The question startled Claiborne into a realization of the fact that Armitage had volunteered considerable information without at all answering this question. Dick Claiborne was a human being, and curious.
“Pardon me,” he asked, “but are you an Englishman?”
“I am not,” answered Armitage. “I have been so long in America that I feel as much at home there as anywhere—but I am neither English nor American by birth; I am, on the other hand—”
He hesitated for the barest second, and Claiborne was sensible of an intensification of interest; now at last there was to be a revelation that amounted to something.
“On the other hand,” Armitage repeated, “I was born at Fontainebleau, where my parents lived for only a few months; but I do not consider that that fact makes me a Frenchman. My mother is dead. My father died—very recently. I have been in America enough to know that a foreigner is often under suspicion—particularly if he have a title! My distinction is that I am a foreigner without one!” John Armitage laughed.
“It is, indeed, a real merit,” declared Dick, who felt that something was expected of him. In spite of himself, he found much to like in John Armitage. He particularly despised sham and pretense, and he had been won by the evident sincerity of Armitage’s wish to appear well in his eyes.
“And now,” said Armitage, “I assure you that I am not in the habit of talking so much about myself—and if you will overlook this offense I promise not to bore you again.”
“I have been interested,” remarked Dick; “and,” he added, “I can not do less than thank you, Mr. Armitage.”
Armitage began talking of the American army—its strength and weaknesses—with an intimate knowledge that greatly surprised and interested the young officer; and when they separated presently it was with a curious mixture of liking and mystification that Claiborne reviewed their talk.
The next day brought heavy weather, and only hardened sea-goers were abroad. Armitage, breakfasting late, was not satisfied that he had acted wisely in speaking to Captain Claiborne; but he had, at any rate, eased in some degree his own conscience, and he had every intention of seeing all that he could of Shirley Claiborne during these days of their fellow-voyaging.