The Eastern editor who had taken her first article presently wrote her again. Martie treasured his letter with burning, secret pride, and with perhaps a faint, renunciatory pang. She had pushed in her opening wedge at last, too late! For no trifling literary success could change the destined course of Mrs. Clifford Frost.
This was the letter:
DEAR MRS. BANNISTER: We are constantly receiving more letters from women who read "Give Her A Job," and find that what you had to say upon an apparently well-worn subject struck a most responsive chord. Can you not give us another two thousand words upon this, or a similar subject? This type of article is always most welcome.
That was all. But it inspired Martie to try again. After all, even as a rich man's wife, she might amuse herself in this way as well as another.
Between the move from the old house, her wedding plans, the claims of her husband-to-be, and the Library work, she was busy now, every instant of the day. Yet she found time, as only a busy woman can, for writing, and put a new ardour into her attempts, because of the little beginning of encouragement. Hoping and fearing, she presently sent a second article on its way.
One July evening she stayed rather late at the Library working on a report. Clifford was delayed in Pittsville, and would not see her until after dinner; the rare opportunity was too precious to lose. In a day or two all Monroe would know of her new plans: in six weeks she would be Clifford's wife.
When the orderly sheets had been put into a long envelope, Martie pinned on her white hat, and stepped into the level rays of sunset light that were pouring into Main Street. The little fruit stand opposite seemed wilted in the heat; hot little summer breezes were tossing chaff and papers about the street.
Martie's eyes instantly found an unexpected sight: a low, rakish motor car drawn up to the curb. She had not seen it before in Monroe, nor did she recognize the man who sat on the seat next the driver's seat, with his hat pulled over his eyes.
The driver, a handsome big fellow of perhaps forty or more, had just jumped from the car, and now came toward her. She smiled into a clever, unfamiliar face that yet seemed oddly recognizable. He asked her something.
"I beg your pardon?" she had to say, her eyes moving quickly from him to his companion, who had turned about in the seat, and was watching them. Her heart stopped beating for a second, then, commenced to race. Her colour rose in a radiant flood. With three swift steps she had passed the big man, and was at the curb, and leaning over the car.
"John--!" she stammered. "My dear--my dear!"
The man in the car turned upon her the smile she knew so well: a child's half-merry, half-wistful smile, from sea-blue eyes in fair lashes. Time vanished, and Martie felt that she might have seen it yesterday; have felt yesterday the muscular grip of John Dryden's hand. Bewildered at their own emotion, laughing and confused, their fingers clung together.
"Hello--Martie!" he said, in a shaken voice, his blue eyes suddenly blazing as he saw her. Martie's eyes were wet, her delight turning her cheeks to rose. John did not speak, unless his burning eyes spoke; and Martie for a few minutes was hardly intelligible. It was the stranger who spoke.
"I'm Dean Silver, Mrs. Bannister--you don't have to be introduced to me, because I know John here. You're his favourite topic, you know."
"Dean Silver!" Martie smiled bewilderedly at the novelist; she knew that name! He was a writer with twenty books to his credit. He had a ranch somewhere in California; he spent his winters there. Some hazy recollection struggled for recognition.
"But, John!" she laughed. "Here in Monroe! My dear, you'll never know what it meant to glance up and see you--and you look so well! And you're famous, too; isn't it wonderful! And, tell me, what brings you to California!"
The quick, authoritative glance was delightfully familiar, yet somehow new.
"Why, you brought me, of course, Martie," he said unsmilingly, as if any other supposition would have been absurd. He had not spoken before; she knew now that she had hungered for his rather deep, ready voice. Her colour came up, her heart gave a curious twist, and she dropped her eyes.
"Dryden and I have been batching it together in New York," said Dean Silver. "My wife's been here since April with her mother and our kid. When I came on, I got Dryden here to come, too. They want me to take a long sea trip: I hope you'll help me persuade him to come, too. He's trying to double-cross me on it, I think. He said he'd come as far as California, and then see how things looked. So we shipped the car last month, and left New York a week ago to-day."
"Well, Monroe is honoured," Martie smiled, amused, fluttered, a little confused by this open recognition of John's feeling. "But now that you're here, I don't know quite what to do with you!"
"There's a hotel?" asked the novelist.
"Oh, it's not that. I'm only anxious to make the most of you," said Martie. "We've more than enough room at our house! But, like poor Fanny Squeers, I do so palpitate!"
"Palpitate away!" said Dean Silver. "We're in your hands. You can send us off right now, or let us take you to dinner somewhere, or direct us to the hotel--for three thousand miles our main idea was to find you, and we've done it!"
"Well, but John!" Martie was still dazed and exulting. "It's so good to see you!"
"I had to see you," he said, in his simple way, his eyes never leaving her.
"But now, let me plan!" she said, with an excited laugh. "If you'll let me get in the car with you, and--and let me see, we'd better get something extra for company--"
"Now, that's just what you shan't do," Dean Silver said decisively. "I don't propose to have you--"
"Oh, she likes it," John assured him, with his dreamy air that was yet so positive. "Don't waste time, Dean."
Martie laughed; John sat between herself and the novelist in the wide seat. He turned his head so that she was always under the fire of his adoring eyes. And in the old way he laughed, thrilled, exulted in everything she said
Half an hour later, as gaily as if she had known them both all her life, she introduced them to Pa. Pa, whose youngest daughter was just now in high favour, was mildly pleased with the invasion. This impromptu hospitality smacked of prosperity, of worldliness. He went stiffly into the study with John, to bore the poet with an old volume about California: "From the Padres to the Pioneers."
Martie, cheerfully setting the dining table, kept a brisk conversation moving with Dean Silver, who sat smoking on the side porch.
Presently she came put with an empty glass bowl, which she set down beside him. He followed her down into the tipsy brick paths, under the willows, while she gathered velvet wallflowers to fill it.
"You're very clever at this village sort of thing," the writer said. "And I must say I like it myself. Old-fashioned street full of kids streaming in for ice-cream, garden with stocks and what-you-call- 'ems all blooming together--you know, I had a sort of notion you weren't half as nice as you are!"
Martie laughed, pleased at the frank audacity.
"You fit into it all so pleasantly!" he expanded his thought.
"I don't know why you say that," she answered, surprised. "I was born here. I belong here. I lived for years in New York without being able to demonstrate that I could do anything better!"
"Dryden has a great idea of what you can do," Silver suggested.
"Oh, well, John!" she laughed maternally. "If you've been listening to John--"
"I've had to listen to him," the novelist said mildly.
"Tell me," she said suddenly, "I don't want to say the awkward thing to him--has he got his divorce?"
He looked at her, amazed.
"Don't you correspond?"
"Twice a year, perhaps."
Dean Silver flung away his cigarette, and sunk his hands in his pockets.
"Certainly he's divorced," he said briefly.
Martie's heart thumped. The flowers in her hands, she stood staring away from him, unseeing.
"I hope you'll forgive me--I feel like a fool touching the thing at all," Dean Silver said, after a silence. "But I thought that there was some sort of an understanding between you."
"Oh, no!" Martie half-whispered, with a fluttered breath.
"There isn't?" he asked, in a tone of keen protest.
The novelist whistled a few notes and shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, then, there isn't," he said philosophically. He stooped to pick a fragrant spike of mignonette, and put it in his buttonhole. When he began speaking again, he did not look at Martie. "A few of us have come to know Dryden well, this winter," he said gravely. "He's a rare fellow, Mrs. Bannister--a big man, and he's got his field to himself. You wouldn't believe me if I told you what a fuss they've been making over him--back there, and how little it matters to him. He's going a long way. You--you've got to be kind to him, my dear girl."
"I'm a Catholic, and he's a divorced man," Martie said, turning troubled eyes toward him. "I never thought of him in that way!"
Dean Silver raised his eyebrows.
"People are still believing that sort of thing, are they?"
"Only about a hundred million!" she answered, drily in her turn.
The man laughed shortly.
"Sweet complication!" he observed.
"More than that," Martie said hurriedly, "I'm engaged to be married to the president of the bank here, in about six weeks!"
Their eyes met steadily for a full minute.
"I devoutly trust you are not serious?" said Dean Silver then.
"Oh, but I am!" she said, with a nervous laugh.
For answer he merely shrugged his shoulders again. In silence they turned toward the house.
"That is an actual settled fact, is it?" Silver asked, when they were at the steps.
"Why, yes!" Martie answered, feeling a strange inclination toward tears. "I've been here for a year and a half," she added lamely. "I've not seen John--I tell you I never thought of him as anything but Adele's husband! And Clifford--the man I am to marry--is a good man, and it means a home for life for my boy and me--and it means the greatest pleasure to my father and sisters--"
"I think I never heard such a damnable set of reasons for a beautiful woman's marriage!" Silver said, as she paused.
Martie could find no answer. She was excited, bewildered, thrilled, all at once. She felt that another word would be too much. Silently she picked up her bowl and her flowers, and crossed the porch to the house.
Lydia, coming in late from a meeting of the Fair Committee, was speechless. In a pregnant silence she lent cold aid to her audacious sister. The big bed in Len's room was made, the bureau spread with a clean, limp towel. Pauline was interviewed; she brightened. Dean Silver was from Prince Edward's Island, too, it seemed. Pauline could make onion soup, and rolls were set, thanks be! She could open preserves; she didn't suppose that sliced figs were good enough for a company dessert.
They had the preserves, and the white figs, too; figs that Teddy and Martie had knocked that morning from the big tree in the yard. Lydia noticed with resentment that Pa had really brightened perceptibly under the unexpected stimulus. It was Lydia who said mildly, almost reproachfully, "I'm sorry that I have to give you a rather small napkin, Mr. Dryden; we had company to dinner last night, and I find we're a little short--"
John hardly heard her; he saw nothing but Martie, and only rarely moved his eyes from her, or spoke to any one else. He glowed at her lightest word, laughed at her mildest pleasantry; he frequently asked her family if she was not "wonderful."
This was the attitude of that old lover of her dreams, and in spite of amusement and trepidation and nervous consciousness that she was hopelessly entangling her affairs, Martie's heart began to swell, and her senses to feel creeping over their alertness a deadly and delicious languor. She had been powerless all her life: she thrilled to the knowledge of her power now.
Dean Silver easily kept the conversation moving. They learned that he had been overworking, had been warned by his physician that he must take a rest. So he and John were off for the Orient: he himself had always wanted to sail up the Nile, and to see Benares.
"John, what a year in fairyland!" Martie exclaimed.
"Well, that's what I tell him," said the novelist. "But he isn't at all sure he wants to go!"
As John merely gave Martie an unmistakable look at this, she tried hurriedly for a careless answer.
"John, you would be mad not to go!"
"You and I will talk it over after awhile," he suggested, with an enigmatic smile.
This was terrible. Martie gave one startled look at Lydia, who had compressed her mouth into a thin line of disapproval. Lydia was obviously thinking of Cliff, who might come in later. Martie found herself unable to think of Cliff.
They had coffee in the garden, in the still summer dusk. Teddy rioted among the bushes, as alert and strategic as was his gray kitten. John sat silent beside Martie, and whenever she glanced at him she met his deep smile. Lydia preserved a forbidding silence, but Malcolm's suspicions of his younger daughter were pleasantly diverted by the novelist. Dean Silver was probing into the early history of the State.
"But there must have been silver and gold mines up as far as this, then; aren't you in the gold belt?"
"In the year 1858," Malcolm began carefully, "a company was formed here for the purpose of investigating the claims made by--"
John finished his coffee with a gulp, and walked across the dim grass to Martie, and she rose without a word.
"Martie, isn't it Teddy's bedtime?" asked Lydia. John frowned faintly at her.
"Can't you put him to bed?" he asked directly. Lydia's cool cheek flushed.
"Why, yes--I will--" she answered confusedly. Martie called her thanks over her shoulder as they walked away. She was reminded of the day she had called on John at his office.
Quick and shaken, the beating of her heart bewildered her; she hardly knew where they walked, or how they began to talk. The velvety summer night was sweet with flowers; the moon would be late, but the sky was high and dark, and thick with stars. In the silver glimmer the town lights, and the dim eye of the dairy, far up on the range, burned red. Children were shouting somewhere, and dogs barking; now and then the other mingled noises were cut across by the clear, mellow note of a motor car's horn.
They came to the lumber-yard by the river, and went in among the shadowy piles of planks. The starry dome was arched, infinitely far and yet friendly, above them; the air here was redolent of the clean wood. From houses near by, but out of sight beyond the high wall, they heard occasional voices: a child was called, a wire-door slammed. But they were alone.
John was instantly all the acknowledged if not the accepted lover. Once fairly inside the fence, she found her heart beating madly against his own; as tall as he, she tried to deny him her lips. Her arms were pinioned. Man and woman breathed fast.
"Martie--my wonderful--my beautiful--girl! I never lived until now!" he said after a silence.
"But, John--John--" He had taken her off her guard; she was stammering like a school-girl. "Please, dear, you mustn't--not now. I want to talk to you--I must. Won't you wait until we have had a talk--please--you're frightening me!"
His hold was instantly loosed.
"My dearest child, I wouldn't frighten you for anything in the world. Let us have the talk--here, climb up here! It was only-- realizing--what I've been dreaming about all these months! I'm flesh and blood, you know, dear. I shall not feel myself alive--you know that!--until you are in my arms, my own--my wife."
She had seated herself on the top of the pile; now he sat on the ledge that was a few inches lower, and laid his arms across her knees, so that his hands were clasped in both her own. Her senses were swimming, her heart itself seemed turned to liquid fire, and ran trembling through her body.
"My wife!" John said, eager eyes fairly devouring her. "My glorious wife, the loveliest woman in the world! Do you know what it means, Martie? Do you know what it means, after what we both have known?"
The sight of his wistful, daring smile in the starlight, the touch of his big, eager hands, and the sound of the odd, haunting voice turned the words to magic. She tightened her fingers on his.
"I bought the Connecticut house on the river," he said presently. "It belonged to a carpenter, a fine fellow; but the railroad doesn't go there, and he and his wife wanted to go to a bigger place. Silver and I went up and saw it, but I didn't want to do anything until you came. But there are rocks, you know--" Hearing something between a laugh and a sigh, he stopped short. "Rocks," he repeated, "you know all those places are rocky!"
"I know, dearest boy!"
The term overwhelmed him. She heard him try to go on; he choked, glanced at her smilingly, and shook his head. A second later he laid his face against her hands, and she felt that it was wet.
The clock in the Town Hall struck nine--struck ten, and still they sat on, sometimes talking, sometimes staring up at the steadily beating stars. Quiet fell upon Monroe, lights moved in the little houses and went out. There was a little stir when the crowd poured out from the moving pictures: voices, shouts, laughter, then silence again.
Suddenly Martie decreed their return to the house. But the ecstasy of finding each other, again was too new. They passed the dark old gateway to the sunken garden, and walked on, talking thirstily, drinking deep of the joy of words.
Hand in hand they went up the hill, and time and space might have equally been demolished. That hill had seemed a long climb to Martie years ago: to-night it seemed a dream hill, she and John were so soon at its little summit.
Below them lay the dark village and the furry tops of trees flooded with gray moonlight. The odours of a summer night crept out to meet them, odours of flowers and dew-wet, sunburned grass. The roadside fences were wreathed with wild blackberry vines that took weird shapes in the dark. In the idle fields spreading oaks threw shadows of inky blackness.
Martie hardly thought of Clifford. Across her spinning senses an occasional thought of him crept, but he had no part in to-night. To- morrow she must end this dream of exquisite fulfillment, to-morrow, somehow, she must send John away. But to-night was theirs.
Their talk was that of lovers, whose only life is in each other's presence. They leaned on an old fence, above the town, and whether they were grave, or whether Martie's gay laugh and his eager echoing laugh rang out, the enchantment held them alike.
It was after one o'clock when they came slowly down the hill, and let themselves silently into the shadowy garden. Martie fled noiselessly past the streak of light under Lydia's door, gained her own room, and blinked at her lighted gas.
The mirror showed her a pale, exalted face, with glittering blue eyes under loosened bronze hair. She was cold, excited, tired, and ecstatic. She moved the sprawling Teddy to the inside of the bed, stooping to lay her cold cheek and half-opened lips to his flushed little face. She got into a wrapper, her hair falling free on her shoulders, and sat dreaming and remembering.
Lydia, in her gray wrapper, came in, with haggard, reproachful eyes. Lydia was pale, too, but it was the paleness of fatigue, and had nothing in common with Martie's starry pallor.
"Martie, do you know what time it is?"
"Lyd--I know it's late!"
"Late? It's two o'clock."
"Not really?" Martie bunched her splendid hair with a white hand under each ear, and faced her affronted sister innocently.
"Don't say 'not really!'" Lydia, who happened to hate this expression, which as a matter of fact Martie only used in moments of airy rebellion, said sharply: "If that man hasn't any sense, you ought to have!"
"We used to be intimate friends a few years ago," Martie offered mildly. "We had a lot to say."
"A lot that couldn't be said before Pa and me, I suppose?" Lydia asked bitingly. Martie was silent. "What do you propose to tell Cliff of this delightful friendship?" Lydia pursued. "And how long a visit do your friends propose to make?"
"Only until to-morrow. Mrs. Silver wants me to visit them, you know, at Glen Mary."
"Do you intend to go?" Lydia asked stonily.
"Well, I suppose not. But it would be a wonderful experience, of course. But I suppose not." Martie sighed heavily. "I really hadn't thought it out," she pleaded.
"I should think you hadn't! I never heard anything like it," Lydia said. "I should think the time had come when you really might think it out--I don't know what things are coming to--"
"Oh, Lyddy dear, don't be so tiresome!" Martie said rudely. Lydia at once left the room, with a short goodnight, but the interrupted mood of memories and dreams did not return. Martie sat still a long time, wrapped in the blanket she caught from the bed, staring vaguely into space.
"I've got to think it all out," she told herself, "I mustn't make-- another mistake."
And yet when she crept in beside Teddy, and flung her arm about him, she would not let the half-formed phrase stand. The step that had brought her splendid boy to her arms was not a mistake.
She slept lightly, and was up at five o'clock. Teddy, just shifting from the stage when nothing could persuade him to sleep in the morning to the stage when nothing could persuade him to wake, merely rolled over when she left him. Martie, bathed, brushed, dressed in white, went into the garden. They had arranged no meeting, but John came toward her under the pepper trees as she closed the door.
Again they walked, this time in morning freshness. Martie showed him the school gate, with "Girls" lettered over it, where she had entered for so many years. They walked past the church, and up toward the hills. She said she must get home in time to help Pauline with breakfast for the augmented family, and John went with her into the old kitchen, and cut peaches and mixed muffins with the enthusiasm of an expert, talking all the time.
"But tell me about Adele, John!" she said suddenly, when Lydia and her father had left the breakfast table, and they two were alone again. "How do you explain it?"
"Oh, well!" He brought his mind with an obvious effort to Adele. "We had sort of a hard time of it--she wasn't well, and I wasn't. Her sister came on--she's--she's quite a woman!" Evidently still a little impressed by some memory, he made a wild gesture with his hands. "She thought I didn't understand Adele?" he went on questioningly. "After she left, Adele simply went away. She went to a boarding-house where she knew the woman, and when I went there to see her she told me that it was all over. That's what she said: it was all over. I went to see the doctor, and he didn't deny that they had gone somewhere--Atlantic City, I think it was, together! She asked for a divorce, and I gave it to her, and her sister came on to stay with her for the time she got it. She seemed awfully unhappy. It was just before my book was taken. Her sister said she was unlucky, and I guess she was--poor Adele!"
"And there was never any fight, or any special cause?"
"Oh, no!" He smiled his odd and charming smile. "But I think I bored her!" he said. "I do bore most people! But most people don't--don't understand me, Martie," he went on, with a quality almost like hunger in his eyes and voice. "And that's why I have been longing and longing to see you again. You understand! And with you I always feel as if I could talk, as if what I said mattered, as if--well, as if I had been on a hot desert walk, and came suddenly to trees, and shade, and a bubbling spring!"
"You poet!" she smiled. But a pang shook her heart. It was sweet, it was perilously sweet, but it could not be for long now.
"John," she began, when like a happy child he had loitered out with her to feed the chickens, "I've got something to tell you. I'm sorry."
Scattering crumbled cornbread on the pecked, bare ground under the willows, he gave her a confiding look. Her heart stopped.
"It's about Mr. Frost," Martie went on, "I've known him all my life; he's one of the nicest men here. I'm--I'm engaged to him, John!"
His hand arrested, John looked at her steadily. There was a silence.
"How do you mean--to be married?" he asked tonelessly, without stirring.
Martie nodded. Under the willows, and in the soft fog of the morning, the thing suddenly seemed a tragedy.
"Aren't you," he said simply, "aren't you going to marry me?"
His tone brought the tears to her eyes.
"I can't!" she whispered. "John, I'm sorry!"
"Sorry," he echoed dully. "But--but I don't understand. You can't mean that you have promised--that you expect--to marry any one else but me?" And as Martie again allowed a silence to fall, he took a few steps away from her, walking like a person blinded by sudden pain. "I don't understand," he said again. "I never thought of anything but that we belonged to each other--I've thought of it all the time! And now you tell me--I can't believe it! Is it settled? Is it all decided?"
"My family and his family know," Martie said.
"Oh, but Martie--you can't mean that!" he burst out in agony. "What have I done! What have I done--to have you do this! You don't love him!"
"John," she said steadily, catching his hands, "even if I were free, you aren't, dear. We could never be married while Adele lives."
He turned his steady gaze upon her.
"Then last night--" he asked gravely.
"Last night I was a fool, John--I was all to blame! I'm so sorry-- I'm so terribly sorry!"
"I thought last night--" He turned away under the willows, and she anxiously followed him. "You let me think you cared!"
"John, I do care!"
"You said you did!"
"I don't know what was the matter with me," Martie said wretchedly, "I was so carried away by seeing you so suddenly--and thinking of old times--and of all we had been through together--"
"But it wasn't of that we talked, Martie!"
"I know." Her head drooped. "I know!"
"I'm so sorry," he said, bewildered and hurt. "I don't understand you. I can't believe that you are going to marry that man, whoever he is; you didn't say anything about him last night! Who is he--what right has he got to come into it?"
"He's a good and honourable man, John, and he asked me. And I said yes."
"You said yes--loving me?"
"Oh, John dear--you don't understand--"
"No," he said heavily, "I confess I don't."
The tone, curt and cold, brought tears to her eyes, and he saw them. Instantly he was all penitence.
"Martie--ah, don't cry! Don't cry for me! Don't--I tell you, or I shall rush off somewhere--I can't see you cry! I'll try to understand. But you see last night--last night made me hope that you might care for me a little--I couldn't sleep, Martie, I was so happy! But I won't think of that. Now tell me, I'm quite quiet, you see. Tell me. You don't mean that you don't--feel anything about it?"
"John," she said simply, "I don't know whether I love you or not. I know that--that last night was one of the wonderful times of my life. But it came on me like a thunderbolt--I never felt that way before--even when I was first engaged, even when I was married! But I don't know whether that's love, or whether it's just you--the extraordinary effect of you! You belong to one of the hardest parts of my life, and at first, last night, I thought it was just seeing you again--like any other old friend. Now--this morning--I don't know." She stopped, distressed. The man was silent. "If I've really made you unhappy, it will kill me, I think," Martie began, again, pleadingly. "How can I go on into this marriage feeling that you are lonely and hurt about it?"
They had sat down on the old iron bench that had for fifty years stood rooted in the earth far down at the end of the garden, under pepper trees and gnarled evergreens and rusty pampas grass.
"I thought you would marry me," John said, "and that we would go to live in the farmhouse with the white rocks."
His tone made her eyes fill again.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Yes, but I can't leave it this way, Martie," John said. "If I did come suddenly upon you, if I did take you by surprise: why, I can give you time. You can have all the time you want! I'll stay here in the village--at the hotel, and see you every day, and we'll talk about it."
"Talking wouldn't make you anything but a divorced man, John," she said.
"But you can't blame me for that--Adele did that!"
"Yes, I know, dear. But the fact is a fact, just the same."
"But--" He began some protest eagerly; his voice died away.
"See here, John." Martie locked her hands about the empty, battered pan that had held the chickens' breakfast. "I was a girl here, ten years ago, and I gave my parents plenty of trouble. Then I married, and I suffered--and paid--for that. Then I came home, shabby and sad and poor, and my father and sister took me in. Now comes this opportunity to make a good man happy, to give my boy a good home, to make my father and sisters proud and satisfied, to do, in a word, the dutiful, normal thing that I've been failing to do all these years! He loves me, and--I've known him since I was a child--I do truly love him. This is July--we are to be married in August."
"You are not!" he said, through set jaws.
"But I am. I've always been a trial and a burden to them, John--I could work my hands to the bone, more, I could write another 'Mary Beatrice' without giving them half the joy that this marriage will give!"
"That's the kind they are!" he said, with a boyish attempt at a sneer.
She laughed forgivingly, seeing the hurt beneath the unworthy effort, and laid her fingers over his.
"That's the kind I am, too! This is my home, and this is my life, and God is good to me to make it so pleasant and so easy!"
"Do you dare say, Martie, that if it were not for Adele you would not marry me?"
Martie considered seriously.
"No, I can't say that, John. But you might as well ask me what I would do if Cliff's wife were alive and yours dead!"
"I see," he said hopelessly.
For a few minutes there was silence in the old garden. John stared at the neglected path, where shade lay so heavily that even in summer emerald green moss filmed the jutting bricks. Martie anxiously watched him.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked, presently, in a dead voice.
"I ask you not to make my life hard again, just when I have made it smooth," she said eagerly. "I've been fighting all my life, John-- now I've won! I'm not only doing something that pleases them, I'm doing the one thing that could please them most! And that means joy for me, too--it's all right, for every one, at last! Dear, if I could marry you, then that would be something else to think about, but I can't. It would never be a marriage at all, in my eyes--"
"Oh, how I hate this petty talk of marriage, and duty, and all the rest of it!" he burst out bitterly. "Tied to a little village, and its ideals--you! Oh, Martie, why aren't you bigger than all this, why don't you snap your fingers at them all? Come away with me--come away with me, Sweetheart, let's get out of it--and away from them! You and I, Martie, what do we need of the world? Oh, I want you so-- I want you so! We'll go to Connecticut, and live on the bank of our river, and we'll make boats for Teddy--"
Teddy! If she had been wavering, even here in the old garden, which was still haunted for her with memories of little girl days, of Saturday mornings with dolls, houses and sugar pies, the child's name brought her suddenly to earth. Teddy--! That was her answer.
She got to her feet, and began to walk steadily toward the house. He followed her.
"I ask you--for my sake--to give up the thought of it," she said firmly. "I beg you--! I want you to go away--to India, John, and forget me--forget it all!"
He walked beside her for a moment in silence. When he spoke his voice was dead and level.
"Of course if you ask me, the thing is done, my dear!"
"Thank you, John," she said, with a sinking heart.
"Not at all."
When they reached the side doorway, he went quickly and quietly in. Dean Silver, sauntering around from the front garden, met her. He had his watch in his hand. The gray car was waiting in the drive.
"If we have to make Glen Mary to-night, Mrs. Bannister," he began. "And I want your answer to my wife's invitation," he added, with a concerned and curious look at her agitated face.
"Oh, Mr. Silver," she said unhappily, "I can't come and visit you-- it's all been a mistake--I think I must have been crazy last night! I'm so sorry--but things can't be changed now, I want you to take him away--to sail up the Nile--if you really are going--"
"My dear girl," the man said patiently, "he hasn't the faintest idea of sailing with me--I wish to the Lord he had!"
"He said he would," she said lifelessly.
"Dryden did?" Silver turned upon her suddenly.
"Yes, he just said he would."
"Yes." Martie picked a dead marguerite from a bush, and crumbled it in her fingers.
"When did he?"
Dean Silver looked keenly at her face and shook his head bewilderedly.
"You are really going through with it, then?"
"Oh, yes, I must!" she answered feverishly. And she added: "I want to!"
"I see you want to!" the novelist said drily. And his voice had lost its brotherly, affectionate tone when he added: "Very well, then, if you two have settled it between you, I will not presume to interfere, I was going down to the city to-morrow to see about reservations; if Dryden means it--of course it alters the entire aspect of affairs to me!"
"Oh, don't use that tone!" she said agitatedly, "I didn't ask him to come here--I never encouraged him--why, I never thought of him! Am I to blame?"
"Look here," said Silver suddenly. "You can't fool me. You know you love him!"
Martie did not answer. Her colour had faded, and she looked pale and tired. She dropped her eyes Pity suddenly filled his own.
"I'm sorry!" the man said quickly; "I'm awfully sorry. I'll help you if I can. He may buck the last moment, but perhaps he won't. And you think it over. Think it all over. And if you send me a wire one minute before the boat sails--that'll be time enough! We'll come back. I'll keep you informed--and for God's sake, wire if you can!"
"We'll leave it that way," Martie said gratefully.
"I believe you'll wire," Silver said, with another searching look. She only shrugged her shoulders wearily in answer.
They were silent for a few minutes, and then John came out of the house with his bag in his hand. Lydia followed him down the steps.
Lydia was somewhat puzzled by the manner of the visitors, but relieved to see that they were not planning to strain the hospitality of the house for lunch. It was merely a question of thanks and good-byes now, and these she had come forth to receive with dignity.
"Your suitcase is in?" John said to his friend. He put his own into the rumble, snaps were snapped and locks closed. He did not look at Martie. He lifted his cap, and took Lydia's hand. "Good-bye, Miss Monroe, and thank you. Good-bye, Martie. Everything all right, Dean?"
He got into his seat. Lydia gave her hand in turn to the novelist.
"You mustn't count on a visit from this girl here, at Glen Mary," Lydia said in pleasant warning. "She's going to be a pretty busy girl from now on, I expect!"
"So she was saying," Dean Silver said gravely. "Our own plans may be changed," he added casually. "I may yet persuade Dryden here to sail up the Nile with me!"
"I certainly think any one who has such a wonderful opportunity would be foolish to decline it," Lydia observed cheerfully.
"Good-bye," said the writer to Martie. "You'll wire me if you can, I know!"
"Good-bye," she said, hardly conscious of what was being done and said, in the fever of excitement that was consuming her. "And thank you!"
He jumped into the car. Martie, trembling, stepped back beside Lydia as the engine began to throb.
"Good-bye, John," she faltered. John lifted his cap; the driver waved a gloved hand.
They were gone.
"I'm so glad you told him about your engagement, Martie!" Lydia said approvingly. "It was the only honest thing to do. And dear me, isn't it quite a relief to think that they've had their visit, and it's over, and everything is explained and understood?"
"Isn't it?" Martie echoed dully.
She went upstairs. The harsh light of the summer noon did not penetrate the old Monroe house. Martie's room was full of greenish light; there was an opaque streak across the old mirror where she found her white, tired face.
She flung herself across the bed. Her heart was still beating high, and her lips felt dry and hot. She could neither rest nor think, but she lay still for a long while.
Chief among her confused emotions was relief. He had come, he had frightened and disturbed her. Now he was gone again. She would presently go down to mash Teddy's baked potato, and serve watery canned pears from the pressed glass bowl. She would dress in white, and go driving with Cliff and Teddy and Ruth in the late afternoon. Life would resume its normal placidity.
A week from to-day Rose and Sally would give her the announcement party. Martie resolutely forced her thoughts to the hour of John's arrival: of what had she been thinking then? Of her wedding gown of blue taffeta, and the blue straw hat wreathed with roses. She must go down to the city, perhaps, for the hat--?
But the city brought John again to her mind, and for a few delicious minutes she let herself remember his voice, his burning words, his deep, meaning look.
"Well, it's wonderful--to have a man care that way!" she said, forcing herself to get up, and set about dressing. "It's something to have had, but it's over!"