THE CURTAIN FALLS
Bronzed by months of scouting on those northern plains, a graver, older look upon his face, and the bars of a captain gracing the shoulders of his new cavalry jacket, Donald Brant trotted down the stage road bordering the Bear Water, his heart alternating between hope and dread. He was coming back as he had promised; yet, ardently as he longed to look into the eyes of his beloved, he shrank from the duty laid upon him by the dead.
The familiar yellow house at the cross-roads appeared so unattractive as to suggest the thought that Naida must have been inexpressibly lonely during those months of waiting. He knocked at the sun-warped door. Without delay it was flung open, and a vision of flushed face and snowy drapery confronted him.
“Why, Lieutenant Brant! I was never more surprised in my life. Do, pray, come right in. Yes, Naida is here, and I will have her sent for at once. Oh, Howard, this is Lieutenant Brant, just back from his awful Indian fighting. How very nice that he should happen to arrive just at this time, is n’t it?”
The young officer, as yet unable to discover an opportunity for speech, silently accepted Mr. Wynkoop’s extended hand, and found a convenient chair, as Miss Spencer hastened from the room to announce his arrival.
“Why ’just at this time’?” he questioned.
Mr. Wynkoop cleared his throat. “Why—why, you see, we are to be married this evening—Miss Spencer and myself. We—we shall be so delighted to have you witness the ceremony. It is to take place at the church, and my people insist upon making quite an affair out of the occasion—Phoebe is so popular, you know.”
The lady again bustled in, her eyes glowing with enthusiasm. “Why, I think it is perfectly delightful. Don’t you, Howard? Now Lieutenant Brant and Naida can stand up with us. You will, won’t you, Lieutenant?”
“That must be left entirely with Miss Naida for decision,” he replied, soberly. “However, with my memory of your popularity I should suppose you would have no lack of men seeking such honor. For instance, one of your old-time ‘friends’ Mr. William McNeil.”
The lady laughed noisily, regardless of Mr. Wynkoop’s look of annoyance. “Oh, it is so perfectly ridiculous! And did n’t you know? have n’t you heard?”
“Nothing, I assure you.”
“Why he—he actually married the Widow Guffy. She ’s twice his age, and has a grown-up son. And to think that I supposed he was so nice! He did write beautiful verses. Is n’t it a perfect shame for such a man to throw himself away like that?”
“It would seem so. But there was another whose name I recall—Jack Moffat. Why not have him?”
Miss Spencer glanced uneasily at her chosen companion, her cheeks reddening. But that gentleman remained provokingly silent, and she was compelled to reply.