“Miss Ridge just went up with her gentleman—” the man responded; but Hugh interrupted, slamming the door. For several minutes he stood glaring at the upper corner of his berth; then he said something strong. Every vestige of his exuberance disappeared, his brow clouded and his heart seemed to swell painfully within its narrow confines.
As he was about to ascend the steps of the companionway, he heard the swish of skirts and then a sharp scream. In an instant he was half way up, his arms extended. Lord Huntingford’s daughter plunged into them, and he literally carried her to the foot. She was pale and trembling and he was flushed. He had looked up in time to see her falling forward, vainly striving to reach the hand rail.
“Are you hurt?” he asked anxiously. The young lady sat down upon the second step before answering, a delightful pink stealing over her face.
“I—I don’t believe I am,” she said. “My heel caught on a step and I fell. It was so clumsy of me. I might have been badly hurt if you had not caught me as you did.”
“These steps are so uncertain,” he said, scowling at them. “Somebody’ll get hurt here some day. But, really, are you quite sure you are, not hurt? Didn’t you twist your—your—”
“Ankle? Not in the least. See! I can stand on both of them. I am not hurt at all. Let me thank you,” she said, smiling into his eyes as she moved away.
“May I assist you?” he asked eagerly.
“Oh, no; I thank you, Mr. Veath. I would not have my preserver perform the office of a crutch. I am not hurt in the least. Good-afternoon.”
Hugh, disconcerted and piqued by her confusion of names, answered her wondrous smile with one that reflected bewildered admiration, and finally managed to send after her:
“I wouldn’t have lost the opportunity for the world.”
That evening he was sitting out on deck in contemplative silence enjoying his after-dinner smoke. Farther down were Grace and Veath. Suddenly turning in their direction, Hugh perceived that they were not there; nor were they anywhere in sight. He was pondering over their whereabouts, his eyes still on the vacant chairs, when a voice tender and musical assailed his ears—a voice which he had heard but once before.
“Good-evening, Mr. Veath.”
He wheeled about and found himself staring at the smiling face of the young lady who had fallen into his arms but a few hours before.
“Good-evening,” he stammered, amazed by her unexpected greeting. “Have—have you fully recovered from your fall?”
“I was quite over it in a moment or two. I wanted to ask you if you were hurt by the force with which I fell against you.” She stood with one hand upon the rail, quite close to him, the moonlight playing upon her upturned face. He never had seen a more perfect picture of airy grace and beauty in his life.
“Why mention an impossibility? You could not have hurt me in a fall ten times as great.”