“Madam,” and he lifted his hat, holding it in his hand, “I am bringing back the runaway, and she has now pledged herself to remain with you.”
“I was not seeking her,” she returned, icily. “I have no desire to cultivate the particular friends of Mr. Hampton.”
“So I have understood, and consequently relinquish here and now all claims upon Miss Gillis. She has informed me of your flattering opinion regarding me, and I have indorsed it as being mainly true to life. Miss Gillis has been sufficiently shocked at thus discovering my real character, and now returns in penitence to be reared according to the admonitions of the Presbyterian faith. Do I state this fairly, Naida?”
“I have come back,” she faltered, fingering the chain at her throat, “I have come back.”
“Without Bob Hampton?”
The girl glanced uneasily toward him, but he stood motionless in the gloom.
“Yes—I—I suppose I must.”
Hampton rested his hand softly upon her shoulder, his fingers trembling, although his voice remained coldly deliberate.
“I trust this is entirely satisfactory, Mrs. Herndon,” he said. “I can assure you I know absolutely nothing regarding her purpose of coming to me tonight. I realize quite clearly my own deficiencies, and pledge myself hereafter not to interfere with you in any way. You accept the trust, I believe?”
She gave utterance to a deep sigh of resignation. “It comes to me clearly as a Christian duty,” she acknowledged, doubtfully, “and I suppose I must take up my cross; but—”
“But you have doubts,” he interrupted. “Well, I have none, for I have greater faith in the girl, and—perhaps in God. Good-night, Naida.”
He bowed above the hand the girl gave him in the darkness, and ever after she believed he bent lower, and pressed his lips upon it. The next moment the black night had closed him out, and she stood there, half frightened at she knew not what, on the threshold of her new life.
AT THE OCCIDENTAL
Hampton slowly picked his way back through the darkness down the silent road, his only guide those dim yellow lights flickering in the distance. He walked soberly, his head bent slightly forward, absorbed in thought. Suddenly he paused, and swore savagely, his disgust at the situation bursting all bounds; yet when he arrived opposite the beam of light streaming invitingly forth from the windows of the first saloon, he was whistling softly, his head held erect, his cool eyes filled with reckless daring.