Read CHAPTER XXXII - IDA INTERFERES of Brandon of the Engineers , free online book, by Harold Bindloss, on ReadCentral.com.

On his return to Santa Brigida, Dick went to see a Spanish oculist, who took a more hopeful view than the Kingston doctor, although he admitted that there was some danger of the injury proving permanent.  Dick felt slightly comforted when he learned that the oculist was a clever man who had been well known in Barcelona until he was forced to leave the city after taking part in some revolutionary plot.  He was, however, unable to resume his work, and while he brooded over his misfortunes a touch of the malaria he had already suffered from hindered his recovery.  One of the effects of malaria is a feeling of black depression.  He was feebly struggling against the weakness and despondence when Fuller arrived and soon afterwards came to see him.  Dick, who was sitting in the darkest corner of the veranda, had got rid of his bandage; but an ugly, livid mark crossed his forehead to the shade above his eyes and his face looked worn.  Fuller talked about the dam for a time, and then stopped and looked hard at his silent companion.

“I imagined all this would interest you, but you don’t say much.”

“No,” said Dick.  “You see, it’s galling to listen to plans you can’t take part in.  In fact, I feel I ought to resign.”

“Why?”

“It looks as if it may be a long time before I can get to work and I may never be of much use again.”

“Well, I suppose it’s natural that you should feel badly humped, but you don’t know that you’ll lose your eye, and if you did, you’d do your work all right with the other.  However, since you started the subject, I’ve something to say about our contract.  If the new scheme we’re negotiating goes through, as I think it will, I’ll have to increase my staff.  Should I do so, you’ll get a move up and, of course, better pay for a more important job.”

Dick, who was touched by this mark of confidence, thanked him awkwardly, and although he felt bound to object that he might be unable to fill the new post, Fuller stopped him.

“All you have to do is to lie off and take it easy until you get well.  I know a useful man when I see him and it won’t pay me to let you go.  When I’ve fixed things with the President I’ll make you an offer.  Now Stuyvesant’s waiting for me and I understand my daughter is coming to see you.”

He went away and soon afterwards Ida Fuller came in.  Dick rather awkwardly got her a chair, for his shade, which was closely pulled down, embarrassed him, but she noticed this, and his clumsiness made a strong appeal.  She liked Dick and had some ground for being grateful to him.  For half an hour she talked in a cheerful strain and Dick did his best to respond, but she saw what the effort cost and went away in a thoughtful mood.

Ida Fuller had both sympathy and self-confidence, and when things went wrong with her friends seldom felt diffident about trying to put them right.  In consequence, she took Jake away from the others, whom her father had asked to dinner that evening.

“What’s the matter with Dick Brandon?” she asked.

“It’s pretty obvious.  His trouble began with broken ribs and may end with the loss of his eye; but if you want a list of his symptoms ­”

“I don’t,” said Ida.  “Does his trouble end with the injury to his eye?”

Jake gave her a sharp glance.  “If you insist on knowing, I admit that I have my doubts.  But you must remember that Dick has a touch of malaria, which makes one morbid.”

“But this doesn’t account for everything?”

“No,” said Jake, who lighted a cigarette, “I don’t think it does.  In fact, as I know your capabilities and begin to see what you’re getting after, there’s not much use in my trying to put you off the track.”

Ida sat down in a canvas chair and pondered for a minute or two.

“You know Miss Kenwardine; if I recollect, you were rather enthusiastic about her.  What is she like?”

Jake’s eyes twinkled.  “You mean ­is she good enough for Dick?  He’ll be a lucky man if he gets her, and I don’t mind confessing that I thought of marrying her myself only she made it clear that she had no use for me.  She was quite right; I’d have made a very poor match for a girl like that.”

Ida was not deceived by his half-humorous manner, for she remarked something that it was meant to hide.  Still, Jake had had numerous love affairs that seldom lasted long.

“Have you been to see her since you came back?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Jake.  “After helping to drive her father out of the country, I knew it would be an awkward meeting, but I felt I ought to go because she might be in difficulties, and I went twice.  On the whole, it was a relief when I was told she was not at home.”

“I wonder whether she would see me?”

“You’re pretty smart, but I suspect this is too delicate a matter for you to meddle with.”

“I’ll be better able to judge if you tell me what you know about it.”

Jake did so with some hesitation.  He knew his sister’s talents and that her object was good, but he shrank from betraying his comrade’s secrets.

“I think I’ve put you wise, but I feel rather mean,” he concluded.

“What you feel is not important.  But you really think he hasn’t sent her Kenwardine’s letter?”

Jake made a sign of agreement and Ida resumed: 

“The other letter stating that his cousin stole the plans is equally valuable and his making no use of it is significant.  Your partner’s a white man, Jake, but he’s foolish and needs the help of a judicious friend.  I want both letters.”

“I’ve warned you that it’s a dangerous game.  You may muss up things.”

“Then I’ll be responsible.  Can you get the letters?”

“I think so,” Jake replied with an embarrassed grin.  “In a way, it’s a shabby trick, but if he will keep papers in his pocket after getting one lot stolen, he must take the consequences.”

“Very well,” said Ida calmly.  “Now we had better go in before the others wonder why we left them.”

Next morning Clare sat in the patio in very low spirits.  No word had come from Kenwardine, and her money was nearly exhausted.  She had heard of Dick’s return, but not that he was injured, and he had kept away.  This was not surprising and she did not want to meet him; but it was strange that he had not come to see her and make some excuse for what he had done.  He could, of course, make none that would appease her, but he ought to have tried, and it looked as if he did not care what she thought of his treachery.

Then she glanced up as Ida came in.  Clare had seen Ida in the street and knew who she was, but she studied her with keen curiosity as she advanced.  Her dress was tasteful, she was pretty, and had a certain stamp of refinement and composure that Clare knew came from social training; but she felt antagonistic.  For all that, she indicated a chair and waited until her visitor sat down.  Then she asked with a level glance:  “Why have you come to see me?”

“I expect you mean ­why did I come without getting your servant to announce me?” Ida rejoined with a disarming smile.  “Well, the gate was open, and I wanted to see you very much, but was half afraid you wouldn’t let me in.  I owe you some apology, but understand that my brother is a friend of yours.”

“He was,” Clare said coldly.

“Then he has lost your friendship by taking Dick Brandon’s part?”

Clare colored, but her voice was firm as she answered: 

“To some extent that is true.  Mr. Brandon has cruelly injured us.”

“He was forced.  Dick Brandon is not the man to shirk his duty because it was painful and clashed with his wishes.”

“Was it his duty to ruin my father?”

“He must have thought so; but we are getting on dangerous ground.  I don’t know much about the matter.  Do you?”

Clare lowered her eyes.  Since Richter’s visit, she had had disturbing doubts about the nature of Kenwardine’s business; but after a few moments she asked in a hard, suspicious voice:  “How do you know so much about Mr. Brandon?”

“Well,” said Ida calmly, “it’s plain that I’m not in love with him, because if I were, I should not have tried to make his peace with you.  As a matter of fact, I’m going to marry somebody else before very long.  However, now I think I’ve cleared away a possible mistake, I’ll own that I like Dick Brandon very much and am grateful to him for the care he has taken of my brother.”

“He stopped Jake from coming here,” Clare rejoined with a blush.

“That is so,” Ida agreed.  “He has done a number of other things that got him into difficulties, because he thought it right.  That’s the kind of man he is.  Then I understand he was out of work and feeling desperate when my father engaged him, he got promotion in his employment, and I asked him to see that Jake came to no harm.  I don’t know if he kept his promise too conscientiously, and you can judge better than me.  But I think you ought to read the letters your father gave him.”

She first put down Kenwardine’s statement about the theft of the plans, and Clare was conscious of overwhelming relief as she read it.  Dick knew now that she was not the thief.  Then Ida said:  “If you will read the next, you will see that your father doesn’t feel much of a grievance against Brandon.”

The note was short, but Kenwardine stated clearly that if Clare wished to marry Brandon he would be satisfied and advised her to do so.  The girl’s face flushed as she read and her hands trembled.  Kenwardine certainly seemed to bear Dick no ill will.  But since the latter had his formal consent, why had he not used it?

“Did Mr. Brandon send you with these letters?” she asked as calmly as she could.

“No, I brought them without telling him, because it seemed the best thing to do.”

“You knew what they said?”

“I did,” Ida admitted.  “They were open.”

Clare noted her confession; but she must deal with matters of much greater importance.

“Then do you know why he kept the letters back?”

Ida hesitated.  If Clare were not the girl she thought, she might, by appealing to her compassion, supply her with a reason for giving Dick up, but if this happened, it would be to his advantage in the end.  Still she did not think she was mistaken and she must take the risk.

“Yes,” she said.  “I feel that you ought to understand his reasons; that is really why I came.  It looks as if you had not heard that shortly after he met your father Dick fell down the steamer’s hold.”

Clare made an abrupt movement and her face got anxious.  “Was he hurt?”

“Very badly.  He broke two ribs and the fever he got soon afterwards stopped his getting better; but that is not the worst.  One of his eyes was injured, and there is some danger that he may lose his sight.”

It was plain that Clare had got a shock, for she sat in a tense attitude and the color left her face; but Ida saw that she had read her character right and taken the proper course.  Indeed, she wondered whether she had not unnecessarily harrowed the girl’s feelings.

“Now,” she resumed, “you understand why Dick Brandon kept back the letters.  It is obvious that he loves you, but he is disfigured and may have to give up his profession ­”

She stopped, for Clare’s face changed and her eyes shone with a gentle light.

“But what does that matter?” she exclaimed.  “He can’t think it would daunt me.”

Ida rose, for she saw that she had said enough.  “Then perhaps you had better show him that you are not afraid.  If you will dine with us this evening at the dam, you will see him.  Jake will come for you and bring you back.”

When she left a few minutes later she had arranged for the visit, and Clare sat still, overwhelmed with compassionate gentleness and relief.  Her father did not blame Dick and there was no reason she should harden her heart against him.  He knew that she was innocent, but he was tied by honorable scruples.  Well, since he would not come to her, she must go to him, but she would do so with pride and not false shame.  It was clear that he loved her unselfishly.  By and by, however, she roused herself.  As she was going to him, there were matters to think about, and entering the house she spent some time studying her wardrobe and wondering what she would wear.

That evening Dick sat on the veranda of his shack, with a shaded lamp, which he had turned low, on the table close by.  His comrades were dining at Fuller’s tent and he had been asked, but had made excuses although he was well enough to go.  For one thing, it hurt him to sit in a strong light, though the oculist, whom he had seen in the morning, spoke encouragingly about his eye.  Indeed, Dick had begun to think that there was now no real danger of its having received a permanent injury.  For all that, he was listless and depressed, because he had not got rid of the fever and malaria is generally worse at night.  He had been cautioned not to read and his cigarette had a bitter taste.  There was nothing to do but wait until Jake came home.  Now he thought of it, Jake had accepted his excuses rather easily.

By and by, he heard the lad’s voice and footsteps on the path.  Jake was returning early and there was somebody with him, but Dick wished they had left him alone.  He rose, however, as Ida came up the steps and into the light, which did not carry far.  Dick imagined there was another person as well as Jake in the shadow behind.

“Jake brought me over to see his last sketches and I’m going in to criticize them,” she said.  “As you couldn’t come to us, I’ve brought you a visitor, whom you know.”

Dick felt his heart beat as he saw Clare.  She was dressed in white, and the silver clasp gleamed against a lavender band at her waist.  It was significant that she wore it, but he could not see her face clearly.  Then Ida beckoned Jake.

“Come along; I want to look at the drawings.”

They went into the house, and Dick made an effort to preserve his self-control.  Clare moved into the light and he saw her color rise, though her eyes were very soft.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were ill?” she asked with gentle reproach.

He hesitated, trying to strengthen his resolution, which he knew was breaking down, and Clare resumed: 

“Besides, I don’t think you should have kept that letter back.”

Dick instinctively pulled out the leather case, and started as he saw there was nothing inside.

“It’s gone.  You have seen it?” he stammered.

“I’ve seen them both,” Clare answered with a smile.  “Doesn’t this remind you of something?  I’m afraid you’re careless, Dick.”

The color rushed into his face.  “If you have seen those letters, you know what a suspicious fool I’ve been.”

“That doesn’t matter.  You’re convinced at last?” Clare rejoined with a hint of pride.

“In a sense, I always was convinced.  If I’d seen you take the wretched plans, I wouldn’t have held you accountable.  Because you took them, it couldn’t have been wrong.”

Clare blushed, but looked at him with shining eyes.  “I wanted to hear you say it again.  But it wasn’t that letter ­I mean the one about the plans ­that brought me.”

Then the last of Dick’s self-control vanished and with a half conscious movement he held out his hands.  Clare came forward and next moment she was in his arms.

Some time later he felt he must be practical and said in a deprecatory tone:  “But you must try to understand what you are doing, dear, and the sacrifices you must make.  Things aren’t quite as bad as they looked, but I can’t go home just yet and may always be a poor engineer.”  He indicated the galvanized-iron shack.  “You will have to live in a place like this, and though I think my eye will get better, there’s the scar on my face ­”

Clare gave him a quiet smiling glance.  “That doesn’t matter, Dick, and I never really had a home.”  She paused and added gently:  “But I shall have one now.”