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For the first time since he had been in newspaper work, Howard came to the office the next day in a long coat and a top hat. He left early and went for a walk in the Avenue. But Miss Trevor was neither driving nor walking. He repeated this excursion the next afternoon with better success. At Fortieth Street he saw her and her cousin half a block ahead of him. He walked slowly and examined her. She was satisfactory from the aigrette in her hat to her heels--a long, narrow, graceful figure, dressed with the expensive simplicity characteristic of the most intelligent class of the women of New York and Paris. She walked as if she were accustomed to walking. Mrs. Carnarvon had that slight hesitation, almost stumble, which indicates the woman who usually drives and never walks if she can avoid it. As they paused at the crowded crossing of Forty-second Street he joined them. When Mrs. Carnarvon found that he was "just out for the air" she left them, to go home--in Forty-seventh Street, a few doors east of the Avenue.
"Come back to tea with her," she said as she nodded to Howard.
"We have at least an hour." Howard was looking at Miss Trevor with his happiness dancing in his eyes. "Why shouldn't we go to the Park?"
"I believe it's not customary," objected Miss Trevor in a tone that made the walk in the Park a certainty.
"I'm glad to hear that. I don't care to do customary things as a rule."
"I see that you don't."
"Do you say so because I show what I am thinking so plainly that you can't help seeing it--and don't in the least mind?"
"Why shouldn't you be glad to be alive and to be seeing me this fine winter day?"
"Why indeed!" Howard looked at her from head to foot and then into her eyes.
"We are not in the Park yet." Miss Trevor accompanied her hint with a laugh and added: "I feel reckless to-day."
"You mean you forget that there is any to-morrow. I have shut out to-morrow ever since I saw you."
"And yesterday?" She noted that he coloured slightly, but continued to look at her, his eyes sad. "But there is a to-morrow," she went on.
"Yes--my work, my career is my to-morrow and yours is----"
"Your engagement, of course."
Miss Trevor flushed, but Howard was smiling and she did not long resist the contagion.
"My to-morrow," he continued, "is far more menacing than yours. Yours is just an ordinary, every-day, cut-and-dried affair. Mine is full of doubts and uncertainties with the chances for failure and disappointment. If I can turn my back on my to-morrow, surely you can waive yours for the moment?"
"But why are you so certain that I wish to?"
"Instinct. I could not be so happy as I am with you if you were not content to have me here."
They spoke little until they were well within the Park. There they turned down a by-path and took the walk skirting the lower lake. Miss Trevor looked at Howard with a puzzled expression.
"I never met any one like you," she said. "I have always felt so sure of myself. You take me off my feet. I feel as if I did not know where I was going and--didn't much care. And that's the worst of it."
"No, the best of it. You are a star going comfortably through your universe in a fixed orbit. You maintain your exact relations with your brother and sister stars. You keep all your engagements, you never wobble in your path--everything exact, mathematical. And up darts a wild-haired, impetuous comet, a hurrying, bustling, irregular wanderer coming from you don't know where, going you don't know whither. We pass very near each to the other. The social astronomers may or may not note a little variation in your movement--a very little, and soon over. They probably will not note the insignificant meteor that darted close up to you--close enough to get his poor face sadly scorched and his long hair cruelly singed--and then hurried sadly away. And----"
"And--what? Isn't there any more to the story?" Marian's eyes were shining with a light which she was conscious had never been there before.
"And--and----" Howard stopped and faced her. His hands were thrust deep in the pockets of his overcoat. He looked at her in a way that made the colour fly from her face and then leap back again. "And--I love you."
"Oh"--Marian said, hiding her face in her white muff. "Oh."
"I don't wish to touch you," he went on, "I just wish to look at you--so tall, so straight, so--so alive, and to love you and be happy." Then he laughed and turned. "But you'll catch cold. Let us walk on."
"So you are trying to make a career?" she asked after a few minutes' silence.
"Yes--trying--or, rather, I was. And shall again when you have gone your way and I mine."
Marian was amazed at herself. Every tradition, every instinct of her life was being trampled by this unknown whom she had just met. And she was assisting in the trampling. In fact it was difficult for her to restrain herself from leading in the iconoclasm. She looked at him in wonder and delighted terror.
"Why do you look at me in that way?" he said, turning his head suddenly.
"Because you are stronger than I--and I am afraid--yet I--well--I like it."
"It is not I that is stronger than you, nor you that are stronger than I. It is a third that is stronger than both of us. I need not mention the gentleman's name?"
"It is not necessary. But I'd like to hear you pronounce it. At least I did a moment ago."
"I'll not risk repetition. I've been thinking of what might have been."
"What?" Marian laughed a little, rather satirically. "A commonplace engagement and a commonplace wedding and a commonplace honeymoon leading into a land of commonplace disillusion and yawning--or worse?"
"Not unlikely. But since we're only dreaming why not dream more to our taste? Now as I look at your strong, clear, ambitious profile, I can dream of a career made by two working as one, working cheerfully day in and day out, fair and foul weather, working with the certainty of success as the crown."
"But failure might come."
"It couldn't. We wouldn't work for fame or for riches or for any outside thing. We would work to make ourselves wiser and better and more worthy each of the other and both of our great love."
Again they were walking in silence.
"I am so sad," Marian said at last. "But I am so happy too. What has come over me? But--you will work on, won't you? And you will accomplish everything. Yes, I am sure you will."
"Oh, I'll work--in my own way. And I'll get a good deal of what I want. But not everything. You say you can't understand yourself. No more can I understand myself. I thought my purpose fixed. I knew that I had nothing to do with marrying and giving in marriage, so I kept away from danger. And here, as miraculously as if a thunderbolt had dropped from this open winter sky, here is--you."
They were in the Avenue again--"the awakening," Howard said as the flood of carriages rolled about them.
"You will win," she repeated, when they were almost at Forty-seventh Street. "You will be famous."
"Probably not. The price for fame may be too big."
"The price? But you are willing to work?"
"Work--yes. But not to lie, not to cheat, not to exchange self-respect for self-contempt--at least, I think, I hope not."
"But why should that be necessary?"
"It may not be if I am free--free to meet every situation as it arises, with no responsibility for others resting upon me in the decision. If I had a wife, how could I be free? I might be forced to sell myself--not for fame but for a bare living. Suppose choice between freedom with poverty and comfort with self-contempt were put squarely at me, and I a married man. She would decide, wouldn't she?"
"Yes, and if she were the right sort of a woman, decide instantly for self-respect."
"Of course--if I asked her. But do you imagine that when a man loves a woman he lets her know?"
"It would be a crime not to let her know."
"It would be a greater crime to put her to the test--if she were a woman brought up, say, as you have been."
"How can you say that? How can you so overestimate the value of mere incidentals?"
"How can I? Because I have known poverty--have known what it was to look want in the face. Because I have seen women, brought up as you have been, crawling miserably about in the sloughs of poverty. Because I have seen the weaknesses of human nature and know that they exist in me--yes, and in you, for all your standing there so strong and arrogant and self-reliant. It is easy to talk of misery when one does not understand it. It is easy to be the martyr of an hour or a day. But to drag into a sordid and squalid martyrdom the woman one loves--well, the man does not live who would do it, if he knew what I know, had seen what I have seen. No, love is a luxury of the rich and the poor and the steady-going. It is not for my kind, not for me."
They were pausing at Mrs. Carnarvon's door.
"I shall not come in this afternoon," he said. "But to-morrow--if I don't come in to-day, don't you think it will be all right for me to come then?"
"I shall expect you," she said.
The talk of those who had come in for tea seemed artificial and flat. She soon went up-stairs, eager to be alone. Mechanically she went to her desk to write her customary daily letter to Danvers. She looked vacantly at the pen and paper, and then she remembered why she was sitting there.
"You are a traitor," she said to her reflection in the mirror over the desk. "But you will pay for your treason. Has not one a right to that for which she is willing to pay?"
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