Evidently the artless effrontery of the young man had not offended, for his neighbor talked freely, and in a short time the two were conversing as easily as old acquaintances. This was due, perhaps, to the fact that he had appealed to her with the same frankness he would have used toward a man and, thus far at least, had quite ignored her sex. She was sufficiently quick to appreciate the footing thus established, and allowed herself to meet him half-way. Had he presumed in the slightest, she would have chilled him instantly; but, as it was, she seemed to feel the innate courtesy back of his boldness, seeing in him only a big, unaffected boy who needed an outlet for his feelings. In the same way, had a fine St. Bernard dog thrust a friendly head beneath her hand she would have petted it.
When at last she rose, after an hour that had swiftly sped, she was gratified at the look of concern that came into his eyes. She looked at him with genuine approval as he bowed and said:
“Thank you for the pointers about Panama. I hope I may have the pleasure of talking to you again.”
When she had disappeared he murmured, admiringly:
“Jove! She’s a corker! And she’s not so old, after all. I wonder who she—” He leaned over and read the card on the back of her steamer chair. “Mrs. Stephen Cortlandt, Suite B,” it was lettered. Straightening up, he grumbled with genuine disappointment: “Just my blamed luck! She’s married.”
A REMEDY IS PROPOSED
By pledging his one article of jewelry Kirk became possessed that afternoon of several shirts, collars, and handkerchiefs—likewise a razor, over which he exercised a sort of leasehold privilege. The purser made it plain, however, that he had not sold these articles, but merely loaned them, holding the ring as security for their return, and this arrangement allowed Kirk no spare cash whatever. Even with all his necessities paid for, it surprised him to find how many channels remained for spending money. For instance, the most agreeable loafing spot on the ship was the smoking-room, but whenever he entered it he was invited to drink, smoke, or play cards, and as he was fond of all these diversions, it required such an effort of will to refuse that it destroyed all the pleasure of good company. It was very hard always to be saying no; and in addition it excited his disgust to learn that he had inadvertently founded a reputation for abstemiousness.
Before long he discovered that the passengers considered him an exceptionally sober, steady youth of economical habits, and this enraged him beyond measure. Every tinkle of ice or hiss of seltzer made his mouth water, the click of poker chips drew him with magnetic power. He longed mightily to “break over” and have a good time. It was his first effort at self-restraint, and the warfare became so intense that he finally gave up the smoking-room almost entirely, and spent his hours on deck, away from temptation. He suffered most, perhaps, from the lack of tobacco, but even in the matter of cigarettes he could not bring himself to accept favors that he could not return. In the solitude of his richly appointed suite he collected a few cork-bound stumps, which he impaled on a toothpick in order to light them.