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- The Window-Gazer - 3/55 -
did not matter and he was sure that Aunt Caroline, at least, would say that he could spare the self-esteem. Besides, he would recover it in time. His opinion of himself as a man of perspicacity in business had recovered from harder blows than this. There was that affair of the South American mines, for instance,--but anybody may be mistaken about South American mines. He had told Aunt Caroline this. "It was," he told Aunt Caroline, "a financial accident. I do not blame myself. My father, as you know, was a far-sighted man. These aptitudes run in families." Aunt Caroline had said, "Humph!"
Nevertheless it was true that the elder Hamilton Spence, now deceased, had been a far-sighted man. Benis had always cherished a warm admiration for the commercial astuteness which he conceived himself to have inherited. He would have been, he thought, exactly like his father--if he had cared for the drudgery of business. So it was a habit of his, when in a quandary, to consider what his parent would have done and then to do likewise--an excellent rule if he had ever succeeded in applying it properly. But there were always so many intruding details. Take the present predicament, for instance. He could scarcely picture his father in these precise circumstances. To do so would be to presuppose actions on the part of that astute ancestor quite out of keeping with his known character. Would Hamilton Spence, senior, have crossed a continent at the word of one of whom he knew nothing, save that he wrote an agreeable letter? Would he have engaged (and paid for in advance) board and lodging at a place wholly supposititious? Would he have neglected to ask for references? Hamilton Spence, junior, was forced to admit that he would not.
But those letters of old Farr had been so blamed plausible!
Well, anyhow, he would have the pleasure of meeting and outfacing the old rascal. This satisfaction he had expected the night before. But upon their arrival at the "picturesque though humble" cottage (after a climb at the memory of which his leg still shuddered), it was found that Dr. Farr was not at home.
"He has probably gone 'up trail'" Miss Farr had said casually, "and in that case he won't be back until morning."
"Did you say up?" The professor's voice held incredulity. Whereupon his hostess had most unkindly smiled: "You're not much of a walker, are you?" was her untactful comment.
"My leg--" He had actually begun to tell her about his leg! Luckily her amused shrug had acted as a period. He felt very glad of this now. To have admitted weakness would have been weak indeed. For the girl was so splendidly strong! Only a child, of course, but so finely moulded, so superbly strung--light and lithe. How she had swung up the trail, a heavy packet in either hand, with scarcely a quickened breath to tell of the effort! Her face?--he tried to recall her face but found it provokingly elusive. It was a young face, but not youthful. The distinction seemed strained and yet it was a real distinction. The eyes were grey, he thought. The eyebrows very fine, dark and slanted slightly, as if left that way by some unanswered question. The nose was straight, delightful in profile. The mouth too firm for a face so young, the chin too square-- perhaps. But even as he catalogued the features the face escaped him. He had a changing impression, only, of a graceful contour, warm and white, dark careless eyes, and hair--quantities of hair lying close and smooth in undulated waves--its color like nothing so much as the brown of a crisping autumn leaf. He remembered, though, that she was poorly dressed--and utterly unconscious, or careless, of being so. And she had been amused, undoubtedly amused, at his annoyance. A most unfeminine girl! And that at least was fortunate-- for he was very, very weary of everything feminine!
Yawningly, the professor reached for his watch.
It had run down.
"Evidently they do not wake guests for breakfast," he mused. "Perhaps," with rising dismay, "there isn't any breakfast to wake them for!"
He felt suddenly ravenous and hurried into his clothes. It is really wonderful how all kinds of problems give place to the need for a wash and breakfast. Somewhere outside he could hear water running, so with a towel over his arm and a piece of soap in his pocket he started out to find it. His room, as he had noted the night before, was one of two small rooms under the eaves. There was a small, dark landing between them and a steep, ladderlike stair led directly down into the living-room. There was no one there; neither was there anyone in the small kitchen at the back. Benis Spence decided that this second room was a kitchen because it contained a cooking stove. Otherwise he would not have recognized it, Aunt Caroline's idea of a kitchen being quite otherwise. Someone had been having breakfast on a corner of the table and a fire crackled in the stove. Window and door were open, and leafy, ferny odors mingled with the smell of burning cedar. The combined scent was very pleasant, but the professor could have wished that the bouquet of coffee and fried bacon had been included. He was quite painfully hungry.
Through the open door the voice of falling water still called to him but of other and more human voices there were none. Well, he could at least wash. With a shrug he turned away from the half cleared table and, in the doorway, almost ran into the arms of a little, old man in a frock coat and a large umbrella. There were other items of attire, but they did not seem to matter.
"My dear sir," said the little, old man, in a gentle, gurgling voice. "Let me make you welcome--very, very welcome!"
"Thank you," said the professor.
There were other things that he might have said, but they did not seem to suggest themselves. All the smooth and biting sentences which his mind had held in readiness for this moment faded and died before the stunning knowledge of their own inadequacy. Surprise, pure and simple, stamped them down.
"Unpardonable, my not being at home to receive you," went on this amazing old gentleman. "But the exact time of your coming was somewhat indefinite. Still, I am displeased with myself, much displeased. You slept well, I trust?"
The professor was understood to say that he had slept well.
Dr. Farr sighed. "Youth!" he murmured, waving his umbrella. "Oh, youth!"
"Quite so," said the professor. There was a dryness in his tone not calculated to encourage rhapsody. The old gentleman's gurgle changed to a note of practical helpfulness.
"You wish to bathe, I see. I will not detain you. Our sylvan bathroom you will find just down the trail and behind those alders. Pray take your time. You will be quite undisturbed."
With another dry "Thank you," the professor passed on. He was limping slightly, otherwise he would have passed on much faster. His instinct was to seek cover before giving vent to the emotion which consumed him.
Behind the alders, and taking the precaution of stuffing his mouth with a towel, he could release this rising gust of almost hysterical laughter.
That was Dr. Herbert Farr! The fulfilled vision of the learned scholar he had come so far to see capped with nicety the climax of this absurd adventure. What an utter fool, what an unbelievable idiot he had made of himself! For the moment he saw clear and all normal reactions proved inadequate. There was left only laughter.
When this was over he felt better. Withdrawing the towel and wiping the tears of strangled mirth from his eyes he looked around him. The sylvan bathroom was indeed a charming place. Great rocks, all smooth and brown with velvet moss, curved gently down to form a basin into which fell the water from the tiny stream whose musical flowing had called to him through his window. Around, and somewhat back beneath tall sentinel trees, crept the bushes and bracken of the mountain; but, above, the foliage opened and the sun shone in, turning the brown-green water of the pool to gold. With a sigh of pure delight the laughter-weary professor stepped into its cool brightness--and with a gasp of something very different, stepped quickly out again. But, quick as he was, the liquid ice of that green-gold pool was quicker. It ran through his tortured nerve like mounting fire--"Oh-- oh--damn!" said the professor heartily.
The sweat stood out on his forehead before he had rubbed and warmed the outraged limb into some semblance of quietude again. The pool seemed no longer lovely. Very gingerly he completed such ablutions as were strictly necessary and then, very cold, very stiff and very, very empty he turned back toward the house.
This time, instead of passing through the small vegetable garden behind the kitchen, he skirted the clearing, coming out into the wide, open space in front of the cottage. On one side of him, and behind, spread the mountain woods but before him and to the right the larger trees were down. There was a vista--for the first time since he had sat upon a keg in the fog he forgot him-self and his foolishness, his hunger, his aching nerves, his smarting pride, everything! The beauty before him filled his heart and mind, leaving not a cranny anywhere for lesser things. Blue sea, blue sky, blue mountains, blue smoke that rose in misty spirals as from a thousand fairy fires and, nearer, the sun-warmed, dew-drenched green--green of the earth, green of the trees, green of the graceful, sweeping curves of wooded point and bay. Far away, on peaks half hidden, snow still lay--a whiteness so ethereal that the gazer caught his breath.
And with it all there was the scent of something--something so fresh, so penetrating, so infinitely sweet--what could it be?
"Ambrosia!" said Benis Spence, unconscious that he spoke aloud.
"Balm of Gilead," said a practical voice beside him. "It smells like that in the bud, you know."
"Does it?" The professor's tone was dreamy. "Honey and wine--that's what it's like--honey and wine in the wilderness! You didn't tell me it would be like this," he added, turning abruptly to his companion of the night before.
"How could I tell what it would be like--to you?" asked the girl. "It's different for everyone. I've known people stand here and think
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