Galusha’s chin quivered. His face became very red.
“Why—why—why, Miss Martha, I—I—”
His agitation caused his teeth actually to chatter. Martha noticed the chatter and misinterpreted the cause.
“Mercy me!” she cried. “You’re standin’ out there and freezin’ to death. Of course you are. Come right in! Primmie, open those stove dampers. Put the kettle on front where it will boil quick. . . . No, Mr. Bangs, you mustn’t tell me a word until you’re warm and rested. You would like to go to your room, wouldn’t you? Certainly you would. Primmie will bring you hot water as soon as it’s ready. No, don’t try to tell me a word until after you are rested and washed up.”
It was a welcome suggestion, not because Galusha was so eager to “wash up,” but because he was eager, very eager, to be alone where no one could ask more embarrassing questions. Yet the last thing he saw as he closed his room door was the expression upon Miss Phipps’ face. Hope, relief, happiness! And what he had to tell would change them all.
Oh, if he had not been so foolishly optimistic! What should he say? If he told the exact truth—the whole truth—
But there, what was the whole truth? After all, he did not know that nothing would come of his letter to Cousin Gussie. Something might come of it. Yes, even something very good might come. If Cousin Gussie himself never saw the letter, Thomas, the secretary, would see it and very likely he would write encouragingly. He might—it was quite likely that he would—give the names of other Boston financiers to whom Wellmouth Development might be of interest. In this case, or even the probability of such a case, he, Galusha, would certainly not be justified in making his story too discouraging.
When, at last, he did descend to the sitting room, where Miss Phipps was awaiting him, the tale he told her bore very little resemblance to the hopeless, despairful narrative he had, while on the way down in the train, considered inevitable and the telling of which he had so dreaded. In fact, when it was finished Martha’s expression had changed but little. She still looked happy.
She drew a long breath. “Well!” she exclaimed, “I can hardly believe it; it seems almost too good to believe. And so that secretary man told you that he felt sure that your cousin, or his other secretary—how many secretaries does one man have to have, for mercy sakes?—would attend to the Development thing and it would be all right if we would just wait a little longer? Was that it?”
Galusha, who, in his intense desire not to be discouraging, had not until now realized how far he had gone in the other direction, blinked and wiped his forehead with his handkerchief.
“That was it, wasn’t it?” repeated Martha.
“Why—why—ah—yes, about that, as—ah—one might say. Yes.”
It was the first lie Galusha Bangs had told for many, many years, one of the very few he had ever told. It was a very white lie and not told with deliberation or malice aforethought. But, as so often happens, it was destined to be the father of a pestilential pack which were neither white nor unintentional.