It was ten o’clock in the hunting-hutch. The night outside was starless, the lamps flickered irregularly, the guides lay heavily asleep in their blankets on beds of pine boughs in the corner. It was a strange place for the birth of a man’s soul, but as Frank Ravenel read the letter a tenderness, a selfless tenderness, for the sad little writer of it came to him. He had already protected her from himself—“somewhat late,” he confessed, with bitterness, and there had been some effort “not to do the worst.” But the feeling that held him as he read was different from any he had had before. He dwelt on her lonesomeness in the world: the long nights she must have passed alone watching the coming of death. Unspeakable tenderness brought a sob to his throat and a pain over his heart, as though suffering from a blow. The remembrance of her on the wind-blown hill came back to him; the scarlet handkerchief waved against the blue of the sky, and the brave call over the brown grass: “Don’t think of me! Good-bye!” It seemed in some way to have been a cry of victory.
He went to the door of the tent straining his eyes into the blackness. Alone in the great woods with the night noises, under the silent stars, things took on a different value. What was he compared to her?
Stripped of family and wealth, how would each measure before a judging world. “She was so”—he hesitated in his mind for a word—“she was so square,” he said to himself. Wave after wave of pity swept over him as memory brought back to him her vividness, the fervid speech, the humor, the touch of her. He closed his eyes for a moment, she was in his arms, there came the odor of her dusky hair, and for the first time in his life he was a man.
“Gregoire!” he called to the sleeping guide.
“The distance to the nearest railroad?”
“By land—it is sixty miles, m’sieu.”
“By the lakes?”
“It is much shorter, but of an extreme dangerousness.”
“We will go by the lakes.”
DERMOTT’S INTERVIEW WITH FRANK AT THE TREVOY
In three days Frank reached New York, where he found mail at the club: from the South; from the Western mines; from women inviting him; as well as five or six messages by wire or mail from one Philip de Peyster, soliciting an immediate interview. Even in his perturbed and planless state these repeated demands made an impression on Frank, and in the morning he telephoned that he was at the Trevoy for the day, and would be pleased to see Mr. de Peyster at his convenience, suggesting the luncheon-hour as a time when both might be free.
Having received no response to his message, at two o’clock he entered the dining-room of the Trevoy alone. After ordering, he sat looking indifferently from one group to another, and noted, with surprise, that Dermott McDermott, with his back toward him, was at the next table lunching with a number of men, who seemed, to Frank’s quick eye, bent on conciliation.