The Sardonic Adventure of Simeon Small
The Sardonic Adventure of Simeon Small
I GAVE the matter my closest consideration, and came to the conclusion that it would be eminently fitting for me to marry Katherine Wight. Having reached a decision, I did not shilly-shally about the affair, but resolved at once to enter upon the courtship. The sooner I began courting, the sooner it would be over, I thought, and immediately put on my hat to go to call on Katherine. I may have my faults, but, thank Heaven, irresolution is not one of them.
I walked briskly, breathing deeply and expelling the breath every fourth step, thus refreshing the lower lung, and came in a few minutes to the entrance to the Wight grounds. As I passed through the gate I observed Katherine's brother Stephen—or Steve, as he seems, peculiarly enough, to prefer to be designated—playing at the game of lawn-tennis with another young man whom I did not recognize. I paused briefly to observe the game—not that I understand its complexities or am interested in it to the smallest degree. It was a mere surrender to common curiosity.
I watched the young men striking eagerly at a tiny ball, and was not a little surprised to note that they were equally discourteous. Instead of trying to hit the little ball near his opponent, thus saving him useless exertion in running about, each endeavored to put it wholly out of reach of the other's hitter—racket, do they call it? The strange young man showed more ability at the game than Stephen; in fact, he played so well that he reminded me of the rebuke bestowed by Mr. Herbert Spencer on the young man who was extremely proficient at the game of billiards; it was something to the effect that reasonable skill at the game was a credit to a gentleman, but that such expertness betokened a misspent life. Mr. Spencer was a close observer. I am certain the strange young man must have spent a great many hours at the game of tennis which would have been more profitably devoted to something of a serious nature.
I proceeded up the walk, and, fortunately, discovered Katherine sitting under a sort of pergola—a modified form—reading a little book. This book, I subsequently discovered, was Maeterlinck's essay on Death. What more charming picture could one ask to see? I admit that my pulse beat above the normal. I could not discover the number of beats to the minute, though I did place my fingers on my left wrist in an endeavor to count. It would have been interesting data.
Though I am twenty-nine years old, this was my first courtship, and I was rather in doubt how to proceed. I resolved to maintain a perfect calm and study the matter out as I proceeded. I therefore advanced resolutely.
"Good afternoon, Katherine," I said, steadily.
She glanced up from her book and smiled. "Why, Simeon!" she exclaimed. This is a surprise.
"I trust," said I, advancing boldly with my project, "that it is a pleasant surprise." I accentuated the word pleasant significantly, and watched to see if she would blush. That, I am told, is a signal that a courtship is proceeding satisfactorily. She did not blush, however, and I was a trifle nonplussed.
"What are you reading, if I may ask?"
"Maeterlinck's essay on Death.... Don't you think it is perfectly lovely?"
"I must confess I had not applied that precise adjective to it, Katherine. Indeed, while it is interesting in a lighter way, abstract speculation does not appeal to me deeply. The writings of Mr. Herbert Spencer, dealing as they do mainly with facts, impress me as much more valuable. Still, I am prepared to admit, you ladies are fairly entitled to the relaxation of lighter reading."
I was surprised to note how free from embarrassment I was. I wonder if Katherine noticed it. However, at that time, she could not have been aware of my purpose in calling, though the fact that I came early in the afternoon should have apprised her that something unusual had caused me to turn aside from my regular habit, which is to remain in my library until fifteen minutes past four.
"I am delighted," I told her, "to observe that you do not read those ridiculous novels which are so vulgarly popular."
She appeared to appreciate this compliment. "One's life," said she, "is such a serious matter that one should not waste one's time frivolously. I used to read novels," she confessed, "but—but Maeterlinck is so much lovelier, and I just revel in Ibsen. Do you read Ibsen?"
I nodded appreciatively.
"And I have just finished Sudermann's The Joy of Living. Isn't that the sweetest thing!"
"The German playwrights have seemed to me somewhat morbid, though one must admit their powers of analysis."
The longer I conversed with Katherine the more firmly convinced I became that she was fitted to be my wife. Her calm, serious outlook on life, her manifest interest in the better literature and in philosophy, seemed to promise a delightful companionship. I pictured to myself how I should enjoy introducing her to such writers as Spinoza, and the uplifting discussion that would follow. I am afraid I speculated on these things overlong, for suddenly I became aware that neither of us had spoken for some time. I begged her pardon, but did not disclose the subject-matter of my thoughts.
While I was mentally formulating a remark that would expedite, so to speak, my courtship, Stephen and his friend came hurrying up from the tennis-court. They were scarcely presentable, and seemed overheated and uncomfortable.
"Howdy, Simeon?" said Stephen. He stopped and presented his skilful tennis companion. "Small," said he, poking his finger brusquely at me, "Quaintance," poking his finger at his friend. Stephen was notably careless of social forms. "Scoot for the showers!" he then cried, without giving me an opportunity to acknowledge the introduction or to ask Mr. Quaintance two questions that occurred to me. The first had to do with the trajectory of the tennis-ball in its relation to the elasticity of the strings of the racket; the other was, if his nose was a family characteristic or individual to himself. However, they hurried away, and I was obliged to forego my inquiries.
"Don't you think," asked Katherine, looking after the young men, "that he has a—distinguished appearance?"
I found her question vaguely displeasing to me, but almost instantly I believed I could recognize my sensation as jealousy. This gave me a certain satisfaction, as I understood jealousy to be an important incident to courtship. Though I am not deeply versed in the character and probabilities of women, nevertheless I was not without acumen to perceive in Quaintance a possible rival.
"He is a house guest?" I asked, dissembling my true feeling.
"Yes. He came home with Stephen after graduation, and we hope to keep him a month or more."
"Indeed," said I. I determined to watch Katherine and this young man carefully, and if I should detect evidences of his becoming a rival—something I had carelessly omitted from my calculations—to formulate a plan that would demonstrate my superior fitness to become Katherine's husband.
I remained but a short while longer, because it seemed wise to make brief such a significant call as mine, and to give Katherine an opportunity to consider it and to ponder over the reason for my coming. I desired, however, to go leaving a pleasant impression, and, as I could a not think of an expression that would produce that effect on her mind, I was obliged to stay several minutes longer than I desired. However, inspiration was kind.
"I must go," said I, rising. "Good-by. It has been delightful to me to find you stirred by the psychic rather than by the physical." That, of course, was approaching the warmly sentimental, but she did not seem to be offended at my ardor.
Next after noon, breaking my fixed habit, I used the telephone to inquire if I might take her driving. I used the telephone because I learn that that instrument is much affected by the participants in a courtship. Katherine expressed regret that she had previously engaged herself to golf with Mr. Quaintance. I was agitated by this information, but determined that the young man should not again forestall me. I would be more vigorous and vigilant in my attentions.
Next morning I had my chauffeur drive me to Katherine's as early as propriety would allow, but imagine my discomfiture to learn from Stephen—who seemed disgruntled himself—that his sister and Mr. Quaintance had already gone for a tramp along the river.
"What good's he to me," demanded Stephen, inelegantly, "if he's goin' rampagin' off after a skirt all the time?"
When I returned home, however, I was rejoiced, for my mail brought me notice of an event which would be a rare treat for Katherine. I immediately seated myself and wrote her a note begging her to reserve the following Monday evening for me. She replied by my messenger that she would be delighted. I apprehended she would be, for, playing on the long-recognized feminine quality of curiosity, I had omitted to tell her the character of the event to which I was to escort her.
When I arrived at her home on the stated evening I found her clothed in a dress rather more suitable for a social engagement or dance than for the occasion I had in mind. Her neck and shoulders were not concealed, at which, I must confess, I was not chagrined, for she was exceedingly beautiful, or so it seemed to me.
I helped her into my car with a delicate and solicitous gallantry which I hoped she would perceive and not mistake. Then we were on our way. Our destination was the rooms of the Orthographic Society. As we stepped out, I noted a look of astonishment on Katherine's face, and was gratified.
"What—" she began, but I interrupted.
"Not a word—not a word," said I, playfully. "It is to be a surprise."
We entered the lecture-room and found excellent seats. Katherine was quiet, and it seemed to me her lip was trembling—probably she was striving—and with difficulty—to conceal the pleasure she felt at being admitted to that room where so few women have ever been. I whispered in her ear, exultingly:
"The address this evening is to be by Herr Schellenbarger, of the University of Leipzig, on 'The Wide Differentiation Between Early Cufic Inscriptions and the Undeciphered Sculpture Writings of the Mayan Ruins in Central America."
She gasped. I looked at her closely and could scarcely credit my vision when I perceived that her eyes were actually wet. I had not even hoped to give her pleasure in such a degree. During the reading of Professor Schellenbarger's paper, so engrossed was I that I quite forgot Katherine's presence, but at its completion I glanced at her triumphantly. She did not meet my eyes.
"Is it not remarkable," I asked, "that one man should have collected so much valuable data from the ruined remnants of vanished civilizations?"
"I believe he eats them," she said, in a peculiar tone. I understood this to be a colloquial phrase expressing admiration.
She was thoughtful during our drive home, and though I encouraged her to discuss the paper with me, she seemed disinclined. Doubtless she wished to digest the matter before voicing her opinion. I bade her good night gently and with what I endeavored to make ostentatious reluctance. Her good night was brief; indeed, I may say it was a trifle brusque.
Tuesday afternoon I hastened to call in order to review the pleasure of the evening before. On the piazza were Stephen and Mr. Quaintance. As I came upon them they were laughing uproariously and pummeling each other in the ribs—conduct that was inexplicable to me.
"Good afternoon," I said, interrupting their pastime.
"Whoop!" shouted Stephen. "It's him!" Again they abandoned themselves to paroxysms of mirth.
"I should be glad," said I, severely, "to know what you find so humorous."
Stephen became sober in an instant, no doubt remembering his manners.
"We were laughing at sis," he said.
"At Katherine?" I demanded.
"At Katherine," said Stephen, in a tone that I may be mistaken in believing resembled my own.
"May I inquire why?"
The young men looked at each other again and found difficulty in remaining calm.
"Mistake she made," said Stephen.
"It is not proper to laugh at others' mistakes," I told them. "The effect of ridicule on the erring has been discussed in a paper by Professor Rintoul, who occupies the chair of applied psychology at Oxford University—"
"But this wasn't that sort of a mistake," defended Stephen.
"What kind of mistake is it that can be—"
"Why"—he pressed his hands to his sides as though they were the seat of pain—-"why, she thought you were taking her to the theatricals at the Colonial Club last night—and—and—" Again both young men shouted with laughter. "What was it you took her to, Simeon—eh? Do repeat the title of the lecture."
I saw nothing humorous in Katherine's error—indeed, though I have thought of the incident frequently, I have never been able to understand why it should have provoked the young men to laughter.
"Is Katherine at home?" I asked, stiffly.
"She's holed up in her room and refuses to be coaxed out. Claims it's headache—but it isn't. It's mad!"
"Because you laughed at her?"
Stephen nodded and chuckled.
"It was very inconsiderate of you," I told him, and then asked him to convey to Katherine my regrets that she was ill.
Mr. Quaintance rose and strolled toward the tennis-court, leaving Stephen and myself together. This seemed to me an excellent opportunity to talk to my prospective brother-in-law about the relationship which was soon to exist between us.
"Have you noticed," I asked, "that I have been here frequently of late?"
"Now that you mention it, I do remember something of the sort."
"Has it occurred to you to wonder why?"
He looked at me and grinned—yes, grinned is the word. "It's such hot weather for wondering," he said.
"I have had a purpose."
"That's your specialty, isn't it, Simeon—having purposes?"
"I am courting your sister," I said, firmly.
"No!" he exclaimed. "Is that what you're doing? I imagined you were here studying the conformation of our skulls."
"How," I asked him, "do you regard me as a possible brother-in-law?
"Simeon," said he, and I was surprised to note that his voice trembled with emotion, "nothing in the world could give me more pleasure than to see you courting Katherine."
I shook his hand and went home—with a new estimate of Stephen. I had judged him shallow and flippant, but my error was clear.
The next two weeks were vexatious. Day after day Katherine was occupied or absent from home. No less than nine times did I see her in company with Mr. Quaintance. Each time they were enjoying themselves, which caused me a twinge of what I have come to recognize as jealousy. In those two weeks I was not alone with Katherine once. However, I was not idle. Repeatedly I sent her books, even poems. I sent her Mountfort's delightful brochure on Synonyms and Antonyms of the Polynesians, also Gerald's two-volume History of the Rise and General Adoption of the Letter "J" in Civilized Alphabets. These were not all, but they were the choice of the collection. She thanked me in brief but appreciative notes.
When I heard Katherine's name coupled with Mr. Quaintance's by the gossips on the Country Club veranda it became apparent to me that I must resort to more strenuous methods. I therefore strolled into the woods to seek silence and solitude, the better to formulate a plan that could not fail of success. I found an ideal spot for ratiocination in a glacial ravine, whose floor was densely covered by a luxurious, and there I seated myself, and was soon oblivious to my surroundings as I worked on my problem.
The problem, as I stated it to myself, was as follows: How can I, by single action or by series of acts, demonstrate to Katherine the singular qualities which make me an ideal husband for her, and at the same time make clear to her my superiority, of which I am conscious, over Mr. Quaintance?
The two, I judged, must be coincidental. It was necessary, too, that there should be present something of that element referred to as romance by writers of a certain class of books. Add to this that I must appear in a light at once learned, competent, and heroic, and you will admit the problem of trisecting the angle to be scarcely more abstruse.
I concentrated. The result proved to me that my mind is not of the imaginative type. An hour's study yielded no result. I sat at ease, relaxed, allowed my mind to seek its own channels of thought for a time, determined presently to renew the attack. I considered challenging Mr. Quaintance to a game of chess, that pastime bordering somewhat on his favorite athletics, but on second thought it seemed lacking in the necessary element of romance. You will agree with me that the ordinary game of chess does not abound in romance. I wished in a moment of weakness that I had taken time to read some so-called novels, they dealing, as I understand it, mainly with cryptogrammatical love-affairs, and offering plausible, if not scientific, solutions. But that phase passed rapidly, and I became my true self again. Presently I found myself gazing intently at an outcropping of limestone. I eyed it curiously, rather fancying I could identify it as belonging to the Subcarboniferous period. This naturally carried me to a consideration of caverns, inasmuch as an area of limestone is almost invariably honeycombed with caves large or small. I then recalled hearing of an extensive cavern some fifteen miles away, which I had made a mental note of, with the idea of visiting to make an exhaustive investigation and perhaps write a monograph on the subject. I do not know why or how, but suddenly there appeared to my mental vision an illustration from a story I read when a boy. It pictured a boy bearing a girl in his arms and struggling along through a cave rich in stalactites and stalagmites. I gasped. There was my plan. I would invite Katherine and her brother and Mr. Quaintance and some unimportant young woman to motor to the cave with me. I would allow them to wander within until they became bewildered, lost. Then, calmly and coolly, I would sit down, with paper and pencil and compass, and figure out for them what direction to take and how to effect our exit. I was certain that no instruments would be necessary other than a compass and a pedometer. Of course I would not bring about the rescue until some degree of hardship was imminent, and until the other male members of the party had demonstrated their futility.
I made up my little party, consisting of Katherine, Stephen, Mr. Quaintance, a young woman named Brown, who possessed a temperament that might be described as highly vivacious—and, of course, myself. Saturday morning, not unprovided with luncheon, we drove to the cavern, which, by the way, was known as Hoofer's Hole—a title possessing nothing of poetic descriptiveness.
We lighted candles, and I allowed Mr. Quaintance and Katherine, as well as Stephen and the lively Miss Brown, to precede me. This was a truly Machiavellian manœuver, placing, as it did, the responsibility of guidance on those who took the lead—on Mr. Quaintance, in short. As for me, I kept well to the rear, compass in hand, counting places and jotting down notes on a small pad which I could readily conceal in the palm of my hand.
The cavern was as large and as interesting as I had been led to expect. There were numerous passages and chambers which followed no regular scheme, but on the contrary proceeded in a haphazard manner in all directions, with curves and angles innumerable. I judged it to be an ideal cavern for my purpose, and was accordingly elated.
At the end of half an hour we rested in an oval room—a room particularly interesting because of the curious formations of its stalactites. We seated ourselves to converse briefly.
"Aren't we getting quite a ways from the opening?" Katherine asked. "It would be perfectly terrible to get lost."
I was about to rejoin, but Mr. Quaintance replied before I had formulated my own response—and gave himself over into my hands.
"Not the least danger, Katherine. Just follow your uncle Dudley—your old, dependable uncle Dudley. He'll lead you to the sunlight and the little birdies and the nodding blossoms."
I had not conceived the young man to be possessed of a power of poetic expression such as this, and it rendered him more formidable in my eyes. It is strange how oddly nature sometimes bestows her gifts.
Presently we arose and went on until we came to the brink of a subterranean brook which barred our farther progress.
"I've gone far enough, anyhow," Katherine said.
"Yes," declared Miss Brown, "I think I've absorbed about all the cave my soul requires." She had an odd manner of expression.
"Let's start back, then," said Katherine; "I'm hungry. Come on, Mr. Quaintance; lead the way."
I smiled to myself. Well I knew that we were lost. Well I knew that the devious passages, the abrupt turnings, the numerous, highly similar openings, were such as to make our return impossible without the aid of a guide who knew well the windings of the cave, or of a person such as myself who had prepared for this emergency. So I spoke calmly.
"He cannot lead the way, Katherine. We are lost. Each and every one of us is lost."
"Oh, Mr. Quaintance!" said Katherine, suddenly frightened. "We're not lost! You know the way. Don't you?"
"Hopeful Simeon says I don't. It must be so. I'll bet he never made a mistake in his life."
I ignored this flippancy. "We are lost—utterly lost," I said. Katherine began to cry a little, and her brother put his arm around her. He also tried to put his other arm around Miss Brown, but she eluded him and said she hadn't got to that point yet—he'd have to wait till she was more frightened. Quaintance chuckled, but could see no ground for merriment, especially to him who had, as the others must think, gotten us into our predicament.
"What shall we do?" Katherine said, in a small, trembling voice. Her question was directed to Mr. Quaintance, but I replied:
"I shall take charge, Katherine. We have been led astray carelessly, but you may depend on me. Have patience while I con over a few figures and determine, from data in my hands, certain angles and distances. Then I shall lead you to safety."
"And to dinner," said Miss Brown. "You'll lead us to that too, won't you?"
"And to dinner," I assured her.
While the young men and women sat watching me, with what eagerness I could well imagine—as their safety hung on my calculations—I took my figures and data and soon had them in excellent order. Soon, I say, but that word is used in a comparative sense. To work out the intricate problem before me required time, but not so much time as another—say Mr. Quaintance—would have required. It was, perhaps, an hour. Meantime the others carried on conversation in a futile effort to keep up their courage.
"Now," said I, "I am ready. Follow me.
I may say that they had not waited altogether patiently. Miss Brown had been particularly insistent upon making some sort of a start toward food, but I settled that matter at once and peremptorily. I informed that young lady that the expedition had been sufficiently mishandled, and that hereafter the direction of affairs would remain in the hands of one able to deal with the emergency.
I thought I overheard Mr. Quaintance ask a ridiculous question, one quite without coherence, of Katherine: "What relative will Simeon be to his grandchildren—a grandfather or grandmother?" She giggled in a manner that showed she thought lightly of his intellect.
"Come," I said, getting to my feet. "I shall now lead you to the opening of this cave." You will observe that I made no qualification of my statement. Perhaps this was error.
Consulting my figures and diagrams from time to time, I conducted the party slowly but steadily toward the outer world. I was not frightened, I was not even ruffled, but not so the others, particularly Katherine. As she became fatigued her courage deserted her, and for a time it seemed she would give way to a regrettable attack of nerves. However, she mastered herself admirably, and once again we proceeded.
"Katherine," said I, "you are weary. No doubt you suffer from lack of nourishment. I feel it my duty to carry you; indeed, it will be a pleasure to me."
"What about me?" demanded Miss Brown before Katherine could answer. "You got me into this, too. Are you going to carry both of us?"
I considered her forward, yet courtesy demanded of me that I forbear. "Perhaps," I said, tolerantly, "one of the other gentlemen will carry you."
"Both. Both, by all means," she said.
I turned to Katherine, but, to my astonishment, she declined to be carried, preferring to trudge onward on tired feet. I admired her persistence—doggedness, one might say—but fancied she would welcome my offer later.
After one hour and ten minutes I turned to the young ladies and gentlemen and said—also without qualification: "It is precisely seventy-three paces to the orifice. Thirty-one paces south by east, then forty-two paces in a westerly direction. I am delighted that this mischance has come to so harmless a conclusion." I looked at Mr. Quaintance with significance, desiring to impress the others with the thought that the fault rested on his shoulders.
"Good!" said Miss Brown; "and how many paces to the lunch-basket?"
I did not reply. Carefully I paced thirty-one steps, then turned, expecting to see the light streaming into the opening, but no light was visible. I fancied it hidden by some intervening obstruction. The absence of light gave me no pause whatever. Forty-two more paces I proceeded—and with unexpected abruptness brought up against an impassable wall of stone. Neither to right, left, nor elsewhere was an avenue for farther progress. For an instant I did not realize the depth of our misfortune; then the utter horror of it fell upon me and I reeled. I repeat, I reeled. We were lost; our predicament was beyond repair. Somewhere I had erred. All was lost. I did my utmost to maintain a bold front.
"My friends," I said, "I am deeply sorry to report to you that—in short, that my calculations have gone awry. Somewhere error has crept in unaccountably, for I am unaccustomed to make mathematical errors. Nevertheless, it is true, and we are lost utterly—I may almost say, hopelessly lost." I considered that I had broken the tidings to them with consummate tact and gentleness.
This time even Miss Brown was frightened; Katherine was terrified; Stephen was perturbed, seriously perturbed. As for Mr. Quaintance, I made no effort to fathom his sensations. They must have been of a disagreeable nature.
"But, Simeon, you old goat—" began Stephen.
"At such a moment," I said, "goat is no term to apply to a fellow—victim, shall I say?—even in friendliness."
"I'm hanged if it's friendliness," he replied. "What business had you to carry off the way out and lose it somewhere?"
I fancied his mind had been set slightly askew by our hardships, so I only said, soothingly: "I assure you, Stephen, I did not remove the way out. It would be impossible to do so. It is, I may safely say, immovable and permanent."
"That's something gained," he said, and Mr. Quaintance nodded. "If he hasn't pulled up the way back it must be there still. The thing to do is to find it—eh, Quaintance?"
"Don't joke, Stephen," Katherine cried. "See, our candles are almost burned out. I—I shall die if we're left in the dark."
At this moment Mr. Quaintance asserted himself again, though I had thought him disposed of permanently.
"Katherine," said he, in tones I considered theatrical, "do you still trust me? Have you confidence in me?"
"Why—" she hesitated, not caring to wound him, I suppose. "Why—I'm sure I don't know. I—we'll never, never, never find our way out. Never, never, never!" She went on repeating never over and over and over, and then she burst into unrestrained weeping.
"There, there," said I; "come to me. Let me carry you now. All may yet be well."
"Where—would you—carry me?" she whimpered.
"In search," said I, "of the opening."
"Stay," said Mr. Quaintance, again theatrically. "I have an extraordinary sense of direction. I seldom speak of it. One quite remarkable, I believe. It was gained on the football-field. There one must learn to emerge from any side of a scrimmage and know without looking in which direction to run."
"What's he talking about?" Miss Brown asked, snappishly.
"I believe," he said, "if you would reproduce the sensations of the football game, I should awaken that faculty, and would know at once how to proceed."
"As how?" asked Stephen.
"Everybody take hold of me and bump me and jostle me. It would help the illusion if one of you, Miss Brown perhaps, would put her arms around my neck tightly—for an interval. I will struggle to break away from you. You must let me succeed. Then we shall see!
It sounded absurd to me; nevertheless it was not without its scientific interest. It was in the nature of an experiment which, if it succeeded, would make the subject of an interesting paper to be read before one of the societies of which I was a member.
"Very good," said I. "Let us proceed with the experiment."
We did so, but I would not care again to participate in a thing of that sort. I recall the receipt of a knee in my stomach. It was applied vigorously and caused a most unpleasant sensation, as of death itself. Then I was propelled to the floor with violence, where I sat and gasped and groaned in an effort to overcome the effects of the blow in the stomach. Gradually my condition improved. The others gathered around Mr. Quaintance, who cried, exultantly: "I knew it wouldn't fail me. We are saved.... Saved!"
Katherine gripped his arm and looked into his face. "Do you mean it? Are you—Can you save us? Can you get us out of this horrid place?"
"Follow me!" he said, bumptiously.
He walked off without hesitation. We followed, Katherine still clinging to his arm in a manner I regretted to see, but, poor girl! her nerves were in a deplorable state and she was unaccountable.
"Ah!" he cried, suddenly, "I've lost it. Quick, Katherine, your arms around my neck! Tight!... There, that was just in time. I almost lost it."
"Perhaps," said I, "Miss Brown would prefer to walk beside Mr. Quaintance, leaving Miss Katherine to follow more slowly with me."
"Thank you," said Miss Brown, "but Katherine seems to be efficient—and he may need help again at any moment."
It was a fear of my own that I had hesitated to express. Indeed, it was one I was to realize only too frequently, for no less than six times was Mr. Quaintance on the point of losing his peculiar sense of direction, only to retain it by a simulation of the football game.
Incomprehensible as it may seem, we became aware of a dim light, an alleviation of the blackness that surrounded us. After a few minutes more we actually saw sunlight penetrating the cavern, and in another moment we stood outside, under the dome of heaven—saved!
Katherine sighed once, and toppled into Mr. Quaintance's arms. He did not hesitate to kiss her—shamelessly, as no less than three spectators watched him. It seemed to rouse her, though not to put her in possession of all her faculties, for she sobbed and threw her arms about his neck again, and clung to him and cried. He bent his head and whispered in her ear. What he said I did not overhear.
"You saved us!... You saved me!" Katherine said, brokenly, "My hero!"
Mr. Quaintance drew himself up proudly, but over Katherine's shoulder he did a most peculiar—indeed, reprehensible—thing. He winked at Stephen Wight.
Two days later I sought Mr. Quaintance to get further details of his remarkable sense of direction.
"Mr. Quaintance," I said, "I want to speak with you about your abnormal and scientifically interesting sense of direction."
He grinned. His grin has a way of irritating me. I do not know why.
"I'll explain it to you, Simeon. It lies in this. You can acquire it yourself.... When you get lost in a cave, see to it that the cave is—one you played in when you were a kid. Hoofer's Hole is entered from my grandfather's farm. I could walk through it blindfolded."
I was nonplussed. "But the sense of direction? The necessity for the football proceedings?"
"Those," said he, "were largely for your benefit, Simeon. At first they were. Later I developed the idea, as you may have seen. But, Simeon, you'd got on my nerves, old top, and I just had to take a punch at you. You needed it."
I turned away in disgust.
"By the way," said he, "Mr. Wight informs me that he thinks I will make a most acceptable son-in-law. Congratulate me."
I did not do so. Instead I left him abruptly.