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

Dejectedly, Monte seated himself upon a trunk in the midst of a scene of fluffy chaos. Marie had swooped in from the next room, seized one armful, and returned in consternation as her mistress stood poised at the threshold. Then, with her face white, Marjory closed the door and locked it.

“He’s down there,” she informed Monte.

Monte glanced at his watch.

“It’s quarter of twelve,” he announced. “I’ll give him until twelve to leave.”

Marjory crossed to the window and stared out at the sun-lighted street. It was very beautiful out there very warm and gentle and peaceful. And at her back all this turmoil. Once again the unspoken cry that sprang to her lips was just this:

“It is n’t fair it is n’t fair!”

For ten years she had surrendered herself to Aunt Kitty surrendered utterly the deep, budding years of her young womanhood. To the last minute she had paid her obligations in full. Then, at the moment she had been about to spread her long-folded wings and soar into the sunshine, this other complication had come. When the lawyer informed her of the fortune that was hers, she had caught her breath. It spelled freedom. Yet she asked for so little for neither luxuries nor vanities; for just the privilege of leading for a space her own life, undisturbed by any responsibility.

Selfish? Yes. But she had a right to be selfish for a little. She had answered that question when Peter Noyes Monte reminded her in many ways of Peter had come down to her farm in Littlefield one Sunday. She had seen more of Peter than of any other man, and knew him to be honest. He had been very gentle with her, and very considerate; but she knew what was in his heart, so she had put the question to herself then and there. If she chose to follow the road to which he silently beckoned the road to all those wonderful hopes that had surged in upon her at eighteen she had only to nod. If she had let herself go, she could have loved Peter. Then she drew back at so surrendering herself. It meant a new set of self-sacrifices. It meant, however hallowed, a new prison. Because, if she loved, she would love hard.

Monte glanced at his watch again.

“Five minutes gone! Have you seen him leave?”

“No, Monte,” she answered.

He folded his arms resignedly.

“You don’t really mean to act against my wishes, Monte?”

“If that’s the only way of getting rid of him,” he answered coolly.

“But don’t you see don’t you understand that you will only make a scandal of it?” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“If he makes a scene it will be in the papers, and then oh, well, they will ask by what right ”

“I’d answer I was simply ridding you of a crazy man.”

“They would smile. Oh, I know them! Here in Paris they won’t believe that a woman who is n’t married ”

She stopped abruptly.

Monte’s brows came together.

Here was the same situation that had confronted him a few minutes before. Not only had he no right, but if he assumed a right his claim might be misinterpreted. Undoubtedly Teddy himself would be the first to misinterpret it. It would be impossible for a man of his sort to think in any other direction. And then well, such stories were easier to start than to stop.

Monte’s lips came together. As far as he himself was concerned, he was willing to take the risk; but the risk was not his to take. As long as he found himself unable to devise any scheme by which he could, even technically, make himself over into her father, her brother, or even a first cousin, there appeared no possible way in which he could assume the right that would not make it a risk.

Except one way.

Here Monte caught his breath.

There was just one relationship open to him that would bestow upon him automatically the undeniable right to say to Teddy Hamilton anything that might occur to him that would grant him fuller privileges, now and for as long as the relationship was maintained, than even that of blood.

To be sure, the idea was rather staggering. It was distinctly novel, for one thing, and not at all in his line, for another. This, however, was a crisis calling for staggering novelties if it could not be handled in the ordinary way. Ten minutes had already passed.

Monte walked slowly to Marjory’s side. She turned and met his eyes. On the whole, he would have felt more comfortable had she continued looking out the window.

“Marjory,” he said “Marjory, will you marry me?”

She shrank away.

“Monte!”

“I mean it,” he said. “Will you marry me?”

After the first shock she seemed more hurt than anything.

“You are n’t going to be like the others?” she pleaded.

“No,” he assured her. “That’s why well, that’s why I thought we might arrange it.”

“But I don’t love you, Monte!” she exclaimed.

“Of course not.”

“And you you don’t love me.”

“That’s it,” he nodded eagerly.

“Yet you are asking me to marry you?”

“Just because of that,” he said. “Don’t you understand?”

She was trying hard to understand, because she had a great deal of faith in Monte and because at this moment she needed him.

“I don’t see why being engaged to a man you don’t care about need bother you at all,” he ran on. “It’s the caring that seems to make the trouble whether you ’re engaged or not. I suppose that’s what ails Teddy.”

She had been watching Monte’s eyes; but she turned away for a second.

“Of course,” he continued, “you can care without caring too much. Can’t people care in just a friendly sort of way?”

“I should think so, Monte,” she answered.

“Then why can’t people become engaged in just a friendly sort of way?”

“It would n’t mean very much, would it?”

“Just enough,” he said.

He held out his hand.

“Is it a bargain?”

She searched his eyes. They were clean and blue.

“It’s so absurd, Monte!” she gasped.

“You can call me, to yourself, your secretary,” he suggested.

“No not that.”

“Then,” he said, “call me just a camarade de voyage.”

Her eyes warmed a trifle.

“I’ll keep on calling you just Monte,” she whispered.

And she gave him her hand.