Read CHAPTER VIII - DRAWBACKS OF RECOVERY of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

Monte’s recovery was rapid in many ways more rapid than he desired. In a few days Nurse Duval disappeared, and in a few days more Monte was able to dress himself with the help of the hotel valet, and sit by the window while Marjory read to him. Half the time he gave no heed to what she was reading, but that did not detract from his pleasure in the slightest. He liked the sound of her voice, and liked the idea of sitting opposite her.

Her eyes were always interesting when she read. For then she forgot about them and let them have their own way now to light with a smile, now to darken with disapproval, and sometimes to grow very tender, as the story she happened to be reading dictated.

This was luxury such as Monte had never known, and for more than ten years now he had ordered of the world its choicest in the way of luxury.

At his New York club the experience of many, many years in catering to man comfort was placed at his disposal. As far as possible, every desire was anticipated, so that little more effort was required of him than merely to furnish the desires. In a house where no limit whatever had been set upon the expense, a hundred lackeys stood ready to jump if a man as much as raised an eyebrow. And they understood, those fellows, what a man needs from the chef who searched the markets of the world to satisfy tender tastes, to the doorman who acquainted himself with the names of the members and their personal idiosyncrasies.

That same service was furnished him, if to a more limited extent, on the transatlantic liners, where Monte’s name upon the passenger list was immediately passed down the line with the word that he must have the best. At Davos his needs were anticipated a week in advance; at Nice there had been Edhart, who added his smiling self to everything else.

But no one at his club, on the boat, or at Davos not even Edhart had given him this: this being the somewhat vague word he used to describe what he was now enjoying as Marjory sat by the window reading to him. It had nothing to do with being read aloud to. He could at any time have summoned a valet to do that, and in five minutes would have felt like throwing the book any book at the valet’s head. It had nothing to do with the mere fact that she was a woman. Nurse Duval could not have taken her place. Kind as she had been, he was heartily bored with her before she left.

It would seem, then, that in some mysterious way he derived his pleasure from Marjory herself. But, if so, then she had gone farther than all those who made it their life-work to see that man was comfortable; for they satisfied only existing wants, while she created a new one. Whenever she left the room he was conscious of this want.

Yet, when Monte faced the issue squarely and asked himself if this were not a symptom of being in love, he answered it as fairly as he could out of an experience that covered Chic Warren’s pre-nuptial brain-storms; a close observation of several dozen honeymoon couples on shipboard, to say nothing of many incipient cases which started there; and, finally, the case of Teddy Hamilton.

The leading feature of all those distressing examples seemed to indicate that, while theoretically the man was in an ideal state of blissful ecstasy, he was, practically, in a condition bordering on madness. At the very moment he was supposed to be happy, he was about half the time most miserable. Even at its best, it did not make for comfort. Poor Chic ran the gamut every week from hell to heaven. It was with a sigh of relief that Monte was able to answer his own question conscientiously in the negative. It was just because he was able to retain the use of his faculties that he was able to enjoy the situation.

Monte liked to consider himself thoroughly normal in everything. As far as he had any theory of life, it was based upon the wisdom of keeping cool of keeping normal. To get the utmost out of every day, this was necessary. It was not the man who drank too much who enjoyed his wine: it was the man who drank little. That was true of everything. If Hamilton had only kept his head well, after all, Monte was indebted to Hamilton for not having kept his head.

Monte was not in love: that was certain. Marjory was not in love: that also was certain. This was why he was able to light his cigarette, lean back his head on the pillow she arranged, and drift into a state of dreamy content as she read to him. This happy arrangement might go on forever except that, in the course of time, his shoulder was bound to heal. And then he knew well enough that old Dame Society was even at the end of these first ten days beginning to fidget. He knew that Marjory knew it, too. It began the day Dr. Marcellin advised him to take a walk in the Champs Elysees.

He was perfectly willing to do that. It was beautiful out there. They sat down at one of the little iron tables the little tables were so warm and sociable now and beneath the whispering trees sipped their cafe au lait. But the fact that he was able to get out of his room seemed to make a difference in their thoughts. It was as if his status had changed. It was as if those who passed him, with a glance at his arm in its sling, stopped to tell him so.

It was none of their business, at that. It would have been sheer presumption of them to have butted into any of the other affairs of his life: whether he was losing money or making money; whether he was going to England or to Spain, or going to remain where he was; whether he preferred chops for breakfast, or bread and coffee. Theoretically, then, it was sheer presumption for them to interest themselves in the question of whether he was an invalid confined to his room, or a convalescent able to get out, or a man wholly recovered.

Yet he knew that, with every passing day that he came out into the sunshine, these same people were managing to make Marjory’s position more and more delicate. It became increasingly less comfortable for her and for him when they returned to the hotel.

Therefore he was not greatly surprised when she remarked one morning:

“Monte, I’ve been thinking over where I shall go, and I ’ve about decided to go to Etois.”

“When?” he asked.

“Very soon before the end of the week, anyway.”

“But look here!” he protested. “What am I going to do?”

“I don’t know,” she smiled. “But one thing is certain: you can’t play sick very much longer.”

“The doctor says it will be another two weeks before my arm is out of the sling.”

“Even so, the rest of you is well. There is n’t much excuse for my bringing in your breakfasts, Monte.”

“Do you mind doing it?”

“No.”

“Who is to tie on this silk handkerchief?” He wore a black silk handkerchief over his bandages, which she always adjusted for him.

She met his eyes a moment, and smiled again.

“I’m going to Etois,” she said. “I think I shall get a little villa there and stay all summer.”

“Then,” he declared, “I think I shall go to Etois myself.”

“I ’m afraid you must n’t.”

“But the doctor says I must n’t play golf for six months. What do you think I’m going to do with myself until then?”

“There’s all the rest of the world,” she suggested.

Monte frowned.

“Are you going to break our engagement, then?”

“It has served its purpose, hasn’t it?” she asked.

“Up to now,” he admitted. “But you say it can’t go any farther.”

“No, Monte.”

The next suggestion that leaped into Monte’s mind was obvious enough, yet he paused a moment before voicing it. Perhaps even then he would not have found the courage had he not been rather panic-stricken. He had exactly the same feeling, when he thought of her in Etois, that he had when he thought of Edhart in Paradise. It started as resentment, but ended in a slate-gray loneliness.

He could imagine himself as sitting here alone at one of these little iron tables, and decidedly it was not pleasant. When he pictured himself as returning to his room in the hotel and to the company of the hotel valet, it put him in a mood that augured ill for the valet.

It would have been bad enough had he been able to resume his normal schedule and fill his time with golf; but, with even that relaxation denied him, such a situation as she proposed was impossible. For the present, at any rate, she was absolutely indispensable. She ought to know that a valet could not adjust a silk handkerchief properly, and that without this he could not even go upon the street. And who would read to him from the American papers?

There was no further excuse, she said, for her to bring in his breakfasts, but if she did not sit opposite him at breakfast, what in thunder was the use of eating breakfast? If she had not begun breakfasting with him, then he would never have known the difference. But she had begun it; she had first suggested it. And now she calmly proposed turning him over to a valet.

“Marjory,” he said, “didn’t I ask you to marry me?”

She nodded.

“That was necessary in order that we might be engaged,” she reminded him.

“Exactly,” he agreed. “Now there seems to be only one way that we may keep right on being engaged.”

“I don’t see that, Monte,” she answered. “We may keep on being engaged as long as we please, may n’t we?”

“It seems not. That is, there is n’t much sense in it if it won’t let me go to Etois with you.”

“Of course you can’t do that.”

“And yet,” he said, “if we were married I could go, couldn’t I?”

“Why er yes,” she faltered; “I suppose so.”

“Then,” he said, “why don’t we get married?”

She did not turn away her head. She lifted her dark eyes to his.

“Just what do you mean, Monte?” she demanded.

“I mean,” he said uneasily, “that we should get married just so that we can go on as we have been these last ten days. Really, we’ll still only be engaged, but no one need know that. Besides, no one will care, if we’re married.”

He gained confidence as he went on, though he was somewhat afraid of the wonder in her eyes.

“People don’t care anything more about you after you’re married,” he said. “They just let you drop as if you were done for. It’s a queer thing, but they do. Why, if we were married we could sit here all day and no one would give us a second glance. We could have breakfast together as often as we wished, and no one would care a hang. I’ve seen it done. We could go to Etois together, and I could pay for half the villa and you could pay for half. You can bring Marie, and we can stay as long as we wish without having any one turn an eye.”

He was growing enthusiastic now.

“There will be nothing to prevent you from doing just as you wish. You can paint all day if you want. You can paint yards of things olive trees and sky and rocks. There are lots of them around Etois. And I ”

“Yes,” she interrupted; “what can you do, Monte?”

“I can watch you paint,” he answered. “Or I can walk. Or I can oh, there’ll be plenty for me to do. If we tire of Etois we can move somewhere else. If we tire of each other’s company, why, we can each go somewhere else. It’s simple, is n’t it? We can both do just as we please, can’t we? There won’t be a living soul with the right to open his head to us. Do you get that? Why, even if you want to go off by yourself, with Mrs. in front of your name they’ll let you alone.”

At first she had been surprised, then she had been amused, but now she was thinking.

“It’s queer, is n’t it, Monte, that it should be like that?”

“It’s the way it is. It makes everything simple and puts the whole matter up to us.”

“Yes,” she admitted thoughtfully.

“Of course,” he said, “I’m assuming you don’t mind having me around quite a lot.”

“No, I don’t mind that,” she assured him. “But I ’m wondering if you’ll mind having me around?”

“I did n’t realize until this last week how well, how comfortable it was having you around,” he confessed.

She glanced up.

“Yes,” she said, “that’s the word. I think we’ve made each other comfortable. After all that’s something.”

“It’s a whole lot.”

“And it need n’t ever be anything else, need it?”

“Certainly not,” he declared. “That would spoil everything. That’s what we’re trying to avoid.”

To his surprise, she suddenly rose as if to leave.

“Look here!” he exclaimed. “Can’t we settle this right now so that we won’t have to worry about it?”

He disliked having anything left to worry about.

“I should think the least you’d expect of me would be to think it over,” she answered.

“It would be so much simpler just to go ahead,” he declared.

There seemed to be no apparent reason in the world why she should not assent to Monte’s proposal. In and of itself, the arrangement offered her exactly what she craved the widest possible freedom to lead her own life without let or hindrance from any one, combined with the least possible responsibility. As far as she could see, it would remove once and for all the single fretting annoyance that, so far, had disarranged all her plans.

Monte’s argument was sound. Once she was married, the world of men would let her alone. So, too, would the world of women. She could face them both with a challenge to dispute her privileges. All this she would receive without any of the obligations with which most women pay so heavily for their release from the bondage in which they are held until married. For they pay even more when they love pay the more, in a way, the more they love. It cannot be helped.

She was thinking of the Warrens the same Warrens Monte had visited when Chic, Junior had the whooping cough. She had been there when Chic, Junior was born. Marion had wanted her near in the next room. She had learned then how they pay these women who love.

She had been there at other times less dramatic times. It was just the same. From the moment Marion awoke in the morning until she sank wearily into her bed at night, her time, her thought, her heart, her soul almost, was claimed by some one else. She gave, gave, until nothing was left for herself.

Marjory, in her lesser way, had done much the same so she knew the cost. It was rare when she had been able to leave her aunt for a whole day and night. Year after year, she too had awakened in the morning to her tasks for another for this woman who had demanded them as her right. She too had given her time, her thought, her soul, almost, to another. If she had not given her heart, it was perhaps because it was not asked; perhaps, again, it was because she had no heart to give.

Sometimes, in that strange, emotionless existence she had lived so long where duty took the place of love, she had wondered about that. If she had a heart, it never beat any faster to let her know she had it.

She paid her debt of duty in full paid until her release came. In the final two weeks of her aunt’s life she had never left her side. Patiently, steadfastly, she helped with all there was in her to fight that last fight. When it was over, she did not break down, as the doctors predicted. She went to bed and slept forty-eight hours, and awoke ten years younger.

She awoke as one out of bondage, and stared with keen, eager eyes at a new world. For a few weeks she had twenty-four hours a day of her own. Then Peter had come, and others had come, and finally Teddy had come. They wanted to take from her that which she had just gained each in his own fashion.

“Give us of yourself,” they pleaded. “Begin again your sacrifices.”

Peter put it best, even though he did not say much. But she had only to look in his eyes and read his proposal.

“Come with me and stand by my side while I carve my career,” was what his eyes said. “I’ll love you and make you love me as Marion loves. You ’ll begin the day with me, and you ’ll guard my home while I ’m gone until night, and you’ll share my honors and my disappointments, and perhaps a time will come when Marion will stand in the next room, as once you stood in the next room. Then ”

It was at this point she drew back. Then her soul would go out into the new-born soul, and after that she would only live and breathe and hope through that other. When Marion laughed and said that she was as she was because she did not know, Marion was wrong. It was because she did know because she knew how madly and irrevocably she would give, if ever she gave again. There would be nothing left for herself at all. It would be as if she had died.

She did not wish to give like that. She wished to live a little. She wished to be herself a little herself as she now was. She wished to get back some of those years between seventeen and twenty-seven taste the world as it was then.

What Teddy offered was different. Something was there that even Peter did not have something that made her catch her breath once or twice when he sang to her like a white-robed choir-boy. It was as if he asked her to take his hand and jump with him into a white-hot flame. He carried her farther back in her passions than Peter did back to seventeen, back to the primitive, elemental part of her. He really made her heart beat. But on guard within her stood the older woman, and she could not move.

Now came Monte asking nothing. He asked nothing because he wished to give nothing. She was under no illusion about that. There was not anything idealistic about Monte. This was to be purely an arrangement for their mutual comfort. They were to be companions on an indefinite tour of the world each paying his own bills.

At thirty-two he needed a comrade of some sort, and in his turn he offered himself as an escort. She found no apparent reason, then, even when she had spent half the night getting as far as this, why she should not immediately accept his proposal. Yet she still hesitated.

It was not that she did not trust Monte. Not the slightest doubt in the world existed in her mind about that. She would trust him farther than she would even Peter trust him farther than any man she had ever met. He was four-square, and she knew it. Perhaps it was a curious suggestion it was just because of this that she hesitated.

In a way, she was considering Monte. She did not like to help him give up responsibilities that might be good for him. She was somewhat disappointed that he was willing to give them up. He did not have the excuse she had years of self-sacrifice. He had been free all his life to indulge himself, and he had done so. He had never known a care, never known a heartache. Having money, he had used it decently, so that he had avoided even the compensating curse that is supposed to come with money.

She knew there was a lot to Monte. She had sensed that from the first. He had proved it in the last two weeks. It only needed some one to bring it out, and he would average high. Love might do it the same white-hot love that had driven Teddy mad.

But that was what he was avoiding, just as she was. Well, what of it? If one did not reach the heights, then one did not sound the depths. After all, it was not within her province to direct Monte’s life. She was selfish she had warned him of that. He was selfish and had warned her.

Yet, as she lay there in her bed, she felt that she was about to give up something forever, and that Monte was about to give up something forever. It is one thing not to want something, and another to make an irrevocable decision never to have it. Also, it is one thing to fret one’s self into an unnecessary panic over a problem at night, and another to handle it lightly in the balmy sunshine of a Parisian springtime morning.

Monte had risen early and gone out and bought her violets again. When she came in, he handed them to her, and she buried her face in their dewy fragrance. It was good to have some one think of just such little attentions. Then, too, his boyish enthusiasm swept her off her guard. He was so eager and light-hearted this morning that she found herself breaking into a laugh. She was still laughing when he brought back to her last night’s discussion.

“Well, have you decided to marry me?” he demanded.

She shook her head, her face still buried in the violets.

“What’s worrying you about it?” he asked.

“You, Monte,” she answered.

“I? Well, that isn’t much. I looked up the time-tables, and we could take the six-ten to-night if you were ready.”

“I could n’t possibly be ready,” she replied decidedly.

“To-morrow, then?”

When he insisted upon being definite, the proposition sounded a great deal more absurd than when he allowed it to be indefinite. She was still hesitating when Marie appeared.

“A telephone for mademoiselle,” she announced.

Monte heard her startled exclamation from the next room. He hurried to the door. She saw him, and, placing her hand over the telephone, turned excitedly.

“It’s Teddy again,” she trembled.

“Let me talk to him,” he commanded.

“He says he does n’t believe in our our engagement.”

“We’re to be married to-morrow?” he asked quickly.

“Oh!”

“It’s the only way to get rid of him.”

“Then ”

“To-morrow?”

Catching her breath, she nodded.

He took the receiver.

“This is Covington,” he said. “Miss Stockton and I are to be married to-morrow. Get that? . . . Well, keep hold of it, because the moment I ’m her husband ”

Following an oath at the other end, Monte heard the click of the receiver as it was snapped up.

“That settles it very nicely,” he smiled.