“Laws!” exclaimed Miss Hill
He pushed her aside and closed the door, and got possession of her hands, all the time pouring out incoherent speech, in which only it was distinguishable.
“Man alive! Are you crazy?” asked Miss Hill, getting away from him into a corner. But it happened to be a corner with a couch, and when her trembling legs touched it she sat down.
“Never, never again will I do it!” cried the Colonel, with a grand gesture.
“Can you talk sense?” faltered the schoolmistress.
Colonel Pepper flung himself down beside her, and with many breathless stops and repetitions and eloquent glances and applications of his bandana to his heated face, he finally got his tragic story told.
“Is that all?” inquired Miss Hill, with a touch of sarcasm. “Why, you’re not a murderer, even if the man drowns, which isn’t at all likely. You’ve only fallen again.”
“Fallen. But I never fell so terribly. This was the worst.”
“Stuff! Where’s the chivalry you tried to make me think you were full of? Didn’t you humiliate me, a poor helpless woman? Wasn’t that worse? Didn’t you humiliate me before a crowd of people in a candy-store? Could anything be more monstrous? You did it, you remember?”
“Amanda! Never! Never!” gasped the Colonel.
“You did, and I let you think I believed your lies.”
“Amanda! I’ll never do it again, never to any one, so long as I live. It’s dead, same as the card tricks. Forgive me, Amanda, and marry me. I’m so fond of you, and I’m so lonely, and those meadow lots of mine, they’ll make me rich. Amanda, would you marry me? Would you love an old duffer like me? Would you like a nice little home, and an occasional silk dress, and no more teaching, and some one to love you—always? Would you, Amanda, would you?”
“Yes, I would,” replied Amanda.
Lane was returning from a restless wandering in the woods. As he neared the flooded river he thought he heard a shout for help. He hurried down to the bank, and looked around him, but saw no living thing. Then he was brought up sharply by a cry, the unmistakable scream of a human being in distress. It seemed to come from behind a boathouse. Running as far round the building as the water would permit he peered up and down the river in both directions.
At first he saw only the half-submerged float, the sunken hull of a launch, the fast-running river, and across the wide expanse of muddy water the outline of the levee. Suddenly he spied out in the river a piece of driftwood to which a man was clinging.
“Help! Help!” came faintly over the water.
Lane glanced quickly about him. Several boats were pulled up on the shore, one of which evidently had been used by a boatman collecting driftwood that morning, for it contained oars and a long pike-pole. The boat was long, wide of beam, and flat of bottom, with a sharp bow and a blunt stern, a craft such as experienced rivermen used for heavy work. Without a moment’s hesitation Lane shoved it into the water and sprang aboard.