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CHAPTER III

A

CROSS the sunset-tinted water the canoe approached with the beauty and stateliness of

Lohengrin's swan. Coming nearer, the man who paddled it showed himself to be young and very well set up. Indeed he was so fine of favor that in Lohengrin's time—whatever that fabled time was supposed to be-he might have been obliged to bear up under the epithet of beautiful. This water-arriving knight, instead of being a silver one, was a golden one. His thick brown hair had a bronze gloss, and on his cheek was the gold-brown of perfect, virile health; in costume he had stuck faithfully and artistically to yellows, being completely in khaki, even to the exemplarily knotted tie at his tanned young throat. From knee to shoe he was in bright butter-colored leather puttees.

He radiated such a suggestion of storm-proof immaculateness that one would not be surprised to see him go through shipwreck and come out dry. At this present moment he looked ready to lead an army into battle, a girl through a cotillion, or to paddle a canoe.

Though he saw the feminine watcher from the start, he did not allow her presence to hurry his movements, or to retard them. She did not entangle them in the slightest particular. He rhythmically kept on coming.

When arrived, he judiciously picked out the least rotten leg of the centipede and tied his canoe to it,

still with the aplomb and precision of the utterly unwatched. He jumped lighily to the wobbling dock, walking its entire shaking length with a hermit's magnificent composure.

Face to face with Laurie he stopped, and said with a conciseness that just missed being curt:

"Pardon. Is this McAllister's grove?”

“Why-well,” she began, rather at a loss to know the right reply to the question as put. Also she was repeating to herself the young man's pronunciation of his first word, and thinking how grandpa would love to hear it! “Pawdon.” So English you could cut it with a knife and pass it around!

The young man spoke again, with emphasis, as if to help out a presumable imbecile. "McAllister. One Laurence McAllister.

A newcomer. They tell me he has bought a grove on this side of the lake. Is that so?"

To the peremptoriness of the query the girl made chary reply:

“Yes. That's so."

“Knowing by experience how lonely and perplexed a grove owner feels at the beginning, I have come over to be neighborly and to talk trees. I own the grove across the lake. I fancy I can give McAllister some points. My name is Roycroft-Charles Roycroft.”

He mentioned it not in social introduction, but as business recommendation, it standing for all that was successful in citrus culture.

“And I'm McAllister,” she offered in stolid exchange. He frowned and she smiled.

He brought his heels correctly together and acknowledged her labeled presence with a bow, but his frown deepened. He had all of a young Englishman's ob

jection to being chaffed by a girl with an American accent. For he naturally had taken her statement to be a joke, American brand.

This utterly new and very blasting experience of being frowned at and down by a man, and the knowledge that she had brought it upon herself by a rather unmaidenly flippancy, sent Laurie's head proudly up. She locked her lips upon explanation. Let him reach whatever conclusion that pleased him. Let him, if he wished, unhitch his swan and go. But she said,

“My grandfather will be very glad to welcome you, I am sure, Mr. Charles Roycroft. Do you care to walk up to the house?”

“Most certainly; and I thank you," he replied, angrily tugging at a place where a mustache might be some day but was not now. I regret having antagonized you."

“By what flight of fancy did you reach the idea that that calamity had happened?” she asked, smiling again.

She felt that a smile would be more unpleasing to him than a grimace under the circumstances.

"Because you threw in 'Charles,” he answered with uncompromising definiteness.

“Then I will throw out 'Charles,” she said, affability itself. “This is the way to the house, Mr. Roycroft."

She led it very precipitately, enjoying the fact that he had to stride along quite faithfully in order to keep up. This was rudeness on her part, she knew, but the knowledge only refreshed her. She felt that it was positive philanthropy to provide him with plenty of reason for his initial lack of interest in her. He had arraigned her twice in five minutes for discourtesy;

here was his third chance. She might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. But he followed in a silence as complete as hers. “Did I go too fast?” she asked, turning to him pleasantly when she reached the porch steps. She was aching for a clash, and was sorry to see that opportunity for it was fading, for, above her, her grandfather was struggling to his feet, preparing to greet the guest. “Not too fast,” answered Roycroft, “but a little farther than was needed.” “Ascend, sir, and be seated,” invited The McAllister. Later, it might be, “Come up, man, and sit down,” but first occasions were always ceremonial with the old gentleman. He was a grandfather to be proud of—spiritual and wraith-like in appearance, frail in body as a puff of thistledown, but sturdy in spirit. “With more ancestors at his back than you could shake a stick at,” was the way his admiring descendant phrased it to herself. “Grandpa, this is Mr. Ch ” She stopped. If “Charles” was to be thrown in again, let Charles himself throw him. “This is Mr. Roycroft. Knowing by experience how lonely and perplexed a grove owner feels at the beginning, he has come over to be neighborly and to talk trees. He owns the grove across the lake. He fancies he can give McAllister some points.” “You have an excellent memory,” coolly commented the young man, finding time to say it to her even while he was advancing a gracious hand to her grandfather. “For certain things,” she mentioned qualifyingly. Then she went into the kitchen and proceeded to make lemonade with an ease that fascinated her. To obtain the fruit she had only to put her hand out of the kitchen window and pluck the bumps from a shrub that shaded it. Mr. Hopkins had drawn her attention to this providential shrub, and he had called the fruit Tahiti limes. “But if a thing looks like a lemon, and acts like a lemon, and tastes like a lemon, it is a lemon,” she now told herself, cutting and squeezing hospitably. After carrying the resultant nectar to the two gentlemen on the porch she resolutely betook herself into the garden again, taking especial pains to wander out of sight. If that khaki canoeist had come to see a McAllister man, a McAllister man he should have, and nothing more. But as the sunset fires began to die and the shadows lengthened, the voluntary exile in the garden wondered much at the staying qualities of the visitor. “Though if grandpa's taken to him he'll tell him all about us from A to Z. That yellow creature will just have to sit and listen. Yes, that’s what’s happened.” She could hear the old man talking in the happy, high-pitched voice he always used when he found a friend who suited him. Only occasionally could she hear a rumble from the young one. Charles Roycroft had the manliest kind of a deep voice, but at present was being given very little chance to use it. She gathered flowers till she had an armful, then— reaching the woodpile—she sat down on an unpoetical soap box to arrange them. She played the unknown tropical beauties dreamily from hand to hand, wondering half the time what their queer names were, and wondering the other half whether she had not better attend to the duty of rescuing Roycroft from being talked to death.

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