The Colonel never was embarrassed save when he was endeavoring to propose marriage to Miss Alathea and he always was embarrassed then. She recognized the situation from the mere tone of his voice and looked up hopefully.
“Oh, Colonel, how kind!” said she, as she held delighted hands out for the box. “I know it is beautiful.”
“It was quite the best I could do, Miss ’Lethe,” said the Colonel.
“You have such splendid taste! I’m sure it’s lovely.” She opened the box and looked, expectantly, within. “Why, Colonel,” she cried, disappointed, “where are—where are the flowers?”
“Why—why—why,” he stammered, and then saw the mutilated blossoms on the ground around him. “Why, I don’t know—don’t know,” said he. “’Don’t ask me.”
She was rummaging among the stems, nonplussed. “Why, here’s a note!” she said.
“Thank heaven!” the Colonel thought, “the note’s there yet!” Then, growing bold: “Miss ’Lethe, if you’ve a kindly feeling for me in your heart, read that note; but don’t you get excited; keep cool, keep cool!”
“Why, certainly,” said she. “I see no cause for excitement.” She unfolded the note and read, aloud, and very slowly, for the Colonel’s hand was not too easy to decipher. “’My dear, dear Miss ’Lethe: Woman without her man is a savage.’” She looked up, naturally astonished by this unusual statement. “Why, Colonel,” she exclaimed, “what can you mean by saying woman is a savage without her man?”
He stood appalled for just a second and then realized the error into which his ardor had misled him. “Great Scott!” he cried. “I forgot to put in the commas! It ought to read this way: ’Woman, without her, man is a savage.’ Go on, Miss ’Lethe, please go on.”
She read again: “’I feel that it is time for me to become civilized—in other words, to come in out of the wet. To me you have been, for twenty years, the embodiment of woman’s truth, purity and goodness. But constitutional timidity and chronic financial depression, due to the race-track, have hitherto kept me silent.’” Miss ’Lethe looked up at him with a strange expression on her face. “Colonel,” she exclaimed, “what does this mean?”
“Go on, Miss ’Lethe,” was the answer, “please go on, go on.” He made a mighty effort to secure control of his unruly nerves, and, almost unconsciously, while her head was bent above the note, took a small flask from his pocket and imbibed from it. It steadied him.
She read again: “’I am convinced that my interest in the company will yield me a competence; accordingly, behold me at your feet!’”
Miss ’Lethe looked down somewhat mischievously. She did not see the Colonel where his note declared he would be. She glanced again at the paper in her hands and saw a word which, at first, had quite escaped attention. “‘Metaphorically,’” she read, and then the signature: “‘Colonel Sandusky Doolittle.’”
“Colonel!” she exclaimed.