The Best Friend

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THE BEST FRIEND
The Rôle Which Was Cast for the Hotel Guest, and the Part He Finally Played

By ARTHUR STANWOOD PIER

AT HALF-PAST four o'clock the Junction was about to undergo its brief daily stir of life. The smoke from the locomotive on the branch road was to be seen ascending from beyond the sand-hills of the desert; in another moment the train would emerge. The station agent appeared on the platform; a hundred yards away, on the hotel veranda, stood Carrick, the hotel-keeper, his daughter Caroline, and the Chinese boy who bellied in the kitchen.

From the train, when it had pulled in, alighted some thirty persons, mostly men. They took their way across the glaring, sandy stretch to the hotel.

They were dusty and tanned, they wore felt hats and soft shirts; they were just such people as Carrick's daughter had been accustomed to welcome every day at this hour and to bid farewell to the next morning. She looked at them without interest and without animosity. Her father, who was still new to the duties of host, greeted them with nervous hospitality. "This way, gentlemen; this way, please," and with a little cough, which was weary rather than important, he went inside and, standing behind his desk, pushed forward the hotel register.

 

HIS daughter Caroline stood by with the keys and assigned the guests to their rooms. She was tall and slender, young and picturesque, in her felt hat and khaki skirt with the Mexican red sash. One of the men stood by the door watching her while she dealt out the keys. She turned to him at last.

"Here's yours," she said. "Eighteen is the last room on the right—through that door."

The man looked at her oddly and seemed in no haste to take the key. Caroline narrowed her eyes; his look disquieted and displeased her. Yet the man was handsome—tall, lithe, with black hair, straight and unstreaked by gray, long black eyelashes and a straight black mustache; his nose, his mouth, his chin were of a fineness rather remarkable in that region. As he walked away Caroline watched him with a certain admiration for his bearing and figure; she turned to the register and read his name—David Temple. Then he passed out of her mind. She had her tasks in the kitchen and dining-room, and did not see him again until supper.

He sat facing her at the table, and he looked at her somewhat wistfully. But only half an hour before, the train from Los Angeles had brought her a letter which had rendered her unconscious of observers, pleasantly preoccupied. The happy light in her eyes, the quiet contentment of her lips, which intimated now and then abstractedly the beginnings of a dreamy smile, made her still more charming to the man.

The flies thrummed on the window-screens, the unshaded kerosene lamps glowed hot from their brackets against the brown pine walls, the old-fashioned fly-fans rotated lumberingly above the long tables. Most of the men had taken off their coats and hung them over the hacks of their chairs; they sat in their shirt-sleeves with colored garters about their arms; most of them had their napkins tucked in at their necks and utilized them at intervals to mop their perspiring faces.

On all sides talk was of the Valley, from which the men had come—sanguine talk about its wonderful fertility, its crops. What one man had made in onions, another in asparagus, a third in cantaloups; what land would be selling for in two or three years when its adaptability for oranges had been fully demonstrated—these were themes discussed in eager voices. It was the sort of talk, the same excited, confident, prophetic talk which Caroline had heard daily for six months; every one who passed through the Junction seemed to have perfect assurance that wealth was ahead of him. For the first month it had interested and amused Caroline, then it had embittered her. She and her father had no bright prospects in this new country.

After supper she seated herself at the writing-table in the office and proceeded to answer the letter which the afternoon train had brought. The travelers, who preserved their farm habits, came in early from the porch and passed through on their way to bed. Only David Temple sat in the room and read a newspaper. Carrick himself lay in his hammock at the end of the veranda, coughing querulously from time to time.

Caroline finished her letter and dropped it in the mail-bag by the door. When she turned she was aware that for some time Temple's eyes had been upon her.

He rose from his chair. "It's nearly a year since I was last out," he said. "You weren't here then."

"No. We came six months ago."

"Lonely place for a girl."

If he was undertaking to be compassionate she resented it.

"I like it best when it's lonely," she said.

Temple's eyes twinkled. "There's a full moon to-night," he observed. "It hasn't come up yet. Don't you want to sit on the porch with me and watch it rise?"

 

SHE looked at him doubtfully. Then in spite of her resentment, in spite, too, of the letter which she had just answered, the twinkle in his eyes and the charm of his slow, gentle voice prevailed. And, having yielded so far, and sitting on the veranda by his side, she was induced to show some interest in the guest.

"You live in the Valley, I suppose," she said.

"Yes. I'm out for a vacation. I sold a dozen car-loads of hogs last week, and my place can do without me now for a while."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know. I got to dreaming about the big city—electric lights, crowds on the sidewalk, automobiles, theaters, cafés where there's real food—I thought I might even make for San Francisco."

"I never was in the Valley but once," said Caroline. "I thought it was pretty and green—all the nice smooth alfalfa fields, and the horses in the pastures, and the cows. Not like this desert a bit. I hate it here."

"The Valley was like this when I first went to it," replied Temple. "Maybe they'll get irrigation over here some time. Then you'll like it better."

"I don't mean to wait for that I shan't stay here much longer."

 

HE LOOKED at her curiously, and she expected him to follow up her statement with some questioning. It piqued her when he said: "Well, there are no more wonderful nights anywhere than here. If you have stars every night you don't so much need people."

"Yes, the stars are a comfort," she acquiesced; but whereas she had a moment before resented compassion in his tone, she now was hurt by the lack of it. She could not refrain from adding: "Just the same, a person must have people. I see enough of men—too much—but girls!"

"They are quite a luxury down here," admitted Temple. "That's one reason why I wanted to take a holiday and go off. I hoped I might see some girls. I hadn't expected to succeed so soon.—Tell me, why did you stop here? Why didn't you come down into the Valley?"

"We hadn't any choice about it. My father had come to Los Angeles for his health. He was an accountant; a friend of his got him a place in a railway office. But he couldn't stand the work or the climate; the doctor told him he ought to go to a drier place and recommended the desert. Well, even on the desert it costs something to live, and it's not easy to find an occupation. The railway owns this hotel, and I guess nobody wants to stay here long. Anyway, my father was offered the place. We were glad enough, and we came. We neither of us knew much about keeping a hotel. I've done the best I could."

"It's a pity that you couldn't have come down into the Valley. The climate is just as dry and the surroundings there would have contented you and him better."

"At one time we should have liked it if there had been any opportunity. But just now we have something else in view."

"Something that will take you away from here?"

"Yes."

She volunteered nothing further. Temple waited a moment and then said:

"Well, if your father ever should think of coming to the Valley, I might help him. I have something to do with the Valley Bank, and if he's an accountant, I might find a place for him."

"That's kind of you. Perhaps this other thing—perhaps anyway—" She stopped, seeming confused.

"I'll find out when I go back to the Valley," he assured her. "It's not so bad down there. Eight months in the year the climate is fine. It's a picturesque spot, for anybody that likes outdoor life. And the quality of the society is improving and will go on improving. If one is reasonably prosperous, so that one can get away for three or four months every year—why, I think it's a pretty good place to have as one's home."

"I should think so," assented Caroline without enthusiasm. "Better anyhow than this." She rose. "My duties begin pretty early in the morning, so I'll say good night. I suppose you know the Los Angeles train leaves here at nine o'clock."

"I know," said Temple. "I'll be up in time."

The next morning Temple finished his breakfast before any of the other guests. When he went into the office Caroline was there, making out the accounts. He strolled over to the station; it was half an hour before the train was due. He picked out his trunk, loaded it on a truck which he borrowed from the station agent, and trundled it to the hotel.

 

WHEN he entered the office, trundling his trunk before him, Caroline looked up, startled; she flushed and dropped her eyes. Temple wheeled the trunk down the corridor to his room.

Afterward, while the guests of the hotel were assembling in the office and settling their accounts, Temple sat on the veranda. From that position he watched the departure of the travelers. When they had all gathered on the platform of the station and the train was coming in, Carrick approached Temple.

"Train stops only a minute," he warned him. "So you'd better be moving over."

"I'm not going on this train," Temple replied. "I like it here. Guess I'll stay a while."

Carrick looked surprised, but his instinct of hospitality overcame his wonder. "I'm glad to hear it," he said. "But you'll tire of it soon." A few minutes later, after the train had pulled out, Temple saw him consulting his daughter in the office. Presently out came Caroline.

"My father thinks that we can give you a better room—one that is larger and cooler," she said. Of course if we had realized when you arrived that you meant to stay longer than the others, we should have assigned it to you."

"I didn't mean to stay longer then," replied Temple. "The fancy just took me."

He looked at her with inviting, dancing eyes; he was in high spirits. But she responded with no smile; her gray eyes were shadowed and troubled.

"As soon as I get the rooms made up, I will see that you are moved," she said, and went away.

Temple sat on the veranda and smoked, and expected that Carrick would come to him. But the old man ambled over to the station and presently returned with a bundle of newspapers and letters. With these he retired to the farther corner of the veranda, and soon was immersed in the newspapers, oblivious alike of his guest and of all the immediate world of sand, heat, and desolation. Temple watched him with amused and sympathetic eyes.

"Busted old duck," ran his inward commentary. "Not a thing to interest him but his habits and his newspapers—not even the stranger on his porch!"

Temple remembered after a while that he had a book in his trunk and went for it. As he passed along the corridor he saw Caroline in one of the rooms making the bed. He stopped in the doorway and said:

"I've kept house all by myself at various times. Let me fix up a few of the rooms. Where do I get the clean sheets?"

"I've done everything; I'm just finishing."

"To-morrow I'll do my share. I can't sit round here idle."

"I know you can't; you won't be here to-morrow."

"What makes you think that?"

"Oh, I just think it. There's nothing here to hold you—or interest you—or attract you."

"That's what everybody thinks who's become bored by a place."

"You will find it out very soon. To-day." She spoke with a certain depressing and ominous finality. "Now I have things to do in the kitchen. You couldn't be of any help there—only in the way."

"Are you going to be busy all the time?"

"No. I'm hurrying with my work—so that I can talk with you."

"Oh," said Temple, "good for you!" and he passed on to his room, trying to feel pleased, but somehow not succeeding, for the flattery of her remark had been annulled by the gravity of her face.

 

HE HAD been reading on the veranda for half an hour when she came to him. At the other end her father was still poring over his newspapers.

"I wonder how he'll run the hotel for the week after I'm gone!" she said. "He'll have a week of it all by himself before the new manager comes."

"You're going away soon?"

"Next week. I'm going to be married and live in Los Angeles."

Temple looked at her in silence. His expression was unmoved, but he felt choked and stung and savage. He mastered himself and said quietly:

"Who is the man?"

The directness and the quiet of the question were an open acknowledgment of what she already knew. She answered with constraint:

"His name is John Gunter. I knew him when we lived in Los Angeles. He lived at the same boarding-house with us." He is in the real estate business. I—I don't know—what else shall I tell you?"

She raised her eyes appealingly, and the look in them made his pain more poignant, for it made his love greater and more a thing of the spirit.

"I guess there's nothing else," he said. "There's nothing but for me to wish you happiness."

"I suppose I should have told you last night," she exclaimed. "I did love talking with you—and I thought maybe if you knew about me you wouldn't take any interest in talking to me."

 

TEMPLE smiled and then his eyes grew grave.

"It's queer you should have loved talking to me if your mind was filled with thoughts of another man.

"I know it's queer," she acknowledged. "I don't understand myself sometimes. There's nobody that I could ever love the way I do John. But somehow now and then it's good to talk with people—and I just felt it was good to talk with you. In a way I wanted to talk with you about John—and yet I didn't, because I felt that the moment you knew about him you wouldn't take an interest any more."

"I guess you're just a complete little woman," sighed Temple.

"I'd like—I wish I dared to ask you something," said Caroline.

"Please do."

"I'd like you to be my best friend. I've been so lonely here. I haven't any friends within miles! And you like to have friends near when you're happy, as much as when you're sad, don't you?"

"I can imagine it."

"You came just when I was in a lonely mood; you talked to me and were nice; I liked you. I wished right off that I could have just such a man as you for my best friend. I do wish you might be that."

"As we're not likely ever to meet again, that would be difficult," remarked Temple, unenthusiastically. "Still, while I'm here—if there's any part for a best friend, I'd be glad to fill it temporarily."

"Somehow that isn't a bit a friendly way of talking."

"Well—tell me what a best friend can do."

She hesitated and then said: "I wish that you'd just happen to be coming back here a week from to-morrow."

"Why?"

"Because that's the day I'm to be married. And I'd like to feel that my best friend was at my wedding."

"If you want me to be there, I'll come."

"Oh, no," she cried immediately, "I wouldn't think if letting you. It would be breaking up your vacation, spoiling it right in the middle. I couldn't be so selfish."

"If you like to have me here, I'll do what I decided last night to do. I'll stay on; if you want me, I'll stay for the wedding."

"You really want to stay?"

"Yes."

"Then I wasn't mistaken; I did feel so sure that you could he my best friend! And, oh," she carolled in in a gay little rippling voice that caught his heart up and caressed it, "you'll be one that won't just forget and be forgotten. You and I can come to know each other so well in a week here! And staying for the wedding, you'll come to know John—and that will make it so much surer—our friendship! You'll be his friend as well as mine; you'll come and visit us some time when we have a house with a spare room—and maybe, if you're kind and invite us, we'll come some time come and visit you on your ranch!"

"You shall have a standing invitation to do that."

She leaned back in her chair, put her hands behind her head and rocked contentedly.

"The one forlorn thing about my marriage would have been that there wasn't a soul to come to it. I wasn't long enough in Los Angeles to make any intimate friends. But now that you're here, it will be so different!"

"I'm rather surprised you choose to be married here," said Temple.

"It isn't altogether a matter of choice. If I were to be married in Los Angeles, it would mean at least two whole days for father away from the hotel, and here's nobody that he can leave in charge. I was wrong, too, in saying that I hadn't friend in Los Angeles who would come to the wedding; I left out the clergyman who's to marry us. I sang in the choir at his church for a year."

"I suppose that Mr. Gunter has friends who will come?"

"No. He hasn't been in Los Angeles very long either. He has no near relatives living. He's even more alone in the world than I am. I think that's rather pleasant for two persons who are about to be married, don't you?"

"I suppose it gives them more time for each other," conceded Temple. "You're sure then that you want a best friend?"

"Oh, yes, indeed—just one! And you'll do for both of us, won't you? John will be so glad to have one, too. And you'll like John."

 

AT THIS point old Mr. Carrick, who had put away his spectacles and his newspapers, approached. It soon appeared that about his guest's movements he had no curiosity, but that he was hopefully concerned about his tastes—and upon satisfying himself that Temple was a man of some reading, Carrick edged his daughter quite out of the conversation.

"Perhaps you have some books with you?" the old man queried wistfully. "I feel the lack of a library here."

His eyes sparkled when David placed before him "The Ring and the Book," "Les Misérables," and "Tristram Shandy." He chose "Les Misérables."

"I have always wanted to read this novel," he said. He sighed a little as he surveyed the five volumes. 'I'm afraid you won't be here long enough for me to finish it."

"I expect to stay a week," Temple answered.

"Mr. Temple is to be here for my wedding," said Caroline.

"Ah!" said the old man. "Good! Good! I can easily finish this book in a week."

That he might lose no time he retired with it at once to his corner. And never, through the week that followed, did he question Temple as to the causes for his prolonged stay or his interest in being present at the wedding. Possibly he made some inquiry of his daughter; Temple assumed that this must be the case. He talked rather unwillingly of his own experiences; Temple in his efforts to ascertain the old man's qualifications as an accountant succeeded mainly in deriving an idea of his feeble and half extinct ambitions. He learned that Mr. Carrick had read law; that he was a justice of the peace; and that he had written poetry; he was asked to examine some of the poems. They were transcribed clearly in three large note-books and were fluent and gentle and commonplace.

To Temple the days as they passed were oddly compounded of wretched and of happy hours. There were times when the desolation about him seemed no greater than the desolation in his heart; and there were times when, all alone with Caroline, he missed nothing, longed for nothing—finding her complete.

 

AT SUNSET they took walks together toward the mountains, on the west; in the mornings and afternoons, when the girl's work was done, they would sit together on the veranda and talk or read. They read to each other from "The King and the Book"—Giuseppe Caponsacchi and Pompilia—Temple chose those narratives. Caroline loved Caponsacchi, her heart was wrung over Pompilia; but when together they dipped into the other parts of the poem, she lost interest and patience and sighed for something else. "When you know the truth of a thing, that's all you want to know about it," she declared. She asked if Temple hadn't any more books with him. He had only "Les Misérables" and "Tristram Shandy." "Les Misérables" looked too long. "Read to me out of the other; the name sounds comical," she suggested.

"I don't believe it's just the book for a man to read to a girl," replied Temple. "It's rather coarse in its humor."

"You don't like to read coarse books, do you?"

"Sometimes," he acknowledged. "Yes, if they're sound in their human nature I quite enjoy them."

Her eyes were reproachful. "You're too nice for that. I know I shouldn't like my husband to enjoy reading anything that he wouldn't enjoy reading to me."

Temple suddenly reached over and caught her hands tightly. "Will you let me be your husband?" She was too startled, too frightened to struggle, and for a moment she sat still, looking at him with wide eyes. In that moment he declared himself with broken passionate rapidity—"I love you— and you must not make a mistake. I don't know the man you've promised to marry, and because I don't it's fair for me to speak. I don't believe that you can be with any other man the comrade that you know now you can be with me. I don't believe any other man ever can love you as I do. If you feel that—don't let yourself be bound—break it all off—come to me!"

His face was close to hers, the face of an ardent lover with flashing, summoning eyes. Caroline cast a frightened glance at her father, who sat at the farther end of the veranda, absorbed in his book. Her face flushed suddenly, and she drew her hands away.

"You have no right to talk like that," she said. "You are very presumptuous to question my love. You don't know Mr. Gunter—so you can't possibly know how much he means to me. I think you are very conceited to imagine you would make a better husband."

"I know mighty well I would if he finds nothing amusing in eighteenth century humor," declared Temple, relaxing suddenly from his passionate tenseness.

"I'm afraid you have a horrid side. I never believed it of you before."

"Perhaps you were too hasty then in your choice of a best friend?"

"I don't know. You do disappoint me."

She rose and went into the house. Temple chewed a cigar wrathfully, cocked his feet up on the veranda rail, and pulled his hat down over his eyes. It was a silly little quarrel—too puerile!

He sat planning and brooding for half an hour. The plans seemed to end with Los Angeles and champagne; they were disgustingly barren and inadequate; on the whole, he had a better time merely brooding. And while he was doing that, there was a step on the veranda; turning his head, he saw Caroline emerging. She bore a tray on which were a pitcher and glasses. She went first to her father, but he rejected the offering.

Then she approached Temple with a propitiatory smile.

"I don't care if the guests do have soft butter to-night," she said. "The only thing I could think of to show you I was sorry was to make you some iced tea. Do you like iced tea?"

"It's not half so cold as some other things you've passed me." He smiled at her. "I'll try to be a fit person for bridesmaid. I won't look at 'Tristram Shandy'—till after the wedding."

"Ah," she pleaded, "I was silly; don't I know you're a nice person—don't I know I can trust you! And I'll tell you a secret; I don't think you're conceited at all! So please forgive mi—and be what you promised—our best friend!"

Indeed, their friendship seemed the better for their quarrel.

"It's mighty pleasant to know a girl as intimately as I know you," Temple said one day toward the end of the week. "I never did before. And you know, something seems queer about it."

"What is that?" asked Caroline.

"Why, that you can know one man so intimately and yet love and marry another."

"Yes," Caroline admitted. "It seems queer to me sometimes."

"This other fellow—I don't make out from the little that you tell me what sort he is. What do you have in common anyway? Does he like to read and talk about what he reads?"

"He looks at a magazine now and then," said Caroline rather grudgingly. "Besides," she added, "he hasn't much time for—for such things. He's ambitious. He's a clever, energetic business man."

"Can't you tell me more than that about him?"

"He's kind and generous."

"What does he look like?"

"He—he's rather stout." She grew constrained. "He's not exactly handsome."

"I'd like to see a photograph of him. I suppose you have one."

"Yes. But I can't show it to you."

"Does he write nice letters?"

"He writes quite often." She turned away her face; he suspected tears in her eyes.

"Why don't you tell me I'm impertinent?" he asked softly. "I'm sure that if you really love him, Caroline, he must be worthy and he'll make you happy. If—you're sure!"

"I—I don't feel sure of anything any more." She turned on him desperate, beseeching eyes. "Living out here all alone—and you come and cast doubts into my mind—and I lose all sense of balance—oh, it isn't fair of you, and I wish he were here, I wish he were here!"

She put her face down on her arms and sobbed.

 

TEMPLE looked at her ruefully. He reached over and put his hand on her shoulder.

"Tell me I'm a low-lived scut," he said. "That's what I am. Now you sit up and dry your eyes, Caroline. I'm going to do the thing that a best friend surely ought to do. I'm going over to Los Angeles to-morrow morning to buy you a wedding present. And I won't come back until the afternoon before the wedding. So that will give you time to get your bearings again. I'm sorry. The devil does hold forth in me sometimes."

She dried her eyes and said plaintively: "Somehow I don't want you to go."

"You're a sweet, dependent little kid—and a complete little woman," sighed Temple. "I don't understand this game at all."

In Los Angeles he spent more money than he had thought of spending in his whole vacation. He purchased a mahogany table and sideboard and chairs for the dining-room and a damask-upholstered set of furniture for the parlor and a rug and a Florentine mirror for the hall; and he arranged to have his purchases delivered at an address which he would some time later supply.

He returned to the Junction the day before that set for the wedding. On the train he looked for some one who might resemble a bridegroom, but found none such; and he was the only person to alight at the Junction.

Caroline told him that her betrothed had had to delay his arrival until the wedding day. He had written to her that he was closing up an important business transaction, and that he would come on the same train with the clergyman. She seemed to Temple subdued and forlorn; and that evening as they sat together on the veranda, he thought he might cheer her up, and said:

"My feelings are rather hurt. You haven't asked me about your wedding-present yet."

"Oh, no!" She suddenly became child-like again—all eagerness. "Will you let me see it—now? Oh, please!"

"I can't. I haven't it with me. It was too big to carry."

When she next spoke it was as if she were speaking to herself.

"I wonder," she said, "if every girl is frightened the day before she is to be married?"

"Are you frightened?"

"I can't help it. I know I ought to be happy, but underneath there's a strange dread—"

"It will all vanish the moment your eyes rest on the man."

"Of course!" She looked at him gratefully, comforted.

 

THE next day at noon Caroline went over to the station to await the arrival of the train from Los Angeles. David Temple had chosen to withdraw himself.

From his room he heard the train arrive and depart. He waited for what seemed a decent interval; then he went out upon the veranda just as Caroline and Mr. Gunter and the clergyman were coming up the steps. He stood in the background while Caroline's father welcomed the bridegroom and the clergyman. Gunter was a portly young man with a pallid complexion, a loose, flabby mouth, and fat, pendulous jowls; he wore a flashy green suit and a purple knitted necktie; his teeth were bad and his voice was noisy.

"Hello, Mr. Carrick! Glad to see you: you're acquainted with Dr. Grant, of course." And he drew the clergyman, an elderly, meek-looking little man, forward by the arm. "Kind of a sad-looking place for a wedding," he continued in his loud, talkative tone. "Oh, well, Carrie and I don't mind. We'll cheer up the solitudes and give the hotel folks a good time." This last he vociferated with his eyes upon Temple.

"There are no hotel guests just now, John," said Caroline; and at the sound of her voice, so cold and quiet, Temple, who had been studying the bridegroom, looked at her. In her eyes, fixed upon him, he read a tragic confession and appeal. "There is only Mr. Temple, who is a friend of mine from the Valley."

David came forward; Gunter greeted him warmly. "Pleased to meet you—glad you could be on hand—didn't know Carrie had any friends in this part of the world." Then he nudged Temple and added in an aside audible to Caroline: "Say, I've got a couple of bottles of fizz in my bag; I thought there'd be only the old gents to drink with, but you and I will have a little celebration by ourselves. Eh, what?"

"I shall be very glad to drink the bride's health," replied Temple.

Gunter looked at his watch. "Twelve o'clock, and the Eastbound Limited is due at three," be said. "Let's get ready, Carrie, and be spliced right off, and then we'll eat, drink, and be merry."

There was a moment's silence. Caroline, who had been very pale, suddenly flushed crimson. "I must have a talk with you, John," she said. "All alone."

David Temple retired again to his room. From his window, which was at one end of the long veranda, he could see Caroline and Gunter sitting together in the chairs which he and Caroline had so often occupied; and there was no one else in sight. He could not have heard anything they said; it seemed scarcely honorable for him even to look. He read page after page of "Tristram Shandy" without understanding a word. At last he looked at his watch; it was a quarter of one. Then he glanced again out of the window. Caroline was not there; Gunter was sitting all alone, with his chin on his hand.

Temple felt an unexpected pity for the man whom he had disliked and despised. Poor stupid oaf, no doubt he had loved the girl. Temple pitied him for that one moment, and then his own happiness rose and buoyed up his heart.

 

GUNTER left his chair and approached the window, pacing idly. When he came near, he caught sight of Temple and stopped. The eyes of the two men met; Gunter turned, walked to the door of the hotel, and entered. Temple heard him coming down the corridor toward his room.

"Has he a gun?" wondered Temple; and he stood facing the open door, ready to spring at the first hostile demonstration. But when he saw Gunter's face he knew he had nothing to fear.

"So you're the fellow that's put me on the bum," said Gunter, and he looked at Temple with a gaze in which there was more wistful interest than animosity. "I've got more reasonable," he continued after a moment in a subdued voice. "For a while back there I was seeing red, but what's the use? I've been afraid all along she was too classy for me. I'm just a common kind of a mut. I never matched up with her on language or reading matter or none of those things. I liked to give her presents, and I guess she, being kind of hard up, found it easy to feel she could care for me and put a veneer on me some time—a heap easier to think that than to do it. Especially when she wasn't seeing me. But I knew when I got off the train and she wouldn't let me kiss her that something was wrong. Well, she's told me. You're all the candy. I showed her the yellow in me; I said she'd have to marry me now; how was I to go back and face the boys if she didn't? You see, I'd talked it up big, about my getting married and what a peach I'd pinched, and all that. And she said she was glad I'd made that remark to her because it showed her it was mostly just pride on my part and I didn't really much care for her, and so she wouldn't feel badly about breaking off the affair."

He paused a moment and wiped the perspiration from his brow.

"Then I tried to convince her there was more to it than that, but she wouldn't listen. But just at the last she said she'd treated me cruelly, and she would always be ashamed of herself for it and sorry, and she hoped I'd some time forgive her; and then all of a sudden she jumped up and ran away. And I knew then it was all over—and I guess maybe she knew I loved her some even if I had shown her the yellow in me.

"Well, now, Mr. Temple, you can help me out. I want to show her there's some white in me. It's a fact, I don't wish her any ill luck because she's turned me down. I know—she just couldn't swallow me at the last—and I've always had a kind of a hunch that it might be so. But I want her to be happy and have what she wants—and, hell, Mr. Temple, you can see for yourself this is no place for a girl—no, not for a dog. Do you get what I'm driving at?"

"Not exactly," replied Temple.

"Why, here the clergyman and I are hung up until to-morrow morning before we can get a train back to Los Angeles. Now she wouldn't want to marry you right off to-day in my presence, because she thinks it would be hurting me. But the clergyman's here, and her father is a justice of the peace and can fix up a license for you—and this is a hell of a hole, Mr. Temple. So I say—you put it to her this way; that I've come to you and it's all right, and I'll dance at your wedding if she wants it, and there's a couple of bottles of fizz that will help to put me in good spirits.—I don't know," he added, with a strain of melancholy in his voice. "Maybe she'll just think that it show another streak of yellow in me, and that I'd be more of a man if I went for you with a gun. But anyhow this is the way I feel about it, Mr. Temple—and you tell her so with my compliments."

"I will," said Temple, "right now. And some time I hope you'll find a girl, Mr. Gunter, who won't worry too much about the veneer."

 

AN HOUR later Caroline in a white muslin dress and David Temple in a much-creased blue suit stood before the clergyman, and were made man and wife.

And when the ceremony was over, Mrs. Temple, before she kissed her husband, before she kissed her father, put her hands on John Gunter's shoulders and said:

"John, dear, I like you better than I ever did, even when I thought I loved you most—and you must promise always to be our very best friend."

Then she kissed him on the lips, and Gunter grinned and said: "Sure!" and David Temple, remembering the part for which he had originally been cast, smiled and was silent.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1966, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.