Betty Medill would marry him and she wouldn’t marry him. She was having such a good time that she hated to take such a definite step. Meanwhile, their secret engagement had got so long that it seemed as if any day it might break off of its own weight. A little man named Warburton, who knew it all, persuaded Perry to superman her, to get a marriage license and go up to the Medill house and tell her she’d have to marry him at once or call it off forever. This is some stunt—but Perry tried it on December the twenty-ninth. He presented self, heart, license, and ultimatum, and within five minutes they were in the midst of a violent quarrel, a burst of sporadic open fighting such as occurs near the end of all long wars and engagements. It brought about one of those ghastly lapses in which two people who are in love pull up sharp, look at each other coolly and think it’s all been a mistake. Afterward they usually kiss wholesomely and assure the other person it was all their fault. Say it all was my fault! Say it was! I want to hear you say it!
But while reconciliation was trembling in the air, while each was, in a measure, stalling it off, so that they might the more voluptuously and sentimentally enjoy it when it came, they were permanently interrupted by a twenty-minute phone call for Betty from a garrulous aunt who lived in the country. At the end of eighteen minutes Perry Parkhurst, torn by pride and suspicion and urged on by injured dignity, put on his long fur coat, picked up his light brown soft hat and stalked out the door.
“It’s all over,” he muttered brokenly as he tried to jam his car into first. “It’s all over—if I have to choke you for an hour, darn you!” This last to the car, which had been standing some time and was quite cold.
He drove downtown—that is, he got into a snow rut that led him downtown.
He sat slouched down very low in his seat, much too dispirited to care where he went. He was living over the next twenty years without Betty.
In front of the Clarendon Hotel he was hailed from the sidewalk by a bad man named Baily, who had big huge teeth and lived at the hotel and had never been in love.
“Perry,” said the bad man softly when the roadster drew up beside him at the curb, “I’ve got six quarts of the dog-gonedest champagne you ever tasted. A third of it’s yours, Perry, if you’ll come upstairs and help Martin Macy and me drink it.”
“Baily,” said Perry tensely. “I’ll drink your champagne. I’ll drink every drop of it. I don’t care if it kills me. I don’t care if it’s fifty-proof wood alcohol.”
“Shut up, you nut!” said the bad man gently. “They don’t put wood alcohol in champagne. This is the stuff that proves the world is more than six thousand years old. It’s so ancient that the cork is petrified. You have to pull it with a stone drill.”
“Take me upstairs,” said Perry moodily. “If that cork sees my heart it’ll fall out from pure mortification.”