“Gently,” Miss Wynn checked him. “I’m not yet over the habit.”
“Come. See what I’ve bought. You know I have a salary now.” He produced a ring with a small diamond cluster.
“How pretty!” she said, taking it and looking at it. Then she handed it back.
He laughed gayly. “It’s yours, Carrie. You’re going to marry me.”
She looked at him queerly.
“Am I? But I’ve got another ring already,” she said.
“Oh, send Alwyn’s back.”
“I have. This is still another.” And uncovering her hand she showed a ring with a large and beautiful diamond.
He rose. “Whose is that?” he demanded apprehensively.
“Mine—” her eyes met his.
“But who gave it to you?”
“Mr. Stillings,” was the soft reply.
He stared at her helplessly. “I—I—don’t understand!” he stammered.
“Well, to be brief, I’m engaged to Mr. Stillings.”
“What! To that flat-headed—”
“No,” she coolly interrupted, “to the Register of the Treasury.”
The man was too dumbfounded, too overwhelmed for coherent speech.
“But—but—come; why in God’s name—will you throw yourself away on—on such a—you’re joking—you—”
She motioned him to a chair. He obeyed like one in a trance.
“Now, Tom, be calm. When I was a baby I loved you, but that is long ago. Today, Tom, you’re an insufferable cad and I—well, I’m too much like you to have two of us in the same family.”
“But, Stillings!” he burst forth, almost in tears. “The snake—what is he?”
“Nearly as bad as you, I’ll admit; but he has four thousand a year and sense enough to keep it. In truth, I need it; for, thanks to your political activity, my own position is gone.”
“But he’s a—a damned rascal!” Wounded self-conceit was now getting the upper hand.
“I think he is. But he’s such an exceptional rascal; he appeals to me. You know, Tom, we’re all more or less rascally—except one.”
“Except who?” he asked quickly.
“Yes,” she slowly agreed. “Bles Alwyn, the Fool—and the Man. But by grace of the Negro Problem, I cannot afford to marry a man—Hark! Some one is on the steps. I’m sure it’s Bles. You’d better go now. Don’t attempt to fight with him; he’s very strong. Good-night.”
Alwyn entered. He didn’t notice Teerswell as he passed out. He went straight to Miss Wynn holding a crumpled note, and his voice faltered a little.
“Do you mean it?”
“Because I am selfish and—small.”
“No, you are not. You want to be; but give it up, Carrie; it isn’t worth the cost. Come, let’s be honest and poor—and free.”
She regarded him a moment, searchingly, then a look half quizzical, half sorrowful came into her eyes. She put both her hands on his shoulders and said as she kissed his lips: