It had rained all night, one of the summer rains that, beginning in a thunder-storm in Washington, had continued in a steaming drizzle until morning.
There were only four passengers in the sleeper, men all of them—two in adjoining sections in the middle of the car, a third in the drawing-room, a fourth an intermittent occupant of a berth at the end. They had gone to bed unaware of the estate or circumstance of their fellow-travellers, and had waked to find the train delayed by washouts, and side-tracked until more could be learned of the condition of the road.
The man in the drawing-room shone, in the few glimpses that the others had of him, with an effulgence which was dazzling. His valet, the intermittent sleeper in the end berth, was a smug little soul, with a small nose which pointed to the stars. When the door of the compartment opened to admit breakfast there was the radiance of a brocade dressing-gown, the shine of a sleek head, the staccato of an imperious voice.
Randy Paine, long and lank, in faded khaki, rose, leaned over the seat of the section in front of him and drawled, “’It is not raining rain to me—it’s raining roses—down——’”
A pleasant laugh, and a deep voice, “Come around here and talk to me. You’re a Virginian, aren’t you?”
“By the grace of God and the discrimination of my ancestors,” young Randolph, as he dropped into the seat opposite the man with the deep voice, saluted the dead and gone Paines.
“Then you know this part of it?”
“I was born here. In this county. It is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh,” there was a break in the boy’s voice which robbed the words of grandiloquence.
“Hum—you love it? Yes? And I am greedy to get away. I want wider spaces——”
“Yes. Haven’t seen it for three years. I thought when the war was over I might. But I’ve got to be near Washington, it seems. The heat drove me out, and somebody told me it would be cool in these hills——”
“It is, at night. By day we’re not strenuous.”
“I like to be strenuous. I hate inaction.”
He moved restlessly. There was a crutch by his side. Young Paine noticed it for the first time. “I hate it.”
He had a strong frame, broad shoulders and thin hips. One placed him immediately as a man of great physical force. Yet there was the crutch. Randy had seen other men, broad-shouldered, thin-hipped, who had come to worse than crutches. He did not want to think of them. He had escaped without a scratch. He did not believe that he had lacked courage, and there was a decoration to prove that he had not. But when he thought of those other men, he had no sense of his own valor. He had given so little and they had given so much.
Yet it was not a thing to speak of. He struck, therefore, a note to which he knew the other might respond.