Read CHAPTER XIII - A WEDDING JOURNEY (CONTINUED) of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

Through the golden sunshine and beneath the blue sky, they went on the next day, until with a nod she chose her place to stop for lunch, until with another nod, as the sun was getting low, she chose her place to stop for the night. This time they did not ask to know even the name of the village. It was his suggestion.

“Because,” he explained, “that makes it seem as if we were trying to get somewhere. And we are n’t, are we?”

“Wherever we are, we are,” she nodded gayly.

“It is n’t even important that we get to Etois,” he insisted.

“Not in the slightest,” she agreed. “Only, if we keep on going we’ll get to the sea, won’t we?”

“Then we can either skirt the shore or take a boat and cross the sea. It’s all one.”

“All one! You make me feel as if I had wings.”

“Then you’re happy?”

“Very, very happy, Monte. And you?”

“Yes,” he answered abruptly.

She had no reason to doubt it. That night, as she sat alone in her room, she reviewed this day in order to satisfy herself on this point; for she felt a certain obligation. He had given to her so generously that the least she in her turn could do was to make sure that he was comfortable and content. That, all his life, was the most he had asked for. It was the most he asked for now. He must wake each morning free of worries, come down to a good breakfast and find his coffee hot, have a pleasant time of it during the day without being bored, and end with a roast and salad and later a good bed. These were simple desires thoroughly wholesome, normal desires. With the means at his command, with the freedom from restraint that had been his ever since he left college, it was a great deal to his credit that he had been able to retain such modest tastes. He had been at liberty to choose what he wished, and he had chosen decently.

This morning she had come down early and looked to his coffee herself. It was a slight thing, but she had awakened with a desire to do something positive and personal for him. She had been satisfied when he exclaimed, without knowing the part she played in it:

“This coffee is bully!”

It had started the day right and given her a lightness of spirit that was reflected in her talk and even in her smiles. She had smiled from within. She was quite sure that the day had been a success, and that so far, at any rate, Monte had not been either bored or worried. Sitting there in the dark, she felt strangely elated over the fact. She had been able to send her fairy prince to his sleep contented. It gave her a motherly feeling of a task well done. After all, Monte was scarcely more than a boy.

Her thoughts went back to the phrase he had used at the end of the day’s journey.

“We aren’t getting anywhere, are we?” he had asked.

At the moment she had not thought he meant anything more than he said. He seldom did. It was restful to know that she need never look for hidden meanings in his chance remarks. He meant only that there was no haste; that it made no difference when they reached this town or that.

They had no destination.

That was true, and yet the thought disturbed her a trifle. It did not seem quite right for Monte to have no destination. He was worth something more than merely to revolve in a circle. He should have a Holy Grail. Give him something to fight for, and he would fight hard. Twice to-day she had caught a light in his eyes that had suggested this to her a clean, white light that had hinted of a Monte with a destination. But would not that destroy the very poise that made him just Monte?

It was too puzzling a question for her own peace of mind. She turned away from it and slowly began to take down her hair.

On and on they went the third day straight on with their destination still hidden. That night, when again alone, she sat even longer by her open window than she had yesterday, instead of going to bed and to sleep, which would have been the sensible thing to do. In some ways this had been rather a more exciting day than the others. Again she had risen early and come down to order his coffee; but he too must have risen early, for he had come upon her as she was giving her instructions. It had been an embarrassing moment for her, and she had tried to carry it off with a laugh. That she was not to do so surprised her and added a still deeper flush to her cheeks.

“So this is the secret of my good coffee?” he asked.

“There is so very little I can do for you,” she faltered.

“That is a whole lot more than I deserve,” he answered.

However, he was pleased by this trivial attention, and she knew it. It was an absurdly insignificant incident, and yet here she was recalling it with something like a thrill. Not only that, but she recalled another and equally preposterous detail of the day. She had dropped her vanity-box in the car, and as they both stooped for it his cheek had brushed hers. He laughed lightly and apologized forgetting it the next second. Eight hours later she dared remember it, like any schoolgirl. Small wonder that she glanced about to make sure the room was empty. It sent her to bed shamefaced.

The fourth day came, with the golden road still unfolding before them and her fairy prince still beside her. Then the fifth day, and that night they stopped within sight of the ocean. It came as a surprise to both of them. It was as if, after all, they had reached a destination, when as a matter of fact they had done nothing of the sort. It meant, to be sure, that the next day would find them in Nice, which would end their ride, because they intended to remain there for a day or two until they arranged for a villa in Etois, which, being in the mountains, they must reach afoot. But if she did not like it she had only to nod and they could move on to somewhere else. There was nothing final even about Etois.

That evening they walked by the shore of the sea, and Monte appeared quieter than usual.

“I have wired ahead for rooms at the Hotel des Roses,” he announced.

“Yes, Monte,” she said.

“It’s where I’ve stopped for ten years. The last time I was there I found Edhart gone, and was very uncomfortable.”

“You were as dependent upon him as that?” she asked.

“It was what lured me on to Paris and you,” he smiled.

“Then I must be indebted to Edhart also.”

“I think it would be no more than decent to look up his grave and place a wreath of roses there,” he observed.

“But, Monte,” she protested, “I should hate to imagine he had to give up his life for just this.”

“At any rate, if he hadn’t died I’m sure I should have kept to my schedule,” he said seriously.

“And then?”

“I should not have been here.”

“You speak regretfully?” she asked.

He stopped abruptly and seized her arm.

“You know better,” he answered.

For a moment she looked dizzily into his eyes. Then he broke the tension by smiling.

“I guess we’d better turn back,” he said below his breath.

It was evident that Monte was not quite himself at that moment. That night she heard the roll of the ocean as she tried to sleep, and it said many strange things to her. She did not sleep well.

The next morning they were on their way again, reaching the Hotel des Roses at six in the afternoon. Henri was at the door to meet them. Henri, he thought, had greatly improved since his last visit. Perhaps Edhart, from his seat on high, had been instructing him. The man seemed to understand better without being told what Monsieur Covington desired. The apartments were ready, and it was merely a personal matter between Monte and the garcon to have his trunk transferred from the second floor to the third and Marie’s trunk brought down from the third to the second. Even Edhart might have been pardoned for making this mistake in the distribution of the luggage, if not previously informed.

That evening Marjory begged to be excused from dinner, and Monte dined alone. He dined alone in the small salle-a-manger where he had always dined alone, and where the last time he was here he had grown in an instant from twenty-two to thirty-two. Now, in another instant, it was as if he had gone back to twenty-two. It was even almost as if Edhart had returned to life. The mellow glow of the long twilight tinted the room just as it used to do. Across the boulevard he saw the Mediterranean, languid and blue.

A thing that impressed Monte was how amazingly friendly every one was how amazingly friendly even the material objects were. His old table in the corner had been reserved for him, but this time it had been arranged for two. The empty chair opposite him was quite as friendly as Marjory herself might have been. It kept him company and humored his thoughts. It said, as plainly as it is possible for a chair to speak:

“Madame Covington is disappointed to think she could not join you this evening, but you must remember that it is not to be expected of a woman to stand these long journeys like a man. However, she will have breakfast with you in the morning. That is something to look forward to. In the meanwhile let me serve to remind you that she is upstairs upstairs in the room you used to occupy. Perhaps even at this moment she is looking out the window at this same languid blue sea. Being up there, she is within call. Should you need her really need her you may be perfectly sure that she would come to you.

“That time you were ill here two years ago, you had rather a bad time of it because there was no one to visit you except a few chance acquaintances about whom you did not care. Well, it would not be like that now. She would sit by your bed all night long and all day long, too, if you permitted. She is that kind. So, you see, you are really not dining alone to-night. I, though only an empty chair, am here to remind you of that.”

Felix, who was in charge of the salle-a-manger, hovered near Monte as if he felt the latter to be his especial charge. He served as Monte’s right hand the hand of the sling. He was very much disturbed because madame refused her dinner, and every now and then thought of something new that possibly might tempt her.

Every one else about the hotel was equally friendly, racking his brains to find a way of serving Monte by serving madame. It made him feel quite like those lordly personages who used to come here with a title and turn the place topsy-turvy for themselves and for their women-folk. He recalled a certain count of something who arrived with his young wife and who in a day had half of Nice in his service. Monte felt like him, only more so. There was a certain obsequiousness that the count demanded which vanished the moment his back was turned; but the interest of Felix and his fellows now was based upon something finer than fear. Monte felt it had to do with Marjory herself, and also well, in a sense she was carrying a title too. She was, to these others, a bride.

But it was a great relief to know that she was not the sort of bride of which he had seen too many in the last ten years. It would be a pleasure to show these fellows a bride who would give them no cause to smile behind their hands. He would show them a bride who could still conduct herself like a rational human being, instead of like a petulant princess or a moon-struck school girl.

Monte lighted a cigarette and went out upon the Quai Massena for a stroll. It was late in the season for the crowds. They had long since adjourned to the mountains or to Paris. But still there were plenty remaining. He would not have cared greatly had there been no one left. It was a relief to have the shore to himself. He had formerly been rather sensitive about being anywhere out of season. In fact, this was the first time he had ever been here later than May. But the difference was not so great as he had imagined it must be. Neither the night sky nor the great turquoise mirror beneath it appeared out of season.

Monte did not stray far. He walked contentedly back and forth for the matter of an hour. He might have kept on until midnight, had it not been for a messenger from the hotel who handed him a note. Indifferently he opened it and read:

I’ve gone to the Hotel d’Angleterre. Please don’t try to see me to-night. Hastily,

MARJORY.