Mrs. Maynard slowly went upstairs and along the hall to her daughter's room. Margaret sat listlessly by a window. The girls had gone.
"You were going for a long walk," said Mrs. Maynard.
"I'm tired," replied Margaret. There was a shadow in her eyes.
The mother had never understood her daughter. And of late a subtle change in Margaret had made her more of a puzzle.
"Margaret, I want to talk seriously with you," she began.
"Didn't I tell you I wanted you to break off your--your friendship with Holt Dalrymple?"
"Yes," replied Margaret, with a flush. "I did not--want to."
"Well, the thing which concerns you now is--he can't be regarded as a possibility for you."
"Possibility?" echoed Margaret.
"Just that, exactly. I'm not sure of your thoughts on the matter, but it's time I knew them. Holt is a ne'er-do-well. He's gone to the bad, like so many of these army boys. No nice girl will ever associate with him again."
"Then I'm not nice, for I will," declared Margaret, spiritedly.
"You will persist in your friendship for him in the face of my objection?"
"Certainly I will if I have any say about it. But I know Holt. I--I guess he has taken to drink--and carrying on. So you needn't worry much about our friendship."
Mrs. Maynard hesitated. She had become accustomed to Margaret's little bursts of fury and she expected one here. But none came; Margaret appeared unnaturally calm; she sat still with her face turned to the window. Mrs. Maynard was a little afraid of this cold, quiet girl.
"Margaret, you can't help seeing now that your mother's judgment was right. Holt Dalrymple once may have been very interesting and attractive for a friend, but as a prospective husband he was impossible. The worst I hear of him is that he drinks and gambles. I know you liked him and I don't want to be unjust. But he has kept other and better young men away from you."
Margaret's hand clenched and her face sank against the window-pane.
"We need say no more about him," went on Mrs. Maynard. "Margaret, you've been brought up in luxury. If your father happened to die now--he's far from well--we'd be left penniless. We've lived up every dollar.... We have our poor crippled Blair to care for. You know you must marry well. I've brought you up with that end in view. And it's imperative you marry soon."
"Why must a girl marry?" murmured Margaret, wistfulness in her voice. "I'd rather go to work." "Margaret, you are a Maynard," replied her mother, haughtily. "Pray spare me any of this new woman talk about liberty--equal rights--careers and all that. Life hasn't changed for the conservative families of blood.... Try to understand, Margaret, that you must marry and marry well. You're nobody without money. In society there are hundreds of girls like you, though few so attractive. That's all the more reason you should take the best chance you have, before it's lost. If you don't marry people will say you can't. They'll say you're fading, growing old, even if you grow prettier every day of your life, and in the end they'll make you a miserable old maid. Then you'll be glad to marry anybody. If you marry now you can help your father, who needs help badly enough. You can help poor Blair.... You can be a leader in society; you can have a house here, a cottage at the seashore and one in the mountains; everything a girl's heart yearns for--servants, horses, autos, gowns, diamonds----"
"Everything except love," interrupted Margaret, bitterly.
Mrs. Maynard actually flushed, but she kept her temper.
"It's desirable that you love your husband. Any sensible woman can learn to care for a man. Love, as you dream about it is merely a--a dream. If women waited for that they would never get married."
"Which would be preferable to living without love."
"But Margaret, what would become of the world? If there were fewer marriages--Heaven knows they're few enough nowadays--there would be fewer families--and in the end fewer children--less and less----"
"They'd be better children," said Margaret, calmly.
"Eventually the race would die out."
"And that'd be a good thing--if the people can't love each other."
"How silly--exasperating!" ejaculated Mrs. Maynard. "You don't mean such nonsense. What any girl wants is a home of her own, a man to fuss over. I didn't marry for love, as you dream it. My husband attended to his business and I've looked after his household. You've had every advantage. I flatter myself our marriage has been a success."
Margaret's eyes gleamed like pointed flames.
"I differ with you. Your married life hasn't been successful any more than it's been happy. You never cared for father. You haven't been kind to him since his failure."
Mrs. Maynard waved her hand imperiously in angry amaze.
"I won't stop. I'm not a baby or a doll," went on Margaret, passionately. "If I'm old enough to marry I'm old enough to talk. I can think, can't I? You never told me anything, but I could see. Ever since I can remember you and father have had one continual wrangle about money--bills--expenses. Perhaps I'd have been better off without all the advantages and luxury. It's because of these things you want to throw me at some man. I'd far rather go to work the same as Blaid did, instead of college."
"Whatever on earth has come over you?" gasped Mrs. Maynard, bewildered by the revolt of this once meek daughter.
"Maybe I'm learning a little sense. Maybe I got some of it from Daren Lane," flashed back Margaret.
"Mother, whatever I've learned lately has been learned away from home. You've no more idea what's going on in the world to-day than if you were actually dead. I never was bright like Mel Iden, but I'm no fool. I see and hear and I read. Girls aren't pieces of furniture to be handed out to some rich men. Girls are waking up. They can do things. They can be independent. And being independent doesn't mean a girl's not going to marry. For she can wait--wait for the right man--for love.... You say I dream. Well, why didn't you wake me up long ago--with the truth? I had my dreams about love and marriage. And I've learned that love and marriage are vastly different from what most mothers make them out to be, or let a girl think."
"Margaret, I'll not have you talk in this strange way. You owe me respect if not obedience," said Mrs. Maynard, her voice trembling.
"Oh, well, I won't say any more," replied Margaret, "But can't you spare me? Couldn't we live within our means?"
"After all these years--to skimp along! I couldn't endure it."
"Whom have you in mind for me to--to marry?" asked the girl, coldly curious.
"Mr. Swann has asked your hand in marriage for his son Richard. He wants Richard to settle down. Richard is wild, like all these young men. And I have--well, I encouraged the plan."
"Mother!" cried Margaret, springing up.
"Margaret, you will see"
"I despise Dick Swann."
"Why?" asked her mother.
"I just do. I never liked him in school. He used to do such mean things. He's selfish. He let Holt and Daren suffer for his tricks."
"Margaret, you talk like a child."
"Listen, mother." She threw her arms round Mrs. Maynard and kissed her and spoke pleadingly. "Oh, don't make me hate myself. It seems I've grown so much older in the last year or so--and lately since this marriage talk came up. I've thought of things as never before because I've--I've learned about them. I see so differently. I can't--can't love Dick Swann. I can't bear to have him touch me. He's rude. He takes liberties.... He's too free with his hands! Why, it'd be wrong to marry him. What difference can a marriage service make in a girl's feelings.... Mother, let me say no."
"Lord spare me from bringing up another girl!" exclaimed Mrs. Maynard. "Margaret, I can't make you marry Richard Swann. I'm simply trying to tell you what any sensible girl would see she had to do. You think it over--both sides of the question--before you absolutely decide."
Mrs. Maynard was glad to end the discussion and to get away. In Margaret's appeal she heard a yielding, a final obedience to her wish. And she thought she had better let well enough alone. The look in Margaret's clear blue eyes made her shrink; it would haunt her. But she felt no remorse. Any mother would have done the same. There was always the danger of that old love affair; there was new danger in these strange wild fancies of modern girls; there was never any telling what Margaret might do. But once married she would be safe and her position assured.