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The Highgrader By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 11463

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Verinder strolled down to the river bank, where Joyce was fishing from the shore in a tentative fashion.

"I say, Miss Seldon, aren't you breaking the Sabbath?" he asked from the bank above, smiling down upon her with an attempt at archness.

She flashed at him over her shoulder a smile that had all the allure of lovely youth. "I'm only bending it. I haven't caught a single fish."

"Bending it! Oh, I say, that's rather rippin', you know."

She nodded her golden head. "Thanks."

"Casting is a horrid bore. You should be a fisher of men," he told her fatuously.

"If I could be sure I wouldn't catch one. But if I happened to, what would I do with him?"

"Do with him! Why, it depends on who you catch. If he's undersize unhook him gently and throw him back into the river. What!"

The gay smile, flashed sideways at him, was a challenge. "But it isn't always so easy to unhook them, I'm told."

"Not if one doesn't want to."

"You're telling me that I'm a flirt, aren't you?" she said suspiciously.

"I can't tell you anything along that line you don't know already."

"I've a good mind to get angry," she flung back, laughing.

"Don't do that. If it would help I can tell you a lot of nice things I think about you. My word, yes!"

Joyce shot one swift glance at him and saw that he was on the verge of waxing sentimental. That would never do. It was on the cards that she might have to marry Dobyans Verinder but she did not want him making love to her.

"Please don't take the trouble. It's really a matter of no moment."

The young woman made another cast.

"To you."

"I was thinking about me."

"You usually are, aren't you?"

She looked up with surprised amusement. Resentment had made him bold. This was the first spark of spirit she had shaken out of him and she had made him the victim of many moods.

"But I don't blame you for thinking about the most interesting person you know. I think about you a lot myself. You're really rippin', you know."

Joyce groaned in spirit. He did that sort of thing as gracefully as a bear danced. To create a diversion she whipped back her line for a cast so that the flies snapped close to his ear.

"I say, be a bit careful," Verinder suggested.

"Oh, did I hook you?" she asked carelessly.

"I've been on your line for weeks."

"You'd better whisper it. Moya might hear," she advised roguishly.

Verinder flushed. The transfer of his attentions was still a sore subject with him. He hoped it would be generally understood that he had given up Miss Dwight of his own choice. He did not want it to get out that he had been jilted.

"The whole world is welcome to hear it. I'd advertise it in the Times if it would do any good."

"I believe you are impudent," laughed the beauty.

"I know I'm imprudent."

"Oh!" She carefully dropped her leader in the riffles. "There's no law keeping you in this neighborhood, you know. Try India for a change."

"There's nothing to keep the trout on the line-except the hook."

Her smile told of lazy but amiable derision. "It's a great pity about you."

"Awf'ly glad you feel so. Some poet chap said that pity is akin to love."

"I think it would do you good to take a long walk, Mr. Verinder."

"With Miss Seldon?" he wanted to know cautiously.

"Alone," she told him severely. "It would be a rest."

"A rest for me-or for you?"

The dimples flashed into her soft cheeks again. "For both of us, perhaps."

"Thanks. It's rather jolly here." He put his hands in his trousers pockets and leaned against a tree.

"Hope you'll enjoy it. I'm going to find Moya." Miss Seldon reeled up, put her rod against the tree, and sauntered off with the lissom grace that was hers.

Verinder woke up. "Let me come too. On second thoughts I find I do need a walk."

She looked back at him saucily over her shoulder. "You may come if you won't talk until you're spoken to."

"Done, by Jove!"

They followed the trail a stone's throw in silence.

"Miss Dwight's always going off by herself. Seems to me she's a bit off her feed," Verinder suggested.

Joyce was amused. For a man who wanted it understood that only one girl in the world mattered to him he still appeared to take a good deal of interest in Moya.

"Seems dreamy and-er-depressed. What!" he continued.

"Perhaps she is in love," Joyce let herself suggest wickedly.

"I've thought of that, but 'pon my word! I can't think of a man."

"Why not Mr. Verinder?"

His eyeglass ogled her to make sure he was not being made game of, but the lovely face was very innocent.

"Can't be," he demurred with conventional denial.

"Captain Kilmeny, then."

"Hardly. I don't think he's quite her style of man."

"Perhaps with his cousin, the highwayman."

"Good heavens, no!"

She took on a look of horrified suspicion. "You don't think-surely it couldn't be-Oh, I do hope it isn't Lord Farquhar."

He stared at her through his monocle with his mouth open, then discovered that he had been sold as the laughter rippled into her face.

"Oh, I say! Jolly good one, that. Lord Farquhar, by Jove!" Yet his laughter rang flat. It always made him angry to find that they were "spoofing" him. He didn't like to be "got" in the beastly traps these girls were always laying for him.

"There's Moya now-and there's a man with her," Joyce announced.

"By Gad, it's the highwayman!" Verinder gasped.

It was, though strictly speaking Jack Kilmeny was not yet with her, since she was still unaware of his presence. Moya was sitting on a mossy rock with a magazine in her hand, but she was not reading. By the look of her she was daydreaming, perhaps of the man who was moving noiselessly toward her over th

e bowlders.

Before she heard him he was close upon her. She looked around, and with a little cry got to her feet and stared at him, her hand on her fast beating heart.

Joyce waited to see no more.

"No business of ours," she announced to Verinder, and, without regard to his curiosity or her own, turned heel and marshaled him from the field.

"You!" Moya cried.

Kilmeny bowed. "The bad penny turned up again, Miss Dwight."

Scorn of him flashed in her dark eyes. She stood straight and rigid, but in spite of herself she breathed fast.

"You've forgotten your promise. You've lost faith again," he charged.

His impudence stirred contemptuous anger. "I know you now, sir," she told him with fine contempt.

"And you promised to believe in me." He said it quietly, with just a touch of bitterness in the reproach of his wistful voice.

The first hint of startled doubt came into her eyes. It was as if he had breathed into a marble statue the pulse of life. He had known her vivid as a thrush in song, a dainty creature of fire and dew. She stood now poised as it were on the edge of hope.

"How could I believe when I found your guilt on you? What right have you to ask it?"

"So you found the paper in the hat, did you?"


"Certain about my guilt this time, are you?"

He said it almost with a sneer, but nothing could crush the resurgent glow in her heart. Against the perilous and emotional climax which was growing on her she set her will in vain. Why was it that the mere presence of this man called to her so potently and shook her confidence in his guilt?

"We found the money," she explained, thinking to confound him.

"I guessed that. It was gone when I went to look for it this morning. I've come for it now."

His assurance amazed her. "Come for it!" she repeated. "It isn't here."

"No, I didn't expect to find it in your purse. But it is at the Lodge."


"Where, then?"

"I shan't tell you. The money will be returned to those from whom it was stolen."

He looked at her with hard, narrowed eyes. "It will be returned, will it? When?"

"To-day. Within a few hours."

"Who is going to return it?"

Moya had it on the tip of her tongue to tell, but pulled up in time. "I think we'll not go into that."

The American looked at his watch. The hands showed the hour to be 2:30. If the money was to be returned that day someone must already be on the way with it. He had seen his cousin, Captain Kilmeny, take the Gunnison road in a trap not half an hour earlier.

"So the captain is taking it back to-day?" he mused aloud, wary eyes on Moya's face.

A startled expression leaped to her countenance. She had told more than she had intended. "I didn't say so."

"I say so."

Beneath his steady gaze her lashes fell. He nodded, sure that he had guessed correctly.

"I intended to have a talk with you and straighten out some things," he went on. "But I find I haven't time now. We'll postpone it till to-morrow. I'll meet you here at ten o'clock in the morning."

"No," she told him.

The wave of hope had ebbed in her. Given the opportunity to explain the evidence against him, he had cared more to find out what they were doing with the stolen money. He had no time to save his good name.

"Ten in the morning. Remember. It's important. I want to see you alone. If I'm not on time wait for me."

That was his last word. He bowed, turned away almost at a run, and was lost in the small willows. Presently she heard the sound of a galloping horse. A minute later she caught a glimpse of it disappearing up Red Rock ca?on. He was following the cutoff trail that led to Gunnison.

She wondered what was taking him away so abruptly. He had meant to stop, then had changed his mind. He had told her calmly she must meet him here to-morrow, and if he were late for the appointment she must wait. His impudence was enough to stagger belief. She would show him about that. If he wanted to see her he must come to the Lodge and face Lady Jim. Even then she would not see him. Why should she, since he was what he was?

Ah, but that was the crux of the whole matter! To look at him was to feel that whatever his faults they were not despicable ones. He was alive, so very much alive, and the look of him was that which an honest man should have. Had he proved his innocence and been released? Or had he broken prison, an alternative of which he was quite capable? And, guilty or innocent, what could be the explanation of his extraordinary demand that she should turn over to him the stolen money?

He had found her dumb and stricken with many hours of brooding over his guilt. At least he left her quick with questionings. She divined again the hint of a mystery. Something deeper than reason told her that the unraveling of it would prove him no villain.

One immediate duty alone confronted her. She must confess to Lady Farquhar that she had met and talked with him again. It was likely that she would be well scolded, but it was characteristic of her that she preferred to walk straight to punishment and get it over with. No doubt she had been too free with this engaging scamp. The rules of her set prescribed a straight and narrow road in which she must walk. The open fields beyond the hedges might blossom with flowers, but there could be no dalliance in them for her. She was to know only such people as had the password, only those trimmed and trained till there was no individuality left in them. From birth she had been a rebel, but an impotent one. Each revolt had ended in submission to the silken chains of her environment. Fret as she might, none the less she was as much a caged creature as Lady Jim's canary.

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