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- TRENT'S TRUST & OTHER STORIES - 6/45 -
Randolph had glanced quickly at his companion. She was laughing, yet looking at him shyly as if wondering how HE was taking it. The paddle wheels were beginning to revolve. Another rush, and they were on board as the plank was drawn in.
But they were only on the edge of a packed and seething crowd. Randolph managed, however, to force a way for her to an angle of the paddle box, where they were comparatively alone although still exposed to the rain. She recognized their enforced companionship by dropping her grasp of the umbrella, which she had hitherto been holding over him with a singular kind of mature superiority very like--as Randolph felt--her manner to the boy.
"You have left your little friend?" he said, grasping at the idea for a conversational opening.
"My little cousin? Yes," she said. "I left him with friends. I could not bear to make him run any risk in this weather. But," she hesitated half apologetically, half mischievously, "perhaps I hurried you."
"Oh, no," said Randolph quickly. "This is the last boat, and I must be at the bank to-morrow morning at nine."
"And I must be at the shop at eight," she said. She did not speak bitterly or pointedly, nor yet with the entire familiarity of custom. He noticed that her dress was indeed plainer, and yet she seemed quite concerned over the water-soaked state of that cheap thin silk pelerine and merino skirt. A big lump was in his throat.
"Do you know," he said desperately, yet trying to laugh, "that this is not the first time you have seen me dripping?"
"Yes," she returned, looking at him interestedly; "it was outside of the druggist's in Montgomery Street, about four months ago. You were wetter then even than you are now."
"I was hungry, friendless, and penniless, Miss Avondale." He had spoken thus abruptly in the faint hope that the revelation might equalize their present condition; but somehow his confession, now that it was uttered, seemed exceedingly weak and impotent. Then he blundered in a different direction. "Your eyes were the only kind ones I had seen since I landed." He flushed a little, feeling himself on insecure ground, and ended desperately: "Why, when I left you, I thought of committing suicide."
"Oh, dear, not so bad as that, I hope!" she said quickly, smiling kindly, yet with a certain air of mature toleration, as if she were addressing her little cousin. "You only fancied it. And it isn't very complimentary to my eyes if their kindness drove you to such horrid thoughts. And then what happened?" she pursued smilingly.
"I had a job to carry a man's bag, and it got me a night's lodging and a meal," said Randolph, almost brusquely, feeling the utter collapse of his story.
"And then?" she said encouragingly.
"I got a situation at the bank."
"The next day," faltered Randolph, expecting to hear her laugh. But Miss Avondale heaved the faintest sigh.
"You are very lucky," she said.
"Not so very," returned Randolph quickly, "for the next time you saw me you cut me dead."
"I believe I did," she said smilingly.
"Would you mind telling me why?"
"Are you sure you won't be angry?"
"I may be pained," said Randolph prudently.
"I apologize for that beforehand. Well, that first night I saw a young man looking very anxious, very uncomfortable, and very weak. The second time--and not very long after--I saw him well dressed, lounging like any other young man on a Sunday afternoon, and I believed that he took the liberty of bowing to me then because I had once looked at him under a misapprehension."
"Oh, Miss Avondale!"
"Then I took a more charitable view, and came to the conclusion that the first night he had been drinking. But," she added, with a faint smile at Randolph's lugubrious face, "I apologize. And you have had your revenge; for if I cut you on account of your smart clothes, you have tried to do me a kindness on account of my plain ones."
"Oh, Miss Avondale," burst out Randolph, "if you only knew how sorry and indignant I was at the bank--when--you know--the other day"--he stammered. "I wanted to go with you to Mr. Revelstoke, you know, who had been so generous to me, and I know he would have been proud to befriend you until you heard from your friends."
"And I am very glad you did nothing so foolish," said the young lady seriously, "or"--with a smile--"I should have been still more aggravating to you when we met. The bank was quite right. Nor have I any pathetic story like yours. Some years ago my little half-cousin whom you saw lost his mother and was put in my charge by his father, with a certain sum to my credit, to be expended for myself and the child. I lived with an uncle, with whom, for some family reasons, the child's father was not on good terms, and this money and the charge of the child were therefore intrusted entirely to me; perhaps, also, because Bobby and I were fond of each other and I was a friend of his mother. The father was a shipmaster, always away on long voyages, and has been home but once in the three years I have had charge of his son. I have not heard from him since. He is a good-hearted man, but of a restless, roving disposition, with no domestic tastes. Why he should suddenly cease to provide for my little cousin--if he has done so--or if his omission means only some temporary disaster to himself or his fortunes, I do not know. My anxiety was more for the poor boy's sake than for myself, for as long as I live I can provide for him." She said this without the least display of emotion, and with the same mature air of also repressing any emotion on the part of Randolph. But for her size and girlish figure, but for the dripping tangles of her hair and her soft eyes, he would have believed he was talking to a hard, middle-aged matron.
"Then you--he--has no friends here?" asked Randolph.
"No. We are all from Callao, where Bobby was born. My uncle was a merchant there, who came here lately to establish an agency. We lived with him in Sutter Street--where you remember I was so hateful to you," she interpolated, with a mischievous smile--"until his enterprise failed and he was obliged to return; but I stayed here with Bobby, that he might be educated in his father's own tongue. It was unfortunate, perhaps," she said, with a little knitting of her pretty brows, "that the remittances ceased and uncle left about the same time; but, like you, I was lucky, and I managed to get a place in the Emporium."
"The Emporium!" repeated Randolph in surprise. It was a popular "magasin of fashion" in Montgomery Street. To connect this refined girl with its garish display and vulgar attendants seemed impossible.
"The Emporium," reiterated Miss Avondale simply. "You see, we used to dress a good deal in Callao and had the Paris fashions, and that experience was of great service to me. I am now at the head of what they call the 'mantle department,' if you please, and am looked up to as an authority." She made him a mischievous bow, which had the effect of causing a trickle from the umbrella to fall across his budding mustache, and another down her own straight little nose--a diversion that made them laugh together, although Randolph secretly felt that the young girl's quiet heroism was making his own trials appear ridiculous. But her allusion to Callao and the boy's name had again excited his fancy and revived his romantic dream of their common benefactor. As soon as they could get a more perfect shelter and furl the umbrella, he plunged into the full story of the mysterious portmanteau and its missing owner, with the strange discovery that he had made of the similarity of the two handwritings. The young lady listened intently, eagerly, checking herself with what might have been a half smile at his enthusiasm.
"I remember the banker's letter, certainly," she said, "and Captain Dornton--that was the name of Bobby's father--asked me to sign my name in the body of it where HE had also written it with my address. But the likeness of the handwriting to your slip of paper may be only a fancied one. Have you shown it to any one," she said quickly--"I mean," she corrected herself as quickly, "any one who is an expert?"
"Not the two together," said Randolph, explaining how he had shown the paper to Mr. Revelstoke.
But Miss Avondale had recovered herself, and laughed. "That that bit of paper should have been the means of getting you a situation seems to me the more wonderful occurrence. Of course it is quite a coincidence that there should be a child's photograph and a letter signed 'Bobby' in the portmanteau. But"--she stopped suddenly and fixed her dark eyes on his--"you have seen Bobby. Surely you can say if it was his likeness?"
Randolph was embarrassed. The fact was he had always been so absorbed in HER that he had hardly glanced at the child. He ventured to say this, and added a little awkwardly, and coloring, that he had seen Bobby only twice.
"And you still have this remarkable photograph and letter?" she said, perhaps a little too carelessly.
"Yes. Would you like to see them?"
"Very much," she returned quickly; and then added, with a laugh, "you are making me quite curious."
"If you would allow me to see you home," said Randolph, "we have to pass the street where my room is, and," he added timidly, "I could show them to you."
"Certainly," she replied, with sublime unconsciousness of the cause
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