The situation was a hard one, even for the self-possession of the lowlands girl, who had inherited her father’s coolness in emergency as well as some other traits less desirable. Her color rose and she tried, earnestly, to gather words which would express the thought she had in mind without including a confession of the weakness of her own position. This she could not, do, however. She walked over to the window, gazed from it, for a moment, at the passing crowds, and then returned to Madge, to tell her bluntly: “I want you to go away from here.”
“Me go away? What for?”
It was impossible, Barbara now discovered, to make her meaning wholly clear, without some measure of humiliation. The first thing that was, obviously, necessary was a statement of facts as they were, and this must include confession of her own sore weakness. She hesitated, trying to avoid it, but when she quite decided that it could not be helped, plunged on with a perfect frankness. What she wished was immediately to gain her point. If she must eat a bit of humble pie in order to accomplish this, why, she would eat it, much as she disliked the diet.
“Can’t you see that it is you who stand between Frank and me?” she cried. “If it hadn’t been for you, I should have been his promised wife! If you will go away and never see him again, I can win him back.”
Madge was dumbfounded. The cold and utter selfishness of the girl’s proposal was astounding. She looked at Barbara with eyes in which incredulous amazement gave way, slowly, to an expression of chill wonder. “Say, you don’t seem to squander many thoughts on other people! S’posin’ I happen to love him a little, myself!”
Barbara laughed scornfully. Sprung from low stock, herself, but reared in luxury, she had the most complete contempt for anyone whom circumstances had denied advantages such as she had known. “You—you love him!” she exclaimed.
The words had slipped from Madge’s lips without forethought, and, instantly, she very much regretted them; but, now that she had uttered them she did not so much as think of trying to recall them or deny their truth. “Yes, and I ain’t ashamed of it,” said she. “I do love him—a thousand times better nor you ever dreamed of.”
“What good will it do you?” asked her rival, coldly. “You don’t suppose he’ll ever think of making you his wife! Why, look at the difference between you and me!”
“Yes,” said Madge, sarcastically, “there is a powerful sight of differ! You’d be willin’ to ruin’ him to win him, while I’d be willin’ to gin up my happiness to save him!”
Barbara, more in earnest than she ever had been in her life before, took a quick step toward the mountain girl. “Then prove it by going away,” said she, “and I will see that my father advances Frank Layson the money he needs.” She looked at her eagerly. “Do you promise?”
“No,” said Madge, with firm decision. “No; I won’t.”