it for this time." He wagged his head at his sister-in-law, and rubbed
his hands together exultantly. "For once you'll have to admit I
_can_ play bridge."
"For once," she conceded, as she moved toward the table. "You're still
nothing more than a whist-player, yet had it not been for the honor
score, you'd have beaten us disgracefully. One is fortunate when one
has the honor score in one's favor."
"H'm! h'm!" he rallied. "I'll admit you women can _score_ honor, but
the question is, do you know what honor is?"
"Most certainly - when the score is in our favor. One would fancy you'd
been reading Ibsen. Of all the _bad_ taste - " Mrs. Gantry stopped
short, to raise her lorgnette and stare at the flaccid form of Blake.
"Hoity-toity! What have we here?"
"Hey?" queried Mr. Leslie, peering around her shoulder. "Asleep? Who
Mrs. Gantry turned to him and answered in a lowered voice: "It's that
fellow, Blake. I do believe he's intoxicated."
"Intoxicated?" exclaimed Mr. Leslie. He went quickly around and bent
over Blake. He came back to her on tiptoe and led her away from the
"You're mistaken," he whispered. "I'm certain he hasn't touched a
"Yes. Some one has spilled wine on the table; but his breath proves
that he hasn't had any. It's merely that he's worn out - fallen asleep.
"'Poor boy'?" repeated Mrs. Gantry, quizzing her brother-in-law
through her lorgnette.
"H'm. Why not?" he demanded. "I was most unjust to him. I've been
compelled to reverse my judgment of him on every point that was
against him. As you know, he refused everything I offered in the way
of money or position. He has proved that his intentions are absolutely
honorable, - and now he has proved himself a great engineer. By his
solution of the Zariba Dam problem, he has virtually put half a
million, dollars into my pocket."
"I understood that you turned that project over to some company."
"The Coville Company - of which I own over ninety-five per cent of the
stock. He would quit if he knew it, and I can't afford to lose him.
The solution of the dam is a wonderful feat of engineering. That's
what's the matter with him now. He worked at it to the point of
exhaustion - and then for him to come here, already worn out!"
"I'm sure he was quite welcome to stay away," put in the lady.
Mr. Leslie frowned, and went on: "Griffith tells me that he can stand
any amount of outdoor work, but that office work runs him down fast.
But I'll soon fix that. We arranged to put him in charge of the
"In charge? How will you get rid of Lafayette? You've grumbled so
often about his having a contract to remain there as chief builder,
because he drew the bridge plans."
"Copied them, you should say."
"Ah, is that the term?"
"For what he did, yes - unless one uses the stronger term."
"I quite fail to take you."
"You'll understand - later on. Griffith and I are figuring that Tom
will take the bridge and keep it."
"He has my heartfelt wish that he will take it soon, and remain in
personal possession for all time!"
"H'm. I presume Genevieve could come down to visit us occasionally."
"Herbert! You surely cannot mean - ?"
"Griffith has told me something in connection with this bridge that
proves Thomas Blake to be one of the greatest engineers, if not the
greatest, in America. I'd be proud to have him for a son-in-law."
"Impossible! _impossible!_ It can't be you'll withdraw your
"Not only that; I'll back him to win. I like your earl. He's a fine
young fellow. But, after all, Blake is an _American_."
"He's a brute! Herbert, it is impossible!"
"They said that dam was impossible. He has mastered it. He's big; he's
got brains. He'll be a gentleman within six months. He's a genius!"
"_Poof!_ He's a degenerate!"
"You'll see," rejoined Mr. Leslie. He went back to the table and
tapped the sleeper sharply on the shoulder.
Blake stirred, and mumbled drowsily: "Huh! what - whatcha want?"
"Wake up," answered Mr. Leslie. "I wish to congratulate you."
Blake slowly heaved himself up and blinked at his disturber with
haggard, bloodshot eyes. He was still very weary and only half roused
from his stupor.
"Huh!" he muttered. "Must 'uv dropped 'sleep - Dog tired." His bleared
gaze swung around and took in Mrs. Gantry. He started and tried to sit
more erect. "Excuse me! Didn't know there was a lady here."
"Don't apologize. That's for me to do," interposed Mr. Leslie,
offering his hand. "My - that is, the Coville Company officers tell me
you've worked out a wonderful piece of engineering for them."
Blake stared hard at the bookcase behind Mrs. Gantry and answered
curtly, oblivious of the older man's hand. "That remains to be seen.
It's only on paper, so far."
"But I - h'm - it seems they are sufficiently satisfied to wish to put
you in charge of the Michamac Bridge."
"How about Ashton - their contract with him?"
"That's to be settled later. I wish - h'm - I understand that you are to
be sent nominally as Assistant Engineer."
"I am, eh? Excuse _me_!"
"At double the salary of Ashton, and - "
"Not at ten times the salary as _his_ assistant!"
"But you must know that Griffith's doctor has ordered him to Florida,
and with the work rushing on the bridge - He tells me it has reached
the most critical stage of construction - that suspension span - "
"You seem mighty interested in a project you got rid of," remarked
Blake, vaguely conscious of the other's repressed eagerness.
"Yes. I was the first to consider the possibility of bridging the
"Your idea, was it?" said Blake, with reluctant admiration. "It was a
big one, all right."
"Nothing as compared to the invention of that bridge," returned Mr.
"Your young friend Ashton sure is a great one," countered Blake.
"The man who planned that bridge is a genius," stated Mr. Leslie with
enthusiasm. "That's one fact. Another is that Laffie Ashton is unfit
to supervise the construction of the suspension span. I'll see to it
myself that the matter is so arranged that you - "
"Thanks, no. You'll do nothing of the kind," broke in Blake. He spoke
without brusqueness yet with stubborn determination. "I don't want any
favors from you, and you know why. I can appreciate your
congratulations, long as you seem to want to be friendly. But you
needn't say anything to the company."
"Very well, very well, sir!" snapped Mr. Leslie, irritated at the
rebuff. He jerked himself about to Mrs. Gantry. "There's time yet.
What do you say to another rubber?"
"You should have spoken before we rose," replied the lady. "There'll
be others who wish to go. You'll be able to take over some one's hand.
I prefer to remain in here for a _tete-a tete_ with Mr. Blake."
Blake and Mr. Leslie stared at her, alike surprised. The younger man
muttered in far other than a cordial tone: "Thanks. But I'm not fit
company. Ought to've been abed and asleep hours ago."
"Yet if you'll pardon me for insisting, I wish to have a little chat
with you," replied Mrs. Gantry.
At her expectant glance, Mr. Leslie started for the door of the
cardroom. As he went out and closed the door, Mrs. Gantry took the
chair on the other side of the table from Blake, and explained in a
confidential tone: "It is about this unfortunate situation."
Blake stared at her, with a puzzled frown. "Unfortunate what?"
"Unfortunate situation," she replied, making an effort to moderate her
superciliousness to mere condescension. "I assure you, I too have
learned that first impressions may err. I cannot now believe that you
are torturing my niece purposely."
Blake roused up on the instant, for the first time wide awake.
"What!" he demanded. "I - torturing - her?"
"Most unfortunately, that is, at least, the effect of the situation."
"But I - I don't understand! What is it, anyhow? I'd do anything to
save her the slightest suffering!"
"Ah!" said Mrs. Gantry, and she averted her gaze.
"Don't you believe me?" he demanded.
"To be sure - to be sure!" she hastened to respond. "Had I not thought
you capable of that, I should not have troubled to speak to you."
"But what is it? What do you mean?" he asked, with swift-growing
"I do not say that I blame you for failing to see and understand," she
evaded. "No doubt you, too, have suffered."
"Yes, I've - But that's nothing. It's Jenny!" he exclaimed, fast on the
barbed hook. "Good God! if it's true I've made her suffer - But how?
Why? I don't understand."
Mrs. Gantry studied him with a gravity that seemed to include a trace
of sympathy. There was an almost imperceptible tremor in her voice.
"Need I tell you, Mr. Blake, how a girl of her high ideals, her high
conception of noblesse oblige, of duty (you saved her life as
heroically as - er - as a fireman) - need I point out how grateful she
must always feel toward you, and how easily she might mistake her
gratitude for something else?"
"You mean that she - that she - " He could not complete the sentence.
Mrs. Gantry went on almost blandly. "A girl of her fine and generous
nature is apt to mistake so strong a feeling of gratitude for what you
no doubt thought it was."
"Yet that morning - on the cliffs - when the steamer came - "
"Even then. Can you believe that if she really loved you then, she
could doubt it now?"
"You say she - does - doubt it? I thought that - maybe - " The heavy words
dragged until they failed to pass Blake's tense lips.
"Doubt it!" repeated Mrs. Gantry. "Has she accepted you?"
"No. I - "
"Has she promised you anything?"
"No. She said that, unless she was sure - "
"What more do you need to realize that she is _not_ sure? Can you
fancy for a moment that she would hesitate if she really loved you - if
she did not intuitively realize that her feeling is no more than
gratitude? That is why she is suffering so. She realizes the truth,
yet will not admit it even to herself."
"Blake forced himself to face the worst. "Then what - what do you - ?"
"Ah! so you really are generous!" exclaimed Mrs. Gantry, beaming upon
him, with unfeigned suavity. "Need I tell you that she is extremely
fond of Lord Avondale? With him there could be no doubts, no
"Jimmy is all right," loyally assented Blake. "Yes, he's all right.
Just the same, unless she - " He stopped, unable to speak the word.
"In accepting him she would attain to - " The tactful dame paused,
considered, and altered her remark. "With him she would be happy."
"I'm not saying 'no' to that," admitted Blake. "That is, provided - "
"Ah! And you say you love her!" broke in Mrs. Gantry. "What love is it
that would stand between her and happiness - that would compel her to
sacrifice her life, out of gratitude to you?"
Blake bent over and asked in a dull murmur: "You are sure it's that?"
"Indeed, yes! How can it be otherwise? - a girl of her breeding; and
you - what you are!"
Blake bent over still lower, and all his fortitude could not repress
the groan that rose to his lips. Mrs. Gantry watched him closely, her
face set in its suave smile, but her eyes hard and cold. She went on,
without a sign of compunction: "But I now believe you are possessed of
sterling qualities, else I should not have troubled to speak the truth
She paused to emphasize what was to follow. "There is only one way for
you to save her. She is too generous to save herself. I believe that
you really love her. You can prove it by - " again she paused - "going
Blake bent over on the table and buried his face in his arms. His
smothered groan would have won him the compassion of a savage. It was
the cry of a strong man crushed under an unbearable burden. Mrs.
Gantry was not a savage. Her eyes sparkled coldly.
"You will go away. You will prove your love for her," she said.
Certain that she had accomplished what she had set out to do, she
returned to the cardroom, and left her victim to his misery and
A PACKING CASE
Already exhausted by the stress of the fierce fight that he had so
hardly won, Blake could no longer sustain such acute grief. Nature
mercifully dulled his consciousness. He sank into a stupor that
outwardly was not unlike heavy slumber.
Mrs. Gantry had been gone several minutes when the other door swung
open. Dolores skipped in, closely followed by Lafayette Ashton. The
young man's face was flushed, and there was a slight uncertainty in
his step; but as he closed the door and followed the girl across the
room, he spoke with rather more distinctness than usual.
"Here we are, _ma cher_. I knew we'd find a place where you could
show me how kind you feel toward your fond Fayette."
"So that's the way you cross the line?" criticised Dolores. "What a
get-away for a fast pacer who has gone the pace!"
"Now, Dodie, don't hang back. You know as well as I do - "
"Hush! Don't whisper it aloud!" cautioned the girl, pointing
dramatically to Blake. "Betray no secrets. We are not alone!"
Ashton muttered a French curse, and went over to the table.
"It's that fellow, Blake," he whispered, over his shoulder.
"Mr. Blake?" exclaimed Dolores, tiptoeing to the table. "He's gone to
sleep. Poor man! I know he must be awfully tired, else he would have
waltzed with me again the last time I scratched your name."
"What you and Genevieve can see in him gets me!" muttered Ashton, with
a shrug. "Look at him now. Needn't tell me he's asleep. He's
intoxicated. That's what's the matter with him."
Dolores leaned far over the table toward Blake, sniffed, and drew
back, with a judicial shake of her head. "Can't detect it. But, then,
I couldn't expect to, with you in the room."
She again leaned over the table. "See," she whispered. "His hand is
tied up. It's hurt."
"Told you he's intoxicated," insisted Ashton.
The girl moved toward a davenport in the corner farthest from Blake.
"Come over here," she ordered. "It's a nuisance to sit it out with
you, when it's one of the last waltzes. At least I won't let you
disturb Mr. Blake."
"Mr. T. Blake, our heroic cave-man!" replied Ashton, as he followed
her across the room.
"How you love him!" she rallied. "What's the cause of your jealousy?"
"Who says I'm jealous?"
"Of course there's no reason for you to be. He's not interested in me,
and you're not in Genevieve - just now."
"My dear Dodie! You know you've always been the only one."
"Since the last!" she added. "But if it's not jealousy, what is it? -
professional envy? You've been knocking him all the evening. You began
it the day he came. What have you against him, anyway? He has never
Ashton's eyes narrowed, and one corner of his mouth drew up.
"Hasn't he, though!" he retorted. "The big brute! I can't imagine how
your mother can allow you and Genevieve to speak to him, when she
knows what he is. And your uncle - the low fellow tried to blackmail
him - accused him of stealing his bridge plans. First thing I know,
he'll be saying _I_ did it!"
"Did you?" teased the girl, as she seated herself on the heap of
pillows at the head of the davenport.
Ashton's flushed face turned a sickly yellow. He fell, rather than
seated himself, in the centre of the davenport.
"What - what - " he babbled; "you don't mean - No! I didn't! - I tell you,
I didn't! They're my plans; I drew them all myself!"
"Why, Laffie! what is the matter with you?" she demanded, half
startled out of her mockery. "Can it be you've mixed them too freely?
Or is it the lobster? You've a regular heavy-seas-the-first-day-out
He managed to pull himself together and mutter in assent: "Yes, it
must be the lobster. But the sight of that brute is enough to - to - "
"Then perhaps you had better leave the room," sweetly advised Dolores.
"Mr. Blake happens to be one of my friends."
"No, he isn't," corrected Ashton.
"No. I won't have it. You needn't expect me to have anything to do
with you unless you cut him."
"Oh, Laffie! how could you be so cruel?" she mocked.
He was so far intoxicated that he mistook her sarcasm for entreaty. He
responded with maudlin fervor. "Don't weep, Dodiekins! I'll be as easy
on you as I can. You see, I must inform you on such things, if you're
to be my _fiancee_."
She was quick to note his mistake, and sobbed realistically: "_Fi-
fiancee!_ Oh! Oh, Laffie! Bu-but you haven't asked me yet!"
He moved along the davenport nearer to her, and attempted to clasp her
"You're a coy one, Dodiekins!" he replied. "Of course I'm asking you,
you know that. You can't think I don't mean it. You know I mean it."
"Of course! Haven't I been trying to get a chance to tell you, all the
evening? Of course I mean it! You're the fair maiden of my choice,
Dodiekins, even if you aren't so rich as some."
"Fair? - but I'm a brunette," she corrected. "It's Genevieve you're
thinking of. Confess now, it is, isn't it?"
"No, indeed, no!" he protested. "I prefer brunettes - always have!
You're a perfect brunette, Dodiekins. I've always liked you more than
Genevieve. You're the perfect brunette type, and you have all that
_verve_ - you're so _spirituelle_. Just say 'yes' now, and let's have
it over with. To-morrow I'll buy you the biggest solitaire in town."
"Oh, Laffie! - the biggest? You're too kind! I couldn't think of it!"
"But I mean it, Dodie, every word, indeed I do!" he insisted, ardently
thrusting out an arm to embrace her.
She slipped clear, and sprang up, to stand just beyond his reach.
"So great an honor!" she murmured. "How can I deprive all the other
girls of the greatest catch in town?"
"They've tried hard enough to catch me," he replied. "But I'd rather
have you than all the blondes put together. I mean it, every word. I
don't mind at all that you're not so rich as Genevieve. I'll have
enough for two, as soon as the old man shuffles off this mortal coil.
You'll bring him dead to rights on the will question. He likes you
almost as well as he likes Genevieve. You're second choice with him."
"Second! - not the third? - nor the fourth? You're sure?"
"No, second; and you can count on it, he'll do the handsome thing by
Mrs. Lafayette, even if he keeps me on an allowance. So now, say the
word, and come and cuddle up."
"Oh, Laffie! - in here? We might disturb Mr. Blake."
"Blake!" he muttered, and he looked angrily at the big inert form half
prostrate on the table. "He's intoxicated, I tell you - or if he's not,
he ought to be. The insolence of him, hanging around Genevieve! I hope
he _is_ drunk! That would settle it all. We'd be rid of him then."
"'We'?" queried Dolores.
He caught her curious glance, and hastened to disclaim: "No, not we -
Genevieve - I meant Genevieve, of course!"
Dolores affected a coquettish air. "Oh, Mr. Brice-Ashton! I do believe
you want to get him out of the way."
"I? No, no!" he protested, with an uneasy, furtive glance at Blake.
"Don't try to fool me," she insisted. "I know your scheme. But it's of
no use. If she doesn't take the hero, she'll accept the earl. Ah, me!
To think you're still scheming to get Vievie, when all the evening
you've pretended it was I!"
In the reaction from his fright, he sprang up and advanced on her
ardently. "It _is_ you, Dodie! you know it is. Own up, now - we're
just suited to each other. It's a case of soul-mates!"
"Oh, is it, really?" she gushed. He sought to kiss her, but she eluded
him coquettishly. "Wait, please. We must first settle the question. If
it's a case of soul-mates, who's to be the captain?"
"See here, Dodie," he admonished; "we've fooled long enough. I'm in
earnest. You don't seem to realize this is a serious proposal."
"Really?" she mocked. "A formal declaration of your most honorable
intentions to make me Mrs. L. Brice-Ashton?"
"Of course! You don't take it for a joke, do you?"
She smiled upon him with tantalizing sweetness. "Isn't it? Well,
_it_ may not be. But how about yourself?"
"Dolores," he warned, "unless you wish me to withdraw my - "
"Your solemn suit!" she cut in. "With that and the case you mentioned,
the matter is complete. A suit and a case make a suitcase. You have my
permission to pack."
"Dodie! You can't mean it!"
"Can't I? You may pack yourself off and get a tailor to press your
suit. He can do it better. Run along now. I'm going to make up to Mr.
Blake for that waltz of yours that he wouldn't let me give to him."
"You flirt!" cried Ashton, flushing crimson. "I believe your heart is
made of petrified wood."
"Then don't ask me to throw it at you. It might hurt your soft head."
"Dolores!" he warned her.
"Yes," she went on, pretending to misunderstand him. "Wouldn't it be
awful? - a chunk of petrified wood plunking into a can of woodpulp!"
"I wish you to remember, Miss Gantry - " he began,
"Don't fret," she impatiently interrupted. "I'll not forget 'Miss
Gantry,' and I wish you wouldn't so often. 'Dodie,' 'Dodie,' 'Dodie,'
all the evening. It's monotonous."
"Indeed. Am I to infer, Miss Gantry, that you are foolish enough to
play fast and loose with me?"
"You're so fast, how could I loose you?" she punned.
He muttered a French oath.
"Naughty! Naughty!" she mocked. "Swearing in French, when you know I
don't speak it! Why not say, 'damn it' right out? That would sound
"See here, Dodie," he warned. "I've stood enough of this. You know
you're just dying to say 'yes.' But let me tell you, if you permit
this chance to slip by - "
"Oh, run along, do!" she exclaimed. "I want to think, and it's
impossible with you around."
"Think?" he retorted. "I know better. What you want is a chance to
coquet with him."
He looked about at Blake, with a wry twist in his lower lip.
"One enjoys conversing with a man once in a while," she replied, and
she turned from him a glance of supreme contempt and loathing that
pierced the thickness of his conceit. Disconcerted and confused, he
beat a flurried retreat, jerking shut the door with a violent slam.
THE SHORTEST WAY
The noise of the door jarred Blake from his lethargy. He groaned and
sluggishly raised his head. His face was bloodless and haggard, his
bloodshot eyes were dull and bleared. He had the look of a man at the
close of a drunken debauch.
Dolores hastened to him, exclaiming, "Mr. Blake, you are ill! I shall
phone for a doctor!"
"No," he mumbled apologetically. "Don't bother yourself, Miss Dolores.
It's not a doctor I need. I'm only - "
"You _are_ ill! I'll call Genevieve." She started toward the door.
"Don't!" he cried. "Not her - for God's sake, not her!" He rose to his
feet heavily but steadily. "I'm going - away."
"Going away? Where?" asked Dolores, puzzled and concerned.
"Alaska - Panama - anywhere! You're the right sort, Miss Dolores. You'll
explain to her why I had to go without stopping to say good-bye."
"Of course, Mr. Blake - anything I can do. But why are you leaving?"
"Your mother - she told me."
"Told you what? I do believe you're dreaming."
Blake quivered. "Wish it _was_ a nightmare!" he groaned. He
steadied himself with an effort. "No use, though. She told me the
truth about - your cousin. Said her feeling for me is only gratitude."
"What! Vievie's? - only gratitude? Don't you believe it! Mamma is
rooting for Jeems. She may believe it; she probably does. She
_wants_ to believe it. She wants a countess in the family."
"She couldn't do better in that line, nor in any other," replied Blake
with loyal friendship. "Jimmy is all right; he's the real thing."
"Yes, twenty-four carats fine!"
"Don't joke, Miss Dolores. I know you don't like him, but it's true,
just the same. I knocked around a whole lot with Jimmy, in all sorts
of places. I give it to you straight, - he's square, he's white, and
he's what all kinds of people would call a gentleman."
"But as for being a man?" she scoffed.
Blake's dull eyes brightened with a fond glow.
"Man?" he repeated. "D' you think I'd fool around with one of these
swell dudes? No; Jimmy is the real thing, and he's a thoroughbred."
"Such a cute little mustache!" mocked the girl.
"It's one of the few things I couldn't cure him of - -that and his
monocle." Forgetful of self, Blake smiled at her regretfully and shook
his head. "It's too bad, Miss Dolores. No use talking when it's too
late; but couldn't you have liked him enough to forget the English
part? You and he would sure have made a team."
"Yes, isn't it too bad? A coronet would fit my head just as well as
Vievie's. But mamma is so silly. She never thought of that."