Part 2 out of 3
altruistic basis. I should have been glad to come to it, even if it had
been as a favor to you."
She looked at him with her hard, dark eyes. "Isn't that rather a reckless
way for a man in your situation to talk?"
"I was not aware that I was in a situation."
This was exactly the expression that she had wanted from him. It seemed
to come spontaneously, and could only mean that at least he was not
She relaxed the tension of her attitude. "Are you really under the
impression that you're not?"
"I feel quite sure of it."
"You poor, dear, innocent creature."
"However," he went on, sitting down beside her on the wide, low sofa,
"something tells me that I shall enjoy extremely having you tell me all
Tucking one foot under her, as every girl is taught in the school-room it
is most unladylike to do, she turned and faced him. "Mr. Riatt," she
said, "when I was a child I used to let the mice out of the traps--not so
much, I'm afraid, from tenderness for the mice, as from dislike of my
natural enemy, the cook. Since then I have never been able to see a mouse
in anybody's trap but my own, without a desire to release it."
"And I am the mouse?"
She nodded. "And in rather a dangerous sort of trap, too."
He smiled at the seriousness of her tone.
"Ah," said she, "the self-confidence which your smile betrays is one of
the weaknesses by which nature has delivered your sex into the hands of
mine. I would explain it to you at length, but the time is too short. The
great offensive may begin at any moment. The Usshers have made up their
minds that you are to marry Christine Fenimer. That was why you were
"Innocent Westerner as I am," he answered, "that idea--"
She interrupted him. "Yes, but don't you see it's entirely different now.
Now they really have a sort of hold on you. I don't know what Christine's
own attitude may be, but I can tell you this: her position was so
difficult that she was on the point of engaging herself to Ned."
"Oh, come," said Riatt politely, "your brother is not so bad as you seem
"He's not bad at all, poor dear. He's very good; but women do not fall in
love with him. You, on the contrary, are rich and attractive. You'll just
have to take my word for that," she added without a trace of coquetry.
"And so--and so--and so, if I were you, my dear Cousin Max, I should give
orders to have my bag packed at once, and take a very slow, tiresome
train that leaves here at twelve-forty-something, and not even wait for
the afternoon express."
There was that in her tone that would have made the blood of any man run
cold with terror, but he managed a smile. "In my place you would run
away?" he said.
She shook her head. "No, I wouldn't run away myself, but I advise you to.
I shouldn't be in any danger. Being a mere woman, I can be cruel, cold
and selfish when the occasion demands. But this is a situation that
requires all the qualities a man doesn't possess."
"What do you mean?"
"Does your heart become harder when a pretty woman cries? Is your
conscience unmoved by the responsibility of some one else's unhappiness?
Can you be made love to without a haunting suspicion that you brought it
"Good heavens, no!" cried Riatt from the heart.
"Then, run while there's time."
As the ox fears the gad-fly and the elephant the mouse, so does the
bravest of men fear the emotional entanglement of any making but his own.
For an instant Riatt felt himself swept by the frankest, wildest panic.
Misadventures among the clouds he had had many times, and had looked a
clean straight death in the face. He had never felt anything like the
terror that for an instant possessed him. Then it passed and he said with
"Well, after all, there are certain things you can't be made to do
against your will."
"Certainly. But you are not referring to marriage, are you?"
"Yes, I was."
"My poor, dear man! As if half the marriages in the world were not made
against the wish of one party or the other."
His heart sank. "It's perfectly true," he said. "And yet one does rather
hate to run away."
"Not so much as one hates afterward to think one might have."
He laughed and she went on: "The moment is critical. Laura Ussher and
Christine have been closeted together for the better part of two hours.
Something is going to happen immediately. At any moment Laura may appear
and say with that wonderfully casual manner of hers, 'May I have a word
with you, Max?' And then you'll be lost."
"Oh, not quite as bad as that, I hope," said Riatt.
"Lost," she repeated, and leaning over she laid one polished finger tip
on the bell. "When the man comes, tell him to get you ready for that
There was complete silence between them until the footman appeared and
Riatt had given the necessary orders.
"I wonder," he said when they were again alone, "whether I shall be angry
at you for this advice, or grateful. It's a dangerous thing, you know, to
advise a man to run away."
"Dine with me in town on Wednesday, and you can tell me which it is."
"You don't seem to be much afraid of my anger."
"I think perhaps your gratitude might be the more dangerous of the two."
While he was struggling between a new-found prudence, and a natural
desire to inquire further into her meaning, a door upstairs was heard to
shut, and presently Laura Ussher came sauntering into the room.
"You're up early, Nancy," she said pleasantly.
"I thought I ought to recognize the return of the wanderers in some
way--particularly, as I hear we are to lose one of them so soon."
Mrs. Ussher glanced quickly at her cousin. "Are you leaving us, Max?"
"I'm sorry to say I've just had word that I must, and I told the man to
make arrangements for me to get that twelve-something-or-other train."
Mrs. Ussher did not change a muscle. "I'm sorry you have to go," she
said. "We shall all miss you. By the way, you won't be able to get
anything before the four-eighteen. That midday train is taken off in
winter. Didn't the footman tell you? Stupid young man; but he's new and
has not learnt the trains yet, I suppose. Do you want to send a telegram?
They have to be telephoned here, but if you write it out I'll have it
sent for you."
"How wonderful you are, Laura," murmured Mrs. Almar.
Mrs. Ussher looked vague. "In what way, dear?"
"In all ways, but I think it's as a friend that I admire you most."
Mrs. Ussher smiled. "Yes," she said, "I'm very devoted to my friends even
when they don't behave quite fairly to me. But I love my relations, too,"
she added. "Max, since I'm to lose you so soon, I'd like to have a talk
with you before lunch. Shall we go to my little study?"
Nancy's eyes danced. "No, Laura," she said, "he will not. He has just
promised to teach me a new solitaire, and I won't yield him to any one."
Riatt, terrified at this proof that Nancy's prophecy was coming true,
resolved to cling to her.
"Sit down and learn the game, too, Laura," he said. "It's a very
"I want to speak to you about a business matter, Max."
"I never attend to business during church hours, Laura," he answered.
"We'll talk about it after lunch, if you like."
Laura had learnt the art of yielding gracefully. "That will do just as
well," she said, and sat down to watch the game.
Presently Wickham, seeing that Mrs. Almar seemed to be safely engaged,
ventured back. And they were all thus innocently occupied when luncheon
Christine came down looking particularly lovely. It is a precaution which
a good-looking woman rarely fails to take in a crisis. She was wearing a
deep blue dress trimmed with fur, and only needed a solid gold halo
behind her head to make her look like a Byzantine saint.
"Well, Miss Fenimer," said Wickham, as they sat down. "You look very
blooming after your terrible experiences."
Christine had come prepared for battle. "Oh, they weren't so very
terrible, Mr. Wickham, thank you," she said, and she leant her elbow on
the table and played with those imitation pearls which she now hoped so
soon to give to her maid. "Mr. Riatt is the most wonderful
provider--expert as a cook as well as a furnace-man."
"It mayn't have been terrible for you," put in Ussher, who had a habit of
conversational reversion, "but I bet it was no joke in the tool-house!
How an intelligent woman like you, Christine, could dream of making a man
spend the night in that hole, just for the sake of--"
"But I thought it was Mr. Riatt's own choice," said Nancy gently.
"You wouldn't think so if you could have felt the place," Ussher
continued. "And what difference did it make? Who was there to talk? Every
one knows that their being there was just an unavoidable accident--"
"Oh, if it had been an accident!" said Nancy, and it was as if a little
venomous snake had suddenly wriggled itself into the conversation. Every
one turned toward her, and her brother asked sternly:
"_If_, it had been an accident, Nancy? What the deuce do you mean by
Nancy shook her small head. "I express myself badly," she said. "English
rhetoric was left out of my education."
"You manage to convey your ideas, dear," said Laura.
"I was trying to say that if poor, dear Christine had not been so
unfortunately the one to hit the horse in the head, and start him off--"
Wickham pricked up his ears. "Oh, I say, Miss Fenimer," he exclaimed,
"did you really hit the horse?"
"Certainly, I did, Mr. Wickham."
"But what did you do that for?"
Christine did not trouble to answer this question. Hickson, who had been
suffering far more than any one, rushed to the rescue.
"Miss Fenimer did not do it on purpose, Wickham. She happened to be
"Oh, is that what your sister meant?" said Christine, as if a sudden
light dawned on her. "Tell me, Nancy darling, do you really think I hit
the horse on purpose, so as to have an uninterrupted evening with Mr.
Riatt? How you do flatter men! It's a great art. I'm afraid I shall never
For the first time, Riatt found himself looking at her with a certain
amount of genuine admiration. This was very straight fighting. "They have
the piratical virtues," he thought, "courage, and the ability to give and
take hard blows."
Mrs. Almar was not to be outdone. "Well," she said, "I may as well be
honest. I can imagine myself doing it, for the right man. And we should
have had an amusing evening of it, which was more than we had here, I can
tell you. We were very dreary. Mr. Wickham tried to relieve the monotony
by a game of piquet, but I'm afraid he did not really enjoy it, for he
has not asked me to play since." And she cast a quick stimulating glance
at Wickham, whose usual inability to say nothing again betrayed him.
"Oh," he said, "I enjoyed our game immensely."
"Good," answered Nancy. "We'll have another this afternoon then."
"Indeed, yes," said Wickham, looking rather wan.
"After Mr. Riatt has gone," said Nancy distinctly. She knew that Laura
had had no opportunity to convey this intelligence to Christine, and it
amused her to see how she would support the blow. Christine's expression
did not change, but her blue eyes grew suddenly a little darker. She
turned slowly toward Riatt.
"And are you leaving us?" she asked.
"Sorry to say I am."
"What a bore," said Miss Fenimer politely. Hickson's simple heart bounded
for joy. "She's refused him," he thought, "and that's why he's rushing
off like this."
"Yes," said Ussher, "I should think he would want to go home and take
some care of himself. It's a wonder if he doesn't develop pneumonia."
Christine smiled at Riatt across the table. "They make me feel as if I
had been very cruel, Mr. Riatt," she said.
"Cruel, my dear," cried Nancy. "Oh, I'm sure you weren't _that_," and
then intoxicated by her own success, she made her first tactical error.
She turned to Riatt and said: "Don't forget that you are dining with me
on Wednesday evening." She enjoyed this exhibition of power. She saw
Laura and Christine glance at each other. But they were not dismayed;
they saw at once that Max had not been playing his hand alone; he was
going not entirely on his own initiative, and that was encouraging.
Riatt, who perfectly understood the public protectorate that was thus
established over him, resented it; in fact by the time they rose from the
table, he was thoroughly disgusted with all of them--weary, as he said to
himself of their hideous little games. He hardened his heart even as
Pharaoh did, and he felt not the least hesitation in according Laura the
promised interview, for the reason that he felt no doubt of his own
powers of resistance.
He permitted himself to be ostentatiously led away, upstairs to her
little private sitting-room, with its books, and fireplace, and signed
photographs, and he pretended not to see Nancy Almar's glance, which was
almost a wink, and might have been occasioned by the fact that she
herself was at the same moment gently guiding Wickham in the direction of
Laura made her cousin very comfortable, in a long chair by the fire, with
his cigarettes and his coffee beside him on a little table, and then she
"Isn't it a pity Nancy Almar is so poisonous at times! She isn't really
bad hearted, but anything connected with Christine has always roused her
jealousy--the old beauty and the new one, I suppose."
"I wonder," said Riatt, "what is the difference, if any, between a pirate
and a bucaneer? Miss Fenimer and Mrs. Almar seem to me to have many
qualities in common."
"Oh, Max, how can you say that? Christine is so much more gentle and
womanly, so much--"
"My dear Laura, we haven't very much time, and I think you said you
wanted to talk to me on a business matter."
Laura Ussher had the grace to hesitate, just an instant, before she
answered: "Oh, yes, but it's your business I want to talk about. I want
to speak to you about this terrible situation in which Christine finds
herself. Do you realize that Nancy and Wickham between them will spread
this story everywhere, with all the embellishments their fancy may
dictate, particularly emphasizing the fact that it was Christine who made
the horse run away. It will be in the papers within a week. You know,
Max, just as well as I do, that it wasn't her fault. Is she to be so
cruelly punished for it? Can you permit that?"
"It's not my fault either, Laura."
"You can so easily save the situation."
"By asking her to marry you."
"That I will not do."
"Are you involved with some one else?"
"I might make you understand better if I said yes, but it would not be
true. I'm not in love with any individual, but I know clearly the type of
woman I could fall in love with, and it most emphatically is not Miss
"Yet so many men have fallen in love with her."
"Oh, I see her beauty; I even feel her charm; but to marry her, no."
"Think of the prestige her beauty and position--"
"My dear Laura, what position? Social position as represented by the
hectic triviality of the last few days? Thank you, no, again."
"Dear Max," said his cousin more seriously than she had hitherto spoken,
"you know I would not want you to do anything that I thought would make
you unhappy. But this wouldn't. I know Christine better than you do. I
know that under all her worldliness and hardness there is a vein of
devotion and sweetness--"
"Very likely there is. But it would not be brought out by a mercenary
marriage with a man who cared nothing for her. If that is all you have to
say, Laura, let's end an interview which hasn't been very pleasant for
either of us."
"Oh, Max, how can you abandon that lovely creature to some tragic
"You know quite well she is going to do nothing more tragic than to
"And you are willing to sacrifice her to Hickson?"
"My dear Laura, I cannot prevent all the beautiful, dissatisfied women in
the world from marrying dull, kind-hearted young men who adore them."
Mrs. Ussher stared at him in baffled, unhappy silence, and in the pause,
the door quickly and silently opened and Christine herself entered. She
looked calm, almost Olympian, as she laid her hand on Laura's arm.
"Let me have just a word alone with Mr. Riatt," she said; and as Laura
precipitately left the room, Christine turned to Riatt with a reassuring
smile. "Don't be alarmed," she said. "Your most dangerous antagonist has
just gone. I've really come to rescue you." She sank into a chair. "How
exhausting scenes are. Let me have a cigarette, will you?"
She smoked a moment in silence, while he stood erect and alert by the
mantel-piece. At last, glancing up at him, she said:
"I suppose Laura was suggesting that you marry me?"
"Laura's a dear, but not always very wise. You see, she thinks we are
both so wonderful, she can't believe we wouldn't make each other happy.
And from her point of view, it is rather an obvious solution. You see,
she does not know about that paragon in the Middle West."
"She existed only in my imagination."
"Oh, a dream-lady," said Christine, and her eyes brightened a little. "No
wonder you thought her too good for Ned. Well, that brings me to what I
came to tell you. I have decided to marry Edward Hickson."
There was a blank and rather flat pause, during which Riatt took his
cigarette from his mouth and very carefully studied the ash, but could
think of nothing to say. The thought in his mind was that Hickson was
a dull dog.
"Have you told Hickson?" he asked after a moment.
She shook her head. "No, and I shan't till I get more accustomed to the
idea myself. It isn't exactly an easy idea to get accustomed to. The
prospect is not lively."
"I dare say you will contrive to make it as lively as possible."
She smiled drearily. "How very poorly you do think of me! I shan't make
Ned a bad wife. He will be very happy, and Nancy and I will be like
sisters. By the way, you're not in love with Nancy, are you?"
"Good. They all say it's a dog's life." She yawned. "Oh, isn't everything
tiresome! If I had had any idea my filial deed in going to find my
father's coat would have resulted in my having to marry Ned, I never
would have gone."
Riatt struggled in silence. He wanted--any man would have wanted--to ask
her whether there wasn't some other way out; but knowing that he himself
was the only other way, he refrained and asked instead: "Is there
anything I can do to help you?"
"There is," she responded promptly. "Rather a disagreeable thing, too.
But it will be all over in an instant, and you can take your afternoon
train and forget all about us. Will you do it?"
He hesitated, and she went on:
"Ah, cautious to the last! It's just a demonstration, a _beau geste_.
It's this: You see, the situation, as I have discovered from a little
talk with Ned, is more ugly than has yet appeared. They are holding one
thing up their sleeve. Ned, it seems, noticed the track of your feet
leaving the house, and it did not stop snowing until the morning. That
was rather careless of you, wasn't it? Nancy can make a good deal of that
one little fact."
"What people you are!"
"Rather horrid, aren't we? Did Laura keep telling you what a wonderful
advantage it would be for you to be one of us? I wish I could have seen
"Yes, she did say something of the advantages of belonging to a group
like this. Do you know what any man who married you ought to do with
you," he added with sudden vigor. "He ought to take you to the smallest,
ugliest, deadest town he could find and keep you there five years."
"Thank you," she said. "You have achieved the impossible. You have made
Ned seem quite exciting. Hitherto I have taken New York for granted, but
now I shall add it to his positive advantages. But you haven't heard yet
what it is I want you to do."
"What is it?"
"I want you to make me a well authenticated offer of marriage before you
go for good."
"Miss Fenimer, I have the honor to ask you to marry me."
"I regret so much, Mr. Riatt, that a previous attachment prevents my
accepting--but, my dear man, that isn't at all what I mean. Do you
suppose Wickham and Nancy will believe me just because I walk out of
this room and say you asked me to marry you? No, we must have some proof
"Something in writing?"
"No," she said, "one really can't go about with a framed proposal like a
college degree. I want a public demonstration."
"Something with a band or a phonograph?"
She was evidently thinking it out--or wished to appear to be. "Not quite
that either. This would be more like it. Suppose I send for Nancy to
come here now and consult with me as to whether I shall accept your
offer or not. If I told her before you, she could hardly refuse to
believe it. And you would be safe, for there isn't the least doubt what
advice she will give me."
"You think she will advise you against me?"
Christine nodded. "She will try to save you from the awful fate she is
reserving for her brother." She touched the bell. "Do you feel nervous?"
"A trifle," he answered, and indeed he did, for he knew better than
Christine could, how strange this coming interview would appear to Mrs.
Almar after the conversation before lunch. He consoled himself, however,
by the thought that train-time was drawing near, "and then, please
heaven," he said to himself, "I need never see any of them again."
"Isn't it strange," began Miss Fenimer, and then as a servant appeared in
the doorway: "Oh, will you please ask Mrs. Almar to come here for a few
minutes and speak to me. Tell her it is very important. Isn't it
strange," she went on, when the man had gone, "that I'm not a bit
nervous, and yet I have so much more at stake than you have."
"You have a good deal clearer notion of your role than I."
"Your role is easy. You confirm everything I say, and contrive to look a
little depressed at the end. Nothing could be simpler."
He hesitated. "Simpler than to look depressed when you refuse me?"
"No one really likes to be refused," she said. "Even I, hardened as I am,
felt a certain distaste for the idea that Laura had been urging me on
your reluctant acceptance. By the way, you did seem able to say no, after
all your talk on our unfortunate drive about no man's being able to
refuse a woman."
"Oh, a third party," he answered. "That's a very different thing. Had it
been you yourself, with streaming eyes--" He looked at her sitting very
cool and straight at a safe distance.
"I don't think I could cry to save my life," she observed. "Certainly not
to save my reputation."
He did not answer. The situation had begun to seem like a game to him, or
some absurd farce in which he was only reading some regular actor's part;
and when presently the door opened to admit Mrs. Almar, he felt as if she
had been waiting all the time in the wings.
Nancy stopped with a gesture of surprise, on finding that she was
interrupting a tete-a-tete. Christine ignored her astonishment.
"Nancy dear," she said. "How nice of you to come, when I know how busy
you were teaching Wickham piquet. Sit down. This is the reason I sent for
you. As one of my best friends, I want your candid advice about this
"But Laura is one of your best friends, too," said Mrs. Almar.
"You'll see why I did not send for Laura. She is so ridiculously
prejudiced in favor of Mr. Riatt. There's no question as to what her
advice would be. In fact," said Christine with the frankest laugh, "she's
advised it long ago--even before he asked me."
At these sinister words, Mrs. Almar gave a glance like the jab of a
knife at Riatt.
"See here, Christine," she said, "every minute I spend here is a direct
pecuniary loss to me. Let's get to the point."
"Of course. How selfish I am," answered Miss Fenimer. "The point is this.
In view of the gossip and talk, and your own dear little suggestion,
darling, that I had frightened the horse on purpose, Mr. Riatt has
thought it necessary to ask me to marry him. I say he has thought it
necessary, because in spite of all his flattering protestations, I can't
help feeling that he's done it from a sense of duty. But whatever his
sentiments may be, I've been quite open about mine. I'm not in love with
him. In view of all this, Nancy, do you think it advisable that I accept
Mrs. Almar had never been considered particularly good-tempered. Now she
jumped to her feet with her eyes positively blazing. "Have I been called
away from the care of my depleted bank account to take part in a farce
like this?" she cried. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Christine.
You know just as well as I do that that young man never even thought of
asking you to marry him."
Christine was quite unruffled. "Oh, Nancy dear," she said, "how helpful
you always are. I see what you mean. You think no one will believe that
he ever did propose unless I accept him. I think you're perfectly right."
"They won't and I don't," said Nancy, and moved rapidly to the door.
"One moment, Mrs. Almar," said Riatt, firmly. "You happen to be mistaken.
I did very definitely ask Miss Fenimer to marry me not ten minutes ago."
"And do you renew that request?" said Christine.
Christine held out her hand with the gesture of a queen. "And I very
gratefully accept your generous offer," she said.
"Well, heaven itself can't save a fool," said Mrs. Almar, and she went
out of the room, and slammed the door after her.
As she went, Riatt actually flung the hand of his newly affianced wife
from him. "May I ask," he said, "what you think you are doing?"
Christine had covered her face with her hands, and had sunk into a chair.
For an instant Riatt really thought that the strain of the situation had
been too much for her; but on closer inspection he found that she was
shaking with laughter.
"I can't be sure which was funnier," she gasped, "your face or Nancy's."
Riatt did not seem to feel mirthful. "Do you take in," he asked her
sternly, "that you have just broken your word."
"I've just plighted it, haven't I?"
"You promised to refuse me."
She sprang up. "I did not. I never said a word like it. If a stenographer
had been here, the record would bear me out. You inferred it, I dare say.
Besides, what could I do? Even Nancy herself told us no one would believe
us unless I accepted you--at least for a time."
"For what time?"
"Oh, don't let us cross bridges until we get to them. We are hardly
engaged yet--Max! I must practise calling you Max, mustn't I?" In
attempting to repress an irrepressible smile she developed an unknown
dimple in her left cheek. The sight of it made his tone particularly
relentless as he answered:
"If by the fifteenth of this month you have not broken this engagement,
I'll announce its termination myself."
"And you," she went on, as if he had not spoken, "must get into the habit
of calling me Christine."
"Listen to me," he said, and he took her by the shoulders with a
gesture that no one could have mistaken for a caress. "I do not intend
to marry you."
"I see you feel no doubt of my wishes in the matter."
"I wonder where I got the idea."
"Be reassured," she said, finding herself released. "My intentions are
honorable. I would not marry any really nice man absolutely against his
will. Although I did say to myself the very first time I saw you, coming
downstairs in that well-cut coat of yours--or is it the shoulders?--I did
say: 'I could be happy with that man, happier, that is, than with Ned.'
You may think it isn't much of a compliment, but Ned has a very nice
disposition, nicer than yours."
"And I should say it was the first requisite for your husband."
She became suddenly plaintive. "Of course I can see," she said, "why any
one shouldn't want to be married, but I can't see why you object to being
engaged to me for a few weeks."
"How can I be sure you will keep your word?"
"I'll give it to you in writing," she returned. "Write: This is to
certify that I, Christine Fenimer, have enveigled the innocent and
"I won't," said Riatt.
"I will then," she answered, and sitting down she wrote:
"This is to certify that I, Christine Fenimer, have speciously,
feloniously and dishonorably induced Mr. Max Riatt to make me an offer of
marriage, which I knew at the time he had no wish to fulfil, and I hereby
solemnly vow and swear to release him from same on or before the first
day of March of this year of grace. (Signed) CHRISTINE FENIMER."
"There," she said, "put that in your pocketbook, and for goodness' sake
don't let your pocket be picked between now and the first of March."
He took it and put it very carefully away, observing as he did so: "It's
a long time to the first of March."
"It mayn't seem as long as you think."
"Are you by any chance supposing," he asked with a directness he had
learnt from her own methods, "that by that time I may have fallen in love
She did not hesitate at all. "Well, I think it is a possibility."
"Oh, anything's possible, but I can tell you this: Even if I were in love
with you, you are not the type of woman I should ever dream of marrying."
"What would you do?"
"If I saw the slightest chance of falling in love with you--which I
don't--I should try all the harder to free myself."
"I don't see how you could try any harder than you have. You begin to
make me suspicious."
"Christine, I am not the least bit in love with you."
"Quite sure that you're not whistling to keep your courage up?"
"Well," she said, "just to show my fair spirit, I'll tell you that I
entirely believe you. Shall I add it to the contract: And I credit his
repeated assertion that he is not and never will be in the least in love
with me? No, I think I'll omit the 'and never will be' clause."
"And may I ask one other question," he continued, ignoring her last
suggestion. "What did you mean when you told me that you had decided to
"So I have. Don't you see? He and I are really engaged, but he doesn't
know it. You and I are not really engaged, and you _do_ know it."
"I wish I did," he returned gloomily.
"Oh, yes," she said, "you know it and I know it, but the dog--that's
Nancy--she doesn't know it."
He seemed unimpressed by the humor of the situation. He walked away and
put his hand on the knob.
"One thing more," he said. "I would like to be sure that you understand
this. The weapons are all in my hands. The only strength of your position
lies in my good nature and willingness to keep up appearances. Neither
one is a rock of defense. I'm not, as you said yourself, good-tempered,
and I care very little for appearances. The risk you run, if you don't
play absolutely fair, is of being publicly jilted."
"And I should hate that," she answered candidly.
"I'm sure you would," he answered. "And I don't particularly enjoy
threatening you with such a possibility."
"Really," said she. "Now I rather like you when you talk like that."
"Fortunate that you do," he returned, "for you will probably hear a good
deal of it."
She nodded with perfect acquiescence. "And now," she said, "if you have
no more hateful things to say, let's go and tell our friends of the great
happiness that has come into our lives."
As they went down the stairs--those same stairs on which only two
evenings before they had first met--toward the drawing-room where their
great announcement was to be made, Riatt stopped Christine in her
"You're not going to have the supreme cruelty," he said, "to let poor
Hickson think that our engagement is a genuine one?"
Christine paused. "I wonder," she answered thoughtfully, "which in the
end would deceive him most--to make him think it was real or fake?"
"You blood-curdling woman," said Riatt. "I am not engaged to you."
"Oh, yes, you are--until March first."
"I am pretending to be until March first."
She leant against the banisters, and regarded him critically. "Isn't it
strange," she remarked, "that you dislike so much the idea of my trying
to make you care for me? Some men would be crazy about the process."
"Oh, if I enjoyed the process, I should regard myself as lost."
She shook her head. "I'm not sure that this terror isn't a more
significant confession of weakness. Who is it is most afraid of high
places? Those who feel a desire to jump off."
"I'm not afraid," he returned crossly. "I just don't like it. I
don't want to be made love to. That's one of the mistakes women are
always making. They think all men want to be made love to by any
woman. We don't."
Christine sighed gently. "You're getting disagreeable again," she said
with the softest reproach in her tone. "Let's go on."
"You haven't answered my question," he said. "Are you going to tell
Hickson the truth?"
"How can I? If I told him, Nancy would know at once, and the whole aim of
this plot is to deceive Nancy. However," she added brightly, "I shall do
what I can to alleviate his sufferings. I shall tell him that I am not in
the least in love with you, that you have never so much as kissed me, and
that my present intention is that you never shall."
"And you may add that my intention is the same," replied Riatt with some
Christine smiled. "There's no use in telling him that," she answered,
"for he wouldn't believe it."
"Upon my word," said he, "I think you're the vainest woman I ever met."
"Candid, merely," she returned, as she opened the door of the
drawing-room. The scene that greeted them was eminently suited to their
purpose. Laura and Ussher were standing at the table watching the last
bitter moments of the game between Nancy and the unfortunate Wickham.
Hickson was not there.
"Oh, Laura," said Christine, "could I have just a word with you?"
Mrs. Ussher looked up startled. She had been deeply depressed by her
unsuccessful conversation with her cousin. He had seemed to her
absolutely immovable, but there was no mistaking the significant
bride-like modulations of Christine's voice.
"With me?" she said, and in her eagerness she was already at the door,
before Christine stopped her.
"Really," she said, "I don't know why only with you. I know you are all
enough my friends to be interested--even Mr. Wickham. Max and I wanted to
tell you that we are engaged. Only, of course, it's a secret."
Riatt had resolved that he would not look at Mrs. Almar, and he didn't.
She was adding up the score, and her arithmetic did not fail her. "And
that makes 387, Mr. Wickham," she said, and then she looked up with her
bright, piercing eyes, in time to see Laura fling herself
enthusiastically into Riatt's arms. She got up with a shrewd smile. "Let
me congratulate you, too, Mr. Riatt," she said. "I always like to see
people get what they deserve."
"Oh, Nancy, I'm sure you think I'm getting far more than I deserve," said
"You haven't actually got it yet, darling," returned Mrs. Almar.
"That sounds almost like a threat, my dear."
"More in the line of a prophecy."
At this moment the footman created a diversion by announcing that the
sleigh was waiting to take Mr. Riatt to the train, and Riatt explained
that he had decided not to take the train that day. Then Christine, on
inquiring, found that Hickson was writing letters in the library, and
went away to talk to him. She had no fear of leaving Max; she knew he was
in safe hands; Laura would not allow Nancy an instant alone with him.
Nor, as a matter of fact, was Riatt himself eager to subject himself to
the cross-examination of that keen and contemptuous intelligence. Indeed
Nancy soon drifted out of the room, and Riatt found himself committed to
a long tete-a-tete with Laura on the subject of Christine's perfections,
and his supposed deceitfulness in pretending indifference. "Oh, you
protested too much, my dear Max," Laura insisted with the most irritating
exuberance. "I knew when you began to say that she was the last woman in
the world you would fall in love with, that your hour had come. No man
ever lived who could resist Christine when she chooses to make herself
Riatt felt he was looking rather grim for an accepted lover, as he
answered that it was a great comfort to feel one had succumbed only to
the irresistible. Before very long Christine came back, and taking in
what had been going on, managed to get rid of her friend. Laura made it
plain that she was only too glad to accord the lovers a few blissful
"I can't describe to you," he said crossly, "how intensely disagreeable I
find the situation."
Christine laughed. "And did you look like that while Laura was detailing
my perfections? A judge about to pronounce the death sentence is gay in
comparison. Cheer up. I haven't had a pleasant fifteen minutes myself. I
never thought myself kind-hearted, but I assure you I really longed to
tell Ned the truth. He is the nicest person."
"I believe he will make you an excellent husband."
"Oh, dear, I'm afraid he will." She sighed. "Safety first will be a dull
motto to go through life with. Do you want to know what I told him? No?
Well, I'm going to tell you anyhow. I said that you had made me this
magnificent offer, prompted, I felt sure, by the purest chivalry; and
that I felt I owed it to my family, my friends and my reputation to
accept it, but that you had left my heart untouched, and that if he and
you were both penniless, I should prefer him to you. That wasn't all
Suddenly Riatt found himself smiling. "My innocent child," he said,
"let me make one thing clear to you. Any effort on your part to create
an impression that you have fallen in love with me will not be crowned
Christine was quite unabashed by his directness.
"I'm not a bit in love with you," she said--"not any more than you are
with me, only I realize that there is a possibility for either of us, and
of the two," she added maliciously, "I really think I'm the more
"Perhaps you will think I am running away from danger," he answered,
"when I tell you that as soon as I have seen your father, got your
ring, and fulfilled the immediate necessities of the occasion, I
shall go home."
"Oh, you can't do that!" cried Christine, in genuine alarm.
"You surely don't expect me to neglect my legitimate business on account
of this ridiculous farce."
For the first time a certain amount of real hostility crept in their
relation. They looked at each other steadily. Then Christine said
politely: "Well, we'll see how things go." He knew, however, that she was
as determined that he should stay as he was to leave, and the knowledge
made him all the firmer.
The evening was a stupid one, devoted largely to toasts, jokes,
congratulations and a few stabs from Nancy. Through it all poor Hickson's
gloom was obvious.
The next day the party broke up. Wickham and Hickson taking an early
express; the others, even Nancy who abandoned her motor on account of the
snow, going in by a noonday train. Already, it seemed to Riatt that the
bonds of matrimony were closing about him as he found himself delegated
to look up Christine's trunks, maid and dressing-case.
Soon after the arrival of the train he had an appointment, made by
telephone, with Mr. Fenimer. The interview was to take place at Mr.
Fenimer's club, a most discreet and elegant organization of fashionable
virility. Riatt was not kept waiting. Fenimer came promptly to meet him.
He was a man of fifty, well made, and supremely well dressed. He was
tanned as befits a sportsman; on his face the absence of furrows created
by the absence of thought was made up for by the fine wrinkles induced by
poignant and continued anxiety about his material comforts. In his figure
the vigor of the athlete contended with the comfortable stoutness of the
epicure. He had left a discussion in which all his highest faculties had
been roused, a discussion on the replenishing of the club's cellar, and
had come to speak to his future son-in-law, with satisfaction but without
vital interest. His manner was a perfect blending of reserve and
"You will hardly expect a definite answer from me to-day, Mr. Riatt," he
said. "You understand, I am sure, that knowing so little of you--an only
child, my daughter"--He waved his hand, not manicured but most
beautifully cared for. Riatt noticed that in spite of these chilling
sentences, Fenimer was soon composing a paragraph for the press, and
advocating the setting of the date for the wedding early in April, as he
himself was booked for a fishing-trip later. He did this under the
assumption that he was yielding to Riatt's irresistible eagerness. "You
have an excellent advocate in Christine. My daughter has always ruled me.
And now in my old age I am to lose her. I had a long letter from her by
the early mail, speaking of you in the highest terms." He smiled. Riatt
rose, and allowed him to return to the question of the club's wines.
Something about this interview was more shocking to him than the cynicism
of Nancy and Christine; Fenimer's suave eagerness to hand his daughter
over to a total stranger, did not amuse him as the women's light talk had
done. He felt sorry for Christine and a little disgusted. He wondered
what that letter had really said. Was Fenimer a conspirator, too, or only
a willing dupe?
From the club he went to the jeweler's and selected the most conspicuous
diamond he could find. Her friends should not miss the fact that she was
engaged if a solitaire could prove it to them. He ordered it sent to her,
much to the surprise of the clerk, who pointed out that it was usual to
present such things in person.
After this he went to his hotel and found a pile of letters had
accumulated in his absence.
The first he opened was in a round childish hand with uncertain margins,
and a final "e" on the word Hotel.
"Dear Cousin Max," it said, "I do not know you, but Mamma says that you
are going to marry Christine. I think you are very lucky, and am glad you
are bringing her into our family. Victor and I love her. She comes to the
nursery sometimes, but never stays long.
"Your loving cousin,
Riatt laughed as he laid it down. "I bet she doesn't stay long," he said.
"How she does skim the cream!" And then with an exclamation of surprise
he tore open another envelope which had been left by hand. It said:
"I hope you will be pleasantly surprised to find that Mother and I are
staying in this hotel. I find New York more wonderful but more unfriendly
than I had been told, and I want terribly to see a familiar face. Won't
you look us up as soon as you can?
"Yours as ever,
He went to the telephone, found that she was in and immediately arranged
that she should go out to lunch with him.
All the morning and some of the night, he had been engaged in the
composition of a letter to Dorothy Lane. Theirs was an old and
sentimental friendship, which adverse circumstances might have ended, or
favoring circumstances have changed into love. As things were, it seemed
to be tending toward their marriage without any whirlwind rapidity.
There was no doubt he was very glad to see her, as he hurried her into a
taxicab, and told the man to drive to the restaurant of the hour. She was
very neatly and nicely dressed in a tailor-made costume for which she had
just paid twice as much as a native New York woman would have paid. In
fact she was an essentially neat and nice little person. They talked both
at once like two children about all the people at home, until they were
actually seated at table, and lunch was ordered. Then Riatt made up his
mind he must take the plunge.
"Dolly," he said, "do I look as if something tremendous had just
"Don't tell me you've invented a submarine, or something?"
"No, this is something of a more personal nature."
"Oh, Max, you've fallen in love?"
A waiter rushing up with rolls and butter suggested that Madame probably
preferred fresh butter to salted, before Riatt answered: "No, that is
just what I haven't done--and that's the secret, Dolly. I'm not a bit in
love, but I am engaged to be married."
"Max! But why if--"
"I'll tell you on the second of March. It's a good story. You'll enjoy
it, but for the present, my dear, you must just accept the fact that I am
engaged, that I am neither wildly elated nor unduly depressed."
Miss Lane had grown extremely serious. "Who is she?" she asked.
"Her name is Christine Fenimer."
"I've seen her name in the papers."
"Who has not?" he returned bitterly.
"What is she like?"
Riatt felt some temptation to answer truthfully and say: "She is
designing, mercenary, hard-hearted and as beautiful as a goddess." But he
did not, and, as he paused he saw the head waiter spring forward from the
doorway, smiling and holding up a pencil to attract the attention of some
underling, and then he saw that Christine, Hickson and Mr. and Mrs.
Linburne were being ushered in. Christine approached, tall, beautiful,
conspicuous, and as divinely unconscious of it as Adam and Eve of their
nakedness; she moved between the tables, bowing here and there to people
she knew, not purposely ignoring all others, but seeming to find them
invisible as thin air. Riatt watched as if she were some great spectacle,
and was recalled only by hearing Dorothy's voice saying:
"What a lovely creature!"
"That is Miss Fenimer."
A sudden and deep flush spread over Miss Lane's face.
"And you have been telling me of your indifference to her?" she asked
bitterly. "How could any man be indifferent!"
"Good Heavens," cried Riatt fiercely. "All you women are alike! Beauty
isn't the only thing in the world for a man to love. There are such
things as truth and honor--"
"Yes, and old friendship, too," said Miss Lane, "but they don't always
amount to much."
"That is an unnecessary, unkind thing to say," he answered. "My
friendship for you means a good deal more to me than my engagement to
"Max, I don't need to be consoled or soothed about your engagement," said
Miss Lane with a good deal of spirit. "As far as I am concerned you are
quite free not only to become engaged, but to have any feeling you like
for the lady you have chosen. I'm sure I congratulate you very heartily."
"You mean you don't believe a word of what I have been trying to
"Oh, yes, I do. I believe you are engaged."
Perhaps it was as well that at this instant, Christine's eyes fell upon
her; she stared, then laughed, and pointed him out to Hickson, who
glanced at him coldly; he was evidently thinking that he would not have
taken another girl out to lunch the very day his engagement was
"I suppose I had better go and speak to them," Max said.
"I should think so," replied Dorothy tonelessly. "Who are the others?"
Riatt, not sorry for a moment's respite, entered into a detailed account
of Lee Linburne. He was the third generation of a great fortune,
augmenting rather than decreasing with years. He was but little over
thirty and had taken the whole field of amusement and sports as his own.
He played polo, had a racing stable and a racing yacht, had gone in
recently for flying (hence Riatt's connection with him), occasionally
financed a theatrical show, and now and then attended a directors'
meeting of some of his grandfather's companies. The result was that his
name was as widely known through the country as Abraham Lincoln's.
Dorothy knew as soon as she heard his name, that he had married a girl
from Pittsburg, and had gone through her native city in a private car on
his honeymoon three years before, and had stopped, she rather thought,
and had lunch with the Governor of the State.
On Hickson, Max touched more briefly.
When at last he did cross the room, Christine received him with the
"What luck to run across you, though of course this is the only place in
New York where one can get food that doesn't actually poison one. Last
week--do you remember, Lee? We dined somewhere or other with the
Petermans and nothing from the beginning of dinner to the end was fit to
eat. But, bless them, they did not know. Have you met Mrs. Linburne? Oh,
she knows all about _us_. In fact every one does, for I can't resist
wearing this." She moved her left hand on which his diamond shone like a
swollen star. "How did you find my father?"
"Most amiable," answered Riatt rather poisonously, and regretted the
poison when he saw the Linburnes exchange an amused glance. Of course
every one knew that Mr. Fenimer would present no obstacles.
"Who are you lunching with, Max? Is that your little secretary?"
The tone, very civil and friendly, made Max furious, as if any one that
Christine did not know was hardly worth inquiring about.
"No, it's Miss Lane--an old friend of mine. I think I must have spoken to
you about her."
"Oh, the perfect provider? Is that really she?" Christine craned her neck
openly to stare at her. "Why, she's rather nice looking--for a good
housekeeper, that is. You're dining with me to-night, aren't you?"
"No," answered Riatt, with a sudden inspiration of ill-humor. "I'm dining
with Miss Lane."
"Bring her, too! Won't she come?"
"I really can't say."
"You can ask her."
"To your house?"
Christine always knew when she was really beaten. She got up with a
sigh. "Take me over," she said to him, "and I'll ask her myself." And
she added to the Linburnes: "Out-of-town people are always so fussy
about little things."
Riatt did not know if this slightly contemptuous observation were meant
to apply to him or to Miss Lane; he hoped in his heart that Dorothy would
refuse the invitation. But he under-estimated Christine's powers. No one
could have been more persuasive, more meltingly sweet, and compellingly
cordial than she was, and it was soon arranged that he was to bring
Dorothy to dine that evening.
When it was over, and he was back again in his own seat, he could see, by
glancing at Christine that she was engaged in a long humorous account of
the incident, for her own table; and he could tell, even from that
distance, when he was supposed to be speaking, when Dorothy, and when
Christine was repeating her own words. Meanwhile Dorothy was saying:
"How charming and simple she is, Max. You always hear of these people as
being so artificial and elaborate."
"Oh, they're direct enough," returned Riatt bitterly.
The bitterness was so apparent that Dorothy could not ignore it. She
looked up at him for an instant and then she said seriously: "I believe I
know what the trouble with you is, Max. You can't believe that she loves
you for yourself. You're haunted by the dread that what you have has
something to do with it. Isn't that it?"
Max now made use of the well-known counter question as an escape from a
"And what is your judgment on that point, Dolly?"
"She loves you," said Miss Lane, with conviction, and a moment afterward
"Without disputing your opinion," returned Riatt, "I should very much
like to know on what you base it."
"Oh, on a hundred things--on her look, her manner, her being so nice to
me--on woman's intuition in fact."
Riatt thought to himself that he had never had much confidence in the
intuition theory and now he had none.
They did not part at the termination of lunch. It was almost a duty,
Riatt considered, to show a stranger a few of the sights. Miss Lane, who
was extremely well-informed on all questions of art, suggested the
Metropolitan Museum; and after that they took a taxicab and drove along
the river and watched the winter sunset above the palisades; and then
they went and had tea at the Plaza, and by the time they returned to Mrs.
Lane it was almost the hour for dressing for dinner; and then Max sat
gossiping with Mrs. Lane, for whom he had always had the deepest
affection, until he knew he was going to be late.
They were late--a difficult thing to be in the Fenimer household. The
party, a small one, was waiting when Miss Lane and Mr. Riatt were ushered
in. Nancy was there, and Hickson, and Mr. Linburne without his wife this
time; and Mr. Fenimer himself, doing honor to his future son-in-law by
taking a meal at home.
Christine in a wonderful pink chiffon and lace tea-gown came forward to
greet Dorothy, rather than Max, to whom she gave merely an understanding
smile, while she held the girl's hand an instant.
"Max says this is your first visit to New York," she said, after she
had introduced her father and Nancy. "It is good of you to give us an
evening, when there are so many more amusing things to do, but Max
says we are as interesting as Bushmen or Hottentots. I hope you'll
find us so."
The hope seemed unlikely to be fulfilled, for while the presence of Mr.
Fenimer, who was rather a stickler for etiquette, prevented the perfect
freedom that had reigned at the Usshers', the talk turned on people whom
Dorothy did not know, and it was so quick and allusive that no outsider
could have followed it. Hickson, soon appreciating something in Miss
Lane's situation not utterly unlike his own, was touched by her obvious
isolation, and tried to make up for the neglect of the others. Riatt,
sitting between Nancy and Christine, had little time left to him for
observation of any one else.
When dinner was over Christine instantly drew him away to her own little
sitting-room, on pretense of showing him some letter of congratulation
that she had received. But once there, she shut the door, and standing
before it, she said, with an air of the deepest feeling:
"You're in love with this girl."
Riatt, who had sunk comfortably down on a sofa by the fire, looked up
"And if I am?" he answered.
"You need not humiliate me by making it so evident," she retorted, and
almost stamped her foot. "Lunching with her in public, and taking her to
tea, as I was told, getting here so late for dinner--I wish you could
have heard the way Nancy and Lee Linburne were goading me before dinner
"My dear Christine," said Max, and he was amused to hear a tone of real
conjugal remonstrance in his voice, "you have lunched and dined in one
day with Hickson, and yet I don't feel I have any grounds of complaint."
"Every one knows how little I care for Ned," she answered, "but people
say you do care for this little Western mouse. I hate her. She's good and
nice, and the kind of a girl men think it wise to marry, and just as
different from me as she can be. I do hate her--and I hate myself too."
And she covered her face with her hands.
"Come here, Christine," said Riatt, without moving, and was rather
surprised when she obeyed. He made her sit down beside him, and
taking her hands from her face, was astonished to find that she was
"Why, my dear child," he said, in the most paternal manner he could
manage. "What is this all about?" And it was quite in the same note that
Christine wept a moment on his shoulder. Then she raised her head, with a
return of her old brisk manner.
"I'm jealous," she said. "Oh, don't suppose one can't be jealous of
people one doesn't care for. I could be jealous of any one when Nancy
begins teasing me and making fun of me. And I'm jealous too, because I'm
sure she's a nice girl and I've made such a mess of my life, and I
deserve it all; but when you came in together, as if you had just been
happily married, and I looked at Ned and thought how wretched I'm always
going to be with him, and what silly things I shall undoubtedly do
before I die--"
"I hate to hear you talk like that."
"Why should you care? _She'll_ never do silly things--that's clear. Is
that why you love her?"
"As a matter of fact I am not in love with Miss Lane."
"My dear Max, there's really no reason why you should deceive me
"That's just what she said about you."
"You mean"--Christine sprang to her feet and gazed at him like an
outraged empress--"You mean that you told her that you didn't love me?"
"I most assuredly did."
"Max, how could you be so low, so despicable, so false?"
Riatt laughed. "Well, it certainly was not false, Christine," he said.
"It happens to be true, you know; and I felt I owed a measure of truth to
a very old and very real friendship. I told her nothing more than that--I
was engaged and not madly in love."
Christine threw up her hands. "The game is up," she said. "She'll tell
everybody, of course."
"She'll tell absolutely no one."
"Because she's perfect, I suppose?"
"Because she didn't for one moment believe me."
"Didn't believe we were engaged?"
"Didn't believe that any one could be engaged to so beautiful and
charming a person as you are and not be in love with her."
Christine's manner softened slightly. "She thinks me charming?"
"She thinks you irresistible, almost as irresistible as Laura thinks
you; and she is trying to find out why I am so eager to deceive her in
Christine clapped her hands, and executed a few steps. "She's jealous,
too," she cried. "The perfect woman is jealous. I never thought of her
"She is not jealous, but I suppose it may hurt her feelings a little that
"Oh, nonsense, Max, she loves you. Do you think I could be deceived on
such a subject? She watches you all the time. She loves you. And I think
it would be very impertinent of her not to. I should think very poorly of
her if she didn't. Imagine what she must be undergoing at this moment, by
our prolonged absence."
"Perhaps, we'd better be going back," said Riatt calmly.
Christine barred the door, spreading out both her arms.
"She thinks you're making love to me, Max."
"And yet, Christine, I'm not."
"But she doesn't know that; she doesn't know what an immovable
iceberg you are."
"No, indeed she doesn't."
Christine's manner again changed utterly. All the playfulness
disappeared. "You mean," she said, "that you're not cold and immovable
"What's the use of my telling you anything, if you don't believe me?" The
idea of teasing Christine had never occurred to him before, but he
thought highly of it. She came toward him at once.
"Oh, Max, my dear," she said, "don't be horrid, when I'm having such a
wretched time anyhow. Don't you think you might _pretend_ to care for me
just a little?"
Riatt rose. "Yes, I do," he said, "and so I shall, in public."
Christine was all the gentle, wistful child immediately.
"Never when we're alone?" she asked.
Max lit a cigarette briskly. "I don't suppose we shall very often be
alone," he returned. "After all, why should we?"
She looked at him like a wounded bird: "No reason if you don't want to."
At this moment the door opened and her father came in.
"Come, come, my dear, this is no way to treat your guests," he said. "I
must really insist that you go back to the drawing-room. Upon my word,
Riatt, you ought not to keep her like this."
"It was a great temptation to have her a few minutes to myself, Mr.
Fenimer," said Max, and Christine grinned gratefully at him behind her
"Very likely, very likely," said Mr. Fenimer crossly, "but I want to go
to the club, and how can I, unless she goes back? You can't think only of
yourself, my dear fellow."
Riatt admitted that this was true and he and Christine went back to the
Very soon afterwards, he gave Dorothy a keen prolonged look, which she
did not misunderstand. She got up at once and said good night. In the
taxicab, he questioned her at once as to her impressions.
"I didn't like Mr. Linburne or Mrs. Almar at all, Max. She kept asking me
the greatest number of questions about you and the story of your life.
What interest has she in you, I wonder?"
"None," answered Riatt, but added rather quickly, "And what did you think
"I couldn't bear him, though I own he's nice looking. But he told
Mrs. Almar a story--I could not help hearing--I never heard such a
story in my life."
"I gather it did not shock Mrs. Almar."
"She knew it already. 'Lee,' she said, 'that story is so old that even my
husband knows it,' and every one laughed."
"I'm afraid you did not enjoy yourself."
"I like Mr. Hickson very much. And I thought Miss Fenimer more beautiful
than before. He was telling me what a wonderful nature she has. He said
he had never seen her out of temper."
"Yes, Hickson's crazy about her," said Riatt casually.
"Dear Max, why do you try to deceive yourself about your own
feeling for her?"
"Deceive myself," he said angrily. "If you knew the truth, my dear
Dolly!" His heart stood still. Deceive himself! What an insulting
phrase. He repressed a strong impulse to propose on the instant to
Dolly. That would show her how indifferent he was to Christine. It would
assure him, too.
Instead he formed a plan to go home with her and her mother, when
"When are you going back, Dolly?"
"The day after to-morrow."
"Any objections to my going, too?"
"Objections! Max, dear!"
He engaged his ticket at once at the hotel office. Having done so, he
felt tranquil and relieved, and perhaps the least little bit dull. The
clerk assured him he was fortunate to be able to get a berth at such
short notice. "Very fortunate," he agreed and was annoyed at a certain
cold ring in his voice.
The next day, true to his promise to show Christine all attentions that
the public could expect, he sent her a box of flowers, and at four he
stopped for her and they went and took a long walk together, hoping to
meet as many people whom they knew as possible.
"We won't walk in the Park," said Christine. "No one sees you there,
though of course if they do, it makes an impression. But, no; we'll stick
to Fifth Avenue, and study all the windows that have clothes or furniture
in them, as if our minds were entirely taken up with trousseaux and
She was true to her word, and not squeamish. Riatt found it rather
amusing to wander at her side, dressing her in imagination in every
garment that the windows so frankly displayed, and answering with real
interest her constant inquiry: "Do you think that would become me? Would
you like me in that? Do you prefer silk to batiste?"
They were standing in front of a stocking shop in which on a row of
composition legs which might have made a chorus envious, "new ideas in
hosiery" were romantically displayed, when Riatt decided to tell her of
his approaching departure. He chose the street, because he was well aware
that she would not approve of his plan, and he wished to avoid a
repetition of last evening's scene.
"I shall have to go away the day after to-morrow," he said, and glanced
quickly down on her to see how she would take it.
She was studying the stockings, and she drew away with her head at a
"It's a queer thing," she said, "that certain stripes do make the ankle
look large. Theoretically they ought to make it look slim, but you take
my word for it, Max, they don't."
"Nothing could make your ankles look anything but slim, Christine," he
"No, my ankles are rather good, aren't they?" she replied, and then as if
she had now disposed of the more serious topic, she added: "And so you
are going home? Well, you mayn't believe it, but I shall really miss you
a great deal. Oh, look at these jade flowers! They're really good."
Riatt looked at the pale lilac and pink blossoms starting from their icy
green leaves, but he hardly saw them. He was disgusted at the discovery
of an unexpected perversity in his nature. He found himself hardly
pleased at the absence of protest with which his announcement was
greeted. All her attention was absorbed by the jade.
"Wouldn't it look well on our drawing-room mantel-piece?" she said.
"I'll give it to you as a wedding present," he answered. "That is, if you
think Hickson would like it."
"I don't think he'll like anything you ever give me. He did not even like
my ring. He thinks the stone too large. By the way, I never properly
thanked you for the ring. It has been most splendidly persuasive. Even
Nancy grew pale when she saw the proof of your sincerity."
"Will it be sufficient even in the face of my continued absence?" he
asked, for it occurred to him that perhaps she had not understood that he
meant to remain in the West indefinitely.
"Oh, I think so," she answered, pleasantly. "You might write to me now
and then, and I'll show just a suitable paragraph here and there to an
A new idea suddenly occurred to him. Had she any motive for desiring his
absence? Had some unexpected possibility cropped up? Did she want to get
rid of him? Not, he added, that he minded if she did, but it would be
rather interesting to know.
"I'm going a little earlier than I expected," he went on, "because the
Lanes are going, and I hate to make that long journey alone."
She nodded understandingly. "It will be much nicer for you to have them."
He looked at her coldly. It seemed to him he had never known a more
callous nature. And to think that the evening before she had actually
shed tears, simply because he took another girl to lunch! It caught his
attention, he said to himself, just as a study in human nature.
He did not see her the next day until evening. They were both to dine at
Nancy's--(thus had the proposed dinner with Mrs. Almar deteriorated) and
go afterward to the opera. Nancy of course would not have dreamed of
crowding three women into her box, so the party consisted of herself and
Christine, Riatt, Roland Almar--a pale, eager, little man, trying to
placate the world with smiles, and once again Linburne, whose handsome
dark head, and curved mouth, half cynical, half sensuous, began to weary
After dinner he found that he and Mrs. Almar were to go in her tiny
coupe, and the four others in Linburne's large car.
"And so," she observed as soon as they started, "the mouse preferred
the trap after all?" And he could feel that she was laughing at him in
"But feels none the less grateful for the kind intention to rescue him."
"Oh, I don't care much for the gratitude of a man in love with
"You judge me to be very much in love?"
This general conviction on the part of the ladies of his acquaintance was
growing monotonous. Nancy continued:
"But come back in two years, and we'll talk of gratitude then. In the
meantime let us stick to the impersonal. What do you think of Linburne?"
"I've had many opportunities of judging. I've been nowhere for two days
without meeting him."
Mrs. Almar laughed with meaning.
"I wonder why that should be," she said.
"What do you mean?" Riatt asked, but at that moment they drew up before
the Thirty-ninth Street entrance, and the doorman, opening the motor's
door, shouted "Ten--Forty-five"--a cheerful lie he has been telling four
times a week for many years.
In the opera box, Riatt at once seated himself behind Christine. There is
no place like the opera for public devotion. Christine was resplendent in
black and gold with a huge black and gold fan that made the fans of the
temple dancers--the opera was "Aida"--look commonplace and ineffective.
Behind it she now murmured to Max:
"And what poisonous thing did dear Nancy tell you coming down?"
"Nothing--except what everyone has been telling me for the last few
days--that I seemed very much in love."
"And that annoyed you, I suppose."
"On the contrary. I was delighted to find I was such a good actor."
"People who pretend to be asleep sometimes end by actually doing it.
Pretending is rather dangerous sometimes."
"Yes, but you see I shan't have to pretend after to-morrow."
"Are you all packed and ready?"
"Mentally I am."
In the _entr'acte_ which followed quickly after their entrance, Christine
dismissed him very politely. "There," she said, "you don't have to stay
on duty all the time. You can go and stretch your legs, if you want."
He rose at once, and as he did so, Linburne slipped into his place.
Riatt had caught sight of Laura Ussher across the house, and knew his
duty demanded that he should go and say a word to his exuberant cousin
who, he supposed, regarded herself as the artificer of his happiness.
"Oh, my dear Max," she began, hastily bundling out an old friend who had
been reminiscing about the days of the de Rezskes, and waving Riatt into
place, "every one is so delighted at the engagement, and thinks you both
so fortunate. How happy she is, Max! She looks like a different person."
"I thought she looked rather tired this evening," answered Riatt, who
always found himself perverse in face of Laura's enthusiasm.
Mrs. Ussher raised her opera glass and studied Christine's profile, bent
slightly toward Linburne, who was talking with the immobility of feature
which many people use when saying things in public which they don't wish
overheard. "Oh, well, she doesn't look as brilliant as she did when _you_
were with her. But isn't that natural? I wonder why Nancy asked Lee
Linburne and where is that silly little wife of his. Oh, don't go, Max.
It's only the St. Anna attache; we met him on the coast last summer."
But Riatt insisted on making way for the South American diplomat, who was
standing courteously in the back of the box.
He wandered out into the corridors, not enough interested in any of his
recent acquaintances to go and speak to them. Two men coming up behind
him were talking; he could not help hearing their dialogue:
"Who's this fellow she's engaged to?"
"No one knows--a Western chap with a lot of money."
"Suppose she cares anything about him?"
"Oh, no, she's telling every one she doesn't. They say he's mad
"Ought to be, by Jove. I always thought the only man she ever
Riatt found himself straining his ears vainly to catch the name, but it
was drowned in other conversations that rose about him. He understood now
why Christine had been angry at his telling Dorothy that he was not in
love, for he found himself annoyed at the idea of her having told
everybody that she wasn't. But, it's a different thing, he thought, to
tell one intimate friend in confidence, or to give the news to every Tom,
Dick and Harry. Then the juster side of his nature reasserted itself, and
he saw that she was only laying the trail for the breaking of her
engagement. Yet this evidence of her good faith did not entirely allay
the irritation of his spirit.
When he went back to the box, Linburne was gone, and the man who had
replaced him, yielded to Riatt with the most submissive promptness. But
this time no easy interchange occurred between them.
About half past ten, Christine leaned over to her hostess, and said:
"Would you care at all if I deserted you, dear? I'm tired."
"Mind when I have my Roland to keep me company?" said Nancy. "One seems
to take one's husband to the opera this year."
At this point Linburne, who had been standing in the back of the box,
came forward and said: "Won't you take my car, Miss Fenimer? I'll go down
and find it for you."
A look that passed between them, a twinkle in Nancy's eyes, suddenly
convinced Riatt that the scheme was for Linburne to take Christine
home. He did not stop to ask why this idea was repugnant to him, but he
"I have a car of my own downstairs, and I'll take Miss Fenimer home." It
was of course a lie, as the simple taxicab was his only means of
vehicular locomotion, but a taxi, thank heaven, can always be obtained
quickly at the Metropolitan. Christine consented. Linburne stepped back.
They drove the few blocks in silence. He went up the steps of her house,
and when the door was opened he said: "May I come in for a few minutes? I
shan't have time to-morrow probably."
"Do," said Christine. She went into the drawing-room and sank into a
chair. "Who ever heard of not saying good-by to one's fiancee?"
He saw that she was in her most teasing mood, and somehow this made him
"Perhaps," he said rather stiffly, "you think I carry out your
instructions too exactly. Perhaps I show a more scrupulous devotion in
public than you meant."
"Oh, no. It looked so well."
"It would not have looked so well for Linburne to take you home."
She clapped her hands. "Excellent," she said, "but you know it is not
necessary to take that proprietary tone when we are alone."
"Even as a mere acquaintance I might offer you some advice," he said.
"I'm rather sleepy as it is," she returned, yawning slightly.
For the first time Riatt had a sense of crisis. He knew he must either
save her, or leave her. He could not give her a little sage advice and
abandon her. It would be like advising a starving man not to steal and
going away with your pockets full. He could not say, "Have nothing to do
with a selfish materialist like Linburne," when he knew better perhaps
than any one how empty of any ideality or hope her relation to Hickson
was bound to be. Yet on the other hand, he could not say, "Come to me,
instead." He despised her method of life, distrusted her character,
disliked her ideas, and was under no illusion as to her feeling for
himself. If he had come to her without money she would have laughed in
his face. What chance would either of them have under such circumstances?
It was simple madness to consider it. And why was he considering it? Just
because she looked lovely and wan, sunk in a deep chair in all her black
and gold finery, just because her face had the lines of an Italian saint
and her voice had strange and moving tones in it.
"Good-by," he said briefly.
She sprang up. "Good gracious," she said, "and are you going just like
that? You know it is customary to extract a promise to write. At least to
beg for a lock of the hair." (She drew out a golden lock, and let it
crinkle back into place again.) "Or do you think you will remember me
"I'm not so sure I want to remember you."
"I hope you don't. It's the things you don't want to remember that you
never can get out of your head."
"Good-by," he said again.
"Haven't you one nice thing to say to me before you go?"
"Wouldn't you at least admit that I had enlarged your point of view?"
"Aren't you going to shake hands with me?" he said.
She shook her head, and began to approach him. He felt afterward as if he
had known exactly what she meant to do, and yet he seemed to lack all
power to prevent her--or perhaps it was will that was lacking. She came
up to him, very deliberately put her arms about his neck, and, almost as
tall as he, laid her head on his shoulder; and then murmured under his
chin: "But you must never, never come back."
He stood like a rock under her caress; he did not make any answer; he did
not attempt to undo the clasp of her arms. He was as impassive as a
hunted animal who, in some terrible danger, pretends to be already dead.
It was a matter of only a few seconds. Then she dropped her arms, and he
Running away is seldom a becoming gesture, yet it is one that should at
least bring relief; but as Riatt went westward, he was conscious of no
relief whatsoever. The day was bitter and gray, and, looking out of the
window, he felt that he was about as flat and dreary as the country
through which he was passing.
He sat a little while with the Lanes in their compartment.
"I suppose you'll be glad to get home and see George and Louise and the
children," said Mrs. Lane, referring to some cousins of Riatt's about
whom, it is to be feared, he had not thought for weeks.
Dorothy laughed. "What does he care for home-staying cousins when he is
leaving a lovely creature languishing for him in New York?" she said.
"I doubt if Christine does much languishing," he returned, though the
idea was not at all disagreeable to him.
"You two are the strangest lovers I ever knew," said Miss Lane.
Riatt wondered if that were an accurate description of them--lovers,
though strange ones.
He left his old friends presently and went and sat in the
observation-car. What, he wondered, had Christine meant by her last
words, about never coming back? Never come back to annoy with his
critical attitude? Never come back to watch her deterioration as
Hickson's wife? Or never come back to disturb her peace of mind and
heart by his mere presence? He debated all interpretations but the last
pleased him most.
A bride and groom were in the car. The girl was not in the least like
Christine. She was small and wore a pair of the most fantastic gray and
black boots that Riatt had ever seen; but she was very blond and very
much in love. Riatt hated both her and her husband. "People ought not to
be allowed to show their feelings like that," he said to himself, as he
kicked open the door leading to the back platform, with a violence that
was utterly unnecessary.
Nor did things mend on his arrival at his home. His native town was
naturally interested in his engagement; it showed this interest by
keeping the idea continually before him. It assumed, of course, that he
was going to bring his bride home. The rising architect of the community
came to him with the assumption that he would wish to build her a more
suitable house than that of his father, which, large and comfortable, had
been constructed in the very worst taste of the early "eighties." No,
Riatt found himself saying with determination, his father's house would
be good enough for his wife. He thought the sentiment sounded rather
well, as he pronounced it. But this did not solve his difficulties, for
now it was but too evident that he must at least redecorate the old
house; and he found himself, he never knew exactly how, actually in
process of doing over a bedroom, bathroom and boudoir for Christine, just
exactly as if he had expected her ever to lay eyes on them.
Mrs. Lane came to him with the suggestion that he would wish Christine to
be one of the patronesses of the next winter's dances. The list was about
to be printed. Max hesitated. "It would be a little premature to put her
down as Mrs. Riatt, wouldn't it?" he objected. Mrs. Lane thought this was
merely superstitious, and ordered the cards so printed without consulting
Every one asked him what he heard from her, so that he actually stooped
once or twice to invent sentences from imaginary letters of hers. He even
went so far as to read the society columns of the New York newspapers, so
that he might not be caught in any absurd error about her whereabouts.
Such at least is the reason by which he explained his conduct to himself.
He was shocked to find that he was restless and dissatisfied. The only
occupation that seemed to give any relief was gambling; or, as a
mine-owning friend of his expressed it, in making "a less conservative
and more remunerative investment of his capital." He spent hours every
day hanging over the ticker in the office of Burney, Manders and
Company--and this young and eager firm of brokers made more money in
commissions during the first two weeks of his return than they had during
the whole year that preceded it.
On the whole he lost, and Welsley, his mining friend, seeing this began
to urge on him more and more the advisability of buying out the majority
of stock in a certain Spanish-American gold mine. At first he always made
the same answer: "You know as well as I do, Welsley, I would never put a
penny into any property I had not inspected."
But gradually a desire to inspect it grew up in his mind. What would suit
his plans better than a long trip, as soon as the breaking of his
engagement was announced? A week at sea, two or three days on a river,
and then sixty miles on mule-back over the mountains--there at least he
would not be troubled by accounts of Christine's wedding, or assertions
that she had looked brilliant at the opera.
He had been at home about two weeks, when her first letter came. So far
the only scrap of her handwriting that he possessed was the formal
release that she had given him the afternoon they became engaged, and
which, for safe keeping doubtless, he always carried in his pocketbook,
and which he sometimes found himself reading over--not as a proof that he
could get out of his engagement, but rather in an attempt to verify the
fact that he had ever got into it.
However unfamiliar with her writing, he had not the least doubt about the
letter from the first instant that he saw it. No one else could use such
absurd faint blue and white paper and such large square envelopes. As he
took it up, he said to himself that it had never occurred to him that she
would write, and yet he saw without any sense of inconsistency that he
had looked for this letter in every mail. And yet, so perverse is the
nature of mankind, that he opened it, not with pleasure, but with a
sudden return of all his old terror of being trapped.
"Dear Max," it said. "I have been pretending so often to write to you for
the benefit of my inquiring friends, that I think I may as well do it as
a tribute to truth.
"How foolish that was--the night you went away! One gets carried away
sometimes by the drama of a situation, without any relation to the facts,
and the idea of parting forever from one's fiance is rather dramatic,
isn't it? I cried all night, and rather enjoyed it. Then in the morning
when I woke up, everything seemed to have returned to the normal, and I
could not understand what had made me so silly.
"Don't suppose that because you have gone, I am therefore freed from the
disagreeable criticism of which you made such a speciality. Ned comes in
almost every day to tell me that he does not approve of my conduct. I am
not behaving, it appears, as an affianced bride should. Don't you like
to think of Ned so loyally protecting your interests in your absence?
His criticisms are, I suppose, based on the attentions of a nice little
boy just out of college, who calls me 'Helen,' and writes sonnets to me
which are to appear in the most literary of weeklies. Look out for them.
They are good, and may raise your low estimate of my charms. The best
"When the blond wonder first on Paris dawned--
"Isn't that pretty?
"Write to me. At least send me a blank envelope that I may leave
ostentatiously on my desk.
"Yours at the moment,
Riatt's first thought on laying down the letter was: "Hickson never in
the world objected to any little poet just out of college, and she knows
it very well. It's Linburne he is worried about--Linburne, whose name she
does not even mention." And how absurd to attempt to make him believe she
had cried all night. That was simply an untruth. Yet oddly enough, it
came before his eyes in a more vivid picture than many a scene he had
A few minutes later he went to the club and looked up the literary weekly
of which she had spoken. There was no sonnet in it, but the issue of the
next week contained it. Riatt read it with an emotion he could not
mistake. It brought Christine like a visible presence before him. Also it
made him angry, to have to see her like this, through another man's eyes.
"Little whelp," he said, "to detail a woman's beauty in print like that!
What does he know about it anyhow? I don't believe for one second she
looked at him like that."
The sonnet ended:
She turned, a white embodiment of joy,
And looking on him, sealed the doom of Troy.
He was roused by a friendly shout in his ear. "Ho, ho, Max, reading
poetry, are you? What love does for the worst of us!" It was Welsley, who
snatched the paper out of his hand, running over the lines rapidly to
himself: "Hem, hem, 'carnation, alabaster, gold and fire.' Some queen,
that, eh? Have you had your dinner? Well, don't be cross. There's no
reason why you shouldn't read verse if you like. And this young man is
the latest thing. My wife says they are going to import him here to speak
to the Greek Study Club."
"I shall be curious to hear him, if the Greek Club will ask me," said
"Oh, you'll be in the East getting married," answered Welsley.
Strangely enough, it was with something like a pang that Max said to
himself that he wouldn't be.
"Carnation, alabaster, gold and fire."
It was not a bad line, he thought.
After dinner, he felt a little more amiable, and so he sat down and wrote
his first real letter to his fiancee.
"If we were really engaged, my dear Christine," he wrote, "you would have
had a night letter long before this, asking you to explain to me just how
it was that you did look on that amorous young poet. His verse is pretty
enough, though I can't say I exactly enjoyed it. However, my native town
thinks very highly of him, and intends to ask him to come and address one
of our local organizations. If so, I shall have an opportunity of
questioning him on the subject of the sources of his inspiration. 'Is
Helen a real person?' I shall ask. 'Not so very,' I can imagine his
replying. Ah, what would we both give to know?
"My friends here, stimulated by Dorothy Lane's ravishing description of
you, have asked many times to see your picture. I am ashamed of my own
carelessness in having gone away without obtaining one for exhibition
purposes. Will you send me one at once? One not already in circulation
among poets and painters. I will set it on my writing table, and allow my
eyes to stray sentimentally toward it whenever I have people to dinner.
"By the way, the day I left New York I told a florist to send you flowers
every day. We worked out quite an elaborate scheme for every day in the
week. Did he ever do it?
"Yours, at least in the sight of this company,
In answer to this, he was surprised by a telegram:
"So sorry for absurd mistake. Entirely misunderstood source of the
flowers. Enjoy them a great deal more now. Yes, they come regularly. A
thousand thanks. Am sending photograph by mail."
Riatt did not need to ask himself from whom she had imagined they came.
Not the poet, unless magazine rates were rising unduly. Nor Hickson, who
failed a little in such attentions. No, it was Linburne--and evidently
Linburne's attentions were taken so much as a matter of course, that she
had not even thanked him, nor had he noticed her omission.
He did not answer the telegram, nor did he acknowledge the photograph
but, true to his word, he established it at once on his desk in a frame
which he spent a long time in selecting. The picture represented
Christine at her most queenly and unapproachable. She wore the black and
gold dress, and the huge feather fan was folded across her bare arms.
Every time he looked at it, he remembered how those same arms had been
clasped round his own stiff and unbending neck. And sometimes he found
the thought distracted his attention from important matters.
It was about the middle of February when he received one morning a letter
from Nancy Almar. He knew _her_ handwriting. She was always sending him
little notes of one kind or another. This one was very brief.
"Clever mouse! So it knew a way to get out all the time!"
All day he speculated on the meaning of this strange message. Had Nancy
discovered some proof of the nature of his engagement? Had Christine been
moved by pity to tell Hickson the truth? On the whole he inclined to
think that this was the explanation.
The next day he knew he had been mistaken. He had a letter from Laura
Ussher--not the first in the series--urging him to come back at once.
"Max," she wrote, with a haste that made her almost indecipherable, "you
must come. What are you dreaming of--to leave a proud, beautiful,