The morrow brought a resolve to visit Briar Hills. Except for the afternoons when Jerry fished, he went there daily. He was delighted at my wish to accompany him. We drove over in the motor in the flush of the afternoon, Jerry blithe again, I silent, wondering at the inexhaustible springs of youth, forgetting that it was merely May and Jerry on his way to the woman he loved.
The house was full of guests for the week-end, but Marcia Van Wyck, with an air of hospitality that quite took me aback, welcomed me warmly, confessed herself much honored by this mark of my attention and took me to see her garden. Oh, she was clever. Spring flowers, youth, grace, the sweetness of the warm, scented paths, her symbolic white frock to set the scene for innocence. But I understood her now. Two could play at her game.
“It was wonderful of you to come, Mr. Canby,” she purred. “So kind, so neighborly.”
“It’s really a great pleasure, I’m sure,” I said with a show of gallantry. “A lovely spot! Blossoms. I wondered where you got them for your cheeks.”
She flashed a quick glance at me, wholly humorous.
“For that speech, you shall have a bud for your lapel.” And she plucked and fastened it, her face very close to mine. She gave me a moment of intense discomfort which was only half embarrassment. She had planned well. She was a part of the purity and sweetness of this lovely summer garden. Guile and she were miles asunder.
“Thanks,” I muttered, smelling the blossom with some ostentation.
“Then we’re going to be friends?” she queried archly.
“I’m not aware that we were ever anything else,” I replied easily.
“Come now, Mr. Canby. You know we haven’t always understood each other. I’m sure each of us has been frightfully jealous of the other. Isn’t it so?”
“Jealous! I? Of you, Miss Van Wyck?”
“Don’t let’s misunderstand again. I’m frightfully cheerful this afternoon. It mightn’t happen again for weeks. I couldn’t quarrel with fate itself. You did want Jerry to carry your doctrines out into the world with him, didn’t you?”
“I’m not aware—”
“And I discovered him far too stodgy to endure. It wasn’t so much that your philosophy and mine differed as the difference they made in Jerry. And so we clashed. I won.”
I was silent.
“Didn’t I, Mr. Canby?” she persisted, in her gentlest tone.
“Jerry is out of my hands, Miss Van Wyck,” I managed coolly.
“And in mine?”
“Yes, in yours,” after a pause.
She laughed softly.
“What do you suppose I’m going to do with him?”
The glamour of youth in a garden, her rare humor and the cloudless day—I had managed well so far, but she pressed me hard. Jerry was no chattel to be bandied carelessly. I felt my body stiffening.
“Jerry is very sweet, Mr. Canby,” she went on with that softness of voice that I had grown to understand. “He does anything, everything that I ask him to. It really is a great responsibility. Human judgment is so fallible, especially a woman’s. Suppose I asked him to become a nihilist or President, or even both.”