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- The Fashionable Adventures of Joshua Craig - 30/47 -
got myself into a frightful mess. I want you to help me out of it."
Grant's eyes shifted. He put on his white silk pajamas, thrust his feet into slippers, tossed the silk-lined linen robe about his broad, too square shoulders, and led the way into the other room. Then he said: "Do you mean Margaret Severence?"
"That's it!" exclaimed Craig, pacing the floor. "I've gone and got myself engaged--"
"One minute," interrupted Arkwright in a voice so strange that Joshua paused and stared at him. "I can't talk to you about that."
"For many reasons. The chief one--Fact is, Josh, I've acted like a howling skunk about you with her. I ran you down to her; tried to get her myself."
Craig waved his hand impatiently. "You didn't succeed, did you? And you're ashamed of it, aren't you? Well, if I wasted time going round apologizing for all the things I'd done that I'm ashamed of I'd have no time left to do decently. So that's out of the way. Now, help me."
"What a generous fellow you are!"
"Generous? Stuff! I need you. We're going to stay friends. You can do what you damn please--I'll like you just the same. I may swat you if you get in my way; but as soon as you were out of it--and that'd be mighty soon and sudden, Grant, old boy--why, I'd be friends again. Come, tell me how I'm to get clear of this engagement."
"I can't talk about it to you."
"Because I love her."
Craig gasped: "Do you mean that?"
"I love her--as much as I'm capable of loving anybody. Didn't I tell you so?"
"I believe you did say something of the kind," admitted Craig. "But I was so full of my own affairs that I didn't pay much attention to it. Why don't you jump in and marry her?"
"She happens to prefer you."
"Yes, she does," said Craig with a complacence that roiled Arkwright. "I don't know what the poor girl sees in me, but she's just crazy about me."
"Don't be an ass, Josh!" cried Grant in a jealous fury.
Craig laughed pleasantly. "I'm stating simple facts." Then, with abrupt change to earnestness, "Do you suppose, if I were to break the engagement, she'd take it seriously to heart?"
"I fancy she could live through it if you could. She probably cares no more than you do."
"There's the worst of it. I want her, Grant. When I'm with her I can't tolerate the idea of giving her up. But how in the mischief can I marry HER? I'm too strong a dose for a frail, delicate little thing like her."
"She's as tall as you are. I've seen her play athletes to a standstill at tennis."
"But she's so refined, so--"
"Oh, fudge!" muttered Arkwright. Then louder: "Didn't I tell you not to talk to me about this business?"
"But I've got to do it," protested Craig. "You're the only one I can talk to--without being a cad."
Arkwright looked disgusted. "You love the girl," he said bitterly, "and she wants you. Marry her."
"But I haven't got the money."
Craig was out with the truth at last. "What would we live on? My salary is only seventy-five hundred dollars. If I get the Attorney-Generalship it'll be only eight thousand, and I've not got twenty thousand dollars besides. As long as I'm in politics I can't do anything at the law. All the clients that pay well are clients I'd not dare have anything to do with--I may have to prosecute them. Grant, I used to think Government salaries were too big, and I used to rave against office-holders fattening on the people. I was crazy. How's a man to marry a LADY and live like a GENTLEMAN on seven or eight thousand a year? It can't be done."
"And you used to rave against living like a gentleman," thrust Grant maliciously.
Craig reddened. "There it is!" he fairly shouted. "I'm going to the devil. I'm sacrificing all my principles. That's what this mixing with swell people and trying to marry a fashionable lady is doing for me!"
"You're broadening out, you mean. You're losing your taste for tommy-rot."
"Not at all," said Craig surlily and stubbornly. "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to see the girl to-day and put the whole case before her. And I want you to back me up."
"I'll do nothing of the sort," cried Grant. "How can you ask such a thing of ME?"
"Yes, you must go with me to-day."
"I've got an engagement--garden-party at the British Embassy."
"Going there, are you? ... Um! ... Well, we'll see."
The breakfast came and Craig ate like a ditch-digger--his own breakfast and most of Grant's. Grant barely touched the food, lit a cigarette, sat regarding the full-mouthed Westerner gloomily. "What DID Margaret see in this man?" thought Grant. "True, she doesn't know him as well as I do; but she knows him well enough. Talk about women being refined! Why, they've got ostrich stomachs."
"Do you know, Grant," said Craig thickly, so stuffed was his mouth, "I think your refined women like men of my sort. I know I can't bear anything but refined women. Now, you--you've got an ostrich stomach. I've seen you quite pleased with women I'd not lay my finger on. Yet most people'd say you were more sensitive than I. Instead, you're much coarser--except about piffling, piddling, paltry non-essentials. You strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if Margaret had penetrated the fact that your coarseness is in-bred while mine is near surface. Women have a surprising way of getting at the bottom of things. I'm a good deal like a woman in that respect myself."
Grant thrust a cigar upon him, got him out of the room and on the way out of the house as quickly as possible. "Insufferable egotist!" he mumbled, by way of a parting kick. "Why do I like him? Damned if I believe I do!"
He did not dress until late that afternoon, but lay in his rooms, very low and miserable. When he issued forth it was to the garden- party--and immediately he ran into Margaret and Craig, apparently lying in wait for him. "Here he is!" exclaimed Josh, slapping him enthusiastically on the back. "Grant, Margaret wants to talk with you. I must run along." And before either could speak he had darted away, plowing his way rudely through the crowd.
Margaret and Grant watched his progress--she smiling, he surly and sneering. "Yet you like him," said Margaret.
"In a way, yes," conceded Arkwright. "He has a certain sort of magnetism." He pulled himself up short. "This morning," said he, "I apologized to him for my treachery; and here I am at it again."
"I don't mind," said Margaret. "It's quite harmless."
"That's it!" exclaimed Grant in gloomy triumph. "You can't care for me because you think me harmless."
"Well, aren't you?"
"Yes," he admitted, "I couldn't give anybody--at least, not a blase Washington society girl--anything approaching a sensation. I understand the mystery at last."
"Do you?" said Margaret, with a queer expression in her eyes. "I wish I did."
Grant reflected upon this, could make nothing of it. "I don't believe you're really in love with him," he finally said.
"Was that what you told him you wished to talk to me about?"
"I didn't tell him I wanted to talk with you," protested Grant. "He asked me to try to persuade you not to marry him."
"To explain how coarse he is."
"How coarse is he?"
"To dilate on the folly of your marrying a poor man with no money prospects."
"I'm content with his prospects--and with mine through him."
"Seven or eight thousand a year? Your dresses cost much more than that."
"You must be in love with him!"
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