Yes, the sentimental world (and by that I mean the immense and mournful preponderance of fools, and not the few of true sentiment) would soon be exclaiming: “How romantic! She found her heart! She had a glimpse of Death’s angel, and in that light saw her life’s true happiness!” But I should say nothing like that, nor would Miss Josephine St. Michael, if I read that lady at all right. She didn’t know what I did about Hortense. She hadn’t overheard Sophistication confessing amorous curiosity about Innocence; but the old Kings Port lady’s sound instinct would tell her that a souse in the water wasn’t likely to be enough to wash away the seasoning of a lifetime; and she would wait, as I should, for the day when Hortense, having had her taste of John’s innocence, and having grown used to the souse in the water, would wax restless for the Replacers, for excitement, for complexity, for the prismatic life. Then it might interest her to corrupt John; but if she couldn’t, where would her occupation be, and how were they going to pull through?
But now, there sat Hortense in the stern, melted into whatever best she was capable of; it had come into her face, her face was to be read—for the first time since I had known it—and, strangely enough, I couldn’t read John’s at all. It seemed happy, which was impossible.
“Way enough!” he cried suddenly, and, at his command, the sailor and I took in our oars. Here was Hermana’s gangway, and crowding faces above, and ejaculations and tears from Kitty. Yes, Hortense would have liked that return voyage to last longer. I was first on the gangway, and stood to wait and give them a hand out; but she lingered, and; rising slowly, spoke her first word to him, softly:—
“And so I owe you my life.”
“And so I restore it to you complete,” said John, instantly.
None could have heard it but myself—unless the sailor, beyond whose comprehension it was—and I doubted for a moment if I could have heard right; but it was for a moment only. Hortense stood stiff, and then, turning, came in front of him, and I read her face for an instant longer before the furious hate in it was mastered to meet her father’s embrace, as I helped her up the gang.
“Daughter mine!” said the General, with a magnificent break in his voice.
But Hortense was game to the end. She took Kitty’s-hysterics and the men’s various grades of congratulation; her word to Gazza would have been supreme, but for his imperishable rejoinder.
“I told you you wouldn’t jump,” was what she said.
Gazza stretched both arms, pointing to John. “But a native! He was surer to find you!”
At this they all remembered John, whom they thus far hadn’t thought of.
“Where is that lion-hearted boy?” the General called out.