At Four O'Clock (1921)
by Peter Clark MacFarlane

Extracted from "Ainslee's" magazine, March 1921, pp. 38–50. Title illustration may be omitted.

4075983At Four O'Clock1921Peter Clark MacFarlane

At Four O'Clock

By Peter Clark MacFarlane

Author of “Exploits of Bilge and Ma," “Puss or Bear Cat,” etc.

SORRY, Bruce; sorry as anything, but I cannot see it any other way,” the girl said regretfully, and gave the young man a direct glance out of troubled eyes. “Thee times now we've been engaged, isn't it?” she asked hopelessly. “And when it comes to facing the—the—what's beyond, I just can't go any farther.”

“But you will,” persisted the young man dauntlessly. “You do love me, only you haven't found it out yet. Dorothy! I can't stick around here forever, you know that. I've got to be on about the other business of life—of our lives; but there is my permanent address.” He handed her an envelope. “I'll never come back till you send for me. And when you do, I'll start from wherever I am in the world, if it's one month from now or ten years. I'll start on the first boat, train, motor car, airplane, reindeer sledge, or whatever the transportation is, and I'll come.”

“Oh!” flushed the girl, with a gasp of something that was very like pain. “Don't—don't spoil your life, Bruce, by waiting too long.” Soberly she offered him her hand for the parting.

“Won't you give me just one kiss, Dorothy?” the lover coaxed. “Just one.”

“Bruce, if it was for friendship and a long parting—yes, unhesitatingly,” the girl said frankly, still with that concerned expression upon her face. “But it isn't. The only kiss of mine that could be of any significance to you is the one I cannot give.”

A pair of dynamic black eyes closed and opened quickly as if a blow had been struck. “Very well, Dorothy,” the young man said, huskily but not a bit unkindly—not a bit resigned, either—just determinedly; “very well, Dorothy. Good-by.” He pressed her hand and bent over it lingeringly, then straightened up and went away—away.

And yet Dorothy Anderson was rather a colorless girl, one would have thought, for any man to have been quite so mad about, especially this rising young engineer. Bruce Porter was tall, strong, dark; he was aggressive and resolute, positive in every attribute of character where Dorothy, seemed to be so nearly neutral or negative. Perhaps the explanation was that the engineer had strength and color to spare. He may have thought that he discerned beneath the slightly tinted cheek of the girl, behind those wistful lips and earnest, troubled eyes, underneath that timid manner, a woman with a heart of gold, with the capacity of the ivy for twining itself about the oak with tendrils which could not be broken. He had wanted those tendrils to twine themselves about the rugged limbs of his own life and they had refused to do so thus far; hence his departure from San Francisco.

The days and the weeks of this absence stretched into a year. Then one morning, Dorothy, with her breakfast, received a telegram.

I am coming to you by The Lark, which is the first and fastest train. Meet me!

To receive such a communication at all from Bruce was startling. To receive it this morning was an odd coincidence, since it was only yesterday that, for the first time and to her bosom friend, Adeline Rowley, she had told the story of that last parting from him. And Adeline, having promised confidence, had that same afternoon divulged the sacred secret to her fat and rollicking husband, Clarence, although with this saving grace in the betrayal, that it was done in Dorothy's presence, while she was having tea with them at Techau's Tavern as their guest. Clarence, who knew Bruce, had endeavored to tantalize by recounting stories of the rapid strides the young engineer was making in his profession in Los Angeles, together with elaborations on the large number of marriageable orange-grove beauties who had set their eyes and hearts upon him. Teasingly he had suggested that now or never was the time to summon Bruce.

But now it was Bruce who had sent the telegram. The girl read the message again and smiled. She felt a woman's sense of pride in the knowledge that she had drawn a strong man from his orbit. But there was more in the circumstance for her than that. It made her heart warm toward Bruce to know that he could be bent from the perpendicular at all. One thing that had kept her back from marrying him was a kind of fear of his dominant moral strength. His tenacity of purpose frightened her. It was overawing that he could have the effrontery to say: “Ten years from now I will be as I am now, devoted to you. Wherever I am, whatever I am doing, I will drop it and come.” It required not only a large egotism, but a strong nature to issue a challenge like that to the future. Now she knew that he was not as indomitable as he seemed. She liked him better for it, much better, and went both blithely and curiously to the train.

Bruce came bounding through the station gates like a boy and crushed her with irresistible assurance in his arms, then stood holding her off with beaming admiration in his splendid eyes. She had never seen him so happy, so handsome, so vital as now, never felt so honored in having won a strong man's love, or so regretful that she could not reward it as it should be rewarded. She ought to love him, “What is the matter?” she reproached herself. “Maybe if I married him, I might learn to love him.”

But Bruce was turning from her now and ushering forward a strong, gray woman, dark of complexion and eye as himself, slightly bent as with years of early toil long since succeeded by a life of placid comfort.

“My mother, Dorothy!” Bruce said proudly. “Meet my mother.”

The mother took the girl's hand almost reverently, and scanned her face with a gentle, unobjectionable but searching scrutiny as if to observe not only its smooth surface, but to judge what lay beneath the surface.

“May I kiss you too?” she asked, and did. The almost devout manner of this, together with the tender warmth of her greeting, left Dorothy somewhat nonplused at Bruce's own demeanor.

“I felt that I must see the woman my son was to marry,” said the brown and gray lady, as in explanation of her journey and her action. Immediately she added comfortingly: “You are all, dear, that he said.”

“Marry?” inquired Dorothy with a start, and looked up at Bruce. At this interrogation the mother's own features assumed an expression of bewilderment until her son's hearty laughter rang out.

“Marry! You little joker! Yes,” he crowed hilariously. “We are going to be married.” Then the mother laughed too, and Dorothy, not wishing to appear slow, joined in as at her own humor.

But another form was lingering there behind Bruce, and this time a masculine one.

“My brother Lawrence!” her lover announced, and presented a man obviously half a dozen years older than himself, equally tall and good looking, but with a more serious countenance.

Lawrence greeted Dorothy with a grave, kind smile, reading her features quite as searchingly as had his mother.

“Larry came up to be my best man,” explained Bruce, slapping his brother heartily upon the back.

“Yes,” elaborated the brother; “when Bruce got your telegram he couldn't contain himself at all. Nothing would do but he must rush up here by the next train, and his happiness means so much to mother and me that we packed right along with him so as to be in at the fatal moment.” Lawrence smiled engagingly. Dorothy did not reciprocate immediately.

Her telegram! The girl's brain was whirling. She felt a sudden faintness at the heart. There had been a telegram then purporting to come from her? That officious meddler, Clarence Rowley, had sent it, of course. One of his ghastly jokes! If the man only could understand it, she thought angrily, he was a bigger joke than any he ever perpetrated. She had always hated him, she knew now. She could have strangled him barehanded if he were only here. But he was not.

Indignant repudiation was the first impulse of the girl's mind; and yet, looking into the sparkling, approving eyes of Bruce's doting mother and loyal brother, Dorothy had not the heart to tell them that there had been a mistake, that she had sent no telegram. It was something she would have to make clear to Bruce privately, and let him assume the burden of explanation.

But in the taxicab, so close to the three of them, each big and rather overpowering, and with Bruce so glowing with happiness, so chock-full of a most glorious self-assurance, she perceived just what a crushing blow it was going to be to him, to his pride and self-esteem, to learn that he had been victimized. She began immediately to distrust herself and to wonder if she should ever have the heart to deal that stroke. In case she had not the strength to deal it, the stream of consequences stretching out in perspective threw her into a panic. A sense of guilt increased this panic, for if she had not betrayed what should have been regarded as a sacred confidence of a lover, Clarence Rowley could never have sent the telegram. This combination of panic and guilt abated her capacity for reasoning clearly. Things appeared inevitable to her which were not inevitable. And her powers of resistance were weakened by this mental blur. She felt herself enthralled by circumstances which should not have been permitted to enthrall.

And, of course, it was just this dizzy moment when the sweetly solicitous mother, so anxious to compliment the bride-to-be by explaining what her son's dashing to her at this time had meant, added to the conscience-stricken girl's sense of responsibility by remarking:

“It was very dangerous, leaving the bridge to-day.”

“The bridge?” asked Dorothy, vaguely clutching at any new idea.

“Yes, Bruce's new bridge to carry a viaduct over a mountain chasm. They are joining the spans to-morrow. It is the most difficult and delicate operation of all. Upon its success depends Bruce's reputation and the largest fee he has ever received. Just one little miscalculation, just one little mistake, and—you know what happened to that great St. Lawrence bridge,” concluded the lady significantly.

“Oh!” gasped the girl, turning up to Bruce a face in which alarm and gratitude mingled. “And you left that for me?' She could not help saying this. It was the indicated thing to say, yet it only contributed further to the young man's unfortunate misconception of the state of her heart. The girl knew it, and the fright in her breast increased.

“I would leave a thousand bridges for you, Dorothy!” Bruce averred, with a fond look.

“He will need all his nerves to-morrow,” declared the mother, with a grave sidewise shake of the head and an attempt at a reassuring smile, but one that failed entirely to mask her anxiety.

Dorothy was thinking wildly: To-morrow? Then he is going back immediately. Hurling himself here last night. Hurling himself back to-night. Then out into the desert by automobile to some lost spot in a rocky chaos where his brain has been at work for months through scores of other men who have served him as the fingers serve the hand. The girl felt all at once a sense of the vast importance to the world of this man at her side. Through him the mountains were being leveled and water was sent coursing from the snowy tops of the Sierras over the parched deserts that, with the plashing of the silver drops, would blossom and fruit like the Garden of Eden. The people of the world needed food and he was giving it to them. She glanced up at his face with a look of shyness and admiration. She felt a sense of littleness and unworthiness. Who was she that she should have drawn this man away from his duty, even for a day? What was she that her heart's obstinacy should add to his perplexities and nerve strains at this the critical moment in his valiant young life? The situation gave him a kind of ascendancy over her, a disadvantage at which she had never been before.

It was while her spirit sagged under this perception that Bruce, quite as if he knew as much of the temper of human metals as of those in which his profession dealt, and had discerned the exact moment when her will was softest, announced, as dissipating any doubts about the necessity for his immediate return to the bridge:

“Yes, we will be married this afternoon, and——

“Married this afternoo-o-o-n?” The girl could not repress the startled question, and this time her lover saw that it was not a joke.

“Why,” he responded in honest surprise, “didn't you expect to be married when you sent for me?”

This was the moment to declare herself, to speak out and, with the kindly swiftness of a surgeon's knife, cut out the wretched misapprehension by saying stoutly: “Bruce, I am sorry you have been misled, but I did not send for you to come to me. That telegram was the misguided effort of a practical joker.” But she could not do it with all three of them beaming on her. They cowed her with admiration. They coerced her with love. The very vibrancy of Bruce's voice in the utterance of his question had weakened her powers of resistance further.

“Yes. Oh, yes,” I expected to get married—some time,” she answered; but the qualifying “some time” was whispered so low that no one heard it and so deep down in the throat that no one noticed the lip movement.

“You darling!” gloated Bruce, in transports.

The girl knew in her heart that in this answer she had been a traitor to herself and to these people. If she could only get Bruce alone for a moment before the thing got much farther; if only he would dump out the bags and his mother and brother at the hotel, and then take her home alone; but no; he had given the driver her address as the first destination.

“Just you get packed this morning,” directed Bruce in his big, managing way. “I'll come for you to lunch at one, and we'll go from the St. Francis to the license office. Then I'll take you home. That'll give you an hour to dress, and we can have the clergyman there and be married at four o'clock, can't we?”

There it was again, the opportunity to strike down the gossamer filaments which were fast weaving themselves into a cable too strong to be broken; but the girl could not lift her arm against the weight which already lay upon it. She was long in replying. They thought she was puzzling out the schedule outlined for her.

“Can't we?” urged the eager Bruce.

“Yes,” Dorothy answered faintly, though her lover should have read the fright in her eyes. But there were strange mental processes consequent upon that response. When Dorothy uttered that word yes, she knew it was a mere stage answer, that the instant she got her lover alone she could correct it, must correct it. Yet the moment she had spoken, she knew she had bound herself before two witnesses to marry Bruce Porter that afternoon at four o'clock. She felt the bonds of matrimony tightening upon her wrists like gyves; she felt herself drowning, drowning in a sea of matrimony.

“It required a great deal of character to make that decision so swiftly,” said Mrs. Porter, patting the girl upon the arm. “I am very proud of you for that.” She beamed encouragingly, as understanding well that natural reticence with which any girl shrinks from the inevitableness of the marriage hour. To Dorothy one more enormous hypocrisy seemed now indicated as a part of the rôle she found herself playing, and she rose to it by replying: “Bruce must—I must see the bridge completed to-morrow, you know.”

It cost her a mighty effort, that speech, and as it was completed she saw with grateful relief that the taxi was stopping just before her own number. Now to get Bruce alone! But at once other difficulties presented.

“Come inside with me a moment,” she wished to say, when he helped her out of the car, but she knew the public hall of an apartment house was no place to start that awkward explanation which her guilty weakness had allowed every moment to become more awkward and more terrible. She could say: “Come upstairs, Bruce! Mother will want to see you.” But then it must seem that she should ask his mother and brother to come up also, when the explanation would be more impossible still. No, no; she must get by herself, away from him, away from the spell of his masterliness, and think out what to do, and then do it quickly, resolutely, relentlessly, even.

But as Dorothy went up in the elevator a kind of conscience seemed to get hold of her. “It would be making a great sacrifice,” the inner voice admitted; but it argued cleverly, “It would be for a great young man who has honored you with his love.”

“The world needs him,” she was saying to herself as she left the cage; “and if he needs me, who am I to be a slacker?”

Her mother met her at the door.

“Oh, mamma! Such a surprise!” the girl broke out gayly. “Bruce wants me to marry him at four this afternoon, here, if it's convenient, and go back with him to-night to Mojave or somewhere there on the desert. His bridge is to be finished to-morrow.”

Dorothy had not known at all that she was going to make this speech, yet the first sight of that dear mother's face had compelled it out of her, and the minute the words were uttered she knew they forecast the truth. She would marry Bruce Porter this afternoon at four of the clock. If there was an affected enthusiasm in her manner, it was because this devoted woman must not be permitted to know of the awful sinking in her daughter's heart, as she saw herself the helpless victim of this mad, heartless prank which fate had played upon her. The particular reason for this was that her mother had always admired Bruce and cast all her influence upon his side in the many crises which their previous engagements had produced.

Surprise, pain, and joy all mingled on the face of Mrs. Anderson. “Well, if you're not the most breathless thing!” she exclaimed, and then took time to think and to question, “Why, what brings him now?” This, plumped so suddenly, was not easy, but Dorothy managed it.

“The—the telegram!” she stammered, but was obliged to turn her back to her mother as she planted this idea which she knew would lead to false inferences, but inferences which would be protective so far as further inquiries along this line were concerned.

“Why, you little fox, you did telegraph him, then!” exulted the mother, with a triumphant light playing on her face. “You found you did love him—after all?”

Dorothy could not immediately trust her voice, but succeeded after an interval in once more evading an issue, this time by the imparting of some additional information. “He brought his mother and brother up for the wedding, and we—we must go back to-night.”

We. That word almost broke her.

“Go back to-night?” A certain consternation expressed itself upon the mother's face.

Dorothy essayed an explanation about the bridge which must have been tolerably coherent, for Mrs. Anderson, after listening thoughtfully, decided, as she slipped her arms around the girl:

“It's sudden, child, but it wouldn't be any easier to give you up, I suppose, if I'd had six months to get ready for it. Yes; you can be married here. Oh, I am so glad you got such a good man and one you know you love!” She emphasized this with a motherly hug, but tears which joy and sorrow combined to provoke were swimming in her eyes. Dorothy kissed her impulsively and turned away, for she had warning that her own lachrymal ducts were about to overflow.

“We must hurry about your things,” remembered Mrs. Anderson, conscious, as mothers always are, of the practical problems. “Come! I'll help you pack, dearie! Mercy! It's a quarter past eleven now.”

To Dorothy any form of activity was relief, and for three quarters of an hour both pairs of hands were flying. Dresser drawers were emptied and the hope chest was turned inside out. The bed, the lounge, the davenport, even the piano, were draped with suits, gowns, skirts, petticoats, and lingerie.

The mother kept up a cheery chatter, but Dorothy was for the most part silent and subdued, packing now and then a tear in with the garments in her trunk. The mother, noticing this, smiled knowingly and fancied she understood exactly how her daughter felt.

“It's really best you took a nice long time to think it over,” she commented. “Now you know exactly what you are doing.”

“Just exactly!” said Dorothy, but shot her mother an involuntary tortured glance which she was glad, an instant after, had passed unnoticed.

Presently the girl folded her hands. Her mind was, somehow, far off. She saw no reason to hurry. Time had stopped. Immense distances stretched before her. The mother brought her back with:

“There, now, Dorothy. This outing skirt will be just the thing for the desert to-morrow.”

To-morrow! Dorothy turned suddenly pale, with a terror in her eyes. To-morrow! She could not think to-morrow, even. To-morrow seemed eternities beyond. Not even Bruce Porter could build a bridge from to-day until to-morrow.

“It seems such an odd place for a honeymoon—desert and cactus and cabins and construction gangs!” reflected the mother, folding the khaki skirt smoothly, then looking about for the russet walking boots which went with it.

Dorothy's hands had been hanging listless for ever so long—two minutes, maybe. She aroused suddenly and said:

“I think I'll simply have to run over and talk to Adeline. You could finish, could you, mother?” The girl looked around quite unimpressed by the responsibility of so much wide disorder and the sight of the half-filled trunk, trays, and suit case. “I believe I'll burst if I don't see Adeline.”

The mother's cheerful chatter had driven the girl to the verge of distraction. There must be some one for her to confide in, some one to condole with. Mrs. Anderson looked surprised at her daughter's proposal, yet, with the briefest reflection, felt that she comprehended perfectly.

“I suppose you do want to see Adeline,” she conceded indulgently. “Yes, dearie, I can finish. You throw the things you want to take into a pile there, and I'll stow 'em in somehow.”

For a few minutes Dorothy was very active, making swift decisions and rapid movements; then, kissing her mother a brief good-by, she was gone, hurrying up the Mason Street hill and around the corner onto Bush Street and the house where Adeline and Clarence dwelt in comparative peace and a sort of syncopated harmony. The maid admitted her.

“Oh, Adeline!” the girl cried, as she went hurrying down the hall.

“Here! In here!” called the familiar voice, and Dorothy traced it to the breakfast room. “Adeline!” she began, with an emotional outburst just trembling on the threshold of speech when, lo, she discovered that Adeline was not alone. That Clarence might be there dawdling over a breakfast so belated that it synchronized with luncheon was a possibility she had not taken into account; but there he sat, his round face taking on temporarily an apprehensive expression as he heard the girl coming and remembered an incident which at high noon seemed less funny than it had the night before.

Something as instantaneous as the flickering of a camera shutter altered the expression on Dorothy's face before it could have been noted by any one. Pride! She would never in a thousand years let that amiable ass, Clarence Rowley, know how successfully he had thrown a monkey wrench into the whole machinery of her life.

“Oh!” she beamed, “Adeline! I am so—so happy!” Dorothy threw rapturous arms about Mrs. Rowley's shoulders from behind, as that lady sat before her grapefruit, and soon was raining tears into her neck. “Bruce has come!” she clamored hysterically. “We are going to be married—married! There was a leap in her voice as she uttered the word that stamped Dorothy Anderson as a talented emotional actress. “We're to be married this afternoon. I am just delirious with joy.”

“You look it, you dear!” declared Adeline, and, lifting the girl's head, kissed her face; then forced it to submit to a very searching scrutiny. To escape this, Dorothy turned upon Clarence with: “Oh, I am so grateful to you for sending that telegram. It was just what was needed to bring things to—to a head!”

The moon face of Mr. Rowley widened and glowed like a sunset, and he glanced at his wife in triumph. “Ha, ha, ha!” he brayed “Bruce came in a hurry, hey? Oh, he was Johnny-on-the-spot, all right. Some speed, I'll say. Set you on fire, too. Warmed your cold heart. Carried you right off your little tootsy-wootsies with the impetuosity of his wooing, huh? Married this afternoon. Well, well, well! Tell us about it, Dot! Ha, ha, ha!”

“Clarence Rowley!” rebuked his wife, “stop that perpetual conversation of yours and she will have a chance to tell us about it. That's what she came over for.”

Dorothy did tell them about it in breathless, hysterical sentences. She was restless. She laughed and she cried as she invited them to the wedding. She sat in all the chairs in the dining room except the two occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Rowley during the course of her narrative. At length she went.

“Gosh, but it's wonderful to see a woman as happy as that!” exhaled Clarence, throwing a chest. “And to think that I did it!”

But Adeline was thoughtful, doubtful even, toying with her coffee spoon and wearing a puzzled air. Suddenly she straightened up with an expression of having solved the mystery.

“Happy?” she scorned, with a contemptuous glance and a jerk of her decidedly blond head. “The girl is just breaking her heart! Happy! The poor child! You have ruined her life.”

“I? I ruined her young life?” demanded Clarence in injured tones, and sat with astonished, suddenly sobered features. “Why, she just thanked me for making her happy forever.”

“She doesn't love that—that human logarithm!” declared his wife hotly. “She's just carried away by the suddenness of it. She hasn't got the heart to humiliate him before his brother and mother. She's just so big she won't risk shattering his nerve for to-morrow by turning him down.”

The eyes of Clarence Rowley opened wide and revealed themselves as very blue and impressed. “If that's it,” he breathed, “by gravy, she is big! Why, Ad, it's wonderful. My hat's off, too, to Bruce Porter for coming after her at a time like this. Gosh! You can't call him a logarithm! No ice in his shoes! The man's impulsive! He's brave!”

“Oh, just like you to think of the man,” flashed his wife scornfully. “What does the man matter? What do a thousand bridges matter when a woman's happiness is concerned? Bravery? Why, if ever you saw bravery in your life, it's this—this dear little thing going on for—for a principle, I suppose you'd call it. She came over here to tell me the truth, too, to just cry her eyes out; but you, you had to be here.”

Mrs. Rowley's blazing orbs expressed great displeasure with and great uncharitableness toward her husband, so great that he concluded it the better part of valor not to resent and not to argue.

“The question is, what to do?” he announced pacifically. “If you're right, Addie, we must stop it. You better try——

“I better? You're the person to stop it. You started it.” Mrs. Rowley uttered these remarks with biting emphasis.

“How?” inquired Clarence, temporarily cowed and under conviction.

“By telling Bruce Porter the truth!”

The joker's face, after a blank look, assumed an expression of ludicrous concern. “Porter would kill me,” he decided.

“Piffle!” snapped his wife. “Pu-sillanimous piffle! You'd never have the nerve to do it, anyway. I'll do it myself. Then we know there'll be a clean breast of it.”

“Yes,” admitted Clarence, with a look of great relief. “You've always been wonderful about confessing my sins for me; you have, Ad, I admit it.”

“First, I'll go over and ask her if I'm right,” reflected Adeline, ignoring her husband's sarcasm. “Heavens, it's too late. Look! It's half past twelve now: She's dressing for that luncheon this minute. She'll be with him two hours, and then she'll be dressing for the—the obsequies! Clarence Rowley, I could assassinate you!”

For a moment the husband looked grieved, and then stubbornly resentful. “I'm blamed if I believe it, after all,” he announced. “It's been a happy thing for her. She said so. You're wrong; that's all there is to it. You're clear off.”

“I'm not, and I'm going over there and salvage her immortal soul for her,” proclaimed Adeline, coming to a quick decision. “There's time enough, I do believe.”

But it required some minutes to get into a dress for the street, and five more minutes were necessary in which to get down the hill to the Anderson apartments.

“Here's Adeline!” announced Mrs. Anderson, ushering her in where Dorothy was dressing.

“Just had to run in for one more minute with you, Dot, old thing!” breezed Adeline. “Oh, isn't it wonderful, wonderful, Mrs. Anderson?”

“Just isn't it?” agreed that lady enthusiastically.

But something subtle in that intonation of Adeline's which entirely escaped the mother went straight to the center of Dorothy's consciousness, revealing that her chum had divined the truth. At this stage of the action, and in her mother's presence, this knowledge frightened Dorothy into the sternest resolution. She turned upon her friend a face, an instant before soft and troubled, now suddenly hard. Her mild hazel eyes had a flash in them.

“Don't, Adeline Rowley! Don't you dare say one word before mother!” the flash said, and Adeline's face, assuming a mask of complaisant innocence, thereby assured her friend in distress that she would not do so for the world. Almost immediately the doorbell rang, Mrs. Anderson went once more to answer, and then there sounded a male voice in the living room. At the first note of it Dorothy's knees trembled and her face grew white.

“Dorothy! It's awful! It's terrible! It just must not be!” Adeline whispered with hoarse vehemence. But Dorothy, after one moment of weakness, had set herself to be brave, very brave.

“There! Don't start me crying,” she warned. “Do I look all right?'

“But think what you're sacrificing!” remonstrated Adeline.

“Here! Hold my coat for me There! Thank you!”

“But, Dot, I don't know you at all,” confessed Adeline, staring in amazement. Then she tried again with: “You can't spoof me, Dorothy Anderson, and you can't spoof him. He's got to know it before or after. Better——

“After? Oh, never after!” implored Dorothy, with a low note of pain in her utterance. “That would be too cruel.”

“Before, then!” persisted Adeline, relentlessly prodding at that slightly soft spot in the armor of Dorothy's resolve which she appeared to have discovered.

“Adeline!” This time Dorothy's voice was tense, full of a mixture of treaty and command. “You—you must not. Oh, promise me that you-will not interfere! And don't unnerve me now, please! I feel as if I were doing something big. Honestly, Adeline, I never had so much respect for myself in all my life.”

“What a lie!” scorned Adeline most irreverently. “It's just that idiot liability of mine getting you in a jam where you don't know how to help yourself, you poor, little squab!”

“It's for a great man who means so much to the world,” persisted Dorothy, rising to a strain of exaltation.

“That's the poorest excuse for matrimony I ever heard,” retorted Adeline. “You don't marry an institution, child; you marry a man.”

They heard Mrs. Anderson calling.

“S-s-s-h!” adjured Dorothy; “promise me you will never tell.” The girl's expression was sincerely earnest.

“I—I promise!” stammered Adeline, completely baffled.

“There! Have I got my hat on properly, mother?” the girl inquired as Mrs. Anderson came to the door.

“Just a little farther back, dearie, don't you think?” suggested that faithful one; and Dorothy, after accepting this suggestion obediently, walked out with a kind of curiosity to meet her husband-to-be.

It seemed days since she had seen Bruce. She had not looked upon him as a husband-to-be when last they parted, and she had to reappraise him now—the sturdy frame, the dark-olive skin, bronzed by desert tan, the distinctive, regular features with the hump of energy on the nose, the wide, strong mouth, and the large, brilliant eyes; the whole man full of fire, but a controlled fire. He had changed his suit since morning to a blue serge—he knew that she was fond of blue on him—and wore a carnation in his buttonhole, a pink one for her, though she remembered that his own preference was white, Calculated, calculated! Everything about him was calculated, she deduced, and resented it, perhaps unreasonably. He was an engineer; he calculated all things, including, no doubt, the tensile strength of hearts. She could not escape the feeling that for some element in her which she-could not herself discern he had chosen her with his head rather than his heart; that he had, by some occultism, calculated the capacity of her soul for the strains and stresses of life and found them adapted to his requirements exactly; that he had estimated its clinging power as he would a truss of steel. She was to be just one more accomplishment. He would be proud of her as he would be proud of a bridge. She was expected to be serviceable to his career as the bridge was serviceable.

A flood of inferences like this was pitifully disappointing. She had hoped—pathetically hoped—during all this last half hour that when she saw him as a husband he would look different, softer, more appealing. He did not.

Moreover, his sense of triumph, his feeling of satisfaction that it was she, not he, who had given in, was apparent. He looked upon her as upon the vanquished. That made it harder than anything else; but she would falter now at nothing. She went up to him and gave him a dutiful kiss.

They lunched together according to program. Outwardly Dorothy managed to be merry. She laughed at his jokes and even made some. She prattled superficially of many things; whatever popped into her mind she immediately popped out again. That was the only way, for she must keep going or, like the gyroscope, she would lose her balance and fall off the wire. She asked him to tell her about the viaduct, about the desert and the desert mountains, and in detail about the cabin in which they would spend their honeymoon. He did vivaciously, and enlarged upon their real wedding trip to Honolulu, which they would take when the critical days with the bridge were past. He did all this quite obliviously. He did not discern that her heart was not in her laughter, that the love light in her eyes was almost a fear light instead. That he did not discover this nor suspect it stamped him, for her, as utterly lacking in those finer perceptions. which must belong to real love. It made loving him impossible, marrying him more difficult even than it had seemed.

And yet he was admirable. The witchery of his personality cast a spell of its kind. But the luncheon must have been twenty-four hours long, she computed, and they surely stood half a day before the counter in the marriage-license office; yet when he took her home it was but three o'clock. In the proud bliss of crass ignorance, he drew her head against his breast in the privacy of the Andersons' hall. “Good-by, little sweetheart!” he said fondly. “I'll be here at four o'clock to take you away and away and away.”

Away and away and away! That was what the girl felt. That was the chief consolation; she was getting away where all that she suffered would be her own to suffer. With this idea, however, incongruously, was a sense of exaltation, a joy in the pain because she was going to help a successful man, whom the world needed, to be more successful still.

But if the last two hours had dragged, the next one flew. It seemed no more than a few minutes from the time when she parted with Bruce until the doorbell was ringing and ringing and the little parlor was filling with the minister, with the Rowleys, and with the Porters; and then her mother, who had admitted them, was back, anxiously giving the last touches to her tan traveling gown, with Adeline to supervise critically.

In no time at all Dorothy was going out to face them all, feeling strangely well, strangely strong for the ordeal, alert of mind, and unusually self-possessed. Strength was being given her, she knew. But Bruce! One glance at him and she saw that he was changed, shaken. It was as if, in putting on his frock coat and gray trousers, he had put on some sort of weakness of which he was disconcertingly aware. To her it was obvious that he tried to conceal this, but obvious, also, that he failed. He laughed, but the ring of laughter was gone from his voice. It amused her to see this imperturbable, indomitable man trying to assume a nonchalance he did not feel.

Instead of the exultant glow of the conqueror there was a kind of grayness of humility upon his face. When he came close and gazed into her eyes, there was, besides this humility, a sort of chastened curiosity, and with it a look of very great tenderness, a penetrating glance which was at last almost discerning. For one thrilling moment she was hopeful, wildly hopeful, that in the end he had come to understand, to read something of the true state of her heart, and for that moment she found herself overpoweringly drawn to him, felt that she could love him just for understanding.

But in another instant she saw that it was not understanding at all; it was nothing except nervousness. She was bitterly disappointed again, but it gave her a sense of superiority to him in one particular at least, a sense that was precious, for it was the only superiority she could feel over him at all. She had heard before that the bridegroom is often the most nervous at the ceremony.

But as they took position for the rites her own self-possession began to leave her. She was rather in a daze. She knew that the clergyman was praying, that Adeline was standing there upon her left, that Bruce was now upon her right, and the others ranged round in a semicircle. Out of this daze she heard the minister asking:

“Do you, Bruce, take this woman, Dorothy, to be your wedded wife?”

The question was followed by an awkward silence which was disconcerting. Dorothy stole a hasty look at Bruce's face and saw it pale and perspiring.

“Yes,” he replied at length, but in a low, uncertain note totally uncharacteristic.

Again, contrarily, there was a feeling of amused superiority in the girl's heart, nothing else.

“And do you, Dorothy, take this man, Bruce, to be your wedded husband?” the clergyman began once more. Dorothy waited calmly till the question was finished, then answered in a clear, steady voice that rang like a bell in the room:


“What token do you give in pledge that you will faithfully perform these vows?”

The bride's mind was fogging slightly once more. She was giving her bouquet to Adeline, she knew that. She was even conscious that brother Lawrence, much embarrassed, was fumbling for the ring in his waistcoat pocket and not finding it readily; but she knew at last when Bruce was holding it on her finger and saying, after the minister, haltingly:

“With this ring—I thee wed—and all my worldly goods—I thee endow.”

It was almost finished now, but so was her endurance. She was reeling on the edge of a precipice before an abyss of matrimony! Weakly she leaned on Bruce for support, and, lo, he was trembling. She could hardly have believed it, that he would tremble, any more than that one of his bridges would tremble if she leaned against it.

“Join your right hands!” directed the minster, drawing a little nearer and gazing upon the couple with a kind of benevolence in his eyes. Then he began to intone the final sentence: “For as much, then, as you, Bruce Porter, and you, Dorothy Anderson, have consented together in holy wedlock and have plighted——

There was a start, a stir, a silence. The clergyman had stopped abruptly. He had been interrupted. But it was by a movement rather than a spoken word, and this ensuing silence, which had instantly become dramatic, was broken in upon by a voice. This, to the complete astoundment of all, was the voice of the bridegroom, freighted with a painful emotion.

“She—doesn't love me,” he stammered, his voice breaking upon the words. “She has promised what she can't perform. She has been tricked into a false position.” Hoarse and gray, he put her gently but definitely away from him, then struggled on, addressing himself first to the minister and then to the company: “I couldn't believe at first—that any man could play so cruel a joke as has been played to-day. And then I couldn't believe that any woman could have so much of the spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion in her—without love. I have put her to the test. You all have seen her meet it. I have heard the truth of her soul's greatness in every accent of her responses. It makes her a thousand times more precious to me—but—but I cannot permit the sacrifice. I never meant to from the moment I knew it was a sacrifice. But an imperative something said to me: 'Go on! Go on! See if she will.' I have seen it!” The note of tragedy in the man's utterance moaned in the little room. His heart, his very frame seemed broken.

The clergyman's face registered in succession astonishment, shock, sympathy, comprehension. The moments immediately following were exclamatory.

“Bruce!” wept his mother. “Oh, Bruce!”

“Dorothy!” cried Mrs. Anderson solicitously. “Dorothy!”

“Well, thank Heaven!” ejaculated Adeline.

Lawrence looked stunned and helpless, then turned an accusing eye upon Clarence Rowley, whom he had seen talking to his brother at the hotel not twenty minutes before. Rowley's round face displayed the profoundest distress and contrition. “That's me,” he confessed. “I'm the dub! But, say! I had the nerve to tell him before it was too late—and he had the sense not to kill me. He's a real man at that, I'll say!”

Dorothy, all this time, had been clinging to Adeline, although without regarding her in the least, her glance fixed in amazement on her lover.

“Why, Bruce! Bruce!” she called in clear, startled, even affectionate tones. The girl's eyes were lighting as if she had seen a marvel. There was a smile upon her lips as of pure joy over a belated and wonderful discovery, the discovery that there was this soft core in the heart of Bruce Porter, after all. In this great, broken moment he had become lovable. She slid into his limp arms. “Bruce!” she whispered in his ear, in a voice frayed by her own emotions, “I love you. I do love you! I didn't but—I do!”

The man was so crushed and spiritless that at first he was slow to comprehend the significance of this sudden change which his supreme renunciation had wrought in her; but the girl's touch was magnetic and convincing. A glint of the truth began to illuminate the heartbroken hollows of his face. He clutched her to him and stood looking down into her eyes, his features slowly forming themselves into an expression rapt and worshipful.

“I love you. I do love you. I want to marry you. I insist upon marrying you,” she emphasized, with a little shudder of complete self-abandon undulating her shoulders.

The great, dark eyes of the man glowed again with hope and joy. “You darling!” he sobbed, and folded her close in his steel-thewed arms—a long, slow embrace, but one in which there was the strength of tenderness only. It was her heart that had spoken this time, and it was his heart that had answered.

“Bruce,” she exulted, “I have found you, found the real you at last; and it is good, so good!” She drew his cheek down to hers and held it there lingeringly.

Every breast in the room was undergoing emotional disturbance, every eye was blurred, perhaps every mind a little fogged, and it seemed as if Dorothy was the first to regain composure. The girl proceeded as if she knew exactly what she wanted. She took Bruce's right hand in hers and faced again toward the minister.

“Now,” she said, with shining eyes, “you may finish.”

The clergyman's own eyes were unduly bright. He felt that he had witnessed, in a trice, in the twinkling of an eye, the sublime miracle of the birth of love, and was awed by it. With a hallowed smile making his features radiant, he lifted his book and began once more the intoning of the last solemn words. This time there was no interruption. He who had interrupted before drew the figure of the woman closer to him instead of putting her away, and pressed her with a spasm of ecstasy to his heart as the minister concluded with: “I therefore pronounce you husband and wife.”

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1924, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 99 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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