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martyr in Marie's eyes; she knew that to be dangerous and stupid.
"Stanley came here," she went on, "two or three years ago at harvest-time. He wanted work, so I took him on to help in the fields. He did n't do well at it, but I saw at once that he was unsuited-most unsuited for any such work. I had a talk with him, and he told me a great deal about himself. He said he was a poet, and that he went tramping about from place to place, all over the world, doing any work he could find. I took a deep interest in the young man. I should never have have refused any reasonable request of his if he had not proved untrustworthy on more than one occasion. I am very sorry to say it, very.
He was not quite frank. And he is undoubtedly a very careless and extravagant young man. He has appealed to me several times, but he has never-reimbursed me, as he promised."
She found it difficult to speak harshly of her old favorite despite a little quite justifiable resentment; but she was rather dismayed to see on the faces of both her nieces the most eager curiosity. They passed over his moral shortcomings as negligible; they wanted to know his age, his family, all scrts of personal details. She could not tell them, because she did not know. His talk had been almost invariably about his poems and what the good old lady called his "feelings." At least she knew how he regarded the universe.
Amelia certainly expected a long and explicit account from Marie of her conversation with this interesting young man the night before, but she was disappointed. Marie was gruff and taciturn, avoided Amelia as much as possible, and very reluctantly gave the barest outline of the amazing interview. At last, pursued by questions, she offered to weed the flower garden, and from the window Amelia caught tantalizing glimpses of her, working doggedly, in an old straw garden hat and a faded cotton frock, keeping, as Amelia put it, her secret locked in her breast.
She came in at noon, hot and tired and unsmiling. Amelia was dusting their crowded bureau-top when she entered; and flung herself down on the windowseat.
"Look here, 'Melie," she said, with a frown, "I 've got to meet him this afternoon at the station, and I don't know how to arrange it."
"What is there to arrange? We'll just go out for a walk and not say where we 're going."
Marie was rather annoyed at having the path of her intrigue made so smooth; she agreed, however, and said no more.. They dressed with great care, Amelia in white, Marie in a plain brown linen that showed every angularity of her lank young form. They disputed over the parasol; Marie objected to it as too "dressed up," and a bore to carry, and, as usual, won her point.
Another dispute arose directly they closed the garden gate behind them.
"This is what you must do, Amelia," said Marie. "You can come with me to the station and see him, and then you must say you have an errand, and start slowly home, and I'll catch up with you."
Amelia objected very strongly.
"I don't see why you should have him alone," she protested. "He's a married man, you know."
"Can't you see that he 'll want to talk to me privately? He must n't know that you know anything about the money. Do have a little tact, Amelia!" Again Amelia yielded.
He was waiting on the platform of the little station, and when he saw them, he came forward, his head bared, his soft, melancholy eyes fixed upon Marie, only Marie, with no interest at all in Amelia's prettiness.
Even in the glaring sunshine and the dust his rare charm remained. In a dark suit that fitted closely to his slender body, with a low collar and a soft bow tie, he looked every inch a poet and a hero. And his gentle voice, his innocent and mild manner, his courtesy, profoundly affected Amelia. She lingered, walked with them along the road, engrossed in observing them until Marie removed her.
"Amelia has an errand," she said, with an inexorable glance at her sister. "We can stroll up the road a bit, and meet her later at the cross-roads."
Poor Amelia, unable to devise any sort of errand, sat patiently on a grassy
bank by the cross-roads for a long, long time. The sun had begun to sink when Marie came running along the road. She was in a very good humor and inclined to be confidential, which was rare, and to be encouraged.
"I'm sorry I kept you waiting so long, old 'Melie," she said, "but we were having such a nice talk!"
"Let's hear about it."
"Oh, he began about hating to take the money and all that, and I told him not to be silly. And then-oh, we told each other about our lives—just the interesting parts, you know. He's been everywhere; it 's wonderful to hear him. O 'Melie, just the sort of life I 'd like! He fought in the Boer War, he's been in revolutions in South America, he 's hunted tigers in India. One day he 'll have plenty of money, and the next day not a penny. No one to think of but himself; not a tie on earth-"
"But, Marie, his wife!"
Marie stopped short, and looked at her sister.
"Do you know, 'Melie, we both forgot all about her! Never mentioned her!"
"He should n't," Amelia answered sagely. "It was horrid. But, still, he 's probably awfully unhappy with her. Poets make such awful mistakes about marrying."
Amelia, while a model of propriety, had an incurable softness for handsome young men. So much so that, after decent protest, she consented to go with Marie again the next day to say good-by to Stanley. This time she provided herself with a book, and sat comfortably under a tree while her sister and the poet wandered off into the woods.
"This really must be the last time," she had said; "otherwise I 'll have to tell auntie. It really is n't right, and you know it. A married man! And where 's his wife all this time? Do you mean to say that he never talks about her?"
"No, he does n't, and I'm not going to bring up the subject. It would look as if I were trying to remind him of the money. I suppose she's gone out West." "Your fifty dollars would n't take her far," said Amelia.
"I don't know and I don't care. I only know I'm awfully sorry for him. He's lonely and wretched. No one takes any interest in his work except me. I love to hear him read his poems aloud." "So should I."
"Well, you can't. He's too shy."
Amelia had had a certain experience with affairs of the heart, enough, anyway, to warn and alarm her. She argued and reasoned all the way home, because she saw very clearly that this thing was not at an end.
"If you won't promise not to see him again, I'll tell auntie," she said sternly. Marie looked at her with scorn.
"Tell her," she said, "and see what happens."
After that poor Amelia dared not say a word. She knew her sister to be capable of anything and everything. She tried pleading, weeping, exhorting.
"I'm going to meet him again tomorrow," said Marie. "Tell auntie if you like. It won't stop me."
"This once more, then," Amelia agreed, drying her eyes. "O Marie, you 're such a terribly difficult girl!”
Pride forbade Amelia to countenance this meeting; she started out with her sister, but as soon as they were out of
She held out a friendly hand to him sight of the house, she stopped. when they returned.
"Good-by," she said. "Good luck!"
He took her hand, but said nothing, and looked into her face with his soft, black eyes.
"I want," he said at last-"I really must see your sister once more before I go!"
He looked so miserable that Amelia found no courage to rebuke him, and the next day, against her scruples, she went once more to the meeting-place. She had talked it all over with Marie.
"Go on alone," she said; "I don't want to see that man again."
Triumphant and radiant, Marie hastened along the road; her sister watched her with forlorn tears in her eyes. Marie running toward her destiny!
Her poet was waiting for her, standing, somber and patient, under a tree. But no sooner did he see her face than his somberness left him. She was so lovely, so flushed, sparkling, irresistible! Their hands met in a fervent clasp, and a long
"I'm going to show you a new place to-day," she told him- "a place 'Melie and I discovered years ago."
She went on before him, along a little path that led down hill through a glade of silver birches. Ferns lined the way, and fragile little flowers; it was a sweet solitude, dim, cool, and fragrant. At last Marie stopped. They had come to a steep decline, where the path ended in a great boulder.
"The rest is a scramble," she said, "but it's worth it. Look! Is n't it lovely?"
He climbed on to the boulder beside her, and with her looked down upon a little pool, like a steel mirror, darkly clear, image of austere tranquillity, a place of unaccountable fascination.
"I wish you'd never been here before,' said Stanley; "I wish no one had ever seen this place before to-day." He had jumped down, and stood below her, at the foot of the boulder. "And after I've gone," he went on, "you 'll come here and never think of me."
She did n't answer, but looked down at him, her eyes soft and luminous. Passion kindled in his. She gave a little sob, stretched out her arms, and slipped down into his embrace. They clung to each other with throbbing hearts.
only means-oh, an awful lot of unpleasantness, rows, you know, and crying. I do hate that sort of thing so."
"But you'd come just the same?" he asked. "You'd defy them--just for me?" Something in his tone grated on Marie.
"Not 'defy,' exactly," she said, with a quick frown, "and it is n't especially for you. It's simply that I won't be interfered with ever."
He looked at her with a more respectful admiration. Here was a girl able to hold her own with the most exacting, the most spoiled poet that ever lived.
"Marie," he said seriously, "I don't want you to endure any sort of unpleasantness on my account. I'm not worth a minute's discomfort to you. I haven't any claim, any merit, except that I love you so, my dear sweetheart."
She melted at once, and smiled at him. But he remained grave.
"I love you so much that I don't think I can go on this way. Why should we, anyway, Marie? If we love each other only, are you quite sure, absolutely sure, Marie, that you do love me?"
Her eyes met his, candidly and nobly. "No," she said, "not absolutely sure. But sure enough to—to risk everything for it."
"But I don't understand, my darling
"Darling Marie!" he whispered, "I girl—” love you so!"
"And I love you," she answered. Her arms tightened about his neck, and she buried her head in his coat, sobbing.
"Don't cry, my love!" he entreated. "Look up, won't you, my sweetheart? Don't cry; there 's nothing to make you sad, surely."
"I'm not sad," she answered, but the tears would not stop, though she smiled at him. "It's only I can't explain."
He kissed her again, straining her against him, looking down at her dark and ardent face. He was waiting no doubt for ardent words; but, drying her eyes, she spoke in a voice suddenly become matter-of-fact.
"It won't do to have my eyes red. 'Melie would be sure to notice. There 'll be an awful row, anyway. She's going to tell auntie about my meeting you." "But, Marie, does that mean we can't meet again?"
"Oh, no. They can't stop me.
Her dusky cheeks turned slowly scarlet, but she would not lower her eyes.
"I mean," she said, "that you 're right about not going on this way. I think it ought to be either not meeting at all, or-or-going away together. No! Please don't kiss me! Don't touch me at all! It disturbs me. I want to make up my mind."
"Whether you love me?"
"No; I know that. Whether I'll go with you or not. I thought I made up my mind last night that it would have to be settled one way or the other. But I have n't been able yet-"
"But if you know that you love me, sweetheart, is n't that enough?"
"No," she replied sternly, "it 's not. No, Stanley, I want-just another day. I'll meet you here on Sunday, and I'll tell you then. I'll know."
"Marie," he said, "I 'd like to go on my knees to you. You 're the finest, bravest "
She cut him short with a vigorous, boyish sort of hand-clasp.
"Good-by," she cried. "See you on Sunday. Don't come with me; I 'd rather go back alone." She scrambled up the hillside, as awkward and swift as a young colt.
She was surprised and disappointed with herself because she slept that night quite as usual. She had intended to stay awake and think. But she waked up very early in the morning with a weary and confused mind, as if she had been thinking all night long in her sleep. Amelia lay tranquilly beside her, rosy and innocent. It was impossible that, in similar circumstances, Amelia would hesitate for an instant, would even contemplate the course which she contemplated.
With a leaden heart she watched the awful majesty of the dawn. It was the sort of sky one sees in old paintings. She had a confused, childish idea that those lofty, crimson-tinged clouds and the brilliant, spear-like shafts of light from the sun were a particularly fitting background to the sudden appearance of an offended Jehovah. She had never before felt so wicked or seen so clearly the depth of the abyss before her. The problem presented itself to her in stark simplicity; she saw it like some antique tragedy, a deadly struggle between love and virtue. She never attempted to justify the former; she unhesitatingly called the thing a sin. The question was, whether to sin or not, whether she should give up everything for love. She was not much of a reader. Modern fiction was unknown to her; in all the old-fashioned novels she had read the heroines who made this sacrifice accepted shame and misery as a necessary consequence, acknowledged themselves sinners.
Then there were those women whose very names enthralled her dark Francesca in hell, Héloïse, Nicolette, Guinevere. She meditated on queens flinging away their majesty, proud women gladly humbled. She envisaged herself giving up her college course, her inheritance from her aunt, and Amelia's companionship, her equivalents. As much as any of these illustrious women, she would be giving up everything, beggaring herself for love, losing her soul.
And while she tried to deliberate this tremendous question, there was life going on as usual. She got up at the usual time, dull and wretched; there was no opportunity to adjust herself, not a quiet moment alone; she must dress and go down-stairs. When she did n't eat, there were kindly questions and insistence; when she became rebellious and sullen, her aunt and her sister were ingenuously conciliating. They tried to relieve her, suggested a tonic, followed her about, urging her to rest. She felt like a person who had a secret knowledge that the end of the world was near and who looked on at the activities of mankind with irritable despair.
The long day wore itself away, and Sunday came. They all went to church as usual in the morning, Marie driving the old surrey, Amelia and the old lady on the back seat. She sat through the service like a statue, heard the solemn commandment read, repeated it herself, clearly and firmly-God Himself telling her she should not run off with a married man.
She drove them home, but did not get out of the carriage herself.
"My head aches," she said. "If you don't mind, Auntie, I'll stay out in the air."
"Don't be gone too long, pet," the old lady answered, "and keep Billy out of the sun as much as you can."
So she left them at the front door and drove off down the road, sitting up stiff and straight in her Sunday dress of white linen. The old horse trotted along, the carriage bumped and rattled. They watched her out of sight, and then went into the dim, cool house.
Dinner was ready at two o'clock, but Marie had not come home. They waited half an hour, an hour. The old lady grew very anxious, although on Amelia's account she tried to hide it.
"Eat a little dinner, my dear child," she said, "and then afterward perhaps you'd better walk over to Clifford's and borrow their horse and buggy. Don't worry, my dear; you know how often she is late.”
Amelia had her hat on, ready to start off on the long walk to Clifford's farm, when the carriage flashed by the window in the direction of the barn, and a few