A Life Subscription
" I NEVER quite know," said Mrs. Hilary, taking up her embroidery, "what you mean when you talk about love."
No more do I," I admitted, stroking the cat.
"If you mean that you dedicate to a woman your whole life——"
"And more than half your income——"
Mrs. Hilary laid down the embroidery, and observed, as though she were concluding the discussion—
"The fact is, you don't know what real love is."
"I never met anyone who did," said I.
Mrs. Hilary opened her mouth.
"At least, they could never tell me what it was," I added hastily.
Mrs. Hilary resumed the embroidery.
"Now, the other day," I continued, "my friend Major Camperton married his cook."
"What for?" cried Mrs. Hilary.
"Because his wife was dead," said I.
"That's not a reason."
"You must admit that it's an excuse," I pleaded.
Mrs. Hilary, taking no notice of my apology, made a thoughtful stitch or two. Then she observed—
"I was never in love with any man except Hilary."
"You're always boasting of that; I suppose it was difficult?"
"But once I was awfully—but if I tell you, you'll talk about it."
"Upon my honour I won't."
"You will——to Lady Mickleham."
"Lady Mickleham takes no interest in you," said I.
"Well, once I was awfully tempted. It was before I knew Hilary."
"But after you knew me?" I suggested.
"Don't be absurd," said Mrs. Hilary. "He was very rich—rather handsome, too."
"I have always persisted in maintaining that you were human," I observed complacently.
"I think," said she, gazing at me, "that you are the most earthy man I ever knew."
"Go on with the story," said I, taking the cat on my knee.
"And he was really very fond of me."
"Oh, so he said."
"But—well, I might have, if he hadn't——"
"Oh, I understand; at least, I hope so."
"I mean, he wouldn't talk about anything else."
"I suppose he saw nothing else in you."
"That was what I felt. Good looks aren't everything."
"Were you good-looking?" I inquired.
Mrs. Hilary showed signs of being about to take up her embroidery.
"All right; Hilary isn't here," said I, in excuse.
"I hated it. I wanted to be——" She paused.
"What's in a word? Say 'esteemed.’"
"Yes—for something more than that."
"So you wouldn't have anything to say to him?"
"No. I was so glad—afterwards."
"And what's become of him?"
"Oh, he's married."
"It's a just world. Now, lots of those immoral writers would have rewarded him with perpetual bachelorhood."
Mrs. Hilary pushed her embroidery quite far off and leant forward towards me.
"Aren't you ever going to marry?" she asked.
"Marriages are made in heaven," said I. Mrs. Hilary nodded approvingly. "I thought of waiting till I got there," I ended.
"Oh!" said Mrs. Hilary, and she added, "I know a really charming girl."
"You cruel woman! Would you doom her to me?"
"You'd be all right," said Mrs. Hilary. "If you could be removed from ——"
"Certain influences?" I suggested hastily. "But for Hilary you also would be a pleasant woman."
"There's not the least comparison," said she, with a blush.
"There's always a comparison," I observed. "What are we talking about?"
Now, Mrs. Hilary could not, as I well knew, answer this question.
"Well, I'm very sorry about it," she said.
"A romance," said I, "is a thing to be cherished."
"I can't think it's right," said Mrs Hilary.
"To remember—to be proud of——"
"I don't want to be hard about it," murmured Mrs. Hilary.
"To be taken——"
"Seriously? Yes, of course, or it's worse than——"
"To be taken," said I, "between meals."
Mrs. Hilary leapt to her feet.
"Or else, you know," I added, "it would spoil dinner."
Mrs. Hilary was very angry; but she was also a little curious. The latter emotion was more powerful.
"I wonder," said she, "what you do really feel about——"
"It," said Mrs. Hilary.
"Am I in the confessional?"
To my delight a smile lurked round Mrs. Hilary's lips.
"You think," she said, "that I don't understand it. Well, I do a little. She's been here."
"Has she, though? What was she doing here?"
"Oh, coaxing," said Mrs. Hilary. "She wanted a subscription from Hilary."
I was much interested.
"Were you present at the interview?" I asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. Hilary. "She got the subscription, Mr. Carter—a larger one than Hilary could afford."
"I have given her a larger one than I could afford."
The rare smile still twitched round Mrs. Hilary's mouth.
"What do you think Hilary did when she'd gone?" she asked.
"I should think he felt a fool," said I.
"He apologised," said Mrs. Hilary.
I laughed. Mrs. Hilary laughed reluctantly.
"Guileless creature!" I observed.
"Oh, you needn't say that!" she said, with a slight flush. "Shall I tell you what he did afterwards?"
"I know that well enough!"
"I'm sure you don't."
"Gave you a new bonnet, of course."
I believe that Mrs. Hilary was annoyed, for he said, quite sulkily—
"It was a bracelet."
"I told you so," I observed.
"He'd have given it me, anyhow," she cried.
"Not he," said I.
"He'd meant to before," said she. "He said so."
I smiled, but I did not wish to make mischief, so I added, "The subscription was, of course, civility."
"That's all, of course. Still, it's funny, isn't it?"
"Perhaps it is, rather."
There was a pause.
"Do you care to meet that girl?" asked Mrs. Hilary.
"N—no," said I.
"I would give you one more chance," she said generously.
"Thank you. I am still subscribing," I answered. "No bracelets for me!"
"We laughed about it when she was gone. Hilary was amused at himself."
"I have experienced the feeling," I observed.
"I wonder if I ought to tell you what he called her."
"Probably not. Go on."
"He said she was an insinuating little——"
"Why do you hesitate, Mrs. Hilary?"
"Devil!" said Mrs. Hilary, almost under her breath.
"Ah!" said I, setting the cat down and reaching for my hat.
"Yes, devil," said Mrs. Hilary, more courageously.
"And what did he say you were?" I asked.
"Oh—nothing," said Mrs. Hilary, blushing again.
"Then you and Hilary are friends again?"
"I didn't mind in the least," declared Mrs. Hilary; "only it's curious——"
I began to laugh. I enjoy a chance of laughing at Mrs. Hilary.
"We are all much indebted to her," said I. "Some for a bracelet——"
"Some for a life-long—— Dear me, how late it grows I I must be off." And I held out my hand. As I did so, Hilary entered.
"By the way, Carter," said he, when he saw me, "what's that society Lady Mickleham collects for? She got something out of me. I hope it's not a fraud."
"I hope not," said I.
"Because I've given her a trifle."
"So have I," I remarked.
"A donation, you know."
"Oh, mine's a life subscription," said I.
"Oh, go away!" said Mrs. Hilary impatiently.
"Well, you've got nothing else to do with your money," said Hilary. "You've not got a wife and family."
"That is, of course," said I, "the explanation." Then Mrs. Hilary drove me out. She'd have done it sooner, only that in her heart she credits me with a tragedy.
Copyright, 1900, by the S. S. McClure Co., in the United States of America.