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قراءة كتاب Eleven Possible Cases

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‏اللغة: English
Eleven Possible Cases

Eleven Possible Cases

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 3

frequent communications with officials at the company's city office. The response was likely to be immediate, and he waited for it.

"To get the full value of this view," Gerald Heath resumed, and now he addressed himself to Mary directly, as though with almost a purpose of ignoring Ravelli, to whose greeting he had barely responded, "you need to come upon it suddenly—as I once did. We had been for months blasting and digging through the mountain. Every day's duty in that hole was like a spell of imprisonment in a dark, damp dungeon. And your men, Ravelli, looked like a chain-gang of convicts."

"You woulda no dare say so mooch to their-a fa-ces," Ravelli retorted, with an insolence that was unmistakably intentional.

"O, I didn't mean a reflection on them," said Gerald, disregarding the other's quarrelsome aggressiveness. "We all look rascally in the mud, drip, and grime of tunnel work. And your gang of swarthy Italians are bound to have a demoniac aspect underground."

It was more careless than intentional that Gerald thus provoked Ravelli. There had been dislike between them, growing out of friction between their respective duties as a civil engineer and a sub-contractor, for the former was necessarily a critic of the latter's work. But they had never quarreled, and Gerald saw nothing in this occasion, as Ravelli seemed to, for any outbreak of temper.

"Bettare be civ-vil with-a your tongue," Ravelli sneered.

"Well, I think so, too, as we are with a lady."

"Zat ees why-a I inseest you treat-a me as one gentleman."

So it seemed that he was especially regardful of how he figured in the presence of Mary Warriner.

"Like one gentleman? Oh, I will treat you like two gentlemen—so politely;" and Gerald began to again nonchalantly whittle the birchen pole. "I was going to tell how, when at last we broke through the rock at this end of the tunnel, I happened to be right there. A blast tore out an aperture several feet wide. We saw daylight through the smoke. We rushed pell-mell over the broken stone, and struggled with one another to get through first. It was—why, it was you, Ravelli, wasn't it?—whom I tussled with. Yes, we got into the breach together. You tried to push me back. You couldn't—of course, you couldn't;" and the narrator's reference to his own superior strength was exasperatingly accompanied by a glance not free from contempt.

"Eet was-a all een fun," Ravelli smilingly explained to Mary, and then his eyes turned darkly upon Gerald: "Eef eet had-a been one ear-nest fight——," the different result was vaguely indicated by a hard clinch of fists and a vicious crunch of teeth.

It was beyond a doubt that Ravelli could not bear to be belittled to Mary; but she and Gerald were alike inattentive to his exhibition of wrath.

"No prisoner was ever more exultant to escape," Heath went on, "than I was to get out of that dark, noisome hole into clean sunlight. I ran to this very spot, and—well, the landscape was on view, just as it is now. It was like getting from gloom out into glory."

The young man's exuberant words were not spoken with much enthusiasm, and yet they had sufficient earnestness to prove their sincerity. He had stopped whittling, and his knife lay on the desk, as he turned his back against the sapling and rested both elbows on it.

"So I've been writing to the president of the company, urging him to deflect the route a trifle, so that passengers might come out of the tunnel to see a landscape worth a thousand miles of special travel, and to be had by going less than as many feet. This is the very latest day for changing the survey. To-morrow will be too late. That is why I'm telegraphing so urgently."

Click, click, click. Mary went to the telegraphic instrument. She delivered the message by word of mouth, instead of taking it down in the usual manner with a pen.

"Gerald Heath, Overlook," she translated from the metallic language of the instrument. "Your idea is foolish. We cannot entertain it. Henry Deckerman, president."

Gerald looked like a man receiving a jury's verdict involving great pecuniary loss, if not one of personal condemnation, as he listened to the telegram.

"Zat ees what-a I theenk," remarked Ravelli, with insolent elation; "you ar-r-e one-a fool, as ze president he say."

Gerald was already angered by the dispatch. The taunting epithet was timed to excite him to fury, which he impulsively spent upon the more immediate provoker. He seized Ravelli by the throat, but without choking him, and almost instantly let him go, as though ashamed of having assailed a man of not much more than half his own strength and nearly twice his age. With Italian quickness Ravelli grabbed Gerald's knife from the desk, against which he was flung. He would have used it too, if self-defense had been necessary, but he saw that he was not to be further molested, and so he concealed the weapon under his arm, while Gerald strode away, unaware of his escape from a stab.

"He is-a one beeg bully," said Ravelli, with forced composure. "Eef a lady had-a not been here——"

"You tormented him," the girl interrupted. "I once saw the best-natured mastiff in the world lose his temper and turn on a——" She stopped before saying "cur," and added instead: "If he was foolish, you were not very wise to tease him."

"He is-a what to you, zat you take-a hees part?"

She bit her lip in resentment, but made no reply.

"Pare-haps he is one-a lover oof you?"

Still she would not reply to his impertinence. That angered him more than the severest rejoinder would have done.

"Oh, I am sure-a zat he ees one suitor."

She gave way at length to his provocation, and yet without any violent words, for she simply said: "You are insulting, while he is at least reasonably polite—when he heeds me at all, which isn't often."

"Not-a often? But some-what closely he heed-a you. See zat."

With an open palm he struck the place on the sapling where Gerald had whittled. The spot was on the outer edge, where Mary could not see it from her seat. She went around to the front of the primitively constructed desk, or high counter, to gratify her curiosity. There she saw that Gerald had carved a hand—her own hand, as she instantly perceived. The small and shapely member was reproduced in the fresh, pale wood with rare fidelity. She had unconsciously posed it, while working the key of the telegraphic instrument under the jack-knife sculptor's eyes, and there had been ample time for him to whittle a fac-simile into the birch.

"He is almost as impertinent as you are," she said, and turned to see how Ravelli took the comment.

But Ravelli had disappeared.

Then, being alone, she laid a hand of her own coquettishly alongside its wooden counterpart, and critically admired the likeness.

"It was an unwarranted liberty," she said to herself, "but he did it very well."

The delicate fiber of the wood had favored the carver's purpose. The imitation hand bore a shade of flattery in the barely tinted birchen white, and in the fine grained satin smoothness that the keen blade had wrought, but this was not too much for more than a reasonable compliment. As to the modeling, that was sincerely accurate, and the fingers rested on the key precisely as Mary had seen them during many hours of many days. It is an excessively vain girl who admires herself as actually as she does a portrait, and the telegrapher really saw more beauty in the birchen hand than she had ever observed in the live one. As she contemplated it, Ravelli returned noiselessly behind her.

"I a-wish to say something, Mees Warriner."

The Italian accent of Ravelli grated with unnatural harshness on Mary's ears, and if he had been an intruder upon her privacy, instead of a man in a really public place, she would not have been surprised into a deep flush. She snatched her hand away from its wooden counterpart, and clasped it with its mate behind her, as she leaned her shoulder against the