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   Chapter 32 AN END—AND A BEGINNING

The Port of Adventure By A. M. Williamson Characters: 18165

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


"Come to me if you can. I can give you no hope of happiness, but there is something I should like to explain," Angela said in her letter.

She expected an answer, though she asked for none; but no word came on the morning when she had thought that she might hear. Other people had their letters and were reading them on the veranda, but there was nothing for her. She sat there for a while, cold with disappointment, listening to the tearing open of envelopes and the pleasant crackle of thick letter-paper. Then, when Timmy, the black cat, suddenly leapt off her lap, as if in a mad rush after something he fondly hoped was a mouse, Angela was glad of an excuse to follow. But Timmy, who was of an independent character, evidently believed that he was in for a good thing. He darted across the grass, and with a whisk of eager tail disappeared behind a clump of trees.

"A dragon-fly!" Angela said to herself. For Timmy could not resist the fascination of dragon-flies-a bright and beautiful kind that spent the summer at Lake Tahoe. She followed round the clump of trees, and there was Nick Hilliard coming toward her with Timmy in his arms.

"Oh!" she cried, "I-I thought--"

"I was afraid you'd think it was too early," said Nick as quietly as possible, though his voice shook. "I got in on the train; and after my bath I was taking a walk around, till a decent time to call. Then Timmy came running to welcome me--"

"I believe he must really have seen you!" cried Angela, grateful to Timmy, who was saving them both the first awkwardness of the situation. "He is the most extraordinary cat-quite a super-cat. And you remember, he used always to know what time you were coming to call when we were in San Francisco."

Owing to Timmy, they were spared a meeting on the veranda, and Angela did not offer to take her visitor into the house yet.

There were some quiet places in the garden in the deep shadow of trees, where she could say what she had to say better than between four walls. They strolled on, Nick holding Timmy, who purred loudly, as if glad to welcome the giver of his jade collar.

"I got your letter just in time to catch the train for San Francisco, and then to get on here," Hilliard explained. "Of course, you knew I'd come at once."

"No-I wasn't sure. I thought-I might hear from you this morning-a telegram or letter," Angela stammered. "But-I'm glad, very glad. It was good of you to come, and so soon."

"Good!"

"I wanted so much to talk to you. I've been wanting it for a long time. Ever since-we parted. But it was only the other night I made up my mind that I had any right to send for you."

"What did I say to you that last day about coming from the end of the world? It's only a step from Lucky Star here."

"I know what you said. There isn't one word I've forgotten. Shall we sit under that arbour? It's my favourite seat, and no one ever disturbs me."

They sat down on a rustic bench curtained with trails of Virginia creeper, red as the blood of the dying summer. Nick kept Timmy on his knee, stroking the glossy back. His hand looked very strong and brown, and Angela longed to snatch it up and lay it against her cheek. How she loved him! How much more even than she had known when she couldn't see his face, his eyes and the light there was in his eyes for her! It had not changed, that wonderful light, though his face was sadder, and, she thought, thinner.

"Are you glad to see me again-Nick?" she could not resist asking.

He smiled at her wistfully. "Just about as glad as a man would be to see God's sunlight if he'd been in prison, or starving in a mine that had fallen in on him. Only perhaps a little gladder than that."

She answered him with a look; and then, as involuntarily she put out her hand to stroke Timmy, their fingers met. He caught hers, held them for an instant, and let them go.

"Nick, that day when you saved my life and told me you loved me, did I make you realize that I loved you, too?" she asked.

"No. I couldn't think you meant that. I thought you tried to save my feelings by saying you cared; that you were sorry for me, and--"

"I was sorry for myself, because, you see, you'd begun to be the one person in the whole world who mattered. Oh, wait; don't speak yet! I had to make you understand that we couldn't be anything to each other, and it was so hard for me, that often I've wondered if, inadvertently, I said things to hurt you more than you need have been hurt. Tell me, truly and frankly, what did you believe I meant by that word I used-'impossible'?"

He hesitated, then answered slowly: "I felt that I ought to have known, without your telling me, I wasn't the sort of man for you."

"You did think that! Oh, Nick, then I'm glad I sent for you-I can't help being glad. If you loved me, and I were free, nothing in the world could come between us, and I should be the happiest creature on earth."

"If you were free?" His hand lay heavily on Timmy's back, and the cat resented it by jumping down. But both had forgotten Timmy's existence and their late gratitude to him.

"If I were free. You thought I was-you saw me in mourning. I never meant to make you, or any one, believe a lie. All I thought of at first was getting away from the old life. But, oh, Nick, though I'm not a widow, I was never any man's wife except in name. I'm Franklin Merriam's daughter-you must have heard of him. And when I was seventeen I married Prince Paolo di Sereno. That very day I found out there was-some one who had more right to him that I had. She came, and threatened to kill herself. You see, it was not me, it was money he cared for. But he hated me for saying I would be his wife only in the eyes of the world. That made him so angry, that he has spent his life since in taking revenge. When my mother died, nearly a year ago, I made up my mind to leave him altogether, and I did as soon as I could. I gave him more than half the money, so he didn't care, for he'd grown quite indifferent; and I took the name of 'May.' It is one of my names really. I was so glad to be some one else and come to a new country to begin a new life! It never entered my head that I could fall in love with any one-that there might be complications in my plan. It seemed so simple. All I wanted was peace and a quiet life, with a few kind people round me. Then-you came. At first I didn't realize what was happening to me-for it had never happened before. But soon I might have seen if I hadn't closed my eyes and drifted. I was happy. I didn't want you to go out of my life. Then came the Yosemite, with you, and-I couldn't close my eyes any more. I saw my own heart. I thought-I saw yours. Now you understand, Nick, why I told you it was impossible for you and me to be anything more to each other than friends. It was you who said we couldn't be friends. And you know-I want you to know-that it's as hard for me as it can be for you, because I love you."

She had hurried on to get it all over, not daring to look at him until just at the end. When he did not speak she had to look at last, and see his bowed head-the dear black head that she loved.

"Oh!" she murmured. "I ought never to have gone with you to the Yosemite. If I hadn't, you would have forgotten me by this time-perhaps."

"No," said Nick. "I'd not have forgotten you. Not if I'd never seen you again after that first day in New York. You see, you were my ideal. Every man has one, I guess. And I just recognized you, the first minute, in the hall of the hotel. I didn't expect to know you-and yet, somehow, it was as if I couldn't let you go-even then. Have I got to let you go, now, after what you've told me? You're not the wife of that man-that prince, except in law. You don't love him, and you do love me-you say you do. Why, that makes you already more mine than his."

"Heart and spirit, I'm all yours," Angela said. "Oh, Nick, I don't love you, I worship you, you-man! I never thought there were men like you. I don't believe there are any more. Paolo di Sereno is-a mere husk."

"Divorce him," Nick implored. "You've got cause."

"He's Italian," she answered. "So am I, as his wife, in the eyes of the law. He and his people don't recognize divorce, even if I--"

"But here--" Nick began, then stopped, and shut his lips together. No, he would not propose that. Angela guessed what he had wanted to say, and loved him better for not saying it.

"I used to think," she went on hastily, "that I knew the worst of being married to a man without love. But now I see I didn't know half. A woman can't know till she loves another man. Oh, Nick, I can't get on without you-not quite without you. I've been trying-and every day it grows harder instead of easier. Nothing matters-but you. I'm not Paolo di Sereno's real wife, and he hates me. So it's not wrong to love you, Nick, or for you to love me. Only, we-we--"

"You don't have to get on without me," said Nick. "My angel one, you needn't be frightened. Wait till I tell you. I'll go away-this minute if you tell me to. I'll do

whatever you say, because what you say will be right for you, and that's the important thing. What I mean is-I'm always there. My love can't change, except to grow bigger and brighter-and make me more of a man-so you won't have to worry about hurting me. Once I told you we couldn't be friends, but now I know you better, and what you've got in your heart for me-and what stands between us-I take that back. A friend can worship his friend. I worship you. I will be your friend, angel, in the biggest sense of the word."

"Oh, thank you, Nick," she cried. "Thank you a thousand times. Now I can live again-just thinking-as you say-that you're there. The world can't be blank. But you must go. I-I don't think I could bear this long, and keep true-to myself-and--"

It was the same with Nick. He had felt that he could not bear this long and be true either to himself or to her. Yet he would have stayed if she had bidden him stay, and fought for his manhood against odds. "Am I to go-now?" he asked.

"Yes-oh, please, yes!" she begged him, holding out her hands. "I am keyed up to bear it now. It might be different later. But-let us write to each other, Nick. I'll write little things every day-that I think and feel. Then, if they're worthy, I'll send them to you-once a month or so. Will you do the same?"

"Yes."

"And you'll take care of yourself-for me-won't you?"

He could not answer in words. He crushed her hands against his lips, and then, turning from her abruptly, walked away, without looking back.

* * *

It grew cold at Lake Tahoe. When weeks had passed, there was no excuse to stay: the plans of the architect were finished, and the new house begun. Angela went to Del Monte, and motored nearly every day to the forest on the peninsula to see how her home grew. She had not the old interest in thinking of it, but she was no longer unhappy, for she had not lost Nick Hilliard out of her life. She could almost feel the thrill of his thoughts. And at Del Monte she was much nearer Lucky Star City than she had been at Tahoe.

Sometimes she wondered if it would be very wrong and unwise to have him come to look at the house when it was finished. If, afterward, she could have the memory of him in the rooms, walking through them with her-just that, no more; and then going away-it would make all the difference between a live home and a dead house, or a house that never had really "come alive." But generally, when she had dreamed this dream, she said to herself, "Better not," or "It would never do."

One morning in October, just six months to the day after her coming to California, she read in a San Francisco paper-a mere tucked-away paragraph to fill up a corner-that the Italian amateur aeronaut, Prince di Sereno, had arranged a sensational flight from Naples to Algiers in his new aeroplane, an improvement on a celebrated older make. The machine had just been named the Vittoria in honour of the brave and beautiful lady whom he called his "mascot," and who had made so many daring journeys through the air with him. The projected dash would be the most ambitious so far attempted, and it was exciting considerable interest. It was said that Prince di Sereno, in gratitude to his "mascot" had lately made a will in her favour, leaving all his personal property to her. In event of death, his great estates would go to a nephew, as he was without a direct heir.

Angela wondered how much of her money was left for him to bequeath to the celebrated Vittoria di Cancellini. She did not grudge it either to the Prince or his mascot. She took no interest in the great flight from Naples to Algiers, but she felt certain that Paolo would succeed in accomplishing it. He had always succeeded in everything he had ever wanted to do, except perhaps in winning her love. But then he had not really wanted that.

The day came for the flight, but she had forgotten it. She went in the morning to the new house, picnicked there, and returned to Del Monte only at dusk. She was thinking on the way back of several things she would put in the diary she kept for Nick, sending it off to him in a fat envelope the first of each month. One bit of news she wanted to tell him was that his favourite flowers-pansies-were to be planted in a great bed under the windows of her own room. "Then, whenever I look out, I shall think of you. Not that I shouldn't do that anyway." She wondered if she had better add that last sentence, or if it would be better to leave it out.

"There's a telegram for you, Mrs. May; just this minute come," said the hotel clerk.

Angela took it, her heart beating fast, for whenever a telegram arrived-which happened seldom-she always wondered if it would tell her that, for some good reason or other, Nick was coming. But he never had come, and had never telegraphed.

She opened the envelope, and glanced first at the signature: "James Morehouse." Why should he have wired? Then she read:

"In flight to-day aeroplane fell into Sea off Sardinia. Aeronaut

killed. Companion injured. Forgive abruptness. Wished get ahead of

newspapers."

For a moment she felt absolutely unconcerned, as if reading of the death of some stranger aeronaut, of Japan or South America. Then:

"I hope you've not got bad news, Mrs. May?" a concerned voice was saying. She was vaguely conscious that the hotel clerk who had given her the telegram was hovering distressfully before her. She had been standing up when she began to read the message. Now she was sitting down. But her voice sounded quite calm and natural in her own ears as she answered, "No, thank you very much. A surprise-that is all. A great surprise."

"You are all right?"

"Oh, quite-quite!"

"Nothing I can do for you?"

"Nothing, thanks. I will go up to my room."

* * *

Her first thought, when she could think connectedly, was to send her unfinished letter to Nick, with a few hastily scribbled words at the end-not about the pansies. And perhaps to enclose the telegram.

But she did neither. Two days passed before she sent the long diary letter, and when she did send it, nothing more had been written. She waited. She did not know what would happen. She did not even read the newspapers, though she knew there must be paragraphs, not tucked into corners, for this was, in a way, world's news. There had been "considerable interest."

On the third day she was given another telegram. This time the name at the bottom was the only name that could make her heart beat:

"I have seen what has happened. When will you let me come?"

He did not say "Will you let me come?" but "When." She thought if she did not answer soon he would come all the same. It seemed wonderful, unbelievable, that now there was no wrong, no cruelty, no terrible unwisdom in having him near her. But there was none. Even she could see none. So she telegraphed, not the immediate summons he hoped for and she was tempted to send him, but the message of her second thought. "Come; not yet, but on the day I have a home of my own to welcome you in. Till then, let me be alone with my thoughts of you."

* * *

The architect thought Mrs. May's impatience to get into her new house, and to have even the garden finished, a charming whim. As she seemed not to care how much money was spent, relays of men, many men, were put on to work night as well as day. Angela chose furniture in San Francisco, all made of beautiful California woods. "We shall have two homes," she thought. It was heavenly to say "we" again.

"You can have Christmas dinner at your own place," said the architect.

"Oh, but I want Christmas Eve there!" Angela exclaimed. "Of all things, I want Christmas Eve!"

"Very well, I promise you Christmas Eve," the architect answered, almost as if she were a child.

But she was not a child. She was a woman loving and longing. Always she had wanted to have a happy Christmas Eve, and she had never had one since Franklin Merriam died.

At last she wrote: "I am going to have a house-warming at Christmas-time: only five guests, and you, Nick, are the principal one. The others, are Mrs. Harland, Mr. Falconer and his bride, and little Miss Wilkins, your school-teacher at Lucky Star. Some day I'll tell you how we renewed our acquaintance."

Nick did not care to know. He wanted to be the only guest: yet somehow he felt that she did not mean to disappoint him. She meant him to be happy that day-the day of Christmas Eve, when she asked him to come to her-at last. But how could she contrive, with other guests, not to let it be a disappointment?

She contrived it by letting him arrive first at the beautiful new house, which was as like as possible, in miniature, to the Mission Inn where they had once "made-believe." They did not speak when they met. Their hearts were too full. There was no question, "Will you marry me?" No answer, "Yes, I am free to love you now." But when the others came, Angela said:

"Congratulate me. I am engaged to the best and dearest man on earth, and I-am the happiest woman."

* * *

THE END

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