A Midsummer Madness
by Ellis Parker Butler
In the city the heat was unendurable. It lay in the streets like stagnant desert air, and the listless streams of humanity hugged the thin shade close beside the buildings.
At one of the stations a train had just arrived from the West, and as the passengers disembarked into the hot air of the city they recoiled and then straggled away listless and wilted. But from the sleeper "San Angelo" there descended, the moment the train stopped, two who did not linger listlessly. Even before the porter could place his little landing-stool for their feet, they had dropped deftly to the platform and hurried off.
The young man was tall and strong and he carried the two suit-cases easily, while the girl, slight and pretty, had nothing to do but follow him as he pushed through the station, dodging the passengers who had alighted from the forward cars.
"Come on," he said, turning his head; "the cabs are just ahead here."
"I'm right behind you," she replied; "go as fast as you like. We don't want any of them to catch up with us." She laughed as she said it, and her companion grinned in sympathy.
"They might kiss us," he laughed. "They look as if they wanted to."
They took the first cab they came to. The young man quite threw the suit-cases into it, and almost threw the girl in after them. He gave the cabby a hurried direction, jumped in, and the cab rattled away.
"Now," said the girl, with a sigh of relief, "I can breathe."
"It was rather -- rather strenuous, wasn't it?" he said. "They all knew it."
"Knew it!" said the girl. "Horrid things! They knew what we were the moment we got on the car. We might as well have worn labels. It would have saved them the fun of guessing." She laughed.
"Bully idea, Bee," he exclaimed. "Why not do it? Big placard with 'Yes, We Are Just Married. On Our Honeymoon.' Or I might have handbills printed and distribute them through the car. What?"
"It makes one feel so -- so conspicuous," she complained, smiling at him. "And you can't feel angry, because they are so lovely about it. They didn't intrude a bit.
They didn't even pretend they knew we were just married. What do you suppose made it all so horrid?"
"We knew we were guilty," he said, "and when they didn't look at us we knew they were looking away from us because they knew we didn't want them to look at us. So we knew --" He stopped. "My!" he exclaimed, "isn't it hot?" She rightly ignored the remark. "How do you imagine they knew we were not old married folks?" she asked. "We tried hard enough to be. The plan didn't work at all."
"I wonder if it was because we are too new at the business," he suggested. "We needed more dress-rehearsals. We should have rehearsed for eight or ten years first. I dare say that in time --"
"Oh, yes," she laughed, "by the time I'm gray! But it makes me quiver to think of getting a train again. I'll know that everyone that looks at us will know, and that everyone that doesn't look at us will be trying not to show that they know, and I'll be deadly certain that every face I can't see will be grinning. It would be less exasperating to own up at once and hold hands and get some of the fun of it ourselves."
"I'm willing," he replied. "Let's begin now."
"I believe you would," she said, crushingly. They were passing through the crowded street, and the cab made its way slowly. To Bob it was old, for he was a New Yorker born and bred, but to Beatrix it was less familiar. She watched the scene in silence a while, and then exclaimed, suddenly:
"I have it!"
"If it's another scheme to have us be an old married couple, don't have it," he chaffed. "It won't work."
"But this will work," she said, enthusiastically. "It's a splendid idea. We won't try to be an old married couple. We won't be married at all. We'll be friends."
"Now, I call that clever of you, Bee," he said. "I always did want to be your friend. How shall we begin? Kiss and make up?"
"No," she said, not heeding his attempt at frivolity. "We'll do it this way. It's too simple! I'll get on the train alone, and then you'll get on afterward, and you'll be surprised to see me, and you'll shake hands --"
"No, goose, with me. And ask if you may sit beside me. And people will never guess we are married. They'll think it's a flirtation."
"Great!" he exclaimed, "great! Little did I think when I married you that I had acquired one who combined the wiles of a serpent and the blue eyes of a cherubic innocent. It will be great sport, anyway. When do I leave you to begin the first act?"
"Now," she said, for she saw the ferry-house before them. "Take your suitcase and leave me my ticket, and don't come near me on the ferry. Don't get on the train until the last minute. We want everyone to see the first act, you know."
New York cabmen are pretty well hardened to queer actions on the part of their fares, but the particular cabman in question was much perplexed when his male passenger left the cab, and he was still more perplexed to see him following immediately in the rear. He shook his head sagely. "Elopin'," he said, and missed it a thousand miles, in spite of his wisdom.
Mrs. Beatrix Travers paused in the door of the car and glanced doubtfully at the many vacant seats. She was nearly the first on the car; only one person had preceded her, and that was an elderly lady who was settling herself comfortably in a seat in the middle of the car. Beatrix hesitated a moment and then walked forward and took a seat directly across the aisle from the elderly lady.
The elderly lady was deep in the task of fitting a Gladstone bag so that it would form a comfortable foot-rest, and when she glanced up she caught Beatrix' eye and smiled.
"Is there anyone with you?" she asked, kindly.
Beatrix did not dare to hesitate.
"No," she said, promptly. "You can see I am quite alone." Which she was -- at the moment.
"Then won't you sit with me?" asked the lady. "We can keep each other company."
Beatrix could not refuse. It would have been rude and it would have suggested that she was awaiting some one. She lifted her suit-case across the aisle, and took the proffered seat. The car was already filling.
"I'm a peculiar old woman," said the lady, with a pleasant smile. "I hate to be silent. It bores me. I'd rather talk and bore some one else. A woman of my age has a right to bore people."
Beatrix smiled. There was nothing of the bore in Mrs. Burton's appearance. She was brusque, perhaps, but her brusqueness was the tang of full vitality, and she was quite a social lion in her own set. If she had a fault, it was that she liked to arrange things for the best for all concerned, and in inviting Beatrix to share her seat she had quite as much interest in making the trip pleasant for her companion as for herself.
"I love girls," she said, and she did. She was a relentless match-maker, but that was only another manifestation of her desire to do the best for everyone. She prided herself that her matches had all turned out well. "I love them so much that I can't bear to keep them to myself. You wouldn't believe how many I have loved and lost," she said. "They all marry. So when I see a new one, like you, fresh and young and unmarried, I annex her."
Beatrix was thankful her wedding ring was hidden by her glove.
As the train began to move, Beatrix glanced out of the car window. She was a little nervous. Bob need not have waited quite so long.
"I like America," said Mrs. Burton. "I've just returned from Europe and I like America. I like our cars and our people. There are no girls like American girls. I was one once. Ages ago."
Beatrix was wild to turn her head and see if Robert was in the car, and yet she did not dare. She answered quite at random.
"Is it possible?" she said, sweetly.
"What!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton, but if her feelings had been touched she forgot it instantly.
"Well!" she exclaimed. "If there isn't that dear, sweet boy, Bob Travers!"
Bob held out his hand. He was grinning in the broadest style.
"Mrs. Burton!" he cried. "It does me good to see you."
She turned to Beatrix.
"Bob," she said, "let me --" But Bob had already leaned forward to take Bee's hand.
"Beatrix!" he exclaimed, joyfully. "You on this train! Who would have thought I should meet you and Mrs. Burton both here? This is luck. What?"
"Luck?" said Bee. "It's a coincidence, at least. How long is it since I saw you?"
Bob leaned against the arm of the seat.
"Let me see," he said. "Five, six --"
"Oh, surely not so long as that," said Beatrix, and they both laughed.
"Well," said Mrs. Burton, "as long as I can't introduce you two, you might introduce us, Bob."
Bob, glancing down, saw the telltale initials painted upon his wife's suit-case.
"Certainly," he said. "Mrs. Burton, Beatrix Travers. Both jolly good friends of mine."
"Cousins?" asked Mrs. Burton, suspiciously. As a conscientious matchmaker, she detested first cousins.
"No," said Bob, bravely, "not quite that. I don't believe, Bee, that your father is related to mine at all, is he?"
"No," said Beatrix, honestly, "no blood-relationship. Travers is rather a common name, isn't it? I'm a Chicagoan."
Mrs. Burton beamed upon her. She beamed upon Bob. The interest that Bob took in Beatrix was evident, and Mrs. Burton felt that only a few deft touches of her careful hand were necessary to bring these two delightful people together for life. She opened her purse and took from it her ticket. As her head bent over the purse, Bob caught Beatrix' eye and winked. There was good sport ahead. Outwitting even the kindest of match-makers is legitimate sport.
Mrs. Burton exhibited her ticket with evident intentions, and Beatrix aided her.
"Why!" she exclaimed, in mock surprise, "I am going there, too! Isn't it lovely?"
"Where is that?" asked Bob.
Mrs. Burton handed him her ticket.
"Me too!" he laughed.
"Really?" Beatrix asked. "How nice! I sha'n't be quite alone now, shall I?"
Mrs. Burton looked at her in surprise.
"Alone!" she said. "But of course it is all right. Young America does such things, doesn't it? Now, in my day --" She waved her hand to suggest that it was all very different. "Where are you to stop?" she asked.
Bob interposed quickly, and named the hotel they had decided upon.
Beatrix, it seemed, was going to the same hotel. Mrs. Burton shook her head.
"You couldn't do better," she said. "I have often stopped there; but I have a cottage, and I wish you would both stop with me. Oceans of room, you know." The fire of the match-maker gleamed in her eye.
"Couldn't possibly," said Bob, decidedly. "Awfully thankful, and so on, but I can't. Really, I have imperative reasons for stopping at the hotel. I'm going to meet some one there. In fact," he added, "we have taken a room together, and --"
"I sha'n't urge," said Mrs. Burton. "But you," she said, turning to Beatrix -- "you can't have that excuse. You said you were going to be alone."
Beatrix looked dismayed.
"Did I?" she gasped. She glanced at Bob for help. He nodded his head.
"Oh, yes," she laughed, uneasily. "Of course I did. I forget what I say sometimes. I'm such a talker that I can't remember all I say. I mean," she said, weakly, "I say things I can't remember." She laughed nervously.
Mrs. Burton looked at her severely.
"You need a chaperon," she said, decidedly.
"Oh, no," said Beatrix, quickly. "Why, I'm --" She paused and bit her lip.
"Nevertheless," said Mrs. Burton, "you are going to have one. You must come and stay with me at my cottage."
"Oh, I can't do that!" cried Beatrix. "Can I, Bob?" she appealed.
He grinned at her in the most tantalizing manner.
"Can't you?" he asked.
Mrs. Burton's heart glowed within her. Here was material ready for her hand. If she knew anything of young people, and she thought she did, these children had planned to meet each other. Here was a well-advanced flirtation that needed only the finishing touches. Beatrix smiled roguishly at her husband.
"Very well," she said, calmly, "I'll be delighted to intrude myself on you, Mrs. Burton."
"Oh, I say, Bee!" Bob exclaimed, "you can't do that, you know."
"Why not?" she demanded. "She asked me."
"But -- but your rooms," he said. "Haven't you engaged your rooms?"
"I engaged no rooms," she said. "You may have engaged a room, but because you did is no reason why I should, is it?"
Bob studied her face, but she avoided his eyes. Then he laughed, heartily and with relief. Who ever heard of a bride really deserting her husband simply to carry out a whim? It was all part of the joke. At the station they would have to tell Mrs. Burton, that was all. He sank into a vacant seat behind them.
"Of course," he said, "if you didn't engage a room, I have nothing more to say."
Beatrix turned quickly, and caught the twinkle in his eye. He was not angry.
When the train reached their station and the leaving passengers arose, Beatrix took advantage of the slight confusion to whisper to Bob.
"You tell her," she said.
"No, you tell her," he whispered back.
"All right," she replied; but she could not tell Mrs. Burton while they were moving down the aisle, and the moment they reached the platform, a footman took her suit-case, and at a motion from Mrs. Burton's hand placed it in the waiting trap.
"Oh," exclaimed Beatrix, "I didn't really mean to go with you!"
"But I mean you shall," said Mrs. Burton.
"But Bob and I --" stammered Beatrix.
"Then," said Mrs. Burton, "let Bob come too."
Bob went. There really seemed nothing else for him to do.
There was a minute when they stood in the hall alone. There always is such a minute, just after you arrive, when your hostess hurries away, and you are left standing together and you hurriedly whisper a brief confidence, as that there is a streak of black on your face, or that the hall is a perfect junk-shop, or that your hostess looks badly in that gown.
It was in that minute that Bob whispered, fiercely:
"Why didn't you tell her?"
"How could I?" Bee giggled. "She talked a blue streak. I had no chance."
"When are you going to tell her?"
"I'm not going to," she cooed, sweetly. "I'm going to let you tell her. You do such things so nicely."
"Not I!" he said. "Oh, no! This is your game, Bee. It is up to you to do the confess."
"I can't," she replied. "I'm ashamed to. I feel like a criminal, after she has been so kind and has taken us in."
"I guess that's even," he said. "We took her in, didn't we?"
They giggled together in joyful guilt.
"Sh!" exclaimed Beatrix. "She's coming. You tell her."
There was the preliminary rustle of skirts on the floor above, and Mrs. Burton descended the stairs, leading the way before a stately, broad-browed goddess. "Miss Travers, Miss Willingham; Miss Willingham, Mr. Travers," said Mrs. Burton.
"So pleased!" drawled Miss Willingham. Her accent was unmistakable; she was English, of the most strenuous, unjokable type. Her broad, clear brow spread like the marble pediment of a temple to Uncompromising Rectitude, and her gray eyes were meant to see facts. Levity they understood not.
"Miss Willingham is one of my girls," Mrs. Burton said to Beatrix. "You will like each other, I know."
"I'm sure we shall," murmured Beatrix, sweetly, but she was thinking, "Of course we can't tell Mrs. Burton just now."
"You didn't know I was trapping you for a house-party, did you?" laughed Mrs. Burton. "Where's that Schroeder boy?" she asked, turning to Miss Willingham.
Miss Willingham raised her brows ever so slightly. She implied that she did not know, did not care, and did not want to know or to care. It was implied that Miss Willingham and Mr. Schroeder did not mix well.
"I'll hunt him up," said Mrs. Burton, cheerfully. "Miss Travers, you will want to see your room. Jane will show you the way. Miss Willingham can entertain Bob a while. I'll find that boy in a minute."
Miss Willingham led Travers to a seat on the veranda, seated him on it and considered him. She was favorably impressed.
"It's red-hot in town," said Bob.
"Yes?" drawled Miss Willingham.
"Give you my word for it," Bob said. "I can bring witnesses to prove it."
Miss Willingham studied his face.
"That is a joke?" she half announced, half questioned.
"By George, so it is!" he replied. "But you shouldn't have told me. I'll be conceited now. I'm likely never to get over it. We Americans think we are all right if we can just make a joke now and then. Ever notice it?"
Miss Willingham actually smiled.
"Really!" she said.
"Fact," said. Travers. "It's one of the great American characteristics, like crowded street-cars and quick lunches."
Miss Willingham smiled again.
"I heard a joke the other day about your trams," she drawled, good-naturedly. "Awfully funny joke. I lawfed at it. Imagine! Something about feet, you know."
"Yes," said Bob, enthusiastically, "I can imagine. Must have been terribly funny. Some jokes are. I've noticed that."
"Really!" said Miss Willingham. She was quite delighted.
Mrs. Burton coming around the corner of the house, leading the reluctant Schroeder, who regularly shied at sight of Miss Willingham, almost stood still when she saw the pleasure shown by her English protegee. Of all her experiences she had found Miss Willingham the hardest to steer toward love, honor and obey. Miss Willingham repelled men as if she were the negative pole of an iceberg, and here she was actually smiling at a man in the first five minutes of acquaintance. Mrs. Burton made an instant decision. The opportunity was heaven-sent. Miss Willingham must have a chance to show Travers her good qualities. A girl like Beatrix Travers any man would love. The Schroeder boy, for example.
As Mrs. Burton and the Schroeder boy mounted the veranda steps, Beatrix, beaming and refreshed, emerged from the hall, and Mrs. Burton arrested her in her flight toward Bob.
"Oh, Miss Travers," she said, "I want Mr. Schroeder to meet you."
Beatrix paused and turned reluctantly. She did not want to meet Mr. Schroeder. She wanted to get to Bob, but she smiled graciously and extended her hand, which the Schroeder boy took and partially crushed. His hand was large and durable, as befitted a man of six feet two. He wore white flannels in a manner that made one feel surprised that such a great quantity of white flannel could be in existence at one time. When he dropped her hand, Beatrix turned toward Travers and Miss Willingham again.
Mrs. Burton was not to be so easily outwitted. She hurried up the steps and seized Beatrix by the arm.
"Come," she said, "you must see the view from the east veranda. It is wonderful. Mr. Schroeder!"
Mr. Schroeder followed gladly. Beatrix cast one despairing glance at Bob and vanished from his view.
"Let's go see what they are seeing," suggested Bob, almost coaxingly.
"No," said Miss Willingham, "we can see that later. I'm fatigued. Don't you fancy sitting here?"
"I love it," said Travers. "I just dote on it. I could sit here forever. I fancy it like everything. But I'm a sort of crank on views. I'd rather see a landscape than make a joke."
"Really!" drawled Miss Willingham.
"Yes," said Bob. "You don't know what a lover of landscapes I am. I'm a sort of collector of them. And I want to add that one to my collection."
"We can see it by and by quite as well," said Miss Willingham.
"Ah!" said Travers, "ah! that's just it. We can't see it as well by and by. This is just the right light to see it in. That landscape," he said, earnestly, "needs to be seen in just this light."
Miss Willingham shook her head. "It's far better a little later," she said.
"You may think so," said Bob, "but this light is my favorite light. I always prefer this light because --"
He never told why, for at that moment Mrs. Burton, Beatrix and the Schroeder boy came around the corner. Mrs. Burton had tried to keep Beatrix longer. She had expatiated on the view, and had pointed out everything that was to be seen and some things that were not, but Beatrix wanted to see the prospect from the other side.
"Really," said Miss Willingham to Bob, "if you must see it in this light, we had better go at once." She arose and went, and there was nothing for Travers to do but follow her. As he passed, Beatrix cast him a humorously imploring glance.
"Oh, I say, Bee!" he called, turning back.
Miss Willingham turned and stood, patiently waiting. Mrs. Burton and the Schroeder boy stood waiting also, while Beatrix and Bob met in the middle ground.
"Tell them!" whispered Beatrix. "Tell them!"
"Tell whom?" he asked. "I've only got this Englisher. You've got Mrs. Burton. You tell her."
"I can't," she wailed, "unless I can get rid of this Schroeder man, and I can't do that. I think he's going to make love to me."
"If he does --" Travers frowned. "She," he said, "is flirting with me full force already. You tell Mrs. Burton!"
"Ahem!" coughed Mrs. Burton. Beatrix and Bob started, guiltily.
"You!" commanded Beatrix, but Bob shook his head.
Miss Willingham showed Bob Travers the landscape. She dwelt upon it feelingly. He was greatly surprised to find so much feeling in her. She quite overflowed with it, and when he was insufferably full of landscape she insisted that they must walk to the edge of the lake and see it from there. As she led him around the cottage, Beatrix coughed meaningly. She was not pleased to see her newly acquired husband going for a stroll with anyone -- particularly a Miss Willingham.
"That chap Schroeder," said Bob, "he seems a nice fellow." He said it suggestively. He really wanted Miss Willingham to think so.
"Yes?" she said. Her tone implied a fathomless indifference.
"Oh, yes!" said Bob enthusiastically. "He looks like the right sort, sure enough. Nice manly fellow, don't you think?" He made a mental reservation. In fact, he considered Schroeder a cad, and worse. Flirting with his wife, if you please! "Such a big, wholesome, whole-souled chap -- what?" he asked.
"He is insufferable," said Miss Willingham.
"You don't know him," urged Bob, eagerly. "You ought to know him better to really appreciate him. Suppose we go back and -- talk with him?"
Miss Willingham's only answer was to lead him farther from Schroeder and Beatrix. As they passed out of sight of the cottage, and the path became rougher, Miss Willingham made a movement as if to take his arm. Bob shied. He selected a particularly round stone and stepped deliberately on it, and as it rolled he dropped to the ground and grasped his ankle. He screwed his face into a knot. He groaned with quite unnecessary vehemence.
"Ankle!" he muttered, tremblingly. "Sprained -- pain fearful -- back to cottage -- perhaps I can limp that far. Ouch!"
He did not really doubt his ability to limp that far, unless he should forget to limp.
Miss Willingham expressed her sorrow for his mishap and begged him to lean on her shoulder. He bravely refused. He groaned that he would try to hobble.
On the veranda Beatrix sat, with her left hand held stiffly upright before her face. The denseness of her two captors was soul-trying. The day before, every man, woman and child had noticed her wedding ring at the first glance, and now Mrs. Burton and the Schroeder boy absolutely refused to see it. She flaunted it in their faces, and they only smiled at her and said "Miss Travers."
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton, suddenly. "I must speak to my cook. Will you excuse me a moment?" She took the excuses for granted, and vanished.
Beatrix lost no time. She thought she saw a dangerous light in the eyes of the Schroeder boy.
"Miss Willingham is nice, isn't she?" she said, quickly.
"Awfully jolly sort," he returned, "when you know her. Regular skylarker."
Beatrix looked at him closely, but his face was almost a blank.
"I say," he added, "let's walk."
"Oh, no," she said; "let's sit here."
"Come on," he urged; "let's go look at the lake."
"Is that where Miss Willingham and Mr. Travers went?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied.
"I believe I should like to see the lake," she decided.
They descended the veranda steps, but he turned to the left. Bob had gone to the right.
"But this isn't the way they went," Beatrix suggested.
"Much nicer this path," he said.
They walked on in silence.
"Does this path lead to where they are?" she asked at length.
"No," he said, "not this path."
"It is very rough," said Beatrix. "I never saw such a rough path."
"I say," the Schroeder boy urged, "just take my arm."
In reply, Beatrix uttered a little scream and sank to the ground in an eddy of skirts.
"My foot!" she cried. "I've sprained my ankle! I must go back!"
She arose and limped. She did not limp very well, but the Schroeder boy was not a connoisseur of limps and he accepted it as a first-class quality.
"I'm horrid sorry," he said, in real distress. "You must take my arm now. You can't limp all that way, you know."
"Oh, yes, I can," she said, quickly. "I prefer to. It's -- it's good for me."
The Schroeder boy awkwardly barred her way. A wave of red spread over his face.
"You can take my arm, you know," he said, and blushed. "I don't -- I don't mean to flirt by it. I can see things, if I am a bit slow, and I saw first off that Mr. Travers was rather" -- he paused to consider the most delicate way to put it -- "that you two were chummy," he said, hastily, "and that I was pushing in. But I don't mind telling you that Miss Willingham and I are that way too. I'm awfully gone on her. We almost made it up between us, you know, while Mrs. Burton was in town, but somehow we got to quarreling, and I thought maybe if I left her alone a bit --" He paused, and wiped his face. "You see, she won't let me near her. If you could say a word to her, now --"
As they rounded the familiar corner of the cottage, they came face to face with Bob and Miss Willingham. Bob was limping conspicuously. So was Beatrix. In a moment each forgot everything but the other's pain and they sprang toward each other with the speed and wholeness of fit athletes.
"Dearest," cried Bob, "are you hurt? Are you injured? Are you in pain?"
Beatrix fell at his feet and clasped his ankles.
"Oh, what is the matter? What is the matter?" she wailed.
"Nothing, with me," he assured her.
"I'm all right," she declared.
And then they laughed. And then they caught the astonished glances of Miss Willingham and the Schroeder boy, and they blushed.
The four of them sat down on the lower step of the veranda and entered into explanations. The explanations began with the day Beatrix and Bob were married, and continued until they reached that very seat they then occupied.
"How American!" said Miss Willingham.
"Mighty clever, you know," said the Schroeder boy.
"Yes," said Bob, "but how are we to tell Mrs. Burton? It was sort of a mean trick on her, don't you think?"
"Jolly good trick, I call it," said the Schroeder boy. "She's such a dear old soul she won't mind. I'd just tell her offhand."
"But I hardly know her," pleaded Beatrix, "and I'm sure I've told piles of fibs. What will she ever think of me?"
"Say, it's jolly!" said the Schroeder boy. "She might be a little put out to think she was fooled into trying to couple up Mrs. Travers and me, and Mr. Travers and --" He looked doubtfully at Miss Willingham. She smiled in a friendly way.
"Pshaw!" said Bob; "after all, what is there to tell? We are married. We pretended we were not. I'll just go up to her and I'll say, 'Mrs. Burton --'"
"Yes?" asked Beatrix, eagerly.
"I'll say, 'Mrs. Burton -- '" Bob resumed, and then stopped.
"Go on," said Beatrix; "that's a good beginning."
"Well," Bob asked, turning to Beatrix, "what would you say after you had said 'Mrs. Burton'?"
"I'd say," said Beatrix, waving her hand gracefully, "'Mrs. Burton, I am married.' Bravely, like that."
"How would it do," asked Bob, "for you and me to go in together, and then I could say, 'Mrs. Burton, this is my wife'?"
"I say!" exclaimed the Schroeder boy,
"I have it! You know how I laugh. Or no, you don't. I haven't felt like laughing lately. But Miss Willingham knows, don't you, Grace?"
Miss Willingham did not rebuke the "Grace." She smiled.
"He lawfs chawmingly," she said.
"Like this," said the Schroeder boy, and he raised his head and laughed until the others laughed with him.
"Great, yes?" he asked. "Well, suppose I go in and find Mrs. B. and let off that laugh at her, and then choke it off and say: 'The greatest joke! Best thing I ever heard. Travers is married. Married to that girl that came with him.' And then I'll tell the whole story. She can't be angry then -- think so?"
"If you only would!" exclaimed Beatrix. "Tell her how we suffered before, and how I thought we would pretend not to be married, and never imagined we'd meet anyone we would know."
"If you'll do it," said Bob, "I'll be your best friend for life."
"She goes!" said the Schroeder boy. "Now I laugh."
He burst into his happy, ringing laugh, and the four arose and turned to ascend the steps. The laugh dwindled and shrunk into a squeak, and the others gasped. Mrs. Burton was standing at the head of the steps. She seemed greatly amused.
"I said I liked American girls," she declared. "Maybe I'm an old fossil. I'd have a right to be at my age. But I like American girls. Except for one thing. They marry themselves off and don't give us meddling old match-makers a chance."
The Schroeder boy blushed.
"Oh, I say," he protested. "The English girls aren't so slow, either."
Miss Willingham decided that he meant this as a compliment. She rewarded him with a smile. Then she, too, blushed.
Mrs. Burton found compensation in that blush. She turned to Bob and Beatrix, who were meekly awaiting sentence.
"You old married folks," she said, "had better go down to the lake and hold hands. You must be starved."
They went, gratefully. It was like a reunion after long years. As they passed out of view of the cottage, Beatrix threw her arms about his neck, and he kissed her.
But they had been married only two days, so it was excusable.