RECKONING WITH DANVERS.
On that journey south Marian for the first time studied Danvers as a husband in prospect.
The morning after they left New York, their private car arrived at Savannah. At dark the night before they were rushing through a snow storm raging in a wintry landscape. Now they were looking out upon spring from the open windows. As soon as the train stopped, all except Marian and Danvers left the car to walk up and down the platform. Danvers, standing behind Marian, looked around to make sure that none of the servants was about, then rubbed his hand caressingly and familiarly upon her cheek.
"Did you miss me?" he asked.
Marian could not prevent her head from shrinking from his touch.
"There's nobody about," Danvers said, reassuringly. But he acted upon the hint and, taking his hand away, came around and sat beside her.
"Did you miss me?" he repeated, looking at her with an expression in his frank, manly blue eyes that made her flush at the thought of "treason" past and to come.
"Did you miss me?" she evaded.
"I would have returned long ago if I had not been ashamed," he answered, smiling. "I never thought that I should come not to care for as good shooting as that. You almost cost me my life."
"Yes?" Marian spoke absently. She was absorbed in her mental comparison of the two men.
"I got away from the others and was looking at your picture. They started up a lion and he came straight at me from behind. If he hadn't made a misstep in his hurry and loosened a stone, I guess he would have got me. As it was, I got him."
"You mean your gun got him."
"Of course. You don't suppose I tackled him bare-handed."
"It might have been fairer. I don't see how you can boast of having killed a creature that never bothered you, that you had to go thousands of miles out of your way to find, and that you attacked with a gun, giving him no chance to escape."
"What nonsense!" laughed Danvers. "I never expected to hear you say anything like that. Who's been putting such stuff into your head?"
Marian coloured. She did not like his tone. She resented the suggestion of the truth that her speech was borrowed. It made her uncomfortable to find herself thus unexpectedly on the dangerous ground.
"I suppose it must have been that newspaper fellow Mrs. Carnarvon has taken up. She talked about him for an hour after you left us to go to bed last night."
"Yes, it was--was Mr. Howard." Marian had recovered herself. "I want you to meet him some time. You'll like him, I'm sure."
"I doubt it. Mrs. Carnarvon seemed not to know much about him. I suppose he's more or less of an adventurer."
Marian wondered if this obvious dislike was the result of one of those strange instincts that sometimes enable men to scent danger before any sign of it appears.
"Perhaps he is an adventurer," she replied. "I'm sure I don't know. Why should one bother to find out about a passing acquaintance? It is enough to know that he is amusing."
"I'm not so sure of that. He might make off with the jewels when you had your back turned."
As soon as she had made her jesting denial of her real lover Marian was ashamed of herself. And Danvers' remark, though a jest, cut her. "What I said about a passing acquaintance was not just or true," she said impulsively and too warmly. "Mr. Howard is not an adventurer. I admire and like him very much indeed. I'm proud of his friendship."
Danvers shrugged his shoulders and looked at her suspiciously.
"You saw a good deal of this--this friend of yours?" he demanded, his mouth straightening into a dictatorial line.
At this Marian grew haughty and her eyes flashed: "Why do you ask?" she inquired, her tone dangerously calm.
"Because I have the right to know." He pointed to the diamond on her third finger.
"Oh--that is soon settled." Marian drew off the ring and held it out to him. "Really, Teddy, I think you ought to have waited a little longer before insisting so fiercely on your rights."
"Don't be absurd, Marian." Danvers did not take the ring but fixed his eyes upon her face and changed his tone to friendly remonstrance. "You know the ring doesn't mean anything. It's your promise that counts. And honestly don't you think your promise does give me the right to ask you about your new friends when you speak of them, of one of them, in--in such a way?"
"I don't intend to deceive you," she said, turning the ring around slowly on her finger. "I didn't know how to tell you. I suppose the only way to speak is just to speak."
"Do you think you are in love with this man, Marian?"
She nodded, then after a long pause, said, "Yes, Teddy, I love him."
"But I thought----"
"And so did I, Teddy. But he came, and I--well I couldn't help it."
As he did not speak, she looked at him. His face was haggard and white and in his eyes which met hers frankly there was suffering.
"It wasn't my fault, Teddy," Marian laid her hand on his arm, "at least, not altogether. I might have kept away and I didn't."
"Oh, I don't blame you. I blame him."
"But it wasn't his fault. I--I--encouraged him."
"Did he know that we were engaged?"
"The scoundrel! I suspected that he was rotten somewhere."
"You are unjust to him. I have not told you properly."
"Did he tell you that he cared for you?"
"Yes--but he didn't try to get me to break my engagement."
"So much the more a scoundrel, he. Tell me, Marian--come to your senses and tell me--what in the devil did he hang about you for and make love to you, if he didn't want to marry you? Would an honest man, a decent man, do that?"
Marian's face confessed assent.
"I should think you would have seen what sort of a fellow he is. I should think you would despise him."
"Sometimes it seems to me that I ought to. But I always end by despising myself--and--and--it makes no difference in the way I feel toward him."
"I think I would do well to look him up and give him a horse-whipping. But you'll get over him, Marian. I am astonished at your cousin. How could she let this go on? But then, she's crazy about him too."
Marian smiled miserably. "I've owned up and you ought to congratulate yourself on so luckily getting rid of such an untrustworthy person as I."
"Getting rid of you?" Danvers looked at her defiantly. "Do you think I'm going to let you go on and ruin yourself on an impulse? Not much! I hold you to your promise. You'll come round all right after you've been away from this fellow for a few days. You'll be amazed at yourself a week from now."
"You don't understand, Teddy." Marian wished him to see once for all that, whatever might be the future for her and Howard, there was no future for her and him. "Don't make it so hard for me to tell you."
"I don't want to hear any more about it now, Marian. I can't stand it--I hardly know what I'm saying--wait a few days--let's go on as we have been--here they come."
The others of the party came bustling into the car and the train started. For the rest of the journey Danvers avoided her, keeping to the smoking room and the game of poker there. Marian could neither read nor watch the landscape. She did not know whether to be glad or sorry that she had told him. She hated to think that she had inflicted pain and she could not believe, in spite of what she had seen in his eyes, that his feeling in the matter was more than jealousy and wounded vanity.
"He doesn't really care for me," she thought. "It's his pride that is hurt. He will flare out at me and break it off. I do hope he'll get angry. It will make it so much easier for me."
Late in the afternoon she took Mrs. Carnarvon into her confidence. "I've told Teddy," she said.
"I might have known!" exclaimed her cousin. "What on earth made you do that?"
"I don't know--perhaps shame."
"Shame--trash! Your life is going to be a fine turmoil if you run to Teddy with an account of every little mild flirtation you happen to have. Of all the imbeciles, the most imbecile is the woman who confesses."
"But how could I marry him when----"
"When you don't love him?"
"No--I might have done that. I like him. But, when I love another man."
"It does make a difference. But you ought to be able to foresee that you'll get over Howard in a few weeks----"
"Precisely what Teddy said."
"Did he? I'm surprised at his having so much sense. For, if you'll forgive me, I don't think Teddy will ever set New York on fire--at least, he's--well, he has the makings of an ideal husband. And has he broken it off?"
"No. He wouldn't have it."
"Really? Well he is in love. Most men in his position--able to get any girl he wants--would have thrown up the whole business. Yes, he must be awfully in love."
"Do you think that?" Marian's voice spoke distress but she felt only satisfaction. "Oh, I hope not--that is, I'd like to think he cared a great deal and at the same time I don't want to hurt him."
"Don't fret yourself about these two men. Just go on thinking as you please. You'll be surprised how soon Howard will fade." Mrs. Carnarvon smiled satirically at some thought--perhaps a memory. "You're a good deal of a goose, my dear, but you are a great deal more of a woman. That's why I feel sure that Teddy will win."
With such an opportunity--with the field clear and the woman half-remorseful over her treachery, half-indignant at the man who had shown himself so weak and spiritless--a cleverer or a less vain man than Danvers would have triumphed easily. And for the first week he did make progress. He acted upon the theory that Marian had been hypnotized and that the proper treatment was to ignore her delusion and to treat her with assiduous but not annoying consideration. He did not pose as an injured or jealous lover. He was the friend, always at her service, always thinking out plans for her amusement. He made no reference to their engagement or to Howard.
Several people of their set were at the hotel and Marian was soon drifting back into her accustomed modes of thought. The wider horizon which she fancied Howard had shown her was growing dim and hazy. The horizon which he had made her think narrow was beginning again to seem the only one. This meant Danvers; but he was not acute enough to understand her and to follow up his advantage.
One morning as he was walking up and down under the palms, waiting for Mrs. Carnarvon and Marian, Mrs. Fortescue called him. She was a cold, rather handsome woman. In her eyes was the expression that always betrays the wife or the mistress who loathes the man she lives with, enduring him only because he gives her that which she most wants--money. She had one fixed idea--to marry her daughter "well," that is, to money.
"Can you join us to-day, Teddy?" she asked. "We need one more man."
"I'm waiting for Mrs. Carnarvon and Marian," he explained.
"Oh, of course." Mrs. Fortescue smiled. "What a nice girl she is--so clever, so--so independent. I admired her immensely for deciding to marry that poor, obscure young fellow. I like to see the young people romantic."
Danvers flushed angrily and pulled at his mustache. He tried to smile. "We've teased her about it a good deal," he said, "but she denies it."
"I suppose they aren't ready to announce the engagement yet," Mrs. Fortescue suggested. "I suppose they are waiting until he betters his position a little. It's never a good idea to have too long a time between the announcement and the marriage."
"Perhaps that is it." Danvers tried to look indifferent but his eyes were sullen with jealousy.
"I always rather thought that you and Marian were going to make a match of it," continued Mrs. Fortescue. Just then her daughter came down the walk. She was fashionably dressed in white and blue that brought out all the loveliness of her golden hair and violet eyes and faintly-coloured, smooth fair skin. Danvers had not seen her since she "came out," and was dazzled by her radiance.
They say that every man must be a little in love with every pretty woman he sees. And Danvers at once gave Ellen Fortescue her due. She sat silent beside her mother, looking the personification of innocence, purity and poetry. Her mother continued subtly to poison Danvers against Marian, to make him feel that she had not appreciated him, that she had trifled with him, that she had not treated him as his dignity and importance merited. When she and Mrs. Carnarvon appeared, he joined them tardily, after having made an arrangement with the Fortescues for the next day.
That evening he danced several times with Ellen Fortescue and adopted the familiar lover's tactics--he set about making Marian jealous. He scored the customary success. When she went to bed she lay for several hours looking out into the moonlight, raging against the Fortescues and against Danvers. The mere fact that a man whom she regarded as hers was permitting himself to show marked attention to another woman would have been sufficient. But in addition, Marian was perfectly aware of the material advantages of this particular man. She did not want to marry him; at least she was of that mind at the moment. But she might change her mind. Certainly, if there was to be any breaking off, she wished it to be of her doing. She did not fancy the idea of him departing joyfully.
She was far too wise to show that she saw what was going on. She praised Miss Fortescue to Danvers with apparent frankness and insisted on him devoting more time to her. Danvers persisted in his scheme boldly for a week and then, just as Marian was despairing and was casting about for another plan of campaign, he gave in. They were sitting apart in the shadow near one of the windows of the ball-room. He had been sullen all the evening, almost rude.
"How much longer are you going to keep me in suspense?" he burst out angrily.
"You know what I mean. I think I've been very patient."
"You mean our engagement?" Marian was looking at him, repelled by his expression, his manner, the tone of his voice, his whole mood.
"Yes--I want your decision."
"I have not changed."
"You still love that--that newspaper fellow?"
"No, I don't mean that." Marian felt her irritation against Danvers suddenly vanish and in its place a Sense of relief and of calmness. "I mean toward you. It won't do, Teddy. We shall get on well as friends. But I can't think of you in--in that way."
Mrs. Fortescue had so swollen his vanity that he was astounded at Marian's decision. He rapidly went over in his mind all the advantages he offered as a husband, and then looked at her as if he thought her beside herself.
"Look here, Marian," he protested. "You can't mean it. Why, it's all settled that we are to marry. It would be madness for you to break it off. I can give you everything--everything. And he can't give you anything." Then with fatal tactlessness: "He won't even give you the little that he can, according to your own story."
"Yes, it's madness, isn't it, Teddy, to refuse you--fascinating you, who can give everything. But that's just it. You have too much. You overwhelm me. I should feel like a cheat, taking so much and giving so little."
"Don't," he begged, his self-complacence and superiority all gone. "Don't mind my blundering, please, dear. I want you. I can't say it. I haven't any gift of words. But you've known me all my life and you know that I love you. I've set my heart on it, Mary Ann,"--it was the name he used to tease her with when they were children playing together--"You won't go back on me now, will you?"
"I wish I could do as you wish, Teddy." Marian was forgetful of everything but the unhappiness she was causing this friend of so many, many years and of so many, many memories. "But I can't--I can't."
"Marry me, dear, anyhow. You will care afterward." Marian was silent and Danvers hoped. "You know all about me. I'll not give you any surprises. I shan't bother you. And I'll make you happy."
"No," she said firmly. "You mustn't ask it. I'll tell you why. I have thought of marrying you regardless of this. Only last night I thought of it--finally, went over the whole thing. Listen, Teddy--if I were married to you--and if he should come--and he would come sooner or later--if he should come and say 'Come with me,'--I'd go--yes, I'm sure I'd go. I can't explain why. But I know that nothing would stand in the way--nothing."
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself." Marian shrank from him. She was horrified by the malignant fury that sparkled in his eyes and raged in his voice. "That damned scoundrel is worthy of you and you of him. But I'll get you yet. I never was crossed in anything in my life and I'll not be beaten here."
"And I thought you were my friend!" Marian was looking at him, pale, her eyes wide with amazement. "Is it really you?"
He laughed insolently. "Yes--you'll see. And he'll see. I'll crush him as if he were an egg shell. And as for you--you perjurer--you liar!"
He looked at her with coarse contempt, rose and stalked away. Marian sat rigid. She was conscious of the insult. But even that humiliation was not so strong in her mind as the astounding revelation of Danvers. She remembered that even as his eyes blazed hatred at her, he looked at her, at her neck, her bare arms, with the baffled desire of brute passion. She did not fully understand the look, but she felt that it was a degradation far greater than his insulting words.
She slipped, almost skulked to her room, her eyes down, her face in a burning flush, her scarf drawn tightly about her neck. As her door closed behind her, she fell upon her bed and began to sob hysterically. She started up with a scream to find her cousin standing beside her.
"I'm so sorry. Forgive me." Mrs. Carnarvon's voice had lost its wonted levity. "I saw that you were in trouble and followed. I knocked and I thought I heard you answer. What is it, Marie? May I ask? Can I do anything?"
Marian drew her down to the bed and buried her face in her lap. "Oh, I feel so unclean," she said. "It was--Teddy. Would you believe it, Jessie, Teddy! I looked on him as a brother. And he showed me that he was not my friend--that he didn't even love me--that he--oh, I shall never forget the look in his eyes. He made me feel like a--like a thing."
Mrs. Carnarvon smothered a smile. "Of course Teddy's a brute," she said. "I thought you knew. He's a domesticated brute, like most of the men and some of the women. You'll have to get used to that."
By refusing to fall in with her mood, Mrs. Carnarvon had gone far toward curing it. Marian stopped sobbing and presently said:
"Oh, I know all that. But I didn't expect it from Teddy--and toward me. And--" she shuddered--"I was thinking, actually thinking of marrying him. I wish never to see him again. And he pretended to be my friend!"
"And he was, no doubt, until he got you on the brain in another way, in the way he calls love. There isn't any love that has friendship in it."
"We must go away at once."
"Unless Teddy saves us the trouble by going first, as I suspect he will."
"Jessie, he hates me and--and--Mr. Howard."
"So you talked to him about Howard again, did you?" Mrs. Carnarvon was indignant. "You are old enough to know better, Marian. You carry frankness entirely too far. There is such a thing as truth running amuck."
"He said he would crush Howard. And I believe he really meant it."
"Teddy is a man who believes in revenges--or thinks he does. His father taught him to keep accounts in grievances, and no doubt he has opened an account with Howard. But don't be disturbed about it. His father would have insisted on balancing the account. Teddy will just keep on hating, but won't do anything. He's not underhanded."
"He's everything that is vile and low."
"You're quite mistaken, my dear. He's what they call a manly fellow--a little too masculine perhaps, but----"
A knock interrupted and Mrs. Carnarvon, answering it, took from the bell-boy a note for Marian who read it, then handed it to her. Mrs. Carnarvon read: "I apologise for the way I said what I did this evening, not for what I said. Because you had forgotten yourself, had played the traitor and the cheat was, perhaps, no excuse for my rudeness. You have fallen under an evil influence. I hope no harm will come to you, for I can't get over my feeling for you. But I have done my best and have not been able to save you. I am going away early in the morning.
"Melodramatic, isn't it?" laughed Mrs. Carnarvon. "So he's off. How furious Martha Fortescue and Ellen will be. But they'll go in pursuit, and they'll get him. A man is never so susceptible as when he's broken-hearted. Well, I must go. Good-night, dear. Don't mope and whine. Take your punishment sensibly. You've learned something--if it's only not to tell one man how much you love another."
"I think I'll go abroad with Aunt Retta next month."
"A good idea--you'll forget both these men. Good-night."
"Good-night," answered Marian dolefully, expecting to resume her thoughts of Danvers. But, instead, he straightway disappeared from her mind and she could think only of Howard. She was free now. The one barrier between him and her of which she had been really conscious was gone. And her heart began to ache with longing for him. Why had he not written? What was he doing? Did he really love her or was his passion for her only a flash of a strong and swift imagination?
No, he loved her--she could not doubt that. But she could not understand his conduct. She felt that she ought to be very unhappy, yet she was not. The longer she thought of him and the more she weighed his words and looks, the stronger became her trust in him. "He loves me," she said. "He will come when he can. It may be even harder for him than for me."
And so, explanation failing--for she rejected every explanation that reflected upon him--she hid and excused him behind that familiar refuge of the doubting, mystery.
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