In previous years Sandy had watched the courting-box from below, but this year he was in the center of it. Jests and greetings from the boys, and cordial glances from maidens both known and unknown, bade him welcome. But, in spite of his reception, and in spite of his irreproachable toilet, he was not having a good time. With hands in pockets and a scowl on his face, he stared gloomily over the crowd. Twice a kernel of pop-corn struck his ear, but he did not turn.
Above him, Annette Fenton was fathoms deep in a flirtation with Carter Nelson; while below him, Ruth, in the daintiest of gowns and the largest of hats, was wasting her sweetness on the desert countenance of Sid Gray.
Sandy refused to seek consolation elsewhere; he sat like a Spartan hero, and calmly watched his heart being consumed in the flames.
This hour, for which he had been living, this longed-for opportunity of being near Ruth and possibly of speaking to her, was slipping away, and she did not even know he was there.
He became fiercely critical of Sid Gray. He rejoiced in his stoutness and took grim pleasure in the fact that his necktie had slipped up at the back. He looked at his hand as it rested on the back of the seat; it was plump and white. Sandy held out his own broad, muscular palm, hardened and roughened by work. Then he put it in his pocket again and sighed.
The afternoon wore gaily on. Louder grew the chorus of balloons and stickier grew the pop-corn balls. The courting-box was humming with laughter and jest. The Spartan hero began to rebel. Why should he allow himself to be tortured thus when there might be a way of escape? He recklessly resolved to put his fate to the test. Rising abruptly, he went down to the promenade and passed slowly along the courting-box, scanning the occupants as if in search of some one. It was on his fourth round that she saw him, and the electric shock almost lost him his opportunity. He looked twice to make sure she had spoken; then, with a bit of his heart in his throat and the rest in his eyes, he went up the steps and awkwardly held out his hand.
The world made several convulsive circuits in its orbit and the bass drum performed a solo inside his head during the moment that followed. When the tumult subsided he found a pair of bright brown eyes smiling up at him and a small hand clasped in his.
This idyllic condition was interrupted by a disturbance on the promenade, which caused them both to look in that direction. Some one was pushing roughly through the crowd.
“Hi, there, Kilday! Sandy Kilday!”
A heavy-set fellow was making his way noisily toward them. His suit of broad checks, his tan shoes, and his large diamond stud were strangers, but his little close-set eyes, protruding teeth, and bushy hair were hatefully familiar.
Sandy started forward, and those nearest laughed when the stranger looked at him and said: