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I ask for no condonement of my action, and yet somewhere within me there was a restraining monitor, a still small voice that admonished me, informing my more reasonable self of my madness. I knew that I should regret this; I knew that Patricia, young as she was, could never be mine. I knew somehow that it was not real love but rather a sudden emotionalism that had brought her arms about my neck, her face so close to mine, the unexpected words to her lips.
Slowly I withdrew my lips. In her eyes I saw doubt, surprise, perplexity. She did not seek to escape; she seemed rather to be waiting, uncertain.
What ally of chivalry or conscience or common sense came to my aid I do not know, but I became suddenly conscious, poignantly conscious of the fact that I loved her too much, too spiritually for this. I raised my arms and unclasped her hands, saying nothing. Indeed no mention of that mad moment has since passed between us. Awkward with my Awkward with my sense of guilt, I took her arm and led her home. Then I went back and had it all out with myself alone in the moonlight. Nothing like that has happened since or can ever happen again. Yet I cannot boast of being completely purged. To my dying day I shall treasure a sinful memory of the sweetness of that moment.
Alone, and yet not quite alone. I don't know what motive led Meg to turn at the door of her mistress and return with me to the sands. Perhaps some uncanny consciousness of my need. After I had won my foolish battle, I sat down and drew the old dog to me. The strange
sense of mutual understanding of which I have often been aware dates from that night. I shall never forget it-the moon sinking below the horizon, leaving the sea breathing in the darkness like a sleeping animal; the star-candles going out one by one behind the clouds; the sense of a near and comforting presence.
Patricia did not return to school. For one thing her mother, half prostrated, needed her. She did not care for school, and there was no one with sufficient authority to decide for her. She began somewhat aimlessly to drift, seeking diversion in the village or wandering with Meg along the shore. I felt that she needed guidance, but she seldom sought my counsel.
Then came the boy. His name was Conant-Rudolph Conant. His people came in June to occupy a cottage on the shore, and he drove, somewhat recklessly, a blue roadster. ster. I could not decide whether he was a nice boy or not. Patricia said he was, but I am not quite sure of present-day standards. He was generous, high-spirited, sophisticated. He was several years older than Patricia and had graduated from college; it seemed to me that he was carrying Patricia off her feet. In spite of her mother's querulous objections, she never seemed able to refuse him, at any hour of the day, if he came in his car to take her for a drive or to a dance. It was utterly impossible for me to keep track of her, to know where they went or what they did or when she got home. Naturally Patricia did not welcome leading questions, and it seemed to me that she was not quite frank with
me, which saddened and troubled
In my ignorance I did not know whether modern wooing was headed toward matrimony or not. Of course I could not ask Patricia, but one day I had an opportunity to touch on the subject. Some friend of Patricia's had been married and “carted off," as Patricia expressed it, to some awful place in the West, where the groom had found employment as a mining engineer.
"She was foolish," said Patricia. “She'll never have another bit of fun. Babies probably, and no servants. She might just as well have waited a few years.
"How old is she?" I asked. "Just my age-seventeen." "But that's too young to be married anyway.
It was in October, after Patricia's eighteenth birthday, that the affair came to a head. My telephone awoke me at two o'clock in the morning. It was Mrs. Barrington calling. She was a bit incoherent, but I gathered that Patricia had not appeared at home since the previous morning and had left no word of her intentions. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I strove manfully to hold the agitated mother to the point. It was true that Patricia had often been out with Rudolph later than this, but there were attendant circumstances, of which I failed to get the full significance, that caused the unusual worry. For one thing, Mrs. Barrington and Patricia had quarreled that morning, though this was not very uncommon. I was led to suspect that Patricia had said some
Patricia abruptly shifted her posi- thing unusually reckless and defiant
which had upset her mother and now
"Why so?" she asked. "I'm quite recurred to torture her. grown up, you know."
I had to admit that she was, though I could scarcely understand it.
At length I dressed and went over. Mrs. Barrington fluttered about in disorderly negligée and repeated what she had said over the wire. I
"You're not thinking of marrying did not succeed in gaining any furyet, are you, Patricia?"
"I'm not thinking of anything," she replied, a little defiantly. "Thinking spoils the fun."
I could not get over the feeling that Patricia was only a child, and yet there were times that summer when it seemed as if matrimony were the only answer to the problem. I had the old-fashioned notion that when one married one settled down. Patricia at present seemed to be running wild with her boy. There was talk about them that hurt me, but I knew it would do no good to tell Patricia of this. She would have scorned it.
ther information of consequence, but something of the mother's anxiety was communicated to me. A sense of catastrophe became more and more oppressive.
"Did Patricia take anything with her?" I asked. "Any baggage, I mean?"
"I don't know," wailed her mother. "I was so upset I didn't notice. I'll see."
I went with her into Patricia's room. Beside the bed, which had been somewhat hastily made up the morning before, lay old Meg, with her nose on her paws and with her
melancholy eyes open. She did not stir as we entered, but she moved her tail politely when I stooped to pat her. Patricia's suitcase and hat-box were in her closet, but a small overnight bag was missing.
"You'd better go to bed, Mrs. Barrington," said I. "I don't believe she'll be back before to-morrow."
"But where has she gone? What has she done?”
I quieted the mother as best I could and then hurried back to my own house, not because I hoped for sleep but to get away from her distracting company.
I went over again in the forenoon, and together we waited, Meg being the most patient and philosophical of the three. It was a dreadful day, what with Mrs. Barrington's eternal fussing and my own torturing thoughts. When at last I heard the sound of a car and Rudolph's roadster appeared on the road above the dunes, my heart almost stopped beating. Relief and dread beset me together. At least Patricia was in the car. She waved her arm above her head.
"Hello, folks," she cried gaily. "Did you think you'd lost me?"
Meg strode sedately out to meet her and received a casual pat. Rudolph followed her from the grinning broadly.
grasp the idea of her being Mrs. Rudolph Conant. Somewhere in the back of my brain stirred the thought that if this were indeed so then we had lost Patricia Barrington forever, but at least she was respectably married. A confusing, contradictory frame of mind.
"Married!" gasped Mrs. Barring
Patricia laughingly embraced and kissed her, then turned and impulsively kissed me.
"Well," she cried, "why don't you congratulate us? This isn't a funeral."
During the month which followed I was gradually becoming accustomed to having Rudolph around in the rôle of Patricia's husband. I must say that he was very devoted and seemed bent on pleasing her, which meant giving her a gay time. She seemed very happy, yet somehow a little feverishly so. It was as though she were hurrying to suck all the joy she could from life before anything untoward happened. Then Rudolph, forced to face the material facts of life, took her away.
I thought she behaved a bit ruthlessly toward her mother at this time, though I am not sure that it wasn't the best thing that could have happened to Mrs. Barrington. For the first time since I had known her she seemed to show signs of standing on her own feet. I was not especially surprised that Patricia should slight me. Her life was very full, and our friendship was not the frank thing it had been in the old days. That may have been partly my fault. But it did hurt me to see Patricia so indifferent toward old Meg. It was not like the warm
hearted girl that I had known so long. Poor Meg was an old dog now, slow of mind and body. She was no companion for the vivid young thing that flashed in and out of the house, even if Patricia had not acquired another companion. It wrung my heart to see the old dog follow Patricia stolidly about as well as she could, or lie and watch her. When Patricia was away I tried to coax Meg over to my place, but she preferred to lie and wait for the return of her mistress.
When Patricia and her bridegroom left for good, it was with scarcely a word of farewell for old Meg. But the dog seemed neither crushed nor resentful, only profoundly patient. There was pathos in her eyes but no look of injury. She seemed to understand that Patricia would not soon be back, and sometimes she would be persuaded to walk along the beach with me, or come with me to my study, but for the most part she preferred to lie on the rug beside Patricia's bed, sleeping the sleep of aged dogs and patiently waiting.
Why Meg, during the months that have followed, has not died of old age or some of its accompanying ailments, I am unable to say. It seems as if she were waiting, waiting for a day of return when she might die of happiness in her mistress's arms.
thing more of dignity and sedateness in her letters. Perhaps she felt the responsibility of motherhood and had grown up at last. I hoped so, and yet I somehow regretted the passing of her girlish light-heartedness, as one looks back from October to bright August with a touch of melancholy.
I have very little knowledge of what happened in Patricia's life after that. Her letters revealed nothing. It was very suddenly that she returned with Bimbo. I was shocked by her appearance, though perhaps one less fond would scarcely have marked the change. Her cheeks were less full, her eyes less bright, her lips slower to form themselves into a smile. I think we were all trying to hide our unhappiness from one another, even Mrs. Barrington. For Patricia's married life was a wreck, and so very soon.
Meg, I think, was the happiest one of us, for Patricia had time now to sit and smooth the old dog's ears and murmur soft crooning things into them. And Meg at once adopted the rôle of Bimbo's foster-mother. The child could scarcely stir without arousing Meg to come to the edge of the little crib or the baby-carriage to see if all were well.
My own days, too, were not without a certain happiness. Patricia was back again, and I felt her need of me. I was happy to be able to do the things that needed to be done. It was I who took her and Bimbo up to Boston, to place her case in the hands of a lawyer who was an old friend of mine.
It was not difficult to secure a divorce. It was a clear case of infidelity and desertion, not without
some cruelty. It was not necessary for Patricia to lay bare her whole heart and life. There were doubtless details which none of us will ever know. Rudolph did not contest the case, and Patricia was given custody of the child. She returned to us a free but subdued woman.
It was not very long, however, before Rudolph began to make trouble. I don't know what he said in his letters to Patricia or what demands he made upon her. Sometimes I feared that he was not quite right in his mind. Unquestionably he was drinking a good deal. I advised Patricia to destroy his letters without reading them, but she said she felt safer to know what was in his mind.
Then suddenly Rudolph appeared. Mrs. Barrington told me afterward that his aspect was terrible. He was like a cruel sneering fiend. His eyes, she said, were bloodshot, and his lips were dry and cracked. I have no doubt he was full of synthetic gin, doubtless taken to fortify his evil determination. I have cursed myself ever since for not being more watchful, but the maid, who would have come to me, was out that afternoon, and I don't know what I could have done.
My first intimation of anything wrong came to me over the telephone from Mrs. Barrington herself. She was utterly incoherent. I hung up the receiver without waiting for her to finish and dashed across the dunes to the Barrington house.
I found Mrs. Barrington, moaning and hysterical, lying across Patricia's bed. The room was disheveled as though a struggle had taken place. Patricia was gone, Bimbo was gone,
and poor old Meg lay with closed eyes in a distorted heap in the corner of the room.
I suppressed with difficulty a panicky feeling that I must act instantly and set about the task of calming Mrs. Barrington sufficiently to extort from her some sort of account of what had happened.
Rudolph had come to demand Bimbo. He had taken Bimbo, stolen him from his crib. He had struck her, Mrs. Barrington, in the face and knocked her to the floor. Old Meg, faithful to the last, had fought him desperately but futilely. She was weak and old, and Rudolph, in an insane fury, had kicked her and kicked her and thrown her into the corner to die. Then Mrs. Barrington lapsed again into hopeless moaning and self-pity.
It was not until later that I was able to think clearly enough to realize the brave selfless thing that old Meg had done. Your hero dog of fiction always wins his battles against odds. Meg had lost hers. She must have known that she would lose. She had never been a fighter. Always she had shrunk from human harshness. But now, with her muscles stiff with age, her old jaws weak, and some of her teeth missing, she had not hesitated to join battle with the man who threatened her charge and her beloved mistress. Greater love hath no man than this.
But I had no time to think of Meg then.
"Where is Patricia?" I demanded. "Gone," moaned Mrs. Barrington as if resenting the desertion. "Gone after him and the baby."
"But where have they gone? What was she going to do?"