks he managed it so well! But he's a coward just the same, and I despise him, - I do despise him!" Her eyes brimming with tears, she fiercely repeated the word. "Well, he'll soon find out how much I really meant!"

Over and over she re-lived the short scene, - all of its humiliation, all of its hurt, seeking at every turn solace for her woman's pride.

"Naturally I wanted to help him all I could, to appear, at least, to be interested, especially when he was paying so much for it! It was only a business arrangement anyway," she continued bitterly, "nothing but business from start to finish, and if he doesn't know that yet, he'll find it out the very first thing tomorrow morning!"

And having tumbled into bed she lay staring into the dark, planning the details of a campaign warranted either to cure or kill the enemy. Outside, a mocking bird, perched provokingly near her window, kept the night ringing with music. Resolutely she closed her ears to his song. But presently, through the faint fragrance of oleanders, other sounds began to penetrate, - the strains of the waltz to which they had danced only the night before. The little art teacher turned wearily over and cried herself to sleep.

On the morning which followed she rose very early, however, much too early to breakfast with Blair at the little table in the sunny corner. Instead, she ordered some coffee and toast at Jim's Waffle Shop in the village and was hard at work sketching on the wharf before eight o'clock. She had suddenly remembered a promise to sketch Capt. Warren's dog holding the gaff, a feat of which both Pal and his master were justifiably proud. Indeed, so long had the arrangement been made and so entirely had it been neglected, that no one was more surprised than the Captain himself at her unexpected appearance.

"But Pal and me ought to be at the Tuna Club in fifteen minutes, to take a party o' members out fishin'," he demurred. "You can't paint Pal in no quarter of an hour!"

"I'm sorry to have had to put it off so long," replied Miss Hastings crisply, "but I'm planning to go home in a few days now, - this afternoon probably. It's the only chance I shall have." And she prepared to make good the belated promise with such determination that, after a wistful glance or two across the slapping white caps, the old skipper meekly succumbed.

It was here Blair found her an hour or so later. Unceremoniously he placed himself in front of her, his hands in his pockets, and gave vent to a low whistle.

"Well, of all the - !"

"Oh, is it you, Mr. Blair?" she inquired in cool, sweet tones. "I thought most probably you'd gone! Didn't you say yesterday you intended to as soon as you'd seen the cavern?" Then, after a pause during which Blair said nothing, "I've been getting dreadfully behind with my own work, so I thought, if you didn't mind, I'd try to catch up a little this morning."

"Certainly not. Take all the time you want! We've about finished anyway, I guess." His coolness matched her own.

Another silence during which she painted furiously.

"I'm making a sketch of Pal holding the gaff," she ventured at length when the strain had become too uncomfortable.

"So I see."

This second tentative effort at conversation having flickered and gone out she bent again to her work, while Blair remained, looking down at her, in his eyes mingled amusement and resentment. What had he done, he wondered, to account for such a change? Or, perhaps, it was something he had not done. He tried again.

"Aren't we going for our ride this morning? It's a glorious day, and I have the refusal of the two best horses."

"No, I think not, - not this morning, thank you," she answered. In her voice was the same crisp sweetness. "I haven't time!"

With a shrug of pure bewilderment he backed away, then lingered a moment longer to watch the sketch take shape beneath her hurrying brush. That was the particular moment Miss Hastings chose for the final reckless stab.

"You're standing in my light," she said. "If you'd just as soon, please do go away, Mr. Blair. It makes me nervous to have people looking over my shoulder when I'm trying to paint."

This was just a trifle more than Blair at the moment was prepared to stand. His eyes grew dark.

"Certainly," he replied icily. "So sorry to have bothered you at all. I only came down to tell you that I've decided to leave today. There's nothing more to keep me now, I think, and I'm rather anxious to get home. You'll find your check at the desk." And he sauntered away.

She did not go back to the hotel for luncheon. She had finished her sketch, yet, somehow, when the time came, she discovered that it would be quite impossible to enter the dining room. She found it equally impossible to take the afternoon boat herself. Instead, having clambered half way up the steep slope to the cavern, she watched from behind a flaming riot of wild nasturtians while, preceded by a hotel porter bearing bags and suit-cases, Blair boarded the Avalon for Los Angeles. He was going away, then, without even a word of farewell.

The heart of the little art teacher turned cold within her, so cold that she sank numbly into the red and gold tangle; nor did she look up again until the steamer, dipping below the horizon, had left only a trail of smoke to show where it disappeared. She had not believed that he would do quite that!

When evening came she went stoically in to dinner. There was no reason any longer for staying away. Sternly she kept her eyes from the vacant place opposite. Yet somehow she could not persuade herself that he was really gone. More than once she caught herself watching the door, half expecting to see him stroll in with apologies for tardiness and take his empty chair. When again the orchestra drifted suddenly into the waltz to which they had danced, she rose abruptly and left the room.

Well, she would go herself in the morning. She would settle everything and pack her things at once. She went to the desk to ask for the check. But there was nothing for her. No, the clerk assured her after much fumbling, Mr. Blair hadn't left anything, either in her box or his own. But, - the man stole a covert glance at her downcast face, - he was still holding his rooms. Probably he meant to attend to it when he returned.

That he might not see the wild joy that leaped to her eyes, Miss Hastings turned with startling suddenness and fled upstairs. Safe in her own room she flung herself with tears and laughter on the bed. So that was the hand he was playing, was it? - the dear, wicked, unmanageable - ! Of course he would have to be punished, - well punished! but - she laughed aloud for pure joy - the world was a radiant place once more, and nothing of any sort really mattered, because he was coming back.

But the next day went by, and the next, and he had not come. Day after day passed in an empty procession, yet no one of them brought that for which she waited. And there was nothing else to do. Work was out of the question. She could not sit still long enough. It became, instead, her sole occupation to linger each morning and afternoon on the verandah until the steamer from Los Angeles had rounded the point and crossed the bay in front of the hotel. Then, hidden behind the palms she would watch until the last straggling tourist had left the pier. But still he did not come.

Doubt in every tormenting guise assailed her. Perhaps he had changed his mind and decided later not to return. Yet the clerk had said he meant to

Their Mariposa Legend - 10/12

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