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- Graustark - 4/57 -
help you out of a very ugly predicament."
"How can I ever repay you?" she murmured. "It was so good and so thoughtful of you. Oh, I should have died had I been left here alone. Do you not think my uncle will miss me and have the train sent back?" she went on sagely.
"That's so!" he exclaimed, somewhat disconcerted. "But I don't know, either. He may not miss you for a long time, thinking you are in some other car, you know. That could easily happen," triumphantly.
"Can this man get us to the next station in time?" she questioned, looking at the black mountains and the dense foliage. It was now quite dark.
"If he doesn't bump us to death before we get half way there. He's driving like the wind."
"You must let me pay half his bill," she said, decidedly, from the dark corner in which she was huddling.
He could find no response to this peremptory request.
"The road is growing rougher. If you will allow me to make a suggestion, I think you will see its wisdom. You can escape a great deal of ugly jostling if you will take hold of my arm and cling to it tightly. I will brace myself with this strap. I am sure it will save you many hard bumps."
Without a word she moved to his side and wound her strong little arm about his big one.
"I had thought of that," she said, simply. "Thank you." Then, after a moment, while his heart thumped madly: "Had it occurred to you that after you ran so hard you might have climbed aboard the train and ordered the conductor to stop it for me?"
"I--I never thought of that?" he cried, confusedly.
"Please do not think me ungrateful. You have been very good to me, a stranger. One often thinks afterward of things one might have done, don't you know? You did the noblest when you inconvenienced yourself for me. What trouble I have made for you." She said this so prettily that he came gaily from the despondency into which her shrewdness, bordering on criticism, had thrown him. He knew perfectly well that she was questioning his judgment and presence of mind, and, the more he thought of it, the more transparent became the absurdity of his action.
"It has been no trouble," he floundered "An adventure like this is worth no end of--er--inconvenience, as you call it. I'm sure I must have lost my head completely, and I am ashamed of myself. How much anxiety I could have saved you had I been possessed of an ounce of brains!"
"Hush! I will not allow you to say that. You would have me appear ungrateful when I certainly am not. Ach, how he is driving! Do you think it dangerous?" she cried, as the hack gave two or three wild lurches, throwing him into the corner, and the girl half upon him.
"Not in the least," he gasped, the breath knocked out of his body. Just the same, he was very much alarmed. It was as dark as pitch outside and in, and he could not help wondering how near the edge of the mountain side they were running. A false move of the flying horses and they might go rolling to the bottom of the ravine, hundreds of feet below. Still, he must not let her see his apprehension. "This fellow is considered the best driver in the mountains," he prevaricated. Just then he remembered having detected liquor on the man's breath as he closed the door behind him. Perhaps he was intoxicated!
"Do you know him?" questioned the clear voice, her lips close to his ear, her warm body pressing against his.
"Perfectly. He is no other than Lighthorse Jerry, the king of stage drivers." In the darkness he smiled to himself maliciously.
"Oh, then we need feel no alarm," she said, reassured, not knowing that Jerry existed only in the yellow-backed novel her informant had read when a boy.
There was such a roaring and clattering that conversation became almost impossible. When either spoke it was with the mouth close to the ear of the other. At such times Grenfall could feel her breath on his cheek, Her sweet voice went tingling to his toes with every word she uttered. He was in a daze, out of which sung the mad wish that he might clasp her in his arms, kiss her, and then go tumbling down the mountain. She trembled in the next fierce lurches, but gave forth no complaint. He knew that she was in terror but too brave to murmur.
Unable to resist, he released the strap to which he had clung so grimly, and placed his strong, firm hand encouragingly over the little one that gripped his arm with the clutch of death. It was very dark and very lonely, too!
"Oh!" she cried, as his hand clasped hers. "You must hold to the strap."
"It is broken!" he lied, gladly, "There is no danger. See! My hand does not tremble, does it? Be calm! It cannot be much farther."
"Will it not be dreadful if the conductor refuses to stop?" she cried, her hand resting calmly beneath its protector. He detected a tone of security in her voice.
"But he will stop! Your uncle will see to that, even if the operator fails."
"My uncle will kill him if he does not stop or come back for me," she said, complacently.
"I was mot wrong," thought Grenfall; "he looks like a duelist. Who the devil are they, anyhow?" Then aloud: "At this rate we'd be able to beat the train to Washington in a straight-away race. Isn't it a delightfully wild ride?"
"I have acquired a great deal of knowledge in America, but this is the first time I have heard your definition of delight. I agree that it is wild."
For some moments there was silence in the noisy conveyance. Outside, the crack of the driver's whip, his hoarse cries, and the nerve-destroying crash of the wheels produced impressions of a mighty storm rather than of peace and pleasure.
"I am curious to know where you obtained the coin you lost in the car yesterday," she said at last, as if relieving her mind of a question that had been long subdued.
"The one you so kindly found for me?" he asked, procrastinatingly.
"Yes. They are certainly rare in this country."
"I never saw a coin like it until after I had seen you," he confessed. He felt her arm press his a, little tighter, and there was a quick movement of her head which told him, dark as it was, that she was trying to see his face and that her blue eyes were wide with something more than terror.
"I do not understand," she exclaimed.
"I obtained the coin from a sleeping-car porter who said some one gave it to him and told him to have a 'high time' with it," he explained in her ear.
"He evidently did not care for the 'high time,'" she said, after a moment. He would have given a fortune for one glimpse of her face at that instant.
"I think he said it would be necessary to go to Europe in order to follow the injunction of the donor. As I am more likely to go to Europe than he, I relieved him of the necessity and bought his right to a 'high time.'"
There was a long pause, during which she attempted to withdraw herself from his side, her little fingers struggling timidly beneath the big ones.
"Are you a collector of coins?" she asked at length, a perceptible coldness in her voice.
"No. I am considered a dispenser of coins. Still, I rather like the idea of possessing this queer bit of money as a pocket-piece. I intend to keep it forever, and let it descend as an heirloom to the generations that follow me," he said, laughingly. "Why are you so curious about it?"
"Because it comes from the city and country in which I live," she responded. "If you were in a land far from your own would you not be interested in anything--even a coin--that reminded you of home?"
"Especially if I had not seen one of its kind since leaving home," he replied, insinuatingly.
"Oh, but I have seen many like it. In my purse there are several at this minute."
"Isn't it strange that this particular coin should have reminded you of home?"
"You have no right to question me, sir," she said, coldly, drawing away, only to be lurched back again. In spite of herself she laughed audibly.
"I beg your pardon," he said, tantalizingly.
"When did he give it you?"
"The porter, sir."
"You have no right to question me," he said.
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