“No,” he called back excitedly, “’tain’t far.”
She was anxious, reproaching herself as absurd and rash, and was just attempting to ground the boat and follow when Queen came bounding back. Then came Worth’s voice: “Here ’tis! Here’s Aunt Kate—waiting for you!”
Next there emerged from the brush a flushed and triumphant little boy, and after him came a somewhat less flushed and less obviously triumphant man.
Her first emotion was fury at herself. She must be losing her mind not to have suspected!
Then the fury overflowed on Worth and his companion. It reached high-water mark with the stranger’s smile.
And there dissolved; or rather, flowed into a savage interest, for the smile enticed her to mark what manner of man he was. And as she looked, the interest shed the savagery.
His sleeves were rolled up; he had no hat, no coat. He had been working with something muddy. A young man, a large man, and strong. The first thing which she saw as distinctive was the way his smile lived on in his eyes after it had died on his lips, as if his thought was smiling at the smile.
Even in that first outraged, panic-stricken moment Katie Jones knew she had never known a man like that.
“Here he is, Aunt Kate!” cried her young nephew, dancing up and down. “This is him!”
It was not a presentation calculated to set Katie at ease. She sought refuge in a frigid: “I beg pardon?”
But that was quite lost on Worth. “Why, Aunt Kate, don’t you know him? You said you’d rather see him than anybody now living! Don’t you know, Aunt Kate—the man that mends the boats?”
It seemed that in proclaiming their name for him Worth was shamelessly proclaiming it all: her conversations, the intimacy to which she had admitted him, her delight in him—yes, need of him. “But I thought,” she murmured, as if in justification, “that you had a long white beard!”
And so she had—at times; then there had been other times when he had no beard at all—but just such a chin.
“I am sorry to be disappointing,” the stranger replied—with his voice. With his eyes—it became clear even in that early moment that his eyes were insurgents—he said: “I don’t take any stock in that long white beard!” Then, as if fearing his eyes had overstepped: “Perhaps you have visions of the future. A long white beard is a gift the years may bring me.”
“You can just ask him anything you want to, Aunt Kate,” Worth was brightly assuring her. “I told him you wanted to know about the under life—the under what it is of life. You needn’t be ’fraid of him, Aunt Kate; you know he’s the man’s so sorry for you. He knows all about everything, and will tell you just everything he knows.”
“Quite a sweeping commendation,” Katie found herself murmuring foolishly—and in the imaginary conversations she had talked so brilliantly! But when one could not be brilliant one could always find cover under dignity. “If you will get in the boat now, Worth,” she said, “we will go home.”