A Millionaire's Proposal by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Thrush Hill, Oct. 5, 18--.
It is all settled at last, and in another week I shall have left Thrush Hill. I am a little bit sorry and a great bit glad. I am going to Montreal to spend the winter with Alicia.
Alicia--it used to be plain Alice when she lived at Thrush Hill and made her own dresses and trimmed her own hats--is my half-sister. She is eight years older than I am. We are both orphans, and Aunt Elizabeth brought us up here at Thrush Hill, the most delightful old country place in the world, half smothered in big willows and poplars, every one of which I have climbed in the early tomboy days of gingham pinafores and sun-bonnets.
When Alicia was eighteen she married Roger Gresham, a man of forty. The world said that she married him for his money. I dare say she did. Alicia was tired of poverty.
I don't blame her. Very likely I shall do the same thing one of these days, if I get the chance--for I too am tired of poverty.
When Alicia went to Montreal she wanted to take me with her, but I wanted to be outdoors, romping in the hay or running wild in the woods with Jack.
Jack Willoughby--Dr. John H. Willoughby, it reads on his office door--was the son of our nearest neighbour. We were chums always, and when he went away to college I was heartbroken.
The vacations were the only joy of my life then.
I don't know just when I began to notice a change in Jack, but when he came home two years ago, a full-fledged M.D.--a great, tall, broad-shouldered fellow, with the sweetest moustache, and lovely thick black hair, just made for poking one's fingers through--I realized it to the full. Jack was grown up. The dear old days of bird-nesting and nutting and coasting and fishing and general delightful goings-on were over forever.
I was sorry at first. I wanted "Jack." "Dr. Willoughby" seemed too distinguished and far away.
I suppose he found a change in me, too. I had put on long skirts and wore my hair up. I had also found out that I had a complexion, and that sunburn was not becoming. I honestly thought I looked pretty, but Jack surveyed me with decided disapprobation.
"What have you done to yourself? You don't look like the same girl. I'd never know you in that rig-out, with all those flippery-trippery curls all over your head. Why don't you comb your hair straight back, and let it hang in a braided tail, like you used to?"
This didn't suit me at all. When I expect a compliment and get something quite different I always get snippy. So I said, with what I intended to be crushing dignity, "that I supposed I wasn't the same girl; I had grown up, and if he didn't like my curls he needn't look at them. For my part, I thought them infinitely preferable to that horrid, conceited-looking moustache he had grown."
"I'll shave it off if it doesn't suit you," said Jack amiably.
Jack is always so provokingly good-humoured. When you've taken pains and put yourself out--even to the extent of fibbing about a moustache--to exasperate a person, there is nothing more annoying than to have him keep perfectly angelic.
But after a while Jack and I adjusted ourselves to the change in each other and became very good friends again. It was quite a different friendship from the old, but it was very pleasant. Yes, it was; I will admit that much.
I was provoked at Jack's determination to settle down for life in Valleyfield, a horrible, humdrum, little country village.
"You'll never make your fortune there, Jack," I said spitefully. "You'll just be a poor, struggling country doctor all your life, and you'll be grey at forty."
"I don't expect to make a fortune, Kitty," said Jack quietly. "Do you think that is the one desirable thing? I shall never be a rich man. But riches are not the only thing that makes life pleasant."
"Well, I think they have a good deal to do with it, anyhow," I retorted. "It's all very well to pretend to despise wealth, but it's generally a case of sour grapes. I will own up honestly that I'd love to be rich."
It always seems to make Jack blue and grumpy when I talk like that. I suppose that is one reason why he never asked me to settle down in life as a country doctor's wife. Another was, no doubt, that I always nipped his sentimental sproutings religiously in the bud.
Three weeks ago Alicia wrote to me, asking me to spend the winter with her. Her letters always make me just gasp with longing for the life they describe.
Jack's face, when I told him about it, was so woebegone that I felt a stab of remorse, even in the heyday of my delight.
"Do you really mean it, Kitty? Are you going away to leave me?"
"You won't miss me much," I said flippantly--I had a creepy, crawly presentiment that a scene of some kind was threatening--"and I'm awfully tired of Thrush Hill and country life, Jack. I suppose it is horribly ungrateful of me to say so, but it is the truth."
"I shall miss you," he said soberly.
Somehow he had my hands in his. How did he ever get them? I was sure I had them safely tucked out of harm's way behind me. "You know, Kitty, that I love you. I am a poor man--perhaps I may never be anything else--and this may seem to you very presumptuous. But I cannot let you go like this. Will you be my wife, dear?"
Wasn't it horribly straightforward and direct? So like Jack! I tried to pull my hands away, but he held them fast. There was nothing to do but answer him. That "no" I had determined to say must be said, but, oh! how woefully it did stick in my throat!
And I honestly believe that by the time I got it out it would have been transformed into a "yes," in spite of me, had it not been for a certain paragraph in Alicia's letter which came providentially to my mind:
That settled Jack's fate, if there ever had been any doubt.
"Don't talk like that, Jack," I said hurriedly. "It is all nonsense. I think a great deal of you as a friend and--and--all that, you know. But I can never marry you."
"Are you sure, Kitty?" said Jack earnestly. "Don't you care for me at all?"
It was horrid of Jack to ask that question!
"No," I said miserably, "not--not in that way, Jack. Oh, don't ever say anything like this to me again."
He let go of my hands then, white to the lips.
"Oh, don't look like that, Jack," I entreated.
"I can't help it," he said in a low voice. "But I won't bother you again, dear. It was foolish of me to expect--to hope for anything of the sort. You are a thousand times too good for me, I know."
"Oh, indeed I'm not, Jack," I protested. "If you knew how horrid I am, really, you'd be glad and thankful for your escape. Oh, Jack, I wish people never grew up."
Jack smiled sadly.
"Don't feel badly over this, Kitty. It isn't your fault. Good night, dear."
He turned my face up and kissed me squarely on the mouth. He had never kissed me since the summer before he went away to college. Somehow it didn't seem a bit the same as it used to; it was--nicer now.
After he went away I came upstairs and had a good, comfortable howl. Then I buried the whole affair decently. I am not going to think of it any more.
I shall always have the highest esteem for Jack, and I hope he will soon find some nice girl who will make him happy. Mary Carter would jump at him, I know. To be sure, she is as homely as she can be and live. But, then, Jack is always telling me how little he cares for beauty, so I have no doubt she will suit him admirably.
As for myself--well, I am ambitious. I don't suppose my ambition is a very lofty one, but such as it is I mean to hunt it down. Come. Let me put it down in black and white, once for all, and see how it looks:
I mean to marry the rich nephew of the Sinclairs.
There! It is out, and I feel better. How mercenary and awful it looks written out in cold blood like that. I wouldn't have Jack or Aunt Elizabeth--dear, unworldly old soul--see it for the world. But I wouldn't mind Alicia.
Poor dear Jack!
* * * * *
Montreal, Dec. 16, 18--.
This is a nice way to keep a journal. But the days when I could write regularly are gone by. That was when I was at Thrush Hill.
I am having a simply divine time. How in the world did I ever contrive to live at Thrush Hill?
To be sure, I felt badly enough that day in October when I left it. When the train left Valleyfield I just cried like a baby.
Alicia and Roger welcomed me very heartily, and after the first week of homesickness--I shiver yet when I think of it--was over, I settled down to my new life as if I had been born to it.
Alicia has a magnificent home and everything heart could wish for--jewels, carriages, servants, opera boxes, and social position. Roger is a model husband apparently. I must also admit that he is a model brother-in-law.
I could feel Alicia looking me over critically the moment we met. I trembled with suspense, but I was soon relieved.
"Do you know, Katherine, I am glad to see that your photograph didn't flatter you. Photographs so often do, I am positively surprised at the way you have developed, my dear; you used to be such a scrawny little brown thing. By the way, I hope there is nothing between you and Jack Willoughby?"
"No, of course not," I answered hurriedly. I had intended to tell Alicia all about Jack, but when it came to the point I couldn't.
"I am glad of that," said Alicia, with a relieved air. "Of course, I've no doubt Jack is a good fellow enough. He was a nice boy. But he would not be a suitable husband for you, Katherine."
I knew that very well. That was just why I had refused him. But it made me wince to hear Alicia say it. I instantly froze up--Alicia says dignity is becoming to me--and Jack's name has never been mentioned between us since.
I made my bow to society at an "At Home" which Alicia gave for that purpose. She drilled me well beforehand, and I think I acquitted myself decently. Charlie Vankleek, whose verdict makes or mars every debutante in his set, has approved of me. He called me a beauty, and everybody now believes that I am one, and greets me accordingly.
I met Gus Sinclair at Mrs. Brompton's dinner. Alicia declares it was a case of love at first sight. If so, I must confess that it was all on one side.
Mr. Sinclair is undeniably ugly--even Alicia has to admit that--and can't hold a candle to Jack in point of looks, for Jack, poor boy, was handsome, if he were nothing else. But, as Alicia does not fail to remind me, Mr. Sinclair's homeliness is well gilded.
Apart from his appearance, I really liked him very much. He is a gentlemanly little fellow--his head reaches about to my shoulder--cultured and travelled, and can talk splendidly, which Jack never could.
He took me into dinner at Mrs. Brompton's, and was very attentive. You may imagine how many angelic glances I received from the other candidates for his favour.
Since then I have been having the gayest time imaginable. Dances, dinners, luncheons, afternoon teas, "functions" to no end, and all delightful.
Aunt Elizabeth writes to me, but I have never heard a word from Jack. He seems to have forgotten my existence completely. No doubt he has consoled himself with Mary Carter.
Well, that is all for the best, but I must say I did not think Jack could have forgotten me so soon or so absolutely. Of course it does not make the least difference to me.
The Sinclairs and the Bromptons and the Curries are to dine here tonight. I can see myself reflected in the long mirror before me, and I really think my appearance will satisfy even Gus Sinclair's critical eye. I am pale, as usual, I never have any colour. That used to be one of Jack's grievances. He likes pink and white milkmaidish girls. My "magnificent pallor" didn't suit him at all.
But, what is more to the purpose, it suits Gus Sinclair. He admires the statuesque style.
* * * * *
Montreal, Jan. 20, 18--.
Here it is a whole month since my last entry. I am sitting here decked out in "gloss of satin and glimmer of pearls" for Mrs. Currie's dance. These few minutes, after I emerge from the hands of my maid and before the carriage is announced, are almost the only ones I ever have to myself.
I am having a good time still. Somehow, though, it isn't as exciting as it used to be. I'm afraid I'm very changeable. I believe I must be homesick.
I'd love to get a glimpse of dear old Thrush Hill and Aunt Elizabeth, and J--but, no! I will not write that.
Mr. Sinclair has not spoken yet, but there is no doubt that he soon will. Of course, I shall accept him when he does, and I coolly told Alicia so when she just as coolly asked me what I meant to do.
"Certainly, I shall marry him," I said crossly, for the subject always irritates me. "Haven't I been laying myself out all winter to catch him? That is the bold, naked truth, and ugly enough it is. My dearly beloved sister, I mean to accept Mr. Sinclair, without any hesitation, whenever I get the chance."
"I give you credit for more sense than to dream of doing anything else," said Alicia in relieved tones. "Katherine, you are a very lucky girl."
"Because I am going to marry a rich man for his money?" I said coldly.
Sometimes I get snippy with Alicia these days.
"No," said my half-sister in an exasperated way. "Why will you persist in speaking in that way? You are very provoking. It is not likely I would wish to see you throw yourself away on a poor man, and I'm sure you must like Gus."
"Oh, yes, I like him well enough," I said listlessly. "To be sure, I did think once, in my salad days, that liking wasn't quite all in an affair of this kind. I was absurd enough to imagine that love had something to do with it."
"Don't talk so nonsensically," said Alicia sharply. "Love! Well, of course, you ought to love your husband, and you will. He loves you enough, at all events."
"Alicia," I said earnestly, looking her straight in the face and speaking bluntly enough to have satisfied even Jack's love of straightforwardness, "you married for money and position, so people say. Are you happy?"
For the first time that I remembered, Alicia blushed. She was very angry.
"Yes, I did marry for money," she said sharply, "and I don't regret it. Thank heaven, I never was a fool."
"Don't be vexed, Alicia," I entreated. "I only asked because--well, it is no matter."
* * * * *
Montreal, Jan. 25, 18--.
It is bedtime, but I am too excited and happy and miserable to sleep. Jack has been here--dear old Jack! How glad I was to see him.
His coming was so unexpected. I was sitting alone in my room this afternoon--I believe I was moping--when Bessie brought up his card. I gave it one rapturous look and tore downstairs, passing Alicia in the hall like a whirlwind, and burst into the drawing-room in a most undignified way.
"Jack!" I cried, holding out both hands to him in welcome.
There he was, just the same old Jack, with his splendid big shoulders and his lovely brown eyes. And his necktie was crooked, too; as soon as I could get my hands free I put them up and straightened it out for him. How nice and old-timey that was!
"So you are glad to see me, Kitty?" he said as he squeezed my hands in his big strong paws.
"'Deed and 'deed I am, Jack. I thought you had forgotten me altogether. And I've been so homesick and so--so everything," I said incoherently. "And, oh, Jack, I've so many questions to ask I don't know where to begin. Tell me all the Thrush Hill and Valleyfield news, tell me everything that has happened since I left. How many people have you killed off? And, oh, why didn't you come to see me before?"
"I didn't think I should be wanted, Kitty," Jack answered quietly. "You seemed to be so absorbed in your new life that old friends and interests were crowded out."
"So I was at first," I answered penitently. "I was dazzled, you know. The glare was too much for my Thrush Hill brown. But it's different now. How did you happen to come, Jack?"
"I had to come to Montreal on business, and I thought it would be too bad if I went back without coming to see what they had been doing in Vanity Fair to my little playmate."
"Well, what do you think they have been doing?" I asked saucily.
I had on a particularly fetching gown and knew I was looking my best. Jack, however, looked me over with his head on one side.
"Well, I don't know, Kitty," he said slowly. "That is a stunning sort of dress you have on--not so pretty, though, as that old blue muslin you used to wear last summer--and your hair is pretty good. But you look rather disdainful and, after all, I believe I prefer Thrush Hill Kitty."
How like Jack that was. He never thought me really pretty, and he is too honest to pretend he does.
But I didn't care. I just laughed, and we sat down together and had a long, delightful, chummy talk.
Jack told me all the Valleyfield gossip, not forgetting to mention that Mary Carter was going to be married to a minister in June. Jack didn't seem to mind it a bit, so I guess he couldn't have been particularly interested in Mary.
In due time Alicia sailed in. I suppose she had found out from Bessie who my caller was, and felt rather worried over the length of our tete-a-tete.
She greeted Jack very graciously, but with a certain polite condescension of which she is past mistress. I am sure Jack felt it, for, as soon as he decently could, he got up to go. Alicia asked him to remain to dinner.
"We are having a few friends to dine with us, but it is quite an informal affair," she said sweetly.
I felt that Jack glanced at me for the fraction of a second. But I remembered that Gus Sinclair was coming too, and I did not look at him.
Then he declined quietly. He had a business engagement, he said.
I suppose Alicia had noticed that look at me, for she showed her claws.
"Don't forget to call any time you are in Montreal," she said more sweetly than ever. "I am sure Katherine will always be glad to see any of her old friends, although some of her new ones are proving very absorbing--one, in especial. Don't blush, Katherine, I am sure Mr. Willoughby won't tell any tales out of school to your old Valleyfield friends."
I was not blushing, and I was furious. It was really too bad of Alicia, although I don't see why I need have cared.
Alicia kept her eye on us both until Jack was fairly gone. Then she remarked in the patronizing tone which I detest:
"Really, Katherine, Jack Willoughby has developed into quite a passable-looking fellow, although he is rather shabby. But I suppose he is poor."
"Yes," I answered curtly, "he is poor, in everything except youth and manhood and goodness and truth! But I suppose those don't count for anything."
Whereupon Alicia lifted her eyebrows and looked me over.
Just at dusk a box arrived with Jack's compliments. It was full of lovely white carnations, and must have cost the extravagant fellow more than he has any business to waste on flowers. I was beast enough to put them on when I went down to listen to another man's love-making.
This evening I sparkled and scintillated with unusual brilliancy, for Jack's visit and my consequent crossing of swords with Alicia had produced a certain elation of spirits. When Gus Sinclair was leaving he asked if he might see me alone tomorrow afternoon.
I knew what that meant, and a cold shiver went up and down my backbone. But I looked down at him--spick-and-span and glossy--his neckties are never crooked--and said, yes, he might come at three o'clock.
Alicia had noticed our aside--when did anything ever escape her?--and when he was gone she asked, significantly, what secret he had been telling me.
"He wants to see me alone tomorrow afternoon. I suppose you know what that means, Alicia?"
"Ah," purred Alicia, "I congratulate you, my dear."
"Aren't your congratulations a little premature?" I asked coldly. "I haven't accepted him yet."
"But you will?"
"Oh, certainly. Isn't it what we've schemed and angled for? I'm very well satisfied."
And so I am. But I wish it hadn't come so soon after Jack's visit, because I feel rather upset yet. Of course I like Gus Sinclair very much, and I am sure I shall be very fond of him.
Well, I must go to bed now and get my beauty sleep. I don't want to be haggard and hollow-eyed at that important interview tomorrow--an interview that will decide my destiny.
* * * * *
Thrush Hill, May 6, 18--.
Well, it did decide it, but not exactly in the way I anticipated. I can look back on the whole affair quite calmly now, but I wouldn't live it over again for all the wealth of Ind.
That day when Gus Sinclair came I was all ready for him. I had put on my very prettiest new gown to do honour to the occasion, and Alicia smilingly assured me I was looking very well.
"And so cool and composed. Will you be able to keep that up? Don't you really feel a little nervous, Katherine?"
"Not in the least," I said. "I suppose I ought to be, according to traditions, but I never felt less flustered in my life."
When Bessie brought up Gus Sinclair's card Alicia dropped a pecky little kiss on my cheek, and pushed me toward the door. I went down calmly, although I'll admit that my heart was beating wildly. Gus Sinclair was plainly nervous, but I was composed enough for both. You would really have thought that I was in the habit of being proposed to by a millionaire every day.
"I suppose you know what I have come to say," he said, standing before me, as I leaned gracefully back in a big chair, having taken care that the folds of my dress fell just as they should.
And then he proceeded to say it in a rather jumbled-up fashion, but very sincerely.
I remember thinking at the time that he must have composed the speech in his head the night before, and rehearsed it several times, but was forgetting it in spots.
When he ended with the self-same question that Jack had asked me three months before at Thrush Hill he stopped and took my hands.
I looked up at him. His good, homely face was close to mine, and in his eyes was an unmistakable look of love and tenderness.
I opened my mouth to say yes.
And then there came over me in one rush the most awful realization of the sacrilege I was going to commit.
I forgot everything except that I loved Jack Willoughby, and that I could never, never marry anybody in the world except him.
Then I pulled my hands away and burst into hysterical, undignified tears.
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Sinclair. "I did not mean to startle you. Have I been too abrupt? Surely you must have known--you must have expected--"
"Yes--yes--I knew," I cried miserably, "and I intended right up to this very minute to marry you. I'm so sorry--but I can't--I can't."
"I don't understand," he said in a bewildered tone. "If you expected it, then why--why--don't you care for me?"
"No, that's just it," I sobbed. "I don't love you at all--and I do love somebody else. But he is poor, and I hate poverty. So I refused him, and I meant to marry you just because you are rich."
Such a pained look came over his face. "I did not think this of you," he said in a low tone.
"Oh, I know I have acted shamefully," I said. "You can't think any worse of me than I do of myself. How you must despise me!"
"No," he said, with a grim smile, "if I did it would be easier for me. I might not love you then. Don't distress yourself, Katherine. I do not deny that I feel greatly hurt and disappointed, but I am glad you have been true to yourself at last. Don't cry, dear."
"You're very good," I answered disconsolately, "but all the same the fact remains that I have behaved disgracefully to you, and I know you think so. Oh, Mr. Sinclair, please, please, go away. I feel so miserably ashamed of myself that I cannot look you in the face."
"I am going, dear," he said gently. "I know all this must be very painful to you, but it is not easy for me, either."
"Can you forgive me?" I said wistfully.
"Yes, my dear, completely. Do not let yourself be unhappy over this. Remember that I will always be your friend. Goodbye."
He held out his hand and gave mine an earnest clasp. Then he went away.
I remained in the drawing-room, partly because I wanted to finish out my cry, and partly because, miserable coward that I was, I didn't dare face Alicia. Finally she came in, her face wreathed with anticipatory smiles. But when her eyes fell on my forlorn, crumpled self she fairly jumped.
"Katherine, what is the matter?" she asked sharply. "Didn't Mr. Sinclair--"
"Yes, he did," I said desperately. "And I've refused him. There now, Alicia!"
Then I waited for the storm to burst. It didn't all at once. The shock was too great, and at first quite paralyzed my half-sister.
"Katherine," she gasped, "are you crazy? Have you lost your senses?"
"No, I've just come to them. It's true enough, Alicia. You can scold all you like. I know I deserve it, and I won't flinch. I did really intend to take him, but when it came to the point I couldn't. I didn't love him."
Then, indeed, the storm burst. I never saw Alicia so angry before, and I never got so roundly abused. But even Alicia has her limits, and at last she grew calmer.
"You have behaved disgracefully," she concluded. "I am disgusted with you. You have encouraged Gus Sinclair markedly right along, and now you throw him over like this. I never dreamed that you were capable of such unwomanly behaviour."
"That's a hard word, Alicia," I protested feebly.
She dealt me a withering glance. "It does not begin to be as hard as your shameful conduct merits. To think of losing a fortune like that for the sake of sentimental folly! I didn't think you were such a consummate fool."
"I suppose you absorbed all the sense of our family," I said drearily. "There now, Alicia, do leave me alone. I'm down in the very depths already."
"What do you mean to do now?" said Alicia scornfully. "Go back to Valleyfield and marry that starving country doctor of yours, I suppose?"
I flared up then; Alicia might abuse me all she liked, but I wasn't going to hear a word against Jack.
"Yes, I will, if he'll have me," I said, and I marched out of the room and upstairs, with my head very high.
Of course I decided to leave Montreal as soon as I could. But I couldn't get away within a week, and it was a very unpleasant one. Alicia treated me with icy indifference, and I knew I should never be reinstated in her good graces.
To my surprise, Roger took my part. "Let the girl alone," he told Alicia. "If she doesn't love Sinclair, she was right in refusing him. I, for one, am glad that she has got enough truth and womanliness in her to keep her from selling herself."
Then he came to the library where I was moping, and laid his hand on my head.
"Little girl," he said earnestly, "no matter what anyone says to you, never marry a man for his money or for any other reason on earth except because you love him."
This comforted me greatly, and I did not cry myself to sleep that night as usual.
At last I got away. I had telegraphed to Jack: "Am coming home Wednesday; meet me at train," and I knew he would be there. How I longed to see him again--dear, old, badly treated Jack.
I got to Valleyfield just at dusk. It was a rainy evening, and everything was slush and fog and gloom. But away up I saw the home light at Thrush Hill, and Jack was waiting for me on the platform.
"Oh, Jack!" I said, clinging to him, regardless of appearances. "Oh, I'm so glad to be back."
"That's right, Kitty. I knew you wouldn't forget us. How well you are looking!"
"I suppose I ought to be looking wretched," I said penitently. "I've been behaving very badly, Jack. Wait till we get away from the crowd and I'll tell you all about it."
And I did.
I didn't gloss over anything, but just confessed the whole truth. Jack heard me through in silence, and then he kissed me.
"Can you forgive me, Jack, and take me back?" I whispered, cuddling up to him.
And he said--but, on second thought, I will not write down what he said.
We are to be married in June.