At the supper table a new direction was given to Archie's thoughts, for a time at least. Fortunately his nerves had grown accustomed to shocks and he was only dazed now by the intrusion of a new figure on the scene. The Governor and Congdon were already at the table when he reached the dining-room. Mrs. Leary had referred to an assistant she was expecting on the afternoon train, and as Archie appeared at the door a neatly attired waitress walked sedately before him to his place.
Sally Walker had faded in a long perspective of crowding memories. He never expected to see Sally again, but if the girl who stood by his chair was not Sally she was her twin. He sank into his seat, watching her out of the corner of his eye as she passed through the swing door with a flutter of her snowy apron. He replied feebly to the Governor's bantering salutation and nervously played with his fork. The Governor was soaring and Archie's bewilderment was evidently affording him secret delight.
Sally was not merely a past mistress of dissimulation; she was the undisputed reigning queen in that realm. She served the table with a strictly professional air, in no way betraying the fact that two of the guests had lately enjoyed the hospitality of her father's house or that she had beguiled one of them by the grossest misrepresentations to assist her to elope.
"There's custard and apple," she recited finally, "or you may have wheat cakes with syrup," and as Archie covertly met her eyes she winked, a wink not sly or vulgar but a wink expressive of mischief on a holiday and quite content with itself.
He was enormously curious to know how she had reached Huddleston and what her adventures had been on the way—matters as to which the suave Governor was no doubt fully informed, though he showed no disposition to disclose them.
For a gentleman, the guest of an inn, to lurk round the kitchen door waiting for a chance to address a waitress is wholly undignified, but Archie was doing this very thing the moment he could escape from the Governor and Congdon. Mrs.
Leary was upstairs preparing additional rooms against the chance of further arrivals and Sally was alone in the kitchen.
"Well, I've got the same old job," she remarked carelessly, as Archie paused uncertainly on the threshold. "You're a pay guest here and I can't let you swing a towel, so if you want to talk take a chair on the side lines."
Sally was as handsome as ever; he had not been mistaken in thinking her a very handsome and attractive girl with a distinct charm. It seemed æons ago that he had kissed her; in fact it was almost unbelievable that he had ever kissed so radiant a being. She received him as an old friend, without a trace of embarrassment. Her ease put him at serious disadvantage. He was at a loss to know how to impress upon her the heinousness of the deceit she had practised upon him.
"Sally," he began in a tone that he meant to be sternly paternal, "I hope you realize that you treated me very shabbily up there at your father's. You not only behaved disgracefully, but you threw away your life, and the bright promise of your future. I was very stupid to fall into your trap. If things go wrong with you I shall always blame myself. And I don't see any chance for happiness for you unless you change your ways."
She deliberately concluded the drying of a plate, put it down, and threw the towel aside.
"Look here," she began, folding her arms and walking slowly toward him; "I'm not the worst girl in the world and I'm far from being the best. I lied to you and it was a nasty trick; but I had to get away from that farm; I simply couldn't stand it any longer. And I'd worried a lot about being the daughter of a crook; I honestly had. I always knew it would come out in me some way, and I thought the sooner the better. I just had to do some rotten thing to satisfy myself as to how it feels. You can understand that, can't you?"
"I think I can, Sally," he stammered. "But—"
"There's no butting about it! I just had to try it once, and you came along just when I needed you. Yes, sir; I took advantage of you because I saw you were a gentleman and sympathetic and full of that chivalry stuff; and I played on your feelings and made you the little goat. It wasn't nice of me."
"It certainly approached the unpardonable, Sally. And you not only ruined your own life but nearly caused me to lose my best friend. I'm still pretty sore about that. But what hurt me most was that you sacrificed your opportunity to be somebody in the world, to be a noble, useful woman. You linked yourself for life to a slinking, scoundrelly thief!"
Sally laughed mockingly. Then, her hands on her hips, she regarded him pityingly.
"You poor goose! You sure didn't get my number right! If you thought I was going to be tied up for the rest of my days with a miserable little wretch like Pete Barney you certainly had me wrong. I just had to turn a few handsprings, and you needn't tell me how disgusted you are when I say that all I wanted was to know how it feels to lie and steal."
"Yes; you stole some money from your father; that was very wrong, Sally."
"Say, you make me tired! What I borrowed from pop I'll pay back. The low-down thing I did was to take that string of diamonds away from Barney. He slipped
'em to me that night as we were on the way to the preacher's to get married.
Married! Do you think I really wanted to marry that man! Do you think I _am_ married to him now? Why, I gave him the slip at the first station after I kissed you good-by and I haven't seen him since. And I never intend to see him again! I ducked round till I got to a place on the underground railroad I knew about from pop; and they took good care of me. Then I slid to Petoskey where the Learys were starting up their refreshment shop and was just learning how to make soft drinks look wicked when the Governor jerked a wire to Red and that grand old girl his wife to come here and open up this moldy old joint. My folks know where I am now and as soon as they coax me a little I'll go home and be a nice little girl for the rest of my life."
"But the diamonds—"
"Don't be so tragic or I'll burst out crying! I've got the sparklers hidden safe; and I'm going to get the Governor to help make a deal to give 'em back to the owner if he won't prosecute Barney. I wouldn't want that man, even if he's only my husband on paper, to go over the road on my account. I'm satisfied with my kick-up and you needn't be afraid I'll break any more Commandments."
"In jail in Buffalo, if you must know! They pinched him on an old case, so you needn't blame me. I tell you I'm clear done with him. Love that worm! He just gave me an excuse to let my blacksheep blood ripple a little and it's all over now. And I'm sorry I played you for a sucker; honest I am. You gave me a lot of money for a wedding present and as the wedding doesn't count I'm going to give it back. You'll find it tucked away in your collar-box in the top drawer of your bureau. I guess that's about all, so you can trot back to the front of the house."
With a finality that closed discussion she fell energetically upon the dishes, and he left her to join the Governor and Congdon. His enlightenment as to the complexity of human nature was proceeding. Sally was wonderful, astonishing, baffling. He did not question that this time she had told him the truth. He was touched by her confession that her escapade was merely an experiment to test her blood for inherited evil. There was an enormous pathos in this; Sally needed help and guidance. He would discuss the matter with the Governor the moment they had disposed of their more urgent affairs.