“How can I be sure you will keep your word?”
“I’ll give it to you in writing,” she returned. “Write: This is to certify that I, Christine Fenimer, have enveigled the innocent and unsuspecting youth—”
“I won’t,” said Riatt.
“I will then,” she answered, and sitting down she wrote:
“This is to certify that I, Christine Fenimer, have speciously, feloniously and dishonorably induced Mr. Max Riatt to make me an offer of marriage, which I knew at the time he had no wish to fulfil, and I hereby solemnly vow and swear to release him from same on or before the first day of March of this year of grace. (Signed) CHRISTINE FENIMER.”
“There,” she said, “put that in your pocketbook, and for goodness’ sake don’t let your pocket be picked between now and the first of March.”
He took it and put it very carefully away, observing as he did so: “It’s a long time to the first of March.”
“It mayn’t seem as long as you think.”
“Are you by any chance supposing,” he asked with a directness he had learnt from her own methods, “that by that time I may have fallen in love with you?”
She did not hesitate at all. “Well, I think it is a possibility.”
“Oh, anything’s possible, but I can tell you this: Even if I were in love with you, you are not the type of woman I should ever dream of marrying.”
“What would you do?”
“If I saw the slightest chance of falling in love with you—which I don’t—I should try all the harder to free myself.”
“I don’t see how you could try any harder than you have. You begin to make me suspicious.”
“Christine, I am not the least bit in love with you.”
“Quite sure that you’re not whistling to keep your courage up?”
“Well,” she said, “just to show my fair spirit, I’ll tell you that I entirely believe you. Shall I add it to the contract: And I credit his repeated assertion that he is not and never will be in the least in love with me? No, I think I’ll omit the ‘and never will be’ clause.”
“And may I ask one other question,” he continued, ignoring her last suggestion. “What did you mean when you told me that you had decided to marry Hickson?”
“So I have. Don’t you see? He and I are really engaged, but he doesn’t know it. You and I are not really engaged, and you do know it.”
“I wish I did,” he returned gloomily.
“Oh, yes,” she said, “you know it and I know it, but the dog—that’s Nancy—she doesn’t know it.”
He seemed unimpressed by the humor of the situation. He walked away and put his hand on the knob.
“One thing more,” he said. “I would like to be sure that you understand this. The weapons are all in my hands. The only strength of your position lies in my good nature and willingness to keep up appearances. Neither one is a rock of defense. I’m not, as you said yourself, good-tempered, and I care very little for appearances. The risk you run, if you don’t play absolutely fair, is of being publicly jilted.”