Read CHAPTER XXIV - THE BLIND SEE of The Triflers , free online book, by Frederick Orin Bartlett, on ReadCentral.com.

Day by day Peter’s eyes grew stronger, because day by day he was thinking less about himself and more about Marjory.

“He needs to get away from himself,” the doctors had told Beatrice. “If you can find something that will occupy his thoughts, so that he will quit thinking about his eyes, you ’ll double his chances.” Beatrice had done that when she found Marjory, and now she was more than satisfied with the result and with herself. Every morning she saw Peter safely entrusted to Marjory’s care, and this left her free the rest of the day to walk a little, read her favorite books, and nibble chocolates. She was getting a much-needed rest, secure in the belief that everything was working out in quite an ideal way.

The only thing that seemed to her at all strange was a sudden reluctance on Peter’s part to talk to her of Marjory. At the end of the day the three had dinner together at the Hotel d’Angleterre, Marjory could never be persuaded to dine at the Roses, and when by eight Peter and his sister returned to their own hotel, he gave her only the barest details of his excursion, and retired early to his room. But he seemed cheerful enough, so that, after all, this might be only another favorable symptom of his progress. Peter always had been more or less secretive, and until his illness neither she nor his parents knew more than an outline of his life in New York. Periodically they came on to visit him for a few days, and periodically he went home for a few days. He was making a name for himself, and they were very proud of him, and the details did not matter. Knowing Peter as they did, it was easy enough to fill them in.

Even with Marjory, Peter talked less and less about himself. From his own ambitions, hopes, and dreams he turned more and more to hers. Now that he had succeeded in making her a prisoner, however slender the thread by which he held her, he seemed intent upon filling in all the past as fully as possible. Up to a certain point that was easy enough. She was willing to talk of her girlhood; of her father, whom she adored; and even of Aunt Kitty, who had claimed her young womanhood. She was even eager. It afforded her a safe topic in which she found relief. It gave her an opportunity also to justify, in a fashion, or at least to explain, both to herself and Peter, the frame of mind that led her up to later events.

“I ran away from you, Peter,” she admitted.

“I know,” he answered.

“Only it was not so much from you as from what you stood for,” she hurried on. “I was thinking of myself alone, and of the present alone. I had been a prisoner so long, I wanted to be free a little.”

“Free?” he broke in quickly, with a frown. “I don’t like to hear you use that word. That’s the way Covington’s wife talked, is n’t it?”

“Yes,” she murmured.

“It’s the way so many women are talking to-day and so many men, too. Freedom is such a big word that a lot of people seem to think it will cloak anything they care to do. They lose sight of the fact that the freer a man or a woman is, the more responsibility he assumes. The free are put upon their honor to fulfill the obligations that are exacted by force from the irresponsible. So those who abuse this privilege are doubly treacherous treacherous to themselves, and treacherous to society, which trusted them.”

Marjory turned aside her head, so that he might not even look upon her with his blind eyes.

“I I didn’t mean any harm, Peter,” she said.

“Of course you did n’t. I don’t suppose Mrs. Covington did, either; did she?”

“No, Peter, I’m sure she didn’t. She she was selfish.”

“Besides, if you only come through safe, and learn ”

“At least, I’ve learned,” she answered.

“Since you went away from me?”

“Yes.”

“You have n’t told me very much about that.”

She caught her breath.

“Is is it dishonest to keep to one’s self how one learns?” she asked.

“No, little woman; only, I feel as though I’d like to know you as I know myself. I’d like to feel that there was n’t a nook or cranny in your mind that was n’t open to me.”

“Peter!”

“Is that asking too much?”

“Some day you must know, but not now.”

“If Mrs. Covington ”

“Must we talk any more about her?” she exclaimed.

“I did n’t know it hurt you.”

“It does more than you realize.”

“I’m sorry,” he said quickly.

He fumbled about for her hand. She allowed him to take it.

“Have you heard from Covington since he left?”

He felt her fingers twitch.

“Does it hurt, too, to talk about him?” he asked.

“It’s impossible to talk about Monte without talking about his his about Mrs. Covington,” Marjory explained feebly.

“They ought to be one,” he admitted. “But you said they are about to separate.”

“Yes, Peter; only I keep thinking of what ought to be.”

She withdrew her hand and leaned back on the seat a little away from him. Sensitive to every movement of hers, he glanced up at this.

“Somehow,” he said, with a strained expression, “somehow I feel the need of seeing your eyes to-day. There’s something I ’m missing. There’s something here I don’t understand.”

“Don’t try to understand, Peter,” she cried. “It’s better that you should n’t.”

“It’s best always to know the truth,” he said.

“Not always.”

“Always,” he insisted.

“Sometimes it does n’t do any good to know the truth. It only hurts.”

“Even then, it’s best. When I get my eyes ”

She shrank farther away from him, for she saw him struggling even then to open them.

It was this possibility which from that point on added a new terror to these daily drives. Marjory had told Monte that Peter’s recovery was something to which she looked forward; but when she said that she had been sitting alone and pouring out her heart to Monte. She had not then been facing this fact by the side of Peter. It was one thing to dream boldly, with all her thoughts of Monte, and quite another to confront the same facts actually and alone. If this crisis came now, it was going to hurt her and hurt Peter, and do no good to any one; while, if it could be postponed six months, perhaps it would not hurt so much. It was better for Peter to endure his blindness a little longer than to see too soon. So the next day she decided she would not kiss his eyes. He came to her in the morning, and stood before her, waiting. She placed her hand upon his shoulder.

“Peter,” she said as gently as she could, “I do not think I shall kiss you again for a little while.”

She saw his lips tighten; but, to her surprise, he made no protest.

“No, dear heart,” he answered.

“It is n’t because I wish to be unkind,” she said. “Only, until you know the whole truth, I don’t feel honest with you.”

“Come over by the window and sit down in the light,” he requested.

With a start she glanced nervously at his eyes. They were closed. She took a chair in the sun, and he sat down opposite her.

For a moment they sat so, in silence. With her chin in her hand, she stared out across the blue waters of the Mediterranean, across the quay where Monte used to walk. It looked so desolate out there without him! How many hours since he left she had watched people pass back and forth along the broad path, as if hoping against hope that by some chance he might suddenly appear among them. But he never did, and she knew that she might sit here watching year after year and he would not come.

By this time he was probably in England probably, on such a day as this, out upon the links. She smiled a little. “Damn golf!” he had said.

She thought for a moment that she heard his voice repeating it. It was only Peter’s voice.

“You have grown even more beautiful than I thought,” Peter was saying.

She sprang to her feet. He was looking at he shading his opened eyes with one hand.

“Peter!” she cried, falling back a step.

“More beautiful,” he repeated. “But your eyes are sadder.”

“Peter,” she said again, “your eyes are open!”

“Yes,” he said. “It became necessary for me to see so they opened.”

Before them, she felt ashamed almost like one naked. She began to tremble. Then, with her cheeks scarlet, she covered her face with her hands.

Peter rose and helped her back to a chair as if she, in her turn, had suddenly become blind.

“If I frighten you like this I I must not look at you,” he faltered.

Still she trembled; still she covered her face.

“See!” he cried. “I have closed them again.”

She looked up in amazement. He was standing with his eyes tight shut. He who had been in darkness all these long months had dared, to save her from her own shame, to return again to the pit. For a second it stopped her heart from beating. Then, springing to his side, she seized his hands.

“Peter,” she commanded, “open your eyes!”

He was pale ghastly pale.

“Not if it hurts you.”

Swiftly leaning toward him, she kissed the closed lids.

“Will you open them now?”

She was in terror lest he should find it impossible again as if that had been some temporary miracle which, having been scorned, would not be repeated.

Then once again she saw his eyes flutter open. This time she faced them with her fists clenched by her side. What a difference those eyes made in him. Closed, he was like a helpless child; open, he was a man. He grew taller, bigger, older, while she who had been leading him about shrank into insignificance. She felt pettier, plainer, less worthy than ever she had in her life. By sheer force of will power she held up her head and faced him as if she were facing the sun.

For a moment he feasted upon her hungrily. To see her hair, when for months he had been forced to content himself with memories of it; to see her white forehead, her big, deep eyes and straight nose; to see the lips which he had only felt all that held him silent. But he saw something else there, too. In physical detail this face was the same that he had seen before he was stricken. But something had been added. Before she had the features of a girl; now she had the features of a woman. Something had since been added to the eyes and mouth something he knew nothing about.

“Marjory,” he said slowly, “I think there is a great deal you have left untold.”

She tightened her lips. There was no further use of evasion. If he pressed her with his eyes open, he must know the truth.

“Yes, Peter,” she answered.

“I can’t decide,” he went on slowly, “whether it has to do with a great grief or a great joy.”

“The two so often come together,” she trembled.

“Yes,” he nodded; “I think that is true. Perhaps they belong together.”

“I have only just learned that,” she said.

“And you’ve been left with the grief?”

“I can’t tell, Peter. Sometimes I think so, and then again I see the justice of it, and it seems beautiful. All I ’m sure of is that I ’m left alone.”

“Even with me?”

“Even with you, Peter.”

He passed his hand over his eyes.

“This other do I know him?” he asked finally.

“Yes.”

“It it is Covington?”

“Yes.”

She spoke almost mechanically.

“I I should have guessed it before. Had I been able to see, I should have known.”

“That is why I did n’t wish you to see me so soon,” Marjory said.

“Covington!” he repeated. “But what of the other woman?”

She took a long breath.

“I I’m the other woman,” she answered.

“Marjory!” he cried. “Not she you told me of?”

“Yes.”

“His wife!”

“No not that. Merely Mrs. Covington.”

“I don’t understand. You don’t mean you’re not his wife!” He checked himself abruptly.

“We were married in Paris,” she hastened to explain. “But but we agreed the marriage was to be only a form. He was to come down here with me as a compagnon de voyage. He wished only to give me the protection of his name, and that that was all I wished. It was not until I met you, Peter, that I realized what I had done.”

“It was not until then you realized that you really loved him?”

“Not until then,” she moaned.

“But, knowing that, you allowed me to talk as I did; to hope ”

“Peter dear Peter!” she broke in. “It was not then. It was only after I knew he had gone out of my life forever that I allowed that. You see, he has gone. He has gone to England, and from there he is going home. You know what he is going for. He is never coming back. So it is as if he died, isn’t it? I allowed you to talk because I knew you were telling the truth. And I did not promise much. When you asked me never to go from you, all I said was that I ’d try. You remember that? And I have tried, and I was going to keep on trying ever so hard. I had ruined my own life and his life, and and I did n’t want to hurt you any more. I wanted to do what I could to undo some of the harm I’d already done. I thought that perhaps if we went on like this long enough, I might forget a little of the past and look forward only to the future. Some day I meant to tell you. You know that, Peter. You know I would n’t be dishonest with you.” She was talking hysterically, anxious only to relieve the tenseness of his lips. She was not sure that he heard her at all. He was looking at her, but with curious detachment, as if he were at a play.

“Peter say something!” she begged.

“It’s extraordinary that I should ever have dared hope you were for me,” he said.

“You mean you you don’t want me, Peter?”

“Want you?” he cried hoarsely. “I’d go through hell to get you. I’d stay mole-blind the rest of my life to get you! Want you?”

He stepped toward her with his hands outstretched as if to seize her. In spite of herself, she shrank away.

“You see,” he ran on. “What difference does it make if I want you? You belong to another. You belong to Covington. You have n’t anything to do with yourself any more. You have n’t yourself to give. You’re his.”

With her hand above her eyes as if to ward off his blows, she gasped:

“You must n’t say such things, Peter.”

“I’m only telling the truth, and there’s no harm in that. I ’m telling you what you have n’t dared tell yourself.”

“Things I mustn’t tell myself!” she cried. “Things I must n’t hear.”

“What I don’t understand,” he said, “is why Covington did n’t tell you all this himself. He must have known.”

“He knew nothing,” she broke in. “I was a mere incident in his life. We met in Paris quite by accident when he happened to have an idle week. He was alone and I was alone, and he saved me from a disagreeable situation. Then, because he still had nothing in particular to do and I had nothing in particular to do, he suggested this further arrangement. We were each considering nothing but our own comfort. We wanted nothing more. It was to escape just such complications as this to escape responsibility, as I told you that we we married. He was only a boy, Peter, and knew no better. But I was a woman, and should have known. And I came to know! That was my punishment.”

“He came to know, too,” said Peter.

“He might have come to know,” she corrected breathlessly. “There were moments when I dared think so. If I had kept myself true oh, Peter, these are terrible things to say!”

She buried her face in her hands again a picture of total and abject misery. Her frame shook with sobs that she was fighting hard to suppress.

Peter placed his hand gently upon her shoulder.

“There, little woman,” he tried to comfort. “Cry a minute. It will do you good.”

“I have n’t even the right to cry,” she sobbed.

“You must cry,” he said. “You have n’t let yourself go enough. That’s been the whole trouble.”

He was silent a moment, patting her back, with his eyes leveled out of the window as if trying to look beyond the horizon, beyond that to the secret places of eternity.

“You have n’t let yourself go enough,” he repeated, almost like a seer. “You have tried to force your destiny from its appointed course. You have, and Covington has, and I have. We have tried to force things that were not meant to be and to balk things that were meant to be. That’s because we’ve been selfish all three of us. We’ve each thought of ourself alone of our own petty little happiness of the moment. That’s deadly. It warps the vision. It it makes people stone-blind.

“I understand now. When you went away from me, it was myself alone I considered. I was hurt and worried, and made a martyr of myself. If I had thought more of you, all would have been well. This time I think I I have thought a little more of you. It was to get at you and not myself that I wanted to see again. So I saw again. I let go of myself and reached out for you. So now why, everything is quite clear.”

She raised her head.

“Clear, Peter?”

“Quite clear. I’m to go back to my work, and to use my eyes less and my head and heart more. I ’m to deal less with statutes and more with people. Instead of quoting precedents, perhaps I ’m going to try to establish precedents. There’s work enough to be done, God knows, of a sort that is born of just such a year as this I ’ve lived through. I must let go of myself and let myself go. I must think less of my own ambitions and more of the ambitions of others. So I shall live in others. Perhaps I may even be able to live a little through you two.”

“Peter!” she cried.

“For Covington must come back to you as fast as ever he can.”

“No! No! No!”

“You don’t understand how much he loves his wife.”

“Please!”

“And, he, poor devil, does n’t understand how much his wife loves him.”

“You you” she trembled aghast “you would n’t dare repeat what I’ve told you!”

“You don’t want to stagger on in the dark any longer. You’ll let me tell him.”

She rose to her feet, her face white.

“Peter,” she said slowly, “if ever you told him that, I’d never forgive you. If ever you told him, I ’d deny it. You ’d only force me into more lies. You’d only crush me lower.”

“Steady, Marjory,” he said.

“You’re wonderful, Peter!” she exclaimed. “You ’ve you ’ve been seeing visions. But when you speak of telling him what I’ve told you, you don’t understand how terrible that would be. Peter you’ll promise me you won’t do that?”

She was pleading, with panic in her eyes.

“Yet, if he knew, he’d come racing to you.”

“He’d do that because he’s a gentleman and four-square. He’d come to me and pretend. He’d feel himself at fault, and pity me. Do you know how it hurts a woman to be pitied? I’d rather he’d hate me. I’d rather he’d forget me altogether.”,

“But what of the talks I had with him in the dark?” he questioned. “When he talked to me of you then, it was not in pity.”

“Because,” she choked, “because he does n’t know himself as I know him. He he does n’t like changes dear Monte. It disturbed him to go because it would have been so much easier to have stayed. So, for the moment, he may have been a bit sentimental.”

“You don’t think as little of him as that!” he cried.

“He he is the man who married me,” she answered unsteadily. “It was just Monte who married me honest, easy-going, care-free Monte, who is willing to do a woman a favor even to the extent of marrying her. He is very honest and very gallant and very normal. He likes one day to be as another. He does n’t wish to be stirred up. He asked me this, Peter: ‘Is n’t it possible to care without caring too much?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ That was why he married me. He had seen others who cared a great deal, and they frightened him. They cared so much that they made themselves uncomfortable, and he feared that.”

“Good Lord, you call that man Covington?” exclaimed Peter.

“No just Monte,” Marjory answered quickly. “It’s just the outside of him. The man you call Covington the man inside is another man.”

“It’s the real man,” declared Peter.

“Yes,” she nodded, with a catch in her voice. “That’s the real man. But don’t you understand? it was n’t that man who married me. It was Monte who married me to escape Covington. He trusted me not to disturb the real man, just as I trusted him not to disturb the real me.”

Peter leaned forward with a new hope in his eyes.

“Then,” he said, “perhaps, after all, he did n’t get to the real you.”

Quite simply she replied:

“He did, Peter. He does not know it, but he did.”

“You are sure?”

She knew the pain she was causing him, but she answered:

“Yes. I could n’t admit that to any one else in the world but you and it hurts you, Peter.”

“It hurts like the devil,” he said.

She placed her hand upon his.

“Poor Peter,” she said gently.

“It hurts like the devil, but it’s nothing for you to pity me for,” he put in quickly. “I’d rather have the hurt from you than nothing.”

“You feel like that?” she asked earnestly.

“Yes.”

“Then,” she said, “you must understand how, even with me, the joy and the grief are one?”

“Yes, I understand that. Only if he knew ”

“He’d come back to me, you’re going to say again. And I tell you again, I won’t have him come back, kind and gentle and smiling. If he came back now, if it were possible for him really to come to me, I ’d want him to ache with love. I ’d want him to be hurt with love.”

She was talking fiercely, with a wild, unrestrained passion such as Peter had never seen in any woman.

“I ’d want,” she hurried on, out of all control of herself “I’d want everything I don’t want him to give everything I ’ve no right to ask. I ’d want him to live on tiptoe from one morning through to the next. I’d begrudge him every minute he was just comfortable. I’d want him always eager, always worried, because I ’d be always looking for him to do great things. I ’d have him always ready for great sacrifices not for me alone, but for himself. I ’d be so proud of him I think I I could with a smile see him sacrifice even his life for another. For I should know that, after a little waiting, I should meet him again, a finer and nobler man. And all those things I asked of him I should want to do for him. I ’d like to lay down my life for him.”

She stopped as abruptly as she had begun, staring about like some one suddenly awakened to find herself in a strange country. It was Peter’s voice that brought her back again to the empty room.

“How you do love him!” he said solemnly.

“Peter,” she cried, “you shouldn’t have listened!”

She shrank back toward the door.

“And I I thought just kisses on the eyes stood for love,” he added.

“You must forget all I said,” she moaned. “I was mad for a moment!”

“You were wonderful,” he told her.

She was still backing toward the door.

“I’m going off to hide,” she said piteously.

“Not that,” he called after her.

But the door closed in front of her. The door closed in front of him. With his lips clenched, Peter Noyes walked back to the Hotel des Roses.