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- The Purple Parasol - 2/7 -
stopped in Albany. There's a train through here at three in the morning; but I'm not detective enough to unravel the mystery of any woman's berth. Now, where the deuce am _I_ to sleep?"
As he looked about dismally, disconsolately, his hands deep in his pockets, his straw hat pulled low over his sleepy eyes, the station agent came up to him with a knowing grin on his face.
"'Scuse me, boss, but she's come," he said, winking.
"Her. The young lady. Sure! She's lookin' fer you over in the waitin'-room. You mus' 'a' missed her when she got off--thought she wasn't comin' up till to-morrer. Mus' 'a' changed her mind. That's a woming all over, ain't it?"
Rossiter felt himself turn hot and cold. His head began to whirl and his courage went fluttering away. Here was a queer complication. The quarry hunting for the sleuth, instead of the reverse. He fanned himself with his hat for one brief, uncertain moment, dazed beyond belief. Then he resolutely strode over to face the situation, trusting to luck to keep him from blundering his game into her hands. Just as he was about to put his foot upon the lamp-lit door-sill the solution struck him like a blow. She was expecting Havens to meet her!
There was but one woman in the room, and she was approaching the door with evident impatience as he entered. Both stopped short, she with a look of surprise, which changed to annoyance and then crept into an nervous, apologetic little smile; he with an unsuppressed ejaculation. She wore a gray skirt, a white waist, and a sailor hat, and she was surpassingly good to look at even in the trying light from the overhead lamp. Instinctively his eye swept over her. She carried on her arm the light gray jacket, and in one hand was the tightly rolled parasol of--he impertinently craned his neck to see--of purple! Mr. Rossiter was face to face with the woman he was to dog for a month, and he was flabbergasted. Even as he stopped, puzzled, before her, contemplating retreat, she spoke to him.
"Did that man send you to me?" she asked nervously, looking through the door beyond and then through a window at his right, quite puzzled, he could see.
"He did, and I was sure he was mistaken. I knew of no one in this God-forsaken place who could be asking for me," said he, collecting his wits carefully and herding them into that one sentence. "But perhaps I can help you. Will you tell me whom I am to look for?"
"It is strange he is not here," she said a little breathlessly. "I wired him just what train to expect me on."
"Your husband?" ventured he admirably.
"Oh, dear, no!" said she quickly.
"I wish she'd wired me what train to expect her on," thought he grimly. "She doesn't know me. That's good. She was expecting Havens and he's missed connections somehow," shot rapidly through his brain. At the same time he was thinking of her as the prettiest woman he had seen in all his life. Then aloud: "I'll look on the platform. Maybe he's lost in this great city. What name shall I call out?"
"Please don't call very loudly. You'll wake the dead," she said, with a pathetic smile. "It's awfully good of you. He may come at any minute, you know. His name is--is"--she hesitated for a second, and then went on determinedly--"Dudley. Tall, dark man. I don't know how I shall thank you. It's so very awkward."
Rossiter darted from her glorious but perplexed presence. He had never seen Havens, but he was sure he could recognize an actor if he saw him in Fossingford. And he would call him Dudley, too. It would be wise. The search was fruitless. The only tall, dark object he saw was the mailcrane at the edge of the platform, but he facetiously asked if its name was Dudley. Receiving no answer, he turned back to cast additional woe into the heart of the pretty intriguer. She was standing in the door, despair in her eyes. Somehow he was pleased because he had not found the wretch. She was so fair to look upon and so appealing in her distress.
"You couldn't find him? What am I to do? Oh, isn't it awful? He promised to be here."
"Perhaps he's at a hotel."
"In Fossingford?" in deep disgust. "There's no hotel here. He was to drive me to the home of a friend out in the country." Rossiter leaned against the wall suddenly. There was a long silence. He could not find his tongue, but his eyes were burning deep into the plaintive blue ones that looked up into his face.
"I'll ask the agent," he said at last.
"Ask him what?" she cried anxiously.
"If he's been here. No, I'll ask if there's a place where you can sleep to-night. Mr. Dudley will surely turn up to-morrow."
"But I couldn't sleep a wink. I feel like crying my eyes out," she wailed.
"Don't do that!" exclaimed he, in alarm. "I'll take another look outside."
"Please don't. He is not here. Will you please tell me what I am to do?"-- very much as if it was his business to provide for her in the hour of need.
Rossiter promptly awoke the agent and asked him where a room could be procured for the lady. Doxie's boarding-house was the only place, according to the agent, and it was full to overflowing. Besides, they would not "take in" strange women.
"She can sleep here in the waiting-room," suggested the agent. "They'll let you sleep in the parlor over at Doxie's, mister--maybe."
Rossiter did not have the heart to tell her all that the agent said. He merely announced that there was no hotel except the depot waiting-room.
"By the way, does Mr. Dudley live out in the country?" he asked insidiously. She flushed and then looked at him narrowly.
"No. He's visiting his uncle up here."
"Funny he missed you."
"It's terribly annoying," she said coldly. Then she walked away from him as if suddenly conscious that she should not be conversing with a good-looking stranger at such a time and place and under such peculiar circumstances. He withdrew to the platform and his own reflections.
"He's an infernal cad for not meeting her," he found himself saying, her pretty, distressed face still before him. "I don't care a rap whether she's doing right or wrong--she's game. Still, she's a blamed little fool to be travelling up here on such an outlandish train. So he's visiting an uncle, eh? Then the chances are they're not going to Eagle Nest. Lucky I waited here--I'd have lost them entirely if I'd gone back to Albany. But where the deuce is she to sleep till morn--" He heard rapid footsteps behind him and turned to distinguish Mrs. Wharton as she approached dimly but gracefully. The air seemed full of her.
"Oh, Mr.--Mr.--" she was saying eagerly.
"Isn't there a later train, Mr. Rollins?"
"I'll ask the agent."
"There's the flyer at three-thirty A. M.," responded the sleepy agent a minute later.
"I'll just sit up and wait for it," she said coolly. "He has got the trains confused."
"Good heavens! Till three-thirty?"
"But my dear Mr. Rollins, you won't be obliged to sit up, you know. You're not expecting any one, are you?"
"N-no, of course not."
"By the way, why _are_ you staying up?" He was sure he detected alarm in the question. She was suspecting him!
"I have nowhere to go, Miss--Mrs.--er--" She merely smiled and he said something under his breath. "I'm waiting for the eight o'clock train."
"How lovely! What time will the three-thirty train get here, agent?"
"At half-past three, I reckon. But she don't stop here!"
"Oh, goodness! Can't you flag it--her, I mean?"
"What's the use?" asked Rossiter. "He's not coming on it, is he?"
"That's so. He's coming in a buggy. You needn't mind flagging her, agent."
"Well, say, I'd like to lock up the place," grumbled the agent. "There's no more trains to-night but Number Seventeen, and she don't even whistle here. I can't set up here all night."
"Oh, you wouldn't lock me out in the night, would you?" she cried in such pretty despair that he faltered.
"I got to git home to my wife. She's--"
"That's all right, agent," broke in Rossiter hastily. "I'll take your place as agent. Leave the doors open and I'll go on watch. I have to stay up anyway."
There was a long silence. He did not know whether she was freezing or warming toward him, because he dared not look into her eyes.
"I don't know who you are," she said distinctly but plaintively. It was very dark out there on the platform and the night air was growing cold.
"It is the misfortune of obscurity," he said mockingly. "I am a most humble wayfarer on his way to the high hills. If it will make you feel any more comfortable, madam, I will say that I don't know who you are. So, you see, we are in the same boat. You are waiting for a man and I am waiting for daylight. I sincerely trust you may not have as long to wait as I. Believe me, I regard myself as a gentleman. You are quite as safe with me as you will be with the agent, or with Mr.--Mr. Dudley, for that matter."
"You may go home to your wife, Mr. Agent," she said promptly. "Mr.
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