I confess I breathed easier to think that the road agents had got away with nothing, and was so pleased that I went back to the wire to send the news of it, that the fact might be included in the press despatches. The moon had set, and it was so dark that I had some difficulty in finding the pole. When I found it, Miss Cullen was still standing there. What was more, a man was close beside her, and as I came up I heard her say, indignantly—
“I will not allow it. It is unfair to take such advantage of me. Take your arm away, or I shall call for help.”
That was enough for me. One step carried my hundred and sixty pounds over the intervening ground, and, using the momentum of the stride to help, I put the flat of my hand against the shoulder of the man and gave him a shove. There are three or four Harvard men who can tell what that means and they were braced for it, which this fellow wasn’t. He went staggering back as if struck by a cow-catcher, and lay down on the ground a good fifteen feet away. His having his arm around Miss Cullen’s waist unsteadied her so that she would have fallen too if I hadn’t put my hand against her shoulder. I longed to put it about her, but by this time I didn’t want to please myself, but to do only what I thought she would wish, and so restrained myself.
Before I had time to finish an apology to Miss Cullen, the fellow was up on his feet, and came at me with an exclamation of anger. In my surprise at recognizing the voice as that of Lord Ralles, I almost neglected to take care of myself; but, though he was quick with his fists, I caught him by the wrists as he closed, and he had no chance after that against a fellow of my weight.
“Oh, don’t quarrel!” cried Miss Cullen.
Holding him, I said, “Lord Ralles, I overheard what Miss Cullen was saying, and, supposing some man was insulting her, I acted as I did.” Then I let go of him, and, turning, I continued, “I am very sorry, Miss Cullen, if I did anything the circumstances did not warrant,” while cursing myself for my precipitancy and for not thinking that Miss Cullen would never have been caught in such a plight with a man unless she had been half willing; for a girl does not merely threaten to call for help if she really wants aid.
Lord Ralles wasn’t much mollified by my explanation. “You’re too much in a hurry, my man,” he growled, speaking to me as if I were a servant. “Be a bit more careful in the future.”
I think I should have retorted—for his manner was enough to make a saint mad—if Miss Cullen hadn’t spoken.
“You tried to help me, Mr. Gordon, and I am deeply grateful for that,” she said. The words look simple enough set down here. But the tone in which she said them, and the extended hand and the grateful little squeeze she gave my fingers, all seemed to express so much that I was more puzzled over them than I was over the robbery.