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Captivating Mary Carstairs by Henry Sydnor Harrison

Part 6 out of 6

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"I am like Jim," came the voice beside him, troubled chimes waving
bravely, "in having wronged you by ... an unfortunate mistake. You have
forgiven him, haven't you ... let by-gones be by-gones? Can you do as
much ... for me?"

"Don't," he begged with sudden hoarseness--and there the mannersome
insouciant Varney waved an easy hand and blew himself away, like the
rascally light o' heels he was--"I have to ask forgiveness of you--not
give it," he said.

"You have much to forgive. That day in the road--I was angry. I was not
just ... not fair. I am mortified to remember ... what I said to you."

His heart contracted for the trouble in her voice; his spirit made
obeisance to the courage which carried her so perfectly through that
pretty suit for pardon; but for himself--

"There is not one thing--believe me--that your goodness can reproach
itself for--not one thing for you to be sorry for. If you have forgiven
me now--for all that you had to forgive--I go away quite happy."

His first easy composure, which far outmatched her own, had unsteadied
her. His wasted and scarred face, which she had been quite unprepared
for, had shocked her inexpressibly. And now there was this new thought
knocking at the door of her mind--that he was going away quite happy.

"There was something else I wanted to tell you ... if you could wait a
moment ... some news."

He turned toward her with a movement of pleasant interest, meant to
verify his recent gallant promise; but he turned so quickly that his
face had no time to come into the kindly conspiracy, and no triumph of
hyperbole could have described its look as happy.

"Yes? Good news, I hope?"

"I won't ... be cowardly and let you think that this was accidental ...
my seeing you ... and telling you that I'm sorry. We--we were going to
drive down to the yacht ... after the speeches were over. I don't
understand it all yet, but this afternoon a great thing happened. There
came a letter from my father ... and everything is all settled now. He
... wants my mother ... more than me, now. Why shouldn't I tell you? It
is what I have longed for ... prayed for every night ... for twelve
years. We are going to New York--to-morrow--to see my father."

His great gladness at that made him forget himself entirely, and for the
first time he could look at her.

"Why, I can't _tell_ you how glad I am! How tremendously happy that
makes me!"

She sat back in her cushioned seat, still as a sculptured lady, hands
clasped on her silken lap, eyes gone off down the street, though not for
vision, to where Hare was thundering a splendid peroration. He had
already become aware, without looking at her, that she was richly and
beautifully dressed; but he was hardly prepared for the effect which
such a setting would have upon her face. For all his conjuring of
memory, he had forgotten that she looked quite like that....

"Yes ... it makes me happy, too. And my mother wants to ask you--no, I
do--that is, both of us want to ask you--if you won't allow us to go
down ... in the yacht?"

Misunderstanding, the senseless world started mad antics again; but
Intelligence, which saw more clearly, reached out a long arm and jerked
it firmly back on its feet.

"Allow you! It's exactly what I'd like most _immensely_. She's all ready
for you--I'll have my things off her in no time--catch the eight-ten
to-night and go straight to congratulate Uncle Elbert. How great to see
him so happy! I 'll run right down to the yacht this minute and attend
to it."

"There is nothing to attend to ... is there? You said she was all ready.
Of course we could not let you--leave her. We could not go in the yacht
... unless you will go with us."

But speech stuck in his throat like a bone gone wrong. She would get no
help from him; that was evident. If suffering had wrought miracles of
absolution, she alone could make that plain.

"You came to Hunston ... to take me to my father ... didn't you?" said
Mary Carstairs. "Why ... won't you do it?"

A fugitive wave of pallor ran up her cheek, leaving its white trail
behind. She knew now that she had said the last word to him that she
could say, and that if he wanted to go away, he must go. The heavy
curtain of her lashes fell, veiling her eyes ... but, as it chanced,
fell slowly. He had turned at her words, very quickly; he caught the
curtain half-drawn, and a look come and gone like an arrow had shot
through those windows into the lit place beyond.

"I could only do that," he began unsteadily--"I--you know how it is with
me.... To the longest day I live--I'll love you ... with every breath I
draw. I could not do that--unless ... Will you marry me?"

The stillness about them then was like a tangible thing, measureless and
infinite. But into it faltered almost at once that voice like silver

"If you're _perfectly sure_ you want me to," said Mary faintly.

Her eyes met his in a wonderful union, divinely sealed the promise of
her lips, stamped it forever and ever with a heavenly stamp....

The bay horses curveted and pranced, the coachman sprang to his seat, a
big red motor backed, snorted, honked, and whizzed past them. The
speechmaking was over. The little line of gay carriages, breaking itself
into pieces, was maneuvering for rights of way homeward. The bay horses,
turning, too, were caught in the press and must needs go slowly: so that
the whole vivid pageant might have been but the ordered setting for this
moment--for Laurence Varney and the girl he had sworn to carry home to
her father....

In the square, the lingering crowd, attuned to cheering, was summoning
one name after another to noisy felicitation. Out of the tumult rose one
persistent voice, clamoring a changeless request. Yes, it was Hackley's
voice, very near, evidently on his own front porch, and he was saying
over and over: "Lemme ask you! Lemme ask you!" And about the moment the
victoria--Tommy's victori' (Tommy himself, if the truth be known, riding
snugly on the back springs at that very moment)--got safely put about,
Mr. Hackley secured what public notice he required and divulged the
nature of his request.

"_Fellers, what's the matter with Varney_?"

Instantly a thousand voices pulverized the man's fatuous anxiety. Hard
after, as the gallant slogan swept on to make assurance doubly sure,
they gave back the name in a roar like the rush of waters....

But the man for whom all the voices strained themselves did not hear
their doubt-destroying response, tumultuous though it was. Another
voice, close beside him, had taken up that refrain, making all others
inaudible, a shy, glad, whispering voice of chimes.

"_He's all right_."

The common words were glorified by that voice, made over into a sweet
and solemn benediction. He sat very silent, humbled and awed by the
revealed visage of his own great happiness. At last she found courage to
venture a look at him; and she saw that over his pale and disfigured
face there had come a kind of glory, the joy of sudden peace out of

Soon he spoke; and his words at first seemed to her very far afield,
though there was that in his unsteadied voice which reassured her beyond

"Would you mind stopping at the hotel--only a minute? I--have an old
enemy there, and I feel that I _must_ see him."

"Oh, no, no!--must you? Oh, please--I can't let you go now! And I am
afraid--afraid of what might happen--"

She stopped on that, somehow gathering without looking at him that she
had not followed his thought.

"I want to take him by the hand," said Varney, "and tell him that it's
all right now."

There was a light carriage-robe about them, for the vanished sun had
left the breath of autumn in the air; and beneath it her hand, from
which the white glove had been stripped, touched and was suddenly
gathered into his own. A glorious tremble shot through his body; and now
he could turn his shining face fully toward her.

"You aren't thinking that I could keep an enemy _to-day_!"

As the carriage stopped before the hotel entrance, he added:

"And I must tell him not to bother Peter any more. You see, Peter's a
fine man, but he hasn't got my reasons for being--in love with all the
world. I--I--I hate to go. Our first parting has come soon. But--this is
a duty, and--and--good-bye!"

She never forgot the look upon his face.

"Good-bye. And oh! would you please _hurry_?"

With an herculean effort he detached himself from the carriage and
rushed into the hotel. The same bored-looking clerk was sitting behind
the desk, paring the same nails with the same office scissors. But this
time, at sight of Varney, he sprang instantly to his feet, all smiles
and eagerness to serve.

"Why, _good_ evening, Mr. Varney! Well, sir! You're lookin' better'n we
expected, and I tell you Hunston's mighty glad to see you up and about

Varney marveled how he had ever formed such a mean opinion of the clerk,
whom he now saw to be a decidedly likable young man.

"Thank you--thank you! It's a wonderful little city--Hunston--wonderful!
Try a few of these cigars--that's right; fill your pocket. And would you
be good enough to send my card up to Mr. Higginson? Perhaps I'd better
write just a line--"

"Mr. Higginson's in the small parlor, Mr. Varney--straight down the
corridor. Yes, sir! Just came down and went in--I think he saw you

"And ran away again? Why, bless me, what's the old chap afraid of?"

He started gayly down the dim hall to the right of the desk, swinging
his stick and humming to himself; and presently became aware that a man
was following silently at his elbow.

"It's me--Callery," said the man apologetically, as Varney turned. "I--I
'll just be here, Mr. Varney, you know, if anything's wanted."

Varney laughed again. "You're mighty good to me, Mr. Callery," he said
cordially--"you and Mr. Stobo--I can't tell you how much I appreciate
it. But it isn't a bit of use, you know! I'm positively not going to
kill anybody to-day."

"Yes, sir," said Callery. "Here's the door, Mr. Varney."

"This one?"

"Yes, sir. He come runnin' down the steps, spoke a word to the clerk,
and then he dodges down here and slams the door behind him. Seen you
through the window, I guess--"

"Well, I'll just step in and have a look at him, Mr. Gallery. Excuse me
a minute."

He rapped on the closed door and called in a loud cheery voice: "Mr.

"Come in," said a voice from within--a rather agitated voice which had a
curiously familiar ring in the young man's ears.

Varney swung open the door, stepped into the small parlor, and (greatly
to the disappointment of Mr. Gallery) closed the door behind him.

In the middle of the room, staring nervously toward the door, stood a
handsome elderly gentleman, of distinguished presence and clothes of a
rather notable perfection. At sight of him the young man's advance
halted in utter bewilderment, and he fell back limply against the shut

But the elderly gentleman came running toward him with a suppressed cry,
and seizing the young man's hand disarmingly in both his own, threw
himself almost hysterically upon his apologia.

"Can you forgive me, my boy? Ah, I'll confess that I've dreaded this
meeting, while longing for it, too! You look badly--ah, very
badly!--yet--not bitter, not resentful--thank God, not unhappy! My boy,
can you find it in your heart to forgive an old man who has suffered
deeply for his sins?"

Out of his whirling confusion, his insane sense of the world suddenly
gone upside down and the familiar order stood upon its head, the young
man laughed dazedly. But he kept tight hold of the old one's hand, and
fell to patting it with wild reassurance.

"Everything's all right--all right! Yes, indeed, sir. Of course! But I
don't understand--I don't grasp--I came here looking for--Are
you--_you_--Mr. Higginson?"

"Ah, you hadn't guessed then? And yet who could wonder, such a terrible,
frightful mix-up as it all became! You see," the old gentleman hurried
on, lowering his gaze, yet already recovering something of his normal
composure, "you had scarcely started before I--I became strangely uneasy
over the--seriousness of the matter and the possible consequences,
and--and decided that I had best come on myself in--in a private manner,
merely to have an eye on things. Believe me, that was all I meant. But I
did not dare let you know that I was here, even in that way, having
promised you that I would not interfere, and besides--I feared that you
might think I had--ah--withheld the full facts about--her age."

In an access of nervous self-consciousness, the old man's voice trailed
to an uncertain pause; and Varney comforted him with a burst of
bewildered laughter.

"Forgive my glassy stare--no offence intended, but my head's going
around, Mr. Higginson! It's all still nebulous, you
know--topsy-turvy--incredible! That day of the luncheon, now--the
mysterious warning--the bribe to Ferguson to smash up the yacht--"

A fine flush spread over the old man's face to the roots of his
silvered hair. Yet it was obvious that the young man's unaffected
cordiality had heartened him immensely.

"Well, you see, my dear boy," he began, embarrassedly, "by that time I
had met her--she was so sweet to me from the start--and I began to hope
that such heroic, such painful, measures might not be necessary. Yet
perhaps they would be, after all, and so--ah, I did wrong, I
know--wrong!--and yet--don't you see how inevitably it all came about? I
did not dare communicate with you, begging you to let matters stand a
few days--fearing that upon learning of my presence you would simply
abandon the commission entirely, and God knows you would have been
justified in doing so. Yet I longed to postpone the--the final step,
holding it in reserve, in the ardent hope that it might be avoided
entirely. So I--gave instructions to Ferguson. It was wrong not to trust
you, and oh, I have been punished for it, suffered miserably--"

"_Dear_ sir! I'm so sorry! But that is all past now--all past--and
to-day all's right with the world!"

The old man's hands tightened their earnest clasp. Tears sprang suddenly
into his fine eyes.

"But oh, I have been richly blest, too--far beyond my deserts! The night
that you were hurt--I came quite unexpectedly face to face with Mrs.
Carstairs at the cottage. We had a long talk that night--a wonderful
talk, which gave me a totally new point of view, brought me new light
and peace. And now--everything is arranged, and if you have truly
forgiven me, I am happy as I never dreamed for happiness again."

"Forgiven you! For what, dear sir? Why, don't you begin to guess yet
what you have done for me?"

He tucked the old man's hand masterfully under his arm, and drew him to
the door.

"God bless you, boy, for what _you've_ done for me and mine.
But--where--where are we going?"

"Out into the world," said Varney, "where Mary Carstairs is waiting for
you and me."

"But--but--I feel extremely nervous--does she know?"

"She is going to know in about thirty seconds, and we are the three
happiest people in America."

"I think," said the old man palely, "that she--she likes me--"

"In less than a minute," said the young one, "she is going to love you."

His voice betrayed him a little on the words, but he instantly recovered
his poise, and, hand on the knob, faced the other with his gayest smile.

"Tell me, Mr. Higginson--_did_ you skip to New York that afternoon, when
Maginnis and I, you know, dashed up here to assassinate you?"

"Yes," replied the handsome old intriguer with a nervous cough, "yes,
I--you see, it had been reported to me that Mr. Maginnis had threatened
to horsewhip me in the public square, after my attempt to buy the paper
and save us all from scandal. So naturally, on the afternoon you
mention, I--I anticipated trouble. However, I quietly returned to
Hunston on the next train back, going, of course, to a different hotel,
a most dreadful little place--"

Varney shouted.

"It's just as Peter said, I declare! You're the noblest plotter of them
all, Mr. Higginson. Dear old Hunston will not look upon your like

The two enemies came out into the corridor arm-in-arm, and advanced in
utter amity to the doorway. And as they walked, Varney's tongue
unloosed, and he spoke his still incredible happiness aloud: only,
because he was not Latin and exuberant, he spoke it according to the
indirect uses of his race.

"That man we passed standing in the hall--the one with the face of
incredulity and chagrin--was old Callery--horribly miffed because you
and I failed to lock in mortal combat. He's a fine fellow, Callery is,
only I imagine he's had a lot of hard luck. Did you ever see a prettier
little hotel than this--I mean, of course, for a town of this size?
_Look_! That's the clerk behind the desk there. An amazingly clever
fellow--you just ought to have seen how sharp he was in knowing where
you were--and that's a _Cypriani_ cigar he's smoking, if you'd like to
know. Jim Hackley's house is just over on the other corner--why, you can
_see_ it from here. I want you to know Hackley, sir! A great big
whimsical fellow with a fist like a ham and a heart like a woman's....

They emerged from the hotel upon the noisy street, still lively with the
rush of home-goers; and now the two men stood side by side before the
waiting carriage, and Varney's flow of talk had ceased.

From the square there came the shouts of many lingerers, making merry
in the tail of the great day according to their desire. Down either
sidewalk poured a stream of people, laughing, talking, and calling to
each other; the street still rumbled under passing vehicles; the Palace
Hotel, in particular, had become a lodestone and near to Tommy's
victoria much human traffic converged. In truth, it was a public place
where all who wished could see, and many did see. Yet there was nothing
in the little scene to fix the gaze of the casual wayfarer: a young girl
sitting in a well-appointed carriage, and two men, one young and one
old, approaching with bared heads to speak to her. Only a close observer
would have been likely to notice that the old man's cheek was markedly
pale, and that upon the marred face of the younger one there had
descended a strange and solemn look....

For Mary there had been no surprise in seeing the young man come out to
her with the old one on his arm--had he not told her that he went in
peace?--and even the glorious metamorphosis in Mr. Higginson's
appearance quite failed to arrest her attention. She had smoothed his
approach with a welcoming smile and the beginning of a gay greeting; but
her eyes were for her lover. And now as she saw the look on Varney's
face, and became aware of the odd and impressive silence in which he
stood, like one called to officiate at some high ceremony, understanding
incredibly dawned within her, and she was suddenly without speech or
breath. Her little greeting was never finished; all at once her face,
grown wonderfully sweet, was whiter than the old man's own; and the
eyes which she now turned back to him were full and overfull of tears.

"Miss Carstairs," said Varney, not quite steadily, "may I have the great
honor of presenting your father?"


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