The Rejecting of Cartwright
THE REJECTING OF CARTWRIGHT
CARTWRIGHT had always believed in the blindness of love—that is, of woman's love. "If she loves you, she won't see your faults," he had said, complacently.
He held this opinion until he met Edith Martine. Miss Martine was really very nice. Cartwright had decided that when he saw her on his first night at the Mountain House. She was small and fair and sympathetic, and she was a gentlewoman. Cartwright was discriminating. He often associated with girls who were not gentlewomen—sometimes he liked that kind best, but he knew the difference.
Cartwright was susceptible up to a certain point, but he did not intend to marry just yet. The resulting conflict between heart and head gave to his end-of-the-Summer partings just the effective tinge of sadness.
He worked through the usual first stages of Summer flirtation with Miss Martine, and things went smoothly until he discovered that she possessed an unyielding conscience.
"Please don't," she said, one night, when he tried to take her hand; "please don't." And her voice trembled.
"Why not?" asked Cartwright.
"It isn't right," she said; and, try as he might, Cartwright could not shake her decision.
He tried again, after three weeks of rather intimate acquaintance, with the same result.
"Don't you like it?" he asked, with a most effective use of his gray eyes.
Her face flamed. "What if I did? It wouldn't be right."
Cartwright laughed a satisfied laugh. At least, the blush had told him something.
"If we were engaged, would it be right?" he murmured, and tried to look into her eyes.
But she kept her lashes down, discreetly.
"Perhaps," she said, sedately.
A week later, she again called him to account. They had ridden from the Mountain House to the lake, and had stopped at a quaint road tavern. He had ordered lemonade for her, and something stronger for himself.
Then, when the waiter had gone, she touched his tall, cool glass with her finger.
"I wish you wouldn't," she said.
"Why not?" he asked, as before.
Again came her decision, "It isn't right."
"What a Puritan you are!" he said, irritated; "it won't hurt me."
She raised her eyes, and scrutinized his fine, cynical face.
"I could not marry a man who drank," she said.
Cartwright smiled at the implied warning. And he had not even asked her!
"That is very wise of you," he said, quietly.
For a little while, there was no sound but the tinkling of the ice against their glasses. The rustic pavilion in which they sat hung almost over the edge of a bluff. Looking off over the valley, they seemed to float in a wonderful sea of sunshine.
"I wish this might never end," said Cartwright, as he had said to many other girls, many other times; "but it will soon be over, and then the old life, the old monotony."
The girl turned her face to him; her eyes shone. "No," she said, "never just the same, for I have known you, and you have known me."
Cartwright gasped, mentally. She was a queer combination of boldness and inexperience, he decided, and he began to be interested.
"You won't forget me?" he asked, softly.
The blue eyes met his honestly, like a child's. Somehow they made him uncomfortable.
"Oh, no," she said, "I sha'n't forget—you."
She rose and leaned over the railing. Cartwright went and stood beside her, towering far above her. For the first time in his life there came to him the feeling of the remoteness of the good woman. There had been girls who had smiled, girls who had blushed, girls who had protested, but no girl like this one with the dreamy, rapt face, that inspired in him a feeling of reverence.
He knew it was time to stop, but the passion of conquest was upon him. He bent his head down, close to hers. "Do you love me?" he breathed, and knew that, if he had been a true man, he would have stated his own feeling first.
With artistic appreciation, he watched the pink flush that traveled from the whiteness of her neck to the whiteness of her forehead. The blush and the trembling of her lips were the only signs of emotion that she showed.
"Oh," she said, "you must let me think it over. Marriage is such a serious thing. I must not decide now. I'll tell you this evening."
Marriage! Cartwright was in for it; but he had managed these things before.
He was waiting for her as she descended the broad stairway that night. Her blue gown was trailing after her. Cartwright liked her best in blue; it suited her ethereal type. Her hair was low on her white neck, and she looked very young and very pure and very sweet. His fastidious taste was satisfied as he gazed up at her, and she blushed as she met the admiration in his eyes.
"You are perfect," he declared.
"No—oh, no!" she breathed, faintly.
"Too perfect," he said, "for such a man as I."
This was Cartwright's trump card. Women liked to be placed on a pedestal, he knew.
A little frown ruffled her forehead; her eyes were troubled.
"I am afraid that is true," she said.
Cartwright had not expected this. If she had said it with a laugh—but this calm judgment was not pleasant.
"Oh," he said, uncomfortably, "I am sorry you have such an opinion of me."
"I'm sorry, too," she murmured, but she did not take back her words.
Then, with a wistful smile, she swept away to the dining-room.
He decided that she was a little prig. She needed a lesson, and his conscience ceased to trouble him.
That evening, when the rest of the guests were dancing, he led her to a moon-lighted angle of the porch. He seated himself at her feet and looked up at her, with eyes that seemed to adore.
"Don't," she said.
Then, suddenly, she leaned down over him and spoke. In her voice there was an ineffable quality of mingled womanliness and childishness, that touched him strangely.
"I have been thinking," she said, "of all you said this afternoon. Perhaps I encouraged you to say such things to me. But—I really care for you."
Cartwright was silent and stricken in the knowledge conveyed by her confession.
"But it would never do," she went on, hopelessly. "You are a man of the world, and you do so many things that seem wrong to me." She laid her hand on his sleeve, as if to soften the hardness of her words. "And—I could not marry a man I could not look up to."
In the reaction, swift anger surged through him. On his lips were the words that would tell her that he had offered to her not the devotion of a lifetime, but the admiration of seven, or fourteen, or twenty-one days, as his vacation might extend.
"My dear girl—" he began, cuttingly, and stopped.
He simply could not do it. The small fingers had slipped down his coat sleeve, until they touched his hand; and at the touch all the shallow vanity in him turned to manhood. He wished—well, he could always win love. But respect? He had not thought of that.
"I am not good enough for you," he said, and was surprised to know that he really meant it.
Again the troubled frown ruffled her forehead.
"Please don't think it's conceit," she pleaded.
"No," said Cartwright, steadily; "It's simply self-preservation."
Then some one hunted them out and claimed her for a dance, and she went away. Cartwright sat and smoked far into the night.
"And I hadn't even asked her," he said, at last.
But this time he said it with a sigh.