He sat up with a start. Today Mary was going North. He had quite forgotten it in the wild excitement of the cotton corner. He had neglected her. Of course, there was always the hovering doubt as to whether he really wanted her or not. She had the form and carriage; her beauty, while not startling, was young and fresh and firm. On the other hand there was about her a certain independence that he did not like to associate with women. She had thoughts and notions of the world which were, to his Southern training, hardly feminine. And yet even they piqued him and spurred him like the sight of an untrained colt. He had not seen her falter yet beneath his glances or tremble at his touch. All this he desired—ardently desired. But did he desire her as a wife? He rather thought that he did. And if so he must speak today.
There was his father, too, to reckon with. Colonel Cresswell, with the perversity of the simple-minded, had taken the sudden bettering of their fortunes as his own doing. He had foreseen; he had stuck it out; his credit had pulled the thing through; and the trust had learned a thing or two about Southern gentlemen.
Toward John Taylor he perceptibly warmed. His business methods were such as a Cresswell could never stoop to; but he was a man of his word, and Colonel Cresswell’s correspondence with Mr. Easterly opened his eyes to the beneficent ideals of Northern capital. At the same time he could not consider the Easterlys and the Taylors and such folk as the social equals of the Cresswells, and his prejudice on this score must still be reckoned with.
Below, Mary Taylor lingered on the porch in strange uncertainty. Harry Cresswell would soon be coming downstairs. Did she want him to find her? She liked him frankly, undisguisedly; but from the love she knew to be so near her heart she recoiled in perturbation. He wooed her—whether consciously or not, she was always uncertain—with every quiet attention and subtle deference, with a devotion seemingly quite too delicate for words; he not only fetched her flowers, but flowers that chimed with day and gown and season—almost with mood. He had a woman’s premonitions in fulfilling her wishes. His hands, if they touched her, were soft and tender, and yet he gave a curious impression of strength and poise and will.
Indeed, in all things he was in her eyes a gentleman in the fine old-fashioned aristocracy of the term; her own heart voiced all he did not say, and pleaded for him to her own confusion.
And yet, in her heart, lay the awful doubt—and the words kept ringing in her ears! “You will marry this man—but heaven help you if you do!”
So it was that on this day when she somehow felt he would speak, his footsteps on the stairs filled her with sudden panic. Without a word she slipped behind the pillars and ran down among the oaks and sauntered out upon the big road. He caught the white flutter of her dress, and smiled indulgently as he watched and waited and lightly puffed his cigarette.