As they mounted and turned to go they saw Claiborne standing at the table, lighting a cigarette from one of the candles. He walked to the veranda and listened until he was satisfied that they had gone; then went in and closed the door. He picked up the cloak and sword and restored the insignia to the silver box. The sword he examined with professional interest, running his hand over the embossed scabbard, then drawing the bright blade and trying its balance and weight.
As he held it thus, heavy steps sounded at the rear of the house, a door was flung open and Armitage sprang into the room with Oscar close at his heels.
THE VERGE OF MORNING
O to mount again where erst I haunted;
Where the old red hills are bird-enchanted,
And the low green meadows
Bright with sward;
And when even dies, the million-tinted,
And the night has come, and planets glinted,
Lo! the valley hollow,
“I hope you like my things, Captain Claiborne!”
Armitage stood a little in advance, his hand on Oscar’s arm to check the rush of the little man.
Claiborne sheathed the sword, placed it on the table and folded his arms.
“Yes; they are very interesting.”
“And those ribbons and that cloak,—I assure you they are of excellent quality. Oscar, put a blanket on this gentleman’s horse. Then make some coffee and wait.”
As Oscar closed the door, Armitage crossed to the table, flung down his gauntlets and hat and turned to Claiborne.
“I didn’t expect this of you; I really didn’t expect it. Now that you have found me, what in the devil do you want?”
“I don’t know—I’ll be damned if I know!” and Claiborne grinned, so that the grotesque lines of his soiled countenance roused Armitage’s slumbering wrath.
“You’d better find out damned quick! This is my busy night and if you can’t explain yourself I’m going to tie you hand and foot and drop you down the well till I finish my work. Speak up! What are you doing on my grounds, in my house, at this hour of the night, prying into my affairs and rummaging in my trunks?”
“I didn’t come here, Armitage; I was brought—with a potato sack over my head. There’s the sack on the floor, and any of its dirt that isn’t on my face must be permanently settled in my lungs.”
“What are you doing up here in the mountains—why are you not at your station? The potato-sack story is pretty flimsy. Do better than that and hurry up!”
“Armitage”—as he spoke, Claiborne walked to the table and rested his finger-tips on it—“Armitage, you and I have made some mistakes during our short acquaintance. I will tell you frankly that I have blown hot and cold about you as I never did before with another man in my life. On the ship coming over and when I met you in Washington I thought well of you. Then your damned cigarette case shook my confidence in you there at the Army and Navy Club that night; and now—”