Read CHAPTER XV - IN THE DARK of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

In her new room at the Hotel d’Angleterre, Marjory dismissed Marie and buried her hot face in her hands. She felt like a cornered thing a shamed and cornered thing. She should not have given the name of the hotel. She should have sought Monte and ordered him to take her away. Only she could not face Monte himself. She did not know how she was going to see him to-morrow how she was ever going to see him again. “Monsieur and Madame Covington,” he had signed the register. Beatrice must have seen it, but Peter had not. He must never see it, because he would force her to confess the truth the truth she had been struggling to deny to herself.

She had trifled with a holy thing that was the shameful truth. She had posed here as a wife when she was no wife. The ceremony at the English chapel helped her none. It only made her more dishonest. The memory of Peter Noyes had warned her at the time, but she had not listened. She had lacked then some vision which she had since gained gained through Monte. It was that which made her understand Peter now, and the wonder of his love and the glory and sacredness of all love. It was that which made her understand herself now.

She got to her feet, staring into the dark toward the seashore.

“Monte, forgive me forgive me!” she choked.

She had trifled with the biggest thing in his life and in her life. She shouldered the full blame. Monte knew nothing either of himself or of her. He was just Monte, honest and four-square, living up to his bargain. But she had seen the light in his eyes the eyes that should have led him to the Holy Grail. He would have had to go such a little way only as far as her outstretched arms.

She shrank back from the window, her head bowed. It had been her privilege as a woman to be wiser than he. She should have known! Now the thought wrenched like a physical pain there was nothing left to her but renunciation. She must help him to be free. She must force him free. She owed that to him and to herself. It was only so that she might ever feel clean again.

Moaning his name, she flung herself upon the bed. So she lay until summoned back to life by Marie, who brought her the card of Miss Beatrice Noyes.

Marjory took the time to bathe her dry cheeks in hot water and to do over her hair before admitting the girl; but, even with those precautions, Beatrice paused at the entrance as if startled by her appearance.

“Perhaps you do not feel like seeing any one to-night,” she suggested.

“I do want to see you,” answered Marjory. “I want to hear about Peter. But my head would you mind if we sat in the dark?”

“I think that would be better if we are to talk about Peter.”

The phrase puzzled Marjory, but she turned out the lights and placed two chairs near the open windows.

“Now tell me from the beginning,” she requested.

“The beginning came soon after you went away,” replied Beatrice in a low voice.

Marjory leaned back wearily. If there were to be more complications for which she must hold herself accountable, she felt that she could not listen. Surely she had lived through enough for one day.

“Peter cared a great deal for you,” Beatrice faltered on.

“Why?”

It was a cry in the night.

Impulsively the younger girl leaned forward and fumbled for her hands.

“You did n’t realize it?” she asked hopefully.

“I realized nothing then. I realized nothing yesterday,” cried Marjory. “It is only to-day that I began to realize anything.”

“To-day?”

“Only to-night.”

“It was the sight of Peter looking so unlike himself that opened your heart,” nodded Beatrice.

“Not my heart just my eyes,” returned Marjory.

“Your heart too,” insisted Beatrice; “for it’s only through your heart that you can open Peter’s eyes.”

“I I don’t understand.”

“Because he loves you,” breathed Beatrice.

“No. No not that.”

“You don’t know how much,” went on the girl excitedly. “None of us knew how much until after you went. Oh, he’d never forgive me if he knew I was talking like this! But I can’t help it. It was because he would not talk because he kept it a secret all to himself that this came upon him. They told me at the hospital that it was overwork and worry, and that he had only one chance in a hundred. But I sat by his side, Marjory, night and day, and coaxed him back. Little by little he grew stronger all except his poor eyes. It was then he told me the truth: how he had tried to forget you in his work.”

“He he blamed me?”

Beatrice was still clinging to her hands.

“No,” she answered quickly. “He did not blame you. We never blame those we love, do we?”

“But we hurt those we love!”

“Only when we don’t understand. You did not know he loved you like that, did you?”

Marjory withdrew her hands.

“He had no right!” she cried.

Beatrice was silent a moment. There was a great deal here that she herself did not understand. But, though she herself had never loved, there was a great deal she did understand. She spoke as if thinking aloud.

“I have not found love yet,” she said. “But I never thought it was a question of right when people loved. I thought it it just happened.”

Marjory drew a quick breath.

“Yes; it is like that,” she admitted.

Only, she was not thinking of Peter. She was thinking of herself. A week ago she would have smiled at that phrase. Even yesterday she would have smiled a little. Love was something a woman or man undertook or not at will. It was a condition to choose as one chose one’s style of living. It was accepted or rejected, as suited one’s pleasure. If a woman preferred her freedom, then that was her right.

Then, less than an hour ago, she had flung out her hands toward the shadowy figure of a man walking alone by the sea, her heart aching with a great need for the love that might have been hers had she not smiled. That need, springing of her own love, had just happened. The fulfillment of it was a matter to be decided by her own conscience; but the love itself had involved no question of right. She felt a wave of sympathy for Peter. She was able to feel for him now as never before. Poor Peter, lying there alone in the hospital! How the ache, unsatisfied, ate into one.

“Peter would n’t tell me at first,” Beatrice was running on. “His lips were as tight closed as his poor bandaged eyes.”

“The blindness,” broke in Marjory. “That is not permanent?”

“I will tell you what the doctor told me,” Beatrice replied slowly. “He said that, while his eyes were badly overstrained, the seat of the trouble was mental. ‘He is worrying,’ he told me. ’Remove the cause of that and he has a chance.’”

“So you have come to me for that?”

“It seems like fate,” said Peter’s sister, with something of awe in her voice. “When, little by little, Peter told me of his love, I thought of only one thing: of finding you. I wanted to cable you, because I I thought you would come if you knew. But Peter would not allow that. He made me promise not to do that. Then, as he grew stronger, and the doctor told us that perhaps an ocean voyage would help him, I wanted to bring him to you. He would not allow that either. He thought you were in Paris, and insisted that we take the Mediterranean route. Then we happen upon you outside the hotel we chose by chance! Does n’t it seem as if back of such a thing as that there must be something we don’t understand; something higher than just what we may think right or wrong?”

“No, no; that’s impossible,” exclaimed Marjory.

“Why?”

“Because then we’d have to believe everything that happened was right. And it is n’t.”

“Was our coming here not right?”

Marjory did not answer.

“If you could have seen the hope in Peter’s face when I left him!”

“He does n’t know!” choked Marjory.

“He knows you are here, and that is all he needs to know,” answered Beatrice.

“If it were only as simple as that.”

The younger girl rose and, moving to the other’s side, placed an arm over the drooping shoulders.

“Marjory dear,” she said. “I feel to-night more like Peter than myself. I have listened so many hours in the dark as he talked about you. He he has given me a new idea of love. I’d always thought of love in a a sort of fairy-book way. I did n’t think of it as having much to do with everyday life. I supposed that some time a knight would come along on horseback if ever he came and take me off on a long holiday.”

Marjory gave a start. The girl was smoothing her hair.

“It would always be May-time,” she went on, “and we’d have nothing to do but gather posies in the sunshine. We’d laugh and sing, and there’d be no care and no worries. Did you ever think of love that way?”

“Yes.”

The girl spoke more slowly now, as if anxious to be quite accurate:

“But Peter seemed to think of other things. When we talked of you it was as if he wanted you to be a part of himself and help with the big things he was planning to do. He had so many wonderful plans in which you were to help. Instead of running away from cares and worries, it was as though meeting these was what was going to make it May-time. Instead of riding off to some fairy kingdom, he seemed to feel that it was this that would make a fairy kingdom even of New York. Because” she lowered her voice “it was of a home and of children he talked, and of what a fine mother you would make. He talked of that and somehow, Marjory, it made me proud just to be a woman! Oh, perhaps I should n’t repeat such things!”

Marjory sprang to her feet.

“You should n’t repeat them!” she exclaimed. “You mustn’t repeat anything more! And I must n’t listen!”

“It is only because you’re the woman I came to know so well, sitting by his bed in the dark, that I dared,” she said gently.

“You’ll go now?” pleaded Marjory. “I must n’t listen to any more.”

Silently, as if frightened by what she had already said, Beatrice moved toward the door.

Marjory hurried after her.

“You’re good,” she cried, “and Peter’s good! And I ”

The girl finished for her:

“No matter what happens, you’ll always be to me Peter’s Marjory,” she said. “You’ll always keep me proud.”