“Oh, well,” he retorted coolly, “if that’s the way you look at it! But if you’re not in a desperate hurry, I’ll take off my jacket.”
“What did you prod him for, anyway?” another asked.
“I’m sorry I didn’t jab him twice as hard; though I’d have wasted my energy,” Edgar explained. “The fellow has no sense, but that’s no reason why he should be allowed to frighten a pretty girl.”
His antagonist looked as if a light had suddenly dawned on him.
“Is that why you did it?”
“Of course! Do you think I’d attack a man of nearly twice my weight without some reason?”
The fellow laughed.
“We’ll let it go at that. You’re all right, Percy. We like you.”
“Thanks,” said Edgar; “but my name isn’t Percy. Couldn’t you think of something more stylish for a change?”
They greeted this with hoarse laughter; and George, arriving on the scene, scrambled down into the pit with them to help the men below. It was some time later when he rejoined the girl, who was then gathering berries in the wood. She saw that his face and hands were grimy and his clothes were soiled.
“I heard that you found the unfortunate man. It was very sad,” she said. “But what have you been doing since?”
“Shoveling a ton or two of gravel. Then I assisted in jacking up one side of the engine.”
“Why? Did you enjoy it?”
George laughed; he had, as it happened, experienced a curious pleasure in the work. He was accustomed to the more vigorous sports; but, after all, they led to no tangible results, and in this respect his recent task was different—one, as he thought of it, could see what one had done. He had been endowed with some ability of strictly practical description, though it had so far escaped development.
“Yes,” he responded. “I enjoyed it very much.”
The girl regarded him with a trace of curiosity.
“Was that because work of the kind is new to you?”
“No,” George answered. “It isn’t altogether a novelty. I once spent three years in manual labor; and now when I look back at them, I believe I was happy then.”
She nodded as if she understood.
“Shall we walk back?” she suggested.
They went on together, and though the sun was now fiercely hot and the distance long, George enjoyed the walk. Once they met a ballast train, with a steam plow mounted at one end of it, and a crowd of men riding on the open cars; but when it had passed there was nothing to break the deep silence of the woods. The dark firs shut in the narrow track except when here and there a winding lake or frothing river filled a sunny opening.
Soon after George and his companion reached the train, the engine came back with a row of freightcars, and during the afternoon the western express pulled out again, and sped furiously through the shadowy bush.