“Stephanie! You saw her? By Jove! Then you are right this time. Quick! tell me all you learned.”
Allan lied fluently, elaborately, and, finding his hero plunged into despair, resigned himself gratefully to another period of blissful idleness. This was much the simplest way, he decided; for even should Kirk meet a Garavel or a Fermina, there was no chance of his winning her, and love, after all, is but a passing impulse which may be summoned or banished at will by such simple mediums as charms. The boy did go out of his way to ease his benefactor’s malady by taking a lock of his own fuzzy wool and placing it beneath Kirk’s mattress, after certain exorcisms.
There followed a period of blank dejection. Kirk’s first disappointment, when the girl had failed to keep her tryst, was as nothing compared to this, for now he felt that she was unattainable. He did not quite give up hope; so many strange experiences had befallen him since his involuntary departure from New York that it all seemed like a dream in which anything is possible. But he was deep in the doldrums when, with magic suddenness, the scene changed, and his long discouragement came to an end.
The winter season was at its height now. For weeks there had been no rain, and the Pacific side of the Isthmus was growing sere and yellow beneath the ceaseless glare of the sun. The musty dampness of the rainy season had disappeared, the steady trade-winds breathed a dreamy languor, and the days fled past in one long, unending procession of brilliant sameness. Every ship from the North came laden with tourists, and the social life of the city grew brilliant and gay. There were receptions, dinners, dances; the plazas echoed to the strains of music almost nightly. Now that Nature smiled, the work upon the Canal went forward with ever-growing eagerness. Records were broken in every department, the railroad groaned beneath its burden, the giant human machine was strained to its fullest efficiency.
Young Anthony mastered the details of his work very rapidly, for railroading had been bred into him. He needed little help from Runnels, and soon began to feel a conscious grasp of affairs as surprising to himself as to his chief. Being intensely interested in his work, he avoided all social entanglements, despite repeated invitations from Mrs. Cortlandt. But, when the grand-opera season began, he made an exception, and joined her box-party on the opening night.
It seemed quite like old times to don an evening suit; the stiff, white linen awakened a pang of regret. The time was not far distant when he had felt never so much at home as in these togs; but now they were hot and uncomfortable—and how they accentuated his coat of tan!
There was a somewhat formal dinner in the Cortlandts’ new home, at which there were a dozen guests; so Kirk had no opportunity of speaking with his hostess until they had reached the theatre, where he found himself seated immediately behind her.