Stella Benton watched the craft gather way, a trifle shocked, her breath coming a little faster. The most deadly blows she had ever seen struck were delivered in a more subtle, less virile mode, a curl of the lip, an inflection of the voice. These were a different order of beings. This, she sensed was man in a more primitive aspect, man with the conventional bark stripped clean off him. And she scarcely knew whether to be amused or frightened when she reflected that among such her life would presently lie. Charlie had written that she would find things and people a trifle rougher than she was used to. She could well believe that. But—they were picturesque ruffians.
Her interested gaze followed the camp tender as it swung around the wharf-end, and so her roaming eyes were led to another craft drawing near. This might be her brother’s vessel. She went back to the outer landing to see.
Two men manned this boat. As she ranged alongside the piles, one stood forward, and the other aft with lines to make fast. She cast a look at each. They were prototypes of the rude crew but now departed, brown-faced, flannel-shirted, shod with calked boots, unshaven for days, typical men of the woods. But as she turned to go, the man forward and almost directly below her looked her full in the face.
She leaned over the rail.
“Charlie Benton—for Heaven’s sake.”
They stared at each other.
“Well,” he laughed at last. “If it were not for your mouth and eyes, Stell, I wouldn’t have known you. Why, you’re all grown up.”
He clambered to the wharf level and kissed her. The rough stubble of his beard pricked her tender skin and she drew back.
“My word, Charlie, you certainly ought to shave,” she observed with sisterly frankness. “I didn’t know you until you spoke. I’m awfully glad to see you, but you do need some one to look after you.”
Benton laughed tolerantly.
“Perhaps. But, my dear girl, a fellow doesn’t get anywhere on his appearance in this country. When a fellow’s bucking big timber, he shucks off a lot of things he used to think were quite essential. By Jove, you’re a picture, Stell. If I hadn’t been expecting to see you, I wouldn’t have known you.”
“I doubt if I should have known you either,” she returned drily.
MR. ABBEY ARRIVES
Stella accompanied her brother to the store, where he gave an order for sundry goods. Then they went to the hotel to see if her trunks had arrived. Within a few yards of the fence which enclosed the grounds of St. Allwoods a man hailed Benton, and drew him a few steps aside. Stella walked slowly on, and presently her brother joined her.
The baggage wagon had brought the trunks, and when she had paid her bill, they were delivered at the outer wharf-end, where also arrived at about the same time a miscellaneous assortment of supplies from the store and a Japanese with her two handbags. So far as Miss Estella Benton could see, she was about to embark on the last stage of her journey.