carving to hide it.
"If you have a message to send," she said, "I can't get it on the wire too soon. It's within five minutes of time to shut off."
She started to go behind the desk. He stopped her with a touch upon her shoulder, and she shrank away reprovingly, although it was solely the man's earnestness that had made him do it.
"No, no; it ees not words for-a ze wire zat I have-a for you," he said. "I wish-a to tell to yourself something. Will you lees-ten?"
"Yes, if it is something that I ought to hear."
"Thees eez it. I am a-more than I seem here—deef-e-rent—so deef-e-rent you would hardly know-a me. In zis place I am on-ly a contractor for ze laborer. I am-a as com-mon as my gang in-a clothes—in-a manner, too, eh? But een one hour—een one minute—I could-a con-veence you zat I am-a something finer."
Mary did not show in her perfectly regained composure that she was so much as puzzled by the man's enigmatic talk. She said: "I don't see how it could be worth while, Mr. Ravelli."
"O, yes—I beg-a par-don for ze contradiction—yes, it ees worth-a while. Away from-a here, Mary, I would-a be so deef-e-rent zat you a-love me."
"Stop, Mr. Ravelli—stop."
The command was positive, but it was not obeyed.
"I love-a you."
He caught her by one wrist as he began. She was utterly unresistant. If she had struggled or cried out, he would have gone on with his voluble, excited declaration; but her placidity was incomprehensible to him.
"Mr. Ravelli," she began after a moment, "you understand English?"
"Perfectly, Mees Warriner."
"Well, here is plain English for you. I would use Italian if I could, so that you mightn't mistake me. You are to let go of my hand."
He did it.
"You are to go away instantly, and never come here again except on business. Go at once."
That he did not do.
"For what-a did you come here, into one camp oof men eef——"
"If I didn't expect to be unsafe? I'll tell you. It was a mistake. Operator No. 9 was ordered to this post. No. 9 had been a man, who had within a week been discharged, and his number given to me. By an oversight, no alteration was made in the record to show the sex of the new No. 9. I couldn't afford to lose the work. Besides——"
"Besides, I reasoned that every man at Overlook would protect me against all the other men—if——"
"Yes, if I cared absolutely nothing for any single one of them. Therefore, I am not afraid. But you must not annoy me."
Fury flashed into the man's eyes, into his reddened face, into the sudden tension of his gripped hands. The girl's contemptuous indifference maddened him. She saw this, and was at once alarmed, for she realized that here was a reckless lover—one who heated dangerously where another would have chilled under disdain; but she maintained an unshaken voice, as she said: "You may as well know, however, that I am amply protected. The night watchman is ordered to include this combined office and residence of mine in every round he makes. So I sleep quite unconcernedly. In the daytime, too, I shall have defense, if it becomes necessary."
"O, have-a no alarm, Mees Warriner," and the man's facial expression softened singularly as he gazed wistfully at the girl. "I haf said I love-a you." Then, with a startlingly quick transition, he glared menacingly off in the direction that Gerald Heath had gone. It seemed curious to Mary, too, that in his rage his English was clearer than usual, as he growled: "It is your lover that should be afraid of me." He flung out one fist in a fierce menace, and added in Italian: "Nel vindicarvi bisogna ch'egli mi rende la sua vita."
The full moon looked for Mary Warriner's little house that night as soon as a clearance of the sky permitted, and then beamed down on her abode effulgently. But it was eleven o'clock before the gusty wind blew the thick clouds aside and let the orb illumine Overlook. Back of the shed in which the telegrapher worked by day was a structure in which she slept at night. It was built of slabs, with big growing trees to form its irregular corners, and their lowest limbs contributed the rafters, while stripped bark and evergreen boughs made the roof. The foliage swayed above in the fitful wind, and covered the cabin and the grass around it with commingling, separating, capering shadows of leaves, as though a multitude of little black demons were trying to get to the slumberer within. Their antics looked spiteful and angry at first: but as the wind lessened to a breeze, and as the moon seemed to mollify them, they became frolicsome without malice; and at length, when the merest zephyrs impelled their motions, they gambolled lazily, good-humoredly above and around the couch of Mary Mite.
It was midnight when a man shot into the open space around the cabin like a missile. He ran first to the front of the structure, where a tarpaulin curtained the shed for the night, and gazed for a moment blankly at this indication that the hour was not one of business. Tremendous haste was denoted in his every step and gesture. He plucked twice at the canvas, as though to pull it down. Then he skurried around to the single window of Mary's apartment, whose only door opened into the shed, and pounded with his knuckles on the ill-fitted sash, making it clatter loudly. Silence within followed this noise without. "Hello! Wake up!" he cried. "Don't fool for a minute. Wake up!"
There was no response, and he skipped to and fro in his impatience. He was an ordinary shoveler and pounder, with nothing to distinguish him from the mass of manual laborers at Overlook, but, unlike the usual man with an errand at the telegraphic station, flourished a scrap of paper.
"I want to telegraph," he shouted, and struck the window again. "Get up quick! It's life and death!"
Mary Warriner was convinced that her services were urgently and properly required. She peeped warily out to inspect the man, estimated him to be merely a messenger, and then opened wide the sash, which swung laterally on hinges. Her delicate face bore the same sort of calm that characterized it in business hours, but the moon shone on it now, the hair had got loose from the bondage of knot and pin, and for an outer garment she was carelessly enwrapped in a white, fleecy blanket. The man did not give her time to inquire what was wanted.
"You're the telegraph girl, ain't you?" he exclaimed. "Well, here's something to telegraph. It's in a hurry, hurry, hurry. Don't lose a minute."
"I couldn't send it to-night," Mary said.
"It isn't possible. There is nobody at the other end of the line to receive it. The wire is private—belongs to the railroad company—isn't operated except in the daytime. You'll have to wait until to-morrow."
"To-morrow I'll be a hundred years old, or else dead," the man almost wailed in despair.
"I was only ten years old yesterday. To-night I'm sixty. To-morrow'll be too late. Here—here—send it to-night, Miss. Please send it to-night."
The mystified girl mechanically took the piece of paper which he thrust into her hands, but her eyes did not drop before they discovered the insanity in his face, and when they did rest on the paper they saw a scrawl of hieroglyphics. It was plain that this midnight visitor was a maniac. She screamed for help.
A watchman responded almost instantly to her call. Upon seeing the cause of the girl's fright, he treated the incident as a matter of course. The lunatic wobbled like a drunken man about to collapse, as he mumbled his request over and over again.
"Here, now, Eph," the watchman said, with as much of cajolery as command, "you mustn't bother the young lady. Ain't you ashamed to scare her this way? Get right out of this."
The watchman took the other by the arm, and, as they started off—one insisting and one