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The Inconstant Moon


The Inconstant Moon

BY TEMPLE BAILEY

"I THINK an elopement will be lovely," Evie whispered, as they stood together in the summer-house. "You know what you said about the river and the golden light—"

Richard smiled down at her adoringly.

"I'll have my boat at the landing," he said, "and we will drift under the moon to Willowbrook, where the minister will marry us."

"I think it will be lovely," Evie repeated. "I'll wear my white dress and my white hat with the roses."

The moonlight, shining through the vines, brought out the gold lights in her pretty hair. On the hand that lay in Richard's sparkled a little ring.

"My hand!" Richard murmured.

"I never expected to have a diamond," Evie said.

"It's the meaning that I care about." The boy's voice was reverent. "Until death parts us, Evie!"

The girl's lighter nature was uplifted by his earnestness.

"Oh, Richard," she said, and turned her face up to him. "Oh, Richard, I care that way, too!"

"I wish your mother knew," he went on, after a silence.

"I can't tell mother," the girl protested. "She won't hear of my getting married."

"I know," Richard whispered; "but I wish she could be at your wedding, Evie."

All the next day, Evie sang as she went about her work. Up-stairs on her bed lay the white dress and the white hat. In a closet was the suit-case with her dainty belongings, packed for the first time without her mother's supervision. Now and then she ran up and tried on the hat, laughing at herself in the mirror, picturing Richard's face when he should see her.

"If you are going up-stairs again," her mother called from the kitchen, "you might close the windows. There's a cloud in the west that means wind."

But Evie, ecstatically combing out her curls in preparation for the wedding coiffure, forgot the injunction until the flapping of curtains brought her out of her dreams.

"Evie, did you shut the windows?" Her mother was panting up the stairway. "What are you combing your hair again for?" she asked, as she noted her daughter's flying locks.

"I'm trying it a new way," said Evie, flushing.

"When I was your age," was the reproof, "I didn't think so much of my looks."

"When you were my age," Evie retorted, "you were married!"

"Well, you look like a baby—I seemed much older."

"Mother!" Evie pouted.

Her mother put her arms about the girl.

"Don't think of getting married for years. I couldn't let you go, child!"

Evie clung to her. "Oh, mother—" she began; but the other interrupted. "For goodness' sake, go and put on something warmer than that dressing-sack—you're shivering!"

Evie lifted a pale face. "I'm not cold," she said; but her mother insisted.

Left alone, Evie listened to the beat of the rain. She put on a dark skirt and shirt-waist. When she looked at herself in the mirror, the thick dress was not becoming, and the gray light seemed to dull the brightness of her braids. As she went down-stairs, her father came in with the rain dripping from his hat.

"Will it rain all evening?" Evie asked anxiously.

"I think so," was his comforting assurance. "The wind's in the east."

Evie helped her mother set the table, but she did not eat much of the hot supper.

"Ain't you well?" her father asked solicitously.

"I'm not hungry," she replied.

"You've taken cold," her mother said. "I knew you would, in that thin sack."

Evie was to meet Richard at half past eight, and at eight o'clock she went up-stairs. In the darkness of her room she pressed her face against the window. She could see nothing. There were only the roar of the wind and the beat of the rain.

At the appointed time, wrapped in a big shawl, she descended the stairs stealthily, and went out of the side door. Her light figure bent to the wind as she sped down the walk.

"Richard!" she called softly.

Then she felt his arms about her.

"Where's your bag?" he demanded.

"We couldn't go in the boat, so I have the buggy. I've put in a lot of rugs, and it's a soft nest for you, Evie."

She twisted away from him.

"I haven't any bag," she faltered. "I'm not going, Richard."

"You're not going!" he said sharply. "Why not, Evie?"

"Oh, how could I go on such a night? I couldn't wear my pretty dress and my pretty hat; and—and who ever heard of running away in the rain?"

He put his arms about her and bent over her. She could feel his wet cheek against her own.

"Evie," he murmured, "do you love me?"

"Yes," she whispered.

"Do you think I care what you wear, Evie?"

"It was all going to be so beautiful," she said, "with the moonlight and the river—and now there isn't any moon."

"The moonlight and the river were not the beautiful part," he told her. "The beautiful part was our life together! When I fixed that nest of rugs, I thought how I would drive you safe through the storm, and it seemed to me that that was the way I was to care for you through the storms of life, Evie."

"Oh," she sobbed, "I don't know what to do! Do you think I'd better go, Richard?"

"You leave it to me?"

"Yes." she yielded. "I'll go, if you say so, Richard."

"Darling!" the boy murmured, as he held her close. "I'm glad you said that. I couldn't bear to think that you didn't trust me enough to go. But I don't believe I ought to let you run away with me; so I'm going in right now, and I shall ask your father and mother to let me marry you, Evie."

"Richard!"

"I can't go home without knowing something certain. It's the only right thing to do."

As the two young people came into the circle of lamplight, the father and mother stared at them in astonishment. The girl, wet and wind-blown, slipped to her knees beside her mother's chair. Richard walked up to the table, his rubber coat glistening with moisture.

"Sit down," said Evie's father, hesitating as he faced the uncertain situation.

"No," Richard said; "I'll stand. I've been talking to Evie, and—"

"I thought Evie was in bed," her mother interrupted.

"No," Richard said quietly. "She came to meet me—we were going to run away."

The mother uttered a sharp cry, and the father's fist came down on the table heavily. But as the boy told his love, the older man gazed at him intently, seeing a vision of his own youth and courtship. When the tale was ended, he said:

"I understand that if it hadn't rained to-night, you would have gone?"

"I think so."

"And what then?"

The boy's gaze met his, squarely.

"I should have kept her safe. She's very precious, sir!"

His voice was broken by deep feeling. Again the echo of youthful passion stirred the older man, and he turned to his wife.

"Well, mother?"

"I think it's ridiculous!" she flared. "I sha'n't let Evie get married for ten years."

"Oh, mother—I shall be twenty-seven!"

"You'll be old enough to know your own mind," her mother said.

"I do know it!"

"You run up-stairs," her mother directed.

With a despairing glance at her lover, Evie obeyed. Then the mother turned to Richard.

"I haven't anything against you," she said; "only you mustn't come courting Evie."

"I might have taken her," was Richard's answer.

The boy's eyes were on Evie's father. The man, recognizing a challenge, saw dimly the necessity for compromise.

"Perhaps we'd better talk it over, mother," he said.

"No," was the firm response. "I'm not going to let Evie think about such things."

Her husband held out his hand to the boy.

"I guess mothers know best," he apologized.

They went to the door together. It had stopped raining, and through the scurry of clouds the moon sailed like a silver boat. The boy stood looking at it for a moment; then he stiffly said "Good-by," and went down the path, and they watched him until the sound of the horse's hoofs died away in the distance.

As he drove slowly homeward, Richard gazed out upon the night. The smell of wet earth came to his nostrils, the vagrant winds caressed his cheek; suddenly he began to take quick sobbing breaths.

"Evie!" he murmured brokenly.

As if his cry had brought her, he heard an answering note:

"Richard!"

The horse reared as he was brought to a sudden stop. Evie laughed nervously as she clambered over the wheel.

"Quick!" she urged. "Here's my bag. I took the short cut across lots. They are arguing in the sitting-room. Mother will go up and find my door locked, and that will keep her for a few minutes; and, oh, Richard, I climbed out of my window—"

With one hand he was making her comfortable among the rugs, while with the other he urged the horse to a run.

"I can't believe it!" he said, as Evie nestled close. "I can't believe that you have really come to me at last!"

"Well," said the girl, "father was almost ready to give in, and mother will make up—she always does; and I wasn't going to wait until I was twenty-seven to get married, Richard."


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1953, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also 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.