“I don’t believe he was stolen,” he said slowly, as though not quite certain whether he ought to venture an opinion. “Whether he was or not, I don’t believe he’d ever have made the Yale team or the Princeton eleven either.”
Virginia started in her chair and glanced at him swiftly.
“Indeed!” she said, flushing. “You don’t mean to say—what do you know about Percy Walton?”
“Now you’re in for it, Merrithew,” grinned Oddington. “What do you know about Walton?”
Dan picked up his dinner card and spun it between his thumb and forefinger for a few seconds, and then with a slight smile replied:
“Why, not a great deal. Next to nothing, personally.” He paused a moment, and then glancing down at the table added, “I was captain of the eleven on which Walton played at Exeter.”
* * * * * *
After the guests had gone, Virginia, her father, and Mrs. Van Vleck sat for a few minutes in a small apartment between the drawing and dining rooms. The girl’s eyes were bright.
“Well, father, I actually believe you could have knocked me down with a feather to-night.”
Mr. Howland drew his cigar-cutter from his pocket and slowly inserted the end of a perfecto.
“I suppose you refer to Merrithew.”
“Certainly,” said Mrs. Van Vleck; “why in the world didn’t you tell us, Horace?”
“Yes, why didn’t you?” The girl had arisen and approached her father’s chair. “You might have known, father dear, that both Aunt Helen and I lay awake nights wondering whether he would bring a boat-hook or a sou’wester to the dinner, and do—oh, all sorts of outlandish things, making us the joke of the season. And to think—a football captain in Percy’s class at prep school, quiet, easy-mannered—”
Mr. Howland snapped the end from his cigar and placed the cutter in his pocket.
“Are you quite through, Virginia?” he said.
“Quite,” replied the girl, who thereupon disproved her assertion by beginning where she had left off. “And I do believe you knew all the time and were simply teasing us.”
“That is not exactly true,” smiled her father. “Of course I looked him up a bit before offering him the command of the Tampico. He comes from near New Bedford. You know my mother’s family lived there.”
The girl nodded. “Yes? Go on.”
Mr. Howland lighted a match and held it burning for a while before applying it to his cigar.
“You know,” he said, “there are no better people in the world than some of those New England seafaring families. The Merrithews, I believe, were very substantial. . . . So you see where your supposed wharf-rat acquired the manner which you marked in him, and his good English, and—and well, whatever else you marked.”
“What is he going to do now?” asked Mrs. Van Vleck. “Oh, of course, the Tampico. Is he qualified to be a captain?”