“Nor could I have forgiven myself, if I am to enjoy the pleasure of taking you in to dinner.”
“That privilege is yours even without the asking. But,” quizzically, and glancing up frankly into his eyes, “You may not care when the time comes. For the great test arrives first. So, buck up, Captain, for you are going to have the shock of your life. Whatever you do, even if you feel that you are about to faint, don’t, for my sake, let your face show it.”
“But,” he protested, “give me some warning, some opportunity to prepare for such an emergency.”
“No,” she laughed gaily, “there is no time; it is ordained to fall upon you like a thunder-bolt. They are all in there waiting for us now. You will offer me your arm.”
He accompanied her, amused, yet bewildered, through the wide archway into the more brilliantly lighted drawing-room. It was a magnificent apartment, containing a half dozen people. The one nearest the entrance was a man of middle age, exceedingly pompous and dignified, who immediately arose to his feet, expectantly. Miss Coolidge cordially extended her hand in greeting.
“So glad to learn you could be out, Judge,” she said, the least perceptible hesitancy in her voice. “Permit me to present Judge Cable, of the Supreme Court; Captain West, my fiance.”
THE COOLIDGE HOME
For an instant West was absolutely helpless to assert himself. The calm assurance of the girl’s voice in this unexpected introduction left his brain paralysed with bewilderment. Yet his features did not betray his condition, nor did he entirely lose control over himself. His fingers met the outstretched hand of the Judge, and he seemed to gaze calmly into the latter’s searching eyes. Fortunately he was not compelled to speak, as Cable voiced his own surprise fluently.
“Well, well,” he exclaimed. “This is certainly startling, Natalie. I am, indeed, bereft of words, yet I congratulate you, sir. Captain—Captain West, I think was the name? You are then in the service, sir?”
“Discharged from the Engineers.”
“Ah, exactly. I can hardly adjust myself. Friends, come forward. I have to make an announcement extraordinary. It seems this sly minx has arranged a surprise for all of us. Perchance this was the purpose of our little dinner party?”
“Oh, no, Judge,” protested Miss Coolidge, her cheeks flushed, yet otherwise perfectly cool and self-possessed. West ventured to glance aside into her face, surprised at the quietness of her voice. “Really, this was unexpected, even to myself. I was not so much as aware that Captain West was in the city until a very short time ago. I am sure he will bear me out in this statement.”
“I could not do otherwise, and be truthful,” West felt compelled to admit. “The announcement was quite unexpected.”
“But what is this all about?” asked a female voice eagerly. “Remember we have not heard, Judge Cable.”