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- The Window-Gazer - 2/55 -
suddenly to gasoline and they were off.
"Has it a name?" asked the professor as soon as he could make himself heard.
The professor was not feeling amiable. "It might be easier to refer to it in conversation if one knew its name," he remarked, "'Launch' seems a trifle misleading."
There was a moment's silence. Then, "I suppose 'launch' is what father called it," said his companion. He could have sworn that there was cool amusement in her tone. "I see your difficulty," she went on. "But, fortunately, it has a name of its own. It is called the Tillicum.'"
"As such I salute it!" said Spence, gravely.
The other made no attempt to continue the conversation. She retired into the fastness of the green cloak, leaving the professor to ponder the situation. It seemed on the face of it an absurd situation enough, yet there should certainly be nothing absurd in it. Spence felt a somewhat bulky package of letters even now in the pocket of his coat. These letters were real and sensible enough. They comprised his correspondence with one Dr. Herbert Farr, Vancouver, B. C. As letters they were quite charming. The earlier ones had dealt with the professor's pet subject, primitive psychology. The later ones had been more personal. Spence found himself remembering such phrases as "my humble but picturesque home," "my Chinese servant, a factotum extraordinary," "my young daughter who attends to all my simple wants" and "my secretary on whose efficient aid I more and more depend--"
"I suppose there is a secretary?" he asked suddenly.
"Oh yes," answered the green cloak, "I'm it."
"And, 'a young daughter who attends'--"
"--'to all my simple wants?' That's me, too."
"But you can't be 'my Chinese servant, a factotum extraordinary?'"
"No, you have already met Li Ho."
"There?" queried the professor, gesturing weakly.
Spence pulled himself together. "There must be a home, though," he asserted firmly, "'Humble but picturesque'--"
"Well," admitted the voice from the green cloak, "it is rather picturesque. And it is certainly humble."
Suddenly she laughed. It was a very young laugh. The professor felt relieved. She was a girl, then, not a woman.
"Isn't father too' amusing?" she asked pleasantly.
"Quite too much so," agreed the professor. He was very cold. "I beg your pardon," he added stiffly, remembering his manners.
"Oh, I don't mind!" The girl assured him. "Father is a dreadful old fraud. I have no illusions. But perhaps it isn't so bad after all. He really is quite an authority on the West Coast Indians,--if that is what you wish to consult him about."
Professor Spence was in a quandary. But perfect frankness seemed indicated.
"I didn't come to consult him about anything," he said slowly. "I am a psychologist. I wish to do my own observing, at first hand. I came not to question Dr. Farr, but to board with him."
"BOARD WITH HIM!"
In her heartfelt surprise the girl turned to him and he saw her face, young, arresting, and excessively indignant.
"Quite so," he said. "Do not excite yourself. I perceive the impossibility. I can't have you attending to my wants, however simple. Neither can I share the services of a secretary whose post, I gather, is an honorary one. But I simply cannot go back to Mr. Johnston's grin: so if you can put me up for the night--"
She had turned away again and was silent for so long that Spence became uneasy. But at last she spoke.
"This is really too bad of father! He has never done anything quite as absurd as this before. I don't quite see what he expected to get out of it. He might know that you would not stay. He wouldn't want you to stay. I can't understand--unless," her voice became crisp with sudden enlightenment, "unless you were foolish enough to pay in advance! Surely you did not do that?"
The professor was observing his boots in an abstracted way.
"I am afraid my feet are very wet," he remarked.
"They are. They are resting in at least an inch of water," she said coldly. "But that isn't answering my question. Did you pay my father anything in advance?"
The professor fidgeted.
"A small payment in advance is not very unusual," he offered. "Especially if one's prospective host is anxious to add a few little unaccustomed luxuries--"
"Yes, yes," she interrupted rudely. "I recognize the phrase!" Without looking up he felt her wrathful gaze upon his face. "It means that father has simply done you brown. Oh, well, it's your own fault. You're old enough to know your way about. And the luxuries you will enjoy at our place will certainly be unaccustomed ones. Didn't you even ask for references?"
Her tone irritated the professor unaccountably.
"Are we nearly there?" he asked, disdaining to answer. "I am extremely cold."
"You will have a nice climb to warm you," she told him grimly, "all up hill!"
"'A verdant slope,'" quoted the professor sweetly, "'rising gently from salt water toward snowclad peaks, which, far away,--'" They caught each other's eyes and laughed.
"Here is our landing," said the girl quite cheerfully. "And none too soon! I suppose you haven't noticed it, but the 'Tillicum' is leaking like a sieve!"
Salt in the air and the breath of pine and cedar are excellent sleep inducers. Professor Spence had not expected to sleep that night; yet he did sleep. He awoke to find the sun high. A great beam of it lay across the foot of his camp cot, bringing comforting warmth to the toes which protruded from the shelter of abbreviated blankets. The professor wiggled his toes cautiously. He was accustomed to doing this before making more radical movements. They were a valuable index to the state of the sciatic nerve. This morning they wiggled somewhat stiffly and there were also various twinges. But considering the trying experiences of yesterday it was surprising that they could wiggle at all. He lifted himself slowly--and sank back with a relieved sigh. It would have been embarrassing, he thought, had he not been able to get up.
All men have their secret fears and Professor Spence's secret fear was embodied in a story which his friend and medical adviser (otherwise "Old Bones") had seen fit to cite as a horrible example. It concerned a man who had sciatica and who didn't take proper care of him-self. One day this man went for a walk and fell suddenly upon the pavement unable to move or even to explain matters satisfactorily to a heartless policeman who insisted that he was drunk. The doctor had laughed over this story; doctors are notoriously inhuman. The professor had laughed also, but the possible picture of him-self squirming helplessly before a casually interested public had terrors which no enemies' shrapnel had ever been able to inspire.
Well, thank heaven it hadn't happened yet! The professor confided his satisfaction to an inquisitive squirrel which swung, bright eyed, from a branch which swept the window, and, sitting up, prepared to take stock of the furnishings of his room. A grim smile signalled his discovery that there were no furnishings to take stock of. Save for his camp bed, an affair of stout canvas stretched between crossed legs, the room was beautifully bare. Not a chair, not a wash-stand, not a table cumbered it--unless a round, flat tree stump, which looked as if it might have grown up through the floor, was intended for both washstand and table. It had served the latter purpose at any rate as upon it rested the candle-stick containing the solitary candle by which he had got himself to bed.
"Single room, without bath," murmured the professor. "Oh, if my Aunt Caroline could see me now!"
Oddly enough, something in the thought of Aunt Caroline seemed to have a reconciling effect upon Aunt Caroline's nephew. He lay back upon his one thin pillow and reviewed his position with surprising fortitude. After all, Aunt Caroline couldn't see him--and that was something. Besides, it had been an adventure. It was surprising how he had come to look for adventures since that day, five years ago, when the grim adventure of war had called him from the peace-filled beginnings of what he had looked forward to as a life of scholarly leisure. He had been thirty, then, and quite done with adventuring. Now he was thirty-five and--well, he supposed the war had left him restless. Presently he would settle down. He would begin his great book on the "Psychology of Primitive Peoples." Everything would be as it had been before.
But in the meantime it insisted upon being somewhat different--hence this feeling which was not all dissatisfaction with his present absurd position. He was, he admitted it, a badly sold man. But did it matter? What had he lost except money and self-esteem? The money
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