“He drinks nectar and complains to the gods,” said the Major softly, “why can’t we, too, drink?”
They had theirs on a table which the porter set between them. The train moved on before they had finished. “We’ll be in Charlottesville in less than an hour,” the conductor announced.
“Is that where we get off, Paine?”
“One mile beyond. Are they going to meet you?”
“I’ll get a station wagon.”
Young Paine grinned. “There aren’t any. But if Mother knows you’re coming she’ll send down. And anyhow she expects me.”
“After a year in France—it will be a warm welcome——”
“A wet one, but I love the rain, and the red mud, every blooming inch of it.”
“Of course you do. Just as I love the dust of the desert.”
They spoke, each of them, with a sort of tense calmness. One doesn’t confess to a lump in one’s throat.
The little man, Kemp, was brushing things in the aisle. He was hot but unconquered. Having laid out the belongings of the man he served, he took a sudden recess, and came back with a fresh collar, a wet but faultless pompadour, and a suspicion of powder on his small nose.
“All right, sir, we’ll be there in fifteen minutes, sir,” they heard him say, as he was swallowed up by the yawning door.
Fifteen minutes later when the train slowed up, there emerged from the drawing-room a man some years older than Randolph Paine, and many years younger than Major Prime. He was good-looking, well-dressed, but apparently in a very bad temper. Kemp, in an excited, Skye-terrier manner, had gotten the bags together, had a raincoat over his arm, had an umbrella handy, had apparently foreseen every contingency but one.
“Great guns, Kemp, why are we getting off here?”
“The conductor said it was nearer, sir.”
Randolph Paine was already hanging on the step, ready to drop the moment the train stopped. He had given the porter an extra tip to look after Major Prime. “He isn’t used to that crutch, yet. He’d hate it if I tried to help him.”
The rain having drizzled for hours, condensed suddenly in a downpour. When the train moved on, the men found themselves in a small and stuffy waiting-room. Around the station platform was a sea of red mud. Misty hills shot up in a circle to the horizon. There was not a house in sight. There was not a soul in sight except the agent who knew young Paine. No one having come to meet them, he suggested the use of the telephone.
In the meantime Kemp was having a hard time of it. “Why in the name of Heaven didn’t we get off at Charlottesville,” his master was demanding.
“The conductor said this was nearer, sir,” Kemp repeated. His response had the bounding quality of a rubber ball. “If you’ll sit here and make yourself comfortable, Mr. Dalton, I’ll see what I can do.”