He held out his hand, and, scarcely knowing why he did so, Brant placed his own within its grasp, and as the eyes of the two men met, there was a consciousness of sympathy between them.
A SLIGHT INTERRUPTION
The young officer passed slowly down the dark staircase, his mind still bewildered by the result of the interview. His feelings toward Hampton had been materially changed. He found it impossible to nurse a dislike which seemingly had no real cause for existence. He began besides to comprehend something of the secret of his influence over Naida; even to experience himself the power of that dominating spirit. Out of controversy a feeling of respect had been born.
Yet Brant was far from being satisfied. Little by little he realized that he had gained nothing, learned nothing. Hampton had not even advanced a direct claim; he had dodged the real issue, leaving the soldier in the dark regarding his relationship to Naida, and erecting a barrier between the other two. It was a masterpiece of defence, puzzling, irritating, seemingly impassable. From the consideration of it all, Brant emerged with but one thought clearly defined—whoever she might prove to be, whatever was her present connection with Hampton, he loved this dark-eyed, auburn-haired waif. He knew it now, and never again could he doubt it. The very coming of this man into the field of contest, and his calm assumption of proprietorship and authority, had combined to awaken the slumbering heart of the young officer. From that instant Naida Gillis became to him the one and only woman in all this world. Ay, and he would fight to win her; never confessing defeat until final decision came from her own lips. He paused, half inclined to retrace his steps and have the matter out. He turned just in time to face a dazzling vision of fluffy lace and flossy hair beside him in the dimly lighted hall.
“Oh, Lieutenant Brant!” and the vision clung to his arm tenderly. “It is such a relief to find that you are unhurt. Did—did you kill him?”
Brant stared. “I—I fear I scarcely comprehend, Miss Spencer. I have certainly taken no one’s life. What can you mean?”
“Oh, I am so glad; and Naida will be, too. I must go right back and tell the poor girl, for she is nearly distracted. Oh, Lieutenant, is n’t it the most romantic situation that ever was? And he is such a mysterious character!”
“To whom do you refer? Really, I am quite in the dark.”
“Why, Mr. Hampton, of course. Oh, I know all about it. Naida felt so badly over your meeting this morning that I just compelled her to confide her whole story to me. And didn’t you fight at all?”
“Most assuredly not,” and Brant’s eyes began to exhibit amusement; “indeed, we parted quite friendly.”
“I told Naida I thought you would. People don’t take such things so seriously nowadays, do they? But Naida is such a child and so full of romantic notions, that she worried terribly about it. Is n’t it perfectly delightful what he is going to do for her?”