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Seven Miles to Arden, Page 2

Ruth Sawyer



  Marjorie Schuyler sat in her own snug little den, her toy rubyspaniel on a cushion at her feet, her lap full of samples of white,shimmering crepes and satins. She fingered them absent-mindedly, hermind caught in a maze of wedding intricacies and dates, and whirledbetween an ultimate choice between October and June of the followingyear.

  The world knew all there was to know about Marjorie Schuyler. Itcould tell to a nicety who her paternal and maternal grandparentswere, back to old Peter Schuyler's time and the settling of theVirginian Berkeleys. It could figure her income down to a paltryhundred of the actual amount. It knew her age to the month and day.In fact, it had kept her calendar faithfully, from her coming-outparty, through the periods of mourning for her parents and hersubsequent returns to society, through the rumors of her engagementsto half a dozen young leaders at home and abroad, down to her latestconquest.

  The last date on her calendar was the authorized announcement of herengagement to young Burgeman. Hence the shimmering samples and therelative values of October and June for a wedding journey.

  And the world knew more than these things concerning MarjorieSchuyler. It knew that she was beautiful, of regal bearing anddistinguished manner. An aunt lived with her, to lend dignity andchaperonage to her position; but she managed her own affairs, socialand financial, for herself. If the world had been asked to choose amodern prototype for the young, independent American girl of theleisure class, it is reasonably safe to assume it would have namedMarjorie Schuyler.

  As for young Burgeman, the world knew him as the Rich Man's Son. Thatwas the best and worst it could say of him.

  "I think, Toto," said Marjorie Schuyler to her toy ruby spaniel, "itwill be June. There is only one thing you can do with October--achurch wedding, chrysanthemums, and oak leaves. But June offers somany possible variations. Besides, that gives us both one last,untrammeled season in town. Yes, June it is; and we'll not have tothink about these yet awhile." Whereupon she dropped the shimmeringsamples into the waste-basket.

  A maid pushed aside the hangings that curtained her den from thegreat Schuyler library. "There's a young person giving the name ofO'Connell, asking to see you. Shall I say you are out?"

  "O'Connell?" Marjorie Schuyler raised a pair of interrogatoryeyebrows. "Why--it can't be. The entire company went back weeks ago.What is she like--small and brown, with very pink cheeks and veryblue eyes?"

  The maid nodded ambiguously.

  "Bring her up. I know it can't be, but--"

  But it was. The next moment Marjorie Schuyler was taking a firm gripof Patsy's shoulders while she looked down with mock disapproval atthe girl who reached barely to her shoulder.

  "Patsy O'Connell! Why didn't you go home with the others--and whathave you done to your cheeks?"

  Patsy attacked them with two merciless fists. "Sure, they're afterneeding a pinch of north-of-Ireland wind, that's all. How'syourself?"

  Marjorie Schuyler pushed her gently into a great chair, while sheherself took a carved baronial seat opposite. The nearness ofanything so exquisitely perfect as Marjorie Schuyler, and thecomparison it was bound to suggest, would have been a consciousordeal for almost any other girl. But Patsy was oblivious of thecomparison--oblivious of the fact that she looked like a wood-thrushneighboring with a bird of paradise. Her brown Norfolk suit was ashabby affair--positively clamoring for a successor; the boyish brownbeaver--lacking feather or flower--was pulled down rakishly over hermass of brown curls, and the vagabond gloves gave a consistent finishto the picture. And yet there was that about Patsy which defiedcomparison even with Marjorie Schuyler; moreover--a thrush sings.

  "Now tell me," said Marjorie Schuyler, "where have you been all theseweeks?"

  Patsy considered. "Well--I've been taking up hospital training."

  "Oh, how splendid! Are you going over with the new Red Cross supply?"

  Patsy shook her head. "You see, they only kept me until they haddemonstrated all they knew about lung disorders--and fresh-airtreatment, and then they dismissed me. I'm fearsome they were afterfinding out I hadn't the making of a nurse."

  "That's too bad! What are you going to do now?"

  An amused little smile twitched at the corners of Patsy's mouth; itacted as if it wanted to run loose all over her face. "Sure, Ihaven't my mind made--quite. And yourself?"

  "Oh--I?" Marjorie Schuyler leaned forward a trifle. "Did you know Iwas engaged?"

  "Betrothed? Holy Saint Bridget bless ye!" And the vagabond glovesclasped the slender hands of the American prototype and gave them ahard little squeeze. "Who's himself?"

  "It's Billy Burgeman, son of _the_ Burgeman."

  "Old King Midas?"

  "That's a new name for him."

  "It has fitted him years enough." Patsy's face sobered. "Oh, why doesmoney always have to mate with money? Why couldn't you have married apoor great man--a poet, a painter, a thinker, a dreamer--some one whoought not to be bound down by his heels to the earth forbread-gathering or shelter-building? You could have cut the thongsand sent him soaring--given the world another 'Prometheus Unbound.'As for Billy Burgeman--he could have married--me," and Patsy spreadher hands in mock petition.

  Marjorie Schuyler laughed. "You! That is too beautifully delicious!Why, Patsy O'Connell, William Burgeman is the most conventional younggentleman I have ever met in my life. You would shock him into asemi-comatose condition in an afternoon--and, pray, what would youdo with him?"

  "Sure, I'd make a man of him, that's what. His father's son mightneed it, I'm thinking."

  Marjorie Schuyler's face became perfectly blank for a second, thenshe leaned against the baronial arms on the back of her seat, tiltedher head, and mused aloud: "I wonder just what Billy Burgeman doeslack? Sometimes I've wondered if it was not having a mother, orgrowing up without brothers or sisters, or living all alone with hisfather in that great, gloomy, walled-in, half-closed house. It is nota lack of manhood--I'm sure of that; and it's not lack of caring, forhe can care a lot about some things. But what is it? I would give agreat deal to know."

  "If the tales about old King Midas have a thruppence worth of truthin them, it might be his father's meanness that's ailing him."

  Marjorie Schuyler shook her head. "No; Billy's almost a prodigal. Hisfather says he hasn't the slightest idea of the value of money; it'sjust so much beans or shells or knives or trading pelf with him;something to exchange for what he calls the real things of life. Why,when he was a boy--in fact, until he was almost grown--his fathercouldn't trust Billy with a cent."

  "Who said that--Billy or the king?"

  "His father, of course. That's why he has never taken Billy intobusiness with him. He is making Billy win his spurs--on his ownmerits; and he's not going to let him into the firm until he's worthat least five thousand a year to some other firm. Oh, Mr. Burgemanhas excellent ideas about bringing up a son! Billy ought to amount toa great deal."

  "Meaning money or character?" inquired Patsy.

  Marjorie Schuyler looked at her sharply. "Are you laughing?"

  "Faith, I'm closer to weeping; 'twould be a lonesome, hard rearingthat would come to a son of King Midas, I'm thinking. I'd far ratherbe the son of his gooseherd, if I had the choosing."

  She leaned forward impulsively and gathered up the hands of the girlopposite in the warm, friendly compass of those vagabond gloves. "Doye really love him, _cailin a'sthore_?" And this time it was her lookthat was sharp.

  "Why, of course I love him! What a foolish question! Why should I bemarrying him if I didn't love him? Why do you ask?"

  "Because--the son of King Midas with no mother, with no one at allbut the king, growing up all alone in a gloomy old castle, with noone trusting him, would need a great deal of love--a great, greatdeal--"

  "That's all right, Ellen. I'll find her for myself." It was a man'svoice, pitched overhigh; it came from somewhere beyond and below theinclosing curtains and cut off the last of Patsy's speech.

hat's funny," said Marjorie Schuyler, rising. "There's Billy now.I'll bring him in and let you see for yourself that he's not at allan object of sympathy--or pity."

  She disappeared into the library, leaving Patsy speculatingrecklessly. They must have met just the other side of the closedhangings, for to Patsy their voices sounded very near and closetogether.

  "Hello, Billy!"

  "Listen, Marjorie; if a girl loves a man she ought to be willing totrust him over a dreadful bungle until he could straighten things outand make good again--that's true, isn't it?"

  "Billy Burgeman! What do you mean?"

  "Just answer my question. If a girl loves a man she'll trust him,won't she?"

  "I suppose so."

  "You know she would, dear. What would the man do if she didn't?"

  The voice sounded strained and unnatural in its intensity and appeal.Patsy rose, troubled in mind, and tiptoed to the only other door inthe den.

  "'Tis a grand situation for a play," she remarked, dryly, "but 'tisa mortial poor one in real life, and I'm best out of it." She turnedthe knob with eager fingers and pulled the door toward her. It openedon a dumbwaiter shaft, empty and impressive. Patsy's expression wouldhave scored a hit in farce comedy. Unfortunately there was noaudience present to appreciate it here, and the prompter forgot toring down the curtain just then, so that Patsy stood helpless, forcedto go on hearing all that Marjorie and her leading man wished toimprovise in the way of lines.

  "... I told you, _forged_--"

  Patsy was tempted to put her fingers in her ears to shut out thesound of his voice and what he was saying, but she knew even then shewould go on hearing; his voice was too vibrant, too insistent, to beshut out.

  "... my father's name for ten thousand. I took the check to the bankmyself, and cashed it; father's vice-president.... Of course thecashier knew me.... I tell you I can't explain--not now. I've got toget away and stay away until I've squared the thing and paid fatherback."

  "Billy Burgeman, did you forge that check yourself?"

  "What does that matter--whether I forged it or had it forged or sawit forged? I tell you I cashed it, knowing it was forged. Don't youunderstand?"

  "Yes; but if you didn't forge it, you could easily prove it; peoplewouldn't have to know the rest--they are hushing up things of thatkind every day."

  A silence dropped on the three like a choking, blinding fog. The twooutside the hangings must have been staring at each other, toobewildered or shocked to speak. The one inside clutched her throat,muttering, "If my heart keeps up this thumping, faith, he'll thinkit's the police and run."

  At last the voice of the man came, hushed but strained almost tobreaking. To Patsy it sounded as if he were staking his very soul inthe words, uncertain of the balance. "Marjorie, you don't understand!I cashed that check because--because I want to take theresponsibility of it and whatever penalty comes along with it. Idon't believe father will ever tell. He's too proud; it would strikeback at him too hard. But you would have to know; he'd tell you; andI wanted to tell you first myself. I want to go away knowing youbelieve and trust me, no matter what father says about me, no matterwhat every one thinks about me. I want to hear you say it--that youwill be waiting--just like this--for me to come back to when I'vesquared it all off and can explain.... Why, Marjorie--Marjorie!"

  Patsy waited in an agony of dread, hope, prayer--waited for theanswer she, the girl he loved, would make. It came at last, slowly,deliberately, as if spoken, impersonally, by the foreman of a jury:

  "I don't believe in you, Billy. I'm sorry, but I don't believe Icould ever trust you again. Your father has always said you couldn'ttake care of money; this simply means you have got yourself into somewretched hole, and forging your father's name was the only way out ofit. I suppose you think the circumstances, whatever they may be, havewarranted the act; but that act puts a stigma on your name whichmakes it unfit for any woman to bear; and if you have any spark ofmanhood left, you'll unwish the wish--you will unthink thethought--that I would wait--or even want you--ever--to come back."

  A cry--a startled, frightened cry--rang through the rooms. It did notcome from either Marjorie or her leading man. Patsy stood with avagabond glove pressed hard over her mouth--quite unconscious thatthe cry had escaped and that there was no longer need ofmuzzling--then plunged headlong through the hangings into thelibrary. Marjorie Schuyler was standing alone.

  "Where is he--your man?"

  "He's gone--and please don't call him--that!"

  "Go after him--hurry--don't let him go! Don't ye understand? Hemustn't go away with no one believing in him. Tell him it's amistake; tell him anything--only go!"

  While Patsy's tongue burred out its Irish brogue she pushed at thetall figure in front of her--pushed with all her might. "Are yenailed to the floor? What's happened to your feet? For Heaven's sake,lift them and let them take ye after him. Don't ye hear? There's thefront door slamming behind him. He'll be gone past your calling inanother minute. Dear heart alive, ye can't be meaning to let himgo--this way!"

  But Marjorie Schuyler stood immovable and deaf to her pleading.Incredulity, bewilderment, pity, and despair swept over Patsy's facelike clouds scudding over the surface of a clear lake. Then scornsettled in her eyes.

  "I'm sorry for ye, sorry for any woman that fails the man who lovesher. I don't know this son of old King Midas; I never saw him in mylife, and all I know about him is what ye told me this day and scrapsof what he had to say for himself; but I believe in him. I know henever forged that check--or used the money for any mean use of hisown. I'd wager he's shielding some one, some one weaker than he, tooafeared to step up and say so. Why, I'd trust him across the worldand back again; and, holy Saint Patrick! I'm going after him to tellhim so."

  For the second time within a few seconds Marjorie Schuyler listenedand heard the front door slam; then the goddess came to life. Shewalked slowly, regally, across the library and passed between thehangings which curtained her den. Her eyes, probably by pure chance,glanced over the shimmering contents of the waste-basket. A littlecold smile crept to the corners of her mouth, while her chinstiffened.

  "I think, Toto," she said, addressing the toy ruby spaniel, "that itwill not be even a June wedding," and she laughed a crisp, dry littlelaugh.