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THE VISION SPLENDID (chapter22,part2)

2006-08-28 23:39

    PART 2

    Though Valencia Van Tyle had not made up her mind to get married, James hit the mark when he guessed that she was interesting herself in the accessories that would go with such an event. The position she took in the matter was characteristic. She had gone the length of taking expert counsel with her New York modiste concerning gowns for the occasion, without having at all decided that she would exchange her present independence for another venture into stormy matrimonial seas.

    "Perhaps I shatn't have to make up my mind at all," she found amusement in chuckling to herself. "What a saving of trouble it would be

    if he would abduct me in his car. I could always blame him then if it did not turn out well." Something of this she expressed to James the evening of the day of the accident, watching him through half-shuttered eyes to see how he would take her first concession that she was considering him.

    He took without external disturbance her gay, embarrassed suggestion, the manner of which might mean either shyness or the highest expression of her art.

    "I'd kidnap you fast enough except that I don't want to rob you of the fun of getting ready. How long will it take you? Would my birthday be too soon? It's on the fourth of June."

    "Too soon for what?" she asked innocently.

    "For my birthday present——Valencia Powers."

    She liked it that he used her maiden surname instead of her married one. It seemed to imply that he loved her in the swift, ardent way of youth.

    "Are you sure you want it?"

    The lawyer appreciated her soft, warm allurement, the appeal of sex with which she was so prodigally endowed. His breath came a little faster.

    "He won't be happy till he gets it."

    Her faint laughter rippled out. "That's just the point, my friend. Will he be happy then? And, which is more important to her, will she?"

    "That's what I'm here to see. I'm going to make you happy."

    She laced her fingers behind her tawny head, not quite unaware perhaps that the attitude set off the perfect modeling of her soft, supple body.

    "I don't doubt your good intentions, but it takes more than that to make marriage happy when the contracting parties are not Heaven-sent."

    "But we are——we are."

    Valencia shook her head. "Oh, no! There will be no rapturous song of birds for us, none of that fine wantonness that doesn't stop to count the cost. If we marry no doubt we'll have good reasons, but not the very best one——that we can't help it."

    He would not consent to that. "You're not speaking for me. The birds sing, Valencia."

    "Canaries in a cage," she mocked.

    "You've forgotten two things."

    "Yes?"

    "That you are the most beautiful woman on earth, and that I'm a man, with red blood in my veins."

    Under lowered lids she studied him. This very confident, alert American, modern from head to heel, attracted her more than any other man. There was a dynamic quality in him that stirred her blood. He was efficient, selfish enough to win, and yet considerate in the small things that go to make up the sum of existence. Why not then? She must marry some time and she was as nearly in love as she would ever be.

    "What ARE your reasons for wanting me?"

    "We smoke the same Egyptians," he mocked.

    "That's a good reason, so far as it goes."

    "And you're such a charming puzzle that I would like to domesticate it and study the eternal mystery at my leisure."

    "Then it's as a diversion that you want me."

    "A thing of beauty and a joy forever, the poet puts it. But diversion if you like. What greater test of charming versatility for a woman than that she remain a diversion to her husband, unstaled by custom and undulled by familiarity?"

    After all her father would be pleased to have her marry an American business man. The Powers' millions could easily buy for her a fine old dukedom if she wanted one. At present there was more than one available title-holder on her horizon. But Valencia did not care to take up the responsibilities that go with such a position. She was too indolent to adapt her life to the standards of others——and perhaps too proud. Moreover, it happened that she had had enough of the club man type in the late lamented Van Tyle. This man was a worker. He would not annoy her or interfere with her careless pleasures. Again she asked herself, Why not?

    "I suppose you really do like me." Her face was tilted in gay little appeal.

    "I'm not going to tell you how much. It wouldn't be good for discipline in the house."

    Her soft little laugh bubbled over. "We seem to have quite settled it.

    And I hadn't the slightest notion of agreeing to anything so ridiculous when I ventured that indiscreet remark about an abduction." She looked up at him with smiling insolence. "You're only an adventurer, you know. I daresay you haven't even paid for the car in which you were going to kidnap me."

    "No," he admitted cheerfully.

    "I wonder what Dad will think of it,"

    "He'll thank Heaven you didn't present him with a French or Italian count to support."

    "I believe he will. His objection to Gus was that he looked like a foreigner and never had done a day's work in his life. Poor Gus! He didn't measure up to Dad's idea of a man. Now I suppose you could earn a living for us."

    "I'm not expecting you to take in sewing."

    "Are you going to do the independent if Dad cuts up rough?" she asked saucily.

    "Independent is the word." He smiled with a sudden appreciation of the situation. "And I take it he means to cut up rough. I wired him to-day I was going to ask you to marry me."

    "You didn't."

    "Yes."

    "But wasn't that a little premature? Perhaps it wouldn't have been necessary. Or did you take me for granted"

    "There was always the car for a kidnapping in case of necessity," he joked.

    "Why did you do it?"

    "I wanted to be above board about it even if I am an adventurer."

    "What did he say? How could you put it in a telegram?"

    "Red consoles marooned sweet post delayed."

    "Dear me! What gibberish is that?"

    "It's from our private code. It means, 'Going to marry your daughter if she is willing. With your consent, I hope.'"

    "And he answered? I'll take the English version, please."

    "'Consent refused. No fortune hunters need apply.' That is not a direct

    quotation, but it conveys his meaning accurately enough."

    "So I'm to be cut off with a shilling." Her eyes bubbled with delight.

    "I reckon so. Of course I had to come back at him."

    "How, may I ask?" She was vastly amused at this novel correspondence.

    "Oh, I merely said in substance that I was glad to hear it because you couldn't think now I wanted to marry you for your money. I added that if things came my way we would send him cards later. One doesn't like to slang one's wife's father, so I drew it mild."

    "I don't believe a word of it. You wouldn't dare."

    That she admired and at the same time distrusted was so apparent that he drew a yellow envelope from his pocket and handed it to her.

    "This is his latest contribution to the literature of frankness. You see his feelings overflowed so promptly he had to turn loose in good American talk right off the bat. Couldn't wait for the code."

    She read aloud. "Your resignation as General Counsel Transcontinental will be accepted immediately. Turn over papers to Walker and go to the devil." It was signed "Powers."

    "That's all, is it? No further exchange of compliments," she wanted to know.

    "That's all, except that he is reading my resignation by this time. I sent it two hours ago. In it I tried to convey to him my sense of regret at being obliged to sever business relations owing to the fact that I was about to contract family ties with him. I hoped that he would command me in any way he saw fit and was sorry we couldn't come to an agreement in the present instance."

    "I don't believe you're a bit sorry. Don't you realize what an expensive luxury you're getting in me and how serious a thing it is to cast off heaven knows how many millions?"

    "Oh, I realize it!"

    "But you expect him to come round when he has had time to think it over?"

    "It's hard for me to conceive of anybody not wanting me for a son-inlaw," he admitted cheerfully.

    Valencia nodded. "He'll like you all the better for standing up to him. He's fond of Alice because she's impudent to him."

    "I didn't mean to be impudent, but I couldn't lie down and let him prove me what he called me."

    "If you're that kind of a man I'm almost glad you're going to make me marry you," she confided.

    He leaned over her chair, his eyes shining. "I'll make you more than almost glad, Valencia. You're going to learn what it is to—— oh, damn it!"

    He was impersonally admiring her Whistler when the maid brushed aside the portieres. She had come to bring Mrs. Van Tyle a telegram.

    "No answer, Pratt."

    After the maid had retired her mistress called James to her side. Over her shoulder he read it.

    "Glad he is an American and not living on his father. Didn't think you had so much sense. Tell that young man I want to see him in New York immediately."

    The message was signed with the name of her father.

    "What do you suppose he wants with you in New York?"

    James was radiant. He kissed the perfect lips turned toward him before he answered. "Oh, to make me president of the Transcontinental maybe. How should I know? It's an olive branch. Isn't that enough?"

    "When shall you go?"

    He looked at his watch. "The limited leaves at nine-thirty. That gives me nearly an hour."

    "You're not going to-night?"

    "I'm going to-night. I must, dear. Those are the orders and I've got to obey them."

    "But suppose I give you different orders. Surely I have some rights, tonight of all nights. Why, we haven't been engaged ten minutes. Business doesn't always come first."

    James hesitated. "It's the last thing I want to do, but when Joe Powers says 'Come!' I know enough to jump."

    "But when I say stay?" she pleaded.

    "Then I stop the prettiest mouth in the world with kisses and run away

    before I hear the order." Gaily he suited the action to the word.

    But, for once swift, she reached the door before him.

    "Wait. Don't go, dear."

    The last word came faintly, unexpectedly. The enticement of the appeal went to his head. He had shaken her out of the indifference that was her pride. One arm slipped round her waist. His other hand tilted back her head until he could look into the eyes in which a new fire had been kindled.

    "What about that almost glad? If I stay will you forget all qualifying words and be just glad?"

    She nodded quickly, laughing ever so softly. "Yes, I'll help you listen to the birds sing. Do you know I can almost hear them?"

    James drew a deep breath and caught her swiftly to him. "New York will have to wait till to-morrow. The birds will sing to-night and we will not count the cost."

    "Yes, my lord," she answered demurely.

    For to-night she wanted to forget that their birds were only caged canaries.

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