Read CHAPTER XX - PAYING LIKE A MAN of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

Everything considered, Monte should have been glad at the revelation Beatrice made to him. If Peter were in love with Marjory and she with Peter why, it solved his own problem, by the simple process of elimination, neatly and with despatch. All that remained for him to do was to remove himself from the awkward triangle as soon as possible. He must leave Marjory free, and Peter would look after the rest. No doubt a divorce on the grounds of desertion could be easily arranged; and thus, by that one stroke, they two would be made happy, and he well, what the devil was to become of him?

The answer was obvious. It did not matter a picayune to any one what became of him. What had he ever done to make his life worth while to any one? He had never done any particular harm, that was true; but neither had he done any particular good. It is the positive things that count, when a man stands before the judgment-seat; and that is where Monte stood on the night Marjory came back from Cannes by the side of Peter, with her eyes sparkling and her cheeks flushed as if she had come straight from Eden.

They all dined together, and Monte grubbed hungrily for every look she vouchsafed him, for every word she tossed him. She had been more than ordinarily vivacious, spurred on partly by Beatrice and partly by Peter. Monte had felt himself merely an onlooker. That, in fact, was all he was. That was all he had been his whole life.

He dodged Peter this evening to escape their usual after-dinner talk, and went to his room. He was there now, with his face white and tense.

He had been densely stupid from the first, as Beatrice had informed him. Any man of the world ought to have suspected something when, at the first sight of Peter, she ran away. She had never run from him. Women run only when there is danger of capture, and she had nothing to fear from him in that way. She was safe with him. She dared even come with him to escape those from whom there might be some possible danger. Until now he had been rather proud of this as if it were some honor. She had trusted him as she would not trust other men. It had made him throw back his shoulders dense fool that he was!

She had trusted him because she did not fear him; she did not fear him because there was nothing in him to fear. It was not that he was more decent than other men: it was merely because he was less of a man. Why, she had run even from Peter good, honest, conscientious Peter, with the heart and the soul and the nerve of a man. Peter had sent her scurrying before him because of the great love he dared to have for her. Peter challenged her to take up life with him to buck New York with him. This was after he had waded in himself with naked fists, man-fashion. That was what gave Peter his right. That right was what she feared.

Monte had a grandfather who in forty-nine crossed the plains. A picture of him hung in the Covington house in Philadelphia. The painting revealed steel-gray eyes and, even below the beard of respectability, a mouth that in many ways was like Peter’s. Montague Sears Covington that was his name; the name that had been handed down to Monte. The man had shouldered a rifle, fought his way across deserts and over mountain paths, had risked his life a dozen times a day to reach the unknown El Dorado of the West. He had done this partly for a woman a slip of a girl in New York whom he left behind to wait for him, though she begged to go. That was Monte’s grandmother.

Monte, in spite of his ancestry, had jogged along, dodging the responsibilities the responsibilities that Peter Noyes rushed forward to meet. He had ducked even love, even fatherhood. Like any quitter on the gridiron, instead of tackling low and hard, he had side-stepped. He had seen Chic in agony, and because of that had taken the next boat for Marseilles. He had turned tail and run. He had seen Teddy, and had run to what he thought was safe cover. If he paid the cost after that, whose the fault? The least he could do now was to pay the cost like a man.

Here was the salient necessity to pay the cost like a man. There must be no whining, no regretting, no side-stepping this time. He must make her free by surrendering all his own rights, privileges, and title. He must turn her over to Peter, who had played the game. He must do more. He must see that she went to Peter. He must accomplish something positive this time.

Beatrice had asked him to use his influence. It was slight, pitifully slight, but he must do what he could. He must plan for them, deliberately, more such opportunities as this one he had planned for them unconsciously to-day. He must give them more chances to be together. He had looked forward to having breakfast with her in the morning. He must give up that. He must keep himself in the background while he was here, and then, at the right moment, get out altogether.

Technically, he must desert her. He must make that supreme sacrifice. At the moment when he stood ready to challenge the world for her at the moment when his heart within him burned to face for her all the dangers from which he had run at that point he must relinquish even this privilege, and with smiling lips pose before the world and before her as a quitter. He must not even use the deserter’s prerogative of running. He must leave her cheerfully and jauntily as the care-free ass known to her and to the world as just Monte.

The scorn of those words stung him white with helpless passion. She had wished him always to be just Monte, because she thought that was the best there was in him. As such he was at least harmless a good-natured chump to be trusted to do no harm, if he did no good. The grandson of the Covington who had faced thirst and hunger and sudden death for his woman, who had won for her a fortune fighting against other strong men, the grandson of a man who had tackled life like a man, must sacrifice his one chance to allow this ancestor to know his own as a man. He could have met him chin up with Madame Covington on his arm. He had that chance once.

How ever had he missed it? He sat there with his fists clenched between his knees, asking himself the question over and over again. He had known her for over a decade. As a school-girl he had seen her at Chic’s, and now ten years later he saw that even then she had within her all that she now had. That clear, white forehead had been there then; the black arched brows, the thin, straight nose, and the mobile lips. He caught his breath as he thought of those lips. Her eyes, too but no, a change had taken place there. He had always thought of her eyes as cold as impenetrable. They were not that now. Once or twice he thought he had seen into them a little way. Once or twice he thought he had glimpsed gentle, fluttering figures in them. Once or twice they had been like windows in a long-closed house, suddenly flung open upon warm rooms filled with flowers. It made him dizzy now to remember those moments.

He paced his room. In another week or two, if he had kept on, if Peter had not come, he might have been admitted farther into that house. He squared his shoulders. If he fought for his own even now if, man against man, he challenged Peter for her he might have a fighting chance. Was not that his right? In New York, in the world outside New York, that was the law: a hard fight the best man to win. In war, favors might be shown; but in life, with a man’s own at stake, it was every one for himself. Peter himself would agree to that. He was not one to ask favors. A fair fight was all he demanded. Then let it be a clean, fair fight with bare knuckles to a finish. Let him show himself to Marjory as the grandson of the man who gave him his name; let him press his claims.

He was ready now to face the world with her. He was eager to do that. Neither heights nor depths held any terrors for him. He envied Chic he envied even poor mad Hamilton.

Suddenly he saw a great truth. There is no difference between the heights and the depths to those who are playing the game. It is only those who sit in the grand-stand who see the difference. He ought to have known that. The hard throws, the stinging tackles that used to bring the grandstand to its feet, he never felt. The players knew something that those upon the seats did not know, and thrilled with a keener joy than the onlookers dreamed of.

If he could only be given another chance to do something for Marjory something that would bite into him, something that would twist his body and maul him! If he could not face some serious physical danger for her, then some great sacrifice

Which was precisely the opportunity now offered. He had been considering this sacrifice from his own personal point of view. He had looked upon it as merely a personal punishment. But, after all, it was for her. It was for her alone. Peter played no part in it whatever. Neither did he himself. It was for her for her!

Monte set his jaws. If, through Peter, he could bring her happiness, then that was all the reward he could ask. Here was a man who loved her, who would be good to her and fight hard for her. He was just the sort of man he could trust her to. If he could see them settled in New York, as Chic and Mrs. Chic were settled, see them start the brave adventure, then he would have accomplished more than he had ever been able to accomplish so far.

There was no need of thinking beyond that point. What became of his life after that did not matter in the slightest. Wherever he was, he would always know that she was where she belonged, and that was enough. He must hold fast to that thought.

A knock at his door made him turn on his heels.

“Who’s that?” he demanded.

“It’s I Noyes,” came the answer. “Have you gone to bed yet?”

Monte swung open the door.

“Come in,” he said.

“I thought I ’d like to talk with you, if it is n’t too late,” explained Peter nervously.

“On the contrary, you could n’t have come more opportunely. I was just thinking about you.”

He led Peter to a chair.

“Sit down and make yourself comfortable.”

Monte lighted a cigarette, sank into a near-by chair, and waited.

“Beatrice said she told you,” began Peter.

“She did,” answered Monte; “I’d congratulate you if it would n’t be so manifestly superfluous.”

“I did n’t realize she was an old friend of yours.”

“I’ve known her for ten years,” said Monte.

“It’s wonderful to have known her as long as that. I envy you.”

“That’s strange, because I almost envy you.”

Peter laughed.

“I have a notion I ’d be worried if you were n’t already married, Covington.”

“Worried?”

“I think Mrs. Covington must be a good deal like Marjory.”

“She is,” admitted Monte.

“So, if I had n’t been lucky enough to find you already suited, you might have given me a race.”

“You forget that the ladies themselves have some voice in such matters,” Monte replied slowly.

“I have better reasons than you for not forgetting that,” answered Peter.

Monte started.

“I was n’t thinking of you,” he put in quickly. “Besides, you did n’t give Marjory a fair chance. Her aunt had just died, and she well, she has learned a lot since then.”

“She has changed!” exclaimed Peter. “I noticed it at once; but I was almost afraid to believe it. She seems steadier more serious.”

“Yes.”

“You’ve seen a good deal of her recently?”

“For the last two or three weeks,” answered Monte.

“You don’t mind my talking to you about her?”

“Not at all.”

“As you’re an old friend of hers, I feel as if I had the right.”

“Go ahead.”

“It seems to me as if she had suddenly grown from a girl to a woman. I saw the woman in her all the time. It it was to her I spoke before. Maybe, as you said, the woman was n’t quite ready.”

“I’m sure of it.”

“You speak with conviction.”

“As I told you, I’ve come to know her better these last few weeks than ever before. I ’ve had a chance to study her. She’s had a chance, too, to study other men. There’s been one in particular ”

Peter straightened a bit.

“One in particular?” he demanded aggressively.

“No one you need fear,” replied Monte. “In a way, it’s because of him that your own chances have improved.”

“How?”

“It has given her an opportunity to compare him with you.”

“Are you at liberty to tell me about him?”

“Yes; I think I have that right,” replied Monte; “I’ll not be violating any confidences, because what I know about him I know from the man himself. Furthermore, it was I who introduced him to her.”

“Oh a friend of yours.”

“Not a friend, exactly; an acquaintance of long standing would be more accurate. I’ve been in touch with him all my life, but it’s only lately I’ve felt that I was really getting to know him.”

“Is he here in Nice now?” inquired Peter.

“No,” answered Monte slowly. “He went away a little while ago. He went suddenly God knows where. I don’t think he will ever come back.”

“You can’t help pitying the poor devil if he was fond of her,” said Peter.

“But he was n’t good enough for her. It was his own fault too, so he is n’t deserving even of pity.”

“Probably that makes it all the harder. What was the matter with him?”

“He was one of the kind we spoke of the other night the kind who always sits in the grandstand instead of getting into the game.”

“Pardon me if I ’m wrong, but I thought you spoke rather sympathetically of that kind the other night.”

“I was probably reflecting his views,” Monte parried.

“That accounts for it,” returned Peter. “Somehow, it did n’t sound consistent in you. I wish I could see your face, Covington.”

“We’re sitting in the dark here,” answered Monte.

“Go on.”

“Marjory liked this fellow well enough because well, because he looked more or less like a man. He was big physically, and all that. Besides, his ancestors were all men, and I suppose they handed down something.”

“What was his name?”

“I think I ’d rather not tell you that. It’s of no importance. This is all strictly in confidence.”

“I understand.”

“So she let herself see a good deal of him. He was able to amuse her. That kind of fellow generally can entertain a woman. In fact, that is about all they are good for. When it comes down to the big things, there is n’t much there. They are well enough for the holidays, and I guess that was all she was thinking about. She had had a hard time, and wanted amusement. Maybe she fancied that was all she ever wanted; but well, there was more in her than she knew herself.”

“A thousand times more!” exclaimed Peter.

“She found it out. Perhaps, after all, this fellow served his purpose in helping her to realize that.”

“Perhaps.”

“So, after that, he left.”

“And he cared for her?”

“Yes.”

“Poor devil!”

“I don’t know,” mused Monte. “He seemed, on the whole, rather glad that he had been able to do that much for her.”

“I ’d like to meet that man some day. I have a notion there is more in him than you give him credit for, Covington.”

“I doubt it.”

“A man who would give up her ”

“She’s the sort of woman a man would want to do his level best for,” broke in Monte. “If that meant giving her up, if the fellow felt he was n’t big enough for her, then he could n’t do anything else, could he?”

“The kind big enough to consider that would be big enough for her,” declared Peter.

Monte drew a quick breath.

“Do you mind repeating that?”

“I say the man really loving her who would make such a sacrifice comes pretty close to measuring up to her standard.”

“I think he would like to hear that. You see, it’s the first real sacrifice he ever undertook.”

“It may be the making of him.”

“Perhaps.”

“He’ll always have her before him as an ideal. When you come in touch with such a woman as she you can’t lose, Covington, no matter how things turn out.”

“I ’ll tell him that too.”

“It’s what I tell myself over and over again. To-day well, I had an idea there must be some one in the background of her life I did n’t know about.”

“You ’d better get that out of your head. This man is n’t even in the background, Noyes.”

“I ’m not so sure. I thought she seemed worried. I tried to make her tell me, but she only laughed. She’d face death with a smile, that woman. I got to thinking about it in my room, and that’s why I came down here to you. You’ve seen more of her these last few months than I have.”

“Not months; only weeks.”

“And this other I don’t want to pry into her affairs, but we’re all just looking to her happiness, are n’t we?”

“Consider this other man as dead and gone,” cut in Monte. “He was lucky to be able to play the small part in her life that he did play.”

“But something is disturbing her. I know her voice; I know her laugh. If I did n’t have those to go by, there’d be something else. I can feel when she’s herself and when she is n’t.”

Monte grasped his chair arms. He had studied her closely the last few days, and had not been able to detect the fact that she was worried. He had thought her gayer, more light-hearted, than usual. It was so that she had held herself before him. If Peter was right, and Monte did not doubt the man’s superior intuition, then obviously she was worrying over the technicality that still held her a prisoner. Until she was actually free she would live up to the letter of her contract. This would naturally tend to strain her intercourse with Peter. She was not one to take such things lightly.

Monte rose, crossed the room, and placed his hand on Peter’s shoulder.

“I think I can assure you,” he said slowly, “that if there is anything bothering her now, it is nothing that will last. All you’ve got to do is to be patient and hold on.”

“You seem to be mighty confident.”

“If you knew what I know, you’d be confident too.”

Peter frowned.

“I don’t like discussing these things, but they mean so much.”

“So much to all of us,” nodded Monte. “Now, the thing to do is to turn in and get a good night’s sleep. After all, there is something in keeping normal.”