Byrd wore a beautiful dinner jacket. So did Mr. Miller, with a gray tie, and a gray, brass-buttoned vest, to boot. Queed wore his day clothes of blue, which were not so new as they were the day Sharlee first saw them, on the rustic bridge near the little cemetery. He had, of course, taken it for granted that he would find Miss Weyland alone. Nevertheless, he did not appear disconcerted by the sudden discovery of his mistake, or even by Mr. Miller’s glorious waistcoat; he was as grave as ever, but showed no signs of embarrassment. Sharlee caught herself observing him closely, as he shook hands with the two men and selected a chair for himself; she concluded that constant contact with the graces of Charles Gardiner West had not been without its effect upon him. He appeared decidedly more at his ease than Mr. Miller, for instance, and he had another valuable possession which that personage lacked, namely, the face of a gentleman.
But it was too evident that he felt little sense of responsibility for the maintenance of the conversation. He sat back in a chair of exceptionable comfortableness, and allowed Beverley Byrd to discourse with him; a privilege which Byrd exercised fitfully, for his heart was in the talk that Sharlee was dutifully supporting with Mr. Miller. Into this talk he resolutely declined to be drawn, but his ear was alert for opportunities—which came not infrequently—to thrust in a polished oar to the discomfiture of the intruder.
Not that he would necessarily care to do it, but the runner could read Mr. Miller, without a glass, at one hundred paces’ distance. He was of the climber type, a self-made man in the earlier and less inspiring stages of the making. Culture had a dangerous fascination for him. He adored to talk of books; a rash worship, it seemed, since his but bowing acquaintance with them trapped him frequently into mistaken identities over which Sharlee with difficulty kept a straight face, while Byrd palpably rejoiced.
“You know Thanatopsis, of course,” he would ask, with a rapt and glowing eye—“Lord Byron’s beautiful poem on the philosophy of life? Now that is my idea of what poetry ought to be, Miss Weyland....”
And Beverley Byrd, breaking his remark to Queed off short in the middle, would turn to Sharlee with a face of studious calm and say:—
“Will you ever forget, Sharlee, the first time you read the other Thanatopsis—the one by William Cullen Bryant? Don’t you remember how it looked—with the picture of Bryant—in the old Fifth Reader?”
Mr. Miller proved that he could turn brick-red, but he learned nothing from experience.
In time, the talk between the two young men, which had begun so desultorily, warmed up. Byrd had read something besides the Fifth Reader, and Queed had discovered before to-night that he had ideas to express. Their conversation progressed with waxing interest, from the President’s message to the causes of the fall of Rome, and thence by wholly logical transitions to the French Revolution and Woman’s Suffrage. Byrd gradually became so absorbed that he almost, but not quite, neglected to keep Mr. Miller in his place. As for Queed, he spoke in defense of the “revolt of woman” for five minutes without interruption, and his masterly sentences finally drew the silence and attention of Mr. Miller himself.