During the war with Spain, Colton Lee came into the service as a volunteer. For a young man, he always had taken life almost too seriously, and when, after the campaign in Cuba, he elected to make soldiering his profession, the seriousness with which he attacked his new work surprised no one. Finding they had lost him forever, his former intimates were bored, but his colonel was enthusiastic, and the men of his troop not only loved, but respected him.
From the start he determined in his new life women should have no part--a determination that puzzled no one so much as the women, for to Lee no woman, old or young, had found cause to be unfriendly. But he had read that the army is a jealous mistress who brooks no rival, that "red lips tarnish the scabbard steel,"that "he travels the fastest who travels alone."So, when white hands beckoned and pretty eyes signalled, he did not look. For five years, until just before he sailed for his three years of duty in the Philippines, he succeeded not only in not looking, but in building up for himself such a fine reputation as a woman-hater that all women were crazy about him.
Had he not been ordered to Agawamsett that fact would not have affected him. But at the Officers' School he had indulged in hard study rather than in hard riding, had overworked, had brought back his Cuban fever, and was in poor shape to face the tropics.
So, for two months before the transport was to sail, they ordered him to Cape Cod to fill his lungs with the bracing air of a New England autumn.
He selected Agawamsett, because, when at Harvard, it was there he had spent his summer vacations, and he knew he would find sailboats and tennis and, through the pine woods back of the little whaling village, many miles of untravelled roads. He promised himself that over these he would gallop an imaginary troop in route marches, would manoeuvre it against possible ambush, and, in combat patrols, ground scouts, and cossack outposts, charge with it "as foragers." But he did none of these things. For at Agawamsett he met Frances Gardner, and his experience with her was so disastrous that, in his determination to avoid all women, he was convinced he was right.
When later he reached Manila he vowed no other woman would ever again find a place in his thoughts. No other woman did.
Not because he had the strength to keep his vow, but because he so continually thought of Frances Gardner that no other woman had a chance.
Miss Gardner was a remarkable girl. Her charm appealed to all kinds of men, and, unfortunately for Lee, several kinds of men appealed to her. Her fortune and her relations were bound up in the person of a rich aunt with whom she lived, and who, it was understood, some day would leave her all the money in the world.
But, in spite of her charm, certainly in spite of the rich aunt, Lee, true to his determination, might not have noticed the girl had not she ridden so extremely well.
It was to the captain of cavalry she first appealed. But even a cavalry captain, whose duty in life is to instruct sixty men in the art of taking the life of as many other men as possible, may turn his head in the direction of a good-looking girl. And when for weeks a man rides at the side of one through pine forests as dim and mysterious as the aisles of a great cathedral, when he guides her across the wet marshes when the sun is setting crimson in the pools and the wind blows salt from the sea, when he loses them both by moonlight in wood-roads where the hoofs of the horses sink silently into dusty pine needles, he thinks more frequently of the girl at his side than of the faithful troopers waiting for him in San Francisco. The girl at his side thought frequently of him.
With the "surface indications" of a young man about to ask her to marry him she was painfully familiar; but this time the possibility was the reverse of painful. What she meant to do about it she did not know, but she did know that she was strangely happy. Between living on as the dependent of a somewhat exacting relative and becoming the full partner of this young stranger, who with men had proved himself so masterful, and who with her was so gentle, there seemed but little choice. But she did not as yet wish to make the choice. She preferred to believe she was not certain. She assured him that before his leave of absence was over she would tell him whether she would remain on duty with the querulous aunt, who had befriended her, or as his wife accompany him to the Philippines.
It was not the answer he wanted; but in her happiness, which was evident to every one, he could not help but take hope. And in the questions she put to him of life in the tropics, of the life of the "officers' ladies," he saw that what was in her mind was a possible life with him, and he was content.
She became to him a wonderful, glorious person, and each day she grew in loveliness. It had been five years of soldiering in Cuba, China, and on the Mexican border since he had talked to a woman with interest, and now in all she said, in all her thoughts and words and delights, he found fresher and stronger reasons for discarding his determination to remain wedded only to the United States Army. He did not need reasons. He was far too much in love to see in any word or act of hers anything that was not fine and beautiful.