Jocelyn had read stories of heroes. Never before had she known what it was to find herself in the actual bodily presence of one of these creatures. And small wonder she thrilled again, not alone because of the fact that this great-hearted gentleman had sacrificed himself upon the altar of righteousness, but, further, that in the reasons for such self-immolation had entered thoughts of her. A real, perfectly delightful romance was being enacted, and she was its heroine!
“You are very good,” she murmured, quite as the heroine should. “And papa will appreciate it when I tell him. And,” shyly, “if you care to know it, I think that your generous kindness is the finest thing I have ever known.”
It was the psychological time for a love avowal. But Mr. Hapgood had not played out his other role. He rose hastily, looking at his watch.
“I stopped in for just a moment,” he said, quickly. “I am on my way to the post-office. I expect some important mail to-night. By the way,” stopping with a glove half drawn on, “if your father cares to accept a position again soon I think that I know of one which would suit him. Mr. Swinnerton wants a competent engineer to aid him in a bit of work. I took the liberty to mention Mr. Truxton to him. He was delighted at the bare mention of your father’s name. But”—and again the old shrewd look crept into his eyes—“maybe Mr. Truxton does not care to work against the reclamation? Maybe he is willing to see the Crawfords and that Conniston fellow succeed in their scheme?”
“I am going right in to talk with papa,” she told him, quickly. “I am going to tell him the real truth. And I think, Mr. Hapgood, that you can tell Mr. Swinnerton that papa will come out to see him to-morrow or the next day.”
Mr. Hapgood took the hand which she held out to him, bestowed upon her a look which spoke of warm admiration tinged with half-melancholy longing, sighed, relinquished her hand with a gentle pressure, and ran down the steps.
“Good night, Jocelyn,” he called, softly, from the little gate.
“Good night, Roger,” she whispered.
A certain old football phrase rang day and night in Conniston’s brain, “It is anybody’s game!” Anybody’s game! For there was a chance for success in the Great Work, and he saw that chance clearly, and fought hard for it. If everything went smoothly now, if Mr. Crawford gave him five hundred more men, if there were no unforeseen obstacles set in his way, no smashing accidents, he would see the ditches in Rattlesnake Valley filled with water by the last day of September. He had figured on everything, he had sat late into many a night after the grind of a twelve or fifteen hour day, frowning over details, calculating to the cubic yard what he must do each and every day, going over his calculations with a care which missed no detail. And he knew that he could play this game safely and win—if they would only let him alone! And still he knew that it was anybody’s game. Could Swinnerton block him in some way which he could not foresee, could Swinnerton make him lose a single day’s work, could Swinnerton steal his five hundred men as he had stolen men in the past, it was Swinnerton’s game.