Meanwhile he amused himself by baiting the purser. He dogged that serious-minded gentleman through all his waking hours, finding a rare delight in playing upon his suspicion and lack of humor. To him Kirk was always Mr. Locke, while he insisted upon being called Mr. Anthony by the others, and the officer never quite got the hang of it. Moreover, the latter was full of dignity, and did not relish being connected with a certainly dubious and possibly criminal character, yet dared not resort to rudeness as a means of riddance.
The situation was trying enough to the young man at best; for the ship’s hirelings began to show a lack of interest in his comfort, once it became known that he did not tip, and he experienced difficulty in obtaining even the customary attentions. It was annoying to one who had never known an unsatisfied whim; but Kirk was of a peculiarly sanguine temperament that required much to ruffle, and looked upon the whole matter as a huge joke. It was this, perhaps, that enabled him to make friends in spite of his unsociable habits, for the men liked him. As for the women, he avoided them religiously, with the exception of Mrs. Cortlandt, whom he saw for an hour or two, morning and afternoon, as well as at meal-times. With her he got on famously, finding her nearly as entertaining as a male chum, though he never quite lost his dislike for her husband. Had she been unmarried and nearer his own age, their daily intimacy might have caused him to become self-conscious, but, under the circumstances, no such thought occurred to him, and he began to look forward with pleasure to their hours on deck.
The Santa Cruz was four days out before Cortlandt joined them, and when he did he merely nodded casually to Kirk, then, after exchanging a polite word or two with his wife, lapsed into his customary silence, while Mrs. Cortlandt continued her conversation without a second glance in her husband’s direction.
“That’s what I call an ideal married couple,” Kirk reflected— “complete understanding, absolute confidence.” And the more he saw of them, the stronger this impression grew. Cortlandt was always attentive and courteous, without being demonstrative, while his wife showed a charming graciousness that was plainly unassumed. Their perfect good-breeding made the young man feel at ease; but though he endeavored to cultivate the husband on several occasions, he made little headway. The man evidently possessed a wide knowledge of current events, a keen understanding of men and things, yet he never opened up. He listened, smiled, spoke rarely, and continued to spend nine-tenths of his time in that isolated corner of the smoking-room, with no other company than a long glass and a siphon.
One day when Kirk had begun to feel that his acquaintance with Mrs. Cortlandt was well established, he said to her:
“Stein told me to-day that your husband is in the diplomatic service.”