A Strayed Allegiance by Lucy Maud Montgomery
"Will you go to the Cove with me this afternoon?"
It was Marian Lesley who asked the question.
Esterbrook Elliott unpinned with a masterful touch
the delicate cluster of Noisette rosebuds she wore at
her throat and transferred them to his buttonhole as he
answered courteously: "Certainly. My time, as you
know, is entirely at your disposal."
They were standing in the garden under the creamy
bloom of drooping acacia trees. One long plume of
blossoms touched lightly the soft, golden-brown coils
of the girl's hair and cast a wavering shadow over the
beautiful, flower-like face beneath it.
Esterbrook Elliott, standing before her, thought
proudly that he had never seen a woman who might
compare with her. In every detail she satisfied his
critical, fastidious taste. There was not a discordant
touch about her.
Esterbrook Elliott had always loved Marian Lesley—or
thought he had. They had grown up together from
childhood. He was an only son and she an only daughter.
It had always been an understood thing between
the two families that the boy and girl should marry.
But Marian's father had decreed that no positive pledge
should pass between them until Marian was twenty-one.
Esterbrook accepted his mapped-out destiny and selected
bride with the conviction that he was an exceptionally
lucky fellow. Out of all the women in the
world Marian was the very one whom he would have
chosen as mistress of his fine, old home. She had been
his boyhood's ideal. He believed that he loved her
sincerely, but he was not too much in love to be blind
to the worldly advantages of his marriage with his
His father had died two years previously, leaving
him wealthy and independent. Marian had lost her
mother in childhood; her father died when she was
eighteen. Since then she had lived alone with her aunt.
Her life was quiet and lonely. Esterbrook's companionship
was all that brightened it, but it was enough.
Marian lavished on him all the rich, womanly love of
her heart. On her twenty-first birthday they were formally
betrothed. They were to be married in the following
No shadow had drifted across the heaven of her
happiness. She believed herself secure in her lover's
unfaltering devotion. True, at times she thought his
manner lacked a lover's passionate ardour. He was
always attentive and courteous. She had only to utter a
wish to find that it had been anticipated; he spent
every spare minute at her side.
Yet sometimes she half wished he would betray more
lover-like impatience and intensity. Were all lovers as
calm and undemonstrative?
She reproached herself for this incipient disloyalty as
often as it vexingly intruded its unwelcome presence
across her inner consciousness. Surely Esterbrook was
fond and devoted enough to satisfy the most exacting
demands of affection. Marian herself was somewhat
undemonstrative and reserved. Passing acquaintances
called her cold and proud. Only the privileged few
knew the rich depths of womanly tenderness in her
Esterbrook thought that he fully appreciated her. As
he had walked homeward the night of their betrothal,
he had reviewed with unconscious criticism his mental
catalogue of Marian's graces and good qualities, admitting,
with supreme satisfaction, that there was not one
thing about her that he could wish changed.
This afternoon, under the acacias, they had been
planning about their wedding. There was no one to
consult but themselves.
They were to be married early in September and
then go abroad. Esterbrook mapped out the details of
their bridal tour with careful thoughtfulness. They would
visit all the old-world places that Marian wished to see.
Afterwards they would come back home. He discussed
certain changes he wished to make in the old Elliott
mansion to fit it for a young and beautiful mistress.
He did most of the planning. Marian was content to
listen in happy silence. Afterwards she had proposed
this walk to the Cove.
"What particular object of charity have you found at
the Cove now?" asked Esterbrook, with lazy interest,
as they walked along.
"Mrs. Barrett's little Bessie is very ill with fever,"
answered Marian. Then, catching his anxious look, she
hastened to add, "It is nothing infectious—some kind
of a slow, sapping variety. There is no danger, Esterbrook."
"I was not afraid for myself," he replied quietly.
"My alarm was for you. You are too precious to me,
Marian, for me to permit you to risk health and life, if
it were dangerous. What a Lady Bountiful you are to
those people at the Cove. When we are married you
must take me in hand and teach me your creed of
charity. I'm afraid I've lived a rather selfish life. You
will change all that, dear. You will make a good man of
"You are that now, Esterbrook," she said softly. "If
you were not, I could not love you."
"It is a negative sort of goodness, I fear. I have never
been tried or tempted severely. Perhaps I should fail
under the test."
"I am sure you would not," answered Marian
Esterbrook laughed; her faith in him was pleasant.
He had no thought but that he would prove worthy of
The Cove, so-called, was a little fishing hamlet situated
on the low, sandy shore of a small bay. The
houses, clustered in one spot, seemed like nothing so
much as larger shells washed up by the sea, so grey
and bleached were they from long exposure to sea
winds and spray.
Dozens of ragged children were playing about them,
mingled with several disreputable yellow curs that
yapped noisily at the strangers.
Down on the sandy strip of beach below the houses
groups of men were lounging about. The mackerel,
season had not yet set in; the spring herring netting
was past. It was holiday time among the sea folks.
They were enjoying it to the full, a happy, ragged
colony, careless of what the morrows might bring forth.
Out beyond, the boats were at anchor, floating as
gracefully on the twinkling water as sea birds, their tall
masts bowing landward on the swell. A lazy, dreamful
calm had fallen over the distant seas; the horizon blues
were pale and dim; faint purple hazes blurred the outlines
of far-off headlands and cliffs; the yellow sands
sparkled in the sunshine as if powdered with jewels.
A murmurous babble of life buzzed about the hamlet,
pierced through by the shrill undertones of the
wrangling children, most of whom had paused in their
play to scan the visitors with covert curiosity.
Marian led the way to a house apart from the others
at the very edge of the shelving rock. The dooryard
was scrupulously clean and unlittered; the little footpath
through it was neatly bordered by white clam
shells; several thrifty geraniums in bloom looked out
from the muslin-curtained windows.
A weary-faced woman came forward to meet them.
"Bessie's much the same, Miss Lesley," she said, in
answer to Marian's inquiry. "The doctor you sent was
here today and did all he could for her. He seemed
quite hopeful. She don't complain or nothing—just lies
there and moans. Sometimes she gets restless. It's very
kind of you to come so often, Miss Lesley. Here, Magdalen,
will you put this basket the lady's brought up
there on the shelf?"
A girl, who had been sitting unnoticed with her back
to the visitors, at the head of the child's cot in one
corner of the room, stood up and slowly turned around.
Marian and Esterbrook Elliott both started with involuntary
surprise. Esterbrook caught his breath like a
man suddenly awakened from sleep. In the name of all
that was wonderful, who or what could this girl be, so
little in harmony with her surroundings?
Standing in the crepuscular light of the corner, her
marvellous beauty shone out with the vivid richness of
some rare painting. She was tall, and the magnificent
proportions of her figure were enhanced rather than
marred by the severely plain dress of dark print that
she wore. The heavy masses of her hair, a shining
auburn dashed with golden foam, were coiled in a rich,
glossy knot at the back of the classically modelled head
and rippled back from a low brow whose waxen fairness
even the breezes of the ocean had spared.
The girl's face was a full, perfect oval, with features
of faultless regularity, and the large, full eyes were of
tawny hazel, darkened into inscrutable gloom in the
dimness of the corner.
Not even Marian Lesley's face was more delicately
tinted, but not a trace of colour appeared in the smooth,
marble-like cheeks; yet the waxen pallor bore no trace
of disease or weakness, and the large, curving mouth
was of an intense crimson.
She stood quite motionless. There was no trace of
embarrassment or self-consciousness in her pose. When
Mrs. Barrett said, "This is my niece, Magdalen Crawford,"
she merely inclined her head in grave, silent
acknowledgement. As she moved forward to take Marian's
basket, she seemed oddly out of place in the low,
crowded room. Her presence seemed to throw a strange
restraint over the group.
Marian rose and went over to the cot, laying her
slender hand on the hot forehead of the little sufferer.
The child opened its brown eyes questioningly.
"How are you today, Bessie?"
"Mad'len—I want Mad'len," moaned the little plaintive
Magdalen came over and stood beside Marian Lesley.
"She wants me," she said in a low, thrilling voice;
free from all harsh accent or intonation. "I am the only
one she seems to know always. Yes, darling, Mad'len
is here—right beside you. She will not leave you."
She knelt by the little cot and passed her arm under
the child's neck, drawing the curly head close to her
throat with a tender, soothing motion.
Esterbrook Elliott watched the two women intently—the
one standing by the cot, arrayed in simple yet
costly apparel, with her beautiful, high-bred face, and
the other, kneeling on the bare, sanded floor in her
print dress, with her splendid head bent low over the
child and the long fringe of burnished lashes sweeping
the cold pallor of the oval cheek.
From the moment that Magdalen Crawford's haunting
eyes had looked straight into his for one fleeting
second, an unnamable thrill of pain and pleasure stirred
his heart, a thrill so strong and sudden and passionate
that his face paled with emotion; the room seemed to
swim before his eyes in a mist out of which gleamed
that wonderful face with its mesmeric, darkly radiant
eyes, burning their way into deeps and abysses of his
soul hitherto unknown to him.
When the mist cleared away and his head grew steadier,
he wondered at himself. Yet he trembled in every
limb and the only clear idea that struggled out of his
confused thoughts was an overmastering desire to take
that cold face between his hands and kiss it until its
passionless marble glowed into warm and throbbing
"Who is that girl?" he said abruptly, when they had
left the cottage. "She is the most beautiful woman I
have ever seen—present company always excepted,"
he concluded, with a depreciatory laugh.
The delicate bloom on Marian's face deepened slightly.
"You had much better to have omitted that last sentence,"
she said quietly, "it was so palpably an afterthought.
Yes, she is wonderfully lovely—a strange
beauty, I fancied. There seemed something odd and
uncanny about it to me. She must be Mrs. Barrett's
niece. I remember that when I was down here about a
month ago Mrs. Barrett told me she expected a niece of
hers to live with her—for a time at least. Her parents
were both dead, the father having died recently. Mrs.
Barrett seemed troubled about her. She said that the
girl had been well brought up and used to better
things than the Cove could give her, and she feared
that she would be very discontented and unhappy. I
had forgotten all about it until I saw the girl today. She
certainly seems to be a very superior person; she will
find the Cove very lonely, I am sure. It is not probable
she will stay there long. I must see what I can do for
her, but her manner seemed rather repellent, don't you
"Hardly," responded Esterbrook curtly. "She seemed
surprisingly dignified and self-possessed, I fancied, for
a girl in her position. A princess could not have looked
and bowed more royally. There was not a shadow of
embarrassment in her manner, in spite of the incongruity
of her surroundings. You had much better leave her
alone, Marian. In all probability she would resent any
condescension on your part. What wonderful, deep,
lovely eyes she has."
Again the sensitive colour flushed Marian's cheek as
his voice lapsed unconsciously into a dreamy, retrospective
tone, and a slight restraint came over her
manner, which did not depart. Esterbrook went away
at sunset. Marian asked him to remain for the evening,
but he pleaded some excuse.
"I shall come tomorrow afternoon," he said, as he
stooped to drop a careless good-bye kiss on her face.
Marian watched him wistfully as he rode away, with
an unaccountable pain in her heart. She felt more acutely
than ever that there were depths in her lover's nature
that she was powerless to stir into responsive life.
Had any other that power? She thought of the girl at
the Cove, with her deep eyes and wonderful face. A
chill of premonitory fear seized upon her.
"I feel exactly as if Esterbrook had gone away from
me forever," she said slowly to herself, stooping to
brush her cheek against a dew-cold, milk-white acacia
bloom, "and would never come back to me again. If
that could happen, I wonder what there would be left
to live for?"
Esterbrook Elliott meant, or honestly thought he meant,
to go home when he left Marian. Nevertheless, when
he reached the road branching off to the Cove he
turned his horse down it with a flush on his dark
cheek. He realized that the motive of the action was
disloyal to Marian and he felt ashamed of his weakness.
But the desire to see Magdalen Crawford once more
and to look into the depths of her eyes was stronger
than all else, and overpowered every throb of duty and
He saw nothing of her when he reached the Cove.
He could think of no excuse for calling at the Barrett
cottage, so he rode slowly past the hamlet and along
The sun, red as a smouldering ember, was half buried
in the silken violet rim of the sea; the west was a
vast lake of saffron and rose and ethereal green, through
which floated the curved shallop of a thin new moon,
slowly deepening from lustreless white, through
gleaming silver, into burnished gold, and attended by one
solitary, pearl-white star. The vast concave of sky above
was of violet, infinite and flawless. Far out dusky amethystine
islets clustered like gems on the shining breast
of the bay. The little pools of water along the low
shores glowed like mirrors of polished jacinth. The
small, pine-fringed headlands ran out into the water,
cutting its lustrous blue expanse like purple wedges.
As Esterbrook turned one of them he saw Magdalen
standing out on the point of the next, a short distance
away. Her back was towards him, and her splendid
figure was outlined darkly against the vivid sky.
Esterbrook sprang from his horse and left the animal
standing by itself while he walked swiftly out to her.
His heart throbbed suffocatingly. He was conscious of
no direct purpose save merely to see her.
She turned when he reached her with a slight start of
surprise. His footsteps had made no sound on the
For a few moments they faced each other so, eyes
burning into eyes with mute soul-probing and questioning.
The sun had disappeared, leaving a stain of fiery
red to mark his grave; the weird, radiant light was
startlingly vivid and clear. Little crisp puffs and flakes
of foam scurried over the point like elfin things. The
fresh wind, blowing up the bay, tossed the lustrous
rings of hair about Magdalen's pale face; all the routed
shadows of the hour had found refuge in her eyes.
Not a trace of colour appeared in her face under
Esterbrook Elliott's burning gaze. But when he said
"Magdalen!" a single, hot scorch of crimson flamed up
into her cheeks protestingly. She lifted her hand with a
splendid gesture, but no word passed her lips.
"Magdalen, have you nothing to say to me?" he
asked, coming closer to her with an imploring passion
in his face never seen by Marian Lesley's eyes. He
reached out his hand, but she stepped back from his
"What should I have to say to you?"
"Say that you are glad to see me."
"I am not glad to see you. You have no right to come
here. But I knew you would come."
"You knew it? How?"
"Your eyes told me so today. I am not blind—I can
see further than those dull fisher folks. Yes, I knew
you would come. That is why I came here tonight—so
that you would find me alone and I could tell you that
you were not to come again."
"Why must you tell me that, Magdalen?"
"Because, as I have told you, you have no right to
"But if I will not obey you? If I will come in defiance
of your prohibition?"
She turned her steady luminous eyes on his pale, set
"You would stamp yourself as a madman, then,"
she said coldly. "I know that you are Miss Lesley's
promised husband. Therefore, you are either false to
her or insulting to me. In either case the companionship
of Magdalen Crawford is not what you must seek.
She turned away from him with an imperious gesture
of dismissal. Esterbrook Elliott stepped forward
and caught one firm, white wrist.
"I shall not obey you," he said in a low, intense
tone; his fine eyes burned into hers. "You may send
me away, but I will come back, again and yet again
until you have learned to welcome me. Why should
you meet me like an enemy? Why can we not be
The girl faced him once more.
"Because," she said proudly, "I am not your equal.
There can be no friendship between us. There ought
not to be. Magdalen Crawford, the fisherman's niece,
is no companion for you. You will be foolish, as well as
disloyal, if you ever try to see me again. Go back to the
beautiful, high-bred woman you love and forget me.
Perhaps you think I am talking strangely. Perhaps you
think me bold and unwomanly to speak so plainly to
you, a stranger. But there are some circumstances in
life when plain-speaking is best. I do not want to see
you again. Now, go back to your own world."
Esterbrook Elliott slowly turned from her and walked
in silence back to the shore. In the shadows of the
point he stopped to look back at her, standing out like
some inspired prophetess against the fiery background
of the sunset sky and silver-blue water. The sky overhead
was thick-sown with stars; the night breeze was
blowing up from its lair in distant, echoing sea caves.
On his right the lights of the Cove twinkled out through
"I feel like a coward and a traitor," he said slowly.
"Good God, what is this madness that has come over
me? Is this my boasted strength of manhood?"
A moment later the hoof beats of his horse died
away up the shore.
Magdalen Crawford lingered on the point until the
last dull red faded out into the violet gloom of the June
sea dusk, than which nothing can be rarer or diviner,
and listened to the moan and murmur of the sea far
out over the bay with sorrowful eyes and sternly set
The next day, when the afternoon sun hung hot and
heavy over the water, Esterbrook Elliott came again to
the Cove. He found it deserted. A rumour of mackerel
had come, and every boat had sailed out in the rose-red
dawn to the fishing grounds. But down on a strip
of sparkling yellow sand he saw Magdalen Crawford
standing, her hand on the rope that fastened a small
white dory to the fragment of a half-embedded wreck.
She was watching a huddle of gulls clustered on the
tip of a narrow, sandy spit running out to the left. She
turned at the sound of his hurried foot-fall behind her.
Her face paled slightly, and into the depths of her eyes
leapt a passionate, mesmeric glow that faded as quickly
as it came.
"You see I have come back in spite of your command,
"I do see it," she answered in a gravely troubled
voice. "You are a madman who refuses to be warned."
"Where are you going, Magdalen?" She had loosened
the rope from the wreck.
"I am going to row over to Chapel Point for salt.
They think the boats will come in tonight loaded with
mackerel—look at them away out there by the score—and
salt will be needed."
"Can you row so far alone?"
"Easily. I learned to row long ago—for a pastime
then. Since coming here I find it of great service to
She stepped lightly into the tiny shallop and picked
up an oar. The brilliant sunshine streamed about her,
burnishing the rich tints of her hair into ruddy gold.
She balanced herself to the swaying of the dory with
the grace of a sea bird. The man looking at her felt his
"Good-bye, Mr. Elliott."
For answer he sprang into the dory and, snatching
an oar, pushed against the old wreck with such energy
that the dory shot out from the shore like a foam bell.
His sudden spring had set it rocking violently. Magdalen
almost lost her footing and caught blindly at his
arm. As her fingers closed on his wrist a thrill as of fire
shot through his every vein.
"Why have you done this, Mr. Elliott? You must go
"But I will not," he said masterfully, looking straight
into her eyes with an imperiousness that sat well upon
him. "I am going to row you over to Chapel Point. I
have the oars—I will be master this once, at least."
For an instant her eyes flashed defiant protest, then
drooped before his. A sudden, hot blush crimsoned
her pale face. His will had mastered hers; the girl
trembled from head to foot, and the proud, sensitive,
Into the face of the man watching her breathlessly
flashed a triumphant, passionate joy. He put out his
hand and gently pushed her down into the seat. Sitting
opposite, he took up the oars and pulled out over the
sheet of sparkling blue water, through which at first
the bottom of white sand glimmered wavily but afterwards
deepened to translucent, dim depths of greenness.
His heart throbbed tumultuously. Once the thought
of Marian drifted across his mind like a chill breath
of wind, but it was forgotten when his eyes met
"Tell me about yourself, Magdalen," he said at last,
breaking the tremulous, charmed, sparkling silence.
"There is nothing to tell," she answered with characteristic
straightforwardness. "My life has been a very
uneventful one. I have never been rich, or very well
educated, but—it used to be different from now. I had
some chance before—before Father died."
"You must have found it very lonely and strange
when you came here first."
"Yes. At first I thought I should die—but I do not
mind it now. I have made friends with the sea; it has
taught me a great deal. There is a kind of inspiration in
the sea. When one listens to its never-ceasing murmur
afar out there, always sounding at midnight and midday,
one's soul goes out to meet Eternity. Sometimes it
gives me so much pleasure that it is almost pain."
She stopped abruptly.
"I don't know why I am talking to you like this."
"You are a strange girl, Magdalen. Have you no
other companion than the sea?"
"No. Why should I wish to have? I shall not be here
Elliott's face contracted with a spasm of pain.
"You are not going away, Magdalen?"
"Yes—in the fall. I have my own living to earn, you
know. I am very poor. Uncle and Aunt are very kind,
but I cannot consent to burden them any longer than I
A sigh that was almost a moan broke from Esterbrook
"You must not go away, Magdalen. You must stay
"You forget yourself," she said proudly. "How dare
you speak to me so? Have you forgotten Miss Lesley?
Or are you a traitor to us both?"
Esterbrook made no answer. He bowed his pale,
miserable face before her, self-condemned.
The breast of the bay sparkled with its countless
gems like the breast of a fair woman. The shores were
purple and amethystine in the distance. Far out, bluish,
phantom-like sails clustered against the pallid horizon.
The dory danced like a feather over the ripples. They
were close under the shadow of Chapel Point.
Marian Lesley waited in vain for her lover that afternoon.
When he came at last in the odorous dusk of the
June night she met him on the acacia-shadowed verandah
with cold sweetness. Perhaps some subtle woman-instinct
whispered to her where and how he had spent
the afternoon, for she offered him no kiss, nor did she
ask him why he had failed to come sooner.
His eyes lingered on her in the dim light, taking in
every detail of her sweet womanly refinement and loveliness,
and with difficulty he choked back a groan.
Again he asked himself what madness had come over
him, and again for an answer rose up the vision of
Magdalen Crawford's face as he had seen it that day,
crimsoning beneath his gaze.
It was late when he left. Marian watched him out of
sight, standing under the acacias. She shivered as with
a sudden chill. "I feel as I think Vashti must have felt,"
she murmured aloud, "when, discrowned and unqueened,
she crept out of the gates of Shushan to hide
her broken heart. I wonder if Esther has already usurped
my sceptre. Has that girl at the Cove, with her pale,
priestess-like face and mysterious eyes, stolen his heart
from me? Perhaps not, for it may never have been
mine. I know that Esterbrook Elliott will be true to the
letter of his vows to me, no matter what it may cost
him. But I want no pallid shadow of the love that
belongs to another. The hour of abdication is at hand,
I fear. And what will be left for throneless Vashti then?"
Esterbrook Elliott, walking home through the mocking
calm of the night, fought a hard battle with himself.
He was face to face with the truth at last—the bitter
knowledge that he had never loved Marian Lesley,
save with a fond, brotherly affection, and that he did
love Magdalen Crawford with a passion that threatened
to sweep before it every vestige of his honour and
He had seen her but three times—and his throbbing
heart lay in the hollow of her cold white hand.
He shut his eyes and groaned. What madness. What
unutterable folly! He was not free—he was bound to
another by every cord of honour and self-respect. And,
even were he free, Magdalen Crawford would be no fit
wife for him—in the eyes of the world, at least. A girl
from the Cove—a girl with little education and no
social standing—aye! but he loved her.
He groaned again and again in his misery. Afar down
the slope the bay waters lay like an inky strip and the
distant, murmurous plaint of the sea came out of the
stillness of the night; the lights at the Cove glimmered
In the week that followed he went to the Cove every
day. Sometimes he did not see Magdalen; at other
times he did. But at the end of the week he had conquered
in the bitter, heart-crushing struggle with himself.
If he had weakly given way to the first mad sweep
of a new passion, the strength of his manhood reasserted
itself at last. Faltering and wavering were over,
though there was passionate pain in his voice when he
said at last, "I am not coming back again, Magdalen."
They were standing in the shadow of the pine-fringed
point that ran out to the left of the Cove. They had
been walking together along the shore, watching the
splendour of the sea sunset that flamed and glowed in
the west, where there was a sea of mackerel clouds,
crimson and amber tinted, with long, ribbon-like strips
of apple-green sky between. They had walked in silence,
hand in hand, as children might have done, yet
with the stir and throb of a mighty passion seething in
Magdalen turned as Esterbrook spoke, and looked at
him in a long silence. The bay stretched out before
them, tranced and shimmering; a few stars shone down
through the gloom of dusk. Right across the translucent
greens and roses and blues of the west hung a
dark, unsightly cloud, like the blurred outline of a
monstrous bat. In the dim, reflected light the girl's
mournful face took on a weird, unearthly beauty. She
turned her eyes from Esterbrook Elliott's set white face
to the radiant gloom of the sea.
"That is best," she answered at last, slowly.
"Best—yes! Better that we had never met! I love
you—you know it—words are idle between us. I never
loved before—I thought I did. I made a mistake and I
must pay the penalty of that mistake. You understand
"I understand," she answered simply.
"I do not excuse myself—I have been weak and
cowardly and disloyal. But I have conquered myself—I
will be true to the woman to whom I am pledged. You
and I must not meet again. I will crush this madness to
death. I think I have been delirious ever since that day
I saw you first, Magdalen. My brain is clearer now. I
see my duty and I mean to do it at any cost. I dare not
trust myself to say more. Magdalen, I have much for
which to ask your forgiveness."
"There is nothing to forgive," she said steadily. "I
have been as much to blame as you. If I had been as
resolute as I ought to have been—if I had sent you
away the second time as I did the first—this would not
have come to pass. I have been weak too, and I deserve
to atone for my weakness by suffering. There is
only one path open to us. Esterbrook, good-bye." Her
voice quivered with an uncontrollable spasm of pain,
but the misty, mournful eyes did not swerve from his.
The man stepped forward and caught her in his arms.
"Magdalen, good-bye, my darling. Kiss me once—only
once—before I go."
She loosened his arms and stepped back proudly.
"No! No man kisses my lips unless he is to be my
husband. Good-bye, dear."
He bowed his head silently and went away, looking
back not once, else he might have seen her kneeling on
the damp sand weeping noiselessly and passionately.
Marian Lesley looked at his pale, determined face the
next evening and read it like an open book.
She had grown paler herself; there were purple shadows
under the sweet violet eyes that might have hinted
of her own sleepless nights.
She greeted him calmly, holding out a steady, white
hand of welcome. She saw the traces of the struggle
through which he had passed and knew that he had
come off victor.
The knowledge made her task a little harder. It would
have been easier to let slip the straining cable than to
cast it from her when it lay unresistingly in her hand.
For an instant her heart thrilled with an unutterably
sweet hope. Might he not forget in time? Need she
snap in twain the weakened bond between them after
all? Perhaps she might win back her lost sceptre, yet
Womanly pride throttled the struggling hope. No
divided allegiance, no hollow semblance of queenship
Her opportunity came when Esterbrook asked with
grave earnestness if their marriage might not be hastened
a little—could he not have his bride in August?
For a fleeting second Marian closed her eyes and the
slender hands, lying among the laces in her lap, clasped
each other convulsively.
Then she said quietly, "Sometimes I have thought,
Esterbrook, that it might be better—if we were never
married at all."
Esterbrook turned a startled face upon her.
"Not married at all! Marian, what do you mean?"
"Just what I say. I do not think we are as well suited
to each other after all as we have fancied. We have
loved each other as brother and sister might—that is
all. I think it will be best to be brother and sister
Esterbrook sprang to his feet.
"Marian, do you know what you are saying? You
surely cannot have heard—no one could have told
"I have heard nothing," she interrupted hurriedly.
"No one has told me anything. I have only said what I
have been thinking of late. I am sure we have made a
mistake. It is not too late to remedy it. You will not
refuse my request, Esterbrook? You will set me free?"
"Good heavens, Marian!" he said hoarsely. "I cannot
realize that you are in earnest. Have you ceased to care
for me?" The rigidly locked hands were clasped a little
"No—I shall always care for you as my friend if you
will let me. But I know we could not make each other
happy—the time for that has gone by. I would never
be satisfied, nor would you. Esterbrook, will you release
me from a promise which has become an irksome
He looked down on her upturned face mistily. A
great joy was surging up in his heart—yet it was mingled
with great regret.
He knew—none better—what was passing out of his
life, what he was losing when he lost that pure, womanly
"If you really mean this, Marian," he said slowly, "if
you really have come to feel that your truest love is not
and never can be mine—that I cannot make you happy—then
there is nothing for me to do but to grant your
request. You are free."
"Thank you, dear," she said gently, as she stood up.
She slipped his ring from her finger and held it out
to him. He took it mechanically. He still felt dazed and
Marian held out her hand.
"Good-night, Esterbrook," she said, a little wearily.
"I feel tired. I am glad you see it all in the same light as
"Marian," he said earnestly, clasping the outstretched
hand, "are you sure that you will be happy—are you
sure that you are doing a wise thing?"
"Quite sure," she answered, with a faint smile. "I am
not acting rashly. I have thought it all over carefully.
Things are much better so, dear. We will always be
friends. Your joys and sorrows will be to me as my
own. When another love comes to bless your life,
Esterbrook, I will be glad. And now, good-night. I
want to be alone now."
At the doorway he turned to look back at her, standing
in all her sweet stateliness in the twilight duskness,
and the keen realization of all he had lost made him
bow his head with a quick pang of regret.
Then he went out into the darkness of the summer
An hour later he stood alone on the little point where
he had parted with Magdalen the night before. A restless
night wind was moaning through the pines that
fringed the bank behind him; the moon shone down
radiantly, turning the calm expanse of the bay into a
He took Marian's ring from his pocket and kissed it
reverently. Then he threw it from him far out over the
water. For a second the diamond flashed in the moonlight;
then, with a tiny splash, it fell among the ripples.
Esterbrook turned his face to the Cove, lying dark
and silent in the curve between the crescent headlands.
A solitary light glimmered from the low eaves of the
Tomorrow, was his unspoken thought, I will be free;
to go back to Magdalen.