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Soldiers of Fortune   By: (1864-1916)

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"It is so good of you to come early," said Mrs. Porter, as Alice Langham entered the drawing room. "I want to ask a favor of you. I'm sure you won't mind. I would ask one of the debutantes, except that they're always so cross if one puts them next to men they don't know and who can't help them, and so I thought I'd just ask you, you're so good natured. You don't mind, do you?"

"I mind being called good natured," said Miss Langham, smiling. "Mind what, Mrs. Porter?" she asked.

"He is a friend of George's," Mrs. Porter explained, vaguely. "He's a cowboy. It seems he was very civil to George when he was out there shooting in New Mexico, or Old Mexico, I don't remember which. He took George to his hut and gave him things to shoot, and all that, and now he is in New York with a letter of introduction. It's just like George. He may be a most impossible sort of man, but, as I said to Mr. Porter, the people I've asked can't complain, because I don't know anything more about him than they do. He called to day when I was out and left his card and George's letter of introduction, and as a man had failed me for to night, I just thought I would kill two birds with one stone, and ask him to fill his place, and he's here. And, oh, yes," Mrs. Porter added, "I'm going to put him next to you, do you mind?"

"Unless he wears leather leggings and long spurs I shall mind very much," said Miss Langham.

"Well, that's very nice of you," purred Mrs. Porter, as she moved away. "He may not be so bad, after all; and I'll put Reginald King on your other side, shall I?" she asked, pausing and glancing back.

The look on Miss Langham's face, which had been one of amusement, changed consciously, and she smiled with polite acquiescence.

"As you please, Mrs. Porter," she answered. She raised her eyebrows slightly. "I am, as the politicians say, 'in the hands of my friends.'"

"Entirely too much in the hands of my friends," she repeated, as she turned away. This was the twelfth time during that same winter that she and Mr. King had been placed next to one another at dinner, and it had passed beyond the point when she could say that it did not matter what people thought as long as she and he understood. It had now reached that stage when she was not quite sure that she understood either him or herself. They had known each other for a very long time; too long, she sometimes thought, for them ever to grow to know each other any better. But there was always the chance that he had another side, one that had not disclosed itself, and which she could not discover in the strict social environment in which they both lived. And she was the surer of this because she had once seen him when he did not know that she was near, and he had been so different that it had puzzled her and made her wonder if she knew the real Reggie King at all.

It was at a dance at a studio, and some French pantomimists gave a little play. When it was over, King sat in the corner talking to one of the Frenchwomen, and while he waited on her he was laughing at her and at her efforts to speak English. He was telling her how to say certain phrases and not telling her correctly, and she suspected this and was accusing him of it, and they were rhapsodizing and exclaiming over certain delightful places and dishes of which they both knew in Paris with the enthusiasm of two children. Miss Langham saw him off his guard for the first time and instead of a somewhat bored and clever man of the world, he appeared as sincere and interested as a boy.

When he joined her, later, the same evening, he was as entertaining as usual, and as polite and attentive as he had been to the Frenchwoman, but he was not greatly interested, and his laugh was modulated and not spontaneous. She had wondered that night, and frequently since then, if, in the event of his asking her to marry him, which was possible, and of her accepting him, which was also possible, whether she would find him, in the closer knowledge of married life, as keen and lighthearted with her as he had been with the French dancer... Continue reading book >>

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