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   Chapter 15 MUTUAL SURPRISES

That Mainwaring Affair By A. Maynard Barbour Characters: 16783

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


The Mainwaring party was among the latest arrivals at the pier on the following day, owing to the dilatoriness of Mr. Thornton, Mrs. Mainwaring's efforts to the contrary notwithstanding. At the last moment he appeared, serenely and smilingly unconscious of that lady's frowns of displeasure, to the infinite amusement of his daughter, who whispered to Miss Carleton,-

"Poor papa! See how auntie glares at him, and he does not even know it."

But even Mrs. Mainwaring's facial muscles relaxed slightly at the sight of the beautiful ocean greyhound lying in the harbor, her flags waving and streamers fluttering in the breeze, awaiting only the captain's orders to start on her homeward course.

The decks were crowded with humanity, for the most part laughing and chatting gayly and singing bits of song, though here and there were sad, tear-stained faces, where long farewells, some of them perhaps the last farewells, were being spoken.

"Thank heaven, there'll be no tears shed on this occasion!" said Isabel Mainwaring; "unless," she added, with a glance of scorn towards Miss Carleton's escort, "Mr. Whitney should contribute a few. I detest such vulgar demonstrations in public!"

The attorney certainly did not look very cheerful, and even Miss Carleton's sunny face was somewhat overcast, though why, it would seem difficult to determine, since she seemed to have no regrets at leaving America.

"Mercy me!" ejaculated Mrs. Mainwaring, "what a dreadful crowd! It is far worse than when we came over. Hugh, I wonder if your father examined the ship's list. I particularly requested him to do so. I wished to ascertain whether there would be any friends of ours on board. One does not care to make acquaintances promiscuously, you know."

"I don't think the governor investigated the subject very thoroughly," young Mainwaring replied, with a laugh. "I noticed when we registered there were three or four pages of names preceding ours, and I don't think he gave the matter much attention. If I had time I would look it up for you, mother, but we must go ashore in a few moments."

"If I am not mistaken, my dear lady," said Mr. Thornton, who had overheard the conversation, "you will have little time or inclination for looking up acquaintances on this trip."

"May I ask why?" Mrs. Mainwaring demanded.

"I think," he replied, maliciously, "that you and Isabel will be too much occupied in cultivating the acquaintance of mal de mer to care for your best friends."

"How's that, Thornton? Think it will be rough?" inquired Ralph Mainwaring.

"The captain tells me the wind is freshening every moment, and we'll have a decidedly choppy sea before night. I'm thinking we'll have a nasty trip."

"In that case, perhaps mamma and I will not be the only victims," said Isabel Mainwaring.

"I fear not," responded Mr. Thornton. "Were it not or my inherent chivalry, I should turn back; but I cannot leave you ladies to meet your fate alone."

Amid the general confusion of leave-taking, Mr. Whitney turned towards Miss Carleton, saying in a low tone, as he took her hand,-

"I have received cordial invitations both from yourself and Mr. Thornton to visit your home, and I feel assured of a welcome should I accept your courtesy; but, pardon me, Miss Carleton, if, after so brief an acquaintance as ours, I inquire whether I might ever hope for a welcome from you other than that of a friend?"

The beautiful brown eyes met his own frankly, but all the laughter and sunshine had gone out of them. They were serious and had almost a look of pain.

"I am sorry, Mr. Whitney," she said, simply; "but it would be very unjust if I led you to hope that I could ever regard you other than as an esteemed friend."

"Pardon me for troubling you," he said, gently. "Believe me always your friend, and forget that I ever asked for more than friendship," and, releasing her hand, he passed on to the others.

The final adieus were spoken; Ralph Mainwaring and his son, accompanied by the attorney, went ashore; and Miss Carleton, not caring just then to meet the curious glances of her companions, walked slowly towards the forward part of the deck. She had gone but a few steps, however, when she caught sight of the familiar figure of Mr. Merrick at a little distance, in conversation with a tall, slender man, with dark, piercing eyes. He was speaking rapidly in low tones, but his usually non-committal face wore an expression of unmistakable satisfaction. Suddenly he turned and walked swiftly in Miss Carleton's direction. Their eyes met, and in response to her glance of recognition he quickly crossed to where she was standing.

"I have but a few seconds left, Miss Carleton," he said, a genial smile lighting up his face; "but I am glad of an opportunity to wish you a pleasant trip. Are you a good sailor?"

"I hardly know," she answered. "I have had so little experience on the sea. Why? Shall we have a stormy passage, do you think?"

"Nothing dangerous; a little rough, perhaps; but with congenial company, such as I trust you will find," and his eyes gleamed with kindly merriment, "you will hardly mind that. Good-by, Miss Carleton; bon voyage; and if I can ever in any way serve you as a friend, do not fail to command me," and before she could reply he had vanished in the crowd. She looked in vain for any trace of him; then turning to glance at his companion of a moment before, discovered that he had disappeared also.

A moment later the great ocean liner glided majestically out from the harbor amid prolonged cheers and a final flutter of farewells; but she was well out upon the tossing waves ere Miss Carleton turned from watching the receding shore to join her friends, as yet having found no solution of the problem perplexing her, nor even the meaning which she felt must be concealed in the words of the detective.

They had not been out many hours before it became evident that Mr. Thornton's unfavorable predictions regarding their journey were likely to be fulfilled. The sea was decidedly "choppy" and the motion of the boat anything but exhilarating.

When the hour for dinner arrived, Mr. Thornton, his daughter, and Miss Carleton were the only members of their party to venture forth to the dining-saloon, the others preferring to have a light repast served in their own apartments. The captain, having discovered in Mr. Thornton an old-time friend, had ordered seats for him and his party at his own table, and the young ladies, finding their appetites rather an uncertain quantity, had plenty of opportunity for observing their fellow-passengers, particularly an Anglomaniac of the most pronounced type, in the person of a callow youth seated opposite them, whose monocle, exaggerated collar, and affected drawl afforded them considerable amusement.

"Winifred," said Miss Thornton, as they were leaving the dining-saloon, "do you see that young Englishman at the farther table?"

Her cousin glanced carelessly in the direction indicated, noting the fine, athletic figure seated, back towards them, at some distance, attired in heavy English tweed.

"Yes. What of him?"

"Nothing in particular; only the sight of him is such a relief, you know, after that wretched caricature at our table."

"Poor little harmless dudelet!" mused Winifred, with a smile; "his self-complacency will be short-lived whenever he meets Isabel. She will simply annihilate him with one of those glances of hers!"

At Miss Carleton's suggestion, they went on deck; but Edith grew so rapidly ill that her cousin assisted her below to their own elegant suite of apartments, which adjoined, on one side, those occupied by Mrs. Mainwaring and her daughter, while on the other was comfortable state-room belonging to Mrs. Hogarth.

Finding Mrs. Mainwaring and Isabel already reduced to a state of abject helplessness which required the attendance of both maids as well as of the stewardess, Miss Carleton left Edith in Mrs. Hogarth's care, and, wrapping herself warmly, again went on deck. The wind was increasing and she found the decks nearly deserted, but the solitude and the storm suited her mood just then, and, wrapping her rug closely about her, she seated herself in a comparatively sheltered place, alone with her own thoughts.

As she recalled the parting interview with Mr. Whitney, another face seemed to flash bef

ore her vision, and a half-formed query, which had been persistently haunting her for the last few hours, now took definite shape and demanded a reply. What would have been the result if that other, instead of leaving without one word of farewell, had asked for the hope of something better and deeper than friendship? What would her answer have been? Even in the friendly shadow of the deepening twilight she shrank from facing the truth gradually forcing itself upon her.

A solitary figure pacing the deck aroused her from her revery. As he approached she recognized the young Englishman of whom Edith had spoken. Dressed in warm jacket, with cap well pulled down over his eyes and hands clasped behind him, he strode the rolling deck with step as firm and free as though walking the streets of his native city. She watched him with admiration, till something in his carriage reminded her of the young secretary at Fair Oaks, and in the sudden thrill of pleasure produced by that reminder there was revealed to her inner consciousness a confirmation of the truth she sought to evade.

She watched the retreating figure with flashing eyes and burning cheeks. "It is not true!" she exclaimed, to herself, passionately. "I do not care for him! It was only a fancy, a foolish infatuation, of which, thank heaven, neither he nor any one else shall ever know."

But the monarch who had taken possession of her heart, call him by what name she chose, was not to be so easily dethroned.

Meanwhile, the young English stranger passed and repassed, unconscious of the figure in the shadow, unconscious of the aversion with which one of his countrywomen regarded him because of his resemblance to another. He, too, was vainly seeking the solution of problems which baffled him at every turn, and waging an ineffectual warfare against the invisible but potent sovereign-Love.

All that night the storm raged with increasing fury, and morning found the entire Mainwaring party "on the retired list," as Miss Carleton expressed it. She herself was the last to succumb, but finally forced to an ignominious surrender, she submitted to the inevitable with as good grace as possible, only stipulating that she be left entirely to herself.

Towards night the storm abated slightly, and, weary of her own thoughts, which bad been anything but agreeable, and bored by the society of her companions in misery, she wrapped her rug warmly about her and ventured out on deck. The air, laden with salt spray, seemed invigorating, and without much difficulty she found her way to her sheltered corner of the preceding evening. She had been seated but a few moments, however, when the young Englishman made his appearance, as preoccupied and unconscious of his surroundings and as free from any symptoms of discomfort as when she had last seen him. The sight of him was the signal for the return of the thoughts which had that day kept her company. She cast a wrathful glance upon the unconscious young stranger just then passing, his perfect health and evident good humor under existing circumstances adding to her sense of injury and exasperation. She grew ill, and determined to return at once to her apartments, but found her progress against the gale slower and more difficult than she had anticipated. Dizzy and faint, she had just reached the stairs when a sudden lurch threw her violently to one side; she staggered helplessly and would have fallen, but at that instant a strong arm was thrown about her and she felt herself lifted bodily. With a sigh of relief she turned her head towards her rescuer, supposing him one of the officers of the ship, only to discover, to her horror, that she was in the arms of the young Englishman. His face was in the shadow, but the light falling on her own face revealed her features, and at that instant she heard a smothered exclamation,-

"Great heavens! can it be possible?"

Something in the tone startled her and she listened, hoping he would speak again. He did not; but she noted the tenderness with which she was borne down the stairs and put in care of the stewardess. Again she listened eagerly for his voice, but his words were brief and in an altered tone.

During the succeeding twenty-four hours in which Miss Carleton tossed in misery, one thought was uppermost in her mind,-to discover, if possible, the identity of the stranger who had come to her assistance. The only information obtainable, however, was that he was evidently a gentleman of wealth, travelling alone, and apparently with no acquaintance on board with the exception of a young English officer. She determined, at the earliest possible moment, to meet her mysterious rescuer and thank him for his kindness, but was unable to carry her plan into immediate execution. Meantime, she learned that he had twice inquired for her.

On Sunday afternoon, their fourth day out, the storm had ceased and the weather was gradually clearing, and Miss Carleton, somewhat pale but quite herself again, came out for a promenade. She found quite a number of passengers on deck, but for some time she looked in vain for her unknown friend. At last, after several brisk turns, she saw him standing at a little distance, talking with the tall, dark-eyed man whom she had seen in conversation with Mr. Merrick. The younger man's cap was thrown back, revealing to Miss Carleton the fine profile, almost classical in its beauty, of the secretary at Fair Oaks. For a moment her pulse throbbed wildly. She felt a thrill of pleasure, not unmingled with a twinge of the resentment which she had been nursing for the last few days. Then she walked calmly in his direction, saying to herself,-

"At least, I will thank him for his kindness. I am no love-lorn peasant maid wearing my heart upon my sleeve!"

She had nearly reached his side, though he was unaware of her presence, when the young English officer approached from the other side and, slapping him familiarly upon the shoulder, exclaimed,-

"Well, Mainwaring, my boy, you've kept your sea-legs well on this trip."

The tall, dark-eyed man withdrew, and Miss Carleton, utterly bewildered, turned and slowly retraced her steps. Mainwaring! What did it mean? She heard the name distinctly, and he had taken it as a matter of course, replying pleasantly and quietly, as though he had known no other name. The mystery which she had thought to solve had only deepened tenfold. She was aroused by the cheery voice of the captain.

"Well, well, Miss Carleton, glad to see you out! I congratulate you on your speedy recovery. How are the ladies? and how is my old friend Thornton?"

They took a few turns up and down, chatting pleasantly, till Miss Carleton, looking into the face overflowing with kindliness and good humor, said,-

"Captain, I have a great favor to ask of you."

"Granted, my dear young lady, to the half of my kingdom!"

"May I have your permission to examine the list of cabin passengers?"

The captain elevated his shaggy eyebrows and his eyes twinkled with merriment. "Ah! anxious to learn if some particular friend is on board, I suppose. Some one was inquiring of me the other night regarding your identity."

"Indeed!" said Miss Carleton, a world of inquiry in her eyes.

"Yes; Mr. Mainwaring, the gentleman conversing with Lieutenant Cohen over there. He and I both went to your assistance the other evening, but, much to my regret, he was quicker than I. He remarked to me after he came back on deck that he had supposed you were a stranger, but that your face looked familiar. He asked your name, and whether you were with Mr. Thornton and his daughter, stating that he had met you. Correct, I presume?"

"Quite so," said Miss Carleton, quietly.

"And now about that passenger list, Miss Carleton; you have my permission to examine it, and I will accompany you myself."

She thanked him. "Are you acquainted with Mr. Mainwaring?" she inquired, carelessly.

"Never met him until this trip. On first learning his name, I supposed him to be a member of your party, as he is evidently a gentleman; but I soon learned that he was alone."

A few moments later the register was opened for Miss Carleton's inspection, but she did not have to search long. Half-way down the first page she found, in the familiar writing of the secretary, the name which she sought-"Harold Scott Mainwaring."

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