A Rock in the Baltic by Robert Barr
Chapter IV. "At Last Alone"
"Some one has taken the camp stool," said Lieutenant Drummond. "May I sit here?" and the young woman was good enough to give the desired permission.
When he had seated himself he glanced around, then impulsively held out his hand.
"Miss Amhurst," he said, "how are you?"
"Very well, thank you," replied the girl with a smile, and after half a moment's hesitation she placed her hand in his.
"Of course you dance, Miss Amhurst?"
"Yes, but not to-night. I am here merely as a looker-on in Vienna. You must not allow politeness to keep you away from the floor, or, perhaps, I should say the deck. I don't mind being alone in the least."
"Now, Miss Amhurst, that is not a hint, is it? Tell me that I have not already tired you of my company."
"Oh, no, but I do not wish you to feel that simply because we met casually the other day you are compelled to waste your evening sitting out."
"Indeed, Miss Amhurst, although I should very much like to have the pleasure of dancing with you, there is no one else here that I should care to ask. I have quailed under the eagle eye of my Captain once or twice this evening, and I have been rather endeavoring to keep out of his sight. I fear he has found something new about me of which to disapprove, so I have quite determined not to dance, unless you would consent to dance with me, in which case I am quite ready to brave his reproachful glances."
"Have you done anything wrong lately?"
"Heaven only knows! I try not to be purposely wicked, and indeed have put forth extra efforts to be extra good, but it seems all of no avail. I endeavor to go about the ship with a subdued, humble, unobtrusive air, but this is rather difficult for a person of my size. I don't think a man can droop successfully unless he's under six feet in height."
Dorothy laughed with quiet content. She was surprised to find herself so much at her ease with him, and so mildly happy. They shared a secret together, and that of itself was an intangible bond linking him with her who had no ties with any one else. She liked him; had liked him from the first; and his unconcealed delight in her company was gratifying to a girl who heretofore had found none to offer her the gentle courtesies of life.
"Is it the Russian business again? You do not look very much troubled about it."
"Ah, that is-- that is--" he stammered in apparent confusion, then blurted out, "because you-- because I am sitting here. Although I have met you but once before, it seems somehow as if I had known you always, and my slight anxiety that I told you of fades away in your presence. I hope you don't think I am forward in saying this, but really to-night, when I saw you at the head of the gangway, I could scarcely refrain from going directly to you and greeting you. I am afraid I made rather a hash of it with Captain Kempt. He is too much of a gentleman to have shown any surprise at my somewhat boisterous accosting of him, and you know I didn't remember him at all, but I saw that you were under his care, and chanced it. Luckily it seems to have been Captain Kempt after all, but I fear I surprised him, taking him by storm, as it were."
"I thought you did it very nicely," said Dorothy, "and, indeed, until this moment I hadn't the least suspicion that you didn't recognize him. He is a dear old gentleman, and I'm very fond of him."
"I say," said the Lieutenant, lowering his voice, "I nearly came a cropper when I spoke of that Russian affair before your friend. I was thinking of-- of-- well, I wasn't thinking of Miss Kempt--"
"Oh, she never noticed anything," said Dorothy hurriedly. "You got out of that, too, very well. I thought of telling her I had met you before while she and I were in New York together, but the opportunity never seemed-- well, I couldn't quite explain, and, indeed, didn't wish to explain my own inexplicable conduct at the bank, and so trusted to chance. If you had greeted me first tonight, I suppose"-- she smiled and looked up at him-- "I suppose I should have brazened it out somehow."
"Have you been in New York?"
"Yes, we were there nearly a week."
"Ah, that accounts for it."
"Accounts for what?"
"I have walked up and down every street, lane and alley in Bar Harbor, hoping to catch a glimpse of you. I have haunted the town, and all the time you were away."
"No wonder the Captain frowns at you! Have you been neglecting your duty?"
"Well, I have been stretching my shore leave just a little bit. I wanted to apologize for talking so much about myself as we walked from the bank."
"It was very interesting, and, if you remember, we walked farther than I had intended."
"Were your friends waiting for you, or had they gone?"
"They were waiting for me."
"I hope they weren't cross?"
"Oh, no. I told them I had been detained. It happened not to be necessary to enter into details, so I was saved the task of explanation, and, besides, we had other interesting things to discuss. This function on the cruiser has loomed so large as a topic of conversation that there has been little need of any other subject to talk about for several days past."
"I suppose you must have attended many grander occasions than this. Although we have endeavored to make a display, and although we possess a reasonably efficient band, still, a cruiser is not exactly designed for the use to which it is being put to-night. We have many disadvantages to overcome which are not met with in the sumptuous dwellings of New York and Bar Harbor."
The girl's eyes were on the deck for some moments before she replied, then she looked across at the dancers, and finally said:
"I think the ball on the 'Consternation' quite equals anything I have ever attended."
"It is nice of you to say that. Praise from-- I won't name Sir Hubert Stanley-- but rather Lady Hubert Stanley-- is praise, indeed. And now, Miss Amhurst, since I have confessed my fruitless wanderings through Bar Harbor, may I not have the pleasure of calling upon you to-morrow or next day?"
Her eyes were dreamily watching the dancers.
"I suppose," she said slowly, with the flicker of a smile curving those enticing lips, "that since you were so very friendly with Captain Kempt to-night he may expect you to smoke a cigar with him, and it will possibly happen that Katherine and I, who are very fond of the Captain, may chance to come in while you are there."
"Katherine? Ah, Katherine is the name of the young lady who was with you here-- Miss Kempt?"
"You are stopping with the Kempts, then?"
"I wonder if they'd think I was taking a liberty if I brought Jack Lamont with me?"
"The Prince?" laughed Dorothy. "Is he a real prince?"
"Oh, yes, there's no doubt about that. I shouldn't have taken the liberty of introducing him to you as Prince Lermontoff if he were not, as we say in Scotland, a real Mackay-- the genuine article. Well, then, the Prince and I will pay our respects to Captain Kempt to-morrow afternoon."
"Did you say the Prince is going with you to Russia?"
"Oh, yes. As I told you, I intend to live very quietly in St. Petersburg, and the Prince has his shop and a pair of rooms above it in a working quarter of the city. I shall occupy one of the rooms and he the other. The Prince is an excellent cook, so we shan't starve, even if we engage no servant."
"Has the Prince given his estates away also?"
"He hasn't given them away exactly, but he is a very indulgent landlord, and he spends so much money on his experiments and travel that, although he has a formidable income, he is very frequently quite short of money. Did you like him?"
"Yes. Of course I saw him for a moment only. I wonder why they haven't returned. There's been several dances since they left."
"Perhaps," said the Lieutenant, with a slight return of his stammering, "your friend may be as fond of dancing as Jack is."
"You are still determined to go to Russia?"
"Quite. There is absolutely no danger. I may not accomplish anything, but I'll have a try at it. The Prince has a good deal of influence in St. Petersburg, which he will use quietly on my behalf, so that I may see the important people. I shall be glad when the Captain ceases frowning--"
Drummond was interrupted by a fellow-officer, who raised his cap, and begged a word with him.
"I think, Drummond, the Captain wanted to see you."
"Oh, did he say that?"
"No, but I know he has left a note for you in your cabin. Shall I go and fetch it?"
"I wish you would, Chesham, if you don't mind, and it isn't too much trouble."
"No trouble at all. Delighted, I'm sure," said Chesham, again raising his cap and going off.
"Now, I wonder what I have forgotten to do."
Drummond heaved a sigh proportionate to himself.
"Under the present condition of things a bit of neglect that would go unnoticed with another man is a sign of unrepentant villainy in me. Any other Lieutenant may steal a horse while I may not look over a hedge. You see how necessary it is for me to go to Russia, and get this thing smoothed over."
"I think, perhaps, you are too sensitive, and notice slights where nothing of the kind is meant," said the girl.
Chesham returned and handed Drummond a letter.
"Will you excuse me a moment?" he said, and as she looked at him he flattered himself that he noticed a trace of anxiety in her eyes. He tore open the missive.
"By Jove!" he cried.
"What is it?" she could not prevent herself from saying, leaning forward.
"I am ordered home. The Admiralty commands me to take the first steamer for England."
"Is that serious?"
He laughed with well-feigned hilarity.
"Oh, no, not serious; it's just their way of doing things. They might easily have allowed me to come home in my own ship. My only fear is I shall have to take the train for New York early to-morrow morning. But," he said, holding out his hands, "it is not serious if you allow me to write to you, and if you will permit me to hope that I may receive an answer."
She placed her hand in his, this time without hesitation.
"You may write," she said, "and I will reply. I trust it is not serious."