The secretary agreed with a nod. He was rather grateful for Fitzgerald’s presence. This occupation was not going to be menial; at the least, there would be pleasant sides to it. And, then, it might not take him a week to complete his own affair. There was no misreading the admiral; he was a gentleman, affable, kindly, and a good story-teller, too, crisp and to the point, sailor fashion. Breitmann cleverly drew him out. Pirates! He dared not smile. Why, there was hardly such a thing in the pearl zone, and China was on the highway to respectability. And every once in so often there was a futile treasure hunt! He grew cold. If this old man but knew!
“Do you know butterflies, Mr. Fitzgerald?”
The admiral laughed. “No. The law doesn’t permit you to stick pins in that kind. No; I mean that kind,” indicating the cases.
Both young men admitted that this field had been left unexplored by either of them.
It was during a lull, when the talk had fallen to the desultory, that the hall door opened, and Laura came in. Her cheeks glowed like the sunny side of a Persian peach; her eyes sparkled; between her moist red lips there was a flash of firm, white teeth; the seal-brown hair glinted a Venetian red—for at that moment she stood in the path of the sunshine which poured in at the window—and blown tendrils in picturesque disorder escaped from under her hat.
The three men rose hastily; the father with pride, Fitzgerald with gladness, and Breitmann with doubt and wonder and fear.
SOME BIRDS IN A CHIMNEY
It might be truthfully said that the tableau lasted as long as she willed it to last. Perhaps she read in the three masculine faces turned toward her a triangular admiration, since it emanated from three given points, and took from it a modest pinch for her vanity. Vain she never was; still, she was not without a share of vanity, that vanity of the artless, needing no sacrifices, which is gratified and appeased by a smile. It pleased her to know that she was lovely; and it doubled her pleasure to realize that her loveliness pleased others. She demanded no hearts; she craved no jewels, no flattery. She warmed when eyes told her she was beautiful; but she chilled whenever the lips took up the speech, and voiced it. She was one of those happy beings in either sex who can amuse themselves, who can hold pleasant communion with the inner self, who can find romance in old houses, and yet love books, who prefer sunrises and sunsets at first hand, still loving a good painting.
Perhaps this trend of character was the result of her inherited love of the open. With almost unlimited funds under her own hand, she lived simply. She was never happy in smart society, though it was always making demands upon her. When abroad, she was generally prowling through queer little shops instead of mingling with the dress parades on the grand-hotel terraces. There was no great battle-field in Europe she had not trod upon. She knew them so well that she could people each field with the familiar bright regiments, bayonets and sabers, pikes and broadswords, axes and crossbowmen, matchlock and catapult, rifles and cannon.