“So that was Ellen!” I said to Kitty.
“The very same. Now you’ve seen her. What you think I don’t know, but what she thinks of you is pretty evident.”
“You were right, Mrs. Kitty,” said I. “She’s desperately good looking. But that isn’t the girl I danced with last night. In the name of Providence, let me get away from this country, for I know not what may happen to me! No man is safe in this neighborhood of beauties.”
“Let’s all go home and get a bite to eat,” said Stevenson, with much common sense. “You’ve got glory enough just the way it stands.”
So that was Ellen! And it moreover was none less than Ellen Meriwether, daughter of my father’s friend and business associate, whom I had traveled thus far to see, and whom, as I now determined, I must meet at the very first possible opportunity. Perhaps, then, it might very naturally come about that—but I dismissed this very rational supposition as swiftly as I was able.
THE MORNING AFTER
Events had somewhat hurried me in the two days since my arrival at Jefferson Barracks, but on the morning following the awkward ending of my match with Orme I had both opportunity and occasion to take stock of myself and of my plans. The mails brought me two letters, posted at Wallingford soon after my departure; one from Grace Sheraton and one from my mother. The first one was—what shall I say? Better perhaps that I should say nothing, save that it was like Grace Sheraton herself, formal, correct and cold. It was the first written word I had ever received from my fiancee, and I had expected—I do not know what. At least I had thought to be warmed, comforted, consoled in these times of my adversity. It seemed to my judgment, perhaps warped by sudden misfortune, that possibly my fiancee regretted her hasty promise, rued an engagement to one whose affairs had suddenly taken an attitude of so little promise. I was a poor man now, and worse than poor, because lately I had been rich, as things went in my surroundings. In this letter, I say, I had expected—I do not know what. But certainly I had not expected to see sitting on the page written in my fiancee’s hand, the face of another woman. I hated myself for it.
The second letter was from my mother, and it left me still more disconcerted and sad. “Jack,” it said, “I grieve unspeakably. I am sad beyond all imaginings of sadness. I need thee. Come back the first day thee can to thy mother.”
There was indeed need for me at home. Yet here was I with my errand not yet well begun; for Captain Stevenson told me this morning that the Post Adjutant had received word from Colonel Meriwether saying that he would be gone for some days or weeks on the upper frontier. Rumor passed about that a new man, Sherman, was possibly to come on to assume charge of Jefferson, a man reported to be a martinet fit to stamp