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- The Purple Parasol - 3/7 -
Rollins will let the trains through, I'm sure."
The agent stalked away in the night and the diminutive station was left to the mercy of the wayfarers.
"And now, Mr. Rollins, you may go over in that corner and stretch out on the bench. It will be springless, I know, but I fancy you can sleep. I will call you for the--for breakfast."
"I'm hanged if you do. On the contrary, I'm going to do my best to fix a comfortable place for you to take a nap. I'll call you when Mr. Dudley comes."
"It's most provoking of him," she said, as he began rummaging through his steamer trunk. "What are you doing?"
"Hunting out something to make over into a mattress. You don't mind napping on my clothes, do you? Here's a soft suit of flannels, a heavy suit of cheviot, a dress suit, a spring coat, and a raincoat. I can rig up a downy couch in no time if--"
"Ridiculous! Do you imagine that I'm going to sleep on your best clothes? I'm going to sit up."
"You'll have to do as I say, madam, or be turned out of the hotel," said he, with an infectious grin.
"But I insist upon your lying down. You have no reason for doing this for me. Besides, I'm going to sit up. Good-night!"
"You are tired and ready to cry," he said, calmly going on with his preparations. She stood off defiantly and watched him pile his best clothes into a rather comfortable-looking heap on one of the long benches. "Now, if you don't mind, I'll make a pillow of these negligée shirts. They're soft, you know."
"Stop! I refuse to accept your--" she was protesting.
"Do you want me to leave you here all alone?" he demanded. "With the country full of tramps and--"
"Don't! It's cowardly of you to frighten me. They say the railroads are swarming with tramps, too. Won't you please go and see if Mr. Dudley is anywhere in sight?"
"It was mean of me, I confess. Please lie down. It's getting cold. Pull this raincoat over yourself. I'll walk out and--"
"Oh, but you are a determined person. And very foolish, too. Why should you lose a lot of sleep just for me when--?"
"There is no reason why two men should fail you to-night, Mrs.--Miss--"
"Miss Dering," she said, humbled.
"When you choose to retire, Miss Dering, you will find your room quite ready," he said with fine gallantry, bowing low as he stood in the doorway. "I will be just outside on the platform, so don't be uneasy."
He quickly faded into the night, leaving her standing there, petulant, furious, yet with admiration in her eyes. Ten minutes later he heard her call. She was sitting on the edge of the improvised couch, smiling sweetly, even timidly.
"It must be cold out there. You must wear this."
She came toward him, the raincoat in one hand, the purple parasol in the other. He took the parasol only and departed without a word. She gasped and would have called after him, but there was no use. With a perplexed frown and smile she went slowly, dubiously toward the folded bed.
Rossiter smoked three cigars and walked two miles up and down the platform, swinging the parasol absent-mindedly, before he ventured to look inside the room again. In that time he had asked and answered many questions in his mind. He saw that it would be necessary to change his plans if he was to watch her successfully. She evidently gave out Eagle Nest to blind her husband. Somehow he was forgetting that the task before him was disagreeable and undignified. What troubled him most was how to follow them if Havens--or Dudley--put in an appearance for the three-thirty train. He began to curse Everett Havens softly but potently.
When he looked into the waiting-room she was sound asleep on the bench. It delighted him to see that she had taken him at his word and was lying upon his clothes. Cautiously he took a seat on the door-sill. The night was as still as death and as lonesome as the grave. For half an hour he sat gazing upon the tired, pretty face and the lithe young figure of the sleeper. He found himself dreaming, although he was wide awake--never more so. It occurred to him that he would be immensely pleased to hear that Havens's reason for failing her was due to an accident in which he had been killed.
"Those clothes will have to be pressed the first thing to-morrow," he said to himself, but without a trace of annoyance. "Hang it all, she doesn't look like that sort of woman," his mind switched. "But just think of being tied up to an old crocodile like Wharton! Gee! One oughtn't to blame her!"
Then he went forth into the night once more and listened for the sound of buggy wheels. It was almost time for the arrival of the belated man from the country, and he was beginning to pray that he would not appear at all. It came to his mind that he should advise her to return to New York in the morning. At last his watch told him that the train was due to pass in five minutes. And still no buggy! Good! He felt an exhilaration that threatened to break into song.
Softly he stole back into the waiting-room, prepared to awaken her before the train shot by. Something told him that the rumble and roar would terrify her if she were asleep. Going quite close to her he bent forward and looked long and sadly upon the perfect face. Her hair was somewhat disarranged, her hat had a very hopeless tilt, her lashes swept low over the smooth cheek, but there was an almost imperceptible choke in her breathing. In her small white hand she clasped a handkerchief tightly, and --yes, he was sure of it--there were tear-stains beneath her lashes. There came to him the faint sob which lingers long in the breath of one who has cried herself to sleep. The spy passed his hand over his brow, sighed, shook his head and turned away irresolutely. He remembered that she was waiting for a man who was not her husband.
Far down the track a bright star came shooting toward Fossingford. He knew it to be the headlight of the flyer. With a breath of relief he saw that he was the only human being on the platform. Havens had failed again. This time he approached the recumbent one determinedly. She was awake the instant he touched her shoulder.
"Oh," she murmured, sitting erect and looking about, bewildered. "Is it--has he--oh, you are still here? Has he come?"
"No, Miss Dering, he is not here," and added, under his breath, "damn him!" Then aloud, "The train is coming."
"And he didn't come?" she almost wailed.
"I fancy you'd better try to sleep until morning. There's nothing to stay awake for," although it came with a pang.
"Absolutely nothing," she murmured, and his pride took a respectful tumble.
As she began to rearrange her hair, rather clumsily spoiling a charming effect, he remonstrated.
"Don't bother about your hair." She looked at him in wonder for an instant, a little smile finally creeping to her lips. He felt that she understood something. "Maybe he'll come after all," he added quickly.
"What are you doing with my parasol?" she asked sleepily.
"I'm carrying it to establish your identity with Dudley if he happens to come. He'll recognize the purple parasol, you know."
"Oh, I see," she said dubiously. "He gave it to me for a birthday present."
"I knew it," he muttered.
"I mean I knew he'd recognize it," he explained.
The flyer shot through Fossingford at that juncture, a long line of roaring shadows. There was silence between them until the rumble was lost in the distance.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to go out on the platform for awhile," she said finally, resignation in her eyes. "Perhaps he's out there, wondering why the train didn't stop."
"It's cold out there. Just slip into my coat, Miss Dering." He held the raincoat for her, and she mechanically slipped her arms into the sleeves. She shivered, but smiled sweetly up at him.
"Thank you, Mr. Rollins, you are very thoughtful and very kind to me."
They walked out into the darkness. After a turn or two in silence she took the arm he proffered. He admired the bravery with which she was trying to convince him that she was not so bitterly disappointed. When she finally spoke her voice was soft and cool, just as a woman's always is before the break.
"He was to have taken me to his uncle's house, six miles up in the country. His aunt and a young lady from the South, with Mr. Dudley and me, are to go to Eagle Nest to-morrow for a month."
"How very odd," he said with well-assumed surprise. "I, too, am going to Eagle Nest for a month or so."
She stopped stock-still, and he could feel that she was staring at him hardly.
"You are going there?" she half whispered.
"They say it is a quiet, restful place," he said. "One reaches it by stage over-land, I believe." She was strangely silent during the remainder of the walk. Somehow he felt amazingly sorry for her. "I hope I may see something of you while we are there," he said at last.
"I imagine I couldn't help it if I were to try," she said. They were in the path of the light from the window, and he saw the strange little smile on her face. "I think I'll lie down again. Won't you find a place to sleep, Mr. Rollins? I can't bear the thought of depriving you--"
"I am the slave of your darkness," he said gravely.
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