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LOVE AND A PRIZE-FIGHT
It is best not to repeat the expressions Brewster used regarding one S. Jones, after reading his telegram. But he felt considerably relieved after he had uttered them. He fell to reading accounts of the big prizefight which was to take place in San Francisco that evening. He revelled in the descriptions of "upper cuts" and "left hooks," and learned incidentally that the affair was to be quite one-sided. A local amateur was to box a champion. Quick to see an opportunity, and cajoling himself into the belief that Swearengen Jones could not object to such a display of sportsmanship, Brewster made Harrison book several good wagers on the result. He intimated that he had reason to believe that the favorite would lose. Harrison soon placed three thousand dollars on his man. The young financier felt so sure of the result that he entered the bets on the profit side of his ledger the moment he received Harrison's report.
This done, he telephoned Miss Drew. She was not insensible to the significance of his inquiry if she would be in that afternoon. She had observed in him of late a condition of uneasiness, supplemented by moroseness and occasional periods of irascibility. Every girl whose occupation in life is the study of men recognizes these symptoms and knows how to treat them. Barbara had dealt with many men afflicted in this manner, and the flutter of anticipation that came with his urgent plea to see her was tempered by experience. It had something of joy in it, for she cared enough for Montgomery Brewster to have made her anxiously uncertain of his state of mind. She cared, indeed, much more than she intended to confess at the outset.
It was nearly half past five when he came, and for once the philosophical Miss Drew felt a little irritation. So certain was she of his object in coming that his tardiness was a trifle ruffling. He apologized for being late, and succeeded in banishing the pique that possessed her. It was naturally impossible for him to share all his secrets with her, and that is why he did not tell her that Grant & Ripley had called him up to report the receipt of a telegram from Swearengen Jones, in which the gentleman laconically said he could feed the whole State of Montana for less than six thousand dollars. Beyond that there was no comment. Brewster, in dire trepidation, hastened to the office of the attorneys. They smiled when he burst in upon them.
"Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "does the miserly old hayseed expect me to spend a million for newspapers, cigarettes and Boston terriers? I thought he would be reasonable!"
"He evidently has seen the newspaper accounts of your dinner, and this is merely his comment," said Mr. Ripley.
"It's either a warning, or else he's ambiguous in his compliments," growled Brewster, disgustedly.
"I don't believe he disapproved, Mr. Brewster. In the west the old gentleman is widely known as a wit."
"A wit, eh? Then he'll appreciate an answer from me. Have you a telegraph blank, Mr. Grant?"
Two minutes later the following telegram to Swearengen Jones was awaiting the arrival of a messenger-boy, and Brewster was blandly assuring Messrs. Grant & Ripley that he did not "care a rap for the consequences":
NEW YORK, October 23. 1—
No doubt you could do it for less than six thousand. Montana is regarded as
the best grazing country in the world, but we don't eat that sort of stuff in New
York. That's why it costs more to live here.
Just before leaving his apartments for Miss Drew's home he received this response from far-away Montana:
BUTTE, MONTANA, Oct. 23, 1—
We are eight thousand feet above the level of the sea. I suppose that's why it
costs us less to live high.
"I was beginning to despair, Monty," said Miss Drew, reproachfully, when he had come down from the height of his exasperation and remembered that there were things of more importance.
The light in his eyes brought the faintest tinge of red to her cheeks, and where a moment before there had been annoyance there was now a feeling of serenity. For a moment the silence was fraught with purpose. Monty glanced around the room, uncertain how to begin. It was not so easy as he had imagined.
"You are very good to see me," he said at last. "It was absolutely necessary for me to talk to you this evening; I could not have endured the suspense any longer. Barbara, I've spent three or four sleepless nights on your account. Will it spoil your evening if I tell you in plain words what you already know? It won't bother you, will it?" he floundered.
"What do you mean, Monty?" she begged, purposely dense, and with wonderful control of her eyes.
"I love you, Babs," he cried. "I thought you knew about it all along or I should have told you before. That's why I haven't slept. The fear that you may not care for me has driven me nearly to distraction. It couldn't go on any longer. I must know to-day."
There was a gleam in his eyes that made her pose of indifference difficult; the fervor of his half-whispered words took possession of her. She had expected sentiment of such a different character that his frank confession disarmed her completely. Beneath his ardent, abrupt plea there was assurance, the confidence of one who is not to be denied. It was not what he had said, but the way he had said it. A wave of exultation swept over her, tingling through every nerve.
Under the spell her resolution to dally lightly with his emotion suffered a check that almost brought ignominious surrender. Both of her hands were clasped in his when he exultingly resumed the charge against her heart, but she was rapidly regaining control of her emotions and he did not know that he was losing ground with each step he took forward. Barbara Drew loved Brewster, but she was going to make him pay dearly for the brief lapse her composure had experienced. When next she spoke she was again the Miss Drew who had been trained in the ways of the world, and not the young girl in love.
"I care for you a great deal, Monty," she said, "but I'm wondering whether I care enough to — to marry you."
"We haven't known each other very long, Babs," he said, tenderly, "but I think we know each other well enough to be beyond wondering."
"It is like you to manage the whole thing," she said, chidingly. "Can't you give me time to convince myself that I love you as you would like, and as I must love if I expect to be happy with the man I marry?"
"I forgot myself," he said, humbly.
"You forgot me," she protested, gently, touched by this sign of contrition. "I do care for you, Monty, but don't you see it's no little thing you ask of me? I must be sure — very sure — before I — before — "
"Don't be so distressed," he pleaded. "You will love me, I know, because you love me now. This means much to me, but it means more to you. You are the woman and you are the one whose happiness should be considered. I can live only in the hope that when I come to you again with this same story and this same question you'll not be afraid to trust yourself to me."
"You deserve to be happy for that, Monty," she said, earnestly, and it was with difficulty that she kept her eyes from wavering as they looked into his.
"You will let me try to make you love me?" he asked, eagerly.
"I may not be worth the struggle."
"I'll take that chance," he replied.
She was conscious of disappointment after he was gone. He had not pleaded as ardently as she had expected and desired, and, try as she would, she could not banish the touch of irritation that had come to haunt her for the night.
Brewster walked to the club, elated that he had at least made a beginning. His position was now clear. Besides losing a fortune he must win Barbara in open competition.
At the theater that evening he met Harrison, who was in a state of jubilation.
"Where did you get that tip?" asked he.
"Tip? What tip?" from Brewster.
"On the prize-fight."
Brewster's face fell and something cold crept over him.
"How did — what was the result?" he asked, sure of the answer.
"Haven't you heard? Your man knocked him out in the fifth round — surprised everybody."