On the little rustic bridge a hundred yards away, a man was standing, with rather the look of having stopped at just that minute. From a distance Sharlee’s glance swept him lightly; she saw that she did not know him; and not fancying his frank stare, she drew near and stepped upon the bridge with a splendid unconsciousness of his presence. But just when she was safely by, her ears were astonished by his voice speaking her name.
“How do you do, Miss Weyland?”
She turned, surprised by a familiar note in the deep tones, looked, and—yes, there could be no doubt of it—it was—
“Mr. Queed! Why, how do you do!”
They shook hands. He removed his hat for the process, doing it with a certain painstaking precision which betrayed want of familiarity with the engaging rite.
“I haven’t seen you for a long time,” said Sharlee brightly.
The dear, old remark—the moss-covered remark that hung in the well! How on earth could we live without it? In behalf of Sharlee, however, some excuses can be urged; for, remembering the way she had talked to Mr. Queed once on the general subject of failures, she found herself struggling against a most absurd sense of embarrassment.
“No,” replied Queed, replacing his hat as though following from memory the diagram in a book of etiquette. He added, borrowing one of the Colonel’s favorite expressions, “I hope you are very well.”
“Yes, indeed.... I’m so glad you spoke to me, for to tell you the truth, I never, never should have known you if you hadn’t.”
“You think that I’ve changed? Well,” said he, gravely, “I ought to have. You might say that I’ve given five months to it.”
“You’ve changed enormously.”
She examined with interest this new Mr. Queed who loafed on rustic bridges, five miles from a Sociology, and hailed passing ladies on his own motion. He appeared, indeed, decidedly altered.
In the first place, he looked decidedly bigger, and, to come at once to the fact, he was. For Klinker’s marvelous exercises for all parts of the body had done more than add nineteen pounds to his weight, and deepen his chest, and broaden his shoulders. They had pulled and tugged at the undeveloped tissues until they had actually added a hard-won three-quarters of an inch to his height. The stoop was gone, and instead of appearing rather a small man, Mr. Queed now looked full middle-height or above. He wore a well-made suit of dark blue, topped by a correct derby. His hair was cut trim, his color was excellent, and, last miracle of all, he wore no spectacles. It was astonishing but true. The beautiful absence of these round disfigurements brought into new prominence a pair of grayish eyes which did not look so very professorial, after all.
But what Sharlee liked best about this unglassed and unscienced Mr. Queed was his entire absence of any self-consciousness in regard to her. When he told her that Easter Monday night that he cheerfully took his turn on the psychological operating-table, anaesthetics barred, and no mercy asked or given, it appeared that he, alone among men, really meant it.