“O Peter!” she said pitifully.
He came and sat beside her on the sofa, and drew her close to him.
“My darling,” he said brokenly.
A great sense of trust and security stole over Margaret, but she knew that it was not love. Yet for a moment she hesitated, for she knew that if she took this man, his arm would always be about her, and he would always—always—always be good to her. As she sat there, not trusting herself to speak, she had her first doubt of Aladdin, and she wondered if he loved her as much—as much as he loved Aladdin. Then she felt like a traitor.
For a little neither could find any words to say. So still they sat that Margaret could hear the muffled ticking of Peter’s watch. At length Peter spoke.
“What shall I tell my father?” he said.
“Tell him—” said Margaret, and her voice broke.
“Aren’t you sure, darling—is that it?”
She nodded with tears in her eyes.
He took his arm from round her waist, and she felt very lonely.
“But I’m always going to love you,” he said.
She felt still more alone.
“Peter,” she said, “I can’t explain things very well, but I —I—don’t want you to go away feeling as if—”
Manners’ eyes lifted up.
“As if it was all over?” he asked eagerly.
“Almost that, Peter,” she said. “I—I can’t say yes now—but God knows, Peter, perhaps sometime—I—I can.”
She was thinking of the flighty and moody Aladdin, who had loved her so long, and whom (she suddenly realized in spite of the words just spoken) she loved back with all her heart and soul.
Honor rose hot in her to give Peter a final answer now and forever—no. But she looked into his eyes and could not. He looked at his watch.
“Margaret dear,” he said, “I’ve got to go. Thanks for everything, and for the hope and all, and—and I may never see you again, but if I do, will you give me my answer then?”
“I will,” said Margaret, “when I see you again.”
“May I kiss you, Margaret?” he said.
He kissed her on the cheek, and went away with her tears on his lips.
A newly organized fife-and-drum corps marched by struggling with “The Girl I Left Behind Me.”
In those days the most strangled rendering of that tune would bring lumps into the throats of those that heard.
Hannible and Hamilton were privates in the nth regiment, Aladdin was major, and John was colonel. If any of them had the slightest military knowledge, it was Aladdin. Not in vain had he mastered the encyclopedia from Safety-lamps to Stranglers. He could explain with strange words and in long, balanced sentences everything about the British army that began with an S, except only those things whose second letter