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Out of the Past

By Agnes Boulton Burton

I-II     III-VI     VII-XIII     XIV-XVI

VII

It was nine o'clock—just after their breakfast. A moist coolness, heavy with the odors of flowers and of damp earth, hung in the air. Rose was sitting on the piazza railing and before her stood the young man she had met the after-noon before. He regarded her wistfully, noticing the thin, simple, white frock, the beautiful hair drawn back so childishly. There was something in the sweet seriousness of her eyes that made him feel humble and, at the same time, exultant.

"You know, I'm awfully glad I met you," he said. "Even if it had to be under those circumstances."

Her smooth brow wrinkled a little.

"It seems so strange. I can't help feeling that Lord Eastly is not to blame. He explained things to me yesterday on the way home."

A certain heaviness settled over the boy's features. He turned his head away in an endeavor to appear indifferent. Suddenly he looked back at her and spoke almost roughly:

"Do you care for him?"

She was amazed. Then, as his eyes held hers, and she realized what his tone meant, she thrilled. It was the first call of love that her heart had ever heard. A quick, shy panic seized her, the age-long desire for flight, evasion, when woman first sees into the eyes of her mate. From surprise her face lifted with a touch of hauteur.

"I think that you are very rude, Mr. Grey."

He was ashamed of himself immediately. His eyes sought the ground. For a moment they stood thus and then Rose's face softened into a beautiful smile. She looked at his bent head tenderly.

"But, as you have asked me about it, I will tell you that I don't—except as a very good friend."

He met her laughing eyes with an expression of relief and devotion. For a moment it seemed as though he was going to step forward and take her into his arms. But with a little, half-frightened laugh she slipped from the railing.

"Let's go for a walk, while it's still cool."

They passed down the broad white steps side by side. Rose's fair skin was flushed and she was glad that he was silent. It seemed that just then she could not have listened to commonplace things, which were all they could have said to one another. The spell that had made her soul quiver when he had spoken those quick, jealous words back on the porch, still hung over her. She was wrapped in a delicious timidity, a delicious longing. They passed, still in the silence that both understood by fields with wild flowers, by tiny trusting baby goats, tethered at the roadside. But Rose looked straight ahead. Suddenly her heart began to beat so that she could hear it. She turned and looked at him. At that moment he had turned to her and again that mutual look passed between them. Rose blushed and said, stammering:

"Look—look at the baby goat. Isn't it dear?"

She paused, and then stooped down. The kid, not more than six weeks old, a tiny, pathetic soft little creature, came toward her with awkward, hobbly steps, and tried to climb up into her lap.

"Oh—isn't it dear?" she said softly. The boy looked down at her with adoring eyes. Then they both laughed. The kid was snuggling its head under her arm with complete contentment.

After a while they left it, straining at its rope to follow, and went on. He told her about his life at home, about the ranch and the gentle mother whom he adored. Rose listened, fascinated. He was so vivid, so eager with his descriptions, that she seemed to see it all and when he had finished she said enthusiastically:

"I should love it there!"

"Would you?" He looked at her seriously. "You would love my mother, too."

She became silent. A little cloud passed over her face.

"You—you've been going about so much with Mrs. Arundel since you've been here. Is she a very fascinating woman?"

"No!" He flushed angrily. "Oh, well, she was very nice to me, you know, and there was no one else to talk to. You were always with Lord Eastly," he accused.

Rose did not reply.

"But I can't stand her after the way she tried to drag you into that quarrel with Lord Eastly. It was perfectly beastly!" he went on vehemently. Then he thought of the insinuations Mrs. Arundel had made against Rose's character and his face paled, and he remained silent.

Lord Eastly was standing by the window of his large comfortable room, musing. All night, during his disturbed sleep, he had been conscious, uncomfortably conscious that he had reached a crisis in his life. Always fond of women, always alert to the lure of the opposite sex, he had to admit that he had frequently found himself very bored during the last two years. A longing that he had been half ashamed of, had sometimes come over him—a longing for quiet, for the sweet companionship of one woman, a desire to retire to his beautiful estates in England and lead a normal, sensible life. And every day that he had spent with Rose had deepened this desire. But he was not sure of himself. He adored her, he found contentment and happiness, in her presence, yet somehow he could not imagine her as his wife. She was so innocent, so childlike that she had never roused any sign of passion in him. Yet he was sure that he loved her. And he felt no assurance with this new love, which was so different from all those other loves of his later years.

And she? Would she be happy as his wife? She seemed to be very fond of him, but he could not tell. Nothing but comradeship had passed between them. But she was such a jolly little comrade. On the road below he could see Rose, beautiful, dear little Rose, and beside her, walking very near to her, and talking earnestly was the boy who had led her away from the scene on the beach yesterday. He watched them disappear down the road and then, with a determined look in his face, he turned back to the room and touched a button.
 

His valet appeared.

"Order three dozen American Beauty roses and enclose my card, Jean," he said. "And get them at Coates. Have them sent to Miss Rose Ransome, Hotel D."

The valet bowed.

"Very good, sir. The best roses, sir."

When the man had gone, Lord Eastly went to his writing desk. It was a massive affair, made of mahogany and bound with copper. He unlocked it and from one of the inner drawers took out a small strong-box. This again he unlocked and took out a number of business papers—some of them, and others of another nature, yellow with age. These latter he laid carefully aside, revealing at the bottom of the box several small articles of jewelry. From among these he took a leather ring box. He pressed the spring and the lip sprang back, revealing a large diamond.

Lord Eastly took it out and slipped it on his little finger. Going to the window he examined it carefully. The stone and the setting were quite perfect. It was an Eastly heirloom, given by the eldest son of the house to his bride. On some whim he had always carried it with him.

Musing, he looked at it again. An expression of sadness crossed his face. For a moment he seemed doubtful, and then with a quick, determined movement he went back to the desk, put the ring in its case and slipped the case in his pocket. Then he locked the other things up, and closed the desk.

Standing before the mirror he looked at himself carefully. Satisfied, he turned aside and looked at the clock on the wall. It was too early yet. He sat down in a chair and picked up a magazine—but not to read.

VIII

Mrs. Josiah Ransome, who disliked the white glare of the tropical sun, was sitting in the hotel parlor in a rocking chair with a book.

The room was deserted—the other guests were off somewhere enjoying the day. Mr. Ransome was somewhere—she did not know where he might be. She turned a page idly and yawned. Books never interested her.

One of the bellboys entered the room, looked about and, seeing Mrs. Ransome, crossed to her and gave her a card.

She took it, lifted her lorgnette, and stared at the name. Mrs. Ransome had always been shortsighted and she felt that her position in life now justified a lorgnette.

"Show him in here," she said vaguely. She did not understand why Lord Eastly wanted to see her. Indeed, she rather imagined that Rose and he had gone off somewhere this morning.

She waited, feeling a little nervous and trying to assume the proper air. When she saw her visitor coming toward her, this nervousness increased, and when she gave him her hand it was quite cold.

"I have not seen you for several days," he said politely, seating himself. "You go out very little?"

"Yes. Rose tells me she sees you right often, though." Mrs. Ransome smoothed the material across her lap. "The dear child likes it here, doesn't she, Lord Eastly?"

"I think that it agrees with her." He looked absently into the air, paused a moment, and then, with a decided movement, turned back to the lady. "It was about Rose that I came to see you, Mrs. Ransome. I understand that your husband is out at present?"

"Yes, he's walking—but that don't make any difference," said Mrs. Ransome impatiently, what do you wish to say to me?"

He cleared his throat.

"I—er—desired to ask your daughter's hand in marriage."

The plump, pompadoured lady stared at him. He could see from her agitated appearance the extraordinary sensation his remark had caused in her, and again the feeling of doubt caught him. He took out his cigarette case nervously.

"May I smoke?"

She nodded, and Lord Eastly detected in that nod the beginning of her new platform. She, indeed, after years of suppression by people who simply did not understand her social abilities, was finding herself; was finding the attitude she should adopt toward his lordship. Perhaps, she felt confusedly, she should have adopted it right along. He had asked for Rose. From now on they were equals. In spite of her native soil she had never been quite able to feel this before. This delightful sense of equality enriched her voice.

"Go right ahead and smoke if you want to. And say, Cecil, I'm going to call you that as long as you will soon be my son —You ought to be happy with her. She's a fine girl!"

"Yes, she is," echoed. Lord Eastly, blankly. He felt that he must pull himself together somehow. It seemed impossible that this woman should be Rose's mother.

"I suppose that you have spoken to Rose," continued Mrs. Ransome.

"No, I have not. I thought it better to speak to you first."

"She'll have you," said the lady complacently. "She's real fond of you. She told me so."

"I hope so," said Lord Eastly, humbly. Then he added, "Don't say anything about it until I ask her, will you?"

"Of course not. When will you be over to see her?"

"This afternoon." Lord Eastly paused. He had heard something from several sources that he thought it best to mention. "Is there any truth in this story that Rose is only an adopted daughter?"

"Certainly not! Rose is my daughter. Where do you hear such things?" Mrs. Ransome stiffened, and a darker color spread up over her face.

"I shouldn't have mentioned it," said Lord Eastly hastily. He felt that there was nothing more to say on the important subject of his marriage, and yet the discussion had been pitifully brief. But Mrs. Ransome ran on. She was talking of Rose and of the advantages she had had. This interested him. When he rose to go his future mother-in-law was quite enchanted with herself and with him.

IX

Mrs. Ransome was impatient. It was three o'clock and Rose had not returned. She moved nervously about the bedroom that she shared with her husband, looking out of the window without seeing anything, picking up things and putting them down again, and often glancing at herself in the mirror. Her color was high and her eyes were bright and sparkling. She was seeing the future, with herself as the mother of the new Lady Eastly. And she was waiting most impatiently for Rose.

The door between her bedroom and Rose's was open and sometimes she would walk through to this other room and back. . . .

A key rattled at the door of Rose's room. The young girl came in, radiant and glowing.

Mrs. Ransome turned to her.

"You've been a long time," she said shortly. "And your face is scarlet. You have no business out in the sun like this."

"All right, I'll be more careful." She took off her straw hat absently. "Oh, Mamma, there was the dearest little goat this morning, and we fed it"

Mrs. Ransome interrupted her.

"Where did you have lunch?"

"At that cute place in the village. The Grey boy was with me." She hesitated, and then added with emphasis: "Do you know, he's awfully nice after you get to know him."

"The Grey boy?" Mrs. Ransome's face hardened. "There are more important things to think of now than boys. Lord Eastly has been to see me."

\Rose turned to her wonderingly. She had not seen Lord Eastly since the previous afternoon. She could not imagine why he had called on her mother.

What did he say, Mamma?" she asked curiously.

Mrs. Ransome grew arch.

"Can't you guess?"

"Why, no." The young girl was puzzled.

"He wants you to be the future Lady Eastly."

Rose stared at her in utter astonishment.

"You mean he—he—"

"He wants you to marry him. Aren't you a lucky girl!"

There seemed to be something subtly vindictive in the woman's glance. It was as though while delighted at the new area for social conquests that Rose's marriage would give her, she was also looking back at her own narrow girlhood and feeling a jealousy of Rose's great chance.

"I can't believe that it's possible," mused Rose. "And he's far too old—"

Mrs. Ransome's face darkened.

"Of course he is not too old. You will have everything when you are his wife."

"But I don't want to marry him, Mamma."

Her mother turned on her with a sudden furious temper.

"You little fool ! Of course you are going to marry him!" She controlled herself and added more calmly, "What do you think your father sent you to expensive schools for? He wants you to make a good marriage. Is he buying you pretty clothes so that you can turn up your nose at his lordship?"

"Papa doesn't want me to marry."

"Certainly he does." The mother looked at her and laughed harshly. "I think it is very likely that he wants you to marry."

"What do you mean, Mamma?"

"Well—you'd better forget this nonsense about Lord Eastly being too old for you."

"But, Mamma, I don't love him!"

"What do you know about it? You've been very pleased to spend most of your time with him lately. Probably you are in love with him and don't know it."

Rose gave her a troubled glance.

"But, Mamma, I do know." 

"Suppose that you don't love him now? Does that make any difference? There is a lot that you don't know about yourself and, if you follow my advice, you will marry Lord Eastly so that you will at least be sure of your position in life."

Rose turned toward her wearily.

"Mamma, you say things like that so often. What do you mean?"

Mrs. Ransome shrugged her shoulders and went abruptly into the next room. Rose sat down on the bed, and began unbraiding her hair.

At four o'clock Lord Eastly called. Rose, looking pale and anxious, was dressed in a new white frock. Mrs. Ransome had chosen the gown. She looked at her daughter critically.

"Tell him you want to have tea served under the palms in the side garden; it's quieter there," she ordered. "And don't let on I told you he was going to propose this afternoon. Just act natural."

"Yes." Rose stood nervously at the door. "Aren't you going to have tea with us, Mamma?"

Mrs. Ransome gave her a shrewd look.

"No. You can say that I have a headache."

After Rose had gone down, Mrs. Ransome looked complacently at herself in the mirror. She was well pleased. Later she went down stairs to the parlor.

X

A little later she saw them sitting by the tea table under the trees and she turned away contentedly. In all her dreams of social prominence, Mrs. Ransome had never imagined being the mother-in-law of an earl. It seemed too good to be true, but she decided that everything was going to turn out all right. Then the thought of Rose's reluctance came to her and she frowned a little and set her lips more tightly together. Perhaps that Grey boy, who was always mooning about, had put ideas into her head. . . .

He was coming down the stairs now and she noticed immediately that he had a happier expression than usual. A vague fear disturbed her and from the wicker chair in the corner where she had seated herself she watched him anxiously.

He glanced about the room and then went to the door that opened on the piazza, as though looking for someone. Suddenly she saw his face change. He had seen the two taking tea under the trees.

He turned back into the room, his hands in his pockets, his face gloomy. A quick determination made Mrs. Ransome get up from her chair and go over to him. Her lips parted in a smile over her china-like teeth.

"You're Mr. Grey, aren't you?"

He recognized her immediately and his face lightened.

"Yes. You're Mrs. Ransome?"

"Come over into the corner and have a little talk with me." Her alert eyes examined him critically. "You aren't busy just now, I guess?"

"No." He followed her across the room and, drawing a chair near to hers, sat down.

He was rather at a loss to account for this sudden interest from Rose's mother.

"My little girl tells me that she was with you this morning," began Mrs. Ransome ingratiatingly. "She says you were together all morning. Now, Mr. Grey, I know that you are a gentleman, and I want to tell you something."

"Yes?" Cuthbert looked at her curiously.

"It's just this; I am going to ask you not to go around with Rose any more. Don't go walking with her or anything. It's going to hurt her if you do. She's engaged to Lord Eastly—see they are having tea together now—and he is awfully jealous."

"She's engaged to him!"

Cuthbert's face grew blank and Mrs. Ransome went on hurriedly:

"Yes, she's real fond of him and of course it will be fine for her. But she's a funny girl. I guess she thinks it's a good idea to make his lordship jealous once in a while. She's a real little flirt." Then the lady added a deliberate lie: "She's been engaged three times, Rose has. She's an awful little flirt."

"Is she?" returned the boy coldly. He took out his watch with a hand that trembled slightly. "Be assured, Mrs. Ransome, that I will not trouble your daughter. Now I must leave you. I recall an engagement in the village."

Mrs. Ransome bowed, watching his broad, retreating back with malicious satisfaction.

When Rose came into the parlor, after her visitor had gone, her face was not quite as pale, or her manner as nervous as when she had gone to meet him.

Mrs. Ransome was waiting in the wicker chair.

"Well—what did he say?" she began impatiently, motioning to the chair that Cuthbert had vacated half an hour before.

Rose sat down, smiling faintly.

"He said not to give him his answer right now."

"It wasn't necessary to delay your answer, was it?"

"I—oh, Mamma, you don't understand," Rose stammered. "He said that he would not want me to marry him unless he was absolutely sure that I could—could care."

"Well, of course you care, you little idiot!" said Mrs. Ransome angrily. "You have been crazy about him ever since you first met him. Now you start this absurd talk."

"I don't love him, Mamma."

"You'll marry him just the same!" Mrs. Ransome arose imperiously. "He will be at the dance to-night, and you can give him his answer then!"

XI

There was not such a crush at the dance that night. The nights were growing warmer and the summer's lassitude had begun to settle over the island. Lady Babcock, seated with some friends, did not dance because of the heat. The gayest, most vivacious person there was Mrs. Arundel, who was dancing and flirting with a very pleased man—her husband.

The orchestra was just starting a one step Lord Eastly, who had been standing behind his hostess' chair, saw Rose and her parents enter the arched doorway. He excused himself immediately and went toward them.

Mrs. Ransome was more magnificent than ever. Clad in royal blue silk, she had a new and lofty manner, and used her lorgnette very haughtily.  Mr. Ransome was silent and glum. Rose, in a gown of palest pink, looked at Lord Eastly and smiled wistfully, with a trace of embarrassment.

They finished the dance together. Rose could not refuse it, but she kept thinking of Cuthbert and wondering why he was not there. She had wanted to keep the first dance for him.

All afternoon she had been upset and unhappy. The thought of her walk with Cuthbert that morning, the way he had looked at her, was always in her mind, and she longed to see him again. And in spite of her feeling that it would not be right for her to marry Lord Eastly, she was vaguely afraid that it might happen, after-all.

She was thinking of these things as she drifted through the dance on his arm. He looked down at her tenderly, and this made her feel vaguely uncomfortable. The dance was nearly over. Lord Eastly made some witty remark about the fat back of a dowager who had just swung past them. Rose was looking laughingly up at him when she saw Cuthbert Grey. For one moment they looked into one another's eyes, and Rose smiled at him happily. But he gave her only a very cold and distant bow. There was no trace of friendship in his face as he turned away.

The music ended with a crash and Lord Eastly led her to a chair. She heard his remarks only vaguely; her face was troubled and her eyes kept wandering about the room, searching for Cuthbert. It seemed impossible that he could be there and avoiding her. Then she saw him. He was standing with Mrs. Arundel, talking and laughing. The next dance they danced together and Rose, pleading a slight dizziness, got Lord Eastly to take her to the conservatory.

Cuthbert avoided her carefully all evening. Just before they said good night Lord Eastly held her hands a little more tightly.

"Can you give me my answer now?"

She looked up at him, and a sudden loneliness swept over her. He was so kind, so tenderly affectionate. . . .

"Yes—my answer is yes, Lord Eastly," she stammered. And then, blushing and embarrassed, she took her hand from his and ran over to where her parents were waiting for her.

XII

During the week of Rose's engagement to Lord Eastly she seemed to have grown older, quieter, and more wistful. Mrs. Ransome, meanwhile, appeared to have settled more firmly in her clothes: her chin had taken on quite an arrogant angle.

She stood beside Rose now, observing her with a careful eye.

"You'd better take your red parasol, or you will sunburn," she remarked. "And for goodness' sake, Rose, don't go around with that mournful expression all the time. Lord Eastly will be getting tired of you first thing you know."

Rose did not reply and this seemed to irritate the older woman.

"Aren't you satisfied? What do you want, anyway?" The vindictive expression, which Rose had so often seen in her mother's face, appeared. "Lord, I think that we've done pretty well for you—"

At this moment the telephone rang and Mrs. Ransome answered in a sweet voice.

"Yes. . . . Yes?"

"Lord Eastly? Tell him that Miss Ransome will be down in a few moments."

She hung up the receiver.

"There—he's waiting for you." She picked up a charming lingerie hat from the bed and handed it to Rose. The young girl put it on languidly.

"Can't you hurry?" Mrs. Ransome asked impatiently. Rose flushed.

"I'm going, Mamma," she answered, giving her mother a dignified look.

"Good-by."

"Good-by, Mamma."

Rose went downstairs. Her fiancé was sitting on the piazza. He rose as she came out.

"How pretty you look this morning!"

Rose smiled, and they went down the steps to where Lord Eastly's dog-cart was waiting.

They got in and Lord Eastly took the reins. Rose opened her parasol.

"A perfect day!" she said dreamily. Lord Eastly looked at her.

"Yes." He touched the horse with the whip, frowning slightly. During the last week he had lost some of his wonted confidence in himself. He felt older than he had ever felt before. Day by day he realized, with a certain anguish, that Rose was not giving him the love that he wanted. When he saw that she had even lost her old gaiety, he was deeply worried. He imagined that her cheeks were a little thinner. And yet she seemed to care about being with him, she seemed to trust him. There was something especially gentle in her manner, she often looked at him wistfully; yet when he wanted to kiss her she used that same wistful gentleness in resisting him. So, in place of the self-confidence that had once been his, a great feeling of dissatisfaction and distrust in the situation had taken hold of him.

He glanced at her now covertly, and saw that her thoughts were far away. He slowed the horse down to a walk.

"Rose—what are you thinking of?"

She flushed and turned her eyes toward him hastily.

"Oh, nothing much," she faltered.

Lord Eastly knit his brows. After a moment he said:

"Rose, do you still feel that you want to be my wife?"

"Why—yes." Her reply was almost whispered.

"But I don't think that you do!" he persisted. "You are not as happy as you were before we were engaged." He paused, and then went on in a crisp voice: "Do you feel differently toward me because of what happened that day on the beach?"

"No—of course not!"

Rose did not tell him that youth is never well mated with experience. She felt instinctively that it was her right to be the first passion in her lover's heart, but she realized that the world thought differently and resigned herself to the world with a sigh. But as these thoughts came into her mind she felt her eyes burning, and a moment later a tear ran down her cheek.

"Good God! Does it really hurt you like that?" Lord Eastly was aghast. He laid his thin, aristocratic hand over her warm ones. "Dear little girl, I swear that she was nothing to me. Can't you understand how it was? She was jealous. Simply because I once paid her a few attentions, she felt that she had some sort of a claim on me."

"But you have loved other women." Rose knew that this was not the real point at issue, but she let herself be led along; anything, so that he would not ask her outright if she loved him.

He was silent, but a moment later he looked at her directly.

"Rose, I have asked you to be my wife, to share my name. Does not that assure you of your place in, my affections?"

"I am afraid that l am too ignorant to be a companion to you always. You are so clever, and I—"

He interrupted her.

"Companionship means more than cleverness, my child. When people have the same tastes in common, when they can laugh at the same things—" he broke off and looked at the horse's ears musingly.

"Yes—but do we?" She gave him an earnest and direct look. "Somehow I feel that you are interested in my sort of things just because you like me. And you laugh often at things that I—" She confessed this bravely—"I do not understand at all." 

This disconcerted him immensely. He could not reply and a slow, uncomfortable red rose in his cheeks.

"I think that the real reason you want to marry me is because you're very lonely."

"Oh, I am not so lonely!" exclaimed Lord Eastly with a touch of irritation in his voice. "Many of us miss the finest things in life—and through our own fault. But there are always compensations."

He added these last words with a decided lightness and, lifting the reins, started the horse off at a smart trot. Rose, watching him, caught the lightness, and the words he had spoken went to her heart. She turned away with a feeling of heaviness and despair. She did not love him, but she had counted on his love to make their married life happy. Was it possible that she was only a "compensation"?

She stared straight ahead in silence. A horseman was coming down the road and, as he approached, she saw that it was Cuthbert. Her heart tightened in her breast, and then began throbbing noisily. She felt a curious physical weakness. As he passed she saw only his face, which seemed white and tired, and his eyes, looking into hers with a look of scorn. . . .

"That young chap seems fond of riding," came Lord Eastly's dry voice. Rose shivered. A moment later she sat erect and turned to him with bright eyes and burning cheeks.

"When we pass the Wayside Inn, let's stop and get one of those things they call a 'cocktail,'" she said. "I feel sort of—of funny and tired and I believe that something like that would make me feel better."

XIII

The water, gleaming in the moonlight, ran with a gentle murmur up and down the beach. The waves broke with a methodical languor, and the pale wash of moonlight that lay over everything seemed to cool the warm, lifeless air.

A small figure appeared from among a group of palm trees further up the beach and walked down on the white sand. It was Rose. She walked aimlessly, pausing now and then to look out on the ocean, and yet occupied with her thoughts.

For the first time in her young life she was actually unhappy.

Whenever she tried, even mentally, to assert herself, she saw the uselessness of it all. She could give no explanation of her misery to other people, she could not even give a coherent and sensible explanation to herself.

It was absurd to feel that she loved Cuthbert, even more absurd to imagine that he cared for her. They had only met a couple of times and he had never said that he cared. Her heart began to ache desperately as she thought of the tone of jealousy that he had used that morning. And he had looked at her as though he cared. She paused, and then sat down where the wet sand edged the dry, wholly occupied with her thoughts. That night—why had he ignored her at the dance? It might be that Mrs. Arundel had regained her sway over him. He had danced with her. But she remembered that he had danced only once with that lady, and a new theory came to her. He had felt that he had gone too far with her that morning. On reflection he felt that he might have compromised himself a little, and he had decided not to talk with her again. Probably he was engaged to some girl at home.

She crooked her elbow on her knee and laid her cheek in her palm. The moonlight silvered her pale hair.

Something moved noislessly among the palm trees at the end of the sand. A young man appeared. It was Cuthbert. He hesitated, looking at the motionless little figure on the beach. His face was restless and disturbed.

After standing there a moment, his lips tightly compressed, he went toward the girl with determined steps.

Rose heard the footsteps and looked up. She rose to her feet with a wildly beating heart.

"What do you want?" she said in a frightened voice.

"Want? Merely to tell you, Miss Ransome, that there are two rather tough looking individuals in those trees back there." He nodded toward the palms. "It is very dangerous for any woman to be at this lonely place at night. I felt it my duty to warn you."

His expression and tone of voice while making this statement were cold and severe in the extreme. He had followed Rose when he saw her wandering away from the hotel, his heart full of that forlorn anguish that lovers feel when they realize that the object of their affection is unworthy. When he had seen her sitting alone on the beach, the longing to speak to her again had overcome him. Full of pride that forbade him speak to her as a friend, he had invented this excuse.

"Thank you for telling me," Rose faltered.

They stood staring at one another awkwardly.

"Perhaps you would like me to get your fiancé to accompany you home?" he offered.

Rose felt her face burn.

"No, thank you. I—er—possibly I am keeping you from Mrs. Arundel?"

He laughed again, this time with a touch of bitterness.

"Mrs. Arundel is no more of a flirt than you."

"What do you mean?" She was trembling.

"Oh, the way you talked to me that morning, one might have imagined that you did not care about Lord Eastly. Why, you actually told me he was only—only a friend! You were trying to flirt with me, weren't you?" asked the boy confusedly.

"I meant what I said!" Rose was trembling visibly now. "It was after—after you refused to speak to me at the dance that I became engaged to him. I do not love him. My mother made me become engaged. It was you who were flirting."

"Your mother!" Cuthbert caught her roughly by the arm. "When did you become engaged to him?"

"After the dance."

"Then—why, your mother has fooled me!" cried the boy. "After that wonderful morning we spent together your mother told me not to bother you, that you were engaged to Lord Eastly. You and he were taking tea under the trees together at the time, and I believed her. She said that you had been engaged three times before."

"Oh—it's not the truth!" Rose spoke passionately. "I never was. And that afternoon I refused Lord Eastly, because—because—"

"Because what?"

"I did not care for him," she finished piteously. "Why—why did you act that way at the dance? I—I was waiting for you."

"You were dancing with Lord Eastly when I saw you. I wasn't going to run after you when your own mother just told me that you were fooling me."

They stood there silently. After a moment Cuthbert turned his head away sharply.

"Well—it is all too late now, I suppose," he said bitterly.

Rose began to sob.

"I—I don't care for Lord Eastly," she murmured. "I never even called him 'Cecil.' I couldn't."

"You let him kiss you!" cried Cuthbert fiercely.

"I never did. He—he promised I need not until I wanted to.

Cuthbert reached out and caught her almost roughly to his breast.

"It's a good thing he didn't," he cried. "I love you—I love you—I love you!"

Suddenly he let her go. Exquisite happiness had transformed her face.

"Are you going to marry me?" he whispered. This time it was Rose who held out her arms. With a tender, almost awed expression he kissed her.

"My dearest!"
 

 
 

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