The allurement of a September day
had brought me far down the trail, past the neck of
the marsh, and far from my accustomed haunts.
But I could never resist September weather, particularly
when the winds are still, and the sun through the
leaves dapples the trail like a fawn’s back,
and the woods are so silent that the least rustle of
a squirrel in the thicket cracks with a miniature
explosion. And for all the gloom of the woods,
and the tricky windings and cut-backs of that restless
little serpent of a trail, I still knew approximately
where I was. A natural sense of direction was
seemingly implanted with less essential organs in
my body at birth.
The Ochakee River wound its lazy way
to the sea somewhere to my right. A half mile
further the little trail ended in a brown road over
which a motor-car, in favorable seasons, might safely
pass. The Nealman estate, known for forty miles
up and down the shore, lay at the juncture of the
trail and the road but I hadn’t the
least idea of pushing on that far. Neither fortune
nor environment had fitted me to move in such a circle
as sometimes gathered on the wide verandas of Kastle
I was lighting a pipe, ready to turn
back, when the leaves rustled in the trail in front.
It was just a whisper of sound, the faintest scratch-scratch
of something approaching at a great distance, and only
the fact that my senses had been trained to silences
such as these enabled me to hear it at all. It
is always a fascinating thing to stand silent on a
jungle-trail, conjecturing what manner of creature
is pushing toward you under the pendulous moss:
perhaps a deer, more graceful than any dancer that
ever cavorted before the footlights, or perhaps (stranger
things have happened) that awkward, snuffling, benevolent
old gentleman, the black bear. This was my life,
so no wonder the match flared out in my hand.
And then once more I started to turn back.
I had got too near the Nealman home,
after all. I suddenly recognized the subdued
sound as that of a horse’s hoofs in the moss
of the trail. Some one of the proud and wealthy
occupants of the old manor house was simply enjoying
a ride in the still woods. But it was high time
he turned back! The marshes of the Ochakee were
no place for tenderfeet; and this was not like riding
in Central Park! Some of the quagmires I had
passed already to-day would make short work of horse
My eye has always been sensitive to
motion in this regard not greatly dissimilar
from the eyes of the wild creatures themselves and
I suddenly caught a flash of moving color through
a little rift in the overhanging branches. The
horseman that neared me on the trail was certainly
gayly dressed! The flash I caught was pink the
pink that little girls fancy in ribbons and
a derisive grin crept to my lips before I could restrain
it. There was no mistaking the fact that I was
beginning to have the woodsman’s intolerance
for city furs and frills! Right then I decided
It might pay to see how this rider
had got himself up! It might afford certain moments
of amusement when the still mystery of the Floridan
night dropped over me again. I drew to one side
and stood still on the trail.
The horse walked near. The rider
wasn’t a man, after all. It was a girl
in the simplest, yet the prettiest, riding-habit that
eyes ever laid upon, and the prettiest girl that had
ridden that trail since the woods were new.
The intolerant grin at my lips died
a natural death. She might be the proud and haughty
daughter of wealth, such a type as our more simple
country-dwellers robe with tales of scandal, yet the
picture that she made astride that great,
dark horse in the dappled sunlight of the trail was
one that was worth coming long miles to see. The
dark, mossy woods were a perfect frame, the shadows
seemed only to accentuate her own bright coloring.
It wasn’t simply because I am
a naturalist that I instantly noticed and stored away
immutably in my memory every detail of that happy,
pretty face. The girl had blue eyes. I’ve
seen the same shade of blue in the sea, a dark blue
and yet giving the impression of incredible brightness.
Yet it was a warm brightness, not the steely, icy glitter
of the sea. They were friendly, wholesome, straightforward
eyes, lit with the joy of living; wide-open and girlish.
The brows were fine and dark above them, and above
these a clear, girlish forehead with never a studied
line. Her hair was brown and shot with gold indeed,
in the sunlight, it looked like old, red gold, finely
She was tanned by the Florida sun,
yet there was a bright color-spot in each cheek.
I thought she had rather a wistful mouth, rather full
lips, half-pouting in some girlish fancy. Of
course she hadn’t observed me yet. She
was riding easily, evidently thinking herself wholly
Her form was slender and girlish,
of medium height, yet her slender hands at the reins
held her big horse in perfect control. The heels
of her trim little shoes touched his side, and the
animal leaped lightly over a fallen log. Then
she saw me, and her expression changed.
It was, however, still unstudied and
friendly. The cold look of indifference I had
expected and which is such a mark of ill-breeding
among certain of her class, didn’t put in its
appearance. I removed my hat, and she drew her
horse up beside me.
It hadn’t occurred to me she
would actually stop and talk. It had been rather
too much to hope for. And I knew I felt a curious
little stir of delight all over me at the first sound
of her friendly, gentle voice.
“I suppose you are Mr. Killdare?” she
Every one knows how a man quickens
at the sound of his own name. “Yes, ma’am,”
I told her in our own way of speaking.
But I didn’t know what else to say.
“I was riding over to see you on
business,” she went on. “For my uncle Grover
Nealman, of Kastle Krags. I’m his secretary.”
The words made me stop and think.
It was hard for me to explain, even to myself, just
why they thrilled me far under the skin, and why the
little tingle of delight I had known at first gave
way to a mighty surge of anticipation and pleasure.
It seems to be true that the first thing we look for
in a stranger is his similarity to us, and the second,
his dissimilarity; and in these two factors alone
rests our attitude towards him. It has been thus
since the beginning of the world if he is
too dissimilar, our reaction is one of dislike, and
I suppose, far enough down the scale of civilization,
we would immediately try to kill him. If he has
enough in common with ourselves we at once feel warm
and friendly, and invite him to our tribal feasts.
Perhaps this was the way it was between
myself and Edith Nealman. She wasn’t infinitely
set apart from me some one rich and experienced
and free of all the problems that made up my life.
Nealman’s niece meant something far different
than Nealman’s daughter if indeed
the man had a daughter. She was his secretary,
she said a paid worker even as I was.
She had come to see me on business and no
wonder I was anticipatory and elated as I hadn’t
been for years!
“I’m glad to know you,
Miss” I began. For of
course I didn’t know her name, then.
“Miss Nealman,” she told
me, easily. “Now I’ll tell you what
my uncle wants. He heard about you, from Mr.
I nodded. Mr. Todd had brought
me out from the village and had helped me with some
work I was doing for my university, in a northern state.
“He was trying to get Mr. Todd
to help him, but he was busy and couldn’t do
it,” the girl went on. “But he said
to get Ned Killdare that you could do it
as well as he could. He said no one knew the country
immediately about here any better than you that
though you’d only been here a month or two you
had been all over it, and that you knew the habits
of the turkeys and quail, and the best fishing grounds,
better than any one else in the country.”
I nodded in assent. Of course
I knew these things: on a zoological excursion
for the university they were simply my business.
But as yet I couldn’t guess how this information
was to be of use to Grover Nealman.
“Now this is what my uncle wants,”
the girl went on. “He’s going to have
a big shoot and fish for some of his man friends they
are coming down in about two weeks. They’ll
want to fish in the Ochakee River and in the lagoon,
and hunt quail and turkey, and my uncle wants to know
if if he can possibly hire you
I liked her for her hesitancy, the
uncertainty with which she spoke. Her voice had
nothing of that calm superiority that is so often heard
in the offering of humble employment. She was
plainly considering my dignity as if anything
this sweet-faced girl could say could possibly injure
“All he wanted of you was to
stay at Kastle Krags during the hunting party, and
be able to show the men where to hunt and fish.
You won’t have to act as as anybody’s
valet and he says he’ll pay you real
guide’s wages, ten dollars a day.”
“When would he want me to begin?”
“Right away, if you could to-morrow.
The guests won’t be here for two weeks, but
there are a lot of things to do first. You see,
my uncle came here only a short time ago, and all
the fishing-boats need overhauling, and everything
put in ship-shape. Then he thought you’d
want some extra time for looking around and locating
the game and fish. The work would be for three
weeks, in all.”
Three weeks! I did some fast
figuring, and I found that twenty days, at ten dollars
a day, meant two hundred dollars. Could I afford
to refuse such an offer as this?
It is true that I had no particular
love for many of the city sportsmen that came to shoot
turkey and to fish in the region of the Ochakee.
The reason was simply that “sportsmen,”
for them, was a misnomer: that they had no conception
of sport from its beginnings to its end, and that they
could only kill game like butchers. Then I didn’t
know that I would care about being employed in such
Yet two or three tremendous considerations
stared me in the face. In the first place, I
was really in need of funds. I had not yet obtained
any of the higher scholastic degrees that would entitle
me to decent pay at the university I was
merely a post-graduate student, with the complimentary
title of “instructor.” I had offered
to spend my summer collecting specimens for the university
museum at a wage that barely paid for my traveling
expenses and supplies, wholly failing to consider
where I would get sufficient funds to continue my studies
the following year.
Scarcity of money no one
can feel it worse than a young man inflamed with a
passion for scientific research! There were a
thousand things I wanted to do, a thousand journeys
into unknown lands that haunted my dreams at night,
but none of them were for the poor. The two hundred
dollars Grover Nealman would pay me would not go far,
yet I simply couldn’t afford to pass it by.
Of course I could continue my work for my alma mater
at the same time.
Yet while I thought of these things,
I knew that I was only lying to myself. They
were subterfuges only, excuses to my own conscience.
The instant she had opened her lips to speak I had
known my answer.
To refuse meant to go back to my lonely
camp in the cypress. I hoped I wasn’t such
a fool as that. To accept meant three weeks at
Kastle Krags and daily sight of this same
lovely face that now held fast my eyes. Could
there be any question which course I would choose?
“Go I should say
I will go,” I told her. “I’ll
be there bright and early to-morrow.”
I thought she looked pleased, but
doubtless I was mistaken.