"Oh, not that—don't open it—I'll tell him—yes, I will!"
"I'm taking no more chances, and the time is short."
Still holding her closely with one arm, he opened the door. The man stared impassively above their heads—a graven image of unconsciousness.
"Miss Milbrey wishes you to say to Mr. Shepler that she is engaged—"
"That I'm ill," she interrupted, still making little struggles to twist from his grasp, her head still bent down.
"That she is engaged with Mr. Bines, Jarvis, and can't see him. Say it that way—'Miss Milbrey is engaged with Mr. Bines, and can't see you.'".
He remained standing motionless, as he had been, his eyes still fixed above them. But the eyes of Jarvis, from long training, did hot require to be bent upon those things they needed to observe. They saw something now that was at least two feet below their range.
The girl made a little move with her right arm, which was imprisoned fast between them, and which some intuition led her captor not to restrain. The firm little hand worked its way slowly up, went creepingly over his shoulder and bent tightly about his neck.
"Yes, sir," repeated Jarvis, without the quiver of an eyelid, and went.
He closed the door with his free hand, and they stood as they were until they heard the noise of the front door closing and the soft retreating footsteps of the butler.
"Oh, you were mean—mean—to shame me so," and floods of tears came again.
"I hated to do it, but I had to; it was a critical moment. And you couldn't have made up your mind without it."
She sobbed weakly in his arms, but her own arm was still tight about his neck. He felt it for the first time.
"But I had made up my mind—I did make it up while we talked."
They were back on the couch. He held her close and she no longer resisted, but nestled in his arms with quick little sighs, as if relieved from a great strain. He kissed her forehead and hair as she dried her eyes.
"Now, rest a little. Then we shall go."
"I've so much to tell you. That day at the jeweller's—well, what could I do but take one poor last little look of you—to keep?"
"Tell me if you care for me."
"Oh, I do, I do, I do care for you. I have—ever since that day we walked in the woods. I do, I do!"
She threw her head back and gave him her lips.
She was crying again and trying to talk.
"I did care for you, and that day I thought you were going to say something, but you didn't—you were so distant and troubled, and seemed not even to like me—though I felt sure you loved me. I had thought you were going to tell me, and I'd have accepted—yes, for the money—though I liked you so much. Why, when I first met you in that mine and thought you were a workman, I'm not sure I wouldn't have married you if you had asked me. But it was different again when I found out about you. And that day in the woods I thought something had come between us. Only after dinner you seemed kinder, and I knew at once you thought better of me, and might even seek me—I knew it in the way a woman knows things she doesn't know at all. I went into the library with a candle to look into the mirror, almost sure you were going to come. Then I heard your steps and I was so glad—but it wasn't you-I'd been mistaken again-you still disliked me. I was so disappointed and hurt and heartsick, and he kissed me and soothed me. And after that directly I saw through him, and I knew I truly did love you just as I'd wanted to love the man who would be my husband—only all that nonsense about money that had been dinned into me so long kept me from seeing it at first. But I was sure you didn't care for me when they talked so about you, and that—you never did care for her, did you—you couldn't have cared for her, could you?—and yet, after that night, I'd such a queer little feeling as if you had come for me, and had seen—"
"Surely a gentleman never sees anything he wasn't meant to see."
"I'm so glad—I should have been so ashamed—"
They were still a moment, while he stroked her hair.
"They'll be turning in early to-night, having to get up to-morrow and preach sermons—what a dreary place heaven must be compared with this!"
She sat up quickly.
"Oh, I'd forgotten. How awful it is. Isn't it awful?"
"It will soon be over."
"But think of my people, and what's expected of me—think of Mr. Shepler."
"Shepler's doing some hard thinking for himself by this time."
"Really, you're a dreadful person—"
There was a knock.
"The cabman outside, sir, says how long is he to wait, sir?"
"Tell him to wait all night if I don't come; tell him if he moves off that spot I'll have his license taken away. Tell him I'm the mayor's brother."
"And, Jarvis, who's in the house besides you?"
"Miss Briggs, the maid, sir—but she's just ready to go out, sir."
"Stop her—say Miss Milbrey wishes to ask a favour of her; and Jarvis."
"Go put on that neat black street coat of yours that fits you so beautifully in the back, and a purple cravat, and your shiny hat, and wait for us with Briggs. We shall want you in a moment."
"Yes, Mr. Bines."
She looked at him wonderingly.
"We need two witnesses, you know. I learned that from Oldaker just now."
"But do give me a moment, everything is all so whirling and hazy."
"Yes, I know—like the solar system in its nebulous state. Well, hurry and make those worlds take shape. I can give you sixty seconds to find that I'm the North Star. Ach! I have the Doctor von Herzlich been ge-speaking with—come, come! What's the use of any more delay? I've wasted nearly three hours here now, dilly-dallying along. But then, a woman never does know her own mind.
"Put a thing before her—all as plain as the multiplication table—and she must use up just so much good time telling a man that he's crazy—and shedding tears because he won't admit that two times two are thirty-seven." She was silent and motionless for another five minutes, thinking intently. "Come, time's up."
"I'm ready. I shall marry you, if you think I'm the woman to help you in that big, new life of yours. They meant me not to know about Fred's marriage until afterward."
He kissed her.
"I feel so rested and quiet now, as if I'd taken down a big old gate and let the peace rush in on me. I'm sure it's right. I'm sure I can help you."
She picked up her hat and gloves.
"Now I'll go bathe my eyes and fix my hair."
"I can't let you out of my sight, yet. I'm incredulous. Perhaps in seventy-five or eighty years—"
"I thought you were so sure."
"While I can reach you, yes."
She gave a low, delicious little laugh. She reached both arms up around him, pulled down his head and kissed him.
She took up the hat again.
"I'll be down in a moment."
"I'll be up in three, if you're not."
When she had gone he picked up an envelope and put a bill inside.
"Jarvis," he called.
The butler came up from below, dressed for the street.
"Jarvis, put this envelope in the inside of that excellent black coat of yours and hand it—afterward—to the gentleman we're going to do business with."
"Yes, Mr. Bines."
"And put your cravat down in the back, Jarvis—it makes you look excited the way it is now."
"Yes, sir; thank you, sir!"
"Is Briggs ready?" "She's waiting, sir."
"Go out and get in the carriage, both of you."
He stood in the hallway waiting for her. It was a quarter-past ten. In another moment she rustled softly down to him.
"I'm trusting so much to you, and you're trusting so much to me. It's such a rash step!"
"No, I'm going. Couldn't we stop and take Aunt Cornelia?"
"Aunt Cornelia won't have a chance to worry about this until it's all over. We'll stop there then, if you like."
"We'll try Doctor Prendle, then. He's almost sure to be in."
"It won't make any difference if he isn't. We'll find one. Those horses are rested. They can go all night if they must."
"I have Grandmother Loekermann's wedding-ring—of course you didn't fetch one. Trust a man to forget anything of importance."
His grasp of her hand during the ride did not relax.
The New Argonauts
Mrs. van Geist came flustering out to the carriage.
"You and Briggs may get out here, Jarvis. There, that's for you, and that's for Briggs—and thank you both very much!"
"Child, child! what does it mean?"
"Mr. Bines is my husband, Muetterchen, and we're leaving for the West in the morning."
The excitement did not abate for ten minutes or so. "And do say something cheerful, dear," pleaded Avice, at parting.
"You mad child—I was always afraid you might do something like this; but I will say I'm not altogether sure you've acted foolishly."
"Thank you, you dear old Muetterchen! and you'll come to see us—you shall see how happy I can be with this—this boy—this Lochinvar, Junior—I'm sure Mrs. Lochinvar always lived happily ever after."
Mrs. Van Geist kissed them both.
"Back to Thirty-seventh Street, driver."
"I shall want you at seven-thirty sharp, to-morrow morning," he said, as they alighted. "Will you be here, sure?"
"You'll make another one of those if you're on time."
The driver faced the bill toward the nearest street-light and scanned it. Then he placed it tenderly in the lining of his hat, and said, fervently:
"I'll be here, gent!"
"My trunks," Avice reminded him.
"And, driver, send an express wagon at seven sharp. Do you understand, now?"
"Sure, gent, I'll have it here at seven, and be here at seven-thirty."
They went in.
"You've sent Briggs off, and I've all that packing and unpacking to do."
"You have a husband who is handy at those things."
They went up to her room where two trunks yawned open.
Under her directions and with her help he took out the light summer things and replaced them with heavier gowns, stout shoes, golf-capes, and caps.
"We'll be up on the Bitter Root ranch this summer, and you'll need heavy things," he had told her.
Sometimes he packed clumsily, and she was obliged to do his work over. In these intervals he studied with interest the big old room and her quaint old sampler worked in coloured worsteds that had faded to greys and dull browns: "La Nuit Porte Conseil."
"Grandma Loekermann did it at the convent, ages ago," she told him.
"What a cautious young thing she must have been!"
She leaned against his shoulder.
"But she eloped with her true love, young Annekje Van Schoule; left the home in Hickory Street one night, and went far away, away up beyond One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street, somewhere, and then wrote them about it."
"And left the sampler?"
"She had her husband—she didn't need any old sampler after that—Le mariage porte conseil, aussi, monsieur. And now, you've married your wife with her wedding-ring, that came from Holland years and years ago."
It was after midnight when they began to pack. When they finished it was nearly four.
She had laid out a dark dress for the journey, but he insisted that she put it in a suit-case, and wear the one she had on.
"I shouldn't know you in any other—and it's the colour of your eyes. I want that colour all over the place."
"But we shall be travelling."
"In our own car. That car has been described in the public prints as a 'suite of palatial apartments with all modern conveniences.'"
"We shall be going West like the old '49-ers, seeking adventure and gold."
"Did they go in their private cars?"
"Some of them went in rolling six-horse Concords, and some walked, and some of them pushed their baggage across in little hand-carts, but they had fun at it—and we shall have to work as hard when we get there."
"Dear me! And I'm so tired already. I feel quite done up."
She threw herself on the wide divan, and he fixed pillows under her head.
"You boy! I'm glad it's all over. Let's rest a moment."
He leaned back by her, and drew her head on to his arm.
"I'm glad, too. It's the hardest day's work I ever did. Are you comfortable? Rest."
"It's so good," she murmured, nestling on his shoulder.
"Uncle Peter took his honeymoon in a big wagon drawn by a mule team, two hundred miles over the 'Placerville and Red Dog Trail—over the mountains from California to Nevada. But he says he never had so happy a time."
"He's an old dear! I'll kiss him—how is it you say—'good and plenty.' Did our Uncle Peter elope, too?"
"Not exactly. It was more like abduction complicated with assault and battery. Uncle Peter is pretty direct in his methods. The young lady's family thought she could do better with a bloated capitalist who owned three-eighths of a saw-mill. But Uncle Peter and she thought she couldn't. So Uncle Peter had to lick her father and two brothers before he could get her away. He would have licked the purse-proud rival, too, but the rival ran into the saw-mill he owned the three-eighths of, and barricaded the whole eight-eighths—the-five-eighths that didn't belong to him at all, you understand—and then he threatened through a chink to shoot somebody if Uncle Peter didn't go off about his business. So Uncle Peter went, not wanting any unnecessary trouble. I've always suspected he was a pretty ready scrapper in those days, but the poor old fellow's getting a bit childish now, with all this trouble about losing the money, and the hard time he had in the snow last winter. By the way, I forgot to ask, and it's almost too late now, but do you like cats?"
"I adore them—aren't kittens the dearest?"
"Well—you're healthy—and your nose doesn't really fall below the specifications, though it doesn't promise that you're any too sensible,—but if you can make up for it by your infatuation for cats, perhaps it will be all right. Of course I couldn't keep you, you know, if you weren't very fond of cats, because Uncle Peter'd raise a row—"
She was quite still, and he noted from the change in her soft breathing that she slept. With his free hand he carefully shook out a folded steamer rug and drew it over her.
For an hour he watched her, feeling the arm on which she lay growing numb. He reviewed the day and the crowded night. He could do something after all. Among other things, now, he would drop a little note to Higbee and add the news of his marriage as a postscript. She was actually his wife. How quickly it had come. His heart was full of a great love for her, but he could not quite repress the pride in his achievement—and Shepler had not been sure until he was poor!
He lost consciousness himself for a little while.
When he awoke the cold light of the morning was stealing in. He was painfully cramped, and chilled from the open window. From outside came the loud chattering of sparrows, and far away he could hear wagons as they rattled across a street of Belgian blocks from asphalt to asphalt. The light had been late in coming, and he could see a sullen grey sky, full of darker clouds.
Above the chiffonier he could see the ancient sampler.
"La Nuit Porte Conseil." It was true.
In the cold, pitiless light of the morning a sudden sickness of doubting seized him. She would awake and reproach him bitterly for coercing her. She had been right, the night before,—it was madness. They had talked afterward so feverishly, as if to forget their situation. Now she would face it coldly after the sleep.
"La Nuit Porte Conseil." Had he not been a fool? And he loved her so. He would have her anyway—no matter what she said, now.
She stirred, and her wide-open eyes were staring up at him—staring with hurt, troubled wonder. The amazement in them grew—she could not understand.
He stopped breathing. His embrace of her relaxed.
And then he saw remembrance—recognition—welcome—and there blazed into her eyes such a look of whole love as makes men thrill to all good; such a look as makes them know they are men, and dare all great deeds to show it. Like a sunrise, it flooded her face with dear, wondrous beauties,—and still she looked, silent, motionless,—in an ecstasy of pure realisation. Then her arms closed about his neck with a swift little rushing, and he—still half-doubting, still curious—felt himself strained to her. Still more closely she clung, putting out with her intensity all his misgiving.
She sought his lips with her own—eager, pressing.
"Kiss me—kiss me—kiss me! Oh, it's all true—all true! My best-loved dream has come all true! I have rested so in your arms. I never knew rest before. I can't remember when I haven't awakened to doubt, and worry, and heart-sickness. And now it's peace—dear, dear, dearest dear, for ever and ever and ever."
They sat up.
"Now we shall go—get me away quickly."
It was nearly seven. Outside the sky was still all gloom.
In the rush of her reassurance he had forgotten his arm. It hung limp from his shoulder.
"It was cramped."
"And you didn't move it?"
They beat it and kneaded it gaily together, until the fingers were full of the rushing blood and able again to close warmly over her own little hand.
"Now go, and let me get ready. I won't be long."
He went below to the library, and in the dim grey light picked up a book, "The Delights of Delicate Eating." He tried another, "101 Sandwiches." The next was "Famous Epicures of the 17th Century." On the floor was her diary. He placed it on the table. He heard her call him from the stairs:
"Bring me up that ring from the table, please!"
He went up and handed it to her through the narrowly opened door.
As he went down the stairs he heard the bell ring somewhere below, and went to the door.
The two trunks were down and out. "They're to go on this car, attached to the Chicago Express." He wrote the directions on one of his cards and paid the man.
At seven-thirty the bell rang again. The cabman was there.
"I'm coming. And there are two bags I wish you'd get from my room." He let her pass him and went up for them.
She went into the library and, taking up the diary, tore out a sheet, marked heavily upon it with a pencil around the passage she had read the evening before, and sealed it in an envelope. She addressed it to her father, and laid it, with a paper-weight on it, upon "The Delights of Delicate Eating," where he would be sure to find it.
The book itself she placed on the wood laid ready in the grate to light, touched a match to the crumpled paper underneath and put up the blower. She stood waiting to see that the fire would burn.
Over the mantel from its yellow canvas looked above her head the humourously benignant eyes of old Annekje Van Schoule, who had once removed from Maspeth Kill on Long Island to New Haarlem on the Island of Manhattan, and carried there, against her father's will, the yellow-haired girl he had loved. His face now seemed to be pretending unconsciousness of the rashly acted scenes he had witnessed—lest, if he betrayed his consciousness, he should be forced, in spite of himself, to disclose his approval—a thing not fitting for an elderly, dignified Dutch burgher to do.
She took up a little package she had brought with her and went out to meet him.
"There's one errand to do," she said, as they entered the carriage, "but it's on our way. Have him go up Madison Avenue and deliver this."
She showed him the package addressed: "Mr. Rulon Shepler, Personal."
"And this," she said, giving him an unsealed note. "Read it, please!"
"DEAR RULON SHEPLER:—I am sure you know women too well to have thought I loved you as a wife should love her husband. And I know your bigness too well to believe you will feel harshly toward me for deciding that I could not marry you. I could of course consistently attribute my change to consideration for you. I should have been very little comfort to you. If I should tell you just the course I had mapped out for myself—just what latitude I proposed to claim—I am certain you would agree with me that I have done you an inestimable favour.
"Yet I have not changed because I do not love you, but because I do love some one else with all my heart; so that I claim no credit except for an entirely consistent selfishness. But do try to believe, at the same time, that my own selfishness has been a kindness to you. I send you a package with this hasty letter, and beg you to believe that I shall remain—and am now for the first time—
"AVICE MILBREY BINES.
"P.S. I should have preferred to wait and acquaint you with my change of intention before marrying, but my husband's plans were made and he would not let me delay."
He sealed the envelope, placed it securely under the cord that bound the package, and their driver delivered it to the man who opened Shepler's door. As their train emerged from the cut at Spuyten Duyvil and sped to the north along the Hudson, the sun blazed forth.
"There, boy,—I knew the sun must shine to-day."
They had finished their breakfast. One-half of the pink roses were on the table, and one from the other half was in her hair.
"I ordered the sun turned on at just this point," replied her husband, with a large air. "I wanted you to see the last of that town under a cloud, so you might not be homesick so soon."
"You don't know me. You don't know what a good wife I shall be."
"It takes nerve to reach up for a strange support and then kick your environment out from under you—as Doctor von Herzlich would have said if he'd happened to think of it."
"But you shall see how I'll help you with your work; I was capable of it all the time."
"But I had to make you. I had to pick you up just as I did that first time, and again down in the mine—and you were frightened because you knew this time I wouldn't let you go."
"Only half-afraid you wouldn't—the other half I was afraid you would. They got all mixed up—I don't know which was worse."
"Well, I admit I foozled my approach on that copper stock—but I won you—really my winnings in Wall Street are pretty dazzling after all, for a man who didn't know the ropes;—there's a mirror directly back of you, Mrs. Bines, if you wish to look at them—with a pink rose over that kissy place just at their temple."
She turned and looked, pretending to be quite unimpressed.
"I always was capable of it, I tell you,—boy!"
"What hurt me worst that night, it showed you could love some one—you did have a heart—but you couldn't love me."
She did not seem to hear at first, nor to comprehend when she went back over his words. Then she stared at him in sudden amazement.
He saw his blunder and looked foolish.
"I see—thank you for saying what you did last night—and you didn't mind—you came to me anyway, in spite of that."
She arose, and would have gone around the table to him, but he met her with open arms.
"Oh, you boy! you do love me,—you do!"
"I must buy you one of those nice, shiny black ear-trumpets at the first stop. You can't have been hearing at all well.... See, sweetheart,—out across the river. That's where our big West is, over that way—isn't it fresh and green and beautiful?—and how fast you're going to it—you and your husband. I believe it's going to be a good game... for us both... my love..."