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- The Flyers - 10/15 -


"When are you to be married, my dear?"

"At once--I mean, quite soon. Isn't the scenery beautiful, Mr. Van Truder?" asked Eleanor in desperation.

"It's too far away. I can't see it," grumbled the old gentleman.

"He's so very near-sighted," explained his wife. "Do you expect to stay long at the Somerset?"

"It all depends," said Eleanor, with a glance at Dauntless.

"Isn't that your governess with Mr. Windomshire? I can't be mistaken."

"Yes, she's going out to spend a few weeks with a rich aunt,--her sister's mother, I think."

"How's that?" gasped the old lady.

"I mean her mother's sister."

"It sounded very strange, my dear."

"About the mother having a sister?" guessed old Mr. Van Truder, sharply. "Seems all right to me."

"They are going to row us across the river," volunteered Eleanor, helplessly.

"Good-morning, Mr. Windomshire," called Mrs. Van Truder. Windomshire started and got very red in the face. Miss Courtenay's bow went unnoticed by the old lady. In sheer despair, the Englishman turned to Dauntless, a fellow-sufferer.

"I say, old man," he began nervously, "I'd like to ask a favour of you."

"Go ahead--anything I can do," said the other, blankly. Windomshire continued in lowered tones:

"Deucedly awkward, but I forgot my bags at Fenlock. I see you've got yours. Would you mind lending me a fresh shirt and a collar, old chap?"

"Gladly," cried Joe, very much relieved. "Will you take them now?" starting to open his bag. Windomshire hastily interposed.

"I'd rather not, old chap. It's rather exposed here, don't you know. Later on, if you please. Thanks, old man; I'll not forget this." They shook hands without any apparent excuse.

"Mr. Windomshire!" called Mrs. Van Truder. He turned with a hopeless look in his eyes. The two girls had misery and consternation plainly stamped in their faces. "We can't all go over in the next boats, you know. I've no doubt you and Miss Thursdale would not in the least mind being left to the last," with a sly smile.

"Oh--er--ah, by Jove!" gasped Windomshire, with a glance at the still faces of the young women. He saw no relief there.

"Blamed cat!" muttered Dauntless, gritting his teeth.

"Mr. Dauntless, will you and Miss Courtenay come with us in this boat? I want some one to keep the snakes away; Mr. Van Truder can't see them, you know."

There was no way out of it. Joe and Anne meekly followed the Van Truders into the wobbly boat, resentment in their hearts, uncertainty in their minds. They rowed away, leaving Windomshire and Eleanor standing among the willows, ill at ease and troubled beyond expression.

CHAPTER V

AS NIGHT APPROACHES

Neither spoke until the boat came to its slippery, uncertain landing- place on the opposite side of the river. Then each breathed easier, in a sigh that seemed to express both relief and dismay.

"It's a very ugly looking river," she murmured encouragingly. She was afraid he might feel obliged, in honour, to offer an explanation for his presence, perhaps attempt to convince her in some tangible way that she was to expect nothing but slavish devotion from him in the future.

"I don't wonder that the bridge gave way," he replied politely. They looked at each other involuntarily, and then instantly looked away.

"I'd give my head to know what she expects of me," thought Windomshire miserably.

"How I despise that old woman!" welled up in Eleanor's bitter heart. Everything was awry. Luckily for both of them a small boy slipped into the river at that moment. He was rescued by the brakeman, but not until the catastrophe had served its purpose as a godsend. The excitement which attended the rescue saved the couple an uncomfortable ten minutes. Eleanor went to the assistance of the distracted mother; Windomshire, in his eagerness to do something, offered to exchange clothes with the dripping trainman; the small boy howled as lustily as his wheezy lungs would permit. Everybody shouted advice to the mother, rebukes to the boy, and praise to the hero; altogether Providence was acting most handsomely.

At last the final boatload of passengers crossed the river and drew up at the landing; Eleanor, with her bewildered fiance, stepped into the beaming presence of Mrs. Van Truder.

"Come with us," she said with a friendliness that shattered all hope. "Mr. Van Truder has just arranged for breakfast at that farmhouse over there. The relief train won't be here for half an hour or more and you must be famished." Eleanor's flimsy excuses were unavailing; her protestations that she could not eat a mouthful fell on obdurate ears. Windomshire, catching sight of the forlorn Anne, was about to assert himself vigorously in declining the invitation when a meaning look from the governess caused him to refrain. The look very plainly told him to accept.

The unhappy couple followed the Van Truders to the nearby farmhouse. They left behind them on the edge of the crowd, seated side by side on a pile of ties, two miserable partners in the fiasco. Gloomy, indeed, was the outlook for Miss Courtenay and the despised Mr. Dauntless. They were silent for many minutes after the departure, rage in their hearts. Then Mr. Dauntless could hold his tongue no longer.

"Damn her!" he exploded so viciously that Anne jumped and cried out,--

"Mr. Dauntless!"

"Oh, you feel just as I do about it only you won't say it aloud," he exclaimed. "I won't stand for it!"

"I--I am sure Miss Thursdale has done nothing to deserve your curses," she began diplomatically.

"Good Heavens, Miss Courtenay, you--Oh, I say, you know I didn't mean Eleanor. The old pelican--that's the one. Old Mrs. Intruder," he grated.

"I am sure it is all quite regular," observed Anne, so seriously that he looked at her in wonder. It began to creep into his head that his speculations were wrong, after all. At any rate it seemed advisable to put a sharp curb on his tongue.

"I'm sorry I spoke as I did about the old lady," he said, after a moment's reflection. "I was thinking of the way in which she left you out of her invitation to breakfast."

"And yourself, incidentally," she smiled.

"Miss Courtenay, I'm--I'm a confounded ass for not thinking of your breakfast. It's not too late. We are both hungry. Won't you come with me and have a bit of something to eat? We'll try that farmhouse ourselves. Come, let us hurry or the crowd will get in ahead of us. Ham and eggs and coffee! they always have that sort of breakfast in farmhouses, I'm told. Come."

[Illustration: Seated side by side...two miserable partner in the fiasco]

She sprang up cheerfully, and followed him across the meadow to the farmhouse. The Van Truder party was entering the door, smoke pouring forth suggestively from a chimney in the rear of the house. The sudden desire for ham and eggs was overcoming, in a way, the pangs of outraged love; there was solace in the new thought.

That breakfast was one never to be forgotten by four persons; two others remembered it to their last days on account of its amazing excellence. A dozen persons were crowded into the little dining-room; no one went forth upon his travels with an empty stomach. No such profitable harvest had ever been reaped by the farmer. Dauntless and Anne ate off of a sewing-table in the corner. Mrs. Van Truder deliberately refused to hear Mr. Windomshire's timorous suggestion that they "make room" for them at the select table. Silent anathemas accompanied every mouthful of food that went down the despot's throat, but she did not know it. Fortunately the lovers were healthy and hungry.

They fared forth after that memorable breakfast with lighter hearts, though still misplaced by an unrelenting fate.

All the way to Omegon Anne sat in the seat with the seething Dauntless, each nursing a pride that had received almost insupportable injuries during the morning hours. Windomshire and Eleanor, under the espionage of the "oldest friend of the family," moped and sighed with a frankness that could not have escaped more discerning eyes. Mrs. Van Truder, having established herself as the much needed chaperon, sat back complacently and gave her charges every opportunity to hold private and no doubt sacred communication in the double seat just across the aisle.

Eleanor pleaded fatigue, and forthwith closed her wistful eyes. Windomshire, with fine consideration, sank into a rapt study of the flitting farm lands. Having got but little sleep among the coals, he finally dropped off into a peaceful cat nap.


The Flyers - 10/15

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