Read CHAPTER III - A SUMMONS of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

Monte himself had sometimes been accused of lacking sentiment; and yet, the very first thing he did when starting for his walk the next morning was to order a large bunch of violets to be sent to number sixty-four Boulevard Saint-Germain. Then, at a somewhat faster pace than usual, he followed the river to the Jardin des Tuileries, and crossed there to the Avenue des Champs Elysees into the Bois.

He walked as confidently as if overnight his schedule had again been put in good running order; for, overnight, spring had come, and that was what his schedule called for in Paris. The buds, which until now had hesitated to unfold, trembled forth almost before his eyes under the influence of a sun that this morning blazed in a turquoise sky. Perhaps they had hurried a trifle to overtake Monte.

With his shoulders well back, filling his lungs deep with the perfumed morning air, he swung along with a hearty, self-confident stride that caused many a little nursemaid to turn and look at him again.

He had sent her violets; and yet, except for the fact that he had never before sent her flowers, he could not rightly be accused of sentimentalism. He had acted on the spur of the moment, remembering only the sad, wistful smile with which she had bade him good-night when she stood at the door of the pension. Or perhaps he had been prompted by the fact that she was in Paris alone.

Until now it had never been possible to dissociate her completely from Aunt Kitty. Marjory had never had a separate existence of her own. To a great many people she had never been known except as Miss Dolliver’s charming niece, although to Monte she had been known more particularly as a young friend of the Warrens. But, even in this more intimate capacity, he had always been relieved of any sense of responsibility because of this aunt. Wherever he met her, there was never any occasion for him to put himself out to be nice to her, because it was always understood that she could never leave Aunt Kitty even for an evening. This gave him a certain sense of security. With her he never was forced to consider either the present or the future.

Last night it had been almost like meeting her for the first time alone. It was as if in all these years he had known her only through her photograph, as one knows friends of one’s friends about whom one has for long heard a great deal, without ever meeting them face to face. From the moment he first saw her in the Place de l’Opera she had made him conscious of her as, in another way, he had always been conscious of Edhart. The latter, until his death, had always remained in Monte’s outer consciousness like a fixed point. Because he was so permanent, so unchanging, he dominated the rest of Monte’s schedule as the north star does the mariner’s course.

Each year began when Edhart bade him a smiling au revoir at the door of the Hotel des Roses; and that same year did not end, but began again, when the matter of ten or eleven months later Monte found Edhart still at the door to greet him. So it was always possible, the year round, to think of Edhart as ever standing by the door smilingly awaiting him. This was very pleasant, and prevented Monte from getting really lonesome, and consequently from getting old. It was only in the last few weeks that he fully realized all that Edhart had done for him.

It was, in some ways, as if Edhart had come back to life again in Marjory. He had felt it the moment she had smilingly confided in him; he felt it still more when, after she bade him good-night, he had turned back into the city, not feeling alone any more. Now it was as if he were indebted to her for this morning walk, and for restoring to him his springtime Paris. It was for these things that he had sent her violets because she had made him comfortable again. So, after all, his act had been one, not of sentimentalism, but of just plain gratitude.

Monte’s objection to sentiment was not based upon any of the modern schools of philosophy, which deplore it as a weakness. He took his stand upon much simpler grounds: that, as far as he had been able to observe, it did not make for content. It had been his fate to be thrown in contact with a good deal of it in its most acute stages, because the route he followed was unhappily the route also followed by those upon their honeymoon. If what he observed was sentiment at its zenith, then he did not care for it. Bridegrooms made the poorest sort of traveling companions; and that, after all, was the supreme test of men. They appeared restless, dazed, and were continually looking at their watches. Few of them were able to talk intelligently or to play a decent game of bridge.

Perhaps, too, he had been unfortunate in the result of his observations of the same passion in its later stages; but it is certain that those were not inspiring, either. Chic Warren was an exception. He seemed fairly happy and normal, but Covington would never forget the night he spent there when Chic, Junior had the whooping-cough. He walked by Chic’s side up and down the hall, up and down the hall, up and down the hall, with Chic a ghastly white and the sweat standing in beads upon his forehead. His own throat had tightened and he grew weak in the knees every time the rubber-soled nurse stole into sight. Every now and then he heard that gasping cough, and felt the spasmodic grip of Chic’s fingers upon his arm. It was terrible; for weeks afterward Covington heard that cough.

At the end of an hour Covington turned back, wheeling like a soldier on parade. There had never seemed to him any reason why, when a man was entirely comfortable, as he was, he should take the risk of a change. He had told Chic as much when sometimes the latter, over a pipe, had introduced the subject. The last time, Chic had gone a little farther than usual.

“But, man alive!” Chic had exclaimed. “A day will come when you’ll be sorry.”

“I don’t believe it,” Monte answered.

Yet it was only yesterday that he had wandered over half Paris in search of something to bring his schedule back to normal. And he had found it in front of the Opera House at eleven o’clock at night.

Monte strode into his hotel with a snap that made the little clerk glance up in surprise.

“Any mail for me?” he inquired.

“A telephone message, monsieur.”

He handed Monte an envelope. It was not often that he received telephone messages. It read as follows:

Can’t you come over? Teddy was very angry about the taxi, and I think
I shall leave Paris tonight. The flowers were beautiful.

Monte felt his breath coming fast.

“How long has this been waiting for me?” he demanded.

“A half-hour, monsieur.”

He hurried out the door and into a taxi.

“Sixty-four Boulevard Saint-Germain and hurry.”

Leaving Paris? She had no right to do that. Edhart never left. That was the beauty of Edhart that he remained stationary, so that he could always be found. He was quite sure that Edhart was too considerate even to die, could he have avoided it. Now Marjory was proposing to go and leave him here alone. He could not allow that. It was too early to quit Paris, anyway. It was only the first day of spring!

She came down into the gloomy pension reception-room looking as if she had already begun to assist Marie with the packing. Her hair had become loosened, and escaped in several places in black curls that gave her a distinctly girlish appearance. There was more color, too, in her cheeks; but it was the flush of excitement rather than the honest red that colored his own cheeks. She looked tired and discouraged. She sank into a chair.

“It was good of you to come, Monte,” she said. “But I don’t know why I should bother you with my affairs. Only he was so disagreeable. He frightened me, for a moment.”

“What did he do?” demanded Monte.

“He came here early, and when Marie told him I was out he said he would wait until I came back. So he sat down right here. Then, every five minutes, he called Madame Courcy and sent her up with a note. I was afraid of a scene, because madame spoke of sending for the gendarmes.”

“Why didn’t you let her?”

“That would have made still more of a scene.”

She was speaking in a weary, emotionless voice, like one who is very tired.

“So I came down and saw him,” she said. “He was very melodramatic.”

It seemed difficult for her to go on.

“Absinthe?” he questioned.

“I don’t know. He wanted me to marry him at once. He drew a revolver and threatened to shoot himself threatened to shoot me.”

Monte clenched his fists.

“Good Lord!” he said softly. “That is going a bit far.”

“Is it so men act when they are in love?” she asked.

Monte started.

“I don’t know. If it is, then they ought to be put in jail.”

“If it is, it is most unpleasant,” she said; “and I can’t stand it, Monte. There is no reason why I should, is there?”

“No: if you can avoid it.”

“That’s the trouble,” she frowned. “I’ve been quite frank with him. I told him that I did not want to marry him. I’ve told him that I could not conceive of any possible circumstances under which I would marry him. I’ve told him that in French and I ’ve told him that in English, and he won’t believe me.”

“The cad!” exclaimed Monte.

“It does n’t seem fair,” she mused. “The only thing I ask for is to be allowed to lead my life undisturbed, and he won’t let me. There are others, too. I had five letters this morning. So all I can do is to run away again.”

“To where?” asked Monte.

“You spoke of the little villages along the Riviera.”

“Yes,” he nodded. “There is the village of Etois back in the mountains.”

“Then I might go there. C’est tout egal.”

She shrugged her shoulders. (She had beautiful shoulders.)

“But look here. Supposing the this Hamilton should follow you there?”

“Then I must move again.”

Monte paced the room. Obviously this was not right. There was no reason why she should be continually hounded. Yet there seemed to be no way to prevent it.

He stopped in front of her. She glanced up her eyes, even now, calm and deep as trout pools.

“I’ll get hold of the beggar to-day,” he said grimly.

She shook her head.

“Please not.”

“But he’s the one who must go away. If I could have a few minutes with him alone, I think perhaps I could make him see that.”

“Please not,” she repeated.

“What’s the harm?”

“I don’t think it would be safe for either of you.”

She raised her eyes as she said that, and for a moment Monte was held by them. Then she rose.

“After all, it’s too bad for me to inflict my troubles on you,” she said.

“I don’t mind,” he answered quickly. “Only hang it all, there does n’t seem to be anything I can do!”

“I guess there is n’t anything any one can do,” she replied helplessly.

“So you’re going away?”

“To-night,” she nodded.

“To Etois?”

“Perhaps. Perhaps to India. Perhaps to Japan.”

It was the indefiniteness that Monte did not relish. Even as she spoke, it was as if she began to disappear; and for a second he felt again the full weight of his thirty-two years. He was perfectly certain that the moment she went he was going to feel alone more alone than he had ever felt in his life.

It was in the nature of a hunch. Within twenty-four hours he would be wandering over Paris as he had wandered yesterday. That would not do at all. Of course, he could pack up and go on to England, but at the moment he felt that it would be even worse there, where all the world spoke English.

“Suppose I order young Hamilton to leave Paris?” he asked.

“But what right have you to order him to leave Paris?”

“Well, I can tell him he is annoying you and that I won’t stand for it,” he declared.

For a second her eyes grew mellow; for a second a more natural red flushed her cheeks.

“If you were only my big brother, now,” she breathed.

Monte saw the point. His own cheeks turned a red to match hers.

“You mean he’ll ask what business you are of mine?”

“Yes.”

And Monte would have no answer. He realized that. As a friend he had, of course, certain rights; but they were distinctly limited. It was, for instance, no business of his whether she went to Etois or Japan or India. By no stretch of the imagination could he make it his business though it affected his whole schedule, though it affected her whole life. As a friend he would be justified, perhaps, in throwing young Hamilton out of the door if he happened to be around when the man was actually annoying her; but there was no way in which he could guard her against such annoyances in the future. He had no authority that extended beyond the moment; nor was it possible for Marjory herself to give him that authority. Young Hamilton, if he chose, could harry her around the world, and it would be none of Monte’s business.

There was something wrong with a situation of that sort. If he had only been born her brother or father, or even a first cousin, then it might be possible to do something, because, if necessary, he could remain always at hand. He wondered vaguely if there were not some law that would make him a first cousin. He was on the point of suggesting it when a bell jangled solemnly in the hall.

The girl clutched his arm.

“I’m afraid he’s come again,” she gasped.

Monte threw back his shoulders.

“Fine,” he smiled. “It could n’t be better.”

“But I don’t want to see him! I won’t see him!”

“There is n’t the slightest need in the world of it,” he nodded. “You go upstairs, and I’ll see him.”

But, clinging to his arm, she drew him into the hall and toward the stairs. The bell rang again impatiently.

“Come,” she insisted.

He tried to calm her.

“Steady! Steady! I promise you I won’t make a scene.”

“But he will. Oh, you don’t know him. I won’t have it. Do you hear? I won’t have it.”

To Madame Courcy, who appeared, she whispered:

“Tell him I refuse to see him again. Tell him you will call the gendarmes.”

“It seems so foolish to call in those fellows when the whole thing might be settled quietly right now,” pleaded Monte.

He turned eagerly toward the door.

“If you don’t come away, Monte,” she said quietly, “I won’t ever send for you again.”

Reluctantly he followed her up the stairs as the bell jangled harshly, wildly.