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Wade was relieved to find that Eve's manner toward him had undergone no change by reason of his impromptu declaration. They met quite as before, and if there was any embarrassment on the part of either of them it was not on hers. During the next few days it happened that he seldom found himself alone with her for more than a few moments, but it did not occur to him that Chance alone was not responsible. As Wade understood it, it was a period of truce, and he was careful not to give word or look that might be construed into a violation of terms. Perhaps he overdid it a little, for there were times, usually when he was not looking, when Eve shot speculating, slightly puzzled glances at him. Perhaps she was thinking that such subjects as last night's thunder storm, dormer windows, and the apple crop outlook were not just what a declared lover might be supposed to choose for conversation. Once or twice, notably toward the end of the week, and when she had been presumably making up her mind for three days, she exhibited signs of irritability and impatience. These Wade construed as evidences of boredom and acted upon as such, cheerfully taking himself off.
The house-warming, as Wade chose to call his dinner-party, came off on Saturday night. Wade had moved his bed back to the guest-room upstairs and the sitting-room had regained its former character. In this room and in the parlor and dining-room bowls and vases of pink roses--which had come from Boston on ice in great wooden boxes, and about which the village at large was already excitedly speculating--stood in every available spot. But if Eden Village found subject for comment in the extravagant shipment of roses, imagine its wonderment when it beheld, shortly after six o'clock, Doctor Crimmins parading magnificently up the street in swallow-tailed coat and white vest, a costume which Miss Cousins was certain he had not worn in twenty years!
Wade and his guests sat on the new side porch while awaiting dinner and Wade came in for a lot of praise for the improvements he had worked in his garden, praise which he promptly disclaimed in favor of Miss Mullett.
"Goodness only knows what I'd have done if it hadn't been for her," he laughed. "I wanted to plant American Beauty roses and maiden-hair fern all over the place. I even think I had some notion of growing four-dollar orchids on the pear trees. The idea of putting in things that would really grow was entirely hers."
"I like the idea of planting the old-fashioned, hardy things," said the Doctor. "They're the best, after all. Asters and foxgloves and deutzia and snowballs and all the rest of them."
"And phlox," said Wade. "They told us we were planting too late, but the phlox has buds on it already. Come and see it."
So they trooped down the new gray steps and strolled around the garden, Wade exhibiting proudly and miscalling everything, and Miss Mullett gently correcting him.
Their travels took them around the house and finally to the gate in the hedge, over the arch of which Miss Mullett was coaxing climbing roses. When they turned back Eve and the Doctor walked ahead.
"Eve told me once such a quaint thing about that gate," said Miss Mullett. "It seems that when she was a little girl and used to play in the garden over there, she imagined all sorts of queer things, as children will. And one of them was that some day a beautiful prince would come through the gate in the hedge and fall on his knee and ask her to marry him. Such a quaint idea for a child to have, wasn't it?"
"Yes," answered Wade thoughtfully. There was silence for a moment, and then he glanced down and met Miss Mullett's gaze. He laughed ruefully.
"Do you think I look much like a prince?" he asked.
"Do looks matter," she said, gently, "if you are the prince?"
"Perhaps not, but--I'm afraid I'm not."
Thereupon Miss Mullett did a most unmaidenly thing. She found Wade's hand and pressed it with her cool, slim fingers.
"If I were a prince," she replied, "I'd be afraid of nothing."
There was just time to return the pressure of her hand and give a grateful look into the kindly face, and then they were back with the others on the porch.
That dinner was an immense success from every standpoint, Mrs. Prout cooked like cordon bleu, Zephania, all starch and frills and excitement, served like a--but no, she didn't; she served in a manner quite her own, bringing on the oysters with a whispered aside to Wade that she had "most forgot the ice," introducing the chicken with a triumphant laugh, and standing off to observe the effect it made before returning to the kitchen for the new potatoes, late asparagus, and string-beans, so tiny that Mrs. Prout declared it was a sin and a shame to pick them. There was a salad of lettuce and tomatoes, and the Doctor, with grave mien, prepared the dressing, tasting it at every stage and uttering congratulatory "Ha's!" And there were plenty of strawberries and much cake--Zephania's very best maple-layer--and ice-cream from Manchester, a trifle soft, but, as Eve maintained, all the better when you put it over the berries. And--breathe it softly lest Eden Village hear--there was champagne! Eve and Miss Mullett treated it with vast respect, but the Doctor met it metaphorically with open arms, as one welcomes an old friend, and, under its gentle influence, tossed aside twenty years and made decorous, but desperate, love to Miss Mullett. And then, to continue the pleasant formality of the occasion, the ladies withdrew to the parlor, and Wade and the Doctor smoked two very stout and very black cigars and sipped two tiny glasses of brandy.
In the parlor Miss Mullett turned to Eve in excited trepidation. "My dear," she asked, in a thrilling whisper, "do you think I took too much champagne? My cheeks are positively burning!"
"I don't know," laughed Eve, "but the color is very becoming, dear."
"But I shouldn't want Mr. Herrick to think--"
"He won't," replied Eve, soothingly. "No matter how intoxicated you got, I'm sure he is too much of a gentleman to think any such thing."
"Any such thing as what?"
"Why, what you said."
"But I hadn't said!" declared Miss Mullett, sinking tragically onto the couch. Whereupon Eve laughed, and Miss Mullett declared that rather than have the gentleman think her the least bit--well--the very least bit, you understand!--she would go right home. And Eve was forced to assure her with serious face that she wasn't the least bit, and wasn't in any danger of becoming so. Miss Mullett was comforted and Eve, who had been standing by the marble-topped table, idly opened a book lying there. It wasn't a very interesting volume, from her point of view, being a work on metallurgy. She turned to the front and found Wade's name written on the fly-leaf, and was about to lay it down when she caught sight of a piece of paper marking a place. With no thought of prying, she opened the book again. The paper proved to be an empty envelope addressed to Wade in typewritten characters. In the upper left-hand corner was an inscription that interested her: "After five days return to The Evelyn Mining Co., Craig's Camp, Colo."
She studied the words for a long minute. Then she smiled and closed the book again. Oddly enough, both she and Wade had discovered each other's secrets that evening.
When the men joined them the Doctor suggested whist. Wade protested his stupidity, but was overruled and assigned to Miss Mullett as partner.
"If you played like John Hobb," declared the Doctor, "you'd win with Miss Mullett for partner."
Eve and Wade desired to know who John Hobb was, and the Doctor was forced to acknowledge him a quite mythical character, whose name in that part of the world stood proverbially for incompetence. After that when any of the four made a mistake he or she was promptly dubbed John Hobb. For once the unwritten law was unobserved, and it was long past ten when the party broke up, Eve and the Doctor having captured the best of a series of rubbers. After they had gone Wade put out the downstair lights and returned to the side porch, where, with his pipe flaring fitfully in the moonlit darkness, he lived over in thought the entire evening and conjured up all sorts of pictures of Eve. When he finally went to bed his last waking sensation was one of gratitude toward Miss Mullett for the words she had spoken in the garden.
The next morning Eve was out under the cedars when the Doctor came marching down the street, carrying his bag and swinging his cane, his lips moving a little with the thoughts that came to him. Opposite Eve's retreat he stood on tiptoes and smiled across the hedge, unseen. She made a pretty picture there over her book, her brown hair holding golden-bronze glints where the sun kissed it, and her smooth cheek warmly pallid in the shade.
"'Old as I am, for ladies' love unfit, The power of beauty I remember yet,'"
quoted the Doctor. "Good morning, fair Eve of Eden. And how do you find yourself to-day? For my part I am haunted by a gentle, yet insistent, regret." The Doctor placed a hand over his heavy gold watch-chain. "It is here."
"Better there than here," laughed Eve, touching her forehead.
The Doctor pretended affront. "Do you mean to insinuate, young lady, that I drank too much of the wine last night? Ha! I deny it; emphatically I deny it. Besides, one couldn't drink too much of such wine as that! To prove how steady my hand and brain are, I'll come in a moment and talk with you."
The Doctor entered through the gate and advanced toward Eve, who with anxious solicitude cautioned him against colliding with the trees or walking over the flower-beds. Things had changed in the cedars' shade, and now there were three rustic chairs and an ancient iron table there. The Doctor sat himself straightly in one of the chairs and glared at Eve.
"Now what have you to say?" he demanded.
"That you conceal it beautifully," she replied, earnestly.
"Madam, I have nothing to conceal."
"Oh, well, if you persist! Where are you off to this morning?"
"Is she ill?"
"Probably not. I think myself she's too old to ever be really ill any more. At ninety-eight the body is too well seasoned to admit disease. She will just run peacefully down like a clock some day."
"Does she still smoke her pipe, Doctor?"
"All day long, I think. I remonstrated with her once ten or fifteen years ago when she had a touch of pleurisy. 'Mrs. Turner,' I said, 'if you persist in smoking, you'll injure your health and die young.' She was then eighty-something. 'Doctor,' said she, with a twinkle in those bright little eyes of hers, 'I'll live to be a hundred, and that's more than you'll do.' And, bless me, I think she will! To-day she sent word for me to 'look in.' That means that she needs gossip and not medicine. Well, I'm glad to go. It always does me good to talk with Mother Turner. She's the best lesson in contentment I know. She's buried two husbands, seven children, and the dear Lord only knows how many grandchildren, she lives on charity and hasn't a soul near her she can claim relationship to, and she's as cheerful as that oriole up there, and almost as bright. The pathetic part of it is that she can't read any more, although she puts on her spectacles and pretends that she can. Three years ago she confided to me that her eye-sight was 'failing a bit.' She's not blind yet, by any means, but print's beyond her. And so when I see her she always gets me to read to her a little, explaining that her eyes 'be a bit watery this morning.' Sometimes it's the Bible, but more often it's a newspaper that some one has left. Just now her hobby is airships. She can't hear enough about airships." The Doctor chuckled. "She's been on a train but once in her life, she tells me, and that was thirty years ago."
"I don't want to live that long," said Eve thoughtfully. "I don't want to live after every one I've cared for has gone."
"So you think now," replied the Doctor, with a faint shrug of his shoulders, "but wait till you are old. I've seen many snuffed out, my dear, but there's only one or two I recall who went willingly. The love of life is a strong passion. Bless my soul, what's that?"
The Doctor turned toward the lilac hedge and the neighboring cottage, listening. Eve laughed, merrily.
"Why, that's Zephania," she said.
"'We shall sleep, but not forever, There will be a glorious dawn! We shall meet to part, no, never, On the resurrection morn!'"
sang Zephania, in her piping voice. The Doctor smiled. Then he nodded sideways in the direction of the voice.
"Have you seen our host this morning?" he asked.
"No," said Eve.
"I wonder," he chuckled, "if I hadn't better go over and administer a bromide. These fashionable dinner-parties--" He shook his head eloquently.
"I don't believe he's that bad," responded Eve. "I wish you'd tell me what you think of him, Doctor."
"Mr. Herrick? Well, aside from his intemperance--"
"No, I'm in earnest, please. Afterwards I'll tell you why I ask--perhaps."
"I think him a very nice young man, Miss Eve, don't you?"
"I wouldn't call him strictly handsome; he doesn't remind me of the copper-engraved pictures of Lord Byron, who, when I was a lad, was considered the standard of masculine beauty, but he looks like a man, which is something that Byron didn't, to my thinking."
"But do you--do you think he's sincere?"
"Lord, bless me, yes! I'd stake my word on his being that if nothing else."
"Even if he is a mining man?" asked Eve, with a smile.
"H'm, well, I guess there are honest mining men as well as honest lawyers."
"Yes, I think he's honest," said Eve, thoughtfully, "but as to sincerity--"
"Aren't they the same?"
"Perhaps they are," answered Eve, doubtfully. She was silent for a moment, possibly considering the question. Then she looked across at the Doctor with a little flush in her cheeks. "You see," she said, "he--he's asked me to marry him."
The Doctor rolled his cane under his palms and nodded his head slowly several times. Eve waited. At last--
"You don't seem much surprised," she said, questioningly.
"Surprised? No. I'd have been surprised if he hadn't asked you to marry him, my dear. It's what I'd have done in his place."
"And I'd have accepted you," said Eve with a little laugh.
"And him?" asked the Doctor.
Eve was silent, looking across the garden. Finally she shrugged her slim shoulders and sighed.
"I don't know," she said, frankly.
"Well," began the Doctor, slowly and judicially. Then he stopped, wondering what he had started to say.
"Why should I?" challenged Eve, a trifle querulously.
"You shouldn't, unless you feel that you want to."
"But I don't know whether I want to--or don't want to."
The Doctor studied her face a moment, until her eyes dropped and the flush deepened in her cheeks. Unseen of her, he smiled.
"Take plenty of time to find out," said the Doctor, softly and kindly. "Don't marry him until you are sure that you can't be happy without him, my dear. Don't try it as an experiment. That's what makes unhappy marriages; at least, that's one thing. There are others too numerous to mention. There's just one reason why a man and a woman should join themselves together in matrimony, and that is love, the love that the poets sing and the rest of us poke fun at, the love that is the nearest thing to Heaven we find on earth." The Doctor sat silent a moment, looking past the girl's grave face into the green blur of the garden. Then he stirred, sighed, and looked at his watch. "Well, well, I must be on my way," he said briskly. "I'm a vastly busy old man."
"But, Doctor, you haven't helped me a bit to decide," she said, aggrievedly.
"I can't, my dear. No one can. And, what's more, you don't want me to."
"Why, Doctor, I"--she began. Then she dropped her eyes and a little smile trembled at her lips. "How do you know?" she asked.
"I know a few things yet, Miss Eve," he chuckled, picking up his old black leather bag.
"Just a moment, please," begged Eve. "Did he ever tell you that he wanted me to take some of Cousin Edward's money?"
"M'm, yes, he did tell me that," responded the Doctor cautiously. "But that's nothing against him."
"N-no, I know it isn't. And he said--says he will have his way."
The Doctor settled his hat and gripped his stick.
"Then I guess he will. He looks that kind of a man."
"He never will," said Eve, firmly, "never!"
"Unless," chuckled the Doctor, "you marry him." He waved his cane and strode away toward the gate. "How about that?" he called back over the hedge.
Eve made no answer. She was thinking very busily. "Unless I marry him!" she repeated, somewhat blankly, staring at the turquoise ring which she was slipping around and around on her finger. The moments passed. A frown crept into her forehead and grew there, dark and threatening, under the warm shadow of her hair. "And so that's it," she thought bitterly and angrily. "That's what it means. That's why he's acted so strangely since--since he asked me to marry him. It's just a trick to get his own way. He'd marry me as a sop to his conscience. It's just the money, after all. Oh, I wish--I wish Cousin Edward had never had any money!"
She sat there a long time, while the shadows shortened and the birds grew silent, one by one, and the noonday hush fell over the old garden; sat there until Miss Mullett came to the kitchen door and summoned her to luncheon.
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