It was the moment for which each had so often longed, with which both had so often tortured themselves by living in imagination, that now, that it was theirs, they were fearful it might not be true.
Finally, he said: “And the charm never failed! Indeed, it was wonderful! It stood by me so obviously. For instance, the night before San Juan, in the mill at El Poso, I slept on the same poncho with another correspondent. I woke up with a raging appetite for bacon and coffee, and he woke up out of his mind, and with a temperature of one hundred and four. And again, I was standing by Capron’s gun at El Caney, when a shell took the three men who served it, and only scared me. And there was another time—” He stopped. “Anyway,” he laughed, “here I am.”
“But there was one night, one awful night,” began the girl. She trembled, and he made this an added excuse for drawing her closer to him. “When I felt you were in great peril, that you would surely die. And all through the night I knelt by the window and looked toward Cuba and prayed, and prayed to God to let you live.”
Chesterton bent his head and kissed the tips of her fingers. After a moment he said: “Would you know what night it was? It might be curious if I had been—”
“Would I know!” cried the girl. “It was eight days ago. The night of the twelfth. An awful night!”
“The twelfth!” exclaimed Chesterton, and laughed and then begged her pardon humbly. “I laughed because the twelfth,” he exclaimed, “was the night peace was declared. The war was over. I’m sorry, but that night I was riding toward you, thinking only of you. I was never for a moment in danger.”
It was February off the Banks, and so thick was the weather that, on the upper decks, one could have driven a sleigh. Inside the smoking-room Austin Ford, as securely sheltered from the blizzard as though he had been sitting in front of a wood fire at his club, ordered hot gin for himself and the ship’s doctor. The ship’s doctor had gone below on another “hurry call” from the widow. At the first luncheon on board the widow had sat on the right of Doctor Sparrow, with Austin Ford facing her. But since then, except to the doctor, she had been invisible. So, at frequent intervals, the ill health of the widow had deprived Ford of the society of the doctor. That it deprived him, also, of the society of the widow did not concern him. Her life had not been spent upon ocean liners; she could not remember when state-rooms were named after the States of the Union. She could not tell him of shipwrecks and salvage, of smugglers and of the modern pirates who found their victims in the smoking-room.