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You are living in the wrong end of the century to fall back on sentiment! This is the age of common-sense, and you know you can't urge a single reasonable objection to Mancraft."
The superintendent leaned forward in his chair. "You're keeping something back, Mellie," he said; "there's some other fellow in the background. Who is it?-not Macdonald, I hope."
Unfortunately, Macdonald's self-repression had left Mellicent thus far without weapons, but she took something for granted, and said:
"Oho! that's it, is it?" The superintendent's look of displeasure deepened into the judicial frown which made him a terror to erring train-men called into the private office for reprimand. "Well, let me tell you: Mac is nothing but an operator, and he'll never be anything else on this division. You promised your mother before she died that you wouldn't marry without my consent, and I'll never consent to let you throw yourself away on a poor devil of an office-man "-here the official habit asserted itself irresistibly, and he concluded: "Just take ten days to think about that, will you?"
Mellicent wanted to cry, but the familiar sentence of suspension saved her, and she caught eagerly at the reprieve. 'It shall be as you say, papa," she said, submissively; "I'll give Mr. Mancraft his answer-in ten days."
If Macdonald had been omniscient, it is fair to presume that he would have thrown his frugal scruples to the dogs; but knowing nothing of Mancraft, the parental point of view, or the reprieve, he suffered nine of these precious days to make yesterdays of themselves unmarked save by his usual Sunday afternoon call upon Mellicent. On that accasion she did what a modest young woman may do toward smoothing the difficulties from the path of a reticent lover, and more than once during his visit Macdonald had to emphasize the contrast between her home surroundings and the modest figure of his bank account, before he could persuade himself to hold his peace yet a little longer.
"Dear Mr. Macdonald," it began: "As attorneys for Elvira Spurlock, lately deceased, it was our mournful privilege to draw up her last will and testament. Although the terms of this document have not yet been made public, we are in a position to know that you are the principal legatee, and as such we hasten to offer you our hearty congratulations upon your good fortune. Owing to the absence of one of the executors, the reading of the will will be postponed for a few days; but as your presence will be necessary, you may rely upon us to give you due notice.
"In the meantime, in evidence of our good-will toward one whom we hope to retain as our client, we authorize you to draw upon us for any sum you may need for your present requirements up to $1,000, the advance to be repaid when we shall have the pleasure of turning over the major portion of the Spurlock estate to its future owner. Until then, believe us, dear sir,
"Your most obedient servants,
Some tokens of Macdonald's mingled emotions must have found their way into his face, since Mrs. Jordan hastened to ask: "No bad news, is it, Mr. Macdonald?"
"Oh, no; it's rather the other way, I believe," replied Macdonald, putting
the letter into his pocket and trying to bring himself down to the commonplace necessity of eating his breakfast.
Mrs. Jordan went to the window and looped back the curtain so that he might have more light. As she looked out, a young man passed on his way down-town.
"There goes Mr. Elbert's future sonin-law," she remarked, coming back to replenish Macdonald's coffee-cup.
"What Mr. Elbert?" asked the despatcher, absently.
"Why, our Mr. Elbert-the superintendent. Didn't you know that his daughter Mellie was going to be married to Mr. Mancraft, the mining engineer?
There is a limit to the number and nature of the surprises that a man may endure with becoming indifference, and Mrs. Jordan's bit of gossip wrecked Macdonald's equanimity instantaneously and hopelessly.
"What's that you say?" he gasped, pushing his plate back and staring wildly at his landlady.
Mrs. Jordan repeated the scrap of gossip.
"But it can't be," insisted Macdonald. "I-excuse me, Mrs. Jordan, I don't believe I want any more breakfast"-and the closing of the front door behind him punctuated his apol
Once in the street, his determination was quickly taken, and within the quarter-hour he was closeted with the superintendent in the latter's private
"You'll have to talk quick this morning, Mac; I'm going out on No. 43 to meet the Boston excursion."
Macdonald's tongue clave to the roof of his mouth, but he was not the man to look back after he had put his hand to the plough.
"It's about-about your daughter, Mr. Elbert," he stammered; "I love her, and I want your permission to ask her to be my wife."
The superintendent glanced at his watch. "Am I to infer from this that you haven't already asked her?" he inquired.
"Yes; I came to you
Mr. Elbert waved his hand impatiently. 'There is no need of making any more talk about it; the matter can be settled in one word-no."
Macdonald was already overwrought, and the curt negative set the hot blood of his Celtic ancestry to dancing uncivilized measures in his brain. Putting his broad shoulders against the door, he burst out passionately: "You shall hear what I've got to say, if you miss twenty trains! I want to marry your daughter; I can give her a good name; I've saved up enough money to start us in decently; and if that isn't enough-" taking the attorneys' letter from his pocket-"I can give her more. Read that!"
The superintendent glanced at the letter, impatiently at first, and then with awakening interest.
"Open that door and tell Burwell to have 43 held till I come down," he said; and when Macdonald had done so-"You're a hot-headed young fool, like all the rest of them, but I like your spirit. Now tell me all about this."
"There isn't much to tell," rejoined Macdonald, whose wrath vanished with the provocation. "My grandfather disinherited my mother for marrying a Scotch gardener and left his money to his sister. It seems now that she has tried to repair the injustice done to my mother."
"How much of a fortune is it?"
"I don't know that; grandfather left $50,000 in English securities, and there was some real estate in Canada."
Mr. Elbert was a man of quick decision, as a superintendent should be. Handing the letter back, he said, "I'm not more mercenary than I have to be, Mac, but you see how it is, yourself; I wouldn't be much of a father if I didn't keep a level head where Mellie's interests are involved. After all, though, it rests with her; but if you can get her consent, why-I guess you won't have any trouble with me. Now I must go, before I get 43 laid out on her meeting-point."
At the door he thought of something else, and paused with his hand on the knob. "By the way, Mac, perhaps it would be as well for you to
change off with some of the boys so that you could run up to the house tonight and I'd go pretty middling early, if I were you."
Macdonald needed no urging, but it took the better part of the forenoon to make the desired change in his working hours. It was accomplished finally by his agreeing to work during the afternoon for one of the day men, who was to relieve him at seven and who, in turn, was to be relieved at nine by Pinckney. It was unquestionably the longest afternoon in Macdonald's life, and when it came to an end, he could only make a pretence of eating the supper which Mrs. Jordan had kept warm for him. Running up to his room to dress, he met the twins Delay and Haste on the threshold, and it was eight o'clock when the rang the bell at the superintenden's house. While waiting on the doorstep he had a chill of apprehension superinduced by the sight of the lighted parlor windows, presaging another and an earlier visitor; and the presentiment had its fulfilment when the servant led him past the parlor door and into the deserted family sitting-room.
It was five measureless minutes before Mellicent joined him, and he saw at once that she had come only to excuse herself. There was no time for the commonplaces, and still less for subtle and progressive upleadings to the object of his visit.
"Miss Elbert - Mellie," he began, taking her hands in his, "give me just one minute. I don't need to tell you that I love you-that's been saying itself for more than a year-but I've been an over-cautious fool. I've been given to understand that I had a meeting-point to make here to-night; tell me in just one word-am I too late?"
The whispered answer was frank and unhesitating: "No; wait." And before he could put his joy into words she was gone.
"Wait? I should think I would! I'll wait till midnight, God bless her!" said Macdonald, tramping up and down the room in the exuberance of his happiness. "I hope the other fellow will take his medicine easier than I could mine. Whew! I can almost find it in my heart to pity him, poor devil!"
Nevertheless, Macdonald's patience was tested severely before he was permitted to mend the broken thread of his wooing. Mancraft was only human; and inasmuch as Mellicent left him to his own devices for a good half hour while she went to her room to have it out with her emotions, he retaliated by killing time mercilessly after she returned. Putting this and that together, what with the mining engineer's dalliance, and his obstinate refusal to take anything less than an argumentative series of negatives for his final answer, it was after nine o'clock when Mellicent rejoined Macdonald. A little later, when the arrearages of repressed affection had been given a hearing, and coherence once more became possible, Mellicent thought of her promise, and of her father's displeasure.
"Oh, Fergus!" she whispered, "we can't go on and be happy, after all! Papa will never, never give his consent."
"Yes, he will," asserted Macdonald, cheerfully; "he has done it already-I asked him this morning."
"And you made him say yes, after he had told me" Mellicent stopped abruptly and left the sentence unfinished. Tell me what you said to him."
It was Macdonald's turn to hesitate now, and he floundered helplessly among the introductory phrases. "I told him he'd have to-that is, I gave him to understand-or rather, I should say, he wasn't going to——
Mellicent laughed and clapped her hands softly. "Go on, Fergus; you're doing beautifully."
"Oh, pshaw! I suppose I might as well tell the truth and be done with it. He said no, at first, and wasn't going to hear me he was just going away, you know-and then I got angry and put my back against the door, and told him he'd have to listen. He was good about it afterward, though, and when I told him about my savings, and about the fortune Aunt Spurlock had left me--" he stopped in deference to the wide-eyed astonishment of his listener, and suddenly remembered that Mellicent knew nothing about the legacy.
Why, bless my idiotic soul!" he
exclaimed, "I haven't told you yet! Another day like this would curdle what little brain I have left-here, read this letter, and I'll explain afterward." Mellicent read Messrs. Grimshaw & Flynt's letter with kindling enthusiasm. At its conclusion she said, fervently, "Oh, I'm so glad; now you won't have to work nights, will you, Fergus?"
Macdonald smiled lovingly at her unselfish first thought. "That wasn't what I was thinking of," he said. "I'm glad because it makes it possible for me to give you all the little comforts and luxuries you've been used to; that's what I was saving for, and it's why I waited so
The clang of the front door bell interrupted him, and a sleepy servant came in with a telegram addressed to Mellicent. Macdonald watched her face as she read, and so was not wholly unprepared for her little gasp of dismay.
What is it, Mellie?" he asked, excitedly.
For answer she gave him the message, and he read it with a curious inversion of the senses which seemed to set him upon a pinnacle remotely apart from the commonplace realities. It was from the superintendent, and it was incisive and curtly definite.
"Tell Macdonald his trick is discovered, and send him about his business. Miss Elvira Spurlock is a passenger on this train."
Macdonald grappled with his sanity, and got up to rage back and forth like a caged lion.
"What do you make of it, Fergus?" asked Mellicent, shading her eyes from the light with the opened letter.
"Make of it? There's only one thing that can be made of it-it's a miserable
hoax, and he thinks I'm a party to it!" "You mustn't mind he's angry now," pleaded Mellicent. "Who in the world could do such a thing?" she glanced up at the letter and caught her breath-"Fergus, would anyone in Canada be likely to use C. & G. R. paper?"
She rose and held the letter before the lamp and Macdonald read the water-mark in the paper, "Colorado &
Grand River Railway." Then he remembered the midnight talk with Pinckney and Reddick.
"That tells the story," he said, savagely; "I know who did it, and I'll make them both wish they'd never been born. Where's my hat?
Mellicant saw battle and murder and sudden death in his flashing eyes, and a pair of soft arms went quickly about his neck. "You mustn't, Fergus, dear," she entreated. Whoever did it couldn't know what would happen ; and, besides "-she hid her face on his shoulder-" you know you were waiting, and—and if it hadn't been for the letter"
The most courageous affection could go no farther, and Macdonald's wrath dropped a few degrees below the murder point when he supplied the missing half of the suggestion.
"You're right, Mellie," he said, disengaging himself gently from the clinging arms; "I won't kill either of them, but in justice to your father I must go. Good-night, dear; try hard to think me out of this ghastly scrape and he was gone before she could promise.
Notwithstanding his relenting admission, Macdonald was determined to have it out with Pinckney and Reddick before he slept; and while he was on his way down - town, a dramatic little scene came upon the stage in the despatcher's office. Pinckney had relieved the day man, and had settled down to his night's work, when Reddick rushed in with a Western Union telegram.
"Great murder, man! Read that, will you?" he exclaimed, dropping into a chair and fanning himself vigorously with his straw hat.
lock, of my party, wants Fergus MacPinckney read: "Miss Elvira Spurdonald to meet her on arrival of excursion in morning. Find and notify him quick.
J. M. JOHNSON."
"Who is Johnson?" he asked. "Passenger man in charge of the excursion. What on top of earth do you suppose brings that old woman out here right in the middle of things?"
Pinckney had the answer to that question in his pocket. In asking the
Whittlesey operator to mail Messrs. Grimshaw & Flynt's incendiary epistle, he could not refrain from telling the joke. Whitcomb had thoughtlessly repeated it, and he wrote in some contrition to say that Miss Spurlock had been making inquiries and had taken a ticket for the Boston-California excursion. For prudential reasons, however, Pinckney ignored the question and asked:
"Do you suppose Mac's got his leg acy yet?"
"Got it? I should say he had! I met Burwell a half hour ago, and he says Mac had a row with the superintendent about his daughter this morning-scored the old man up one hill and down the other, and ended by shoving that fool letter under his nose." Pinckney came out of his indifference at once. "That's serious-that's why Mac wanted to get off to-night. Did you know there was anything between him and Mellie Elbert?"
"Yes; but I didn't suppose he would go and make a full-blown idiot of himself before he'd taken time to find out."
"You might have known he would, when there was a woman in the case. Oh, you're in for it-the old man's on the train, and he's probably seen the passenger agent; that means a red-hot message to his daughter, or to Mac, or to both of them. Reddick, if I were you, I'd get out of town for a day or two, if I had to walk."
"I? What's the matter with you? You're as deep in the mud as I am in the mire."
"Mac won't think so; and, besides, one scapegoat's a plenty - what was that?"
A door slammed at the foot of the stairs and a quick step echoed in the corridor.
"Here he comes now," said the despatcher, coolly; "if you want to keep a whole skin, you'd better get out of here."
The advice was good, but there was only one door to the room and Reddick did what he could, diving into a cupboard under the copying-press a scant half-second before Macdonald entered the office. Pinckney looked up, nod
"Don't know; he was in awhile ago, but he went out again "-the despatcher on duty found it convenient to be very busy over the day man's transfernotes.
Macdonald tossed an open letter upon the table. I want to know which one of you fellows wrote that," he said, sternly.
Pinckney read the letter with wellsimulated interest. "What makes you think either of us wrote it?" he asked.
"I don't think-I know"-Macdonald held the sheet up to the gas-jet— "you see the water-mark," he continued; "well, this letter has cost me my job, and something more, and I'm going to punch somebody's head. Shall I begin on you?"
Pinckney had a just regard for the righteous anger of a good-tempered young giant, and he was mindful of his cue. "Don't be a fool, Mac," he said, with a fine assumption of virtuous indignation; "I'm no school-boy. If that letter is a fake, you know well enough who wrote it.'
"Reddick, you mean?"
"Of course; he's the only man in the outfit with a pin-head brain. Besides, I remember his asking me something about Whittlesey that night after you told us about your aunt.'
"He did, eh?" Macdonald spoke doubtfully; "I more than half believe you're trying to lie yourself out of a licking."
Pinckney went from indignant deprecation to pathetic. "I didn't think you'd go back on an old partner like that, Mac; it's rough, especially when the thing is as plain as the nose on your face. Let me show you-here is a passenger department letter written by that chuckle-headed dwarf of a chief clerk to-day; just look at it, and see if the typewriting isn't the same."
"You are right," admitted Macdonald, comparing the letters; "I take it all back, old man, but I've had grief enough to-day to rattle anybody, and all on account of that idiotic letter. Pinckney," he went on, his wrath rising