Soon after her arrival she received by letter a formal proposal of marriage from Elbert Harrington, who had been quietly attentive to her during her sojourn at Lake Placid. He was a lawyer of distinction, somewhat older than most of her friends, and a man of means and fine family. Carley was quite surprised. Harrington was really one of the few of her acquaintances whom she regarded as somewhat behind the times, and liked him the better for that. But she could not marry him, and replied to his letter in as kindly a manner as possible. Then he called personally.
“Carley, I’ve come to ask you to reconsider,” he said, with a smile in his gray eyes. He was not a tall or handsome man, but he had what women called a nice strong face.
“Elbert, you embarrass me,” she replied, trying to laugh it out. “Indeed I feel honored, and I thank you. But I can’t marry you.”
“Why not?” he asked, quietly.
“Because I don’t love you,” she replied.
“I did not expect you to,” he said. “I hoped in time you might come to care. I’ve known you a good many years, Carley. Forgive me if I tell you I see you are breaking—wearing yourself down. Maybe it is not a husband you need so much now, but you do need a home and children. You are wasting your life.”
“All you say may be true, my friend,” replied Carley, with a helpless little upflinging of hands. “Yet it does not alter my feelings.”
“But you will marry sooner or later?” he queried, persistently.
This straightforward question struck Carley as singularly as if it was one she might never have encountered. It forced her to think of things she had buried.
“I don’t believe I ever will,” she answered, thoughtfully.
“That is nonsense, Carley,” he went on. “You’ll have to marry. What else can you do? With all due respect to your feelings—that affair with Kilbourne is ended—and you’re not the wishy-washy heartbreak kind of a girl.”
“You can never tell what a woman will do,” she said, somewhat coldly.
“Certainly not. That’s why I refuse to take no. Carley, be reasonable. You like me—respect me, do you not?”
“Why, of course I do!”
“I’m only thirty-five, and I could give you all any sensible woman wants,” he said. “Let’s make a real American home. Have you thought at all about that, Carley? Something is wrong today. Men are not marrying. Wives are not having children. Of all the friends I have, not one has a real American home. Why, it is a terrible fact! But, Carley, you are not a sentimentalist, or a melancholiac. Nor are you a waster. You have fine qualities. You need something to do, some one to care for.”
“Pray do not think me ungrateful, Elbert,” she replied, “nor insensible to the truth of what you say. But my answer is no!”
When Harrington had gone Carley went to her room, and precisely as upon her return from Arizona she faced her mirror skeptically and relentlessly. “I am such a liar that I’ll do well to look at myself,” she meditated. “Here I am again. Now! The world expects me to marry. But what do I expect?”