THE LESSER TEMPTING
Seven days of the week did Mr. Harrington Surtaine labor, without by any means doing all his work. For to the toil which goes to the making of many newspapers there is no end; only ever a fresh beginning. Had he brought to the enterprise a less eager appetite for the changeful adventure of it, the unremitting demand must soon have dulled his spirit. Abounding vitality he possessed, but even this flagged at times. One soft spring Sunday, while the various campaigns of the newspaper were still in mid-conflict, he decided to treat himself to a day off. So, after a luxurious morning in bed, he embarked in his runabout for an exploration around the adjacent country.
Having filled his lungs with two hours of swift air, he lunched, none too delicately, at a village fifty miles distant, and, on coming out of the hotel, was warned by a sky shaded from blue to the murkiest gray, into having the top of his car put up. The rain chased him for thirty miles and whelmed him in a wild swirl at the thirty-first. Driving through this with some caution, he saw ahead of him a woman’s figure, as supple as a willow withe, as gallant as a ship, beating through the fury of the elements. Hal slowed down, debating whether to offer conveyance, when he caught a glint of ruddy waves beneath the drenched hat, and the next instant he was out and looking into the flushed face and dancing eyes of Milly Neal.
“What on earth are you doing here?” he cried.
“Can’t you see?” she retorted merrily. “I’m a fish.”
“You need to be. Get in. You’re soaked to the skin,” he continued, dismayed, as she began to shiver under the wrappings he drew around her. “Never mind. I’ll have you home in a few minutes.”
But the demon of mischance was abroad in the storm. Before they had covered half a mile the rear tire went. Milly was now shaking dismally, for all her brave attempts to conceal it. A few rods away a sign announced “Markby’s Road-House.” Concerned solely to get the girl into a warm and dry place, Hal turned in, bundled her out, ordered a private room with a fireplace, and induced the proprietor’s wife by the persuasions of a ten-dollar bill to provide a change of clothing for the outer, and hot drinks for the inner, woman.
Half an hour later when he had affixed a new tire to the wheel, he and Milly sat, warmed and comforted before blazing logs, waiting for her clothes to dry out.
“I know I look a fright,” she mourned. “That Mrs. Markby must buy her dresses by the pound.”
She gazed at him comically from above a quaint and nondescript garment, to which she had given a certain daintiness with a cleverly placed ribbon or two and an adroit use of pins. Privately, Hal considered that she looked delightfully pretty, with her provocative eyes and the deep gleam of red in her hair like flame seen through smoke.