Amazing grace, who prove.., p.13
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       Amazing Grace, Who Proves That Virtue Has Its Silver Lining, p.13

           Kate Trimble Sharber
 
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  CHAPTER XIII

  JILTED!

  When a tempest in a teapot goes out at the spout it is alwaysdisappointing to spectators!

  One naturally expects the vessel to burst--or the lid to fly off, atleast--and when neither takes place one experiences a little collapsedfeeling of disappointment.

  The barest thought of the pain I was going to inflict upon GuilfordBlake when I broke my lifelong engagement to him had been sendingshivers up and down my backbone ever since four o'clock on theafternoon of Mrs. Hiram Walker's reception--_then_, when I turned awayfrom Maitland Tait's motor-car the night I went to Loomis on urgentbusiness, and came face to face with my betrothed standing in theshadow of the office door waiting for me--the unexpected happened!

  Mr. Blake broke his engagement with me!

  "Grace, you amaze me!" he said.

  He said it so quietly, with so icy an air of disapproval that I lookedup quickly to see what the trouble was. Then I observed that he hadtold the truth. I hadn't crushed, wounded, nor annihilated him. I hadsimply amazed him.

  "Oh, Guilford! I didn't know you were here!"

  "I suppose not."

  "But, how does it happen--?"

  He motioned me to silence.

  "Have the goodness to let me ask the questions," he suggested.

  "Oh, certainly!"

  "Will you, first of all, tell me what this means?" was the openingquery, but before I could reply he went on: "Not that _I_ have anyright to pry into your affairs, understand!"

  "Guilford!"

  "It's true! My right to question you has ceased to exist!"

  "You mean that you have washed your hands of me?" I gasped. After all,it was most unusual for Guilford and me to be talking to each otherlike this. I was bewildered by the novelty of it.

  He caught the sound of the gasp and interpreted it as a plea forquarter. It settled him in his determination.

  "I must," he declared.

  "By all means--if that's the way you feel about it," I saidcourteously, as if granting a request.

  He looked down at me, in a manner that said: "It hurts me more than itdoes you, my child."

  "I've endured--things from you before this, Grace," he reminded me,"But to-night--why, this out-Herods-Herod!"

  Now, if he had looked hurt--cruelly wounded or deeply shocked--I'dhave been penitent enough to behave decently to him. But he didn't. Hewas simply angry. He looked like the giant when he was searchingaround for Jack and saying: "Fee! Faw! Fum! I smell the blood of anEnglishman!"

  "But what have I done?" I demanded indignantly. "Mayn't a man come tosee me, and--"

  "Certainly he may!"

  "And mayn't I--"

  "And you may go to see him, too--if you like!"

  "What do you mean?"

  "I mean--I mean," he answered, stammering a little with wrath, "ofcourse _you_ may do such things--Grace Christie may--but my futurewife may not."

  For a moment I had a blinded angry paralysis descend upon me. I had agreat desire to do something to relieve the situation, but I didn'tknow what to do--rather as you feel sometimes at the breakfast tablewhen your morning grapefruit hits you squarely in the eye.

  "Suppose you try to calm yourself a little and tell me just what thetrouble is," I said, struggling after calmness for my own individualuse.

  He took off his hat and mopped his brow.

  "Your mother suspected last night that something had gone wrong withyou at that dance," he began explaining, the flash of the street lightat the corner showing that he had gone quite pale.

  "Well?"

  "She said that you came in looking wild-eyed and desperate."

  "I am not willing to admit that," I said with dignity.

  "And, then she knew you didn't sleep!" he kept on. "All day she hasbeen feeling that something was amiss with you."

  "I see! And when I didn't show up to-night at dinner--"

  "She called the office--naturally."

  "Naturally!" I encouraged.

  "And the fool who answered the telephone consoled her by telling herthat you had--gone--out--to--_Loomis_!"

  He paused dramatically, but I failed to applaud.

  "Well, what next?" I inquired casually.

  He drew back.

  "Then you don't deny it?"

  I gave a little laugh.

  "Why should I attempt to deny it?" I asked. "Haven't you just caughtme in the act of coming back in Mr. Tait's car?"

  "I have!" he answered in gloating triumph, "that is, I have caught youleaving his car--while he made love to you at the curb! This, however,doesn't necessarily confirm the Loomis rumor!"

  He waited for me to explain further, but I simply bowed my head inacquiescence.

  "Yes," I said serenely. "He was making love to me."

  "And you acknowledge this, too?"

  I made a gesture of impatience.

  "I acknowledge everything, Guilford!--That you and I have been thevictims of heredity, first of all, and--"

  He drew back stiffly.

  "Victims? I beg pardon?"

  "I mean in this engagement of ours--that we had nothing to do with!"

  "But I assure you that I have never looked upon myself in the light ofa victim!" he said proudly. "And--although I know that it will notinterest you especially--I wish to add that I have never given aserious thought to any other woman in my life."

  "Yet you have never been in love with me!" I challenged.

  He hesitated.

  "I have always felt very close to you," he endeavored to explain. "Wehave so many things in common--there is, of course, a peculiarcongeniality--"

  "Congeniality?"

  It struck me that the only point of congeniality between us was thatwe were both Caucasians, but I didn't say it.

  "Our parents were friends long before we were born! This, of itself,certainly must bring in its wake a degree of mutual affection," heexplained, and as the words "mutual affection" came unfeelingly fromhis lips I suddenly felt a thousand years further advanced in wisdomthan he.

  "But real love may be--is, I'm sure--a vastly different thing from theregard we've had for each other," I ventured, trying not to make adisplay of my superiority in learning, but he interrupted mecontemptuously.

  "'Real love!' What could you possibly know about that?" he askedchillingly. "You, who are ready to flirt with any stray foreigner whochances to stop over in this city for a week! But for me--why, I havenever glanced at another woman! I have always understood my goodfortune in being affianced to the one woman in the whole country roundwho was best fitted to bear the honored name which has descended tome."

  When he said this I began to feel sorry for him. I was not sorry forhis disappointment, you understand, but for his view-point. "I wasnever fitted for it, Guilford!" I said humbly. "It's true I come ofthe same sort of stock that produced you--but I am awkwardly graftedon my family tree! At heart I am a barbarian."

  "What do you mean?"

  "I mean--the things you love most I simply forget about."

  "I think you do!" he coincided heartily. "You have certainly forgottenall about ordinary propriety to-night."

  At this I waxed furious again.

  "How I hate that word propriety!" I said. "And there's another one--acompanion word which I never mean to use until I'm past sixty! It's_Platonic_!--Those two words remind me of tarpaulins in a smuggler'sboat because you can hide so much underneath them!"

  "I'm not speaking of hiding things," he fired back, as angry as I was."And, if you want to know the truth, I rather admire your honesty innot trying to pretend that your flirtation with this Englishman _is_Platonic!--Yet that certainly doesn't throw any more agreeable lightupon this happening to-night.--You _did_ go to Loomis!"

  I could scarcely keep from laughing at this, for his anger seemed tobe centered in one spot--like an alderman's avoirdupois! He wasthinking far less of losing me than of the indelicacy of my going toLoomis.

  "Yes," I answered, trying to make my words inconsequenti
al. "Old manHudson sent me!"

  His hat, which he had held deferentially in his hand all this time,suddenly fluttered to the ground.

  "What!"

  "Didn't you and mother _know_ that?" I asked.

  "That--that it was a business proposition?" he panted.

  "Certainly--or I should never have gone! How little you and motherknow about me, after all, Guilford."

  He looked crestfallen for a moment, then his face brightened once moreinto angry triumph.

  "But I saw him making love to you!" he summed up hastily, as anafterthought.

  "Yes--you did," I assured him exultantly.

  "And you met him for the first time--let me see? What day was it?"

  I ignored the sarcasm.

  "Tuesday," I answered. "At four o'clock in the afternoon."

  "And not a soul in this town knows a thing about him!"

  "Except myself," I protested. "I know a great deal about him."

  "Then, do you happen to know--I heard it from a fellow in Pittsburghwho has followed his meteoric career as captain of industry--do _you_happen to know that he makes no secret of having left England becausehe was so handicapped by disadvantages of birth?"

  I hesitated just a moment--not in doubt as to what I should say, butas to how I should say it.

  "That's all right, Guilford," I answered complacently. "If hisancestors all looked like 'gentlemen of the jury' it doesn't lessenhis own dignity and grandeur."

  Now, if you've never been in a circuit court room you can't appreciatethe above simile, but Guilford was a lawyer.

  He looked at me in a dazed fashion for an instant.

  "Grace, you don't feel ill--nor anything--do you?" he asked anxiously.

  "Oh, no!"

  "But I can't believe that you're exactly right in your mind!"

  "Well--maybe--"

  "I can't believe that to-morrow morning will actually dawn and find usasunder," he kept on quickly. "It must be some sort of fantasticdream."

  "It will seem very--queer, at first, Guilford," I confessed, with apreliminary shrinking at the thought of facing mother.

  "Queer's no word to use in connection with it," he answered crossly,then I heard heavy footsteps in the corridor above, and I took aquick step toward him.

  "I must go up-stairs," I whispered. "Old man Hudson is making nighthideous, I know!--But all this is really true, Guilford! And--and youmust wear _this_ in your vest pocket now!"

  I slipped the scarab ring into his hand.

  "You are determined?" he asked dully.

  "I am--awakened," I replied.

  "What do you mean?"

  "I mean that you are not really in love with me--never have been inlove with me, and never could be except upon certain occasions when Iwas dreadfully dressed-up--where there were red roses and the sound ofviolin music."

  "Grace, you are--unkind," he said, with a groping look on his face. "Iconfess that I don't in the least understand you!"

  "Then how lucky we are!" I exclaimed. "So many people don't find thisout until after they've got their house all furnished! We're going tobe friends always, Guilford."

  Then, without waiting for him to say more I turned away and ranbreathlessly up the steps into the office.

  The brilliant light in the city news room met me squarely as I openedthe door. I blinked a little--then raised my left hand and examined itclosely. It looked--_awful_! I had worn that same ring ever since Iwas seventeen years old--and I felt as I might feel if I'd just had myhair cut off or suffered some other unprecedented loss.

  The city editor looked up from his desk.

  "Well?" he inquired. "Have you got it?"

  I was still gazing at that left hand.

  "No," I answered stupidly. "It's _gone_!"

  He jumped to his feet.

  "Here!" he commanded sharply. "Sit down here!"

  I sat down, letting my bag slide to the floor.

  "You don't feel sick--do you?"

  "No."

  "You didn't fall off the street-car--did you?"

  "No."

  "You haven't happened to any sort of trouble--have you?"

  "No."

  The "No--No--No--" was in the monotonous tone a person says"Ninety-nine" when his lungs are being examined.

  Mr. Hudson looked at me closely.

  "Then--the story!" he said.

  I blankly reached for my bag, opened it and took out the blank copypaper.

  "Oh--damn--" he began, then swallowed.

  This awakened me from my trance.

  "But he _does_!" I exclaimed in triumph. He _is_--and he's _going tobe_!"

  "Here?" the editorial voice called out sharply and joyously. "Here inOldburgh?"

  My head bobbed a concise yes.

  "Bigger and better than ever?" my questioner tormented.

  "A thousand times! Happiness for everybody!--Where there's a familythere'll also be a House that's a Home--"

  The old fellow began scribbling.

  "I reckon he means model cottages," he observed sourly. "They all makea great pretense of loving their neighbor as themselves in this dayand time."

  "Yes--even if it's a cottage it will certainly be a model one--andwhat more could one desire?" I asked, rambling again.

  "Then--what else?"

  "And--oh! Gardens! Gardens--gardens!"

  He held up his hand.

  "Wait--you go too darn fast!"

  "I'm sorry! Maybe I have gone too fast!" I answered, as I settled backin my chair and my face reddened uncomfortably. "Maybe I have gone toofast!"

  "You have! You confuse me--talking the way you do and looking the wayyou do! By rights I ought to make you write the story outyourself--but you don't look as if you could spell 'Unprecedented goodfortune in the annals of Oldburgh's industrial career,' to-night!"

  "I'm sure I couldn't," I admitted readily. "Please don't ask me to."

  "Well--go on with your narrative. What else?"

  "Acres and acres! Acres and _acres_!" I impressed upon him. "That'swhat I've always wanted! I love acres so much better thanneighbors--don't you?"

  He paused in his writing.

  "Of course the Macdermott Realty Company did the stunt?" he asked,scratching his head with his pencil tip and leaving a little blackmark along the field of redness. "We mustn't forget to mention eachindividual member of the firm.--And then--?"

  "A schoolhouse," I remembered.

  He glared.

  "A schoolhouse?" he questioned. "What for?"

  "For the children!" I answered, lowering my eyes. "Did you think therewouldn't be any children? How could there be a House that was a Homewithout them?"

  "Oh, and this fellow, Tait, is going to see to it that they'reeducated, eh? They're going to have advantages that he didn'thave--and all that sort of thing? Very praiseworthy, I'm sure!"

  I sprang up from my chair.

  "I'm going home, Mr. Hudson, please!" I begged. "There _is_ somethingwrong with my head."

  He smiled.

  "It's different from any other woman's head I ever saw," he admittedhalf grudgingly. "It's _level_!"

  "But indeed you're mistaken!" I plead. "Right this minute I'm--I'mseeing things!"

  Then, when I said this a gentle light stole over his face--such alight I'm sure that few people ever saw there--perhaps nobody ever hadexcept Mrs. Hudson the day he proposed to her.

  "Visions?" he asked kindly. "A House that's a Home--and _English_gardens."

  "That's not fair!" I warned. "I really ought not to have gone outthere to-night--and I don't know whether he'll want all this writtenup or not--for I didn't mention the _Herald's_ name in ourconversation, and--"

  "Bosh!" he snapped. "Rot! And piffle! You had a right to go out thereif I sent you--and of course he can't object to the public knowing_now_! Why, I expect any one of the reporters could have got as muchout of him to-night as you did!"

  "Do you really think so?" I asked, from the doorway. "Good night, Mr.Hudson. You can easily make two columns out
of that, by drawing onyour--past experience."

  He waved me crossly away, without once looking up or saying "Thankyou" and I caught a car home. Half an hour later, when the curve wasturned into the full face of West Clydemont Place I still thought Iwas "seeing things." A big motor-car stood before our door, but myheart changed its tune when I got closer. It was not a limousine. Itwas a doctor's coupe. Mother had suffered a violent chill.

  "Grace, I--have no words!" she moaned, as I came into the room.

 
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