“I’m not complaining,” I said, taking up a cigarette, “since I still enjoy your favour.”
She regarded me curiously.
“And when you get married, Hugh?”
“Sufficient unto the day,” I replied.
“How shall I get along, I wonder, with that simple and unsophisticated lady when she appears?”
“Well,” I said, “you wouldn’t marry me.”
She shook her head at me, and smiled....
“No,” she corrected me, “you like me better as Hams’ wife than you would have as your own.”
I merely laughed at this remark.... It would indeed have been difficult to analyze the new relationship that had sprung up between us, to say what elements composed it. The roots of it went back to the beginning of our lives; and there was much of sentiment in it, no doubt. She understood me as no one else in the world understood me, and she was fond of me in spite of it.
Hence, when I became infatuated with Maude Hutchins, after that Sunday when she so unexpectedly had refused me, I might have known that Nancy’s suspicions would be aroused. She startled me by accusing me, out of a clear sky, of being in love. I denied it a little too emphatically.
“Why shouldn’t you tell me, Hugh, if it’s so?” she asked. “I didn’t hesitate to tell you.”
It was just before her departure for the East to spend the summer. We were on the balcony, shaded by the big maple that grew at the end of the garden.
“But there’s nothing to tell,” I insisted.
She lay back in her chair, regarding me.
“Did you think that I’d be jealous?”
“There’s nothing to be jealous about.”
“I’ve always expected you to get married, Hugh. I’ve even predicted the type.”
She had, in truth, with an accuracy almost uncanny.
“The only thing I’m afraid of is that she won’t like me. She lives in that place you’ve been going to so much, lately,—doesn’t she?”
Of course she had put two and two together, my visits to Elkington and my manner, which I had flattered myself had not been distrait. On the chance that she knew more, from some source, I changed my tactics.
“I suppose you mean Maude Hutchins,” I said.
“So that’s her name!”
“It’s the name of a girl in Elkington. I’ve been doing legal work for the Hutchinses, and I imagine some idiot has been gossiping. She’s just a young girl—much too young for me.”
“Men are queer creatures,” she declared. “Did you think I should be jealous?”
It was exactly what I had thought, but I denied it.
“Why should you be—even if there were anything to be jealous about? You didn’t consult me when you got married. You merely announced an irrevocable decision.”
Nancy leaned forward and laid her hand on my arm.
“My dear,” she said, “strange as it may seem, I want you to be happy. I don’t want you to make a mistake, Hugh, too great a mistake.”