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- West Wind Drift - 50/60 -
As he swung jauntily down the road in the direction of his "office," all the world might have seen that it was a beautiful place for him. He passed children hurrying to school, and shouted envious "hurry-ups" to them. Men and women, going about the morning's business, felt better for the cheery greetings he gave them. Even Manuel Crust, pushing a crude barrow laden with fire-wood, paused to look after the strutting figure, resuming his progress with an annoyed scowl on his brow, for he had been guilty of a pleasant response to Percival's genial "good-morning." Manuel went his way wondering what the devil had got into both of them.
Olga Obosky was peering from a window as he passed her hut. He waved his hand at her,--and then shook his head. He had passed her three dancing-girls some distance down the road, romping like children in the snow.
Buck Chizler was waiting for him outside the "office." The little jockey had something on his mind,--something that caused him to grin sheepishly and at the same time look furtively over his shoulder.
"Can I see you for a coupla minutes, A. A.?" he inquired, following the other to the door.
"Certainly, Buck,--as many minutes as you like."
Buck discovered Randolph Fitts and Michael Malone seated before the fire. He drew back.
"I'd like to see you outside," he said nervously.
"Well, what is it?" asked Percival, stepping outside and closing the door.
Buck led him around the corner of the hut.
"It ain't so windy here," he explained. "Awful weather, ain't it?"
"What's troubling you, Buck? Put on your cap, you idiot. You'll take cold."
"Plumb nervousness," said Buck. "Same as if I was pulling up to the start with fifty thousand on the nag. I want to ask your advice, A. A. Just a little private matter. Oh, nothing serious. Nothing like that, you know. I just thought maybe you'd--Gosh, I never saw it snow like this up home, did you? Funny, too, when you think how tropical we ought to be. There was a bad blizzard a coupla years ago in Buenos Aires, but--"
"Come to the point, Buck. What's up?"
Buck lowered his voice. "Well, you see it's this way. I'm thinking of getting married. Tomorrow, if possible. Don't laugh! I don't see anything to laugh at in--"
"I beg your pardon, old chap. I couldn't help laughing. It's because I'm happy. Don't mind me. Go ahead. You're thinking of getting married, eh? Well, what's to prevent?"
"Do you approve of it? That's what I want to know."
"Sure. Of course, I approve of it."
"I just thought I'd make sure. You see, nobody's ever got married here before, and I didn't know what you'd think of me--er--sort of breaking the ice, don't you see."
"She's finally said 'yes,' has she? Good girl! Congratulations, old chap,--thousands of 'em'--millions."
"Well, that takes some of the load off my mind," said Buck, as they shook hands. "Now, there's one or two things more. First, she says she won't come and live in a hut where five men besides myself are bunking. I don't blame her, do you? Second, she says if we ever get rescued from this island, she won't let me go to the war,--not a step, she swears. I put up a holler right away. I says to her I was on my way to the war before I ever met her, and then she says I ain't got anything on her. She was going over to nurse. But she says if she gets married she's going to claim exemption, or whatever they call it, and she says I got to do the same,--'cause we'll both have dependents then. Then I says the chances are the war's over by this time anyhow, and she says a feller in the Argentine told her on his word of honour it wouldn't be over for five years or more. But that's a minor point. What's rusting me is this: how am I going to get rid of them five guys in my cabin?"
"Have you told them you're going to be married?"
"Oh, hell, they're the ones that told me."
"It's pretty rough weather to turn men out into the cold, unfeeling world, Buck."
Buck scratched his ear in deep perplexity. "Well, it's got me guessing." He slumped into an attitude of profound dejection. "What we'd ought to have done, A. A., was to build a hotel or something like that. If we had a hotel here, there'd be so blamed many weddings you couldn't keep track of 'em. That's the only thing that's holding people back. Why, half the unmarried fellers here are thinking about getting married. They're thinking, and thinking, and thinking, morning, noon and night. And they've got the girls thinking, too,--and most of the widders and old maids besides. I don't see how a smart feller like you, A. A., happened to overlook the possibility of just this kind of thing happening."
"Good Lord, what have I got to do with it?"
"Why, darn it all, you'd ought to have put up a few huts with 'For Rent' signs on 'em, or else--"
"By George, Buck! I've got it," cried Percival excitedly. "Have you thought of a wedding journey?"
"Well, we might walk up and down the main street here a coupla times," said Buck sarcastically. "Or take a stroll along the beach or something like that."
"What's the matter with a nice long sea voyage?"
"Say, I'm not kidding about this thing," exclaimed Mr. Chizler, bristling. "I'm in dead earnest."
"Has it occured to you that the Doraine is lying out there in the harbour--Here! Look out! I don't like being hugged by--"
"My gosh, A. A! Oh, my gosh!" barked the ecstatic bridegroom-apparent. "How did you happen to think of such a beautiful, wonderful--"
"How did I happen to think of it?" shouted Percival, just as ecstatically. "Why, darn your eyes, why shouldn't I think of it? Why did old Noah think of the Ark? Why, I ask you?"
"He didn't," said Buck succinctly. "The feller that wrote the Bible thought of it."
"What time is it? Oh, Lord, nearly three hours yet before school is out."
"Say, are you off your base,--lemme smell your breath. You act like--Wait a second! There's something else I want to speak to you about. Is it--is it all right for me to get married? She says I'll have to get your O. K. before she'll move an inch. She says nobody can do anything around here without you say so. So I--"
"You tell her I give my consent gladly, Buck, my boy. Give her a good kiss for me, and say I'll speak to Captain Trigger this afternoon about passage on the Doraine. By George, I--I think I'll go and speak to him about it now."
"Much obliged, boss. By gosh, you are a brick. There ain't anything you won't do for a friend, is there?"
Percival blushed and stammered. "I--I've got to see him anyhow, Buck,--so don't thank me. By the way, while I'm about it, I suppose I might as well speak to Parson Mackenzie, eh? Or is it to be Father Francisco? And that reminds me, I'll have to see Malone and find out about the legality,--got to have the law on our side, you see, Buck. Something in the form of a license,--United States of America and all that,--and also see about fixing up desirable quarters on board the Doraine. I may have to transfer quite a lot of--er--furniture and so forth from my hut to the ship, and--"
"Gee whiz, A. A., you mustn't go to so blamed much trouble for me," gasped the delighted Buck.
"Eh? What? Oh, the devil take you! Beat it now. I'm going to be mighty busy this morning."
"I'll do as much for you, A. A., if you ever get married," cried Buck, once more wringing the other's hand. Then he was off up the road like a schoolboy.
Shortly before the noon recess, Percival returned from the Doraine. By this time, the news had spread through the camp that there was to be a wedding. Every one he met hailed him with the excited question:
"Say, have you heard the news?"
"There's going to be a wedding."
"Good Lord!" said Percival to himself. "They must have been peeping through those windows after all."
Finding that he had ten minutes to spare before school was out, he decided to call upon Mrs. Spofford. That lady received him with icy politeness.
"I have been expecting you," she said. "Your friend Mr. Shay honoured us with a visit yesterday. My niece is at the school. Will you sit down and wait for her, or--"
"I beg your pardon. What was that you said about Shay?"
"I said he came to see us."
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