Read CHAPTER XVIII - PETER of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

Beatrice brought Peter at ten, and, in spite of the mute appeal of Marjory’s eyes, stole off on tiptoe and left her alone with him.

“Has Trix gone?” demanded Peter.

“Yes.”

“She shouldn’t have done that,” he complained.

Marjory made him comfortable in the chair Monte had lately occupied, finding a cushion for his head.

“Please don’t do those things,” he objected. “You make me feel as if I were wearing a sign begging for pity.”

“How can any one help pitying you, when they see you like this, Peter?” she asked gently.

“What right have they to do it?” he demanded.

“Right?”

She frowned at that word. So many things in her life seemed to have been decided without respect for right.

“I’m the only one to say whether I shall be pitied or not,” he declared. “I’ve lost the use of my eyes temporarily by my own fault. I don’t like it; but I refuse to be pitied.”

Marjory was surprised to find him so aggressive. It was not what she expected after listening to Beatrice. It changed her whole attitude toward him instantly from one of guarded condolence to honest admiration. There was no whine here. He was blaming no one neither himself nor her. It was with a wave of deep and sincere sympathy, springing spontaneously from within herself, that she spoke.

“Peter,” she said, “I won’t pity you any more. But if I ’m sorry for you awfully sorry you won’t mind that?”

“I’d rather you would n’t think of my eyes at all,” he answered unsteadily. “I can almost forget them myself with you.”

“Then,” she said, “we’ll forget them. Are you going to stay here long, Peter?”

“Are you?”

“My plans are uncertain. I don’t think I shall ever make any more plans.”

“You must n’t let yourself feel that way,” Peter returned. “The thing to do, if one scheme fails, is to start another right off.”

“But nothing ever comes out as you expect.”

“That gives you a chance to try again.”

“You can’t keep that up forever?”

“Forever and ever,” he nodded. “It’s what makes life worth living.”

“Peter,” she said below her breath, “you’re wonderful.”

He seemed to clear the muggy air around her like a summer shower. In touch with his fine courage, her own returned. She felt herself steadier and calmer than she had been for a week.

“What if you make mistakes, Peter?”

“It’s the only way you learn,” he answered. “There’s a new note in your voice, Marjory. Have you been learning?”

His meaning was clear. He leaned forward as if trying to pierce the darkness between them. His thin white hands were tight upon the chair arms.

“At least, I’ve been making mistakes,” she answered uneasily.

She felt, for a second, as if she could pour out her troubles to him as if he would listen patiently and give her of his wisdom and strength. It would be easier she was ashamed of the thought, but it held true because he could not see. Almost she could tell him of herself and of Monte.

“There’s such a beautiful woman in you!” he explained passionately.

With her heart beating fast, she dropped back in her chair. There was the old ring in his voice the old masterful decision that used to frighten her. There used to be moments when she was afraid that he might command her to come with him as with authority, and that she would go.

“I ’ve always known that you’d learn some day all the fine things that are in you all the fine things that lay ahead of you to do as a woman,” he ran on. “You’ve only been waiting; that’s all.”

He could not see her cheeks she was thankful for that. But the wonder was that he did not hear the pounding of her heart. He spoke like this, not knowing of this last week.

“You remember all the things I said to you before you left?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t say them to you now. I must wait until I get my eyes back. Then I shall say them again, and perhaps ”

“Do you think I ’d let you wait for your eyes?” she cried.

“You mean that now ”

“No, no, Peter,” she interrupted, in a panic. “I did n’t mean I could listen now. Only I did n’t want you to think I was so selfish that if it were possible to share the light with you I I would n’t share the dark too.”

“There would n’t be any dark for me at all if you shared it,” he answered gently.

Then she saw his lips tighten.

“We must n’t talk of that,” he said. “We must n’t think of it.”

Yet, of all the many things they discussed this morning, nothing left Marjory more to think about. It seemed that, so far, her freedom had done nothing but harm. She had intended no harm. She had desired only to lead her own life day by day, quite by herself. So she had fled from Peter with this result; then she had fled from Teddy, who had lost his head completely; finally she had fled, not from Monte but with him, because that seemed quite the safest thing to do. It had proved the most dangerous of all! If she had driven Peter blind, Monte if he only knew it had brought him sweet revenge, because he had made her, not blind, but something that was worse, a thousand times worse!

There was some hope for Peter. It is so much easier to cure blindness than vision. Always she must see the light that had leaped to Monte’s eyes, kindled from the fire in her own soul. Always she must see him coming to her outstretched arms, knowing that she had lost the right to lift her arms. Perhaps she must even see him going to other arms, that flame born of her breathed into fuller life by other lips. If not then the ultimate curse of watching him remain just Monte, knowing he might have been so much more. This because she had dared trifle with that holy passion and so had made herself unworthy of it.

Peter was telling her of his work; of what he had accomplished already and of what he hoped to accomplish. She heard him as from a distance, and answered mechanically his questions, while she pursued her own thoughts.

It seemed almost as if a woman was not allowed to remain negative; that either she must accomplish positive good or positive harm. So far, she had accomplished only harm; and now here was an opportunity that was almost an obligation to offset that to some degree. She must free Monte as soon as possible. That was necessary in any event. She owed it to him. It was a sacred obligation that she must pay to save even the frayed remnant of her pride. This had nothing to do with Peter. She saw now it would have been necessary just the same, even if Peter had not come to make it clearer. Until she gave up the name to which she had no right, with which she had so shamelessly trifled, she must feel only glad that Peter could not see into her eyes.

So Monte would go on his way again, and she would be left she and Peter. If, then, what Beatrice said was true, if it was within her power, at no matter what sacrifice, to give Peter back the sight she had taken, then so she might undo some of the wrong she had done. The bigger the sacrifice, the fiercer the fire might rage to burn her clean. Because she had thought to sacrifice nothing, she had been forced to sacrifice everything; if now she sacrificed everything, perhaps she could get back a little peace in return. She would give her life to Peter give him everything that was left in her to give. Humbly she would serve him and nurse the light back into his eyes. Was it possible to do this?

She saw Beatrice at the door, and rose to meet her.

“You’re to lunch with me,” she said. “Then, for dinner, Mr. Covington has asked us all to join him.”

“Covington?” exclaimed Peter. “Is n’t he the man who was so decent to me this morning?”

“He said he met you,” answered Marjory.

“I liked him,” declared Peter. “I’ll be mighty glad to see more of him.”

“And I too,” nodded Beatrice. “He looked so very romantic with his injured arm.”

“Monte romantic?” smiled Marjory. “That’s the one thing in the world he is n’t.”

“Just who is he, anyway?” inquired Beatrice.

“He’s just Monte,” answered Marjory.

“And Madame Monte where is she? I noticed by the register there is such a person.”

“I I think he said she had been called away unexpectedly,” Marjory gasped.

She turned aside with an uncomfortable feeling that Beatrice had noticed her confusion.