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On the third day from New York, Gladys was so far recovered from seasickness that she dragged herself to the deck. The water was fairly smooth, but a sticky, foggy rain was falling. A deck-steward put her steamer-chair in a sheltered corner. Her maid and a stewardess swathed her in capes and rugs; she closed her eyes and said: "Now leave me, please, and don't come near me till I send for you."
She slept an hour. When she awoke she felt better. Some one had drawn a chair beside hers and was seated there--a man, for she caught the faint odor of a pipe, though the wind was the other way. She turned her head. It was Langdon, whom she had not seen since she went below a few hours after Sandy Hook disappeared. Indeed, she had almost forgotten that he was on board and that her brother had asked him to look after her. He was staring at her in an absent-minded way, his wonted expression of satire and lazy good-humor fainter than usual. In fact, his face was almost serious.
"That pipe," she grumbled. "Please do put it away."
He tossed it into the sea. "Beg pardon," he said. "It was stupid of me. I was absorbed in--in my book."
"What's the name of it?"
He turned it to glance at the cover, but she went on: "No--don't tell me. I've no desire to know. I asked merely to confirm my suspicion."
"You're right," he said. "I wasn't reading. I was looking at you."
"That was impertinent. A man should not look at a woman when she doesn't intend him to look."
"Then I'd never look at all. I'm interested only in things not meant for my eyes. I might even read letters not addressed to me if I didn't know how dull letters are. No intelligent person ever says anything in a letter nowadays. They use the telegraph for ordinary correspondence, and telepathy for the other kind. But it was interesting--looking at you as you lay asleep."
"Was my mouth open?"
"Am I yellow?"
"Eyes red? Hair in strings? Lips blue?"
"All that," he said, "and skin somewhat mottled. But I was not so much interested in your beauty as I was in trying to determine whether you were well enough to stand two shocks."
"I need them," replied Gladys.
"One is rather unpleasant, the other--the reverse, in fact a happiness."
"The unpleasant first, please."
"Certainly," he replied. "Always the medicine first, then the candy." And he leaned back and closed his eyes and seemed to be settling himself for indefinite silence.
"Go on," she said impatiently. "What's the medicine? A death?"
"I said unpleasant, didn't I? When an enemy dies it's all joy. When a friend passes over to eternal bliss, why, being good Christians, we are not so faithless and selfish as to let the momentary separation distress us."
"But what is it? You're trying to gain time by all this beating about the bush. You ought to know me well enough to know you can speak straight out."
"Fanshaw's suing his wife for divorce--and he names Jack."
"Is that your news?" said Gladys, languidly. Suddenly she flung aside the robes and sat up.
"What's Pauline going to do? Can she--" Gladys paused.
"Yes, she can--if she wishes to."
"But--will she? Will she?" demanded Gladys.
"Jack doesn't know what she'll do," replied Langdon. "He's keeping quiet--the only sane course when that kind of storm breaks. He had hoped you'd be there to smooth her down, but he says when he opened the subject of your going back to Saint X you cut him off."
"Does she know?"
"Somebody must have told her the day you left. Don't you remember, she was taken ill suddenly?"
"Oh!" Gladys vividly recalled Pauline's strange look and manner. She could see her sister-in-law--the long, lithe form, the small, graceful head, with its thick, soft, waving hair, the oval face, the skin as fine as the petals at the heart of a rose, the arched brows and golden-brown eyes; that look, that air, as of buoyant life locked in the spell of an icy trance, mysterious, fascinating, sometimes so melancholy.
"I almost hope she'll do it, Mowbray," she said. "Jack doesn't deserve her. He's not a bit her sort. She ought to have married--"
"Some one who had her sort of ideals--some one like that big, handsome chap--the one you admired so frantically--Governor Scarborough. He was chock full of ideals. And he's making the sort of career she could sympathize with."
"Scarborough!" exclaimed Gladys, with some success at self-concealment. "I detest him! I detest `careers'!"
"Good," said Langdon, his face serious, his eyes amused. "That opens the way for my other shock."
"Oh, the good news. What is it?"
"That I'd like it if you'd marry me."
Gladys glanced into his still amused eyes, then with a shrug sank back among her wraps. "A poor joke," she said.
"I should say that marriage was a stale joke rather than a poor one. Will you try it--with me? You might do worse."
"How did you have the courage to speak when I'm looking such a wreck?" she asked with mock gravity.
"But you ain't--you're looking better now. That first shock braced you up. Besides, this isn't romance. It's no high flight with all the longer drop and all the harder jolt at the landing. It's a plain, practical proposition."
Gladys slowly sat up and studied him curiously.
"Do you really mean it?" she asked. Each was leaning on an elbow, gazing gravely into the other's face.
"I'd never joke on such a dangerous subject as marriage. I'm far too timid for that. What do you say, Gladys?"
She had never seen him look serious before, and she was thinking that the expression became him.
"He knows how to make himself attractive to a woman when he cares to," she said to herself.
"I'd like a man that has lightness of mind. Serious people bore one so after a while." By "serious people" she meant one serious person whom she had admired particularly for his seriousness. But she was in another mood now, another atmosphere--the atmosphere she had breathed since she was thirteen, except in the brief period when her infatuation for Scarborough had swept her away from her world.
"No!" She shook her head with decision--and felt decided. But to his practised ear there was in her voice a hint that she might hear him further on the subject.
They lay back in their chairs, he watching the ragged, dirty, scurrying clouds, she watching him. After a while he said: "Where are you going when we reach the other side?"
"To join mother and auntie."
"And how long will you stay with them?"
"Not more than a week, I should say," she answered with a grimace.
She did not reply for some time. Studying her face, he saw an expression of lonesomeness gather and strengthen and deepen until she looked so forlorn that he felt as if he must take her in his arms. When she spoke it was to say dubiously: "Back to New York--to keep house for my brother--perhaps."
"And when his wife frees herself and he marries again--where will you go?"
Gladys lifted a fold of her cape and drew it about her as if she were cold. But he noted that it hid her face from him.
"You want--you need--a home? So do I," he went on tranquilly. "You are tired of wandering? So am I. You are bored with parade and parade--people? So am I. You wish freedom, not bondage, when you marry? I refuse to be bound, and I don't wish to bind any one. We have the same friends, the same tastes, have had pretty much the same experiences. You don't want to be married for your money. I'm not likely to be suspected of doing that sort of thing."
"Some one has said that rich men marry more often for money than poor men," interrupted Gladys. And then she colored as she recalled who had said it.
Langdon noted her color as he noted every point in any game he was playing; he shrewdly guessed its origin. "When Scarborough told you that," he replied calmly, "he told you a great truth. But please remember, I merely said I shouldn't be suspected of marrying you for money. I didn't say I wasn't guilty."
"Is your list of reasons complete?"
"Two more the clinchers. You are disappointed in love--so am I. You need consolation--so do I. When one can't have the best one takes the best one can get, if one is sensible. It has been known to turn out not so badly."
They once more lay back watching the clouds. An hour passed without either's speaking. The deck-steward brought them tea and biscuits which he declined and she accepted. She tried the big, hard, tasteless disk between her strong white teeth, then said with a sly smile: "You pried into my secret a few minutes ago. I'm going to pry into yours. Who was she?"
"As the lady would have none of me, there's no harm in confessing," replied Langdon, carelessly. "She was--and is--and--" he looked at her--"ever shall be, world without end--Gladys Dumont."
Gladys gasped and glanced at him with swift suspicion that he was jesting. He returned her glance in a calm, matter-of-fact way. She leaned back in her chair and they watched the slippery rail slide up and down against the background of chilly, rainy sea and sky.
"Are you asleep?" he asked after a long silence.
"No," she replied. "I was thinking."
"Doesn't it grow on you?"
He shifted himself to a sitting position with much deliberateness. He put his hand in among her rugs and wraps until it touched hers. "It may turn out better than you anticipate," he said, a little sentiment in his eyes and smile, a little raillery in his voice.
"I doubt if it will," she answered, without looking at him directly. "For--I--anticipate a great deal."
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