E-text prepared by Al Haines
I'VE MARRIED MARJORIE
Author of "Why Not," "The Wishing Ring Man," "You're Only Young Once," "The Boardwalk," etc.
A. L. Burt Company Publishers New York Published by arrangement with Harcourt, Brace and Howe
Copyright, 1920, by The Crowell Publishing Company
Copyright, 1920, by Harcourt, Brace and Howe, Inc.
I'VE MARRIED MARJORIE
The sun shone, that morning, and even from a city office window the Spring wind could be felt, sweet and keen and heady, making you feel that you wanted to be out in it, laughing, facing toward the exciting, happy things Spring was sure to be bringing you, if you only went a little way to meet them—just a little way!
Marjorie Ellison, bending over a filing cabinet in a small and solitary room, felt the wind, and gave her fluffy dark head an answering, wistful lift. It was a very exciting, Springy wind, and winds and weathers affected her too much for her own good. Therefore she gave the drawer she was working on an impatient little push which nearly shook the Casses down into the Cats—she had been hunting for a very important letter named Cattell, which had concealed itself viciously—and went to the window as if she was being pulled there.
She set both supple little hands on the broad stone sill, and looked downward into the city street as you would look into a well. The wind was blowing sticks and dust around in fairy rings, and a motor car or so ran up and down, and there were the usual number of the usual kind of people on the sidewalks; middle-aged people principally, for most of the younger inhabitants of New York are caged in offices at ten in the morning, unless they are whisking by in the motors. Mostly elderly ladies in handsome blue dresses, Marjorie noticed. She liked it, and drew a deep, happy breath of Spring air. Then suddenly over all the pleasure came a depressing black shadow. And yet what she had seen was something which made most people smile and feel a little happier; a couple of plump, gay young returned soldiers going down the street arm in arm, and laughing uproariously at nothing at all for the sheer pleasure of being at home. She turned away from the window feeling as if some one had taken a piece of happiness away from her, and snatched the nearest paper to read it, and take the taste of what she had seen out of her mouth. It was a last night's paper with the back page full of "symposium." She read a couple of the letters, and dropped the paper and went back desperately to her filing cabinet.
"Cattell—Cattell——" she whispered to herself very fast, riffling over the leaves desperately. Then she reverted to the symposium and the soldiers. "Oh, dear, everybody on that page was writing letters to know why they didn't get married," she said. "I wish somebody would write letters telling why they did, or explain to those poor girls that say nobody wants to marry a refined girl that they'd better leave it alone!"
After that she hunted for the Cattell letter till she found it. Then she took it to her superior, in the next room. Then she returned to her work and rolled the paper up into a very small ball and dropped it into the big wastebasket, and pushed it down with a small, neat oxford-tied foot. Then she went to the window again restlessly, looked out with caution, as if there might be more soldiers crossing the street, and they might spring at her. But there were none; only a fat, elderly gentleman gesticulating for a taxi and looking so exactly like a Saturday Evening Post cover that he almost cheered her. Marjorie had a habit of picking up very small, amusing things and being amused by them. And then into the office bounced the one girl she hadn't seen that day.
"Oh, Mrs. Ellison, congratulations! I just got down, or I'd have been here before!" she gasped, kissing Marjorie hard three times. Then she stood back and surveyed Marjorie tenderly until she wanted to pick the wad of paper out of the basket and throw it at her. "Coming back to you!" she said softly. "Oh, you must be thrilled!" She put her head on one side—she wore her hair in a shock of bobbed curls which Marjorie loathed anyway, and they flopped when she wished to be emphatic—and surveyed Marjorie with prolonged, tender interest. "Any time now!" she breathed.
"Yes," said Marjorie desperately. "The ship will be in some time next week. Yes, I'm thrilled. It's—it's wonderful. Thank you, Miss Kaplan, I knew you would be sympathetic."
One hand was clenching and unclenching itself where Miss Kaplan, fortunately a young person whose own side of emotions occupied her exclusively, could not see it.
Miss Kaplan kissed her, quite uninvited, again, said "Dear little war-bride!" and—just in time, Marjorie always swore, to save herself from death, fled out.
It is all very well to be a war-bride when there's a war, but the war was over.
"And I'm married," Marjorie said when the door had swung to behind Miss Kaplan, "for life!"
She was twenty-one. She was little and slender, with a wistful, very sweet face like a miniature; big dark-blue eyes, a small mouth that tipped down a little at the indented corners, and a transparently rose and white skin. She looked a great deal younger even than she was, and her being Mrs. Ellison had amused every one, including herself, for the last year she had used the name. As she sat down at her desk again, and looked helplessly at the keen, dark young face surmounted by an officer's cap, that for very shame's sake she had not taken away from her desk, she looked like a frightened little girl. And she was frightened.
It had been very thrilling, if scary, to be married to Francis Ellison, when he wasn't around. The letters—the dear letters!—and the watching for mails, and being frightened when there were battles, and wearing the new wedding-ring, had made her perfectly certain that when Francis came back she would be very glad, and live happily ever after. And now that he was coming she was just plain frightened, suffocatingly, abjectly scared to death.
"I mustn't be!" she told herself, trying to give herself orders to feel differently. "I must be very glad!" But it was impossible to do anything with herself. She continued to feel as if her execution was next week, instead of her reunion with a husband who wrote that he was looking forward to——
"If he didn't describe kissing me," shivered poor little Marjorie to herself, "so accurately!"
She had met Francis just about a month before they were married. He had come to see her with her cousin, who was in the same company at Plattsburg. Her cousin was engaged to a dear friend of hers, and it had made it very nice for all four of them, because Billy and Lucille weren't war-fiances by any means. They had been engaged for a couple of years, in a more or less silent fashion, and the war had given them a chance to marry. One doesn't think so much about ways and means when the man is going to war and can send you an allotment.
Francis, dark, quick, decided, with a careless gaiety that was like that of a boy let out from school, had been a delightful person to pair off with. And then the other two had been so wrapped up in the wonderful chance to get married which opened out before them, that marriage—a beautiful, golden, romantic thing—had been in the air. One felt out of it if one didn't marry. Everybody else was marrying in shoals. And Francis had been crazy over little Marjorie from the moment he saw her—over her old-fashioned, whimsical ways, her small defiances that covered up a good deal of shyness, over the littleness and grace that made him want to pick her up and pet her and protect her, he said . . . Marjorie could remember, even yet, with pleasure, the lovely things he had said to her in that tense way he had on the rare occasions when he wasn't laughing. She had fought off marrying him till the very last minute. And then the very day before the regiment sailed she had given in, and the other two—married two weeks by then—had whisked her excitedly through it. And then they'd recalled him—just two hours after they were married, while Marjorie was sitting in the suite at the hotel, with Francis kneeling down by her in his khaki, his arms around her waist, looking up at her adoringly. She could see his face yet, uplifted and intense, and the way it had turned to a mask when the knock came that announced the telegram.
And it seemed now almost indecent that she should have let him kneel there with his head against her laces, calling her his wife. She had smiled down at him, then, shyly, and—half-proud, half-timid—had thought it was very wonderful.
"When I see him it will be all right! When we meet it will all come back!" she said half-aloud, walking restlessly up and down the office. "It must. It will have to."
But in her heart she knew that she was wishing desperately that the war had lasted ages longer, that he had been kept a year after the end of the war instead of eight months; almost, down deep in her heart where she couldn't get at it enough to deny it, that he had been killed. . . . Well, she had a week longer, anyway. You can do a great deal with yourself in a week if you bully hard. And the ships were almost always a much longer time getting in than anybody said they would be, and then they sent you to camps first.
Marjorie had the too many nerves of the native American, but she had the pluck that generally goes with them. She forced herself to sit quietly down and work at her task, and wished that she could stop being angry at herself for telling Lucille that Francis had written he was coming home. Because Lucille worked where she did, and had promptly spread the glad tidings from the top of the office to the bottom, and her morning had been a levee. Even poor little Mrs. Jardine, whose boy had been killed before he had been over two weeks, had spoken to Marjorie brightly, and said how glad she was, and silent, stiff Miss Gardner, who was said never to have had any lovers in her life, had looked at her with an envy she tried to hide, and said that she supposed Marjorie was glad.
"Well, it's two weeks, maybe. Two weeks is ages."
Marjorie dived headfirst into the filing cabinet again, and was saying to herself very fast, "Timmins, Tolman, Turnbull—oh, dear, Turnbull——" when, very softly, the swinging-door that shut her off from the rest of the office was pushed open again, and some one crossed sharply to her side. She flung up her head in terror. Suppose it should be Francis—
Well, it was.
She had no more than time for one gasp before he very naturally had her in his arms, as one who has a right, and was holding her so tight she could scarcely breathe. She tried to kiss him back, but it was half-hearted. She hoped, her mind working with a cold, quick precision, that he could not tell that she did not love him. And apparently he could not. He let her go after a minute, and flung himself down by her in just the attitude that the knock on the door, fifteen months ago, had interrupted. And Marjorie tried not to stiffen herself, and not to wonder if anybody was coming in, and not to feel that a perfect stranger was doing something he had no right to.
It was to be supposed that she succeeded more or less, because when he finally let her go, he looked at her as fondly as he had when he entered, and began to talk, without much preface, very much as if he had only been gone a half hour.
"They'll let you off, won't they, for the rest of the day? But of course they will! I almost ran over an old gentleman outside here, and it comes to me now that he said something like 'take your wife home for to-day, my boy!' I was in such a hurry to get at you, Marge, that I didn't listen. My wife! Good Lord, to think I have her again!"
She got her breath a little, and stopped shivering, and looked at him. He had not changed much; one does not in fifteen months. It was the same eager, dark young face, almost too sharply cut for a young man's, with very bright dark eyes. The principal difference was in his expression. Before he went he had had a great deal of expression, a face that showed almost too much of what he thought. That was gone. His face was younger-looking, because the flashing of changes over it was gone. He looked wondering, very tired, and dulled somehow. And he spoke without the turns of speech that she and her friends amused each other with, the little quaintnesses of conscious fancy. "As if he'd been talking to children," she thought.
Then she remembered that it was not that. He had been giving orders, and taking them, and being on firing-lines; all the things that he had written her about, and that had seemed so like story-books when she got the letters. His being so changed made it real for the first time. . . . And then an unworthy feeling—as if she simply could not face the romantic and tender eyes of all the office—everybody having the same feelings about her that Miss Kaplan had, even if they were well-bred enough to phrase them politely.
"Shall we go?" she asked abruptly, while this feeling was strong in her.
"Not for a minute. I want to see the place where my wife has spent her last year . . ."
He stood with his arm still around her—would he never stop touching her?—and surveyed the office with the same sort of affectionate amusement he might have given to a workbasket of hers, or a piece of embroidery. Marjorie slipped from under his arm and put her hat on.
"I'm ready now," she said.
They walked out of the little office, and through the long aisle down the center of the floor of the office-building, Marjorie, still miserably conscious of the eyes, and the emotions behind the eyes, and quite as conscious that they were emotions that she ought to be ashamed of minding.
"Now where shall we go for luncheon?" demanded Francis joyously, as they got outside. He caught her hand in his surreptitiously and said "You darling!" under his breath. For a minute the old magic of his swift courtship came back to her, and she forgot the miserable oppression of facing fifty years of wedded life with a stranger; and she smiled up at him. Then, as he caught her hand in his, quite undisguisedly this time, and held it under his arm, the repulsion came back.
"Anywhere you like," she answered his question.
"We'll go to the biggest, wildest, wooliest place in the city, where the band plays the most music," he announced. "Going to celebrate. Come on, honey. And then I have a fine surprise for you, as soon as we go back to the flat. Lucille won't be back till five, will she? And thank goodness for that!"
Lucille and Marjorie, pending the return of their husbands, shared a tiny flat far uptown on the west side. Marjorie had described it at length in her letters, until Francis had said that he could find his way around it if he walked in at midnight. But his intimacy with it made her feel that there was no place on earth she could call her own.
"Tell me now," she demanded.
Francis laughed again, and shook his head.
"It will do you good to guess. Come now, which—Sherry's or the Plaza or the Ritz?"
"Sherry's—they're going to close it soon, poor old place!"
"Then we'll celebrate its obsequies," said Francis, grinning cheerfully.
Before he went he had smiled, somehow, as if he had been to a very excellent college and a super-fine prep school of many traditions—as, indeed, he had—but now it was exactly the grin, Marjorie realized, still with a feeling of unworthiness, of the soldier, sailor, and marine grinning so artlessly from the War Camp Community posters. In his year of foreign service, Francis had shaken off the affectations of his years, making him, at twenty-five, a much older and more valuable man than Marjorie had parted with. But she didn't like it, or what she glimpsed of it. Whether he was gay in this simple, new way, or grave in the frighteningly old one, he was not the Francis she had built up for herself from a month's meetings and a few memories.
He smiled at her flashingly again as they settled themselves at the little table in just the right spot and place they had chosen.
"Wondering whether I'll eat with my knife?" he demanded, quite at random as it happened, but altogether too close to Marjorie's feelings to be comfortable.
She colored up to her hair.
"No—no! I know you wouldn't do that!" she asseverated so earnestly that he went off into another gale of affectionate laughter.
And then he addressed himself to the joyous task of planning a luncheon that they would never of them either forget, he said. He took the waiter into their confidence to a certain degree, and from then on a circle of silent and admiring service inclosed them.
"But you needn't think we're going to linger over it, Marjorie," he informed her. "I want to get up to where you live, and be alone with you."
"Of course," said Marjorie mechanically, saying a little prayer to the effect that she needed a great deal of help to get through this situation, and she hoped it would come in sight soon. She could not eat very much. It was all very good, and the band played ravishingly to the ears of Francis, who sent buoyantly across and demanded such tunes as he was fondest of. There was one which they played to which he sang, under his breath, a profane song which ran in part:
"And we'll all come home And get drunk on ginger pop— For the slackers voted the country dry While we went over the top."
And then, when the meal was two-thirds over, Marjorie wished she hadn't offered up any prayers for help to get through the situation. Because softly up to their table strolled a tall, thin young man with a cane, gray silk gloves, and a dreamy if slightly nervous look, and said discontentedly, "Marjorie Ellison! How wonderful to find you here! You will let me sit down at your table, won't you, and meet your soldier-friend?"
If Marjorie had never written to Francis about Bradley Logan it would have been all right, quite a rescue, in fact. But in those too fatally discursive letters; the letters which had come finally to feel like a sympathetic diary with no destination, she had rather enlarged on him. He had been admiring her at disconnected intervals ever since she first met him. He had not been able to get in the army because of some mysterious neurasthenic ailment about which he preserved a hurt silence, as to details, but mentioned a good deal in a general way. It kept him from making engagements, it made him unable to go long distances; Marjorie had described all the scattered hints about it in her letters to Francis, who had promptly written back that undoubtedly the little friend had fits; and referred to him thereafter, quite without malice, as, "your fit-friend." She had an insane terror, as she introduced him, lest she should explain him to Francis in an audible aside by that name. However, it was unnecessary. Francis placed him immediately, it was to be seen, and was cold almost to rudeness. Logan did not notice it much. He sat down with them, declined the food Marjorie offered, ordered himself three slivers of dry toast and a cup of lemonless and creamless tea, and sipped them and nibbled them as if even they were a concession to manners.
What really was the matter with Logan Marjorie was doomed never to know. Francis told her afterwards, with a certain marital brevity, that it was a combination of dry toast and thinking too much about French poets. His literary affiliations, which he earned his living by, had stopped short at the naughty nineties, when everybody was very unhealthy and soulful and hinted darkly at tragedies; the period of the Yellow Book and Aubrey Beardsley and Arthur Symons and Dowson, and the last end of Wilde. He undoubtedly had the charming and fluent manners of his time, anachronism though he was. And he talked a great deal, and very brilliantly, if a bit excitedly. He plunged now, in his charming, high, slightly too mannered voice, into a discussion with Marjorie on the absolute rottenness of the modern magazine, considered from the viewpoint of style. He overwhelmed them with instances of how all magazines were owned by persons who neither had cultivation nor desired any. Francis answered him very little, so Marjorie, wifely before her time, found herself trying nervously to keep up with Logan, and hurling more thoughts at him about Baudelaire than she had known she possessed. As a matter of fact she'd never read any of him, but Logan thought she had to his dying day, which says a good deal for her brains. Presently Francis summoned the waiter in rather a martial voice, demanded a taxi of him efficiently, and Marjorie found herself swept away from Logan and taxi-ing extravagantly uptown before she knew what she was at.
Francis wasn't cross, it appeared. The first thing he did when he got her in the cab was to sweep her close to him—the second to burst into a peal of delighted laughter, and quote
"I had a cow, a gentle cow, who browsed beside my door, Did not think much of Maeterlinck, and would not, furthermore!"
"Heavens!" he ended, "that fool and his magazine editors! Nobody but you could have been so patient with the poor devil, Marge."
He leaned her and himself back in the cab, and stared contemplatively out at New York going by. "And to think—and—to—think—that while half of decent humanity has been doing what it's been doing to keep the world from going to hell, that fool—that fool—has been sitting at home nibbling toast and worrying about what is style! . . . I'll tell him! Style is what I'll have when I get these clothes off, and some regular ones. You'll have to help me pick 'em out, Marge. You'll find I've no end of uses for a wife, darling."
"I hope you'll make me useful," she answered in a small voice. Fortunately she saw the ridiculousness of what she had said herself before the constrained note of her voice reached her husband, and began, a little nervously, to laugh at herself. So that passed off all right.
"Will life be just one succession of hoping things pass off all right?" she wondered. And she did wish Francis wasn't so scornful about all the things Logan said. For Logan, in spite of his mysterious disability, was very brilliant; he wrote essays for real magazines that you had to pay thirty-five cents for, and when Marjorie said she knew him people were always very respectful and impressed. Marjorie had been brought up to respect such things very much, herself, in a pretty Westchester suburb, where celebrities were things which passed through in clouds of glory, lecturing for quite as much as the club felt it could afford. A celebrity who let you talk to him, nay, seemed delighted when you let him talk to you, couldn't be as negligible as Francis seemed to think him. . . . Francis didn't seem as if he had ever read anything. . . . It was a harmless question to ask, at least.
"What did you read, over there?" she asked him.
"We read anything we could get hold of that would take our minds," was the answer, rather grimly. Then, more lightly, "When I wasn't reading detective stories I was studying books on forestry. Did you know you had married a forester bold, Marge?"
"Of course I remembered you said that was what you did," she answered, relieved that the talk was veering away, for one moment, from themselves.
"Poor little girl, you haven't had a chance to know very much about me," he said tenderly. "Well, I know a lot more about it than I did when I went away. Oh, the trees in France, dear! It's worse to think of the trees than of the people, I think sometimes. I suppose that's because they always meant a lot to me—very much as a jeweler would feel badly about all the spoons the Crown Prince took home with him. . . . Anyway, they wanted me to stay over there and do reforestation. Big chances. But I didn't feel as if I could stay away from little old New York—naturally Marge had nothing to do with it—another hour. Would you have liked to go to Italy and watch me re-forest, Marjorie?"
Marjorie's "Oh, no!" was very fervent. She also found herself thinking stealthily that even any one as efficient as Francis could not reforest the city of New York, and that therefore any position he had would very likely let her off. Maybe he might go very soon.
With this thought in her mind she led the way up the three flights of stairs to the tiny apartment she and Lucille Strong shared. If Francis had not spoken as they reached the door she might have carried it through. But just as she fitted her key in the door he did speak, behind her, an arm about her.
"In another minute you and I will be alone together; in our own home—my wife——"
He took the key gently from her hand; he unlocked the door, and drew her in, with his arms around her. He pushed the door to behind them, and bent down to kiss her again, very tenderly and reverently. And in that instant Marjorie's self-control broke.
"Oh, please don't touch me, just for a minute!" she exclaimed. "Please—please—just stop a minute!"
She did not realize that her tone was very much that of a patient addressing a dentist. Francis's arms dropped, and he looked at her, all the light going out of his face, and showing its weary lines. He closed the door entirely, carefully. He went mechanically over to a chair and sat down on it, always with that queer carefulness; he laid his cap beside him, and looked at Marjorie, crouched against the door.
"Please come over here and sit down," he said very courteously, but with the boyishness gone from his voice even more completely than Marjorie had wished.
She came very meekly and sat opposite him, with a little queer cold feeling around her heart.
"Please look at me," he asked gently. She lifted her blue eyes miserably to his, and tried to smile. But unconsciously she shrank a little as she did so, and he saw it.
"I won't touch you—not until you want me to," he began. "What's the matter, Marjorie? Is it nerves, or are you afraid of me, or——"
"It—it was just your coming so suddenly," she lied miserably. "It upset me. That was all."
In her mind there was fixed firmly the one thing, that she mustn't be a coward, she must go through with it, she must pretend well enough to make Francis think she felt the way she ought to. The Francis of pre-war times would have been fooled; but this man had been judging men and events that took as keen a mind as seeing through a frightened girl. He looked at her musingly, his face never changing. She rose and came over to him and put her hand on his shoulder. She even managed to laugh.
"Do you mind my being upset?" she asked.
"No," he said, "if that's all it is. But you have a particular kind of terror about you that I don't like. Or I think you have."
She took her hand away, hurt by the harshness of his voice—then, seeing his face, understood that he was not knowingly harsh. She had hurt him terribly by that one unguarded moment, and she would have to work very hard to put it out of sight.
"I—I haven't any terror——" she began to say.
He made himself smile a little at that.
"You mustn't have," he said. "We'll sit down on the davenport over there that Lucille's grandmother gave her for a wedding-present—you see how well I remember the news about all the furniture? And we'll talk about it all quietly."
"There's nothing to talk about," said Marjorie desperately. She went obediently over to the davenport and sat down by him.
"You were upset at seeing me?" he began.
"It was—well, it was so sudden!" dimpled Marjorie, quoting the tag with the sudden whimsicality which even death would probably find her using.
"And I still seem—do I seem like a strange person to you, dear?" he asked wistfully. "You don't seem strange to me, you know. You seem like the wife I love."
The worst of it was that when Francis was gay and like a playmate, as he had been at their luncheon before Logan came, she could feel that things were nearly all right. But when he spoke as he was speaking now the terror of him came back worse than ever.
"No. No, you don't seem strange at all," she said. "Why should you?" But while she spoke the words she knew they were not true. She looked at him, and his face was like a stranger's face. She had known other men as well as she had known her husband, except for the brief while when she had promised to marry him. She took stock of his features; the straight, clearly marked black brows under the mark the cap made on his forehead; the rather high cheekbones, the clear-cut nose and chin, the little line of black mustache that did not hide his hard-set and yet sensitive lips; the square, rather long jaw—"He'll have deep lines at the sides of his mouth in a few more years," she thought, and—"He's much darker than I remembered him. But he has no color under the brown. I thought he had a good deal of color . . ." She appraised his face, not liking it altogether, as if she had never seen it before. His hand, long, narrow, muscular, burned even more deeply than his face, and with a fine black down lying close over it, seemed a hand she had never seen or been touched by before. But that was his wedding-ring—her wedding-ring—on the thin third finger. She even knew that inside it was an inscription—"Marjorie—Francis——" and the date of their wedding. Hers was like it. He had bought them and had them inscribed with everything but the actual date before she had given in; that had been put in, of course, the week before their marriage. Oh, what right had he to be wearing her wedding-ring?
"Would you like a little time to think it over?" he asked heavily.
She was irrationally angry at him. What right had he to think she needed time to think it over? Why hadn't he the decency to be deceived by her behavior? Then she stole another look at him, with all the gaiety and youth gone out of his face, and made up her mind that the anger ought to be on his side. But it apparently was not.
"Oh, please don't mind!" she begged him, abandoning some of her defenses. "It's true, I do feel a little strange, but I'm sure it will all come straight if—if I wait a little. You see, you were gone so long."
"Yes. I worried a lot about it on shipboard," he answered her directly. His face did not lighten, but there was a sort of relief in his tone, as if actually knowing the truth was better than being fenced with. "I thought to myself—'I hurried her into it so. I wonder if she really will care when I come back.' It was such a long time. But then your letters were so sweet and loving, and I cared such a lot——"
His voice broke. He had been talking on a carefully emotionless dead level, but now he suddenly stopped as if he had come to the end of his control. But he was only silent a moment, and went on:
"I cared so much that I thought you must. That's a queer thing, isn't it? You've known all your life that other people think if they care enough the other person will care, and you know they're idiots. And then your time comes, and you go and are the same old idiot yourself. . . . Queer. Well, I'm sorry, Marjorie. Shall I go now? We can think about what we'd better do next time we talk it over."
"Oh, please, please!" begged Marjorie. "Oh, Francis, I feel like a dog—a miserable, little coward-dog. And—and I don't know why you're making all this up. I—I haven't said anything like what——"
He put his arm around her, not in the least as if he were her lover. It only felt protecting, not like a man's touch.
"I would be glad to think you cared for me. But I am almost sure you don't. Everything you have said, and every one of your actions since we came in, have seemed to me as if you didn't. It isn't your fault, poor little thing. It's mine for hurrying you into it. . . . Marjorie, Marjorie—do you?"
There was an intense entreaty in his tone. But she knew that only the truth would do.
"No," she said, dropping her head.
"I thought not," he said, rising stiffly and crossing to the door. "Well, I'll go now. I'll come back some time to-morrow, whenever it's most convenient for you, and we'll discuss details."
She ran after him. She did feel very guilty.
"Oh, Francis—Francis! Please don't go! I'm sure I'll feel the way I should when I've tried a little longer!"
He stopped for a moment, but only to write something down on a piece of paper.
"There's my telephone number," he said. "No, Marjorie, I can't stay any longer. This has been pretty bad. I've got to go off and curl up a minute, I think, if you don't mind. . . . Oh, dearest, don't you see that I can't stay? I'll have myself straightened out by to-morrow, but——"
He had been acting very reasonably up to now. But now he flung himself out the door like a tornado. It echoed behind him. Marjorie did not try to keep him. She sat still for a minute longer, shivering. Then she began to cry. She certainly did not want him for her husband, but equally she did not want him to go off and leave her. So she went over to the davenport again, where she could cry better, and did wonders in that line, in a steady, low-spirited way, till Lucille came breezily in.
Lucille Strong was a plump, exuberant person with corn-colored hair and bright blue eyes and the most affectionate disposition in the world. She also had a quick, fly-away temper, and more emotions than principles. But her sense of humor was so complete, and her sunniness so steady that nobody demanded great self-sacrifice from her. Who wouldn't give anybody the biggest piece of cake and the best chair and the most presents, for the sake of having a Little Sunshine in the home? At least, that was the way Billy Strong had looked at it. He had been perfectly willing to put off his marriage until Lucille decreed that there was money enough for her to have her little luxuries after marriage, in order to eventually possess Lucille. People always and automatically gave her the lion's share of all material things, and she accepted them quite as automatically. She was a very pleasant housemate, and if she coaxed a little, invisibly, in order to acquire the silk stockings and many birthday presents and theater tickets which drifted to her, why, as she said amiably, people value you more when they do things for you than when you do things for them.
"Why, you poor lamb!" she said with sincere sympathy, pouncing on the desolate and very limp Marjorie. "What's the matter? Did Francis have to go away from you? Look here, honey, you can have my——"
What Lucille was about to offer was known only to herself, because she never got any farther. Marjorie sat up, her blue eyes dark-circled with tears, and perhaps with the strain she had been undergoing.
"Yes," she said in a subdued voice. "He—he had to go. He'll be back to-morrow."
Lucille pounced again, and kissed Marjorie rapturously, flushed with romance.
"Oh, isn't it wonderful to have him back! And Billy may be back any minute, too! Marge, what on earth shall we do about the apartment? It isn't big enough for three; and I can't keep it on alone. And the wretched thing's leased for six months longer. You know we thought they'd be coming back together. But you and Francis can take it over——"
"I—I don't think we need to worry about that," said Marjorie, "for a while longer. I've made up my mind to go on working. I'd be restless without my work. Filing's really very exciting when you're accustomed to it——"
Lucille released her housemate and leaned back on the davenport, the better to laugh. As she did so she flung off her coat and dropped it on the floor, in the blessed hope that Marjorie would pick it up, which usually happened. But Marjorie did not.
"Filing," Lucille said through her laughter, "is undoubtedly the most stimulating amusement known to the mind of man. I wonder they pay you for doing it—they ought to offer it as a reward! Oh, Marge, you'll kill me! Now, you might as well be honest, my child. You know you always tell me things eventually—why not now? What are your plans, and did Francis bring any souvenirs? I told him to be sure to bring back some of that French perfume that you wouldn't let him get you because it was too expensive for his income. I wonder he ever respected you again after that, incidentally. Did he?"
"Did he respect me? I don't know, I'm sure," said Marjorie dispiritedly. She knew that she would tell Lucille all about it in two more minutes, and she did not want to.
"No, darling! Did he bring the perfume?"
"I don't know," said Marjorie. "Lucille, you haven't had your bath yet."
"Did you light the hot water for me?"
"No, I forgot," said Marjorie.
"All right, I'll light it," said Lucille amiably. She was deflected by this, and trotted out into the tiny kitchen to light the gas under the hot water heater. She came back in an exquisite blue crepe negligee, and curled herself back of Marjorie on the davenport while she waited for the water to heat, and for Marjorie to tell her about it all.
"I wish my hair curled naturally," she said idly, slipping her fingers up the back of Marjorie's neck, where little fly-away rings always curled.
"I wish it did," said Marjorie with absent impoliteness.
Lucille laughed again.
"Come back, dear! Remember, I haven't any happy reunion to weep over yet, and be sympathetic. And I have an engagement for dinner, and how will I ever keep it if you don't tell me everything Francis said? When did he see Billy last?"
"He didn't say."
"What did he say?"
"He said," said Marjorie, turning around with blazing eyes and pouring forth her words like a fountain, "that he'd wondered if I really loved him, and now he was sure I didn't. And that he'd come back some time to-morrow and discuss details. And he gave me his telephone number, and said he couldn't stay any longer, and it was pretty bad, and he had to curl up——"
"Marjorie! Marjorie! Stop! This is a bad dream you've had, or something out of Alice in Wonderland! Francis never said he had to curl up. Curl up what?"
"Curl up himself, I suppose," said Marjorie with something very like a sob. "I was perfectly rational and it made me feel dreadful to hear him say it, and I knew just what he meant. Curl up like a dog when it's hurt. Curl up!"
"Don't! I am!" said Lucille. "If you issue any more orders in that tone I'll look like a caterpillar. Now, what really did happen, Marjorie?" she ended in a gentler tone and more seriously.
She pulled Marjorie's head over on to her own plump shoulder, and put an arm round her.
"It was all my fault. I don't love him any more. I don't want to be married to him. I didn't mean to show it, I meant to be very good about it, but he knows so much more than he did when he went away. He knew it directly. And now he's dreadfully hurt."
"You poor little darling! What a horrid time you've been having all this time everybody's been thinking you were looking forward to his coming home. Why, you must have nearly gone crazy!"
"It's worse for him," said Marjorie in a subdued voice, nestling down on Lucille's shoulder.
"Oh, I don't know," said Lucille comfortably. "Men can generally take care of themselves. . . . But are you sure you don't love him the least little bit?"
"I'm afraid of him. He's like somebody strange. . . . It's so long ago."
"So long ago an' so far away, le's hope it ain' true!" quoted Lucille amiably. "Well, darling, if you don't want to marry him you needn't—I mean, if you don't want to stay married to him you needn't. I'm sure something can be done. Francis is perfectly sure to do anything you like, he adores you so."
But this didn't seem to give comfort, either. And as the boiler was moaning with excess of heat, Lucille dashed for the bathtub. She talked to Marjorie through the flimsy door as she splashed, to the effect that Marjorie had much better let her call up another man and go out on a nice little foursome, instead of staying at home. But there Marjorie was firm. She would have preferred anything to her own society, but she felt as if any sort of a party would have been like breaking through first mourning.
So she saw Lucille, an immaculate vision of satins and picture hats, go off gaily with her cavalier, and remained herself all alone in the little room, lying on the sofa, going over everything that had happened and ending it differently. She was very tired, and felt guiltier and guiltier as time went on. Finally she rose and went to the telephone and called the number Francis had left.
The voice that answered her was very curt and very quiet.
"Yes. . . . This is Captain Ellison. Yes, Marjorie? What is it?"
It seemed harder than ever to say what she had to say in the face of that distant, unemotional voice. But Marjorie had come to a resolve, and went steadily on.
"I called up to say, Francis, that I am ready to go with you anywhere you want to, at any time. I will try to be a good wife to you."
She clung to the telephone, her heart beating like a triphammer there in the dark, waiting for his answer. It seemed a long time in coming. When it did, it was furious.
"I don't want you to go with me anywhere, at any time. I don't want a wife who has to try to be a good wife to me."
He hung up with an effect of flinging the receiver in her face.
Marjorie almost ran back to the davenport—she was beginning to feel as if the davenport was the nearest she had to a mother—and flung herself on it in a storm of angry tears. He was unjust. He was violent. She didn't want a man like that—what on earth had she humiliated herself that way for, anyway? What was the use of trying to be honorable and good and fair and doing things for men, when they treated you like that? Francis had proposed and proposed and proposed—she hadn't been so awfully keen on marrying him. . . . It had just seemed like the sort of thing it would be thrilling to do. Well, thank goodness he did feel that way. She was better off without people like that, anyhow. She would go back home to Westchester, and live a patient, meek, virtuous life under Cousin Anna Stevenson's thumb, as she had before she got the position at the office or got married. She certainly couldn't go back to the office and explain it all to them. At least, she wouldn't. It would be better, even if Cousin Anna did treat everybody as if they were ten and very foolish. . . . And she had refused the offer of a nice foursome and one of Lucille's cheerful friends, to stay home and be treated this way!
She rose and went to the telephone again, with blazing cheeks.
She called up, on the chance, Logan's number; and amazingly got him. And she invited him on the spot to come over the next evening and have something in a chafing-dish with Lucille and herself. Lucille, she knew, had no engagement for that evening, and could produce men, always, out of thin air. Marjorie chose Logan because Francis had said he didn't like him. She had been a little too much afraid, before that, of Logan's literariness to dare call him up. But that night she would have dared the Grand Cham of Tartary, if that dignitary had had a phone number and been an annoyance to Francis Ellison.
Logan, to her surprise, accepted eagerly, and even forgot to be mannered. He did, it must be said, keep her at the telephone, which was a stand-up one, for an hour, while he talked brilliantly about the Italian renaissance in its ultimate influence on the arts and crafts movement of the present day. To listen to Logan was a liberal education at any moment, if a trifle too much like attending a lecture. But at least he didn't expect much answering.
She went to the office, next day, in more or less of a dream. She was very quiet, and worked very hard. Nobody said much to her; she took care not to let them. When stray congratulations came her way, as they were bound to, and when old Mr. Morrissey, the vice-head, said, "I suppose we can't hope to keep you long now," and beamed, she answered without any heartbeatings or difficulty. She was quite sure she would never feel gay again; she had had so much happen to her. But it was rather pleasant not to be able to have any feelings, if a little monotonous. The only thing at all on her mind was the question as to how much cheese a party of four needed for a rarebit, and whether Logan would or could eat rarebits at night. And even that was to a certain degree a matter of indifference.
She finally decided that scallops a la King might be more what he would eat. She bought them on her way home, together with all the rest of the things she needed. Lucille had produced a fourth person with her usual lack of effort, and it promised to be—if anything in life could have been anything but flavorless—rather a good party.
In fact, it was. It was a dear little apartment that the girls shared, with a living-room chosen especially for having nice times in. It was lighted by tall candles, and had a gas grate that was almost human. There was a grand piano which took up more than its share of room, there was the davenport aforesaid, there were companionable chairs and taborets acquired by Lucille and kept by Marjorie in the exact places where they looked best; there were soft draperies, also hemmed and put up by Marjorie. The first thing visitors always said about it was that it made them feel comfortable and at home. They generally attributed the homelikeness to Lucille, who was dangerously near looking matronly, rather than to Marjorie, who would be more like a firefly than a matron even when she became a grandmother.
Marjorie, with cooking to do, tied up in a long orange colored apron, almost forgot things. She loved to make things to eat. Lucille, meanwhile, sat on the piano-stool and played snatches of "The Long, Long Trail," and the men, Lucille's negligible one and Marjorie's Mr. Logan, made themselves very useful in the way of getting plates and arranging piles of crackers. The small black kitten which had been a present to Lucille from the janitor, who therefore was a mother to it while the girls were out, sat expectantly on the edge of all the places where he shouldn't be, purring loudly and having to be put down at five-minute intervals.
"I suppose this is a sort of celebration of your having your husband back," said the Lucille man presently to Marjorie. He had been told so, indeed, by Lucille, who was under that impression herself, Logan looked faintly surprised. He, to be frank, had forgotten all about Marjorie's having a husband who had to be celebrated.
Marjorie nearly spilled the scallops she was serving at that moment, and the kitten, losing its self-control entirely, climbed on the table with a cry of entreaty for the excellent fish-smelling dishful of things to eat. It was lucky for Marjorie that he did, because while she was struggling with him Lucille answered innocently for her.
"Yes, more or less. But he's late. Where's your perfectly good husband, Marge?"
"Late, I'm afraid," Marjorie answered, smiling, and wondering at herself for being able to smile. "We aren't to wait for him."
"Sensible child," Lucille answered. "I'm certainly very hungry."
She drew her chair up to the low table the men had pushed into the center of the room, sent one of them to open the window, rather than turn out the cheerful light of the gas grate, and the real business of the party began.
It was going on very prosperously, that meal; even Mr. Logan was heroically eating the same things the rest did, and not taking up more than his fair share of the conversation, when there was a quick step on the stairs. Nobody heard it but Marjorie, who stood, frozen, just as she had risen to get a fork for somebody. She knew Francis's step, and when he clicked the little knocker she forced herself to go over and let him in.
He came in exactly as if he belonged there; but after one quick glance at the visitors he drew Marjorie aside into the little inner room.
"Marjorie, I've come to say I was unkind and unfair over the telephone. I've made up my mind that you are fonder of me than you know. I think it will be all right—it was foolish of me to be too proud to take you unless you were absolutely willing. Let me take back what I said, and forgive me. I know it will be all right—Marjorie!"
She gave him a furious push away from her. Her eyes blazed.
"It never will be all right! It isn't going to have a chance to be!" she told him, as angry as he had been when she called him up. "You had your chance and you wouldn't take it. I don't want to be your wife, and I never will be. That's all there is to say."
She took a step in the direction of the outer room. He put out a hand to detain her.
"Marjorie! Marjorie! Don't!"
"I'm going out there, and going to keep on having the nice time I had before you came. If you try to do anything I'll probably make a scene."
"You're going to give me one more chance," he said. "That's settled."
She looked at him defiantly.
"Try to make me," was all she said, wrenching her wrist out of his hand.
"I will," said Francis grimly.
She smiled at him brilliantly as he followed her into the room where the others were.
"I'm afraid there isn't any way," she said sweetly.
Lucille, who had not seen Francis before, flew at him now with a welcome which was affectionate enough to end effectually any further ardors or defiances.
"And you're in time for your own party after all," she ended, smiling sunnily at him and pushing him into a chair. She gave him a plate of scallops and a fork, and the party went on as it had before. Only Marjorie eyed him with nervous surprise. "What will he do next?" she wondered.
What he did was to eat his scallops a la King with appetite, fraternize cheerfully with Lucille's friend, whose name was Tommy Burke, and who was an old acquaintance of his, speak to Marjorie occasionally in the most natural way in the world, and altogether behave entirely as if it really was his party, and he was very glad that there was a party. It is to be said that he ignored Logan rather more than politeness demanded. But Logan was so used to being petted that he never knew it. Marjorie did, and lavished more attention on him defiantly to try to make up for it. She thought that the evening never would end.
After the food was finished it was to be expected that Lucille would go to the piano, and play some more, and that the men would sit about smoking on the davenport and the taborets, and that every one would be pleasantly quiet. But Lucille did not. Instead, she and Francis retired to the back room, leaving Marjorie and the others to amuse each other, and talk for what seemed to Marjorie's strained nerves an eternity of time. It was Francis who had called Lucille, moreover, and not Lucille who had summoned Francis, as could have been expected.
Finally the other men rose to go. Francis came out of the inner room and went with them. Before he went he stopped to say to Marjorie:
"I told you I wanted to talk things over with you. I'll be back in a half-hour. You seem to be so popular that the only way to see you alone is to get you in a motor-car, so if you aren't too tired to drive around with me to-night, to a place where I have to go, I'll bring you home safely. . . . I didn't mean to speak so sharply to you, Marjorie, over the telephone. Please forgive me."
"Certainly," said Marjorie coldly and tremulously. It could be seen that she did not forgive him in the least.
He went downstairs with the others, laughing with Burke, who had a dozen army reminiscences to exchange with him, and bidding as small a good-by as decency permitted to Logan. Marjorie heard him dash up again, and then run down, as if he had left something outside the door and forgotten it. Lucille came over to her and began to fuss at her about changing her frock for a heavier one, and taking enough wraps.
"Why, it's only a short drive," Marjorie expostulated. "And I'm not sure that I want to go, anyway. I don't think there's anything more to be said than we have said."
Francis, with that disconcerting swiftness which he possessed, had come back as she spoke.
He came close to her, and spoke softly.
"You used to like the boy you married, Marjorie. For his sake won't you do this one thing? Give me a hearing—one more hearing."
Lucille had come back again with a big loose coat, and she was wrapping it round her friend with a finality that meant more struggle than poor tired Marjorie was capable of making. After all, another half-hour of discussion would not matter. The end would be the same. She went down with them to the big car that stood outside, and even managed to say something flippant about its looking like a traveling house, it was so big. Francis established her in the front seat, by him, tucked a rug around her, for the night was sharp for May, and drove to Fifth Avenue, then uptown.
She waited, wearily and immovable, for him to argue with her further, but he seemed in no hurry to commence. They merely drove on and on, and Marjorie was content not to talk. It was a clear, beautiful night, too late for much traffic, so they went swiftly. The ride was pleasant. All that she had been through had tired her so that she found the silence and motion very pleasant and soothing.
Finally he turned to her, and she braced herself for whatever he might want to say.
"Would you mind if we drove across the river for a little while?" he asked.
"Why—no," she said idly. "Out in the country, you mean?"
He assented, and they drove on, but not to the ferry. They turned, and went up Broadway, far, far again.
"Where are we?" asked Marjorie finally. "Isn't it time you turned around and took me back? And didn't you have something you wanted to say to me?"
"Yes——" he said absently. "No, we have all the time in the world. There's no scandal possible in being out motoring with your husband, even if you shouldn't get home till daylight."
"But where are we?" demanded Marjorie again.
"The Albany Post Road," said Francis. This meant very little to Marjorie, but she waited another ten minutes before she asked again.
"Just the same post road as before," said Francis preoccupiedly, letting the machine out till they were going at some unbelievable speed an hour. "The Albany. Not the Boston."
"Well, it doesn't matter to me what post road," remonstrated Marjorie, beginning rather against her will to laugh a little, as she had been used to do with Francis. "I want to go home."
"You are," said he.
"Oh, is this one of those roads that turns around and swallows its own tail?" she demanded, "and brings you back where you started?"
"Just where you started," he assented, still in the same preoccupied voice.
She accepted this quietly for the moment.
"Francis," she said presently, "I mean it. I want to go home."
"You are going home," said Francis. "But not just yet."
It seemed undignified to row further. She was so tired—so very tired!
Francis did not speak again, and after a little while she must have dropped off to sleep; for when she came to herself again the road was a different one. They were traveling along between rows of pines, and the road stretched ahead of them, empty and country-looking. She turned and asked sleepily, "What time is it, Francis, please?"
He bent a little as he shot his wrist-watch forward enough to look at the phosphorescent dial.
"Twenty minutes past three," he said as if it was the most commonplace hour in the world to be driving through a country road.
For a moment she did not take it in. Then she threw dignity to the winds. She was rested enough to have some fight in her again.
"I'm going home! I'm going home if I have to walk!" she said wildly. She started to spring up in the car, with some half-formed intention of forcing him to stop by jumping out.
"Now, Marjorie, don't act like a movie-heroine," he said commonplacely—and infuriatingly. He also took one hand off the steering-wheel and put it around her wrist. "You can't go back to New York unless I take you. We're fifty miles up New York State, and there isn't a town near at all."
Marjorie sat still and looked at him. The car went on.
"I don't understand," she said. "You can't be going to abduct me, Francis?"
Francis, set as his face was, smiled a little at this.
"That isn't the word, because you don't abduct your lawful wife. But I do want you to try me out before you discard me entirely. And apparently this is the only way to get you to do it."
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"Want the cards on the table?"
"All the cards—now? Or would you rather take things as they come?"
All this time the car was going ahead full speed in the moonlight.
"Everything—now!" she said tensely.
He never looked at her as he talked. His eyes were on the road ahead.
"Just now—as soon as we get to a spot where it seems likely to be comfortable, we're going to unship a couple of pup-tents from the back of the car, and sleep out here. I have all your things in the back of the car. If you'd rather, you can sleep in the car; you're little and I think you could be comfortable on the back seat."
She interrupted him with a cry of injury.
"My things? Where did you get them?"
"Lucille packed them. She worked like a demon to get everything ready. She was thrilled."
"Thrilled!" said Marjorie resentfully. "I'm so sick of people being thrilled I don't know what to do. I'm not thrilled. . . . I might have known it. It's just the sort of thing Lucille would be crazy over doing. I suppose she feels as if she were in the middle of a melodrama."
"I'm sorry, Marjorie, but there's something about you that always makes people feel romantic. . . ." His voice softened. "I remember the first time I saw you, coming into that restaurant a little behind Lucille, it made me feel as if the fairy-stories I'd stopped believing in had come true all over again. You were so little and so graceful, and you looked as if you believed in so many wonderful things——"
"Stop!" said Marjorie desperately. "It isn't fair to talk that way to me. I won't have it. If you feel that way you ought to take me back home."
"On the contrary, just the reverse," quoted Francis, who seemed to be getting cooler as Marjorie grew more excited. "You said you'd listen. Be a sport, and do listen."
"Very well," said Marjorie sulkily. She was a sport by nature, and she was curious.
"I've taken a job in Canada—reforesting of burned-over areas. I had to go to-night at the latest. It seemed to me that we hadn't either of us given this thing a fair try-out. I hadn't a chance with you unless I took this one. My idea is for you to give me a trial, under any conditions you like that include our staying in the same house a couple of months. I'm crazy over you. I want to stay married to you the worst way. You're all frightened of me, and marriage, and everything, now. But it's just possible that you may be making a mistake, not seeing it through. It's just possible that I may be making a mistake, thinking that you and I would be happy."
Marjorie gave a little tense jerk of outraged pride at this rather tactless speech. It sounded too much as if Francis might possibly tire of her—which it wasn't his place to do.
"And so," Francis went on doggedly, "my proposition is that you go up to Canada with me. There's a fairly decent house that goes with the job. There won't be too much of my society. You need a rest anyhow. I won't hurry you, or do anything unfair. Only let us try it out, and see if we wouldn't like being married, exactly as if we'd had a chance to be engaged before."
"And if we don't?" inquired Marjorie.
"And if we don't, I'll give you the best divorce procurable this side of the water."
"You sound as if it was a Christmas present," said Marjorie.
She thought she was temporizing, but Francis accepted it as willingness to do as he suggested.
"Then you will?" he asked.
"But—it's such an awful step to take!"
Francis leaned back—she could feel him do it, in the dark—and began to argue as coolly as if it were not three o'clock in the morning, on an unfrequented road.
"The most of the step is taken. You haven't anything to do but just go on as you are—no packing or walking or letter-writing or anything of the sort. Simply stay here in the car with me and end at the place in Canada, live there and let me be around more or less. If there's anything you want at home that Lucille has forgotten——"
"Knowing Lucille, there probably is," said Marjorie.
"——we'll write her and get it. . . . Well?"
Marjorie took a long breath, tried to be very wide-awake and firm, and fell silent, thinking.
She was committed, for one thing. People would think it was all right and natural if she went on with Francis, and be shocked and upset and everything else if she didn't. Cousin Anna Stevenson would write her long letters about her Christian duty, and the office would be uncomfortable. And Lucille—well, Lucille was a blessed comfort. She didn't mind what you did so long as it didn't put her out personally. She at least—but Lucille had packed the bag! And you couldn't go and fling yourself on the neck of as perfidious a person as that.
And—it would be an adventure. Francis was nice, or at least she remembered it so; a delightful companion. He wasn't rushing her. All he wanted was a chance to be around and court her, as far as she could discover. True, he was appallingly strange, but—it seemed a compromise. And she had always liked the idea of Canada. As for eventually staying with Francis, that seemed very far off. It did not seem like a thing she could ever do. Being friends with him she might compass. Of course, you couldn't say that it was a fair deal to Francis, but he was bringing it on himself, and really, he deserved the punishment. For of course, Marjorie's vain little mind said irrepressibly to itself, he would be fonder of her at the end of the try-out than at the beginning. . . . And then a swift wave of anger at him came over her, and she decided on the crest of it. She would never give in to Francis's courtship. He wasn't the sort of man she liked. He wasn't congenial. She had grown beyond him. But he deserved what he was going to get. . . . And she spoke.
"It isn't fair to you, Francis, because it isn't going to end the way you hope. But I'll go to Canada with you . . ."
For a moment she was very sorry she had said it, because Francis forgot himself and caught her in his arms tight, and kissed her hard.
"If you do that sort of thing I won't!" she said. "That wasn't in the bargain."
"I know it wasn't," said Francis contritely. "Only you were such a good little sport to promise. I won't do it again unless you say I may. Honestly, Marjorie. Not even before people."
This sounded rather topsy-turvy, but after awhile it came to Marjorie what he meant—just about the time she climbed out of the car, sat on its step, and watched Francis competently unfurling and setting up two small and seemingly inadequate tents and flooring them with balsam boughs. He meant that there would have to be at least a semblance of friendliness on account of the people they lived among. She felt more frightened than ever.
Francis came up to her as if he had felt the wave of terror that went over her.
"Now you aren't to worry. I'm going to keep my word. You're safe with me, Marge. I'm going to take care of you as if I were your brother and your father and your cousin Anna——"
She broke in with an irrepressible giggle.
"Oh, please don't go that far! Two male relatives will be plenty. . . . I—I really got all the care from Cousin Anna that I wanted."
He looked relieved at her being able to laugh, and bent over the tents again in the moonlight.
"There you are. And here are the blankets. We're near enough to the road so you won't be frightened, and enough in the bushes so we'll be secluded. Good-night. I'll call you to-morrow, when it's time to go on. I know this part of the country like my hand, and here's some water in case you're thirsty in the night. Oh, and here are towels."
This last matter-of-fact touch almost set Marjorie off again in hysterical laughter. Being eloped with by a gentleman who thoughtfully set towels and water outside her door was really too much. She pinned the tent together with a hatpin, slipped off some of her clothes—it did not seem enough like going to bed to undress altogether, and she mistrusted the balsam boughs with blankets over them that pretended to be a bed in the corner—and flung herself down and laughed and laughed and laughed till she nearly cried.
She did not quite cry. The boughs proved to have been arranged by a master hand, and she was very tired and exceedingly sleepy. She pulled hairpins out of her hair in a half-dream, so that they had to be sought for painstakingly next morning when she woke. She burrowed into the blankets, and knew nothing of the world till nine next morning.
"I can't knock on a tent-flap," said Francis's buoyant voice outside then. "But it's time we were on our way, Marjorie. There ought to be a bathrobe in that bundle of Lucille's. Slip it on and I'll show you the brook."
She reached for a mirror, which showed that, though tousled, she was pretty, took one of the long breaths that seemed so frequently necessary in dealing with Francis, said "in for a penny, in for a pound," and did as she was directed. The bath-robe wasn't a bath-robe, but something rather more civilized, which had been, as a matter of fact, part of her trousseau, in that far-off day when trousseaux were so frequently done, and seemed such fun to buy. She came out of the tent rather timidly. "Good gracious, child, that wasn't what I meant!" exclaimed Francis, seeming appallingly dressed and neat and ready for life. "It's too cold for that sort of thing. Here!"
He picked up one of the blankets, wrapped it around her, gave her a steer in a direction away from the road, and vanished.
She went down the path he had pushed her toward, holding the towels tight in one hand and her blanket around her in the other. It was fresh that morning, though it was warm for May. And Francis seemed to think that she was going to take a bath in the brook, which even he could not have had heated. She shivered at the idea as she came upon it.
It was an alluring brook, in spite of its unheated state. It was very clear and brown, with a pebbled bottom that you could see into, and a sort of natural round pool, where the current was partly dammed, making it waist-deep. She resolved at first to wash just her face and hands; then she tried an experimental foot, and finished by making a bold plunge straight into the ice-cold middle of it. She shrieked when she was in, and came very straight out, but by the time she was dry she was warmer than ever. She ran back to the tent, laughing in sheer exuberance of spirits, and dressed swiftly. The plunge had stimulated her so that when Francis appeared again she ran toward him, feeling as friendly as if he weren't married to her at all.
"It was—awfully cold—but I'm just as hungry as I can be!" she called. "Was there anything to eat in the car, along with the towels?"
Francis seemed unaccountably relieved by her pleasantness. This had been something of a strain on him, after all, though it was the first time such a thought had occurred to Marjorie. His thin, dark face lighted up.
"Everything, including thermos bottles," he called back. "We won't stop to build a fire, because we have to hurry; but Lucille——"
"Lucille!" said Marjorie. "Well, I certainly never knew what a wretch that girl was."
"Oh, not a wretch. Only romantic," said Francis, grinning. "I tell you again, Marjorie, you have a fatal effect on people. Look at me—a matter-of-fact captain of doughboys—and the minute I see that you won't marry me—stay married to me, I mean—I elope with you in a coach and four!"
"I don't think you ought to laugh about it," said Marjorie, sobering down and stopping short in her tracks.
"Well, I shouldn't," said Francis penitently. "Only I'm relieved, and a little excited, I suppose. You see, I like your society a lot, and the idea of having it for maybe three months, on any terms you like, is making me so pleased I'm making flippant remarks. I won't any more, if I remember."
And he apparently meant it, for he busied himself in exploring the car, which seemed as inexhaustible as the Mother's Bag in the Swiss Family Robinson, for the food he had spoken of. There was a large basket, which he produced and set on a stump, and from which he took sandwiches, thermos flasks, and—last perfidy of Lucille!—a tin box of shrimps a la King, carefully wrapped, and ready for reheating. He did it in a little ready-heat affair which also emerged from the basket, and which Marjorie knew well. It was her own, in fact. Reheated shrimps should have killed them both, more especially for breakfast. But they never thought of that till some days later. Marjorie was so overcome by finding her own shrimps facing her, so to speak, that nothing else occurred to her—except to eat them. They made a very good breakfast, during which Francis was never flippant once. They talked decorously about the natural scenery—fortunately for the conversation there was a great deal of natural scenery in their vicinity—and somewhat about pup-tents, and a little about how nice the weather was. After that they cleared up the pieces, repacked everything like magic, and went on their way very amicably.
"And now that things are more or less settled, wouldn't you like to know what we are going to do?" inquired Francis.
"Haven't I anything to do with it?" inquired Marjorie, not crossly, but as one seeking information.
"Almost everything. But you don't know the road to Canada. I thought we'd take it straight through in the car, but to-night we will be in more civilized parts—in an hour or so, in fact—and you can get straightened up a little—not that you look as if you needed to, but after a night in the open one does feel more or less tossed about, I imagine."
Marjorie considered. Ordinarily at this hour she would be walking into the office. She would be speaking with what politeness one can muster up in the morning to Miss Kaplan, who was quite as exuberant at five as at seven in the evening; she would be hoping desperately that she wasn't late, and that if she was she would escape Mr. Wildhack, who glared terrifyingly at such young women who didn't get down on schedule time. Marjorie was not much on schedule time, but she always felt that the occasions when she got there too late really ought to be balanced by those when she came too early. Instead of all this, she was racing north with the fresh wind blowing against her face, with no duties and no responsibilities, and something that, but for the person who shared it with her, promised to be rather fun. Just then something came to her. She had an engagement for tea with Bradley Logan.
Suddenly that engagement seemed exceedingly important, and something that she should on no account have missed. But at least she could write to him and explain.
"Have you a fountain-pen?" she inquired of Francis, "and can I write sitting here?"
"If you don't mind writing on a leaf from my notebook. It's all I have."
She was privately a little doubtful as to the impression that such a note would make on Mr. Logan, for she remembered one wild tale she had heard from him about a man who spent his whole life in a secluded room somewhere in France, experimenting on himself as to what sort of perfumes and colors and gestures made him happiest. None of them had made him happy at all, to the best of her remembrance; but the idea Mr. Logan left her with was that he was that sort of person himself, and that the wrong kind of letter-paper could make him suffer acutely. She was amused at it, really, but a bit impressed, too. One doesn't want to be thought the kind of person who does the wrong thing because of knowing no better. Still, it was that or nothing.
"Dear Mr. Logan," she began, more illegibly than she knew because of the car's motion, "I am so sorry that I have not been able to tell you in advance that I couldn't take tea with you. But Mr. Ellison has taken me away rather suddenly. He had to go to Canada to take a position. We hope we will see you when we get back."
She did not know till much later that owing to the thank-you-ma'am which they reached simultaneously with the word "suddenly" that when Mr. Logan got that note he thought it was "severely," and that the bad penmanship and generally disgraceful appearance of the loose-leaf sheet, the jerky hand, and the rather elderly envelope which was all Francis could find—it had been living in a pocket with many other things for some time—gave him a wrong idea. Mr. Logan, to anticipate a little, by this erroneous means, acquired an idea very near the truth. He thought that Marjorie Ellison was being kidnapped against her will, and made it the subject of much meditation. His nervous ailment prevented him from dashing after her.
Marjorie fortunately knew nothing of all this, for she was proud to the core, and she would rather have died than let any one but Lucille, of necessity in on it, know anything but that she was spending the most delightful and willing of honeymoons.
So when they found a little up-state town with a tavern of exceeding age and stiffness, and alighted in search of luncheon, the landlord and landlady thought just what Marjorie wanted them to think; that all was well and very recent.
She sank into one of the enormous walnut chairs, covered with immaculate and flaring tidies which reminded her of Cousin Anna and stuck into the back of her neck, and viewed the prospect with pleasure. For the moment she almost forgot Francis, and the problem of managing just the proper distance from him. There was a stuffed fish, glassy-eyed and with cotton showing from parts of him, over the counter. There were bills of forgotten railroads framed and hung in different places. There was a crayon portrait of a graduated row of children from the seventies hung over the fireplace, four of them, on the order of another picture, framed and hanging in another part of the room, and called "A Yard of Kittens." Marjorie wondered with pleasure why they hadn't added enough children to bring it up to a yard, and balanced things properly. The fireplace itself was bricked up, all except a small place where a Franklin stove sat, with immortelles sticking out of its top as if they aimed at being fuel. Marjorie had seen immortelles in fireplaces before, but in a Franklin they were new to her. She made up her mind to find out about it before she was through.
"Why—why, I'm not worrying about being carried off by Francis!" she remembered suddenly. She had been quite forgetful of him, and of anything but the funny, old-fashioned place she was in. She lay back further in the walnut chair, quite sleepily.
"Would you like to go upstairs now, ma'am?" the landlord said. She looked around for Francis, but he was nowhere to be seen. She picked up the handkerchief which had slipped from her lap, cast a regretful look at the yard of kittens, and followed him.
"Here it is, ma'am," said the landlord, and set the suitcase he had been carrying down inside the door. She shut the door after her, and made for the mirror. Then she said "Oh!" in a surprised voice, because Francis was standing before it, brushing his hair much harder than such straight black hair needed to be brushed.
He seemed as much surprised as she.
"Good heavens, I beg your pardon, Marjorie!" he said. "This isn't your room. Yours is the next one."
"I beg your pardon, then," said Marjorie, with a certain iciness.
"You can have this one if you like it better. They're next door to each other. You know"—Francis colored—"we have to seem more or less friendly. Really I didn't know——"
He was moving away into the other room as he spoke, having laid down his brush on her bureau as if he had no business with it at all.
"This isn't my brush," she said, standing at the connecting door and holding it out at arm's length.
"No," said Francis. "I didn't know I'd left it. Thank you."
He took it from her, and went into his own room. She pushed the door to between them, and went slowly back and sat down on the bed. A quite new idea had just come to her.
Francis wasn't a relentless Juggernaut, or a tyrant, or a cave-man, or anything like that really. That is, he probably did have moments of being all of them. But besides that—it was a totally new idea—he was a human being like herself. Sometimes things embarrassed him; sometimes they were hard for him; he didn't always know what to do next.
She had never had any brothers, and not very much to do with men until she got old enough for them to make love to her. The result was that it had never occurred to her particularly that men were people. They were just—men. That is, they were people you had nothing in common with except the fact that you did what they said if they were fathers, or married them when the time came, if they weren't. But she had actually felt sorry for Francis; not sorry, in a vague, rather pitying way because she didn't love him—but sorry for him as if he had been Lucille, when he was so embarrassed that he walked off forgetting his own brush. She smiled a little at the remembrance. She really began to feel that he was a friend.
So when he tapped at her outside door presently and told her that luncheon was ready, and that they had better go down and eat it, instead of the severity for which Francis had braced himself, she smiled at him in a very friendly fashion, and they went down together, admiring the wallpaper intensely on their way, for it consisted of fat scarlet birds sitting on concentric circles, and except for its age was almost exactly like some that Lucille and Marjorie hadn't bought because it was two dollars a yard.
Luncheon proved to be dinner, but they were none the less glad of it for that. And instead of freezing every time the landlord was tactlessly emotional, Marjorie found that she could be amused at it, and that her being amused helped Francis to be amused.
She always looked back tenderly to that yard of kittens, and to those other many yards of impossible and scarlet birds. They gave her the first chance at carrying through her wild flight with Francis decently and without too much discomfort.
The rest of the trip to Canada was easier and easier. Once admitting that Francis and she were friends—and you can't spend three days traveling with anybody without being a friend or an enemy—she had a nice enough time. She kept sternly out of her mind the recollection that he was in love with her. When she thought of that she couldn't like him very much. But then she didn't have to think of it.
"Here we are," said Francis superfluously as they stopped at the door of a big house that was neither a log cabin nor a regular house.
Marjorie gave a sigh of contentment.
"I admit I'm glad to get here," she said.
She slipped out of the car in the sunset, and stood drooping a minute, waiting for her bag to be lifted down. She was beginning to feel tired. She was lonely, too. She missed everything acutely and all at once—New York, the little apartment, Lucille, being free from Francis—even the black kitten seemed to her something that she could not live one moment longer without. She turned and looked at Francis, trim and alert as ever, just steering the car around the side of the house, and found herself hating him for the moment. He was so at home here. And she hadn't even carfare to run away if she wanted to!
"Well, now, you poor lamb!" said somebody's rich, motherly voice with a broad Irish brogue. "You're tired enough to die, and no wonder. Come along with me, darlin'."
She looked up with a feeling of comfort into the face of a black-haired, middle-aged Irishwoman, ample and beaming.
"I'm Mrs. O'Mara, an' I know yer husband well. I kep' house for him an' the other young gintlemen when they were workin' up here before the fightin' began. So he got me to come an' stay wid the two of ye, me an' Peggy. An' I don't deny I'm glad to see ye, for there does be a ghost in this house!"
The ending was so unexpected and matter-of-fact that Marjorie forgot to feel lost and estranged, and even managed to laugh. Even a ghost sounded rather pleasant and friendly, and it was good to see a woman's face. Who or what Peggy might be she did not know or care. Mrs. O'Mara picked up the suitcase with one strong arm, and, putting the other round Marjorie in a motherly way, half led her into the house.
"Ye'll excuse me familiarity, but it's plain to see ye're dead, Miss—ma'am, I mean. Come yer ways in to the fire."
Marjorie had been feeling that life would be too hard to bear if she had to climb any stairs now; so it was very gladly that she let Mrs. O'Mara establish her in a rude chaise-longue sort of thing, facing a huge fire in a roughly built fireplace. The housekeeper bent over her, loosening knots and taking off wraps in a very comforting way. Then she surrounded her with pillows—not too many, or too much in her way—and slipped from the room to return in a moment with tea.
Marjorie drank it eagerly, and was revived by it enough to look around and see the place where she was to dwell. It looked very attractive, though it was not in the least like anything she had ever seen.
Where she lay she stared straight into a fire of great logs that crackled and burned comfortingly. The mantel over it was roughly made of wood, and its only adornment was a pipe at one side, standing up on its end in some mysterious manner, and a pile of Government reports at the other. The walls were plastered and left so. Here and there were tacked photographs and snapshots, and along one wall—she had to screw her neck to see it—some one had fastened up countless sheets from a Sunday supplement—war photographs entirely. She wondered who had done it, because what she had seen of returned soldiers had shown her that the last thing they wanted to see or hear about was the war.
There were couches around the walls, the other chairs were lounging chairs also. There was fishing-tackle in profusion, and a battered phonograph on a table. It looked as if men had made themselves comfortable there, without thinking much about looks. The only thing against this was one small frilled chair. It was a most absurd chair, rustic to begin with, with a pink cushion covered with white net and ruffled, and pink ribbons anchoring another pink and net cushion at its back. Mrs. O'Mara, hovering hospitably, saw Marjorie eying it, and beamed proudly.
"That's Peggy's chair," she said. "Peggy's me little daughter."
"Oh, that's nice," said Marjorie. "How old is she?"
"Just a young thing," said Mrs. O'Mara. "She'll be in in a minute."
Marjorie leaned back again, her tea consumed, and rested. She was not particularly interested in Peggy, because she was not very used to children. She liked special ones sometimes, but as a rule she did not quite know what to do with them. After a few sentences exchanged, and an embarrassed embrace in which the children stiffened themselves, children and Marjorie were apt to melt apart. She hoped Peggy wouldn't be the kind that climbed on you and kicked you.
A wild clattering of feet aroused her from these half-drowsy meditations.
"Here's Francis, mother! Here's Francis!" called a joyous young voice, and Marjorie turned to see Francis, his eyes sparkling and his whole face lighted up, dashing into the room with an arm around one of the most beautiful girls she had ever seen, a tall, vivid creature who might have been any age from seventeen to twenty, and who brought into the room an atmosphere of excitement and gaiety like a wind.
"And here's Peggy!" said Francis gaily, pausing in his dash only when he reached Marjorie's side. "She's all grown up since I went away, and isn't she the dear of the world?"
"Oh, but so's your wife, Francis!" said Peggy naively, slipping her arm from around his shoulder and dropping on her knees beside Marjorie. "You don't mind if I kiss you, do you, please? And must I call her Mrs. Ellison, Francis?"
"Peggy, child, where's your manners?" said her mother from the background reprovingly, but with an obvious note of pride in her voice.
"Where they always were," said Peggy boldly, laughing, and staying where she was.
She was tall and full-formed, with thick black hair like her mother's, not fluffy and waving like Marjorie's, but curling tight in rings wherever it had the chance. Her eyes were black and her cheeks and lips a deep permanent red. She looked the picture of health and strength, and Marjorie felt like a toy beside her—fragile to the breaking-point. She seemed much better educated than her mother, and evidently on a footing of perfect equality and affection with Francis.
Marjorie was drawn to her, for the girl had vitality and charm; but she found herself wondering why Francis had never told her about this Peggy, and why he had never thought of marrying her.
"You wouldn't think this young wretch was only sixteen, would you?" said Francis, answering her silent question. "Look at her—long dresses and hair done up, and beaux, I hear, in all directions!"
Of course. If Peggy had been scarcely past fourteen when Francis saw her last, he couldn't have considered marrying her. Marjorie tried to think that she wished he had, but found that she did not like to cease owning anything that she had ever possessed, even such a belonging as Francis Ellison.
"That's very nice," she said inadequately, smiling at Peggy in as friendly a manner as so tired a person could manage. "I'm glad I shall have Peggy to be friends with while I'm up here."
"Oh, me dear, ye'll be up here forever an' the day after, be the looks of the job Mr. Francis has on his hands," said Mrs. O'Mara.
"No, I won't," she began to say hurriedly, and then stopped herself. She had no right to tell any one about her bargain with Francis. She didn't want to, anyway.
"The poor child's tired," said Mrs. O'Mara, whom, in spite of her relation to Peggy, Marjorie was beginning to regard as a guardian angel. "Come upstairs to yer room, me dear."
Marjorie rose, with Francis and Peggy hovering about her, carrying wraps and hats and suitcases; and Mrs. O'Mara led the way to a room on the floor above, reached by a stair suspiciously like a ladder.
"Here ye'll be comfortable," said Mrs. O'Mara, "and rest a little till we have supper. Peggy will get you anything you want."
But Marjorie declined Peggy. All she wanted was to rest a little longer.
She flung herself on the softly mattressed cot in one corner of the room; and nearly went to sleep.
She was awakened—it must have been quite sleep—by Francis, on the threshold. His eyes were blazing, and he was evidently angry at her to the last degree—angrier even than he had been that time in the city when he nearly threw the telephone at her.
"Is this the sort of person you are?" he demanded furiously. "Look at this telegram!"
Marjorie, frightened, rose from the couch with her heart beating like a triphammer.
"Let me see," she asked.
He handed the telegram to her with an effect of wanting to shake her.
"Am coming up to arrange with you about Mrs. Ellison," it said. "Know all."
It was signed by Logan.
"Good heavens!" said Marjorie helplessly.
"Knows all!" said Francis bitterly. "And that's the sort of girl you are!"
Marjorie froze in consternation. She had forgotten to allow for Francis's gusts of anger; indeed, there had been no need, for since his one flare-up over the telephone he had been perfectly gentle and courteous to her.
She stared at him, amazed.
"But I didn't do anything to make that happen!" she protested. "I never dreamed—why, I'd have too much pride——"
"Pride!" thundered Francis. "It's plain cause and effect. You write to that pup in New York, and I give you the envelope and paper—help you straight through it, good heavens!—and you use my decency to appeal to him for help, after you've agreed to try it out and see it through!"
Marjorie stiffened with anger.
"I was going to try it out and see it through," she countered with dignity. "But if you treat me this way I see no reason why I should. Even this housekeeper of yours would give me money to escape with."
"Escape! You act as if you were in a melodrama!" said Francis angrily. "We made a bargain, that's all there is to it; and the first chance you get, you smash it. I suppose that's the way women act. . . . I don't know much about women, I admit."
"You don't know much about me," said Marjorie icily, "if you jump to conclusions like that about me. Whatever that Logan man knows he doesn't know from me. Have you forgotten Lucille?"
"Lucille wouldn't——" began Francis, and stopped.
"And why wouldn't she? Didn't she tell me that I was a poor little pet, and that men could always take care of themselves and, then turn around and help you carry me away? And it was carrying me away—it was stealing me, as if I were one of those poor Sabine women in the history book."
They were fronting each other across the threshold all this time, Francis with his face rigid and pale with anger, his wife flushed and quivering.
"I admit I hadn't thought of that," said Francis, referring presumably to Lucille's possibilities as an informer, and not to Marjorie's being a Sabine woman.
Marjorie moved back wearily and sat on the bed.
"And you were just getting to be such a nice friend," she mourned. "I was getting so I liked you. There never was anybody pleasanter than you while we were coming up from New York. Why, you weren't like a person one was married to, at all!"
"More like a friend nor a 'usband," quoted Francis unexpectedly.
Marjorie looked at him in surprise. Any one who could stop in the middle of a very fine quarrel to see the funny side of things that way wasn't so bad, her mind remarked to itself before she could stop it.
"What do you mean?" she asked, mitigating her wrath a little.
"Why, you know the story; the cockney woman who had a black eye, and when the settlement worker asked her if her husband had given it to her said, 'Bless you, no, miss—'e's more like a friend nor a 'usband!'"
"Oh," said Marjorie, smiling a little. Then she remembered, her eyes falling on the yellow paper Francis still held. There was still much to be settled between them.
"But, as you were saying about Mr. Logan——"
"I was saying a lot I hadn't any business to about Mr. Logan," said Francis frankly.
"Then it's all right?" said Marjorie. "At least as far as you're concerned?"
"Well," said she most unfairly, "it isn't, as far as I am. Francis, I don't think we'd better think any more of ever trying to be married to each other. It's too hard on the nervous system."
Francis colored deeply.
"What do you want to do?" he demanded.
Marjorie paused a minute before she answered. The truth was, she didn't know. She had definitely given up her New York position. She liked it up here, very much indeed. She liked the O'Maras and the house, and she was wild to get outdoors and explore the woods. Leaving Francis out of the question, she was freer than she had been for years. Altogether it was a bit hard to be entirely moved by lofty considerations. She wanted to stay; she knew that.
"Canada's a nice place," she began, dimpling a little and looking up at Francis from under her eyelashes.
"Oh, then——" he began eagerly.
"And I want to stay, for perfectly selfish reasons," she went on serenely. "But if my staying makes you think that there is any hope of—of eventualities—I think I'd better go. In other words, I like the idea of a vacation here. That's all. If you are willing to have me as selfish as all that, why, it's up to you. I think myself I'm a pig."
"You will stay, but not with any idea of learning to like me better—is that it?"
"That's it," she said. "And, as I said, I feel colossally selfish—a regular Hun or something."
"That's because you used the word 'colossal,'" he said absently. "They did, a lot. All right, my dear. That's fair enough. Yes, I'm willing."
"But no tempers, mind, and no expectations!" said Marjorie firmly, making hay while the sun shone.
"No," said Francis. He looked at her appraisingly. "You know," he remarked, "the gamble isn't all one way. It's just possible that I may be as glad as you not to see the thing through when we've seen something of each other. I don't feel that way now, but there's no telling."
She sprang to her feet, angry as he had been. But he had turned, after he said that, and gone quietly downstairs.
The idea was new to her, and correspondingly annoying. Francis—Francis, who had been spending all his time since he got back trying to win her—Francis suggesting that he might tire of her! Why, people didn't do such things! And if he expected to tire of her what did he want her for at all?
She sprang up and surveyed herself in the glass that hung against the rough wall, over a draped dressing-table which had apparently once been boxes. Yes, she did look tired and draggled. Her wild-rose color was nearly gone, and there were big circles under her eyes. And there was a smudge on her face that nobody had told her a thing about. And her hair was mussed too much to be becoming, even to her, who looked best with it tossed a little. And there was not a sign of water to wash in anywhere, and the room had no furniture except the cot and the dressing-table——
Another knock stopped her here, and she turned to see young Peggy, immaculate and blooming, at the door.
"I just came to bring you towels, and to see that everything was all right, and show you the way to the bathroom," she said most opportunely. "We have a bathtub, you know, even up here in the wilds!"
Marjorie forgot everything; home, husband, problems, life in general—what were they all to the chance at a real bathtub? She followed Peggy down the hall as a kitten follows a friend with a bowl of milk.
"O-o! a bathtub!" she said rapturously.
Peggy threw open a door where, among wooden floor and side-wall and ceiling and everything else of the most primitive, a real and most enticingly porcelain bathtub sat proudly awaiting guests.
"It'll not be so good as you've been used to," she said with more suggestion of Irishry than Marjorie had yet heard, "but I guess you'll be glad of it."
"Glad!" said Marjorie. And she almost shut the door in Peggy's face.
She lingered over it and over the manicuring and hairdressing and everything else that she could linger over, and dressed herself in the best of her gowns, a sophisticated taupe satin with slippers and stockings to match. She'd show Francis what he was perhaps going to be willing to part with! So when Mrs. O'Mara's stentorian voice called "Supper!" up the stair, she had not quite finished herself off. The sophisticated Lucille had tucked in—it was a real tribute of affection—her own best rouge box; and Marjorie was on the point of adding the final touch to beauty, as the advertisement on the box said, when she heard the supper call. She was too genuinely hungry to stop. She raced down the stairs in a most unsophisticated manner, nearly falling over Francis and Peggy, who were also racing for the dining-room.
They caught her to them in a most unceremonious way, each with an arm around her, and sped her steps on. She found herself breathless and laughing, dropped into a big wooden chair with Francis facing her and Peggy and her mother at the other two sides. It was a small table, wooden as to leg under its coarse white cloth; but, oh, the beauty of the sight to Marjorie! There were such things as pork and beans, and chops, and baked potatoes, and apple sauce, and various vegetables, and on another table—evidently a concession to manners—was to be seen a noble pudding with whipped cream thick above it.
"The food looks good, now, doesn't it?" beamed Mrs. O'Mara. "I'll bet ye're hungry enough to eat the side o' the house. Pass me yer plate to fill up, me dear."
Marjorie ate—she remembered it vaguely afterwards, in her sleep—a great deal of everything on the table. It did not seem possible, when she remembered, also vaguely, all the things there had been; but the facts were against her. She finished with a large cup of coffee, which should have kept her awake till midnight; and lay back smiling drowsily in her chair.
The last thing she remembered was somebody picking her up like a small baby and carrying her out of the dining-room and up the stairs to her own bed, and laying her down on it; and a heavy tread behind her carrier, which must have been Mrs. O'Mara's, for a rich voice that belonged to it had said, "Shure it's a lovely sight, yer carryin' her around like a child. It's the lovely pair yez make, Mr. Francis!" And then she remembered a tightening of arms around her for an instant, before she was laid carefully on her own cot and left alone.
Mrs. O'Mara undressed her and put her to bed, she told her next morning; but Marjorie remembered nothing at all of that. All she knew was that the lady's voice, raised to say that it was time to get up, wakened her about eight next day.
It is always harder to face any situation in the morning. And theoretically Marjorie's situation was a great deal to face. Here she was alone, penniless, at the mercy of a determined young man and his devoted myrmidons—whatever myrmidons were. Marjorie had always heard of them in connections like these, and rather liked the name. Mr. Logan was imminent at any moment, and a great deal of disagreeableness might be looked for when he turned up and had it out with Francis. Altogether the Sabine lady felt that she ought to be in a state of panic terror. But she had slept well,—it was an excellent cot—the air was heavenly bracing, Mrs. O'Mara was a joy to think of, with her brogue and her affectionate nature, and altogether Marjorie Ellison found herself wondering hungrily what there would be for breakfast, and dressing in a hurry so that she could go down and eat it.