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"I suppose they expect us to be surprised," I said. "Ostriches!"
"I always knew you were a matchmaker," said Bill, "you certainly staged the whole thing well."
"I had her out to amuse you, not Wright," said I, with partial truth.
"Oh, you did, did you? 'The best laid plans'--. Didn't you know that I haven't had eyes or ears for another woman since that first night you insulted me--"
"'Doctor Jumpy!'" said I, in delighted recollection.
"If it weren't that I have to drive the car--" said Bill.
"Perhaps, later, you could stop--" I suggested.
He stopped in the midst of the still considerable traffic. And then we sped on again, leaving a breathless, open-mouthed policeman struck into stone, behind us.
"Boston," said I to Bill, after we had been there for two hours, "is the darnedest place!"
"What's the matter with it? Cradle of American culture and everythin'."
"Reminds me of Havana," I said.
"Havana! You're insane!" Bill laid his fork down and gazed at me in amazement over the table in the Copley Plaza.
"Because it's so different," I said, "but the streets aren't much wider, so there. And after all, I think I could fall in love with the Common, and even Back Bay. There's something very solid about it all."
As we left the city and went on through the lovely Massachusetts country, I became more and more enamoured of my own unknown New England. And Bill, delightful companion, grew positively instructive.
I learned a little history by the way, and we poked around and explored, in a very leisurely manner.
Wellesley, dignified and gracious, fascinated me. We went up to the college and spent a happy half-day there with one of the professors who had been a school friend of Bill's, no, our Mother's. But I couldn't help thinking of Mercedes! My bright, tropical bird, caged in a classroom, filing to chapel with hundreds of other girls, part of a crowd. I determined to go some day to Vassar and see her Waterloo for myself.
Pride's Crossing filled me with envy. I liked the beautifully kept lawns and the wonderful, garden-encircled houses. But I fell so deeply in love with Gloucester, even the fish, that Bill despaired of ever getting me away.
"Wait till you see Salem!" he said, "I'll probably have to tuck a door in the back-seat. You'll want one, I know. Jolliest doors in the world."
Magnolia, Salem, Plymouth, they went by like dreams. The big hotels where we stayed, the water, the Spring skies, the first reticent flowers, and finally, the funny little Cape towns: Hyannis Port, with its beaches and docks, its high Sunset Hill, where we watched the sun go down red and purple over the quiet bay, and where we saw the white sails of the fishing-crafts lift like wings against the morning sky--it was all so lovely, so new, so untarnished for me. I even loved the grey fog that swept in at night, like soft veils. And everywhere, serious or gay, always the perfect comrade, was Bill. I would lie awake in the mornings listening to him splash in the shower or whistling to himself in his room, not calling out good morning to him for five whole minutes, just happy at having him so near.
We came into it on a wonderful, clear morning, into that sleepy, little town, girdled with sand, on the edge of the wide, blue bay.
Some of the cottages were open, even as early as it was in the season, and the little streets were bright with people. Our Inn was close down on the beach, a dark-red, rambling building, built half a century before, and beautifully remodelled for modern purposes. There were ships' lanterns and clocks within, a wide, glassed verandah on which one consumed quantities of delicious food and salt air, a ship's rope for the banister of the stairway which led, steeply, up to the second floor. Beyond the landing was my room, with three great windows fronting the bay. One could almost have flung a stone into the water from them.
The room was in rose-color, like my own room at home, and cool, dull green. Counter-pane, chair cushions, curtains, and dressing-table rioted with delightfully impossible roses, and the whole room smelled of salt and sun and the little lavender and rose-leaf bags I found in bureau-drawers and on closet-shelves. And my bath was big and white, a tiled, immaculate room, with cross-stitched towels and washrags, sweet-scented soaps and a dazzling array of bottles and toothbrush-mugs.
"How can I clean my razor on this?" demanded Bill, appearing in my room with a little towel held at arm's length. He surveyed the silken baskets of flowers designed upon it, with an air of deep concern.
"Oh, but you mustn't!" I said, snatching it from him in dismay.
"Oh, but I must!" he contradicted. "Look at this beard! We left Chatham so early this morning that I didn't get a moment to shave."
I rubbed my cheek against the square, firm chin.
"I told you so!"
"Come with me," I said, with dignity, and led him into his own bathroom, where I produced for him certain small towels, hanging under a legend "For your razor," and left him chuckling.
Bill's room was blue and yellow, and he complained that it was far too pretty for a man. We were still arguing about it when we went forth to survey the town. I popped in and out of shops like "an agitated rabbit," according to Bill, and bought armsful of bayberry candles, little delicate water-colors, and about six old, brass knockers; the last named purchases moving Bill to say that he supposed we would have to put one on the garage and another on the hen-coop.
The little inn was deserted save for us, the maids, an amiable and remarkable colored cook, and the adorable little lady who was our hostess. She had a tenderness for brides and grooms! Bill recalled her as having said so on the one occasion he had lunched with her, in Provincetown, in the "dark ages before I met you, Mavis," and I think she was happy to have us there. At all events, she never said so if she was not, and we stayed for two, wonderful weeks.
It was too early for swimming, of course, even for Bill's iron constitution, but we spent hours on the yellow sands, watching the boats, and the sunlight shifting over the water. Once a battleship steamed in and anchored not far away, and that evening there were Navy men in the porch-dining-room, quite beautiful in their uniforms, very splendid to look at, under the soft lights of the ships' lanterns, lingering over their coffee and cigars.
Bill scraped acquaintance with them, of course, with the consequence that we had tea one afternoon aboard the ship, with the most cordial and charming hosts in the world. I had not been there half an hour, palpitant with excitement, before every unmarried officer present had gotten me aside on one pretext or another and shown me the picture of "the prettiest girl in the world, Mrs. Denton!" And I will say for the Benedicts too, that their tiny cabins were filled with pictures of wives and babies. It was a very pleasant tea-hour, but Bill hurried me home long before I was tired of deck and guns, mascot--a frisky goat named "Narcissus," and the crowds of amusing sailor-boys in their infantile garb.
"Haven't had you to myself for a dog's age," he growled. "What did those men mean, carrying you off like that, with their 'Mrs. Denton, please come with me,' or 'Oh, Mrs. Denton, I've got something to show you.' Jackasses!"
"I thought them very nice," said I demurely, "especially that tall one with all the gold braid and the fascinating eyes."
"Fascinating eyes! Ye Gods! Never again, young woman!" and he hustled me out of the ship's boat, across the sand and into the house, lest, as he said, "The eyes-fellow should be standing with field glasses on the deck waiting to wave to you again!"
When we were in our rooms again, and I had called him to hook me up--we were dressing for dinner--he came in and, fumbling with those clever surgeon's fingers at the hooks of my frock, swept me and the frock suddenly and breathlessly into his arms.
"Don't keep me waiting too long, Mavis," he said, very low.
I put my arms around his neck and said something in his ear. And after a moment he kissed me, very gently, and let me go. It was ten minutes before I realized that he had gone without completing his task of lady's maid.
That night a full moon rose, golden and glamorous, over the bay. Bill and I walked out on the sands, quite late. I had on a wooly, white coat over my thin dress, and had changed to more sensible shoes. After all, I thought, it was worth a dozen Cubas, the keen, salt air, and the dear home country, just stirring under the breath of Spring.
"Happy?" asked Bill, as we sat down on some driftwood logs and watched the ever-widening golden wake of the moon-boat.
I leaned my head against his shoulder and nodded.
"You've never looked so beautiful," he said, "as tonight."
I drew his tall head down to mine,
"Do you think so?" I whispered, and then, very softly, "I love you, my husband--"
Together, in the full glory of the moonlight, we walked in silence back to the house. The lights gleamed above in my rose and green bedroom, and the door was open between--