[Frontispiece: A new tenderness swept over her]
FREDERICK ORIN BARTLETT
With Illustrations by
George Ellis Wolfe
BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, 1916, BY EVERY WEEK CORPORATION
COPYRIGHT, 1917, BY FREDERICK ORIN BARTLETT
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published March 1917
ANN AND KENT
I. THE TROUBLE WITH MONTE II. THE TROUBLE WITH MARJORY III. A SUMMONS IV. A PROPOSAL V. PISTOLS VI. GENDARMES AND ETHER VII. THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING SHOT VIII. DRAWBACKS OF RECOVERY IX. BLUE AND GOLD X. THE AFFAIR AT MAXIM'S XI. A CANCELED RESERVATION XII. A WEDDING JOURNEY XIII. A WEDDING JOURNEY (continued) XIV. THE BRIDE RUNS AWAY XV. IN THE DARK XVI. A WALK ON THE QUAY XVII. JUST MONTE XVIII. PETER XIX. AN EXPLANATION XX. PAYING LIKE A MAN XXI. BACK TO SCHEDULE XXII. A CONFESSION XXIII. LETTERS XXIV. THE BLIND SEE XXV. SO LONG XXVI. FREEDOM XXVII. WAR XXVIII. THE CORNICE ROAD XXIX. BENEATH THE STARS
LOI A NEW TENDERNESS SWEPT OVER HER . . . Frontispiece
"WE'RE TO BE MARRIED TO-MORROW?"
MONSIEUR'S EYES WARMED AS HE SLIPPED THE WRAP OVER MADAME'S SHOULDERS
"BECAUSE HE LOVES YOU," BREATHED BEATRICE
"DID N'T BEATRICE TELL ME YOU REGISTERED HERE WITH YOUR WIFE?"
"PETER!" SHE CRIED, FALLING BACK A STEP
"BUT, O GOD, IF HE WOULD COME!"
From drawings by George E. Wolfe
THE TROUBLE WITH MONTE
For a man to keep himself consistently amused for ten years after his graduation from college, even with an inheritance to furnish ample financial assistance, suggests a certain quality of genius. This much Monte Covington had accomplished—accomplished, furthermore, without placing himself under obligations of any sort to the opposite sex. He left no trail of broken hearts in his wake. If some of the younger sisters of the big sisters took the liberty of falling in love with him secretly and in the privacy of their chambers, that was no fault of his, and did neither them nor him the slightest harm.
Such minor complications could not very well be avoided, because, discreet as Monte tried to be, it was not possible for him to deny certain patent facts, to wit: that he was a Covington of Philadelphia; that he was six feet tall and light-haired; that he had wonderfully decent blue eyes; that he had a straight nose; that he had the firm mouth and jaws of an Arctic explorer; that he had more money than he knew what to do with; and that he was just old enough to be known as a bachelor without in the slightest looking like one.
At the point where the older sisters gave him up as hopeless, he came as a sort of challenge to the younger.
This might have proved dangerous for him had it not been for his schedule, which did not leave him very long in any one place and which kept him always pretty well occupied. By spending his winters at his New York club until after the holidays; then journeying to Switzerland for the winter sports; then to Nice for tennis; then to Paris for a month of gay spring and the Grand Prix; and so over to England for a few days in London and a month of golf along the coast—he was able to come back refreshed to his camp in the Adirondacks, there to fish until it was time to return to Cambridge for the football season, where he found himself still useful as a coach in the art of drop-kicking.
The fact that he could get into his old football togs without letting out any strings or pulling any in, and could even come through an occasional scrimmage without losing his breath, was proof that he kept himself in good condition.
It was not until his eleventh trip that Monte became aware of certain symptoms which seemed to hint that even as pleasant a cycle as his could not be pursued indefinitely. At Davos he first noted a change. Though he took the curves in the long run with a daring that proved his eye to be as quick and his nerves as steady as ever, he was restless.
Later, when he came to Nice, it was with a listlessness foreign to him. In the first place, he missed Edhart, the old maitre d'hotel who for a decade had catered to his primitive American tastes in the matter of foodstuffs with as much enthusiasm as if he had been a Parisian epicure.
The passing of Edhart did more to call Monte's attention to the fact that in his own life a decade had also passed than anything else could possibly have done. Between birthdays there is only the lapse each time of a year; but between the coming and going of the maitre d'hotel there was a period of ten years, which with his disappearance seemed to vanish. Monte was twenty-two when he first came to Nice, and now he was thirty-two. He became thirty-two the moment he was forced to point out to the new management his own particular table in the corner, and to explain that, however barbarous the custom might appear, he always had for breakfast either a mutton chop or a beefsteak. Edhart had made him believe, even to last year, that in this matter and a hundred others he was merely expressing the light preferences of a young man. Now, because he was obliged to emphasize his wishes by explicit orders, they became the definite likes and dislikes of a man of middle age.
For relief Monte turned to the tennis courts, and played so much in the next week that he went stale and in the club tournament put up the worst game of his life. That evening, in disgust, he boarded the train for Monte Carlo, and before eleven o'clock had lost five thousand francs at roulette—which was more than even he could afford for an evening's entertainment that did not entertain. Without waiting for the croupier to rake in his last note, Monte hurried out and, to clear his head, walked all the way back to Nice along the Cornice Road. Above him, the mountains; below, the blue Mediterranean; while the road hung suspended between them like a silver ribbon. Yet even here he did not find content.
Monte visited the rooms every evening for the next three days; but, as he did not play again and found there nothing more interesting than the faces, or their counterparts, which he had seen for the past ten years, the programme grew stupid.
So, really, he had no alternative but Paris, although it was several weeks ahead of his schedule. As a matter of fact, it was several weeks too early. The city was not quite ready for him. The trees in the Champs Elysees were in much the condition of a lady half an hour before an expected caller. The broad vista to the triumphal arches was merely the setting for a few nurses and their charges. The little iron tables were so deserted that they remained merely little iron tables.
Of course the boulevards were as always; but after a night or two before the Cafe de la Paix he had enough. Even with fifty thousand people passing in review before him, he was not as amused as he should have been. He sipped his black coffee as drowsily as an old man.
In an effort to rouse himself, he resolved to visit the cafes upon Montmartre, which he had outgrown many years ago. That night he climbed the narrow stairs to l'Abbaye. It was exactly as it had been—a square room bounded by long seats before tables. Some two dozen young ladies of various nationalities wandered about the center of the room, trying their best, but with manifest effort, to keep pace to the frenzied music of an orchestra paid to keep frenzied. A half-dozen of the ladies pounced upon Monte as he sat alone, and he gladly turned over to them the wine he purchased as the price of admission. Yvonne, she with the languid Egyptian eyes, tried to rouse the big American. Was it that he was bored? Possibly it was that, Monte admitted. Then another bottle of wine was the proper thing. So he ordered another bottle, and to the toast Yvonne proposed, raised his glass. But the wine did him no good, and the music did him no good, and Yvonne did him no good. The place had gone flat. Whatever he needed, it was nothing l'Abbaye had to offer.
Covington went out into the night again, and, though the music from a dozen other cafes called him to come in and forget, he continued down the hill to the boulevard, deaf to the gay entreaties of the whole city. It was clear that he was out of tune with Paris.
As he came into the Place de l'Opera he ran into the crowd pouring from the big gray opera house, an eager, voluble crowd that jostled him about as if he were an intruder. They had been warmed by fine music and stirred by the great passions of this mimic world, so that the women clung more tightly to the arms of their escorts.
Covington, who had fallen back a little to watch them pass, felt strangely isolated. They hurried on without seeing him, as if he were merely some spectral bystander. Yet the significant fact was not that a thousand strangers should pass him without being aware of his presence, but that he himself should notice their indifference. It was not like him.
Ordinarily it was exactly what he would desire. But to-night he was in an unusual mood—a mood that was the culmination of a restlessness covering an entire month. But what the deuce was the name and cause of it? He could no longer attribute it to the fact that he had gone stale physically, because he had now had a rest of several weeks. It was not that he was bored; those who are bored never stop to ask themselves why they are bored or they would not be bored. It was not that he was homesick, because, strictly speaking, he had no home. A home seems to involve the female element and some degree of permanence. This unrest was something new—something, apparently, that had to do vaguely with the fact that he was thirty-two. If Edhart—
Impatiently he started again for his hotel. This confoundedly good-natured, self-satisfied crowd moving in couples irritated him. At that moment a tall, slender girl turned, hesitated, then started toward him. He did not recognize her at first, but the mere fact that she came toward him—that any one came toward him—quickened his pulse. It brought him back instantly from the shadowy realm of specters to the good old solid earth. It was he, Covington, who was standing there.
Then she raised her eyes—dark eyes deep as trout pools; steady, confident, but rather sad eyes. They appeared to be puzzled by the eagerness with which he stepped forward and grasped her hand.
"Marjory!" he exclaimed. "I did n't know you were in Paris!"
She smiled—a smile that extended no farther than the corners of her perfect mouth.
"That's to excuse yourself for not looking me up, Monte?"
She had a full, clear voice. It was good to hear a voice that he could recognize.
"No," he answered frankly. "That's honest. I thought you were somewhere in Brittany. But are you bound anywhere in particular?"
"Still living on the Boulevard Saint-Germain?"
He was glad he was able to remember that number.
"Number sixty-four," she corrected.
They had been moving toward the Metro station, and here she paused.
"There is no need for you to come with me," she said. "But I'd like to have you drop in for tea some afternoon—if you have time."
The strangers were still hurrying past him—to the north, the south, the east, the west. Men and women were hurrying past, laughing, intent upon themselves, each with some definite objective in mind. He himself was able to smile with them now. Then she held out her gloved hand, and he felt alone again.
"I may accompany you home, may I not?" he asked eagerly.
"If you wish."
Once again she raised her eyes with that expression of puzzled interest. This was not like Monte. Of course he would accompany her home, but that he should seem really to take pleasure in the prospect—that was novel.
"Let me call a taxi," he said. "I'm never sure where these French undergrounds are going to land me."
"They are much quicker," she suggested.
"There is no hurry," he answered.
With twenty-four hours a day on his hands, he was never in a hurry.
Instead of giving to the driver the number sixty-four Boulevard Saint-Germain, he ordered him to forty-seven Rue Saint-Michel, which is the Cafe d'Harcourt.
It had suddenly occurred to Monte what the trouble was with him. He was lonesome.
THE TROUBLE WITH MARJORY
She was surprised when the car stopped before the cafe, and mildly interested.
"Do you mind?" he asked.
She followed him through the smoke and chatter to one of the little dining-rooms in the rear where the smoke and chatter were somewhat subdued. There Henri removed their wraps with a look of frank approval. It was rather an elaborate dinner that Monte ordered, because he remembered for the first time that he had not yet dined this evening. It was also a dinner of which he felt Edhart would thoroughly approve, and that always was a satisfaction.
"Now," he said to the girl, as soon as Henri had left, "tell me about yourself."
"You knew about Aunt Kitty?" she asked.
"No," he replied hesitatingly, with an uneasy feeling that it was one of those things that he should know about.
"She was taken ill here in Paris in February, and died shortly after we reached New York," she explained.
What Covington would have honestly liked to do was to congratulate her. Stripping the situation of all sentimentalism, the naked truth remained that she had for ten years given up her life utterly to her aunt—had almost sold herself into slavery. Ostensibly this Aunt Kitty had taken the girl to educate, although she had never forgiven her sister for having married Stockton; had never forgiven her for having had this child, which had cost her life; had never forgiven Stockton for losing in business her sister's share of the Dolliver fortune.
Poor old Stockton—he had done his best, and the failure killed him. It was Chic Warren who had told Covington the pitiful little tale. Chic always spoke of the aunt as "the Vamp.," the abbreviation, as he explained, being solely out of respect to her gray hairs. Marjory had received her education, to be sure; but she had paid for it in the only coin she had—the best of her young self from seventeen to twenty-seven. The only concession the aunt had ever made was to allow her niece to study art in Paris this last year.
"I have n't heard from Chic since Christmas," he explained; "so I did n't know. Then you are back here in Paris—alone?"
Unconsciously he had emphasized that word "alone."
"Why not?" she asked directly.
She held her head a bit high, as if in challenge.
He did not finish. He could not very well tell her that she was too confoundedly good-looking to be alone in Paris. Yet that was what he thought, in spite of his belief that, of all the women he had ever met, she was the best able to be alone anywhere. There were times when he had sat beside her, not feeling sure that he was in the same room with her: it was as if he were looking at her through plate-glass. To-night, however, it was not like that. She looked like a younger sister of herself.
"Still painting?" he inquired.
"As much as they will let me."
She leaned forward with a frown, folding her arms upon the table.
"What is the matter with men?" she demanded. "Why won't they believe a woman when she tells the truth?"
He was somewhat startled by the question, and by her earnestness.
"Just what do you mean?"
"Why can't they leave a woman alone?"
It was clear that he was not expected to answer, and so, with her permission, he lighted a cigarette and waited with considerable interest for her to go on.
For a moment she studied him, as if wondering if it were worth while to continue her confidence. Her acquaintance with Monte dated back ten years, when, as a girl of seventeen, she had met him on one of his rare week-end visits to the Warrens. She was then fresh from finishing school, and he was one of the very few men she had been allowed to meet in any more intimate way than merely to shake hands with in passing. She had been tremendously impressed. She could smile at it now. But, really, she had been like one of the younger sisters, and for a year or so after that he had been to her a sort of vague knight errant.
It was three years ago that her aunt had begun to travel with her, and after that she had seen Monte not oftener than once or twice a year, and then for scarcely more than a greeting and good-bye. On the other hand, Mrs. Warren had always talked and written to her a great deal about him. Chic and he had been roommates in college, and ever since had kept in close touch with each other by letter. The trivial gossip of Monte's life had always been passed on to Marjory, so that she had really for these last few years been following his movements and adventures month by month, until she felt in almost as intimate contact with him as with the Warrens. She had reason to think that, in turn, her movements were retailed to Monte. The design was obvious—and amusing.
On the whole, Marjory concluded that it was not especially worth while to burden him with her troubles; and yet, it was just because of that she was inclined to continue—in, however, a less serious mood. Monte had so few burdens of his own. That odd little smile—scarcely more than the ghost of a smile—returned to the corners of her mouth.
"To-night," she said, "I ran away from Teddy Hamilton, for all the world like a heroine of melodrama. Do you know Teddy?"
"Yes," he answered slowly, "I do."
He refrained with difficulty from voicing his opinion of the man, which he could have put into three words—"the little beast." But how did it happen that she, of all women, had been thrown into contact with this pale-faced Don Juan of the New York music-halls and Paris cafes?
"I lent Marie, my maid, one of my new hats and a heavy veil," she went on. "She came out and stepped into a taxi, with instructions to keep driving in a circle of a mile. Teddy followed in another machine. And"—she paused to look up and smile—"for all I know, he may still be following her round and round. I came on to the opera."
"Kind of tough on Marie," he commented, with his blue eyes reflecting a hearty relish of the situation.
"Marie will undoubtedly enjoy a nap," she said. "As for Teddy—well, he is generally out of funds, so I hope he may get into difficulties with the driver."
"He won't," declared Monte. "He'll probably end by borrowing a pour-boire of the driver."
"That is possible. He is very clever."
"The fact that he is still out of jail—" began Monte.
Then he checked himself. He was not a man to talk about other men—even about one so little of a man as Teddy Hamilton.
"Tell me what you know of him," she requested.
"I'd rather not," he answered.
"Is he as bad as that?" she queried thoughtfully. "But what I don't understand is why—why, then, he can sing like a white-robed choir-boy."
Monte looked serious.
"I've heard him," he admitted. "But it was generally after he had been sipping absinthe rather heavily. His specialty is 'The Rosary.'"
"And the barcarole from the 'Contes d'Hoffmann.'"
"And little Spanish serenades," he added.
"But if he's all bad inside?"
She raised those deep, dark eyes as a child might. She had been for ten years like one in a convent.
Covington shook his head.
"I can't explain it," he said. "Perhaps, in a way, it's because of that—because of the contrast. But I 've heard him do it. I 've heard him make a room full of those girls on Montmartre stop their dancing and gulp hard. But where—"
"Did I meet him?" she finished. "It was on the boat coming over this last time. You see— I 'm talking a great deal about myself."
"Please go on."
He had forgotten that her face was so young. The true lines of her features were scarcely more than sketched in, though that much had been done with a sure hand. Whatever was to come, he thought, must be added. There would be need of few erasures. Up to a certain point it was the face of any of those young women of gentle breeding that he met when at home—the inheritance of the best of many generations.
As she was sitting now, her head slightly turned, the arch of one brow blended in a perfect curve into her straight, thin nose. But the mouth and chin—they were firmer than one might have expected. If, not knowing her, he had seen her driving in the Bois or upon Rotten Row, he would have been curious about her title. It had always seemed to him that she should by rights have been Her Royal Highness Something or Other.
This was due partly to a certain air of serene security and a certain aloofness that characterized her. He felt it to a lesser degree to-night than ever before, but he made no mistake. He might be permitted to admire those features as one admires a beautiful portrait, but somewhere a barrier existed. There are faces that reflect the soul; there are faces that hide the soul.
"Please go on," he repeated, as she still hesitated.
She was trying to explain why it was that she was tempted at all to talk about herself to-night. Perhaps it was because she had been so long silent—for many years silent. Perhaps it was because Monte was so very impersonal that it was a good deal like talking out loud to herself, with the advantage of being able to do this without wondering if she were losing her wits. Then, too, after Teddy, Monte's straight-seeing blue eyes freshened her thoughts like a clean north wind. She always spoke of Monte as the most American man she knew; and by that she meant something direct and honest—something four-square.
"I met Teddy on the boat," she resumed. "I was traveling alone because—well, just because I wanted to be alone. You know, Aunt Kitty was very good to me, but I'd been with her every minute for more than ten years, and so I wanted to be by myself a little while. Right after she died, I went down to the farm—her farm in Connecticut—and thought I could be alone there. But—she left me a great deal of money, Monte."
Somehow, she could speak of such a thing to him. She was quite matter-of-fact about it.
"It was a great deal too much," she went on. "I did n't mind myself, because I could forget about it; but other people—they made me feel like a rabbit running before the hounds. Some one put the will in the papers, and people I'd never heard of began to write to me—dozens of them. Then men with all sorts of schemes—charities and gold mines and copper mines and oil wells and I don't know what all, came down there to see me: down there to the little farm, where I wanted to be alone. Of course, I could be out to them; but even then I was conscious that they were around. Some of them even waited until I ventured from the house, and waylaid me on the road.
"Then there were others—people I knew and could n't refuse to see without being rude. I felt," she said, looking up at Monte, "as if the world of people had suddenly all turned into men, and that they were hunting me. I could n't get away from them without locking myself up, and that was just the thing I did n't want to do. In a way, I 'd been locked up all my life. So I just packed my things and took the steamer without telling any one but my lawyer where I was going."
"It's too bad they wouldn't let you alone," said Monte.
"It was like an evil dream," she said. "I did n't know men were like that."
Of course, that is just what would happen to a young woman as good-looking as she, suddenly left alone with a fortune. Her name, without a doubt, was on the mailing list of every promoter from New York to San Francisco. It was also undoubtedly upon the list of every man and woman who could presume an acquaintance with her. She had become fair game.
"Then on the boat I met Teddy," she went on. "It was difficult not to meet him."
"I did n't mind so much at first; he was interesting."
"Yes, he's that," admitted Monte.
"And he was very pleasant until—he began to make love to me."
If Monte knew Teddy Hamilton, this happened about the third day.
"That was very annoying," she said reminiscently. "It was annoying, not only because of Teddy, but in itself. In some ways he did it very nicely—especially when he sang in the moonlight. I suppose it was my fault that I gave him the opportunity. I could have kept myself in my stateroom, or I could have played bridge with the elderly ladies in the cabin. But, you see, that's what Aunty always made me do, and I did want to get out. I did enjoy Teddy up to that point. But I did not want to fall in love with him, or with any one else. I suppose I 'm too selfish—too utterly and completely selfish."
"To—er—to fall in love?" he questioned.
"Yes. Oh, as long as I'm making you my father confessor, I may as well be thorough." She smiled.
Monte leaned forward with sudden interest. Here was a question that at odd moments had disturbed his own peace of mind. It was Chic Warren who had first told him that in remaining a bachelor he was leading an utterly selfish life.
"Does a distaste for falling in love necessarily go back to selfishness?" he asked. "Is n't it sometimes merely a matter of temperament?"
"And temperament," she asked, "is what?"
That was altogether too abstract a problem for Monte to discuss. Yet he had his own ideas.
"It's the way you're made," he suggested.
"I doubt it, Monte," she answered. "I think it's rather the way you make yourself; because I imagine that, to start with, we are all made a good deal alike. It's just what you 'd rather do."
"And you'd rather paint?"
She considered a moment. It was as if she were trying at this time to be very honest with herself.
"I'd rather be free to paint or not," she declared. "While Aunty was alive, to paint seemed to be the only way to be free. It gave me the excuse for coming here, for getting away a few hours a day. Now—well, just to be free seems enough. I don't suppose a man knows how a woman hungers for that—for just sheer, elemental freedom."
He did not. He supposed that freedom was what women enjoyed from birth—like queens. He supposed they even had especial opportunities in that direction, and that most men were in the nature of being their humble servitors.
"It is n't that I want to do anything especially proper or improper," she hastened to assure him. "I have n't either the cravings or the ambitions of the new woman. That, again, is where I 'm selfish. I'd like to be"—she spoke hesitatingly—"I'd like to be just like you, Monte."
"Like me?" he exclaimed in surprise.
"Free to do just what I want to do—nothing particularly good, nothing particularly bad; free to go here or go there; free to live my own life; free to be free."
"Well," he asked, "what's to prevent?"
"Teddy Hamilton—and the others," she answered. "In a way, they take the place of Aunty. They won't let me alone. They won't believe me when I tell them I don't want them around. They seem to assume that, just because I'm not married— Oh, they are stupid, Monte!"
Henri, who had been stealing in with course after course, refilled the glasses. He smiled discreetly as he saw her earnest face.
"What you need," suggested Monte, "is a sort of chaperon or secretary."
She shook her head.
"Would you like one yourself?" she demanded.
"It would be a good deal of a nuisance," he admitted; "but, after all—"
"I won't have it!" she burst out. "It would spoil everything. It would be like building one's own jail and employing one's own jailer. I could n't stand that. I 'd rather be annoyed as I am than be annoyed by a chaperon."
She was silent a moment, and then she exclaimed:
"Why, I'd almost rather marry Teddy! I'd feel freer—honestly, I think I 'd feel freer with a husband than a chaperon."
"Oh, see here!" protested Monte. "You must n't do that."
"I don't propose to," she answered quietly.
"Then," he said, "the only thing left is to go away where Teddy and the others can't find you."
"Where?" she asked with interest.
"There are lots of little villages in Switzerland."
She shook her head.
"And along the Riviera."
"I love the little villages," she replied. "I love them here and at home. But it's no use."
She smiled. There was something pathetic about that smile—something that made Covington's arm muscles twitch.
"I should n't even have the aid of the taxis in the little villages," she said.
Monte leaned back.
"If they only had here in Paris a force of good, honest Irish cops instead of these confounded gendarmes," he mused.
She looked her astonishment at the irrelevant observation.
"You see," he explained, "it might be possible then to lay for Teddy H. some evening and—argue with him."
"It's nice of you, Monte, to think of that," she murmured.
Monte was nice in a good many ways.
"The trouble is, they lack sentiment, these gendarmes," he concluded. "They are altogether too law-abiding."
Monte himself had sometimes been accused of lacking sentiment; and yet, the very first thing he did when starting for his walk the next morning was to order a large bunch of violets to be sent to number sixty-four Boulevard Saint-Germain. Then, at a somewhat faster pace than usual, he followed the river to the Jardin des Tuileries, and crossed there to the Avenue des Champs Elysees into the Bois.
He walked as confidently as if overnight his schedule had again been put in good running order; for, overnight, spring had come, and that was what his schedule called for in Paris. The buds, which until now had hesitated to unfold, trembled forth almost before his eyes under the influence of a sun that this morning blazed in a turquoise sky. Perhaps they had hurried a trifle to overtake Monte.
With his shoulders well back, filling his lungs deep with the perfumed morning air, he swung along with a hearty, self-confident stride that caused many a little nursemaid to turn and look at him again.
He had sent her violets; and yet, except for the fact that he had never before sent her flowers, he could not rightly be accused of sentimentalism. He had acted on the spur of the moment, remembering only the sad, wistful smile with which she had bade him good-night when she stood at the door of the pension. Or perhaps he had been prompted by the fact that she was in Paris alone.
Until now it had never been possible to dissociate her completely from Aunt Kitty. Marjory had never had a separate existence of her own. To a great many people she had never been known except as Miss Dolliver's charming niece, although to Monte she had been known more particularly as a young friend of the Warrens. But, even in this more intimate capacity, he had always been relieved of any sense of responsibility because of this aunt. Wherever he met her, there was never any occasion for him to put himself out to be nice to her, because it was always understood that she could never leave Aunt Kitty even for an evening. This gave him a certain sense of security. With her he never was forced to consider either the present or the future.
Last night it had been almost like meeting her for the first time alone. It was as if in all these years he had known her only through her photograph, as one knows friends of one's friends about whom one has for long heard a great deal, without ever meeting them face to face. From the moment he first saw her in the Place de l'Opera she had made him conscious of her as, in another way, he had always been conscious of Edhart. The latter, until his death, had always remained in Monte's outer consciousness like a fixed point. Because he was so permanent, so unchanging, he dominated the rest of Monte's schedule as the north star does the mariner's course.
Each year began when Edhart bade him a smiling au revoir at the door of the Hotel des Roses; and that same year did not end, but began again, when the matter of ten or eleven months later Monte found Edhart still at the door to greet him. So it was always possible, the year round, to think of Edhart as ever standing by the door smilingly awaiting him. This was very pleasant, and prevented Monte from getting really lonesome, and consequently from getting old. It was only in the last few weeks that he fully realized all that Edhart had done for him.
It was, in some ways, as if Edhart had come back to life again in Marjory. He had felt it the moment she had smilingly confided in him; he felt it still more when, after she bade him good-night, he had turned back into the city, not feeling alone any more. Now it was as if he were indebted to her for this morning walk, and for restoring to him his springtime Paris. It was for these things that he had sent her violets—because she had made him comfortable again. So, after all, his act had been one, not of sentimentalism, but of just plain gratitude.
Monte's objection to sentiment was not based upon any of the modern schools of philosophy, which deplore it as a weakness. He took his stand upon much simpler grounds: that, as far as he had been able to observe, it did not make for content. It had been his fate to be thrown in contact with a good deal of it in its most acute stages, because the route he followed was unhappily the route also followed by those upon their honeymoon. If what he observed was sentiment at its zenith, then he did not care for it. Bridegrooms made the poorest sort of traveling companions; and that, after all, was the supreme test of men. They appeared restless, dazed, and were continually looking at their watches. Few of them were able to talk intelligently or to play a decent game of bridge.
Perhaps, too, he had been unfortunate in the result of his observations of the same passion in its later stages; but it is certain that those were not inspiring, either. Chic Warren was an exception. He seemed fairly happy and normal, but Covington would never forget the night he spent there when Chic, Junior had the whooping-cough. He walked by Chic's side up and down the hall, up and down the hall, up and down the hall, with Chic a ghastly white and the sweat standing in beads upon his forehead. His own throat had tightened and he grew weak in the knees every time the rubber-soled nurse stole into sight. Every now and then he heard that gasping cough, and felt the spasmodic grip of Chic's fingers upon his arm. It was terrible; for weeks afterward Covington heard that cough.
At the end of an hour Covington turned back, wheeling like a soldier on parade. There had never seemed to him any reason why, when a man was entirely comfortable, as he was, he should take the risk of a change. He had told Chic as much when sometimes the latter, over a pipe, had introduced the subject. The last time, Chic had gone a little farther than usual.
"But, man alive!" Chic had exclaimed. "A day will come when you'll be sorry."
"I don't believe it," Monte answered.
Yet it was only yesterday that he had wandered over half Paris in search of something to bring his schedule back to normal. And he had found it—in front of the Opera House at eleven o'clock at night.
Monte strode into his hotel with a snap that made the little clerk glance up in surprise.
"Any mail for me?" he inquired.
"A telephone message, monsieur."
He handed Monte an envelope. It was not often that he received telephone messages. It read as follows:—
Can't you come over? Teddy was very angry about the taxi, and I think I shall leave Paris tonight. The flowers were beautiful.
Monte felt his breath coming fast.
"How long has this been waiting for me?" he demanded.
"A half-hour, monsieur."
He hurried out the door and into a taxi.
"Sixty-four Boulevard Saint-Germain—and hurry."
Leaving Paris? She had no right to do that. Edhart never left. That was the beauty of Edhart—that he remained stationary, so that he could always be found. He was quite sure that Edhart was too considerate even to die, could he have avoided it. Now Marjory was proposing to go and leave him here alone. He could not allow that. It was too early to quit Paris, anyway. It was only the first day of spring!
She came down into the gloomy pension reception-room looking as if she had already begun to assist Marie with the packing. Her hair had become loosened, and escaped in several places in black curls that gave her a distinctly girlish appearance. There was more color, too, in her cheeks; but it was the flush of excitement rather than the honest red that colored his own cheeks. She looked tired and discouraged. She sank into a chair.
"It was good of you to come, Monte," she said. "But I don't know why I should bother you with my affairs. Only—he was so disagreeable. He frightened me, for a moment."
"What did he do?" demanded Monte.
"He came here early, and when Marie told him I was out he said he would wait until I came back. So he sat down—right here. Then, every five minutes, he called Madame Courcy and sent her up with a note. I was afraid of a scene, because madame spoke of sending for the gendarmes."
"Why didn't you let her?"
"That would have made still more of a scene."
She was speaking in a weary, emotionless voice, like one who is very tired.
"So I came down and saw him," she said. "He was very melodramatic."
It seemed difficult for her to go on.
"Absinthe?" he questioned.
"I don't know. He wanted me to marry him at once. He drew a revolver and threatened to shoot himself—threatened to shoot me."
Monte clenched his fists.
"Good Lord!" he said softly. "That is going a bit far."
"Is it so men act—when they are in love?" she asked.
"I don't know. If it is, then they ought to be put in jail."
"If it is, it is most unpleasant," she said; "and I can't stand it, Monte. There is no reason why I should, is there?"
"No: if you can avoid it."
"That's the trouble," she frowned. "I've been quite frank with him. I told him that I did not want to marry him. I've told him that I could not conceive of any possible circumstances under which I would marry him. I've told him that in French and I 've told him that in English, and he won't believe me."
"The cad!" exclaimed Monte.
"It does n't seem fair," she mused. "The only thing I ask for is to be allowed to lead my life undisturbed, and he won't let me. There are others, too. I had five letters this morning. So all I can do is to run away again."
"To where?" asked Monte.
"You spoke of the little villages along the Riviera."
"Yes," he nodded. "There is the village of Etois—back in the mountains."
"Then I might go there. C'est tout egal."
She shrugged her shoulders. (She had beautiful shoulders.)
"But look here. Supposing the—this Hamilton should follow you there?"
"Then I must move again."
Monte paced the room. Obviously this was not right. There was no reason why she should be continually hounded. Yet there seemed to be no way to prevent it.
He stopped in front of her. She glanced up—her eyes, even now, calm and deep as trout pools.
"I'll get hold of the beggar to-day," he said grimly.
She shook her head.
"But he's the one who must go away. If I could have a few minutes with him alone, I think perhaps I could make him see that."
"Please not," she repeated.
"What's the harm?"
"I don't think it would be safe—for either of you."
She raised her eyes as she said that, and for a moment Monte was held by them. Then she rose.
"After all, it's too bad for me to inflict my troubles on you," she said.
"I don't mind," he answered quickly. "Only—hang it all, there does n't seem to be anything I can do!"
"I guess there is n't anything any one can do," she replied helplessly.
"So you're going away?"
"To-night," she nodded.
"Perhaps. Perhaps to India. Perhaps to Japan."
It was the indefiniteness that Monte did not relish. Even as she spoke, it was as if she began to disappear; and for a second he felt again the full weight of his thirty-two years. He was perfectly certain that the moment she went he was going to feel alone—more alone than he had ever felt in his life.
It was in the nature of a hunch. Within twenty-four hours he would be wandering over Paris as he had wandered yesterday. That would not do at all. Of course, he could pack up and go on to England, but at the moment he felt that it would be even worse there, where all the world spoke English.
"Suppose I order young Hamilton to leave Paris?" he asked.
"But what right have you to order him to leave Paris?"
"Well, I can tell him he is annoying you and that I won't stand for it," he declared.
For a second her eyes grew mellow; for a second a more natural red flushed her cheeks.
"If you were only my big brother, now," she breathed.
Monte saw the point. His own cheeks turned a red to match hers.
"You mean he'll ask—what business you are of mine?"
And Monte would have no answer. He realized that. As a friend he had, of course, certain rights; but they were distinctly limited. It was, for instance, no business of his whether she went to Etois or Japan or India. By no stretch of the imagination could he make it his business—though it affected his whole schedule, though it affected her whole life. As a friend he would be justified, perhaps, in throwing young Hamilton out of the door if he happened to be around when the man was actually annoying her; but there was no way in which he could guard her against such annoyances in the future. He had no authority that extended beyond the moment; nor was it possible for Marjory herself to give him that authority. Young Hamilton, if he chose, could harry her around the world, and it would be none of Monte's business.
There was something wrong with a situation of that sort. If he had only been born her brother or father, or even a first cousin, then it might be possible to do something, because, if necessary, he could remain always at hand. He wondered vaguely if there were not some law that would make him a first cousin. He was on the point of suggesting it when a bell jangled solemnly in the hall.
The girl clutched his arm.
"I'm afraid he's come again," she gasped.
Monte threw back his shoulders.
"Fine," he smiled. "It could n't be better."
"But I don't want to see him! I won't see him!"
"There is n't the slightest need in the world of it," he nodded. "You go upstairs, and I'll see him."
But, clinging to his arm, she drew him into the hall and toward the stairs. The bell rang again—impatiently.
"Come," she insisted.
He tried to calm her.
"Steady! Steady! I promise you I won't make a scene."
"But he will. Oh, you don't know him. I won't have it. Do you hear? I won't have it."
To Madame Courcy, who appeared, she whispered:—
"Tell him I refuse to see him again. Tell him you will call the gendarmes."
"It seems so foolish to call in those fellows when the whole thing might be settled quietly right now," pleaded Monte.
He turned eagerly toward the door.
"If you don't come away, Monte," she said quietly, "I won't ever send for you again."
Reluctantly he followed her up the stairs as the bell jangled harshly, wildly.
Dejectedly, Monte seated himself upon a trunk in the midst of a scene of fluffy chaos. Marie had swooped in from the next room, seized one armful, and returned in consternation as her mistress stood poised at the threshold. Then, with her face white, Marjory closed the door and locked it.
"He's down there," she informed Monte.
Monte glanced at his watch.
"It's quarter of twelve," he announced. "I'll give him until twelve to leave."
Marjory crossed to the window and stared out at the sun-lighted street. It was very beautiful out there—very warm and gentle and peaceful. And at her back all this turmoil. Once again the unspoken cry that sprang to her lips was just this:—
"It is n't fair—it is n't fair!"
For ten years she had surrendered herself to Aunt Kitty—surrendered utterly the deep, budding years of her young womanhood. To the last minute she had paid her obligations in full. Then, at the moment she had been about to spread her long-folded wings and soar into the sunshine, this other complication had come. When the lawyer informed her of the fortune that was hers, she had caught her breath. It spelled freedom. Yet she asked for so little—for neither luxuries nor vanities; for just the privilege of leading for a space her own life, undisturbed by any responsibility.
Selfish? Yes. But she had a right to be selfish for a little. She had answered that question when Peter Noyes—Monte reminded her in many ways of Peter—had come down to her farm in Littlefield one Sunday. She had seen more of Peter than of any other man, and knew him to be honest. He had been very gentle with her, and very considerate; but she knew what was in his heart, so she had put the question to herself then and there. If she chose to follow the road to which he silently beckoned—the road to all those wonderful hopes that had surged in upon her at eighteen—she had only to nod. If she had let herself go, she could have loved Peter. Then—she drew back at so surrendering herself. It meant a new set of self-sacrifices. It meant, however hallowed, a new prison. Because, if she loved, she would love hard.
Monte glanced at his watch again.
"Five minutes gone! Have you seen him leave?"
"No, Monte," she answered.
He folded his arms resignedly.
"You don't really mean to act against my wishes, Monte?"
"If that's the only way of getting rid of him," he answered coolly.
"But don't you see—don't you understand that you will only make a scandal of it?" she said.
"What do you mean?"
"If he makes a scene it will be in the papers, and then—oh, well, they will ask by what right—"
"I'd answer I was simply ridding you of a crazy man."
"They would smile. Oh, I know them! Here in Paris they won't believe that a woman who is n't married—"
She stopped abruptly.
Monte's brows came together.
Here was the same situation that had confronted him a few minutes before. Not only had he no right, but if he assumed a right his claim might be misinterpreted. Undoubtedly Teddy himself would be the first to misinterpret it. It would be impossible for a man of his sort to think in any other direction. And then—well, such stories were easier to start than to stop.
Monte's lips came together. As far as he himself was concerned, he was willing to take the risk; but the risk was not his to take. As long as he found himself unable to devise any scheme by which he could, even technically, make himself over into her father, her brother, or even a first cousin, there appeared no possible way in which he could assume the right that would not make it a risk.
Except one way.
Here Monte caught his breath.
There was just one relationship open to him that would bestow upon him automatically the undeniable right to say to Teddy Hamilton anything that might occur to him—that would grant him fuller privileges, now and for as long as the relationship was maintained, than even that of blood.
To be sure, the idea was rather staggering. It was distinctly novel, for one thing, and not at all in his line, for another. This, however, was a crisis calling for staggering novelties if it could not be handled in the ordinary way. Ten minutes had already passed.
Monte walked slowly to Marjory's side. She turned and met his eyes. On the whole, he would have felt more comfortable had she continued looking out the window.
"Marjory," he said—"Marjory, will you marry me?"
She shrank away.
"I mean it," he said. "Will you marry me?"
After the first shock she seemed more hurt than anything.
"You are n't going to be like the others?" she pleaded.
"No," he assured her. "That's why—well, that's why I thought we might arrange it."
"But I don't love you, Monte!" she exclaimed.
"Of course not."
"And you—you don't love me."
"That's it," he nodded eagerly.
"Yet you are asking me to marry you?"
"Just because of that," he said. "Don't you understand?"
She was trying hard to understand, because she had a great deal of faith in Monte and because at this moment she needed him.
"I don't see why being engaged to a man you don't care about need bother you at all," he ran on. "It's the caring that seems to make the trouble—whether you 're engaged or not. I suppose that's what ails Teddy."
She had been watching Monte's eyes; but she turned away for a second.
"Of course," he continued, "you can care—without caring too much. Can't people care in just a friendly sort of way?"
"I should think so, Monte," she answered.
"Then why can't people become engaged—in just a friendly sort of way?"
"It would n't mean very much, would it?"
"Just enough," he said.
He held out his hand.
"Is it a bargain?"
She searched his eyes. They were clean and blue.
"It's so absurd, Monte!" she gasped.
"You can call me, to yourself, your secretary," he suggested.
"Then," he said, "call me just a camarade de voyage."
Her eyes warmed a trifle.
"I'll keep on calling you just Monte," she whispered.
And she gave him her hand.
Evidently young Hamilton did not hear Monte come down the stairs, for he was sitting in a chair near the window, with his head in his hands, and did not move even when Monte entered the room.
"Hello, Hamilton," said Covington.
Hamilton sprang to his feet—a shaking, ghastly remnant of a man. He had grown thinner and paler than when Covington last saw him. But his eyes—they held Covington for a moment. They burned in their hollow sockets like two candles in a dark room.
"Covington!" gasped the man.
Then his eyes narrowed.
"What the devil you doing here?" he demanded.
"Sit down," suggested Monte. "I want to have a little talk with you."
It was physical weakness that forced Hamilton to obey.
Monte drew up a chair opposite him.
"Now," he said quietly, "tell me just what it is you want of Miss Stockton."
"What business is that of yours?" demanded Hamilton nervously.
Monte was silent a moment. Here at the start was the question Marjory had anticipated—the question that might have caused him some embarrassment had it not been so adequately provided for in the last few moments. As it was, he became conscious of a little glow of satisfaction which moderated his feelings toward young Hamilton considerably. He actually felt a certain amount of sympathy for him. After all, the little beggar was in bad shape.
But, even now, there was no reason, just yet, why he should make him his confidant. Secure in his position, he felt it was none of Hamilton's business.
"Miss Stockton and I are old friends," he answered.
"Then—she has told you?"
"She gave me to believe you made a good deal of an ass of yourself this morning," nodded Monte.
Hamilton sank back limply in his chair.
"I did," he groaned. "Oh, my God, I did!"
"All that business of waving a pistol—I did n't think you were that much of a cub, Hamilton."
"She drove me mad. I did n't know what I was doing."
"In just what way do you blame her?" inquired Monte.
"She would n't believe me," exclaimed Hamilton. "I saw it in her eyes. I could n't make her believe me."
Hamilton got to his feet and leaned against the wall. He was breathing rapidly, like a man in a fever.
Monte studied him with a curious interest.
"That I love her," gasped Hamilton. "She thought I was lying. I could n't make her believe it, I tell you! She just sat there and smiled—not believing."
"Good Lord!" said Monte. "You don't mean that you really do love her?"
Hamilton sprang with what little strength there was in him.
"Damn you, Covington—what do you think?" he choked.
Monte caught the man by the arms and forced him again into his chair.
"Steady," he warned.
Exhausted by his exertion, Hamilton sat there panting for breath, his eyes burning into Covington's.
"What I meant," said Monte, "was, do you love her with—with an honest-to-God love?"
When Hamilton answered this time, Covington saw what Marjory meant when she wondered how Hamilton could look like a white-robed choir-boy as he sang to her. He had grown suddenly calm, and when he spoke the red light in his eyes had turned to white.
"It's with all there is in me, Covington," he said.
The pity of it was, of course, that so little was left in him—that so much had been wasted, so much soiled, in the last few years. The wonder was that so much was left.
As Monte looked down at the man, he felt his own heart beating faster. He felt several other things that left him none too comfortable. Again that curious interest that made him want to listen, that held him with a weird fascination.
"Tell me about it," said Covington.
Hamilton sat up with a start. He faced Covington as if searching his soul.
"Do you believe me?" he demanded.
"Yes," answered Monte; "I think I do."
"Because—did you see a play in New York called 'Peter Grimm'?"
"I remember it," nodded Monte.
"It's been like that—like dying and coming back and trying to make people hear, and not being able to. I made an ass of myself until I met her. I know that. I'm not fit to be in the same room with her. I know that you can say nothing too bad about me—up to the day I met her. I would n't care what people said up to that day—if they'd only believe the rest; if she'd only believe the rest. I think I could stand it even if I knew she—she did not care for me—if only I could make her understand how much she means to me."
Monte looked puzzled.
"Just what does she mean to you?" he asked.
"All that's left in life," answered Hamilton. "All that's left to work for, to live for, to hope for. It's been like that ever since I saw her on the boat. I was coming over here to go the old rounds, and then—everything was changed. There was no place to go, after that, except where she went. I counted the hours at night to the time when the sun came up and I could see her again. I did n't begin to live until then; the rest of the time I was only waiting to live. Every time she came in sight it—it was as if I were resurrected, Covington; as if in the mean while I'd been dead. I thought at first I had a chance, and I planned to come back home with her to do things. I wanted to do big things for her. I thought I had a chance all the while, until she came here—until this morning. Then, when she only smiled—well, I lost my head."
"What was the idea back of the gun?" asked Monte.
Hamilton answered without bravado.
"I meant to end it for both of us; but I lost my nerve."
"Good Lord! You would have gone as far as that?"
"Yes," answered Hamilton wearily. "But I'm glad I fell down."
Monte passed his hand over his forehead. He could not fully grasp the meaning of a passion that led a man to such lengths as this. Why, the man had proposed murder—murder and suicide; and all because of this strange love of a woman. He had been driven stark raving mad because of it. He sat there now before him, an odd combination of craven weakness and giant strength because of it. In the face of such a revelation, Covington felt petty; he felt negative.
Less than ten minutes ago he himself had looked into the same eyes that had so stirred this man. He had seen nothing there particularly to disturb any one. They were very beautiful eyes, and the woman back of them was very beautiful. He had a feeling that, day in and day out for a great many years, they would remain beautiful. They had helped him last night to make the city his own; they had helped him this morning to recover his balance; they helped him now to see straight again.
But, after all, it was arrant nonsense for Hamilton to act like this. Admitting the man believed in himself,—and Covington believed that much,—he was, after all, Teddy Hamilton. The fact remained, even as he himself admitted, that he was not fit to be in the same room with her. It was not possible for a man in a month to cleanse himself of the accumulated mire of ten years.
Furthermore, that too was beside the point. The girl cared nothing about him. She particularly desired not to care about him or any one else. It was not consistent with her scheme of life. She had told him as much. It was this that had made his own engagement to her possible.
Monte rose from his chair and paced the room a moment. If possible, he wished to settle this matter once for all. On the whole, it was more difficult than he had anticipated. When he came down he had intended to dispose of it in five minutes. Suddenly he wheeled and faced Hamilton.
"It seems to me," he said, "that if a man loved a woman,—really loved her,—then one of the things he would be most anxious about would be to make her happy. Are you with me on that?"
Hamilton raised his head.
"Yes," he answered.
"Then," continued Monte, "it does n't seem to me that you are going about it in just the right way. Waving pistols and throwing fits—"
"I was mad, I tell you," Hamilton broke in.
"Admitting that," resumed Monte, "I should think the best thing you could do would be to go away and sober up."
"I would. I'd go a long way—to Japan or India."
The old mad light came back to Hamilton's eyes.
"Did she ask you to tell me that?"
"No," answered Monte; "it is my own idea. Because, you see, if you don't go she'll have to."
"What do you mean?"
"Steady, now," warned Monte. "I mean just what I say. She can't stay here and let you camp in her front hall. Even Madame Courcy won't stand for that. So—why don't you get out, quietly and without any confusion?"
"That's your own suggestion?" said Hamilton, tottering to his feet.
"Then," said Hamilton, "I'll see you in hell first. It's no business of yours, I say."
"But it is," said Monte.
"Tell me how it is," growled Hamilton.
"Why, you see," said Monte quietly, "Miss Stockton and I are engaged."
"You lie!" choked Hamilton. "You—"
Monte heard a deafening report, and felt a biting pain in his shoulder. As he staggered back he saw a pistol smoking in Hamilton's hand. Recovering, he threw himself forward on the man and bore him to the floor.
It was no very difficult matter for Monte to wrest the revolver from Hamilton's weak fingers, even with one arm hanging limp; but it was quite a different proposition to quiet Madame Courcy and Marie, who were screaming hysterically in the hall. Marjory, to be sure, was splendid; but even she could do little with madame, who insisted that some one had been murdered, even when it was quite obvious, with both men alive, that this was a mistake. To make matters worse, she had called up the police on the telephone, and at least a dozen gendarmes were now on their way.
The pain in Monte's arm was acute, and it hung from his shoulder as limply as an empty sleeve; but, fortunately, it was not bleeding a great deal,—or at least it was not messing things up,—and he was able, therefore, by always keeping his good arm toward the ladies, to conceal from them this disagreeable consequence of Hamilton's rashness.
Hamilton himself had staggered to his feet, and, leaning against the wall, was staring blankly at the confusion about him.
Monte turned to Marjory.
"Hurry out and get a taxi," he said. "We can't allow the man to be arrested."
"He tried to shoot—himself?" she asked.
"I don't believe he knows what he tried to do. Hurry, please."
As she went out, he turned to Marie.
"Help madame into her room," he ordered.
Madame did not want to go; but Monte impatiently grasped one arm and Marie the other, so madame went.
Then he came back to Hamilton.
"Madame has sent for the police. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Hamilton answered dully.
"And I have sent for a taxi. It depends on which gets here first whether you go to jail or not," said Monte.
Then he sat down in a chair, because his knees were beginning to feel weak.
Marjory was back in a minute, and when she came in Monte was on his feet again.
"It's at the door," she said.
At the sound of her voice Hamilton seemed to revive; but Monte had him instantly by the arm.
"Come on," he ordered.
He shoved the boy ahead a little as he passed Marjory, and turning, drew the revolver from his pocket. He did not dare take it with him, because he knew that in five minutes he would be unable to use it. Hamilton, on the other hand, might not be. He shoved it into her hand.
"Take it upstairs and hide it," he said. "Be careful with it."
"You're coming back here?" she asked quickly.
She thought his cheeks were very white.
"I can't tell," he answered. "But—don't worry."
He hurried Hamilton down the steps and pushed him into the car.
"To the Hotel Normandie," he ordered the driver, as he stumbled in himself.
The bumping of the car hurt Monte's arm a good deal. In fact, with every bump he felt as if Hamilton were prodding his shoulder with a stiletto. Besides being unpleasant, this told rapidly on his strength, and that was dangerous. Above all things, he must remain conscious. Hamilton was quiet because he thought Monte still had the gun and was still able to use it; but let him sway, and matters would be reversed. So Monte gripped his jaws and bent his full energy to keeping control of himself until they crossed the Seine. It seemed like a full day's journey before he saw that the muddy waters were behind them. Then he ordered the driver to stop.
Hamilton's shifty eyes looked up.
"Hamilton," said Monte, "have you got it clear yet that—that Miss Stockton and I are engaged?"
Hamilton did not answer. His fingers were working nervously.
Monte, summoning all his strength, shook the fellow.
"Do you hear?" he called.
"Yes," muttered Hamilton.
"Then," said Monte, "I want you to get hold of the next point: that from now on you're to let her alone. Get that?"
Hamilton's lips began to twitch.
"Because if you come around bothering her any more," explained Monte, "I'll be there myself; and, believe me, you'll go out the door. And if you try any more gun-play—the little fellows will nail you next time. Sure as preaching, they'll nail you. That would be too bad for every one—for you and for her."
"How for her?" demanded Hamilton hoarsely.
"The papers," answered Monte. "And for you because—"
"I don't care what they do to me," growled Hamilton.
"I believe that," nodded Monte. "Do you know that I 'm the one person on earth who is inclined to believe what you say?"
He saw Hamilton crouch as if to spring. Monte placed his left hand in his empty pocket.
"Steady," he warned. "There are still four shots left in that gun."
"You don't care what the little fellows do to you," said Monte. "But you don't want to queer yourself any further with her, do you? Now, listen. She thinks you tried to shoot yourself. By that much I have a hunch she thinks the better of you."
"And because I believe what you told me about her," he ran on, fighting for breath—"just because—because I believe the shooting fits into that, I 'm glad to—to have her think that little the better of you, Hamilton."
The interior of the cab was beginning to move slowly around in a circle. He leaned back his head a second to steady himself—his white lips pressed together.
"So—so—clear out," he whispered.
"You—you won't tell her?"
"No. But—clear out, quick."
Hamilton opened the cab door.
"Got any money?" inquired Monte.
Monte drew out his bill-book and handed it to Hamilton.
"Take what there is," he ordered.
Hamilton obeyed, and returned the empty purse.
"Remember," faltered Monte, his voice trailing off into an inaudible murmur, "we're engaged—Marjory and I—"
But Hamilton had disappeared. It was the driver who was peering in the door.
"Where next, monsieur?" he was saying.
"Normandie," muttered Monte.
The windows began to revolve in a circle before his eyes—faster and faster, until suddenly he no longer was conscious of the pain in his shoulder.
GENDARMES AND ETHER
When the gendarmes came hurrying to sixty-four Boulevard Saint-Germain, Marjory was the only one in the house cool enough to meet them at the door. She quieted them with a smile.
"It is too bad, messieurs," she apologized, because it did seem too bad to put them to so much trouble for nothing. "It was only a disagreeable incident between friends, and it is closed. Madame Courcy lost her head."
"But we were told it was an assassination," the lieutenant informed her. He was a very smart-looking lieutenant, and he noticed her eyes at once.
"To have an assassination it is necessary to have some one assassinated, is it not?" inquired Marjory.
"But yes, certainly."
"Then truly it is a mistake, because the two gentlemen went off together in a cab."
The lieutenant took out a memorandum-book.
"Is that necessary?" asked Marjory anxiously.
"A report must be made."
"It was nothing, I assure you," she insisted. "It was what in America is called a false alarm."
"You are American?" inquired the lieutenant, twisting his mustache.
"It is a compliment to my French that you did not know," smiled Marjory.
It was also a compliment to the lieutenant that she smiled. At least, it was so that he interpreted it.
"The report is only a matter of routine," he informed her. "If mademoiselle will kindly give me her name."
"But the newspapers!" she exclaimed. "They make so much of so little."
"It will be a pleasure to see that the report is treated as confidential," said the lieutenant, with a bow.
So, as a matter of fact, after a perfunctory interview with madame and Marie, who had so far recovered themselves as to be easily handled by Marjory, the lieutenant and his men bowed themselves out and the incident was closed.
Marjory escorted them to the door, and then, a little breathless with excitement, went into the reception room a moment to collect herself.
The scene was set exactly as it had been when from upstairs she heard that shot—the shot that for a second had checked her breathing as if she herself had been hit. As clearly as if she had been in the room, she had seen Monte stretched out on the floor, with Hamilton bending over him. She had not thought of any other possibility. As she sprang down the stairs she had been sure of what she was about to see. But when she entered she had found Monte standing erect—erect and smiling, with his light hair all awry like a schoolboy's.
Then, sinking into the chair near the window,—this very chair beside which she now stood,—he had asked her to go out and attend to madame.
Come to think of it, it was odd that he had been smiling. It was not quite natural for one to smile over as serious a matter as that. After all, even if Teddy was melodramatic, even if his shot had missed its mark, it was not a matter to take lightly.
She seated herself in the chair he had occupied, and her hands dropped wearily to her side. Her fingers touched something sticky—something on the side of the chair next to the wall—something that the gendarmes had not noticed. She did not dare to move them. She was paralyzed, as if her fingers had met some cold, strange hand. For one second, two seconds, three seconds, she sat there transfixed, fearing, if she moved as much as a muscle, that something would spring at her from below—some awful fact.
Then finally she did move. She moved slowly, with her eyes closed. Then, suddenly opening them wide, she saw her fingers stained carmine. She knew then why Monte had smiled. It was like him to do that. Running swiftly to her room, she called Marie as she ran.
"Marie—my hat! Your hat! Hurry!"
"Oh, mon Dieu!" exclaimed Marie. "Has anything happened?"
"I have just learned what has already happened," she answered. "But do not alarm madame."
It was impossible not to alarm madame.
The mere fact that they were going out alarmed madame. Marjory stopped in the hall and quite coolly worked on her gloves.
"We are going for a little walk in the sunshine," she said. "Will you not come with us?"
Decidedly madame would not. She was too weak and faint. She should send for a friend to stay with her while she rested on her bed.
"That is best for you," nodded Marjory. "Au revoir."
With Marie by her side, she took her little walk in the sunshine, without hurrying, as far as around the first corner. Then she signaled for a cab, and showed the driver a louis d'or.
"Hotel Normandie. This is for you—if you make speed," she said.
It was a wonder the driver was not arrested within a block; but it was nothing less than a miracle that he reached the hotel without loss of life. A louis d'or is a great deal of money, but these Americans are all mad. When Marie followed her mistress from the cab, she made a little prayer of thanks to the bon Dieu who had saved her life.
Mademoiselle inquired of the clerk for Monsieur Covington.
Yes, Monsieur Covington had reached the hotel some fifteen minutes before. But he was ill. He had met with an accident. Already a surgeon was with him.
"He—he is not badly injured?" inquired Marjory.
"I do not know," answered the clerk. "He was carried to his room in a faint. He was very white."
"I will wait in the writing-room. When the surgeon comes down I wish to see him. At once—do you understand?"
Marie suspected what had happened. Monsieur Covington, too, had presented the driver with a louis d'or, and—miracles do not occur twice in one day.
Marjory seated herself by a desk, where she had a full view of the office—of all who came in and all who went out. That she was here doing this and that Monte Covington was upstairs wounded by a pistol shot was confusing, considering the fact that as short a time ago as yesterday evening she had not been conscious of the existence in Paris of either this hotel or of Monsieur Covington. Of the man who, on the other hand, had been disturbing her a great deal—this Teddy Hamilton—she thought not at all. It was as if he had ceased to exist. She did not even associate him, at this moment, with her presence here. She was here solely because of Monte.
He had stood by the window in Madame Courcy's dingy reception room, smiling—his hair all awry. She recalled many other details now: how his arm had hung limp; how he had been to a good deal of awkward trouble to keep his left arm always toward her; how white he had been when he passed her on his way out; how he had seemed to stumble when he stepped into the cab.
She must have been a fool not to understand that something was wrong with him—the more so because only a few minutes before that he had stood before her with his cheeks a deep red, his body firm, his eyes clear and bright.
That was when he had asked her to marry him. Monte Covington had asked her to marry him, and she had consented. With her chin in her hand, she thought that over. He had asked her in order that it might be his privilege to go downstairs and rid her of Teddy. It had been suggested in a moment, and she had consented in a moment. So, technically, she was at this moment engaged. The man upstairs was her fiance. That gave her the right to be here. It was as if this had all been arranged beforehand to this very end.
It was this feature of her strange position that interested her. She had been more startled, more excited, when Monte proposed, than she was at this moment. It had taken away her breath at first; but now she was able to look at it quite coolly. He did not love her, he said. Good old Monte—honest and four-square. Of course he did not love her. Why should he? He was leading his life, with all the wide world to wander over, free to do this or to do that; utterly without care; utterly without responsibility.
It was this that had always appealed to her in him ever since she had first known him. It was this that had made her envious of him. It was exactly as she would have done in his circumstances. It was exactly as she tried to do when her own circumstances changed so that it had seemed possible. She had failed merely because she was a woman—because men refused to leave her free.
His proposal was merely that she share his freedom. Good old Monte—honest and four-square!
In return, there were little ways in which she might help him, even as he might help her; but they had come faster than either had expected.
Where was the surgeon? She rose and went to the clerk.
"Are you sure the surgeon has not gone?" she asked.
"Very sure," answered the clerk. "He has just sent out for a nurse to remain with monsieur."
"A nurse?" repeated Marjory.
"The doctor says Monsieur Covington must not be left alone."
"It's as bad—as that?" questioned Marjory.
"I do not know."
"I must see the doctor at once," she said. "But, first,—can you give me apartments on the same floor,—for myself and maid? I am his fiancee," she informed him.
"I can give mademoiselle apartments adjoining," said the clerk eagerly.
"Then do so."
She signed her name in the register, and beckoned for Marie.
"Marie," she said, "you may return and finish packing my trunks. Please bring them here."
"Here?" queried Marie.
"Here," answered Marjory.
She turned to the clerk.
"Take me upstairs at once."
There was a strong smell of ether in the hall outside the door of Monte Covington's room. It made her gasp for a moment. It seemed to make concrete what, after all, had until this moment been more or less vague. It was like fiction suddenly made true. That pungent odor was a grim reality. So was that black-bearded Dr. Marcellin, who, leaving his patient in the hands of his assistant, came to the door wiping his hands upon a towel.
"I am Mr. Covington's fiancee—Miss Stockton," she said at once. "You will tell me the truth?"
After one glance at her eyes Dr. Marcellin was willing to tell the truth.
"It is an ugly bullet wound in his shoulder," he said.
"It is not serious?"
"Such things are always serious. Luckily, I was able to find the bullet and remove it. It was a narrow escape for him."
"Of course," she added, "I shall serve as his nurse."
"Good," he nodded.
But he added, having had some experience with fiancees as nurses:—
"Of course I shall have for a week my own nurse also; but I shall be glad of your assistance. This—er—was an accident?"
"He was trying to save a foolish friend from killing himself."
"Nothing more need be said about it?"
"Nothing more," Dr. Marcellin assured her. "If you will come in I will give you your instructions. Mademoiselle Duval will soon be here."
"Is she necessary?" inquired Marjory. "I have engaged the next apartment for myself and maid."
"That is very good, but—Mademoiselle Duval is necessary for the present. Will you come in?"
She followed the doctor into Monsieur Covington's room. There the odor of ether hung still heavier.
She heard him muttering a name. She listened to catch it.
"Edhart," he called. "Oh, Edhart!"
THE ADVANTAGES OF BEING SHOT
Under proper conditions, being wounded in the shoulder may have its pleasant features. They were not so obvious to Monte in the early part of the evening, because he was pretty much befuddled with ether; but sometime before dawn he woke up feeling fairly normal and clear-headed and interested. This was where fifteen years of clean living counted for something. When Marcellin and his assistant had first stripped Monte to the waist the day before, they had paused for a moment to admire what they called his torso. It was not often, in their city practice, that they ran across a man of thirty with muscles as clearly outlined as in an anatomical illustration.
Monte was conscious of a burning pain in his shoulder, and he was not quite certain as to where he was. So he hitched up on one elbow. This caused a shadow to detach itself from the dark at the other end of the room—a shadow that rustled and came toward him. It is small wonder that he was startled.
"Who the deuce are you?" he inquired in plain English.
"Monsieur is not to sit up," the shadow answered in plain French.
Monte repeated his question, this time in French.
"I am the nurse sent here by Dr. Marcellin," she informed him. "Monsieur is not to talk."
She placed her hand below his neck and helped him to settle down again upon his pillow. Then she rustled off again beyond the range of the shaded electric light.
"What happened?" Monte called into the dark.
Then he thought he heard a door open, and further rustling, and a whispered conversation.
"Who's that?" he demanded.
It sounded like a conspiracy of some sort, so he tried again to make his elbow. Mademoiselle appeared promptly, and, again placing her hand beneath his neck, lowered him once more to his pillow.
"Turn up the light, will you?" requested Monte.
"But certainly not," answered the nurse. "Monsieur is to lie very quiet and sleep."
"I can't sleep."
"Perhaps it will help monsieur to be quiet if he knows his fiancee is in the next room."
Momentarily this announcement appeared to have directly the opposite effect.
"My what?" gasped Monte.
"Monsieur's fiancee. With her maid, she is occupying the next apartment in order to be near monsieur. If you are very quiet to-night, it is possible that to-morrow the doctor will permit you to see her."
"Was that she who came in and whispered to you?"
Monte remained quiet after that—but he was not sleeping. He was thinking.
In the first place, this was enough to make him recall all that had happened. This led him to speculate on all that might be about to happen—how much he could not at that moment even imagine. Neither line of thought was conducive to sleep.
Marjory was in the next room, awake, and at the sound of his voice had come in. In the dark, even with this great night city of Paris asleep around him, she had come near enough so that he heard the rustle of her skirt and her whispering voice. That was unusual—most unusual—and rather satisfactory. If worse came to worse and he reached a point where it was necessary for him to talk to some one, he could get her in here again in spite of this nurse woman. He had only to call her name. Not that he really had any intention in the world of doing it. The idea rather embarrassed him. He would not know what to say to a young lady at this hour of the night—even Marjory. But there she was—some one from home, some one he knew and who knew him. It was like having Edhart within reach.
In this last week he had sometimes awakened as he was now awake, and the silence had oppressed him. Ordinarily there was nothing morbid about Monte, but Edhart's death and the big empty space that was left all about Nice, the silence where once he had been so sure of hearing Edhart's voice, the ghostly reminders of Edhart in those who clicked about in Edhart's bones without his flesh—all these things had given Monte's thoughts an occasional novel trend.
Once or twice he had gone as far as to picture himself as upon the point of death here in this foreign city. It was a very sad, a melancholy thing to speak about. He might call until he was hoarse, and no one would answer except possibly the night clerk or a gendarme. And they would look upon him only as something of a nuisance. It is really pathetic—the depths of misery into which a healthy man may, in such a mood, plunge himself.
All around him the dark, silent city, asleep save for the night clerks, the gendarmes, the evildoers, and the merrymakers. And these last would only leer at him. If he did not join them, then it was his fault if he lay dying alone.
"Is she in there now?" Monte called to the nurse in the dark.
"Certainly, monsieur. But I thought you were sleeping."
No, he was not sleeping; but he did not mind now the pain in his shoulder. She had announced herself as his fiancee. Well, technically, she was. He had asked her to marry him, and she had accepted. At the time he had not seen much farther ahead than the next few minutes; and even then had not foreseen what was to happen in those few minutes. The proposal had given him his right to talk to Hamilton, and her acceptance—well, it had given Marjory her right to be here.
Curious thing about that code of rights and wrongs! Society was a stickler for form. If either he or Marjory had neglected the preliminaries, then he might have lain here alone for a week, with society shaking its Puritan head. This nurse woman might have come, but she did not count; and, besides, he had to get shot before even she would be allowed.
Now it was all right. It was all right and proper for her, all right and proper for him, all right and proper for society. Not only that, but it was so utterly normal that society would have frowned if she had not hurried to his side in such an emergency. It forced her here, willy-nilly. Perhaps that was the only reason she was here.
Still, he did not like to think that. She was too true blue to quit a friend. It would be more like her to come anyway. He remembered how she had stood by that old aunt to the end. She would be standing by her to-day were she alive. Even Chic, who fulfilled his own obligations to the last word, had sometimes urged her to lead her own life, and she had only smiled. There was man stuff in her.
It showed when she announced to these people her engagement. He did not believe she did that either because it was necessary or proper. She did it because it was the literal truth, and she was not ashamed of the literal truth in anything.
"Is Mademoiselle Stockton sitting up—there in the next room?"
"I do not know," answered the nurse.
"Do you mind finding out for me?"
"If monsieur will promise to sleep after that."
"How can a man promise to sleep?"
Even under normal conditions, that was a foolish thing to promise. But when a man was experiencing brand-new sensations—the sensations of being engaged—it was quite impossible to make such a promise.
"Monsieur can at least promise not to talk."
"I will do that," agreed Monte.
She came back and reported that mademoiselle was sitting up, and begged to present her regards and express the hope that he was resting comfortably.
"Please to tell her I am, and that I hope she will now go to bed," he answered.
Nurse Duval did that, and returned.
"What did she say?" inquired Monte.
She had no intention of spending the rest of the night as a messenger between those two rooms.
"Very well," submitted Monte. "But you might tell me what she said."
"She said she was not sleepy," answered the nurse.
"I'm glad she's awake," said Monte.
Just because he was awake. In a sense, it gave them this city for themselves. It was as if this immediately became their city. That was not good arithmetic. Assuming that the city contained a population of three millions,—he did not have his Baedeker at hand,—then clearly he could consider only one three millionth part of the city as his. With her awake in the next room, that made only two of them, so that taken collectively they had a right to claim only two three-millionths parts as belonging to them. Yet that was not the way it worked out. As far as he was concerned, the other two millions nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight did not exist.
There was nothing sentimental about this conclusion. He did not think of it as it affected her—merely as it affected him. It gave him rather a comfortable, completed feeling, as if he now had within himself the means for peacefully enjoying life, wherever he might be, even at thirty-two. Under the influence of this soothing thought, he fell asleep again.
After the doctors were through with Monte the next morning, they decided, after a consultation, that there was no apparent reason why, during the day, Miss Stockton, if she desired, should not serve as his nurse while Miss Duval went home to sleep.
"My assistant will come in at least twice," said Dr. Marcellin. "Besides, you have the constitution of a prize-fighter. It might well be possible to place a bullet through the heart of such a man without greatly discommoding him."
He spoke as if with some resentment.
After they had gone out, Marjory came in. She hesitated at the door a moment, perhaps to make sure that he was awake; perhaps to make sure that she herself was awake. Monte, from the bed, could see her better than she could see him. He thought she looked whiter than usual, but she was very beautiful.
There was something about her that distinguished her from other women—from this nurse woman, for example, who was the only other woman with whom it was possible to compare her in a like situation. With one hand resting on the door, her chin well up, she looked more than ever like Her Royal Highness Something or Other. She was dressed in something white and light and fluffy, like the gowns he used to see on Class Day. Around her white throat there was a narrow band of black velvet.
"Good-morning, Marjory," he called.
She came at once to his side, walking graciously, as a princess might walk.
"I did n't know if you were awake," she said.
It was one thing to have her here in the dark, and another to have her here in broad daylight. The sun was streaming in at the windows now, and outside the birds were chattering.
"Did you rest well last night?" she inquired.
"I heard you when you came in and whispered to the nurse woman. It was mighty white of you to come."
"What else could I do?" She seated herself in a chair by his bed.
"Because we are engaged?" he asked.
She smiled a little as he said that.
"Then you have not forgotten?"
"Forgotten!" he exclaimed. "I'm just beginning to realize it."
"I was afraid it might come back to you as a shock, Monte," she said. "But it is very convenient—at just this time."
"I don't know what I should have done without it," he nodded. "It certainly gives a man a comfortable feeling to know—well, just to know there is some one around."
"I'm glad if I've been able to do anything."
"It's a whole lot just having you here," he assured her.
It changed the whole character of this room, for one thing. It ceased to be merely a hotel room—merely number fifty-four attached with a big brass star to a key. It was more like a room in the Hotel des Roses, which was the nearest to home of any place Monte had found in a decade. It was as if when she came in she completely refurnished it with little things with which he was familiar. Edhart always used to place flowers in his apartment; and it was like that.
"The only bother with the arrangement," he said, looking serious, "is that it takes your time. Ought n't you to be at Julien's this morning?"
She had forgotten about Julien's. Yet for the last two years it had been the very center other own individual life. Now the crowded studio, the smell of turpentine, the odd cosmopolitan gathering of fellow students, the little pangs following the bitter criticisms of the master, receded into the background until they became as a dream of long ago.
"I don't think I shall ever go to Julien's again," she answered.
"But look here—that won't do," he objected. "If I'm to interfere with all your plans—"
"It isn't that, Monte," she assured him. "Ever since I came back this last time, I knew I did n't belong there. When Aunt Kitty was alive it was all the opportunity I had; but now—" She paused.
"I have my hands full with you until you get out again," she answered lightly.
"That's what I object to," he said; "If being engaged is going to pin you down, then I don't think you ought to be engaged. You've had enough of that in your life."
The curious feature of her present position was that she had no sense of being pinned down. She had thought of this in the night. She had never felt freer in her life. Within a few hours of her engagement she had been able to do exactly what she wished to do without a single qualm of conscience. She had been able to come here and look after him in this emergency. She would have done this anyway, but she knew how Marcellin and his assistant and even Nurse Duval would have made her pay for her act—an act based upon nothing but decent loyalty and honest responsibility. Raised eyebrows—gossip in the air—covert smiles—the whole detestable atmosphere of intrigue with which they would have surrounded her, had vanished as by a spell before the magic word fiancee. She was breathing air like that upon the mountain-tops. It was sweet and clean and bracing.
"Monte," she said, "I'm doing at this moment just exactly what I want to do; and you can't understand what a treat that is, because you've always done just exactly as you wanted. I 'm sure I 'm entirely selfish about this, because—because I'm not making any sacrifice. You can't understand that, either, Monte,—so please don't try. I think we'd better not talk any more about it. Can't we just let it go on as it is a little while?"
"It suits me," smiled Monte. "So maybe I'm selfish, too."
"Maybe," she nodded. "Now I'll see about your breakfast. The doctor told me just what you must have."
So she went out—moving away like a vision in dainty white across the room and out the door. A few minutes later she was back again with a vase of red roses, which she arranged upon the table where he could see them.
DRAWBACKS OF RECOVERY
Monte's recovery was rapid—in many ways more rapid than he desired. In a few days Nurse Duval disappeared, and in a few days more Monte was able to dress himself with the help of the hotel valet, and sit by the window while Marjory read to him. Half the time he gave no heed to what she was reading, but that did not detract from his pleasure in the slightest. He liked the sound of her voice, and liked the idea of sitting opposite her.
Her eyes were always interesting when she read. For then she forgot about them and let them have their own way—now to light with a smile, now to darken with disapproval, and sometimes to grow very tender, as the story she happened to be reading dictated.
This was luxury such as Monte had never known, and for more than ten years now he had ordered of the world its choicest in the way of luxury.
At his New York club the experience of many, many years in catering to man comfort was placed at his disposal. As far as possible, every desire was anticipated, so that little more effort was required of him than merely to furnish the desires. In a house where no limit whatever had been set upon the expense, a hundred lackeys stood ready to jump if a man as much as raised an eyebrow. And they understood, those fellows, what a man needs—from the chef who searched the markets of the world to satisfy tender tastes, to the doorman who acquainted himself with the names of the members and their personal idiosyncrasies.
That same service was furnished him, if to a more limited extent, on the transatlantic liners, where Monte's name upon the passenger list was immediately passed down the line with the word that he must have the best. At Davos his needs were anticipated a week in advance; at Nice there had been Edhart, who added his smiling self to everything else.
But no one at his club, on the boat, or at Davos—not even Edhart—had given him this: this being the somewhat vague word he used to describe what he was now enjoying as Marjory sat by the window reading to him. It had nothing to do with being read aloud to. He could at any time have summoned a valet to do that, and in five minutes would have felt like throwing the book—any book—at the valet's head. It had nothing to do with the mere fact that she was a woman. Nurse Duval could not have taken her place. Kind as she had been, he was heartily bored with her before she left.
It would seem, then, that in some mysterious way he derived his pleasure from Marjory herself. But, if so, then she had gone farther than all those who made it their life-work to see that man was comfortable; for they satisfied only existing wants, while she created a new one. Whenever she left the room he was conscious of this want.
Yet, when Monte faced the issue squarely and asked himself if this were not a symptom of being in love, he answered it as fairly as he could out of an experience that covered Chic Warren's pre-nuptial brain-storms; a close observation of several dozen honeymoon couples on shipboard, to say nothing of many incipient cases which started there; and, finally, the case of Teddy Hamilton.
The leading feature of all those distressing examples seemed to indicate that, while theoretically the man was in an ideal state of blissful ecstasy, he was, practically, in a condition bordering on madness. At the very moment he was supposed to be happy, he was about half the time most miserable. Even at its best, it did not make for comfort. Poor Chic ran the gamut every week from hell to heaven. It was with a sigh of relief that Monte was able to answer his own question conscientiously in the negative. It was just because he was able to retain the use of his faculties that he was able to enjoy the situation.
Monte liked to consider himself thoroughly normal in everything. As far as he had any theory of life, it was based upon the wisdom of keeping cool—of keeping normal. To get the utmost out of every day, this was necessary. It was not the man who drank too much who enjoyed his wine: it was the man who drank little. That was true of everything. If Hamilton had only kept his head—well, after all, Monte was indebted to Hamilton for not having kept his head.
Monte was not in love: that was certain. Marjory was not in love: that also was certain. This was why he was able to light his cigarette, lean back his head on the pillow she arranged, and drift into a state of dreamy content as she read to him. This happy arrangement might go on forever except that, in the course of time, his shoulder was bound to heal. And then—he knew well enough that old Dame Society was even at the end of these first ten days beginning to fidget. He knew that Marjory knew it, too. It began the day Dr. Marcellin advised him to take a walk in the Champs Elysees.
He was perfectly willing to do that. It was beautiful out there. They sat down at one of the little iron tables—the little tables were so warm and sociable now—and beneath the whispering trees sipped their cafe au lait. But the fact that he was able to get out of his room seemed to make a difference in their thoughts. It was as if his status had changed. It was as if those who passed him, with a glance at his arm in its sling, stopped to tell him so.
It was none of their business, at that. It would have been sheer presumption of them to have butted into any of the other affairs of his life: whether he was losing money or making money; whether he was going to England or to Spain, or going to remain where he was; whether he preferred chops for breakfast, or bread and coffee. Theoretically, then, it was sheer presumption for them to interest themselves in the question of whether he was an invalid confined to his room, or a convalescent able to get out, or a man wholly recovered.
Yet he knew that, with every passing day that he came out into the sunshine, these same people were managing to make Marjory's position more and more delicate. It became increasingly less comfortable for her and for him when they returned to the hotel.
Therefore he was not greatly surprised when she remarked one morning:—
"Monte, I've been thinking over where I shall go, and I 've about decided to go to Etois."
"When?" he asked.
"Very soon—before the end of the week, anyway."
"But look here!" he protested. "What am I going to do?"
"I don't know," she smiled. "But one thing is certain: you can't play sick very much longer."
"The doctor says it will be another two weeks before my arm is out of the sling."
"Even so, the rest of you is well. There is n't much excuse for my bringing in your breakfasts, Monte."
"Do you mind doing it?"
"Who is to tie on this silk handkerchief?" He wore a black silk handkerchief over his bandages, which she always adjusted for him.