Was there one person to whom he told the truth before he went? Did the girl behind the counter hear the manner in which the engagement was broken? Ah, none of us will ever know that! But, although I could not, without the highest impropriety, have spoken to any of the old ladies about this business, unless they had chosen to speak to me—and somehow I feel that after the abrupt close of it not even Mrs. Gregory St. Michael would have been likely to touch on the subject with an outsider—there was nothing whatever to forbid my indulging in a skirmish with Eliza La Heu; therefore I lunched at the Exchange on my last day.
“To the mountains?” she said, in reply to my information about my plans of travel.
“Doctor Beaugarcon says nothing else can so quickly restore me.”
“Stay there for the rhododendrons, then,” she bade me. “No sight more beautiful in all the South.”
“Town seems deserted,” I pursued. “Everybody gone.”
“Oh, not everybody!”
“All the interesting people.”
“I meant, interesting to you.”
I saw her decide not to be angry; and her decision changed and saved our conversation from the trashy, bantering tone which it was taking, and brought it to a pass most unexpected to both of us.
She gave me a charming and friendly smile. “Well, you, at any rate, are going away. And I am really sorry for that.”
Her eyes rested upon me with perfect frankness. I was not in love with Eliza La Heu, but nearer to love than I had ever been then, and it would have been easy, very easy, to let one’s self go straight onward into love. There are for a man more ways of falling into that state than romancers would have us to believe, and one of them is by an assent of the will at a certain given moment, which the heart promptly follows— just as a man in a moment decides he will espouse a cause, and soon finds himself hotly fighting for it body and soul. I could have gone out of that Exchange completely in love with Eliza La Heu; but my will did not give its assent, and I saw John Mayrant not as a rival, but as one whose happiness I greatly desired.
“Thank you,” I said, “for telling me you are sorry I am going. And now, may I treat you more than ever as a friend, and tell you of a circumstance which Kings Port does not know?”
It put her on her guard. “Don’t be indiscreet,” she laughed.
“Isn’t timely indiscretion discretion?”
“And don’t be clever,” she said. “Tell me what you have to say—if you’re quite sure you’ll not be sorry.”
“Quite sure. There’s no reason—now that the untruth is properly and satisfactorily established—that one person should not know that John Mayrant broke that engagement.” And I told her the whole of it. “If I’m outrageous to share this secret with you,” I concluded, “I can only say that I couldn’t stand the unfairness any longer.”