“Well, hardly!” Then, as their prospective guest moved off, “What a strange remark!”
“Yes,” said Runnels, “he’s a queer fellow; but then, you know, he’s about as emotional as a toad.”
Kirk had no further chance of speaking with his wife, for after the dance she was whisked away, leaving him nothing but the memory of an adoring, blissful glance as she passed. With Runnels and Cortlandt and the rest, he was driven to the Hotel Central, where they found a very attractive table set in a private dining-room. It was a lively party, and Kirk’s secret elation enabled him to play the part of host with unforced geniality. The others joined him in a hearty effort to show their guest the high regard in which they held him, and if Cortlandt did not enjoy himself, it was entirely his own fault.
Toward Kirk, however, he preserved a peculiar attitude, which only the young man’s self-absorption prevented him from noticing. If he had been less jubilant, he must have felt the unnatural aloofness of the other man’s bearing; but even had he done so, he would doubtless have attributed it to Cortlandt’s well-recognized frigidity.
At the propitious moment, Runnels, who had reluctantly agreed to share the social responsibility, made a little speech, explaining that he and his boys had been sensible from the first of their guest’s interest in them, and were deeply grateful for it. They were all working together, he said, and what helped one helped another. They had banded together, and now tendered him a token of their regard in a form which he could preserve.
“It’s a little late,” he smiled, “in view of the rumor that has been going round within the last day or so, but, no matter what happens to any one of us in the readjustment of our department, we appreciate the help you have given us collectively.”
He handed a handsome loving-cup to Cortlandt, who thanked him appropriately, then waited courteously for the party to break up. But Anthony rose, saying:
“I simply have to say a word on my own account, fellows, for I owe Mr. Cortlandt more than any of you.”
The object of these remarks shot a swift, questioning glance from his stony eyes, and raised a hand as if to check him. But Kirk ran on unheeding:
“I want to thank him before all of you for what he has done for me personally. When I landed in Panama I was a rotter. I’d never worked, and never intended to; I rather despised people who did. I represented the unearned increment. I was broke and friendless, and what ideas I had were all wrong. This is something you don’t know, perhaps, but no sooner had I landed than I got into trouble of the worst sort, and Mr. Cortlandt got me out. He was my bail-bond; he put me up at his hotel; gave me clothes, and paid my way until I got started. I was a stranger, mind you, but he’s been just like one of my own people, and if I ever succeed in doing anything really worth while, it will be due to the start he gave me.”