One half-minute later the superintendent would have given much to be safely back with McCloskey and Dawson at the vanishing curve of scrap-heaps. In that half-minute Mr. Brewster had opened the car door, and Lidgerwood had followed him across the threshold.
The comfortable lounging-room of the Nadia was not empty; nor was it peopled by a group of Mr. Brewster’s associates in the copper combine, the alternative upon which Lidgerwood had hopefully hung the “we’s” and the “us’s.”
Seated on a wicker divan drawn out to face one of the wide side-windows were two young women, with a curly-headed, clean-faced young man between them. A little farther along, a rather austere lady, whose pose was of calm superiority to her surroundings, looked up from her magazine to say, as her husband had said: “Why, Howard! are you here?” Just beyond the austere lady, and dozing in his chair, was a white-haired man whose strongly marked features proclaimed him the father of one of the young women on the divan.
And in the farthest corner of the open compartment, facing each other companionably in an “S"-shaped double chair, were two other young people—a man and a woman.... Truly, the heavens had fallen! For the young woman filling half of the tete-a-tete chair was that one person whom Lidgerwood would have circled the globe to avoid meeting.
Taking his cue from certain passages in the book of painful memories, Lidgerwood meant to obey his first impulse, which prompted him to follow Mr. Brewster to the private office state-room in the forward end of the car, disregarding the couple in the tete-a-tete contrivance. But the triumphantly beautiful young woman in the nearer half of the crooked-backed seat would by no means sanction any such easy solution of the difficulty.
“Not a word for me, Howard?” she protested, rising and fairly compelling him to stop and speak to her. Then: “For pity’s sake! what have you been doing to yourself to make you look so hollow-eyed and anxious?” After which, since Lidgerwood seemed at a loss for an answer to the half-solicitous query, she presented her companion of the “S"-shaped chair. “Possibly you will shake hands a little less abstractedly with Mr. Van Lew. Herbert, this is Mr. Howard Lidgerwood, my cousin, several times removed. He is the tyrant of the Red Butte Western, and I can assure you that he is much more terrible than he looks—aren’t you, Howard?”
Lidgerwood shook hands cordially enough with the tall young athlete who, it seemed, would never have done increasing his magnificent stature as he rose up out of his half of the lounging-seat.
“Glad to meet you, Mr. Lidgerwood, I’m sure,” said the young man, gripping the given hand until Lidgerwood winced. “Miss Eleanor has been telling me about you—marooned out here in the Red Desert. By Jove! don’t you know I believe I’d like to try it awhile myself. It’s ages since I’ve had a chance to kill a man, and they tell me——”