“I haven’t fought in fifty battles to show the white feather now,” said the General, and Leila chirruped, “I’d love it,” and presently, with Barry in devoted attendance, they drove off.
Mary, waiting on the porch for Porter to telephone for his own car, which was to take them around the Speedway, looked eagerly toward the fountain. The moon had gone under a cloud, and while she caught the gleam of the water, the hundred-leaved bush hid the bench. Was Roger Poole there? Alone?
She heard Porter’s voice behind her. “Mary,” he said, “I’ve brought a heavy wrap. And the car will be here in a minute.”
Aunt Isabelle had given him the green wrap with the fur. She slipped into it silently, and he turned the collar up about her neck.
“I’m not going to have you shivering as you did in that thin red thing,” he said.
She drew away. It was good of him to take care of her, but she didn’t want his care. She didn’t want that tone, that air of possession. She was not Porter’s. She belonged to herself. And to no one else. She was free.
With the quick proud movement that was characteristic of her, she lifted her head. Her eyes went beyond Porter, beyond the porch, to the Tower Rooms where a light flared, suddenly. Roger Poole was not in the garden; he had gone up without saying “Good-night.”
In Which Roger Writes a Letter; and in Which a Rose Blooms Upon the Pages of a Book.
In the Tower Rooms, Midnight——
It is best to write it. What I might have said to you in the garden would have been halting at best. How could I speak it all with your clear eyes upon me—all the sordid history of those years which are best buried, but whose ghosts to-night have risen again?
If in these months—this year that I have lived in these rooms, I have seemed to hide that which you will now know, it was not because I wanted to set myself before you as something more than I am. Not that I wished to deceive. It was simply that the thought of the old life brought a surging sense of helplessness, of hopelessness, of rebellion against fate, Having put it behind me, I have not wished to talk about it—to think about it—to have it, in all its tarnished tragedy, held up before your earnest, shining eyes.
For you have never known such things as I have to tell you, Mary Ballard. There has been sorrow in your life, and, I have seen of late, suffering for those you love. But, as yet, you have not doffed an ideal. You have not bowed that brave young head of yours. You have never yet turned your back upon the things which might have been.
As I have turned mine. I wish sometimes that you might have known me before the happening of these things which I am to tell you. But I wish more than all, that I might have known you. Until I came here, I did not dream that there was such a woman in the world as you. I had thought of women first, as a chivalrous boy thinks, later, as a disillusioned man. But of a woman like a young and ardent soldier, on fire to fight the winning battles of the world—of such a woman I had never dreamed.