Margaret Rebecca Piper.

Wild Wings A Romance of Youth online

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"A year! Tony, I can't wait a year for you. I want you now." Alan's tone
was sharp with dismay. He was not used to waiting for what he desired. He
had taken it on the instant, as a rule, and as a rule, his takings had
been dust and ashes as soon as they were in his hands.

"You cannot have me, Alan. You can never have me unless you earn the
right to win me - straight. Understand that once for all. I will not marry
a weakling. I will marry - a conquerer - perhaps."

"You mean that, Tony?"

"Absolutely."

"Then, by God, I'll be a conquerer!" he boasted.

"I hope you will. Oh, my dear, my dear! It will break my heart if you
fail. I love you." And suddenly Tony was clinging to him, just a woman
who cared, who wanted her lover, even as he wanted her. But in a
breath she pulled herself away. "Take me in, Alan, now," she said.
"Kiss me once before we go. I shall not see you in the morning. This
is really good-by."

Later, Carlotta, coming in to say goodnight to Tony, found the latter
sitting in front of the mirror brushing out her abundant red-brown hair
and noticed how very scarlet her friend's cheeks were and what a
tell-tale shining glory there was in her eyes.

"It was a lovely party," announced Tony casually, unaware how much
Carlotta had seen over her shoulder in the mirror.

"Tony, are you in love with Alan Massey?" demanded Carlotta.

Tony whirled around on the stool, her cheeks flying deeper crimson
banners at this unexpected challenge.

"I am afraid I am, Carlotta," she admitted. "It is rather a mess,
isn't it?"

Carlotta groaned and dropping into a chaise lounge encircled her knees
with her arms, staring with troubled eyes at her guest.

"A mess? I should say it was - worse than a mess - a catastrophe. You know
what Alan is - isn't - " She floundered off into silence.

"Oh, yes," said Tony, the more tranquil of the two. "I know what he is
and isn't, better than most people, I think. I ought to. But I love him.
I just discovered it to-night, or rather it is the first time I ever let
myself look straight at the fact. I think I have known it from the
beginning."

"But Tony! You won't marry him. You can't. Your people will never let
you. They oughtn't to let you."

Tony shook back her wavy mane of hair, sent it billowing over her
rose-colored satin kimono.

"It don't matter if the whole world won't let me. If I decide to marry
Alan I shall do it."

"Tony!"

There was shocked consternation in Carlotta's tone and Tony relenting
burst into a low, tremulous little laugh.

"Don't worry, Carlotta. I'm not so mad as I sound. I told Alan he would
have to wait a year. He has to prove to me he is - worth loving."

"But you are engaged?" Carlotta was relieved, but not satisfied.

Tony shook her head.

"Absolutely not. We are both free as air - technically. If you were in
love yourself you would know how much that amounts to by way of freedom."

Carlotta's golden head was bowed. She did not answer her friend's
implication that she could not be expected to comprehend the delicate,
invisible, omnipotent shackles of love.

"Don't tell anyone, Carlotta, please. It is our secret - Alan's and mine.
Maybe it will always he a secret unless he - measures up."

"You are not going to tell your uncle?"

"There is nothing to tell yet."

"And I suppose this is the end of poor Dick."

"Don't be silly, Carlotta. Dick never said a word of love to me in
his life."

"That doesn't mean he doesn't think 'em. You have convenient eyes, Tony
darling. You see only what you wish to see."

"I didn't want to see Alan's love. I tried dreadfully hard not to. But it
set up a fire in my own house and blazed and smoked until I had to do
something about it. See here, Carlotta. I'd like to ask you a question or
two. You are not really going to marry Herbert Lathrop, are you?"

A queer little shadow, almost like a veil, passed over Carlotta's face at
this counter charge.

"Why not?" she parried.

"You know why not. He is exactly what Hal Underwood calls him, a poor
fish. He is as close to being a nonentity as anything I ever saw."

"Precisely why I selected him," drawled Carlotta. "I've got to marry
somebody and poor Herbert hasn't a vice except his excess of virtue. We
can't have another old maid in the family. Aunt Lottie is a shining
example of what to avoid. I am not going to be 'Lottie the second' I have
decided on that."

"As if you could," protested Tony indignantly.

"Oh, I could. You look at Aunt Lottie's pictures of fifteen years ago.
She was just as pretty as I am. She had loads of lovers but somehow they
all slipped through her fingers. She has been sex-starved. She ought to
have married and had children. I don't want to be a hungry spinster. They
are infernally miserable."

"Carlotta!" Tony was a little shocked at her friend's bluntness, a
little puzzled as to what lay behind her arguments. "You don't have to
be a hungry spinster. There are other men besides Herbert that want to
marry you."

"Certainly. Some of them want to marry my money. Some of them want to
marry my body. I grant you Herbert is a poor fish in some ways, but at
least he wants to marry me, myself, which is more than the others do."

"That isn't true. Hal Underwood wants to marry you, yourself."

"Oh, Hal!" conceded Carlotta. "I forgot him for a moment. You are right.
He is real - too real. I should hurt him marrying him and not caring
enough. That is why a nonentity is preferable. It doesn't know what it
is missing. Hal would know."

"But there is no reason why you shouldn't wait until you find somebody
you could care for," persisted Tony.

"That is all you know about it, my dear. There is the best reason in the
world. I found him - and lost him."

"Carlotta - is it Phil?"

Carlotta sprang up and went over to the window. She took the rose she had
been wearing, in her hands and deliberately pulled it apart letting the
petals drift one by one out into the night. Then she turned back to Tony.

"Don't ask questions, Tony. I am not going to talk." But she lingered a
moment beside her friend. "You and I, Tony darling, don't seem to have
very much luck in love," she murmured. "I hope you will be happy with
Alan, if you do marry him. But happiness isn't exactly necessary. There
are other things - " She broke off and began again. "There are other
things in a man's life besides love. Somebody said that to me once and I
believe it is true. But there isn't so much besides that matters much to
a woman. I wish there were. I hate love." And pressing a rare kiss on her
friend's cheek Carlotta vanished for the night.

Meanwhile Alan Massey smoked and thought and cursed the past that had him
in its hateful toils. Like the guilty king in Hamlet, his soul,
"struggling to be free" was "but the more engaged." He honestly desired
to be worthy of Tony Holiday, to stand clear in her eyes, but he did not
want it badly enough, to the "teeth and forehead of his faults to give in
evidence." He did not want to bare the one worst plague spot of all and
run the risk not only of losing Tony himself but perhaps also of clearing
the way to her for his cousin, John Massey. Small wonder he smoked gall
and wormwood in his cigarettes that night.

And far away in the heat and grime and din of the great city, Dick Carson
the nameless, who was really John Massey and heir to a great fortune, sat
dreaming over a girl's picture, telling himself that Tony must care a
little to have gotten up in the silver gray of the morning to see him off
so kindly. Happily for the dreamer's peace of mind he had no means of
knowing that that very night, in the starlit garden by the sea, Tony
Holiday had taken upon herself the mad and sad and glad bondage of love.




CHAPTER XV

ON THE EDGE OF THE PRECIPICE


Tony, getting off the train at Dunbury on Saturday, found her brothers
waiting for her with the car, and the kiddies on the back seat, "for
ballast" as Ted said. With one quick apprizing glance the girl took in
the two young men.

Ted was brown and healthy looking, clear-eyed, steady-nerved, for once,
without the inevitable cigarette in his mouth. He was oddly improved
somehow, his sister thought, considering how short a time she had been
away from the Hill. She noticed also that he drove the car much less
recklessly than was his wont, took no chances on curves, slid by no
vehicles at hair-breadth space, speeded not at all, and though he kept
up a running fire of merry nonsense, had his eye on the road as he
drove. So far so good. That spill out on the Florence road wasn't all
loss, it seemed.

Larry was more baffling. He was always quiet. He was quieter than ever
to-day. There was something in his gray eyes which spelled trouble, Tony
thought. What was it? Was he worried about a case? Was Granny worse? Was
Ted in some scrape? Something there certainly was on his mind. Tony was
sure of that, though she could not conjecture what.

The Holidays had an almost uncanny way of understanding things about each
other, things which sometimes never rose to the surface at all. Perhaps
it was that they were so close together in sympathy that a kind of small
telepathic signal registered automatically when anything was wrong with
any of them. So far as her brothers were concerned Tony's intuition was
all but infallible.

She found the family gift a shade disconcerting, a little later, when
after her uncle kissed her he held her off at arm's length and studied
her face. Tony's eyes fell beneath his questioning gaze. For almost the
first time in her life she had a secret to keep from him if she could.

"What have they been doing to my little girl?" he asked. "They have taken
away her sunshininess."

"Oh, no, they haven't," denied Tony quickly. "It is just that I am tired.
We have been on the go all the time and kept scandalously late hours.
I'll be all right as soon as I have caught up. I feel as if I could sleep
for a century and any prince who has the effrontery to wake me up will
fare badly."

She laughed, but even in her own ears the laughter did not sound quite
natural and she was sure Uncle Phil thought the same, though he asked no
more questions.

"It is like living in a palace being at Crest House," she went on. "I've
played princess to my heart's content - been waited on and fêted and
flirted with until I'm tired to death of it all and want to be just plain
Tony again."

She slid into her uncle's arms with a weary little sigh. It was good - oh
so good - to have him again! She hadn't known she had missed him so until
she felt the comfort of his presence. In his arms Alan Massey and all he
stood for seemed very far away.

"Got letters for you this morning," announced Ted. "I forgot to give them
to you." He fished the aforesaid letters out of his pocket and examined
them before handing them over. "One is from Dick - the other" - he held the
large square envelope off and squinted at it teasingly. "Some scrawl!"
he commented. "Reckless display of ink and flourishes, I call it. Who's
the party?"

Tony snatched the letters, her face rosy.

"Give me Dick's. I haven't heard from him but once since he went back to
New York and that was just a card. Oh-h! Listen everybody. The Universal
has accepted his story and wants him to do a whole series of them. Oh,
isn't that just wonderful?"

Tony's old sparkles were back now. There were no reservations necessary
here. Everybody knew and loved Dick and would be glad as she was herself
in his success.

"Hail to Dicky Dumas!" she added, gaily waving the letter aloft. "I
always knew he would get there. And that was the very story he read me.
Wasn't it lucky I liked it really? If I hadn't, and it had turned out to
be good, wouldn't it have been awful?"

Everybody laughed at that and perhaps nobody but the doctor noticed that
the other letter in the unfamiliar handwriting was tucked away very
quickly out of sight in her bag and no comments made.

It was not until Tony had gone the rounds of the household and greeted
everyone from Granny down to Max that she read Alan's letter, as she sat
curled up in the cretonned window seat, just as the little girl Tony had
been wont to sit and devour love stories. This was a love story, too - her
own and with a sadly complicated plot at that.

It was the first letter she had had from Alan and she found it very
wonderful and exciting reading. It was brimming over, as might have been
expected, with passionate lover's protests and extravagant endearments
which Tony could not have imagined her Anglo-Saxon relatives or friends
even conceiving, let alone putting on paper. But Alan was different.
These things were no affectation with him, but natural as breathing, part
and parcel of his personality. She could hear him now say "_carissima_"
in that low, deep-cadenced, musical voice of his and the word seemed very
sweet and beautiful to her as it sang in her heart and she read it in the
dashing script upon the paper.

He was desolated without her, he wrote. Nothing was worth while. Nothing
interested him. He was refusing all invitations, went nowhere. He just
sat alone in the studio and dreamed about her or made sketches of her
from memory. She was everywhere, all about him. She filled the studio
with her voice, her laughter, her wonderful eyes. But oh, he was so
lonely, so unutterably lonely without her. Must he really wait a whole
year before he made her his? A year was twelve long, long months.
Anything could happen in a year. One of them might die and the other
would go frustrate and lonely forever, like a sad wind in the night.

Tony caught her breath quickly at that sentence. The poetry of it
captivated her fancy, the dread of what it conjured clutched like cold
hands at her heart. She wanted Alan now, wanted love now. Already those
dear folks downstairs were beginning to seem like ghosts, she and Alan
the only real people. What if he should die, what if something should
happen to keep them forever apart, how could she bear it? How could she?

She turned back to her letter which had turned into an impassioned plea
that she would never forsake him, no matter what happened, never drive
him over the precipice like the Gadderene swine.

"You and your love are the only thing that can save me, dear heart," he
wrote. "Remember that always. Without you I shall go down, down into
blacker pits than I ever sank before. With you I shall come out into the
light. I swear it. But oh, beloved, pray for me, if you know how to pray.
I don't. I never had a god."

There were tears in Tony's eyes as she finished her lover's letter.
His unwonted humility touched her as no arrogance could ever have
done. His appeal to his desperate need moved her profoundly as such
appeals will always move woman. It is an old tale and one oft
repeated. Man crying out at a woman's feet, "Save me! Save me! Myself
I cannot save!" Woman, believing, because she longs to believe it,
that salvation lies in her power, taking on herself the all but
impossible mission for love's high sake.

Tony Holiday believed, as all the million other women have believed since
time began, that she could save her lover, loved him tenfold the more
because he threw himself upon her mercy, came indeed perhaps to truly
love him for the first time now with a kind of consecrated fervor which
belonged all to the spirit even as the love that had come to her while
they danced had belonged rather to the flesh.

* * * * *

And day by day Jim Roberts grew sicker and the gnawing thing crept up
nearer to his heart. Day by day he gloated over the goading whips he
brandished over Alan Massey's head, amused himself with the various
developments it lay in his power to give to the situation as he passed
out of life.

He wrote two letters from his sick bed. The first one was addressed to
Dick Carson, telling the full story of his own and Alan Massey's share in
the deliberate defraudment of that young man of his rightful name and
estate. It pleased him to read and reread this letter and to reflect that
when it was mailed Alan Massey would drink the full cup of disgrace and
exposure while he who was infinitely guiltier would be sleeping very
quietly in a cool grave where hate, nor vengeance, nor even pity could
touch him.

The other letter, which like the first he kept unmailed, was a less
honest and less incriminating letter, filled with plausible half truths,
telling how he had just become aware at last through coming into
possession of some old letters of the identity of the boy he had once had
in his keeping and who had run away from him, an identity which he now
hastened to reveal in the interests of tardy justice. The letter made no
mention of Alan Massey nor of the unlovely bargain he had driven with
that young man as the price of silence and the bliss of ignorance. It was
addressed to the lawyers who handled the Massey estate.

Roberts had followed up various trails and discovered that Antoinette
Holiday was the girl Massey loved, discovered through the bribing of a
Crest House servant, that the young man they called Carson was also
presumably in love with the girl whose family had befriended him so
generously in his need. It was incredibly good he thought. He could
hardly have thought out a more diabolically clever plot if he had tried.
He could make Alan Massey writhe trebly, knowing these things.

Pursuing his malignant whim he wrote to Alan Massey and told him of the
existence of the two letters, as yet unmailed, in his table drawer. He
made it clear that one of the letters damned Alan Massey utterly while
the other only robbed him of his ill-gotten fortune, made it clear also
that he himself did not know which of the two would be mailed in the end,
possibly he would decide it by a flip of a coin. Massey could only wait
and see what happened.

"I suppose you think the girl is worth going to Hell for, even if the
money isn't," he had written. "Maybe she is. Some women are, perhaps. But
don't forget that if she loves you, you will be dragging her down there
too. Pretty thought, isn't it? I don't mean any future-life business
either. That's rot. I heard enough of that when I was a boy to sicken me
of it forever. It is the here and now Hell a man pays for his sins with,
and that is God's truth, Alan Massey."

And Alan, sitting in his luxurious studio reading the letter, crushed
it in his hands and groaned aloud. He needed no commentary on the "here
and now Hell" from Jim Roberts. He was living it those summer days if
ever a man did.

It wasn't the money now. Alan told himself he no longer cared for that,
hated it in fact. It was Tony now, all Tony, and the horrible fear lest
Roberts betray him and shut the gates of Paradise upon him forever.
Sometimes in his agony of fear he could almost have been glad to end it
all with one shot of the silver-mounted automatic he kept always near, to
beat Jim Roberts to the bliss of oblivion in the easiest way.

But Alan Massey had an incorrigible belief in his luck. Just as he had
hoped, until he had all but believed, that his cousin John was as dead as
he had told that very person he was, so now he hoped against all reason
that he would be saved at the eleventh hour, that Roberts would go to his
death carrying with him the secret that would destroy himself if it
ceased to be a secret.

Those unmailed letters haunted him, however, day and night, so much so,
in fact, that he took a journey to Boston one day and sought out the
little cigar store again. But this time he had not mounted the stairs.
His business was with the black-eyed boy. With one fifty dollar bill he
bought the lad's promise to destroy the letters and the packet in
Robert's drawer in the event of the latter's death; secured also the
promise that if at any time before his death Roberts gave orders that
either letter should be mailed, the boy would send the same not to the
address on the envelope but to Alan Massey. If the boy kept faith with
his pledges there would be another fifty coming to him after the death of
the man. He bought the lad even as Roberts had once bought himself. It
was a sickening transaction but it relieved his mind considerably and
catered in a measure to that incorrigible hope within him.

But he paid a price too. Fifty miles away from Boston was Tony Holiday on
her Heaven kissing hill. He was mad to go to her but dared not, lest this
fresh corruption in some way betray itself to her clear gaze.

So he went back to New York without seeing her and Tony never knew he had
been so near.

And that night Jim Roberts took an unexpected turn for the worse and
died, foiled of that last highly anticipated spice of malice in flipping
the coin that was to decide Alan Massey's fate.

In the end the boy had not had the courage to destroy the letters as he
had promised to do. Instead he sent them both, together with the packet
of evidence as to John Massey's identity, to Alan Massey.

The thing was in Alan's own hands at last. Nothing could save or destroy
him but himself. And by a paradox his salvation depended upon his being
strong enough to bring himself to ruin.




CHAPTER XVI

IN WHICH PHIL GETS HIS EYES OPENED


At home on her Hill Tony Holiday settled down more or less happily after
her eventful sally into the great world. To the careless observer she was
quite the same Tony who went down the Hill a few weeks earlier. If at
times she was unusually quiet, had spells of sitting very still with
folded hands and far away dreams in her eyes, if she crept away by
herself to read the long letters that came so often, from many addresses
but always in the same bold, beautiful script and to pen long answers to
these; if she read more poetry than was her wont and sang love songs with
a new, exquisite, but rather heart breaking timbre in her lovely
contralto voice, no one paid much attention to these signs except
possibly Doctor Philip who saw most things. He perceived regretfully that
his little girl was slipping away from him, passing through some
experience that was by no means all joy or contentment and which was
making her grow up all too fast. But he said nothing, quietly bided the
hour of confidence which he felt sure would come sooner or later.

Tony puzzled much over the complexities of life these days, puzzled over
other things beside her own perverse romance. Carlotta too was much on
her mind. She wished she could wave a magic wand and make things come
right for these two friends of hers who were evidently made for each
other as Hal had propounded. She wondered if Phil were as unhappy as
Carlotta was and meant to find out in her own time and way.

She had seen almost nothing of him since her return to the Hill. He was
working very hard in the store and never appeared at any of the little
dances and picnics and teas with which the Dunbury younger set passed
away the summer days and nights, and which Ted and the twins and usually
Tony herself frequented. Larry never did. He hated things of that sort.
But Phil was different. He had always liked fun and parties and had
always been on hand and in great demand hitherto at every social function
from a Ladies' Aid strawberry festival to a grand Masonic ball. It wasn't
natural for Phil to shut himself out of things like that. It was a bad
sign Tony thought.

At any rate she determined to find out for herself how the land lay if
she could. Having occasion to do some shopping she marched down the Hill
and presented herself at Stuart Lambert and Son's, demanding to be served
by no less a person than Philip himself.

"I want a pair of black satin pumps with very frivolous heels," she
announced. "Produce them this instant, slave." She smiled at Phil and he
smiled back. He and Tony had always been the best of chums.

"Cannzy ones?" he laughed. "That's what one of our customers calls them."

And while he knelt before her with an array of shoe boxes around him,
fitting a dainty slipper on Tony's pretty foot, Tony herself looked not
at the slipper but at Philip, studying his face shrewdly. He looked
older, graver. There was less laughter in his blue eyes, a grimmer line
about his young mouth. Poor Phil! Evidently Carlotta wasn't the only one
who was paying the price of too much loving. Tony made up her mind to
rush in, though she knew it might be a case for angel hesitation.

"I've never given you a message Hal Underwood sent you," she observed
irrelevantly.

Philip looked up surprised.

"Hal Underwood! What message did he send me? I hardly know him."

"He seemed to know you rather well. He told me to tell you to come down


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Online LibraryMargaret Rebecca PiperWild Wings A Romance of Youth → online text (page 11 of 28)