He poured his last half cup of tea and when he lifted his eyes he was surprised to find that the girl was looking at him. For a brief interval her gaze was steady and clear; then the flush deepened in her cheeks; her long lashes drooped as the cold gray of Howland’s eyes met hers in unflinching challenge, and she turned to her tea. Howland noted that the hand which lifted the little Japanese pot was trembling slightly. He leaned forward, and as if impelled by the movement, the girl turned her face to him again, the tea-urn poised above her cup. In her dark eyes was an expression which half brought him to his feet, a wistful glow, a pathetic and yet half-frightened appeal to him. He rose, his eyes questioning her, and to his unspoken inquiry her lips formed themselves into a round, red O, and she nodded to the opposite side of her table.
“I beg your pardon,” he said, seating himself. “May I give you my card?”
He felt as if there was something brutally indecent in what he was doing and the knowledge of it sent a red flush to his cheeks. The girl read his name, smiled across the table at him, and with a pretty gesture, motioned him to bring his cup and share her tea with her. He returned to his table and when he came back with the cup in his hand she was writing on one of the pages of the tablet, which she passed across to him.
“You must pardon me for not talking,” he read. “I can hear you very well, but I, unfortunately, am a mute.”
He could not repress the low ejaculation of astonishment that came to his lips, and as his companion lifted her cup he saw in her face again the look that had stirred him so strangely when he stood in the window of the Hotel Windsor. Howland was not a man educated in the trivialities of chance flirtations. He lacked finesse, and now he spoke boldly and to the point, the honest candor of his gray eyes shining full on the girl.
“I saw you from the hotel window to-night,” he began, “and something in your face led me to believe that you were in trouble. That is why I have ventured to be so bold. I am the engineer in charge of the new Hudson Bay Railroad, just on my way to Le Pas from Chicago. I’m a stranger in town. I’ve never been in this—this place before. It’s a very nice tea-room, an admirable blind for the opium stalls behind those walls.”
In a few terse words he had covered the situation, as he would have covered a similar situation in a business deal. He had told the girl who and what he was, had revealed the cause of his interest in her, and at the same time had given her to understand that he was aware of the nature of their present environment. Closely he watched the effect of his words and in another breath was sorry that he had been so blunt. The girl’s eyes traveled swiftly about her; he saw the quick rise and fall of her bosom, the swift fading of the color in her cheeks, the affrighted glow in her eyes as they came back big and questioning to him.