She promised, and he went away, having to look in at a dance given by one of his mother’s friends; and Mary, returning to join the others, pondered, a little wistfully, on the fact that Porter Bigelow should be so eager for a privilege which Roger Poole had just declined.
In Which Aunt Frances Speaks of Matrimony as a Fixed Institution and is Met by Flaming Arguments; and in Which a Strange Voice Sings Upon the Stairs.
Aunt Frances stayed until after the New Year. But before she went she sounded Aunt Isabelle.
“Has Mary said anything to you about Porter Bigelow?”
“Yes,” impatiently, “about marrying him. Anybody can see that he’s dead in love with her, Isabelle.”
“I don’t think Mary wants to marry anybody. She’s an independent little creature. She should have been the boy, Frances.”
“I wish to heaven she had,” Aunt Frances’ tone was fervent. “I can’t see any future for Barry, unless he marries Leila. If he were not so irresponsible, I might do something for him. But Barry is such a will-o’-the-wisp.”
Aunt Isabelle went on with her mending, and Aunt Frances again pounced upon her.
“And it isn’t just that he is irresponsible. He’s—— Did you notice on Christmas Day, Isabelle—that after dinner he wasn’t himself?”
Aunt Isabelle had noticed. And it was not the first time. Her quick eyes had seen things which Mary had thought were hidden. She had not needed ears to tell the secret which was being kept from her in that house.
Yet her sense of loyalty sealed her lips. She would not tell Frances anything. They were dear children.
“He’s just a boy, Frances,” she said, deprecatingly, “and I am sorry that General Dick put temptation in his way.”
“Don’t blame the General. If Barry’s weak, no one can make him strong but himself. I wish he had some of Porter Bigelow’s steadiness. Mary won’t look at Porter, and he’s dead in love with her.”
“Perhaps in time she may.”
“Mary’s like her father,” Aunt Frances said shortly. “John Ballard might have been rich when he died, if he hadn’t been such a dreamer. Mary calls herself practical—but her head is full of moonshine.”
Aunt Frances made this arraignment with an uncomfortable memory of a conversation with Mary the day before. They had been shopping, and had lunched together at a popular tea room. It was while they sat in their secluded corner that Aunt Frances had introduced in a roundabout way the topic which obsessed her.
“I am glad that Constance is so happy, Mary.”
“She ought to be,” Mary responded; “it’s her honeymoon.”
“If you would follow her example and marry Porter Bigelow, my mind would be at rest.”
“But I don’t want to marry Porter, Aunt Frances. I don’t want to marry anybody.”