“Don’t be so absurd!” he said.
“I—I love you; that’s why I am ‘absurd,’” she said, piteously. It was as if she held to his lips the cup of her heart, brimming with those unshed tears,—but is there any man who would not turn away from a cup that holds so bitter a draught?
Maurice turned away. “This room is insufferably hot!” he said. He let a window curtain roll up with a jerk, and flung open a window.
She was silent.
“I wish,” he said, “that you’d let up on Edith. You’re always criticizing her. I don’t like it.”
* * * * *
That night Johnny Bennett, somehow, lured Edith out on to the porch to say good night. The thunderstorm had come and gone, and the drenched garden was heavy with wet fragrance.
“Let’s sit down,” Johnny said; then, beseechingly, “Edith, don’t you feel a little differently about me, now?”
“Oh, Johnny, dear!”
“Just a little, Edith? You don’t know what it would mean to me, just to hope?”
“Johnny, I am awfully fond of you, but—”
“Well, never mind,” he said, patiently, “I’ll wait.”
He went down the steps, hesitated, and, while Edith was still squeezing a little wet ball of a handkerchief against her eyes, came back.
“Do you mind if I ask you just one question, Edith?”
“Of course not! Only, Johnny, it just about kills me to be—horrid to you.”
“Have you really got to be horrid?” said John Bennett.
“Johnny, I can’t help it!”
“Is it because there’s any other fellow, Edith? That’s the question I wanted to ask you.”
She was silent.
“Edith, I really think I have a right to know?”
Still she didn’t speak.
“Of course, if there is—”
“There isn’t!” she broke in.... “Why, Johnny, you’re the best friend I have. No; there isn’t anybody else. The honest truth is, I don’t believe I’m the sort of girl that gets married. I can’t imagine caring for anybody as much as I care for father and mother and Maurice. I—I’m not sentimental, Johnny, a bit. I’m awfully fond of you; awfully! You come next to Maurice. But—but not that way. That’s the truth, Johnny. I’m perfectly straight with you; you know that? And you won’t throw me over, will you? If I lost you, I declare I—I don’t know what I’d do! You won’t give me up, will you?”
John Bennett was silent for a long minute; then he
said, “No, Edith;
I’ll never give you up, dear.” And he went away into the darkness.
Edith’s flight to one of the schoolhouses was not the entire release that Eleanor expected.
“Look here, Skeezics,” Maurice had announced; “you can’t turn me down this way! You’ve got to come to supper every Sunday night!—when I’m at home. Isn’t that so, Nelly?”